This month’s playlist prompts a series of questions, some of which have actual answers, others of which are somewhat more imponderable.

Jules Shear has written a lot of seriously great songs, but is any of them seriously greater than “If We Never Meet Again”?

How did the relatively short-lived and under-appreciated UK band Samsa manage also to write at least one seriously great song (“Throw My Weight”)? Extra bonus question: why wasn’t this song a big deal when it came out?

Why do I not seem to connect to jazz instrumentals except sometimes when I do?

Did you know that Sonny Bono wrote “Bang, Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)”?

And did you know Ronnie Wood was in a band called The Birds three years before joining the Jeff Beck Group and that this band’s manager tried to sue the Byrds to keep them from using the name when they came to England in 1965?

Why do I like the Scottish band CHVRCHES so much? Normally punctuational creativity is not my thing. Nor is overly-shiny 2010s pop. But these guys I love; this song gets better each time I hear it.

Speaking of punctuational creativity, why is the word “There’s” in parentheses in the Bacharach/David song Dionne Warwick covers here? It seems willfully perverse.

Lastly: why did everyone hate on the last Rilo Kiley album back when it came out? Always sounded good to me, and it seems to be growing finer with age.

Full playlist below the widget.

I’d rather see this on TV (Eclectic Playlist Series, 2.07) by Fingertipsmusic on Mixcloud

“The Summer is Over” – Dusty Springfield (b-side, 1964)
“It’s Different For Girls” – Joe Jackson (I’m the Man, 1979)
“The Mother We Share” – CHVRCHES (The Bones of What You Believe, 2013)
“Bury My Lovely” – October Project (October Project, 1993)
“A Pillow of Winds” – Pink Floyd (Meddle, 1971)
“Throw My Weight” – Samsa (First, the Lights, 2005)
“(There’s) Always Something There to Remind Me” – Dionne Warwick (The Windows of the World, 1967)
“Subway Station #5” – Patricia Barber (A Distortion of Love, 1992)
“If We Never Meet Again” – Reckless Sleepers (Big Boss Sounds, 1988)
“Mr. X” – Pauline Murray and the Invisible Girls (Pauline Murray and the Invisible Girls, 1980)
“Bang, Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)” – Terry Reid (Bang, Bang You’re Terry Reid, 1968)
“Girls Chase Boys” – Ingrid Michaelson (Lights Out, 2014)
“You’ll Always Find Me in the Kitchen at Parties” – Jona Lewie (single, 1980)
“Half Acre” – Hem (Rabbit Songs, 2001)
“Don’t It Feel Good to Be Free” – Edwin Starr (Hell Up in Harlem, 1974)
“Everybody Loves Me But You” – Juliana Hatfield (Hey Babe, 1992)
“Dream Lover” – Destroyer (Poison Season, 2015)
“Sharkey’s Day” – Laurie Anderson (Mister Heartbreak, 1983)
“No Good Without You Baby” – The Birds (single, 1965)
“Silver Lining” – Rileo Kiley (Under the Blacklight, 2007)

Eric Schmidt

They’re at it again, those knucklehead Silicon Valley extremists. Here is former Google CEO and current Alphabet executive chairman Eric Schmidt, from a written op-ed published on September 12:

A decade ago, to launch a digital music service, you probably would have enlisted a handful of elite tastemakers to pick the hottest new music. Today, you’re much better off building a smart system that can learn from the real world—what actual listeners are most likely to like next—and help you predict who and where the next Adele might be.

Schmidt’s piece, published on the BBC web site, wasn’t about music per se, but was more broadly a glowing look at the progress being made by artificial intelligence; what’s more, one might read the music comment as little more than a pointed dig at Apple and just move along.

And yet, really? “You’re much better off building a smart system that can learn from the real world”? When it comes to music? Or any artistic human endeavor, for that matter?

I am doing my best to control my outrage that this man is someone anybody listens to. It would appear that Eric Schmidt wants to be the last human standing; while he’s allowed to pontificate and prognosticate he seems to have no need for any other individual point of view, and seems not to value in the slightest the very things that make us human in the first place: our individual hopes and dreams and inspirations and passions. Nope, just put all of us into a big blender and spew out data and we’ll be a-okay.

This view of the world is already reductive and demoralizing; that he further resorts to straw-man populism is despicable. Uh-oh: better watch out for those “elite tastemakers”! You don’t want them getting in the way of your mathematically predicted music!

First off I suggest that Mr. Schmidt has to put his money where his mouth is if he expects to be taken seriously. If “everyone” knows better than those damned elitists who want to tell us what to do all the time, then why doesn’t Google (and Alphabet) hand corporate decision-making over to the social media mob? It’s very elitist of him, after all, to think he knows better than all of us combined, right?

Ah but it turns out the demagogues of Silicon Valley are themselves inveterate elitists who slyly and consistently employ populist rhetoric for their own profit-hungry purposes. They elevate the quantitative formulations of Big Data into unalloyed truth, conveniently overlooking the helplessness of quantity alone to identify quality (nowhere in the history of humanity have we ever seen sheer numbers equate with human value), and also conveniently overlooking the subjectivity that will always embed itself into algorithmic selection, because (hey, how about that!) algorithms are at some point in the process created and overseen by human beings and will ever more reflect subjectivity even when posing as immutably objective.

Second, I can’t help wondering why anyone listens to any technology executive when it comes to sweeping cultural generalizations. All Schmidt is ever trying to do is increase his company’s revenue. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with that; that’s what capitalists do. The trouble begins when we confuse his professional motivations with anything resembling societal wisdom or personal insight. It’s all the more alarming when someone with so little apparent patience for the ineffable value of flesh-and-blood human beings becomes some kind of spokesperson for the future of humanity. Sounds like something from a Black Mirror episode if you ask me.

So: if we are going to continue to want to be blinkered and hornswoggled by digital ideologues into believing that humans have no qualitative place in the world, then fine: let us welcome the robots and algorithms of these mythical “smart systems” and let’s all be content to have music funneled automatically into our brains before we even know we want it there. Which also sounds like a Black Mirror episode.

But if anyone out there understands that beauty and inspiration cannot be manufactured out of data, that quantity does not have a one to one relationship with quality, that human beings are not now and never can be reducible to objective components, then join me in telling Mr. Eric Schmidt to go back to counting his money and leave the human endeavors to those of us with some humanity left in us.

Daisy Victoria

“Pain of Dancers” – Daisy Victoria

Fueled by a big-hearted guitar line, an unresolved chorus melody, and Daisy Victoria’s theatrical presence, “Pain of Dancers” leaps into the world with poise and vigor—just another striking,
swirling, anthem-y slice of pop-informed rock’n’roll from this promising young UK talent. (For those who missed her magical song “Nobody Dies,” from late 2014, go here, quickly.)

As much as I love pretty much everything she’s up to here, I think the deep allure is rooted first and foremost in her voice, which possesses a rare blend of richness and nuance; she invests herself fully in every note, and the subtle shifts from dusk to lightness are thrilling upon close listening. But unlike some performers blessed with natural vocal prowess, Victoria has her eyes and ears on all aspects of songcraft. Think of those synth squiggles we hear with the drumbeat in the opening seconds of the song: highly unnecessary and extremely wonderful. More centrally, there’s the super-appealing, low-register guitar line that introduces the song and recurs after each iteration of the chorus—an adroit counter-motif and nothing a singer merely trying to show off tends to bothers with. It’s this guitar line, in fact, that both grounds the song—the chorus never resolves on its own—and gives it its sky-high reach. I kind of can’t stop listening.

“Pain of Dancers” is a single, self-released last month. Thanks to Daisy for the MP3.

Bread & Butter

“Shoot My Mouth Off” – Bread & Butter

It’s easy to think of garage rock as muddy, loud, and hard-driving but that’s not the extent of the garage palette by any means. Within the general auspices of a raw sound and humble recording circumstances, a top-notch band can create many kinds of magic, the most reliable, to my ears, being that grounded in melodic flair. (This is something often overlooked: how unerringly melodic a lot of garage rock turns out to be.) And not everything has to be fast and loud. Here we have a singularly satisfying piece of concise, garage-flavored rock’n’roll that launches off a sweet, nostalgic guitar lick (or, interlacing licks) and lopes along with off-handed grace.

“Shoot My Mouth Off” hinges musically and viscerally on the major-to-minor modulation on which verse turns to chorus (first heard at 0:55); it’s here that the song’s generous embrace of rock’n’roll past and present feels most emphatic, here where singer Shane Herrell glides across the subtle threshold of greatness. Don’t miss the bass line’s important punctuation marks in the chorus, and note too that Herrell is the bass player. Bands with singing bass players, in my experience, often give us beautifully textured songs. And Bread & Butter sport a lineup I don’t think I’ve seen before: a foursome in which neither guitar player sings; not only does bassist Herrell take lead vocals but drummer Mason Lowe sings back-up. Don’t underestimate the musical value of this arrangement.

Bread & Butter is from Seattle, with five songs released to date. You can hear them all on the band’s web site. “Shoot My Mouth Off” dates back to February, and is available as free and legal MP3 via KEXP, which is where I first heard this.


“Bloor Street and Pressure” – Grounders

Via unexplained mechanisms, the Toronto-based band Grounders employ a familiar-sounding synth pop vocabulary to create something that strikes my ear as anomalous, and a lot of fun. As the perky intro, propelled by a series of six-note descents, takes some time to establish itself, you’ll notice, if you listen, the ongoing encroachment of fuzzy noise (or, perhaps, noisy fuzz) underneath the main melody; almost as if a series of retro-futuristic machines are being variously turned on, the noise is all but constructed before our eyes (ears). Once the vocals finally start (0:52), it then provides a constant, multifaceted background throughout the song’s sung portions.

But it’s elusive, this fuzz/noise. Is it simply an extension of the bass line? Something extra going on in the synthesizer department? Something to do with that unaccountable “wa-wa” sound that cycles through the musical undergrowth? Whatever it is, it’s both always there and sometimes not quite there, and may be what gives “Bloor Street and Pressure” its intangible charm. That and the fact that for all its propulsive energy and ear-worm-ish bias, the song does not possess either a chorus or anything much to sing along with. Which is great if you can get away with it.

Grounders is a five-piece band that was previously a four-piece band and might in fact still be a four-piece band, but their current photo has five guys in it. These things can be hard to untangle. They are in any case from Toronto (where, in fact, you will find Bloor Street). Their debut self-titled album was released on Nevado Records in May. You can listen to the whole thing and buy it via Bandcamp.

MP3 courtesy of Insomnia Radio.