In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well—some inspired by a weekly theme and some not, but always songs worth hearing.
Few things snap my ears to attention like a guitarist playing their instrument without really playing it, per se. Take the Pixies’ “Gigantic,” for instance: The prechorus of that song is what the slashes in “quiet/loud/quiet” sound like, the explosion of Kim Deal’s “big, big love” ushered along by Joey Santiago bending the hell out of a single, sustained note. I love Velvet Underground-inspired droners, shoegazing noisemakers, and musicians who whack the hell out of a guitar for percussive effect. It’s even better when these unformed bits of sound butt up against distinct melody, like the scratchy, muted breathers that Big Star takes between measures of 1974’s “O My Soul.”
What makes those squirrelly few seconds count is the fact that rest of “O My Soul” is so tuneful—perhaps too tuneful. It indulges the sort of freedom yearned for in the songs of Big Star’s full-length debut, #1 Record, combining taut passages of power-pop and looser moments of blues-inspired vamping—no single part of the song sounds like it should go with the others. (This might have something to do with the fact that “O My Soul” was originally written by the late Chris Bell—who parted ways with the band between records—though Radio City presented it as the work of Big Star’s driving force, Alex Chilton.) For all its charms, “O My Soul” is ungainly, the perfect opening to an album recorded while Big Star was coming apart at the seams. Every instrument on the track sounds like it wants to take the lead—and they all get to, to some extent, which is why Chilton’s reverb-soaked non-notes act like a referee’s whistle as well as a brief reprieve. Those clicks and clacks reorganize everything before “O My Soul” can tear into itself again.