Yohannon (yohannon) wrote,

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Aural Sex: What Yo Listens To When No One is Watching

lavendersage once turned to me during a car ride together as I listened to Aretha Franklin's legendary stand in for Luciano Pavarotti, doing "Nessum Dorma" during the grammy's some years back, and said something that reminded me (as it does still!) why I love her:

"It takes you there, doesn't it? That place..."

Strange how few people notice that. How the music transports me to a place inside that makes me feel bigger than I am, that can make me weep with joy, tinged with the embarrassment, echoes from a time when you weren't supposed to cry. Crying boys are pussy faggots, after all.*

I realize that I often find songs like that, obscure bits that no one's ever heard of. And suddenly I realize what criticism is SUPPOSED to be.

So I've decided to start writing about how I feel during these songs. I decided one of my favorite puns is insanely appropriate here, as (much as it is with sex) the music takes me to a special place that makes me feel like I'm connected.

I'll leave the question "to what?" as an exercise for my reader. You'll either know that "it" is, or you won't.

Much as with anything, you might start to see a pattern to my taste. Feel free to point it out to me, because I often have no clue what that pattern is myself. Just when I think unresolved minors get me off, some major chords send me into mental orgasms. A slow fade tickles me on one song, then an abrupt, clean stop gives me chills. From loud and in your face (Yo La Tengo, The Wrens) to soft and haunting (Elliot Smith, Calexico). No pattern that I can see, really.

First a few "one off's", bands that I've only found a single song for that I like (so far!).

The Delgados - No Danger:

Starts with a lovely piano and string intro that hooks you almost immediately with an almost, but not quite, familiar sounding melody. The lead singer has the guts to begin with a minimalist backdrop -- and then the song really starts.

I've always had a weakness for musical seduction. Beethoven does it with the first movement of the Ninth Symphony, the Talking Heads used it with great effect with "Naive Melody (Home)". "No Danger" builds into an anthem, where literally the sing along chorus is DESIGNED to be sung "out of tune".

The break returns to a tense piano and strings which suggests the fear of the song subject, but then returns to the anthem, which builds to a GREAT rock and roll climax that comes to a crashing halt.

But the piano gets that all important last word, sneakily resolving that long drawn out minor chord that gets held down and beaten about the head and shoulders by the keys until the feedback coup de grace shows it mercy at long last.

There's a thing about songs I like to call "Absorption Rate", the time it takes for it to go from background noise to "Ooo! Ooo! It's that song I like!". That, coupled with "Max" (how much you eventually LIKE the song) and Repeatability (how many times can you hear the song before you go "You know, it was fun the first few hundred times, but now...") gives me a REAL idea of how a song "fits" in my mind.

Absorption Rate: Fairly quick. The slightly "pop" feel to the intro and the remainder of the song catches your ear, sometimes against your will. The ending and the chorus provide some nice hooks that make the song stand out.

Max: A lot. This is a song I want to make out the words to, if only to sing along. Did I mention that ending?

Repeatability: High.

Band of the Week: Rogue Wave

After awhile I start to notice that some bands pop onto my radar more often than not. Suddenly I find I have at least an albums worth of music collected, and I'm listening to it a lot.

Rogue Wave is just such a band. The sound is a great mix of acoustic and electric that seems to be popular with the indie rock crowd -- you know, acoustics backs by a lightly mixed, but incredibly over-drven effects laden guitar lead. Sometimes it works REALLY well ("Letting the Cable Sleep" by Bush masters the far off, unspoken tension, barely audible under sweet strings, a guitar almost BEGGING to be set free to scream through the dark city streets, only to be frustrated by the walls of non-communication between lovers losing touch -- but I digress).

"Kicking the Heart Out" Is one of those songs that catches your ear because the acoustic intro is clearly the work of a band with talent, but not razor sharp or over-produced. The vocals and the harmonies, combined with the use of 12 strings gives the band the unmistakable feel of REM and the Byrds. And the lyrics...

    if music is my lover
    you are just a tease
    you make love to a shadow
    whose face is hallow money

Definitely a sign that the writer isn't going to fall prey to cliched pop song hell.

"Endless Shovel" gives us hope that this isn't just wishful thinking, and is so completely UNLIKE "Kicking my Heart Out" that only the overall sound of the band reminds us that it IS the same group. It builds to one of these great rhythems and extended jams that makes you wish the song could go on for another 20 minutes. I suspect that they did in the studio, and I wouldn't mind hearing them play it live to see where they would go.

A brief word about "fades".

When I was growing up in the (mumbles)early 70's(/mumbles), the way almost EVERY damn pop song ended was with... you guessed it! ... a song fade.

Every. God. Damned. One.

As a result, I often DESPISE this way of cheating the listener out of a decent conclusion to a musical story. Sure, it's hard to figure out where to go with a song at times, but it isn't THAT hard in most cases, without resorting to the over-done "Let's build to an almost tuneless crescendo that ends with a few power hits, ending with a bang!" that live rock tends to pull when it doesn't want to (or can) try for a segue to the next song.

Great rock endings? "A Day in a Life" by the Beatles (duh!), "Pretty Woman" by Roy Orbison (with one of the GREAT all time double takes in rock history!), "Layla" by Derek and the Dominoes (can I get another resounding "DUH!" from the crowd?).

That said, there ARE times when fades are acceptable... even REQUIRED.

Boston's "More Than a Feeling" (the character of the song wants to get lost in his music, remember? The song doesn't resolve or end, much as his feelings will never), the aforementioned "Naive Melody" (he's "just an animal looking for a home", and even after finding it the story doesn't ever end), the Dire Straits "Skateaway" (the roller girl NEVER wants her movie to end, and she fades into and out of people's lives like the beginning and ending of the song -- there she comes! There she goes...).

"Endless Shovel" therefore almost HAS to fade on that extended jam. I hate to see it go... you'll strain to catch every last note of that jam, ear phones clutched and volume probably way too high at the end. But there it goes...

A side note: Some of these bands might begin to surface around the mainstream in weird ways, much as Grandaddy, Spoon and the unlikely named Death Cab for Cutie have. I know all three have surfaced on KFOG locally, and a few of the harder edged songs would surface on "Live 105" from time to time. However, your best bet to check out stuff like this is internet radio -- I like "Indie Pop Rocks" out of our very own SOMA in San Francisco. If WiMax ever takes off, satellite radio is seriously screwed -- WiMax based radios will be capable of tuning anything, from anywhere. Oh, and they could double as VOIP based phones (which people will insist on referring to as "Cell" phones until they forget WHY they're called that).

I have to admit that this is a lot of fun -- I hardly ever explore WHY a song works for me, and listening to the music with that in mind is a great way to work on my descriptive abilities. Now, hopefully I'll get a few comments telling me I'm either crazy, not being descriptive enough, or have no business whatsoever talking about other people's talent when I lack any real musical ability myself.

Which is why I doubt you will EVER see a "pan" here. There's plenty of stuff out there that sucks, and it pretty much takes care of itself. Besides, some of my favorite things in life were created by people that sucked ass (and not in a good way) for a long time before they didn't. Remember, a Rolling Stone review of AC/DC's "Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap" suggested that the band basically go back to flipping burgers. Ok, so it might have been better for the lead singer if they HAD done that.

Oh, to end here's a bonus breakout band obscure track: Spoon's "Jonathon Fisk". It's on iTunes, so it's not IMPOSSIBLE to get. Favorite lyric: "Religion don't mean a thing... it's only another way to be right-wing." Ending reminds me of Bowie's "Diamond Dogs".

* It's called SARCASM, dripping with bitterness and lingering anger. Recognize it when it happens and we get along so much better.
Tags: music
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