Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Feature instrument: The recorder

photo: wikipedia

Whenever a band uses an unusual instrument like a saw or incorporates a banjo into their usual straightforward-rock lexicon, blogs take notice. They almost always lavish praise on the band for their uniqueness or musicality. But sometimes taking a pre-tuned instrument prone to squeaks and squeals and making it work for you is more of a feat than learning a more strange or complex instrument. Think of how good woodblocks sound in indie dance music. These three artists take a plastic, rudimentary instrument, and elevate it from a third grade music class instrument to a college radio instrument.

  • Oxford Collapse's "Molasses." They don't reproduce the recorder solo live, unfortunately. They also opened for GbV before. Coincidence?
  • Swedish expatriate Jens Lekman's "Into Eternity." When I saw him last fall, he found a local cellist, but must not have known I was available to play the recorder intro to this song. I actually did learn it, partly knowing his affinity for female accompaniment, partly because I am that nerdy.

Ranging from an F on the treble staff to a shrill high G four ledger lines above the staff, the recorder is ready tuned, inexpensive, and closer to my heart for making three songs more interesting.

Friday, November 7, 2008

"Obaaaama, Obaaaama."- Wesley Willis

Print courtesy of Obey Giant

The New York Times asked people to submit one word to describe how they were feeling after Barack Obama won the election. Most of the responses were "hopeful," "relieved," and variants of "ecstatic." A few people wrote "scared." I fall into the "relieved" camp, as I hardly knew anybody who voted for Bush the last two elections, and knew even fewer who were happy with the way things are right now. Knowing I was surrounded by ignorance, but not being able to see it to confront it, was an unsettling feeling.

While I wish the state of our country didn't have to become this terrible for things to get better, I'm extremely happy this change happened. Voters were able to look past rhetoric and residual prejudices still in our country to give Obama what was once a dream - a deserved chance at righting our ship's stern - and give the rest of us jaded Americans some hope.

Now for the less serious, but more relevant (at least to this blog's purposes) part. While watching Obama's rally in Chicago's Grant Park, seeing the city so united reminded me of the Bulls' three-peat so many years ago. I felt like the old Bulls' announcer needed to announce Obama in stretched syllables over the Bulls' theme music. "From Chicago, at 6 feet 1 inch and (~) 180 pounds... Baaarack Obaaaaaaaaama!"
Chicago Bulls Theme Song - Alan Parsons Project

Meanwhile, in reality, after Obama was projected as the President-elect, The National's somber "Fake Empire" played loudly and clearly. The song's lyrics "We're half-awake/ in a fake empire" hardly seemed appropriate in comparison with the magnitude of the event. But, the band's inclusion was not that out of left-field, as they raised $10,000 for the Obama campaign through selling t-shirts. They also and played a free show with The Breeders in the politically contentious city of Cincinnati, replete with buses to take people to vote early. Previously, at the Democratic National Convention, "Fake Empire" played during a film about Obama.

Sort of ridiculous, when you consider that "Mr. November" would have been much more appropriate and inspiring, minus the swearing and the white part. "I'm the new blue blood/ I'm the great white hope/...I won't fuck us over, I'm Mr. November."
Mr. November - The National

Even more ridiculously, this Wesley Willis song implanted itself in my head, because i could see "O-bam-a" easily replaced over "Nir-van-a."
Nirvana - Wesley Willis

Willis, also a Chicagoan, unfortunately died in 2003, so he (obvs) wasn't able to pull for his song's inclusion at the rally. Maybe someone will cover it in four years. Hopefully.

Pitchfork's 500 Greatest Songs?

Photo courtesy amazon.com

On Nov 11, the Pitchfork-curated book The Pitchfork 500: Our Guide to the Greatest Songs from Punk to the Present hits bookshelves. Someone already chronologically transcribed all the songs in the book here, if you are interested.

While mostly comprehensive, some songs and artists are conspicuously absent. Joy Division's "Love Will Tear Us Apart"is a huge oversight. Also, how do you make a compilation of songs partially entitled "From Punk to the Present" and not include the Descendents (RIP Frank Navetta [-2008])? As much as I dislike U2, the influence of Joshua Tree was huge, even though Bono singing mostly about America while his country hardly had widespread electricity is a little off putting. Its absence is glaring.

The inclusion of Franz Ferdinand's "Take Me Out" suggests that popularity was a factor in choosing songs, but the exclusion of George Michael's "Faith" negates this idea.

Also perplexing is that the entire lexicon of R&B was purposefully ignored, despite is popularity, radio play on 'pop' radio stations, and genre-shifting. While P4K stated its focus for the book lied on hip-hop, electronic, indie-rock, metal, experimental underground music, and pop, the complete omission of artists like The Fugees, Mary J. Blige, and Erykah Badu- makes the any "best of" list seem incomplete. I'm not saying P4K had to include everything- I wouldn't expect them to have a recording of Leonard Bernstein with the New York Philharmonic, for instance- but music with guitar, bass, musical singing, and drums shouldn't be ignored.

And including only one song by The Roots, A Tribe Called Quest, and Smashing Pumpkins? No Calexico? All these groups that were around for 10 years- plus- deserve a little more recognition. With the trouble they went to compiling this list (only including one song per album, and no more than four songs per artist), it could have been a little more inclusive.

However, I realize the best 500 songs over 19 years is difficult to determine, and most of the songs deserve their spots on the list. But for some of the artists in the 2003-2006 category, it is difficult to understand their importance: Kelly Clarkson (even though her drummer is the drummer from +/-)? The incredibly angular sounds of Johnny Boy and Fiery Furnaces? The cheesy R. Kelly? Time will judge these artists more harshly than the compilers of this list.