Popless Week 14: What The Shadow Knows
After 17 years of professional music-reviewing, Noel Murray is taking time off from all new music, and is revisiting his record collection in alphabetical order, to take stock of what he's amassed, and consider what he still needs.
"Rock 'N' Roll Music (Medley)" by The Everly Brothers
The Everly Brothers grew up in a musical family, and at an early age began singing as a fresh-scrubbed, wholesome duo on their parents' old-time music radio show. They had their first hit single in 1956 with the light rockabilly number "Bye Bye Love," and proceeded to record a string of hits for two different record labels over the next six years before their momentum stalled, in part due to a stint in the US Marine Corps and in part due to the ascendance of two of their biggest fans: John Lennon and Paul McCartney.
I knew pretty much nothing about The Everly Brothers when I happened upon a used DVD of an old late '60s variety show called The Music Scene. Then, buried among the disc's special features, I found a standalone performance by The Everly Brothers, whipping through a medley of "Rock 'N' Roll Music" and a bunch of not-that-clearly-connected flower-power-era favorites. The medley's a little silly, but the performance is tight and fiery, and while watching it, I started thinking about how The Everly Brothers must've felt in 1969, as people they'd inspired passed them by, while they themselves were barely 30. Then I started thinking about all the middle-aged, long-haired, leisure-suited Tonight Show guests I remembered seeing when I was growing up, and thinking about how that phenomenon might apply to popular music, where the biggest stars are paid to keep up with the trends. I began to wonder if the Everlys had recorded any albums in the late '60s that tried to stay current with the likes of The Jefferson Airplane, The Grateful Dead or Buffalo Springfield. So I hit the Internet to find out, and whole new avenue of cultural study opened up to me.
I've written some about the idea of "shadowing" before—most notably in the Popless entries on Bobby Darin and Curt Boettcher—and though I know it's not any kind of groundbreaking analytical technique, it has broadened my understanding and appreciation of popular music. Basically, the idea is that if musicians are successful for a long time, they'll inevitably record in a lot of different styles, which means you can follow not just their evolution as artists, but also changing trends in recording techniques, subject matter, genre-popularity, and so on. A duo as popular as The Everly Brothers between 1956 and '62 had access to the best songwriters and best studios, and though they didn't go through as many mercenary-minded changes as Bobby Darin, their post-'62 career is still like a mini-history of the post-Beatles music industry.
First off, listen to the Everlys' last big hit, "That's Old Fashioned (That's The Way Love Should Be):"
"That's Old Fashioned (That's The Way Love Should Be)" by The Everly Brothers
It's straight-up popcorn, from the tail-end of the era when the early vibrancy of rock 'n' roll was fading, leaving tame "Your Hit Parade" fare behind. But while the Everlys recorded songs like "That's Old Fashioned" to make their label masters happy, they still found time for something like this:
"Muskrat" by The Everly Brothers
Listening to the clattering percussion and zippy guitar on "Muskrat," you can hear what The Beatles and other still-fledgling British Invasion acts were spinning for each other in basement record shops in 1961 and '62. And after The Beatles built on their hitmaking formula, the Everlys took it right back:
"You're My Girl" by The Everly Brothers
If anything, "You're My Girl"—recorded in December of '64—is more raucous and fuzzy than anything The Beatles had recorded by that point. Still, there are echoes of "She Loves You" in the tumbling drums, twangy guitars and loosening harmonies. Two years later, the Everlys would actually record an album in London, using members of The Hollies for backup, and the result was songs like "Kiss Your Man Goodbye:"
"Kiss Your Man Goodbye" by The Everly Brothers
The amped-up, shadowy versions of C&W; and R&B; that The Yardbirds and The Who were exploring in the UK here collides with the sunnier jangle of contemporary California bands like The Byrds and The Mamas & The Papas. When they returned to the states, the Everlys started hanging out more on the West Coast, and recorded some experimental singles in psychedelic pop and folk-rock styles. One of my favorites of the latter is "Empty Boxes," from 1968, which sounds like the Everlys' attempt to show they could out-Simon & Garfunkel any pretenders:
"Empty Boxes" by The Everly Brothers
By this time, the brothers had begun to realize that what set them apart from their admirers and peers is that they actually had the strong roots music upbringing that The Flying Burrito Brothers and the like were starting to imitate. Inspired by this, The Everly Brothers recorded their best album, Roots, which I've written up before on this site for our on-hiatus "Permanent Records" feature. And they followed it up with some wonderful proto-country-rock singles before consigning themselves to the nostalgia act circuit, and then breaking up.
"I'm On My Way Home Again" by The Everly Brothers
What can be gleaned from listening to a bunch of old Everly Brothers songs? Well, given that this was an era that wasn't exactly teeming with people writing about popular music, in some ways the only way for an interested rock scholar to follow the threads of influence and trends is to examine the evidence firsthand. It's also a good way to get past the over-familiarity factor that can make listening to older music difficult sometimes. By the time I bought The Everly Brothers compilation Walk Right Back (which spreads a good survey of their '60s output across two discs), I'd heard plenty of The Beatles, The Who, The Yardbirds, and such. But I hadn't heard a lot of the Everlys songs that dwelled in those other bands' shadows. And The Everly Brothers songs were often so exciting that they re-ignited my interest in the era they came from.
But there's something else I find rewarding about shadowing. I believe it was Jean-Luc Godard who said that the best way to criticize a movie is to make another movie, and sometimes with the lesser-known pop songs from any given era, the artists who recorded them offer a kind of critique of the sound of their times. Not a refutation, but a true critique, examining what's good and bad about their industry by trying to mimic it. Unlike actual rock critics, The Everly Brothers had an insider's perspective, and what they might've found noteworthy about a band like The Byrds might not be what I'd pick. The Everlys might'be been interested in the use of a certain guitar pedal, or a call-back to an old folk song that I'm not familiar with, or something else entirely. With every note, they (or their producer, or both) told what they thought was important about the music already on the charts, either in terms of what was marketable about it, or what they thought was good.
So in some ways, The Everly Brothers are the best rock critics I know.
Pieces Of The Puzzle
Emerson, Lake & Palmer
Years Of Operation 1970-78, 1992-98
Fits Between Rush and Manheim Steamroller
Personal Correspondence I can't really get into the big prog-rock discussion this week, even though ELP would be the ideal vehicle for an exploration of the marvels and frustrations of prog. They're one of the few bands that my father and brother liked that I rarely paid much attention to when I was growing up, although I did listen to Pictures At An Exhibition a few times by choice, and I've always had a fondness Greg Lake's acoustic ballads. Last year, when the double-disc The Essential Emerson, Lake & Palmer came out, I decided it was time to re-approach the band, albeit cautiously. My logic was: I like arena-filling rock, I like ambition, and I don't mind jamming (sometimes), so I should be able to hang with Emerson, Lake & Palmer. But I'd forgotten that there's one particular prog-trick—the tuneless, chugging break where organ, drums and bass all collapse into a big mess—that always pulls me up short. A lot of ELP songs start great, and then suddenly it's like I've been dropped into the middle of an interstellar battle. Still, the countless spins of Brain Salad Surgery and Works in my household—coupled with my dad's amusing anecdotes about the band's disastrous orchestral tour in the mid-'70s—has made Emerson, Lake & Palmer a fixture in my psyche.
Enduring presence? I'm still waiting for the breakthrough that'll help me "get" ELP, and I haven't given up trying. I'll listen to "Take A Pebble" or "Tarkus" occasionally, though I'm always happier when my ELP playlist jumps back to "Lucky Man" or "From The Beginning" or one of the reverent Aaron Copland covers.
"Karn Evil 9: First Impression (Part 2)" by Emerson, Lake & Palmer
Years Of Operation 1963-present
Fits Between Stevie Ray Vaughan and Richard Thompson
Personal Correspondence No Eric Clapton anthology will ever improve on the "best of Crossroads tape I made back in high school—a tape long-lost, I'm sorry to say. It was a 100-minute cassette, and on side one I arranged a bunch of Clapton's biggest hits (on his own and with Cream, The Yardbirds, etc.) into a non-chronological set with a really strong flow, while on side two I ran through Clapton's best lesser-known singles and album cuts chronologically. That tape really captured the essence of Clapton as a wannabe blues master forced by circumstances (and his own gifts) into working in a variety of pop forms. Clapton's always been a little too in love with genre exercises and guitar solos to record start-to-finish great albums, but nearly every one of his records from the '70s and '80s contains at least one likable single: "Hello Old Friend," "Promises," "Forever Man," and so on. He's great at off-hand and catchy; harder to take when he's being heavy or schmaltzy or traditionalist.
Enduring presence? My father was such a major fan that it's all but impossible for me to dislike Clapton, even when he records the kind of overly burnished urban electric blues that keeps beer companies and Chicago tourist spots in business. There are Clapton songs I'd be fine with never hearing again: "Wonderful Tonight," "Tears In Heaven" and "Change The World" all leap to mind. But between The Yardbirds, Cream, Derek & The Dominoes, Blind Faith and Clapton's solo albums, there's about 100 minutes of really amazing music. Now if I could just remember what order to put it in .
"Promises" by Eric Clapton
Years Of Operation 1995-present
Fits Between Colin Blunstone and Colin Hay
Personal Correspondence I wrote some about Eric Matthews a month ago, regarding his participation in the cult indie-rock band Cardinal, but Matthews' solo career is his real legacy. He released two albums in quick succession in 1995 and '97—It's Heavy In Here and The Lateness Of The Hour—and at the time it seemed like Matthews' moody, heavily orchestrated pop was going to make him an underground icon, a la Jeff Buckley, Elliott Smith or Sean O'Hagan of The High Llamas. (Yes, people cared about The High Llamas back then people like me, anyway.) But then Matthews dropped of sight for nearly seven years, preferring to play trumpet on his friends' records rather than record anything of his own. He made a tentative return with a more stripped-down EP in 2005, and then released the teeming LP Foundation Sounds in 2006, which prompted me to write: "The songs aren't as long as the ones on the EP, but they're just as conversational, and they all rely on simple arrangements with very few instruments. They're built around the fundamentals—the 'foundation'—of composition. And yet the new Matthews can be as exhausting as the old Matthews. He doesn't vary his melodies much, and the bursts of molten-lava guitar or Chuck Mangione-style horn solos in any given song sound, frankly, interchangeable. Still, even when it flags as music, Foundation Sounds remains bracing as a manifesto. At first, following Matthews' musical logic, as he clips pop back to its skin, is counterintuitive, like listening to a florist explain why stems are more beautiful than petals. Listen closely enough though, and it almost starts to makes sense."
Enduring presence? I haven't heard Matthews' 2008 album—though I was sent a copy in late '07, and have shelved it to play when this project is over—but while I've liked everything he's done during this comeback phase, Matthews' has never really solved the problem of how to make his breathy voice and similar-sounding songs entertaining for a whole LP. That said, rarely does a Matthews song come up on my iPod when I don't brighten a little bit. He's such an original.
"Our House" by Eric Matthews
Years Of Operation 1976-present
Fits Between Can and Art Brut
Personal Correspondence I doubt even the most devoted Fall fan has the band's complete discography—heck, I bet even Fall founder Mark E. Smith doesn't—but in a way, that's always been what's made The Fall such a unique and endearing bunch. I think the first Fall song I heard was their cover of "Mr. Pharmacist," which prompted a friend of mine to buy (and loan to me) Doomsday Pay-Off (Triad Plus), the bastardized U.S. version of Bend Sinister. It's a much catchier record than anything else in the Fall catalog, which meant I was in for a rude—but not entirely unpleasant—shock when I found a cheap cassette copy of the much wilder Escape Route From The Wonderful And Frightening World Of The Fall in my university bookstore's bargain bin a couple of years later. At some point, I need to write about the many odd places that I've found great records in my life, and how for a time I used to have recurring dreams about discovering amazing new record stores. (Then I'd be mad when I woke up and realized that they didn't really exist).
Those dreams were prompted in part by stumbling across The Wonderful And Frightening World, which I'd assumed by the title would be an anthology, but was instead a nightmarish (but oddly hooky) vision of violence and pestilence that stuck me as pretty awesome at age 18. Now I know that the original album (expanded on the tape I bought) is considered a Fall staple, but back then, just as it is now, a trip through The Fall section of a local record store was utterly confounding. They have so many albums with strange titles and little info—and so much overlap from album to album—that it's hard for a novice to get his bearings. Luckily for my budding Fall fandom, they were relatively easy to keep up with in the years that followed, because they were on a mini-major label, putting out good records like The Frenz Experiement, I Am Curious Oranj and Extricate. And thanks to the then-popular Manchester scene and the rise of Pavement, The Fall were on the radio some and even on MTV. (Fun fact: I had a friend who initially hated Pavement because he was huge Fall fan, and couldn't stand the idea of a Fall-inspired band becoming successful while The Fall languished in obscurity. He later relented, because he realized, quite rightly, that if he really liked The Fall then he should like bands that sound like The Fall. After all, there aren't that many.) But in the post-MTV days, The Fall's discography has been such a mess of live albums, compilations and reissues that when they put out an actual new album a couple of years ago, they called it The Real New Fall LP. And so the knot gets knottier.
Enduring presence? It's not easy to be a Fall fan, and it's sure not easy to make other people into Fall fans. (I gave up trying to convert my wife long ago.) I wouldn't even call myself any more than a dabbler, even though I've probably bought (or received from publicists, or duped from friends) over a dozen Fall albums in my life. I check in and out, which in some ways seems to be what Mark E. Smith has in mind.
"Slang King" by The Fall
Years Of Operation 1977-92
Fits Between The Velvet Underground and Dire Straits
Personal Correspondence Any time anyone dismisses the necessity of canons in popular culture, I think about The Feelies, and I push back. Thanks to a 1987 Rolling Stone list of the best rock albums from '67-'87, I became aware of The Feelies' Crazy Rhythms, which at the time was out of print. But right before I left for college in the fall of '88, I found a used copy of the band's 1986 album The Good Earth at a thrift store, and was immediately infatuated. Two guitars, two drummers—it was like everything good about rock 'n' roll, doubled. Soon after I arrived in Athens, GA, The Feelies released their major label debut, Only Life, a more muscular record (but no less insinuating), and then they followed with the more eclectic and vastly underrated Time For A Witness, followed by the long-awaited reissue of Crazy Rhythms. (Lengthy aside: Because I lived in Athens while the members of R.E.M. were still in residence, I'd often see Peter Buck or Michael Stipe out at shows or in record stores, and I promised myself that if I ever had the chance to talk with Buck, my conversation-opener wasn't going to be, "I'm a big fan," it was going to be, "Do you have any idea where I can find a copy of The Feelies' Crazy Rhythms?" I guess I hoped he'd offer to loan me his copy or something. Instead, what happened was that I made the mistake of mentioning this plan to my then-girlfriend's crazily extroverted half-sister, who happened to be with me when I did see Buck at Wuxtry Records, and literally pushed me over to him, shouting, "Hey Peter, this guy has something to ask you!" Absolutely mortifying. As I recall, Buck mumbled something about an Atlanta record store that might have an import, and I thanked him and fled.) Anyway, if it hadn't been for a list in an establishment rock mag, I might not have had the hours upon hours of pleasure that listening to The Feelies' mush-mouthed vocals and intricate playing have brought me. So hooray for canons!
Enduring presence? Whenever The A.V. Club has given me the chance, I've advocated for one of my favorite bands of all time, be it in this feature we wrote on the underrated, or an apparently-gone-from-the-archives blog post I wrote about memorable live shows. But you know what would really help The Feelies take their rightful place in the alt-rock canon? If someone would get their goddamn albums back into print! What's the hold-up? Lack of interest? Some crazy rights issue? (Actually, according to rumor, the trouble is that co-bandleader Bill Million is dickering over whether the reissues should contain bonus tracks, but that's such a mundane excuse that for romantic reasons, I refuse to believe it.) In the meantime, I treasure my CD copies of the core four, which I still turn people onto now and then. Drop by my house anytime, and I'll gladly loan them to you.
"The High Road" by The Feelies
Years Of Operation 1999-present (solo)
Fits Between Rickie Lee Jones and Edith Piaf
Personal Correspondence It may be too early to count Feist among the musicians who've helped form my taste, but I have been pretty knocked out by each of her last two albums, and by the music-making philosophy behind them. I dig their eclecticism—from lite-disco to Euro-folk to Nina Simone—and the way every song sounds like it was created on a rainy afternoon in the empty great room of some country manse. Feist is like a musical version of Michel Gondry, plucking the pieces of popular culture she loves so that she can use them to make crafty miniatures. She's a "wake up late, have coffee and croissants on the porch, go inside and make art" kind of gal. I don't know if I want to listen to her or be her.
Enduring presence? I trust that the Feist backlash is on, yes? Anytime an indie or quasi-indie artist gets too popular, those who weren't that wild about her in the first place develop a dislike way out of proportion to the actual quality and/or cultural pervasiveness of the music. I should probably go ahead and preemptively add Feist to my growing list of "New Guilty Pleasures."
"One Evening" by Feist
Years Of Operation 2004-present/2000-present
Fits Between XTC and Maxïmo Park/ Modest Mouse and Built To Spill
Personal Correspondence Both of these bands are fairly fresh onto the scene too, but both have released two really good albums each, and they became among my favorite bands of the '00s almost immediately. About Field Music's first album I wrote: "At least a dozen bands have been compared to XTC during the recent post-punk revival, but UK trio Field Music has a specific XTC fetish, stealing from the band what XTC stole from Steve Reich. Field Music's self-titled debut album delights in reducing pop songs to a few simple elements, then combining and recombining them in elaborate overlays. Between the fragments of orchestral splendor, the sprightly Beatles-esque guitar stings, and the washed-out alto harmonies of bandleader brothers David and Peter Brewis, the core of Field Music offers the most righteous deconstruction of pop pleasure since the mid-'90s heyday of Cardinal, Zumpano, and The High Llamas." About Figurines' first US album, I wrote: The Danish band's fantastic second album Skeleton is the stuff indie-rock fantasies are built on, with a gripping, theatrical sound that's like a hybrid of early Built To Spill and pre-Soft Bulletin Flaming Lips, adorned with pieces of the old Neil Young albums that inspired those bands in the first place. Figurines tap into that great reckless wow that's drawn out nearly every nerdy crank with a guitar—Skeleton's songs bounce up and down, unfussy and unhurried, changing tempos and stacking hooks, creating a feeling of honest yearning."
Both of the albums that followed by Field Music and Figurines are just as strong, in my opinion. Yet the fact that I haven't been able to get any of my A.V. Club colleagues to fall for these bands the way I have has helped me realize that I've drifted out of touch with the critical consensus. To me, Field Music and Figurines are both clearly among the best things going in rock today (along with Constantines, whom my A.V. Club colleagues also pretty roundly dismissed in their SXSW coverage this year). Why does everybody else have so much trouble hearing what I hear? Believe me: everyone would have such a happier life if they just liked what I like.
Enduring presence? "To me, Field Music and Figurines are both clearly among the best things going in rock today." –Noel Murray, 4/7/08
"You're Not Supposed To" by Field Music
"Hey, Girl" by Figurines
The Fiery Furnaces
Years Of Operation 2000-present
Fits Between The Fall and Gorky's Zygotic Mynci
Personal Correspondence I rarely get the chance to "discover" bands, but I got a copy of The Fiery Furnaces' debut Gallowsbird's Bark from my uncle (who at the time was working for Sanctuary, the US distributor for Rough Trade) about three months before it was released, and I had one of those rare "Okay, this is something I haven't heard before" moments. Writing for another publication, I said, "This is a punky, bluesy, medieval-folky take on pub rock, sounding by turns like P.J. Harvey, Gorky's Zygotic Mynci, The White Stripes, Siouxsie & The Banshees, Spoon and maybe even Jethro Tull (minus the flute). It's an insistent and confident record—the sound of traditional British folk music being systematically demolished." I wasn't as enamored of the self-indulgent follow-up Blueberry Boat as a lot of my colleagues, and I've never been able to make it all the way through the atonal oral history of Rehearsing My Choir (as much as I respect the attempt). But after Matthew Friedberger's two half-assed solo albums, The Fiery Furnaces have been a lot more on-point. No one talked much about 2006's Bitter Tea (myself included), but it's band's best record since their debut, blending actual songs with more freewheeling genre mash-ups. Last year's Widow City leans heavier on the latter, but is still cohesive more often than not. The Friedbergers seem to be on the verge of finding that place where weirdness-for-weirdness'-sake breaks through to something more rewarding. I know some folks prefer the exploration to the discovery, but that's one of the things that keeps me from being a major prog fan (to jump back to the Emerson, Lake & Palmer entry). I'm a journalist at heart: I like things to be edited and on-point.
Enduring presence? I never really listen to my Fiery Furnaces records, but I can't get rid of them either. There's too much imagination and well-intentioned tinkering charging up their music, and I feel like one day I'll catch up to it. Very few bands can deliver an experience that's completely unlike any other, but The Fiery Furnaces are among them.
"I'm Gonna Run" by The Fiery Furnaces
From the fringes of the collection, a few songs to share .
Eminem, "Lose Yourself"
The elevation of Eminem by my critical brethren has had a lot to do with my alienation from hip-hop in the '00s. I think Eminem's got good flow, a flair for clever wordplay, great stage presence, and the kind of deep emotional problems that often makes superstar artists interesting. But at the same time, he tends to drive his hooks into the ground, and he's partly responsible for the trend towards excessive narcissism in popular culture, in which celebrities both major and minor (and sub-minor) give interviews and produce reality shows and record songs that are all about how the eyes of the world are upon them. Yes, I'm aware of the irony of me pointing this out in a column that dissects how every childhood memory has affected my musical opinions; and I'm also aware that a lot of Eminem's songs are meant to satirize this very phenomenon. Still, I can't help but feel that listening to Eminem is a step towards buying into celeb-worship, and I prefer to engage with that world exclusively via my weekly half-hour of The Soup. That's why—cliché as it may be—my favorite Eminem track is the Oscar-winning mega-hit "Lose Yourself," which scales back the arrogance and ups the desperation and, ultimately, the transcendence.
"Lose Yourself" by Eminem
Emitt Rhodes, "Mary Will You Take My Hand"
Here's another west coast wunderkind who had flashes of chart success—a la Curt Boettcher and Harry Nilsson—before disappearing from the pop scene before the '70s ended. Rhodes is best known for fronting The Merry-Go-Round, a fine post-Beatles American rock band I'll get to later this year, but Rhodes also had a brief swing as a solo artist between 1970 and '73. This jaunty song—incongruous steel drums and all—comes from his solo debut The American Dream, which his label didn't release until two years after it was recorded, after he'd had a couple of minor hits. It's what they used to call a feel-good song, and an effective one.
"Mary Will You Take My Hand" by Emmit Rhodes
England Dan & John Ford Coley, "I'd Really Love To See You Tonight"
For some reason, the mid-'70s were especially kind to these kind of soft, rootsy concoctions, delivered with a slight southern lilt and a whole lot of pro-quality studio varnish by neatly dressed, shaggy-haired dudes with epic moustaches. I've always liked this song because it shines like zircon, and because it features the squarest lyrics this side of The Everly Brothers' "That's Old Fashioned." In essence, this song is saying, "I don't want to have sex with you; I just want to go for a walk." Ladies, any takers?
"I'd Really Love To See You Tonight" by England Dan & John Ford Coley
Esquivel, "Bye Bye Blues"
The Esquivel mini-craze of the mid-'90s was largely driven by my generation's shallow junkshop mentality, which had us cluttering our dorms and apartments with all manner of retro kitsch—partly out of nostalgia, partly out of irony, and partly because we thought it was funny. But we also revived Esquivel's wiggy cocktail party favorites because they're genuinely wonderful—full of sonic surprises, exotic flair, and creative exuberance. Our motivations may have been muddled, but if it helped keep Esquivel's name in front of the record-buying public a little longer, it was well-worth-it.
"Bye Bye Blues" by Esquivel
Eurythmics, "Here Comes The Rain Again"
For a somewhat sadder version of shadowing, you could always follow Eurythmics' strange decline from relatively adventurous techno-pop at the start of the '80s to adult contemporary mush by the end. Though along the way, Dave Stewart and Annie Lennox recorded a few amazing singles—and in fact, some of their best were the ones that balanced the adventurous with the mainstream. I've always loved three Eurythmics songs in particular: "Love Is A Stranger," "It's Alright (Baby's Coming Back)" and this aching love ballad. Maybe I was unduly influenced by the "Here Comes The Rain Again" video, which had Lennox walking forlornly across windswept cliffs in her frumpy nightgown, but when I was 13, this song seemed the epitome of romantic yearning—something I was a few years away from actually experiencing.
"Here Comes The Rain Again" by Eurythmics
Ever We Fall, "Late Night Dance Party"
Because I've never been steeped in emo-fandom (or emo-backlash), I don't really have much in the way of a critical framework to apply when I a song like this comes up. I can sort of understand why some people would be instantly opposed to it: It has those boyish, borderline-whiny vocals typical of emo, and lyrics overly (almost cynically) preoccupied with youth culture. But it's also got the kind of open-ended alt-rock arrangement that much of emo favors, and at times it reminds me of some of Minutemen's more elastic later songs, or the work of the short-lived Tripmaster Monkey. I'd be interested in hearing from anyone who thinks this song sucks, because I've got literally hundreds of songs like this that've landed on my hard drive over the past several years, and I never know whether to delete them or not. This is one I'd be inclined to keep, though I'd be hard-pressed to say what makes it better or worse (or really any different at all) from the others.
"Late Night Dance Party" by Ever We Fall
Everclear, "Fire Maple Song"
Art Alexakis has really only ever written one song, which he's been rehashing over and over on album after inexplicably big-selling album. I do like that song—I liked it when I heard it for the first time on Everclear's debut World Of Noise, and I've liked it every time the band has had another hit with it—but it's hard to believe that every time Alexakis has presented his label with "I Will Buy You A New Life" or "Santa Monica" that the label hasn't said, "Uh, Alex this is great and all, but we've already released this song." If you tried to shadow Everclear, you wouldn't travel very far.
"Fire Maple Song" by Everclear
The Evolution Control Committee, "Spandau Filet"
I respect the conceptual brilliance of Negativland, but their collage-minded protégées in The Evolution Control Committee make cut-ups that are generally more musical and fun, if rarely as pointed. There's not much going on here besides remixing skill—no point, in other words—but it's kind of mesmerizing regardless. (And short, which is always a plus.)
"Spandau Filet" by The Evolution Control Committee
The Exploding Hearts, "Throwaway Style"
While garage-rock and post-punk were getting revived left and right in the early '00s, power-pop's best hope for superstardom (at least since the brief, sputtering career of Material Issue) were the Portland-based clang-and-jangle purveyors The Exploding Hearts. They were hooky and charismatic, and on the basis of the stellar debut LP Guitar Romantic and some energizing live shows, they seemed like they were on the verge of bursting out of the underground, until a van accident killed three members of the band. At the moment, The Exploding Hearts still aren't all that well-known, but I get the feeling that Guitar Romantic (and the also-quite-good singles-and-outtakes collection Shattered) will be passed on from fan to fan as the years go by, and become revered like Neutral Milk Hotel's In The Aeroplane Over The Sea, My Bloody Valentine's Loveless, and other great records by bands that peaked early then stopped, by choice or by circumstance.
"Throwaway Style" by The Exploding Hearts
The Faces, "Bad 'n' Ruin"
I'll talk more about Rod Stewart somewhere down the line, but in the meantime I should say a few words about arguably the best project Stewart has ever been involved with. The fact that The Faces are down here in this section and not up with the Pieces Of The Puzzle is only because I've never given them the attention they deserve. I bought a Faces anthology after "Ooh La La" so memorably closed out Rushmore, but I only played it once or twice for some reason. I guess I just wasn't yet in the right place yet to appreciate strictly groove-based British blooze-rock. In the years since I've gotten heavily into Free—Free, for heaven's sake!—but until this week I hadn't gotten around to revisiting The Faces. That's a grievous error that I plan to spend the rest of my life correcting.
"Bad 'N' Ruin" by The Faces
Fatboy Slim, "Gangster Tripping"
I know Fatboy Slim's biggest hits were so overplayed that they became annoyances, but at a distance, it's easier to hear Norman Cook's best singles for what they were: smartly assembled club fare, full of familiar sounds and walloping beats. When it's past midnight, you've had some drinks and you're hungry, you want something salty and cheesy. Fatboy Slim is the dance floor equivalent of "drunk food."
"Gangster Tripping" by Fatboy Slim
Fats Domino, "I'm Ready"
Every time I start to forget that "rock 'n' roll" is essentially a euphemism for fucking, I get a friendly reminder via proto-rock singles like this Fats Domino classic. Bonus points for the handclaps, which add percussive texture. I love percussive texture.
"I'm Ready" by Fats Domino
The Features, "The Way It's Meant To Be"
Here's another in what seems like an unending string of Tennessee rock bands that got an invitation to the big time only to find nobody there when they knocked on the door. With The Features though, I'm not entirely sure why they ended up on a major label in the first place, except that it was the mid-'00s, the "rockisback" movement still had a little momentum left, and The Features have always been a band with catchy hooks at the ready. But bandleader Matt Pelham has also always had an idiosyncratic approach to his musical output—which has been sporadic during the band's 10-plus years of kicking around the scene—and he's never been one to just cash in. The Features' early music was Cars-y about six years before The Strokes and others made The Cars a viable influence again, and then the band went through an Elephant 6 phase about three years too late. For The Features' lone LP Exhibit A, they combined the new wave strain with the DIY indie strain, while adding some arena-rock crunch. The result was far noisier and more reckless than I think Universal was expecting, and the album subsequently died on the vine. But I still think it's one mother of a record—especially this song, which you may notice sounds a little like Fats Domino's "I'm Ready" at first, before taking a few different turns.
"The Way It's Meant To Be" by The Features
Femi Kuti etc., "Water No Get Enemy" This one sort of stands in for the "regrettably unremarked upon" Fela Kuti, who is RUU for one simple reason: I've apparently lost the kick-ass Fela Kuti anthology I used to have on CD. So Femi will have to do—which is fine, because the apple hasn't fallen that far from the tree, and anyway, this is a cover of a Fela song. Femi Kuti may use more modern recording techniques, and he may have picked up the habits of contemporary R&B;, from guest vocalists to remixes, but the Afrobeat essence is the same. It's all about repetition, testifying, and transcendence. (More on the latter next week.)
"Water No Get Enemy" by Femi Kuti etc.
Regrettably unremarked upon: Emmylou Harris, Emperor X, Ennio Morricone, Eric Burdon, ESG, Etta James, Everything But The Girl, Explosions In The Sky, Fairport Convention, Fat Jon and Fela Kuti
Embrace, Emerson Drive, Emily
Haines & The Soft Skeleton, Emily Lord, Emmet
Swimming, Emulations, End, End Of
Fashion, The End Of The World, Englebert Humperdink, Enon, Ensemble,
The Ensemble Al Salam, Enzo Stuarti, epic45, The Equators, Eric Andersen, Eric
Bachman, Eric Donaldson, Eric Johnson, Erie Choir, Erin
Condo, Ernest & Hattie Stone, Erma Franklin, Eskimo Joe,
The Eskimos, The Esoteric, Espers, The
Essex Green, Ester Drang, Esthero, Estradasphere, The
Eternals, Etran Finatawa, Eugene McGuinness, Eugene Mirman,
Eulogies, Euros Childs, Evan Dando, Evanescence,
Evangelicals, Evelyn Champagne King, Every Move A Picture, Evie Sands, Ex Lion
Tamer, Ex-Boyfriends, eXIT cLoV,
Extra Golden, Eyeball Skeleton, The
Fabulettes, Face To Face, The Faint, The Faintest Ideas, Family
Fodder, The Fantastic Four, Fantastic Plastic Machine, Fantômas, Far Away
Places, Fareed Haque, Fat Daddy Holmes, Faunts, Faux Fox,
Federico Aubele, Felix Da Housecat, Felony, Fergus
McCormick, Fern Jones, Fernando, Ferocious Eagle,
The Fever, The Few, The Field, Fields,
The Figgs, The Fight, Film School, The Films, The Finals and
A Fine Frenzy
Next week: From Fine Young Cannibals to Genesis, plus a few words on transcendence