Wednesday, May 5, 2010

from A to Z

decided to title my latest entry as such since my first song begins with an "A", and my last song, a "Z". Unfortunately, it seems like a lot of these have only gotten airplay on a couple stations. Shame, since they're all great songs.

"American Slang" by Gaslight Anthem: For a band who was initially labeled "punk", they sure don't sound like it in this song. In fact, they have more of a classic rock vibe, a la Springsteen and Neil Young. This seems to be a trend (albeit a small one) in indie rock lately, as The Hold Steady, Band of Horses, and My Morning Jacket seemed to have all taken on this aesthetic at least once in their careers. "American Slang" also boasts an epic, catchy riff that's instantly memorable upon first hearing it. This song is proof that indie rock doesn't have to be all about weird, random instrumentation. Sometimes it's good to just go back to the basics!

"American Troglodyte" by David Byrne and Fatboy Slim: Unlike the first single off their latest effort ("A Perfect Hand", featuring Steve Earle), this song manages to capture the offbeat-but-catchy vibe of Byrne's unlikely 2008 smash with Brian Eno, "Strange Overtones". The beat (and instruments) aren't the only cool thing about this song, though. The lyrics are also pretty interesting. Beneath its insanely danceable hooks, the ex-Talking Heads frontman sings about disappointed he is with current American culture. Lyrical dissonance doesn't always work, but somehow, in this song, it just seems right!

"Big Jet Plane" by Angus and Julia Stone: I'm mainly including this one since I loved their previous song, "The Beast", so much, that as soon as I heard they had a new record/single out, I just had to hear it! And it's pretty good, though it's got more of an uneasy (yet still melodic) feel to it than the wistful, bittersweet qualities that "The Beast" had. The guitar hook almost makes this sound like one of Radiohead's later efforts (like "I Might Be Wrong", or Thom Yorke's solo song, "Black Swan"), yet the violin (and Julia Stone's vocals) make "Big Jet Plane" distinguishable from such songs. When listening to this song, I don't know whether to call it angst-ridden or sad, since at times it sounds like both, but perhaps that's what makes this song so unique!

"Bloodbuzz Ohio" by The National: Even within the already eclectic world of indie rock, The National are one of those bands who manage to take that eclectic-ness a step further than most indie rock bands (except for possibly Wilco and Beck). They have been influenced by country-rock, contemporary British rock, and power pop ("power pop" would be bands, largely between the '70s and '90s, that sound a lot like The Beatles and The Kinks, often with Beach Boys-esque harmonies), and "Bloodbuzz Ohio" seems to reveal a new facet to their already diverse musical pallet - that of the gothic rock of Joy Division and Nick Cave. Vocally, The National's lead singer even sounds like Joy Division's lead singer, Ian Curtis, on this song. "Bloodbuzz Ohio", in fact, reminds me a great deal of Joy Division's "Love Will Tear Us Apart" for a couple reasons. Both songs are in A major, despite their gloomy sound. They also tend to both have an atmospheric quality with their "walls of sound" (use of multiple instruments that sound orchestral, in a rock and roll kind of way), and they both manage to compensate for their depressing nature with their fast drumbeats (at least to me they do). And, yes, they both have downbeat (and somewhat creepy) lyrics. Yet the non-synthesized keyboards and the almost continual transition in "Bloodbuzz Ohio" from A major to F sharp minor manage to make it distinct from "Love Will Tear Us Apart". Nevertheless, if bands that sound like a cross between Joy Division and Wilco are your thing, then "Bloodbuzz Ohio" is a surefire winner for you!

"Love Me Chase Me" by Carney: Don't be fooled by this song's slow, churning intro. This song's a real kicker from the chorus on up! It almost sounds like a modern-day update on one of the songs from The Beatles' "White Album". Its sound is like pop music that somehow manages to sound somewhat blues-y in its riffs, almost like one of The Raconteurs' songs. The lyrics are a bit simplistic from what I can tell ("if you love me, chase me"), but the riffs are both chunky and pop-y. Who knew the best guitar soloing on this week's list would come from a pop-rock band?! Not me. But I sure am glad someone out there is trying to preserve the sound of good ol' British rock and roll!! ("British" by sound, that is, as I'm not sure if Carney are actually British or not)

"Numbers Don't Lie" by The Mynabirds: I love the "retro" sound of this one! (Though practically all the songs on here have a "retro" sound, so I'll specify in the next few sentences 'bout that). This one has almost a "girl group" sound (a la Phil Spector) to it instrumentally that sounds like Chan Marshall (better known as "Cat Power" to you indie fans!) is taking the lead on vocally. Beneath the chirpiness that the vibe of this song gives off, "Numbers Don't Lie" is actually a very bitter, angst-ridden song lyrically. The chorus pretty much states it all ("Baby if you want to be right, I will let you be right, I will let you be right/You know that the numbers don't lie, you know the numbers don't lie, two wrongs will not make it right"). This technique of blending a happy melody with confrontational/controversial subject matter is nothing new, though (The Shirelles, anyone? "Will you STILL love me tomorrow?" The lyric there is both demanding AND sexual) The Mynabirds are just here to remind us in "Numbers Don't Lie" how to mask a tale of a relationship gone wrong with a harmonious, uplifting melody!

"Zebra" by Beach House: Not since "Zoot Suit Riot" back in '98 has there been a song that begins with the letter "Z" that I've really liked! (and "Zebra" is WAY better, to me). This has got to be one of the most beautiful songs I've ever heard! And it doesn't take a minor key melody to do that in this song. "Zebra" is written in G sharp major, but still manages to make me cry on the inside. The word "zebra" isn't mentioned anywhere in the song (though the chorus mentions a "black and white horse", which I think is close enough). It's interesting that color seems to be a theme throughout the song (examples include the opening lyrics "You know you're gold", and "Your love is stag in the white sand"), yet none of these are colors of the rainbow. Perhaps this is symbolic of how beauty can be found in unlikely, seemingly "dull" places. The simplistic but elegant nature of this song is to die for! I highly recommend this one!!