Shuffleathon 2008/9 Update
I'm wondering if perhaps shuffleathon reviews are a little like buses: you wait for ages for one to turn up, and then all of a sudden two arrive at once. There's not been this much shuffle action around here since who knows when. First of all Joe the Troll has come up trumps with his review of Beth's CD. Not only has he done the honours with the disc itself, but he's written a long, thoughtful introduction on the way that technology has affected the way he listens to music. Well worth waiting for, I reckon. The disc itself seems to have been reasonably succesful, which was nice.
That was quite a lot of excitement for one week, so I'm sure you can imagine my delight when, the very next day, I received another review. Not just any review, either.... this was asta's review of the disc that I sent her. Without further ado, here's her thoughts on the matter.
Apologies are Not Enough
Any illusions I might have harboured that my days as a procrastinator were over were ground to dust with this year's Shuffleathon CD. I handled the first part of the project with ease. I compiled and sent out my own mix CD swiftly and was rewarded with a glowing reception review by Threelight in less time than it takes to make a Christmas cake.
Then I fell into the sticky, stultifying morass that is known as Getting Around To It. SwissToni 's package arrived in plenty of time for me to listen, revel in, ponder, assess, critique and re-appreciate his efforts, long before tinsel was hung on the tree. And I should mention that I was doubly blessed because ST included a bonus CD of his 2007 Christmas Mix. But I had Other Commitments to attend to. Then there was Christmas preparations Christmas, after-Christmas and a burgeoning list of Work Panics and Assorted Emergencies. These were followed by the Escape to the Caribbean, the Shackling to the Work Studio,and the Case of the Mysterious Frozen Shoulder. All of this operated in the shadow of the overwhelming powerful Maybe Later.
To my complete and utter shame it has taken me close to six months to complete this project. This sort of time frame would only be acceptable if I were a Royal Commissioner ( inside Canadian joke-sorry).
So mea maxima culpa, ST.
At long last, here's a review--
> White Riot- The Clash
You can't talk about punk without The Clash. I first heard this song and its album in the living room of a seedy university apartment in Ottawa in 1979 when P, an angry and talented architecture student, forced me to listen to it. It assaulted my ears and mind. I'd like to say I loved it at first listen. I didn't. I was much more timid and judgmental then. I wanted to like it. I knew it was important. But I couldn't feign enjoyment. For a girl brought up on the likes of Bach and Bacharach and a daily dosing of Top 40, how could two chords played at breakneck speed be considered music. But that I can recall exactly when and where I first heard this tells you all you need to know about it's influence. It's brilliant. I don't think The Clash were ever better than they were in this first raw recording. I sneer at the pretenders and imitators who came after who heard the fuzz, distortions and stripped down notes and registered nothing else-the bands with attitudinal cores of vanity and narcissism. We call them posers.
> Let's Talk About it- White Denim
What do we have here? This is a song that's designed to be played loud. It's percussive fun with bits and bobs of jangly garage silliness. Distortion? check. Thrashy guitar? check. Crazy percussion? double check. Throw in feedback and a chaotic jumble of electronica and we have all the making of a three minute party. I have my doubts about the future of this particular band, but I have no gripe with this song.
> Gloria- Patti Smith
Confession time. This is where I got bogged down and not because I dislike either the artist or the song, no, quite the opposite. I think Patti Smith ranks up there with the best of the best when it comes to the history of punk music. What could I possibly add that hasn't already been written? She is referred to as a legend and an icon. She is the ultimate punk rocker although, at the time, there was a tendency to give her short shrift- mostly because she was female and not a particularly pretty one at that. She didn't fit the cliché of what was salable in rock. She was and is an acquired taste. Gloria is one of her signature songs. I can't imagine anyone who claims to like rock music who hasn't heard this at some point. This song is what a certain part of the 70s were like. It was nothing like my 1975, which was staid, preppy and stifling. Horses, where this track is found, was a shocking, crumbling kick to all my received notions of what music was. I immediately recognised that this was not just “angry noise” but it took me a long time to develop an honest appreciation. Like I said; she's an acquired taste.
A bit of trivia; word is that Patti is about to become a mother-in-law to White Stripes drummer Meg White. I expect the music at the wedding to be kick-ass.
> Handlebars - Flobots
Ah yes, political hip-hop; an almost sure-fire recipe for simplistic overstatement and aural irritation. I was aware of their album Fight With Tools, but I hadn't heard anything from it. I really like this song. A Lot. I like the fact that there are strings and horns in a rock groove with hip hop beats and MCs who know how to work words. I'm still not going to go out and buy the album, but I always listen to this song when it's turn comes up on the CD player.
> White Winter Hymnal-Fleet Foxes
This group made it to more than a few of the Top 10 albums of 2008. It made it to mine, because of this song. It sounds like a round.( I say sounds like, because they don't actually sing it in the round, although I suspect they could.) The melody sounds like it could have been written last week or as far back as the 16th century. I don't think it's just a coincidence that the album cover is a Bruegel. The song is musical sketch of children on a winter's day playing in the snow- but there's blood and menace all around: "I was following the pack/ All swallowed in their coats/ With scarves of red tied 'round their throats/ To keep their little heads from falling in the snow/”. Yikes. But then a description of actual blood on the snow is compared to strawberries. It's all so disconcerting. But then, nature isn't Bambi y'know. Brilliant stuff. And Catchy. This melody is a mighty powerful earworm.
> Night Terror- Laura Marling
This one gave me some problems. The Shuffleathon CDs arrive in the bleakest darkest time of the year- winter solstice. It's taken me many years to figure it out, but I am highly susceptible to the weather. I'm not just talk SAD, I'm talking year round reaction to current conditions. Living in the northern hemisphere means winter solstice is brutal for me. Laura Marling may be the critic's choice for alt-folk princess of the year past, but I couldn't listen to this song. I mean I could listen to it long enough to appreciate the haunting lingering melody and the mystical voice, but as soon as the lyrics registered. Nope. Sorry can't do it. I can't handle that much darkness and bleakness when I'm in the middle of darkness and bleakness. I was never much of one for a wallow.
It's Spring now. Fantastic song. She still sounds like Valerie Gore to me, but that's not a bad thing. What a difference a few months make. And another persistent earworm
> Me and Julio Down By The School Yard- Paul Simon
And now, for a complete change of pace and mood.
I love this song. Always have. I don't know what “mama pajama” saw. I don't know who the 'radical priest 'on the cover of Newsweek is. I don't care. It's the bounce, the sunshine, the sheer fun in the melody and lyric that makes this a keeper. Paul Simon can be dweebish, obsessive and a bit of twit in interviews when he's pontificating about his music, and his later music drags, despite or perhaps because of, all his attention to detail, but he's great when he's playing the breezy.
> Levi Stubbs' Tears- Billy Bragg
I'm old enough to remember the Four Tops, and the group owes much of its popularity to force of Levi Stubbs' baritone. I don't know if ST included this song because Stubbs died in October of 2008 or simply because it's a great song. The character sketch is an unusual and tricky song form-three minutes isn't long to set the mood,and tell the story without turning to the well-trod paths of cliché and sentimentality. I think Billy Bragg is has a deft touch, especially in this tale of woe. The street accent and brilliantly ragged guitar only add to the picture of a hopeless life where only the Four Tops can hold anything in place. It's so well done that I can almost forgive him for the lyric “One dark night he came home from the sea/And put a hole in her body where no hole should be.” Almost.
> Fugitive Motel- Elbow
Elbow was my favourite band for 2008. If my copy of Seldom Seen Kid was on vinyl, I'd have worn it out by now, so it's a delight to hear an Elbow song here. I don't know if the band was aware of the double meaning in the title. I suspect so. It adds to the beauty of the lyrics about yearning for someone missing. I could listen to this one over and over. In fact I do.
> Casmir Pulaski Day- Sufjan Stevens
Good thing I wasn't looking for fluffy kittens and rainbows on this CD because here comes another song best left until Spring. I think Sufjan Stevens is a gifted musician and I bet he'd make a damn fine short story writer. I'm wary of concept albums but Illinois is just one of those musical oddities that works for me. I did have to rely on Google to find out what, if anything was, Casmir Pulaski Day. I'm not convinced the guy was sufficiently impressive to get a day, but it has little to do with the song which is, have I used the word bleak yet? Yes I have. Okay. DEPRESSING. The guy's lover is dying of cancer!
Okay, spring now. Still achingly sad, but at least I can listen to it. Oh yes, and I thought I'd mention that in all the articles I've read about Stevens' religiousness, little mention is made of his refusal to wrap it all in cotton-candy angel clouds. Stevens uses religious imagery as a literary tool in much the same way Northrup Fry described in The Great Code. I suspect his faith lives without gloss. Remember the lyric “Tuesday night, at the bible study, we lift our hands and pray over you body/ But nothing ever happens” Move along. No fluffy kittens here.
> Out Come the Wolves- Jacob Golden
We're all doomed. Let me be earnest, pretentious and preachy while I castigate you about it because I can see it and you obviously need to be told.
Sorry, but that's what I hear with Jacob. He may be lovely away from a microphone, but this one's just too much for me. Not even Spring makes bearable.
> I Like Birds- Eels
Now that's how I like my misanthropy- served with snark and humour. If anyone's got a right to be dark,dismal and emotionally disturbed, its Mark Oliver Everett. The man seems to have had nothing but tragedy in his life. How many of us have a mother and sister commit suicide? In quick succession, no less? Right. I'd be opting for birds too.
> Next- The Sensational Alex Harvey Band
With very few exceptions, I despise novelty songs and I don't care that this was written by Jacques Brel; with this arrangement, it's a novelty song. Novelty bands are worse. They are like parlour tricks. Even at their most successful, they only work once. I have played this at least two dozen times. It's a tango. No it's glitter rock. No it's a tango. I can not tell you how it ends but I bet you know what word I want to write.now.....
> I Write Songs not Tragedies- Panic! At the Disco
The band dropped the ! In 2008, but I don't believe it will make much difference. This is a one-album wonder band. Manic more than panic. Hyper and frenetic with lyrics that come gushing out like glitter bombs on New Year's Eve. The New York Times described them as “circusized at birth”. They launched during the heights of emo, but anyone could tell that label wouldn't stick. They are emo in the way that The Real Housewives of Orange County are real. It's for the cameras, hon.
I don't care. I already had this song on my iPod. The very qualities they get slammed for are the ones that make this song worthwhile. It's theatrical, shamelessly poppy and slickly shallow. Yum.
> If You Go Away-Dusty Springfield
I like Jacques Brel. Really. And I adore Dusty Springfield. But. Ne Me Quitte Pas has to has to be one of the most frequently and badly recorded songs of the past century. My introduction to the song was the cover by Terry Jacks; ruined it for me forever. It's a good song. I don't think it's as great as all those recordings would suggest. I think it gets recorded because it goes right for the emotional jugular. It's a song a singer can sink his or her teeth into with passion. Most drain it of any honest feeling and turn it into a maudlin mess. Not Dusty. I don't think it was possible for her to sing without honesty, even when delivering what used to be called a belter, and if she was faking it, kudos to her artistry. All in all, I'd rather listen to her sing something else. Still. She rocks this version. And if you don't believe me, consider what Nina Simone does to this song. I own a ton of Nina Simone recordings but she just massacres this song. Her French is worse than mine.
> Slow Show- The National
Another band I love. Boxer was one of my favourite albums of 2007. Most songs by The National are pretty damned bleak. Matt Berninger’s voice alone make it almost a certainty that angst with a touch of gloomy will be the prevailing mood of anything they record. In the case of this song, the whiff of melancholy adds to depth of this love song. I think “For twenty-nine years, before I saw you, you know, I dreamed about you” is the most romantic lyric I've heard in quite some time. Unlikely, but romantic.
> Robots- Flight of the Conchords
Remember what I said about novelty songs and novelty bands? None of this applies if you have a television show. Oh, look at that. You do. Robots is no Business Time or the Most Beautiful Girl in the Room, but it's worth a giggle. Well done, boys.
Yes. What an excellent way to end a CD. It's Toto. Shut up.This song is great. Lyrics schmerics. Most people can't agree on whether its “ pass the rains” or bless the rains” and really, either way the lyrics are ridiculous. It's still a great song. It's not great enough to let the likes of Karl Wolf and Culture mess with it, but yeah. Toto! Africa!
So out of 18 songs I can tell you there's only one that I scramble to skip when I'm playing this in the car, and this CD is still in the heavy rotation stack. This is a CD filled with WIN. Thank you ST. It's more than I deserved for such appalling tardiness.
While it in no way makes up for the gross delay, I thought I'd provide a link to something that's been making me smile lately. It's retro, it's now, it's timeless. It's Busby Berkley meets Socialist Realist Art filtered and refracted by Dali mirrors. It's Adriano Celentano.
Thanks asta. I suppose I've played it pretty safe, really, but that's still a pretty high hit rate, if you ask me. I have no idea why, but all of the compilations that I make seem to turn out depressing. Perhaps it's a direct consequence of the amount of miserable music I listen to? Hmm. Perhaps...... Although, I have to say, if you think this one is miserable, then you should have seen my first draft, which included some Scott Walker around about the Sufjan and Dusty tracks, and when I played it back, it was so unbearable lachrymose that I just had to laugh. Anyway. Thanks so much for sticking with it and coming back with such a fulsome review. I can't believe I sent it out to you with a Christmas CD! Well, a review well worth the wait. In fact, counting Joe's effort above, that's two reviews well worth the wait.
Just two to go now.....
Mandy (reviewing Lisa's CD)
Mike (reviewing Erika's CD)
Both are in hand.
Have a little patience. We'll get to the end of this thing yet.
As always, any updates on progress should be sent to the email address in my profile. General brickbats can be posted in the comments below.
|1. Me ||yes||review |
|4. Planet Me||yes||review|
|12. Cody Bones||yes||review|
|17. Joe the Troll||yes||review|
|28. The Great Grape Ape||yes||review|
|29. Paul W||yes||review|
Shuffleathon is based upon an original concept by the inspirational YokoSpungeon.... thanks Yoko.