Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Five Songs, Chapter Twenty-Nine

Remember this little exercise? (If you do, you’ve been reading this blog for far too long.) I abandoned it for a while because I went through the whole favorite 100 albums project, and that more than satisfied my music-writing itch. But that’s been over for a while, and the five songs conceit has been shelved since almost three years ago. So back to it...

“I’m Sober Now” by Danny O’Keefe

My friend Strath introduced me to this song a few years ago, and he’s written about O’Keefe at slightly greater length over at his fine blog. He’s a singer and songwriter from the Pacific Northwest (Strath’s native stomping grounds) who was most active in the 1970s and had his music covered by a number of higher-profile artists. “I’m Sober Now” is all unapologetically maudlin slide guitar and a great tear-filled beer lyric that includes lines like, “they say some folks can make it / livin’ on their own / but the only ones I’ve heard of / was either saints or stones.”

“This Is Why We Fight” by The Decemberists

R.E.M. recently released another pretty desultory effort, but that’s OK, because The Decemberists’ The King is Dead, released in January, already had a lock on the best R.E.M. album of the year. Peter Buck plays on a few songs — one in particular, “Calamity Song,” begins with a guitar figure so reminiscent of Reckoning that it’s ridiculous. "Why We Fight," the album’s penultimate song, has been the one I’ve most compulsively listened to. There have been times I’ve just played it 10 times in a row, and I’m still not sick of it. Its music sounds more Smiths than R.E.M., and the lyric is very much an early Son Volt (or R.E.M., but it’s nice to shake up the references) type of effort, with satisfyingly vague emotion and portent. (“Come the war / come the avarice / come the war / come hell.”)

"We're Not Alone" by Dinosaur Jr.

This is off Beyond, which was released in 2007 and thus has no right to sound as good as it does. This song is both catchy and, to my ears, very moving. "I wanted you to say / 'be around'" goes one recurring lyric. The song shifts less than halfway into a slightly different guitar movement, no less catchy, and a repetition of "If you say we're not alone." Well, if you like guitar rock, and the bands that influenced Dinosaur Jr. (The Replacements) and the bands Dinosaur Jr. then influenced (Buffalo Tom), I think you'll like this song quite a bit.

"The Modern Leper" by Frightened Rabbit

This installment of Five Songs is becoming, with this song, at least 60% about various forms of guitar-driven relationship angst. (80% if you count The Decemberists, which we probably should, because whatever the hell he's singing about, it's probably a metaphor for a girl.) This band isn't everybody's cup of tea. Even I can only take a few songs at a time. The singer's voice, though his Scottish accent has to count for something, can fall on the wrong side of the emo-ish/mewling divide (aren't both sides of that divide the wrong side? you ask, and you are right to).

"Pannonica" by Thelonious Monk

A song I've been listening to a bit lately, and you should, too. You can't just listen to that rock music all the time, you know. It'll rot your brain. (Oh, and I listen to the Alone in San Francisco version more often, but the full version on Brilliant Corners is also good.)



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