I don’t really believe in astrology, but one of the traits of my sign is supposed to be that I can’t ever make up my mind. So, why fight it? Homer Simpson had it right when he hid out at the retirement home. Upon seeing a patient hooked up to a respirator, he gets angry, saying, “And here I am using my own lungs like a sucker!” The same can be said for music. Why waste valuable minutes trying to figure out what to listen to when someone, or something, can do it for you? Well, I finally gave in, and to mirror my life, which is now a bit chaotic, I have decided to give myself up to randomness. Here, again, is life on shuffle:
1. “Goin’ Against Your Mind” – Built to Spill
This opening song is the perfect example of why I love both this new column and this newfound philosophy of life. Even though I listened to a hell of a lot of CDs last year, there were still some that fell through the cracks, mostly because I wasn’t the one who reviewed them. Case in point, Built to Spill’s latest, You in Reverse. I know that it was highly acclaimed, but hey, I wrote 185 reviews last year. Give me a break! “Goin’ Against Your Mind” is the almost nine minute introduction to the new album, and is the perfect introduction to this shuffle set. The fact that this sprawling rocker kicks off their latest collection goes to show how great it really is, and I was hoping for the same from this little collection.
2. “Small Talk Stinks”- Bauhaus
From a sprawling jammy track to a short weird one. Off of Bauhaus’ debut, In the Flat Field, “Small Talk Stinks” is one of the stranger songs from the album, and that’s really saying something. Cartoony `boinging’ noises bounce around along with a voice that sounds like its coming out of a drive-thru microphone. While Peter Murphy does his thing, the rest of the band sing the title of the song over and over. It’s as straightforward as they come from Bauhaus. It wasn’t one of their better tracks from the debut, but it’s still a lot better than anyone who followed in their footsteps.
3. “The Way It Is”- Dead Moon
What better to follow Bauhaus than Dead Moon? Having been given the resurrection and, after the fact, eulogy treatment by Sub Pop, this legendary, and still fairly unknown, northwest band finally got its due. Yes, they split up after the double disc compilation, but they were around for over forty years. In a way, the CD was kind of a tease in that Sub Pop and Dead Moon were saying, `look at us! How have you missed out on this for so long?’ Then, just as we got addicted, they stopped the flow. “The Way It Is” is buried toward the end of the second disc, meaning its one of their more recent numbers. I prefer the first disc of early stuff, and this song isn’t exactly one of their most compelling, but I’ll take a bad Dead Moon song over a good My Chemical Romance tune anyday.
4. “The Men Are Called Horsemen There” – Sunset Rubdown
I’ve been a huge Bowie fan for a long time, so it would make sense that I became a fan of Destroyer as well. I’d reviewed Frog Eyes, loved the first Wolf Parade album, and thought the Swan Lake debut was astounding, especially Spencer Krug’s contributions, so how did Sunset Rubdown escape my radar? I guess it hadn’t fully escaped since I owned a copy, but I hadn’t listened to it nearly as much as I should have. Case in point, “The Men are Called Horsemen There,” a seven-minute track that’s weird, dramatic and as good as most Destroyer tunes. As opposed to most of Krug’s songs, the lyrics are almost all discernable, if not still slightly confusing. Even so, I was singing, “The men are called horsemen and I am no horseman, and you are no angel,” right along with him.
5. “Mary Ann”- Regina Spektor
Listening to Mary Ann Meets the Grave Diggers and Other Short Stories might lead some listeners to believe that Regina Spektor was the female version of Tom Waits. In my first edition of “Life on Shuffle” I was able to hear Waits’ “Spare Parts I,” and “Mary Ann” is somewhat the answer to that track, or at least to more of the food-themed tracks on Nighthawks at the Diner. As the album’s title suggests, these songs are definitely short stories and poems as well as being great little spare piano jazz tunes at the same time. It’s strange to hear this song in a shuffle as this album plays so well as a cohesive collection. I didn’t mind. Any Regina Spektor song is welcome at any time.
6. “Meeting in the Carriage”- Philip Glass (The Illusionist)
I thought more highly of The Illusionist as a film than most people. I’m not sure why it got such mediocre reviews. Edward Norton is one of our most underrated actors, Paul Giamatti even managed to put some gruff into his voice to avoid that nebbish manner he usually has (does anyone else think he and Adam Savage of Mythbusters are long lost brothers?), and Jessica Biel, well, she’s Jessica Biel! My complaints about the movie are minimal, both being about the `borrowing’ of certain aspects. One is the near complete duplication of the ending of a particularly famous Kevin Spacey film; the other being a score that I felt I had heard before in The Hours. These complaints are made nearly nullified by the fact that, even though they are cribbed, they are done well. Philip Glass’ score is masterful in this movie, despite the fact that there are huge similarities to other scores he had created in the past. “Meeting in the Carriage” has his signature backing of undulating violins, a sound that emphasizes the feelings of anxiousness over finding a lost love.
7. “Black Eye” – Jeff Tweedy
I almost prefer Jeff Tweedy’s solo performances to those of his more famous band, Wilco. This particular performance is from Tweedy’s shows in the Pacific Northwest with which he compiled a DVD. For those who hadn’t journeyed further into the past than Wilco, you should know that “Black Eye” is an Uncle Tupelo song, from their March 16-20, 1992 album, their penultimate collection which found Tweedy contributing more than he ever had. It’s been compared to Johnny Cash’s story songs, which I love, but I believe that Tweedy conveys more pathos in his songs, especially when he performs them by himself. He doesn’t usually play too many Tupelo songs historically, but he played this one and the brilliant “Acuff Rose” on that tour.
8. “Mofo” – U2
Listening to “Mofo” isolated from the rest of the songs on Pop actually had me finding new appreciation for the track. It also led me to believe that maybe Pop was slightly ahead of its time and too much of a shock for the U2 fans who merely wanted another Achtung Baby or Joshua Tree. Maybe it’s that I had just heard it after an extremely stripped down acoustic song, or maybe it’s because U2 has since shed this experimentation with electronic music in favor of more rocking numbers, but “Mofo” impressed me more this time around than it did when I first heard it. It’s also one of a handful of albums that truly signifies a time and place for me in my life, oddly enough, 1997 in Delaware. “Mofo” was perhaps as out of place in U2’s repertoire as I was in the `First State,’ but I enjoyed my time there as well as this particular song.
9. “Everyday” – Yo La Tengo
From the slightly `over-the-top’ to the hushed and restrained with Yo La Tengo. The drums mimic a heartbeat, hypnotizing you into a state of bliss. The guitar after the first verse is delicate and plaintive, no one instrument ever overpowering another. It’s a nice comedown from “Mofo.” Ira Kaplan namechecks Paul Le Mat in 1980 (in which he plays Melvin in Melvin & Howard) and Kate Moss in “Everyday,” not the only time on And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out that references like this made an appearance. There’s a reason that the trio has had a successful 20 year career, and “Everyday” illustrates that point nicely.
10. “Precious Thing” – Big Black
Look out Tori Amos, someone else has something to say about a “Precious Thing” and that someone is Steve Albini. It’s fairly easy to hear how both Nirvana and Nine Inch Nails were influenced by Big Black, and particularly by this track. Nirvana’s “Polly” pretty much apes the subject matter of bondage entirely. Trent Reznor takes the stutter-step drums and affected guitars. I’m a big fan of Songs About Fucking, which is I’m sure one of the jokes that Big Black were trying to get out of their album’s title. It was sort of a dark and maniacal way to end this particular session of “Life on Shuffle,” but I’ll be damned if I wasn’t amped for the rest of the day.