- Wed, 2011-05-25 00:00
Falling asleep on the bus as it rolls down the road in the middle of the night is difficult for me. Over the years, I have figured out a way to block out the weirdness by pretending that I am instead in a spaceship drifting through the cosmos. This playlist is the soundtrack for that trip, I am always adding and subtracting artists to make the perfect experience, but this is where it is currently at.
I introduce my other contributions to this Guest Edit with the caveat that the band have been fighting major head colds and we've been taking all kinds of medicine to help ease the symptoms. Said medicines really make things exciting and strange so I hope that the contributions here aren't too awfully weird...
Introduced by Nick Harmer
Death Cab For Cutie Playlist
1. Brian Eno - An Ending (Ascent)
2. Manual & Jess Kahr - It's Night On Planet Earth... And We Are Alive
3. Villa Del Refugio - This Will Destroy You
4. Caspian - Our Breaths In Winter
5. Tim Hecker - Borderlands
6. Brian McBride - Overture (for Other Halfs)
7. Thomas Newman - Any Other Name
8. William Basinski - Melancholia II
9. Klimek - For Mark Hollis & Giacinto Scelsi
10. Wes Willenbring - While My Lungs Fill With Water
11. Articulate Silences - Stars Of The Lid Part 1
12. Articulate Silences - Stars Of The Lid Part 2
13. Belong - Late Night
14. Aix Em Klemm - Sparkwood and Twentyone
15. Eluvium - Amreik
16. Hammock - I Can Almost See You
17. Aphex Twin - Avril 14th
18. Rachel Grimes - The Corner Room
19. Jónsi & Alex - Boy 1904
20. Brian Eno - The Big Ship
Artist: Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass Track: Spanish Flea Released: October 1965 Label: A&M
Written for I Like Music by Chris Walla, Death Cab For Cutie
Few albums are as ubiquitous in dusty American record shops as Going Places, the 1965 LP by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, and few albums are less desirable. This is curious when considering that sales-wise, Alpert was up above The Beatles for a few years, and that he was the ‘A’ of A&M records, signing everyone from Burt Bacharach to The Police. He’s a giant, in industry terms.
But musically, his brand of kitschy, Mexican-tinged instrumental trumpet-pop made a larger dent in the world of game show themes and commercial song placement than in pop culture legend, and any copy of Revolver is a way cooler find at a thrift store than any of Alpert’s releases.
Alpert’s version of Spanish Flea, though, is a powerful recording: I only recently discovered its unique ability to utterly transform a room, subway car, or city street into a scene of trivial, pointless farce. And since I own an iPhone, I can turn it on at any moment. It is a tool, a weapon; a lubricant and an adhesive, all at once.
The rapture (Biblical end of days, not the white-belted New York band) was supposed to have happened on 21 May at 6 PM, local time, wherever you happened to be. Needless to say, we heathens are still here in solidarity. But I spent quite a lot of time thinking about the practical details surrounding a supposed rapture, as though it was a music festival or potluck or wedding party: Wait, what time zone? Do I bring potato salad or cake? What about my cat? Is there a Google calendar or something?
And of course, what music? Safely assuming my eventual descent into a musicless hell, what would I want as a final, definitive soundtrack in my personal departure lounge? Elton’s The Bitch Is Back was a contender, and Devo’s The Day My Baby Gave Me A Surprise seemed appropriate too.
But Herb Alpert’s rendition of Spanish Flea says everything a human could possibly say about secular joy, shame, celebration and humiliation, in a completely wordless form. With the four horsemen as contextual reference, and without a shred of irony, please take this opportunity to refresh your memory of a genuinely transcendent recording. And arm yourself with it: Spanish Flea is a bludgeon with which the willing can annihilate any conference call or staff meeting. Even when alone it serves as a solid check on the integrity of any project, as it has done for me at this very moment.
Artist: Kelli Schaefer Album: Ghost of the Beast Released: 1st March 2011 Label: Amigo / Amiga
Written for I Like Music by Chris Walla, Death Cab For Cutie
‘I’ve got the better idea / They’ve all got leveler heads, so we listen to their ideas instead / But still, I’ve got the better idea.’ And it’s true. By the time Kelli Schaefer sings the chorus of ‘Better Idea’, three songs into her debut album, it’s hard to imagine how or why she was ever ignored by anyone. ‘Ghost of the Beast’ is a fearless, weird record, and though Schaefer mostly prefers found sounds and unannounced feedback over drums and guitars, she consistently finds beauty in balance and contrast. She is careful but never safe.
‘Ghost of the Beast’ paces much as PJ Harvey’s ‘To Bring You My Love’, where croon and fury are never more than a song (or even a line) apart. And a little like Harvey, Schaefer’s acute superpower is as a modern, jagged, quasi-gospel singer. But her writing ties an imagined next world to our own with a bird’s nest of needles, chicken wire, cotton balls, and whatever other junk she can fashion into song, and it’s this illustration of story that keeps her airborne and away from the water. There’s no moping here, no self-pity or woe-is-me-ness: for all the questions she asks and fails to answer, Kelli Schaefer leaves an impression of commitment and resolve.
Delivery of this gorgeous mess is facilitated by a band as committed as Kelli herself. Producer / bandmate Drew Grow favors stopwatch accuracy and spring-tight syncopation, and the simplicity of the arrangements — especially in a song like ‘Black Dog’ — allow for daring changes in feel and tempo that would collapse on a weaker foundation. Kris Doty’s multitracked flute (yup, flute) provides the structure and signature for the title track, and she’s a clean, bold vocal match for Schaefer: they harmonize like siblings in ‘Sister K’. Few songs here are driven by a traditional rhythm section, but ‘Sister K’ hinges on Doty’s bass playing and Jeremiah Hayden’s drums, and their capacity to match Schaefer’s muscle is clear as she belts ‘After a good hard fight with the purest of desire / Oh God I’m still on fire.’ Heavy industry rarely sounds so easy.
Still, the highlight of ‘Ghost of the Beast’ is a feather of a song, ‘Better Idea’, and it might blow away if not tied down with a lonely, riveting, wheezy organ. It doesn’t even suggest a recorded document, but rather how the song might develop and sound in the writer’s head; perfect, but maybe impossible to translate. And moving from that kind of impressionism to a freight train like ‘Sister K’, even with two songs of buffer, looks a little jarring on paper; imagining them on the same record might even be a stretch. But the journey from celebration to anguish and back again can unfold in a mind in seconds, and that’s just part of living. ‘Ghost of the Beast’ tracks that journey seamlessly, believably, maybe even in real time. It’s almost a magic trick, and it’s certainly a gift.
Track: She's Gone Artist: Hall & Oates Released: 9th February 1974 Label: Atlantic
Written for I Like Music by Nick Harmer, Death Cab For Cutie
I'm sure that some people will roll their eyes at this choice, but seriously, I find the video for She's Gone by Hall & Oates completely amazing. My argument for the power of this video isn't from what is actually shown, (though I suppose seeing Hall & Oates hanging out smoking and looking quasi-comatose barely singing along until a dude in a sparkly devil suit shows up, is pretty cool) but from the SPIRIT of the video.
I have such a strong affinity for videos that came before the dawn of MTV, before there were cultural rules and norms for what a video should look like and be. My general rule for videos is that if my first response is "that was weird" then I MUST re-watch and experience again. And trust me, this Hall & Oates video is WEIRD. But yet, it works. And it really forces me to re-examine my connection to the music, clearly Hall & Oates make catchy pop tunes, but after seeing this, I have to ask, what if there is more to them, what if I'm missing some crucial aspect of their music that they see, but I have missed? Or, maybe it's just the 70s?
Either way, they clearly made this without any expectation of it being broadcast, without knowledge of television standards and practices, and without trying to be anything other than they are. Here's our song, here's some images, you figure it out. That is the spirit I connect to most in videos.
Interview #671: Death Cab For Cutie Read the full interview here