Archive for the 'Reinventions' Category

17
Jun
16

Silver Jews “Bright Flight”

I know something about this band Silver Jews, that it’s mostly this guy David Berman, and there have been a lot of collaborators, including Stephen Malkmus (in the past, not here), and they put out a few records and then broke up, or stopped playing, or recording (though I suppose that a band or person can just record a record again at any time, if they are still alive, and want to, no matter how much they are retired, so what does that even mean). Six albums, I guess, between 1994 and 2008, and this one is somewhere in the middle, 2001. But I’m pretending I know nothing, like I just picked this up out of a pile of random records (which I did, essentially) not knowing anything (which I don’t, essentially). The first song, the initial impression, is that this is country and western music (steel guitar, country piano, Nashville references, George Strait cover, picture on back cover wearing a too small western shirt with embroidered scorpions), that’s what it is, but something that would be considered “alternative country” in that David Berman’s singing has that quality that some people would call bad singing, but I call great singing—the closer you listen the more complex the person behind the voice gets. It also helps that the lyrics are at worst impossibly catchy and at best life changing poetry.

If one set out to create an uglier album cover than this one, just forget it, you’ve lost. It’s a flat, flash photograph of a nasty old couch with a tattered spiral bound notebook sitting on it, and there’s what looks like some colored stickers on the notebook creating an abstract design, and also what looks like the number “4” on the notebook. It occurs to me that it’s the 4th Silver Jews album and the cover photo and number 4 could be a reference to Led Zeppelin IV (if you squint, you can see a similarity between the two covers) (also, “Bright Flight”/”Stairway to Heaven”—get it?)—and now it occurs to me that IV is not just “4” it also means intravenous, and most likely “Stairway to Heaven” is about heroin. (If you ever find yourself on Jeopardy and the category is “popular song meanings”—just keep hitting the buzzer and saying, “What is heroin,” and you’ll probably come out ahead.) In fact, seeing how every other song on this record has a reference to horses, I have to assume either Berman is an avid equestrian or else it’s a lot about heroin.

All of my nonsense here is an attempt to not try and fail to express just how good these lyrics are, and how catchy these songs are, and how lovely it all is. I think this is my new favorite record of all time, no exaggeration. I think I just joined the club of nerdy, pathetic music fans who have “Silver Jews” tattooed on an important part of their brain. Now I know how people felt about JD Salinger. (Oh, wait, I was one of those people, too.) And it’s even worse with the internet. Look, I consider myself a songwriter, or former songwriter. I feel like there is no worse feeling in the world than to know you’ve come up with some kind of wonderful song, seemingly out of nowhere, and then not be able to do it again. It’s a wonder that any songwriter survives past the age of thirty. I guess the only thing to do, sometimes, is reinvent yourself. But then you probably already know all this. But if you don’t believe me, find a couple of these songs, like “Slow Education” or “I Remember Me” or “Tennessee”—and if they aren’t the best songs you’ve ever heard, go get yourself a new set of friends.

16
Jun
16

Nicholas Frank “Greatest Skips”

Not denying the irresistibility of a title such as “Greatest Skips”—my overwhelming hope was that inside this album cover with six pictures of people getting their picture taken (the inside sleeve is six corresponding pictures of people taking the pictures of the people on the cover, presumably) I would find a dozen well-crafted, personal, heart-wrenching songs performed by Nicholas Frank, perhaps with the help of additional musicians. For a moment, then, when immediately the familiar sound of a skipping record assaulted my ears, I thought PERHAPS this record has a skip right at the beginning, either coincidentally or as a kind of initiation joke, after which you’d move the needle onto the dozen well-crafted songs. But no. It’s a an entire record consisting of a collection of record skips. After looking around for a Nicholas Frank substitute to throw through the wall, for awhile, I relaxed a little and soon found myself enjoying the sound for what it was, as well as thinking about a few things.

I’ve never really thought about it, but the length of a record skip should be exactly the time it takes for the needle to get around the record once, right? And the record is turning at 33 1/3 times per minute, or so we’re led to believe. But when the needle gets down to the inside of the record, where it has less distance to travel to get around the record, shouldn’t it take less time? So how does that work? Why don’t records get progressively higher-pitched as they go along? It’s bad enough I’ll never REALLY understand what’s going on in those grooves, now I’m even confused about the speed. Anyway, it then occurred to me that in that this is a collection of record skips, played in succession, Mr. Frank had to make a decision on just HOW MANY skips (normally, one hears the number of skips it takes for you to realize the record is skipping, pull yourself out of the beanbag chair, spill your beer, and get to the turntable) he was going to allow us to hear before moving on to the next one, as well as the order they are presented. One wonders if the skips are a collection he compiled over a period of time or if he was able to manufacture or re-create record skips at will. And if, upon repeated listenings, I would be able to discovers a narrative or a message, or even a deep, weird secret, or instructions to unearthing a treasure.

I have to admit, I have my own collection of record skips, on a cassette tape that I kept handy for many years, available to pop in the recorder any time a skip randomly happened. I never listen to it, of course, but wouldn’t sell it for a million dollars. I also have a cassette tape I made from Lee Ranaldo’s lock-groove experiment record, “From Here to Infinity.” It would have been better to just buy the record, but cheapie that I am, I illegally home-taped it, but was then met with a decision to make on each track: how long to record the lock-groove? Now I’m thinking, how many people put lock-grooves on the end of their records, throughout history? There must be a list on the internet somewhere. And one more thing, it just occurred to me. What if THIS record gets an ACTUAL skip in it sometime? What exactly would that be like? I mean, besides annoying, would it blow your mind, if even for a few minutes? How does one create a skip in a record… peanut butter or something? But no, I won’t do it, this is not my record. I’m cat-sitting. But I suppose I could pick up my own copy somewhere, and figure out how to make REAL skips. It could be a project for a rainy day.

01
May
11

David Bowie “ChangesOneBowie”

This record, which came out in 1976, seems to want to mark a change from sci-fi androgynous freak to good-looking mature artist, but it just rubs me the wrong way. It comes off more as midlife crisis, even though Bowie should have been much too young for that. It’s essentially a “greatest hits” record that doesn’t have a cheesy title like “Ladies and Gentlemen, The Very Best of…” But rather than approach it in context of the records the songs came from, I have to (I mean right now, for the sake of writing this) listen to it as the complete and unique art object it is.

“Space Oddity” is pure nostalgia for me, like everyone is sick of me rehashing. Blacklight posters and rootbeer incense and bad pot. But it’s just a good song, right? I’m sure there is a story behind “John, I’m Only Dancing” but I don’t care, because I can’t listen to it because it’s crap. Though, I would, some day, love to write a song with the title, John, comma, something. “John, Help Me To A Toilet So I Can Throw Up,” or something. “Changes” is a great song, and I suppose worth creating this particular record to get it out to the record buying public in a new format. “Ziggy Stardust” and “Suffragette City”–more nostalgia, but this time there is beer drinking involved. Whenever “Jean Genie” comes on, I’m just glad it’s the last song of Side One so I can take it off without listening to it and go directly to Side Two. White blues, but really white, and not blues at all.

Everyone who knows me is sick to death of me talking about how “Diamond Dogs” is one of maybe six favorite songs of all time. For some strange reason I just NEVER GET TIRED OF IT. I made the mistake, once, however, of looking up the lyrics on the internet, which almost ruined it for me, because they were NOT CLOSE to what I’ve been imagining all these years. I’ve been slowly deprogramming myself to go back to the way I used to hear it. “You’re dead,  they call them the Diamond Dogs.” Maybe it’s the cowbell, maybe it’s the way it sounds like the soundwaves are coming through some kind of viscous fluid. Maybe it’s nostalgia. I wouldn’t mind, however, NEVER hearing “Rebel Rebel” ever again. “Young Americans” has that 1980’s, Saturday Night Live, vapid entertainment sound. I think of Chicago (the city), comedy clubs, and those big pretzels, which, last time I ate one, I threw up. “Fame” is up next, White Funk, but REALLY white, and not funky at all. “Golden Years” is like a non-song with a non-hook, played as blandly as possible, and pretty much the perfect fit to end this record. It occurs to me that the lyrics might be interesting if I listened to them– after all, how do you justify calling a song “Golden Years?”– but I can’t even listen to the lyrics because I can’t listen to the song.




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