tremble clef

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Sparks, "Perfume" (2006)

List songs must be quite easy to write, which doesn't make them any less brilliant. The brilliance, indeed, comes from the ease and effortlessness. Once you have a good concept (hmm, different girls wear different scents), you just need to find as many examples to enumerate as possible, making sure that they line up properly to produce good rhymes ("Guinevieve wears Dior/Margaret wears Tresor"). Be careful with those tricky French names, and introduce some variation -- sing one line an octave higher, for example. You should have a punchline, preferably in the chorus (say: the song about perfume is finally about someone who doesn't need, or want it), and maybe a middle eighth (a spoken bit that basically tells Proust to fuck off will do just fine).

"But you don't wear no perfume/That's why I want to spend my life with you."

I was just saying the other day, there aren't enough love songs for people with environmental sensitivities.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Anthony Wong Yiu-Ming (黃耀明), "Glimpse Of Spring (春光乍洩)" (1995)

Since much Chinese New Year music is heinous, full of clanging gongs and shrill vocals, let's instead mark the occasion with a song about spring, the season Chinese New Year ushers in.

Anthony Wong is one of the most interesting male musicians on the Hong Kong Cantopop scene. (As well as celebrity: he's as close to being an out gay man as one can be in the notoriously gossipy Hong Kong scene. He's not stratospherically famous, so the media assholes mostly leaves him alone. He once covered, without changing the pronouns, a song called "Easily Hurt Woman," which is just awesome on so many levels.) Anthony started out in a duo called the Tat Ming Pair, who in the late 80s made new wavish, electronic music, counting Pet Shop Boys as an influence. When the group went its separate ways, Anthony launched a solo career filled with interestingly textured pop songs that were experimental without being uncommercial. His production house, Crowds -- or, more literally, People Mountain People Sea -- has been one of the go-to places for artists, such as Faye Wong who want a bit more edge to their music.

"Glimpse Of Spring" is a song from Anthony's early years as a solo artist, but remains one of his best and biggest hits. The title of the song does literally mean "a glimpse," or a "brief flash" of spring; colloquially, however, the expression also refers, more risquely, to a flash of flesh. I guess an English equivalent would be "mooning," although "glimpse of spring" isn't as, um, specific, about the kind of flesh on display. Interestingly, Wong Kar-Wai's movie of two gay tourists in Argentina, Happy Together, uses the phrase as its Chinese title: no doubt to evoke the idea that its two protagonists can only seem to experience quick and transient bursts of happiness, but perhaps also to allude slyly to the gay sex scene that kicks the movie off with a bang. I'm not sure if the director took the title from Anthony's song, since the expression is common enough, but given that the English title of the film is from the Turtles song, it would be a neat parallel if he did.

The song itself is arresting from the get-go. It begins with a pizzicato string passage over some plucked bass, which runs throughout; but on top of that is another string arrangement that is absolutely breathtaking. There's even a harp, as if the song is going into a flashback or something. A harp! As you can already begin to guess, the track as a whole is very lush; even if you don't understand how one of the final lines in the lyric is a poignantly poetic lament -- "Do we have to wait a thousand lifetimes, before we can offer solace to each other?" -- about the transience of that spring, that glimpse, you should hopefully still feel its beauty.

Of course, if you hate lush beauty, you may prefer this Eurodance mix of the song, which removes all the strings and hi NRGs up the beat, turning it into a bit of a Motiv 8-remixed Pet Shop Boys stomper. Which would be fine, if the original weren't so perfect in my mind. But download it as a bonus; I won't judge you during this celebratory season.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Abraham, "Magpie (Morgan Geist Remix)" (2002)

If I had to create the iTunes visual effects* for this song, they would probably draw inspiration from the circles a skater makes on the ice. The mood is wintery, of course, and tremulous. Each circle is precise and exact, as a blade on ice needs to be, but also, just as each synth note on this song seems to warble and echo infinitely, somehow unreplicable.

* Who has that job, by the way, and where do they get their drugs?

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

The Knife, "The Captain" (2006)

You may have come to the conclusion, if you read this blog with any regularity -- and if you do, then: Hi, Mom! -- that I sometimes write in different persona. He do the music writing in different voices.

Messing around with voices in music production, however, is hardly an unusual act. Vocals have been processed, distorted, chopped, screwed, mutated. And sometimes served with a side of fries and a pickle. (They've also been fixed and corrected, but that's a different story, Ashlee.) But all of these effects have more or less the same aim: what they attack or deconstruct is the division between human and inhuman (and associated divisions, such as organic/inorganic, or warmth/cold, emotion/lack thereof), since the electronic twiddling serves to denaturalize the human voice and render it machine-like.

More unconventional is production that distorts voices in order to transgress other binaries of identity: those of gender, say, or, even more startlingly, race. Challenges to the male/female divide have come when male singers perform in falsetto, of course, or pull an Alison Moyet or a Nina Simone (or an Antony-doing-Nina-doing-a-man); much less "organically," electronic trickery can also do its part. On the stunning version of "Always On My Mind" that's on Introspective, the Pet Shop Boys include a rap in the middle on which Neil's voice mutates from female ("You were always on my mind it's true...") to male ("...I worked so hard I thought you knew...") and back again ("...My love I did it all for you..."), toying with our notions of the way men and women might play, and have played out this debate on love.

Vocal effects that mess around with racial signification are rarer, in part because they run the risk of being offensive. Indeed, while we seem more inured to the vocal stylings of a white rapper, someone Caucasian who engages in a bit of dancehall toasting still doesn't sit right. On Hyacinths and Thistles, Stephin Merrit, in his incarnation as The 6ths, gives the song "Lindy Lou" to Cibo Matto's Miho Hatori to sing. As one reviewer astutely noticed, it's a "perverse" move (or even a vaguely disturbing one), since the song has "an unusually high number of l's and r's -- two consonants that Japanese speakers find difficult to distinguish." If nothing else, it's impossible to listen to that song without feeling Miho's Japanese-ness in every line.

The Knife is one of the few acts in contemporary pop, if not the only one, who seems interested in persistently or systematically playing around with voices in these other gendered, racialized ways. On their uber-spooky remix of Stina Nordenstam's "Parliament Square," for example, they slow down her original vocals -- which, since this is Stina we're talking about, are already kind of ghostly -- so much that she ends up sounding like a man. Although the remix dispenses with the hypnotic sax that made the original version so great, the vocal processing, along with the almost military drumbeat and the menacing synths underneath, makes the remix a truly revelatory one.

The band's forthcoming album, Silent Shout -- and in that title may be another sign of their interest in the complexities and paradoxes of the human voice -- is, as is already well-known by now, dark and creepy, and will disappoint anyone expecting the electro danceability of Deep Cuts. But it offers other pleasures.

"The Captain" is an especially weird track: the first three of its six minutes simply consist of an illbient synth passage that's almost Jarresque. (Or Yanniesque, if you're less kind.)

Then Karin Dreijer Andersson sings. And the Swedish singer sounds...Japanese. I'm not enough of a techno geek to be able to tell whether her vocals are distorted by electronic means, but my guess is no. But through her intonation and phrasing, she sounds to me like she's imagining herself as Japanese. It's hard to be sure, of course, since Karin's voice, which is from the same school (though not the same class) as someone like Bjork, is always weird, but I can't shake the feeling that she's experimenting here, interestingly, with something like racial impersonation. The lyric isn't that helpful: it's typically hard to work out, but the title and fragments like "we turn the other cheek" suggests that a kind of mock-Oriental subservience -- addressed to some white (or Pink-erton) master? -- is being mimed, performed, and therefore subverted. I guess if they start moving with Noh-deliberation and wearing Kabuki masks in their videos -- not far-fetched if you look at the picture above -- or restage Memoirs Of A Geisha for their live shows, we'll know with more certainty if I'm crazy.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Marvin Gaye/Paul Young, "Wherever I Lay My Hat (That's My Home)" (1963/1983)

Dear Abby,

I met this guy about two months ago at a friend's party. He's handsome, funny, and makes a good living as a traveling salesman. We hit it off immediately. After the party he walked me home, and gave me a chaste kiss in front of my door. We've been dating ever since, and things have been going well. However, last night he sat me down and told me that, "as much as he loves me," I should know that he's not the kind of guy who "can be in a relationship." In fact, he confessed that, even though he's 40 years old, he's never been in one!

My first instinct was to call bullshit. But he was crying as he spoke, and seemed genuinely pained. He kept putting the blame on himself: he said that he's a "free spirit," has always been "emotionally damaged," that he would "really love to love me," but can't. I found myself believing him -- somewhat. What do you think? Is he just an asshole? But if what he says is true, where does this leave us?

Ambivalent 'Bout Commitmentphobe

Dear ABC,

My sympathies goes out to you. You've run into That Guy. The man who wants his freedom, who tells you it's not you, it's him. The Logan to your Rory.

But I'm not here to reduce him to a type. I should be more generous. It's entirely possible, as you admit, that he's genuinely "damaged," and would like to change. You don't provide any details about whether he has shown a willingness to. Did he, for instance, explained why he is supposedly damaged? Did he talk about seeking counselling for his emotional handicap?

If he did, and if he acts in ways that suggest that his intent is good, then perhaps the relationship, such as it is, has a fighting chance. Otherwise, I think the question you have to ask yourself is: is he Marvin Gaye, or is he Paul Young?

Let me explain, dear ABC. In 1963 a minor song called "Wherever I Lay My Hat (That's My Home)" appeared on Marvin's first album (it would also resurface as a b-side on one of his singles in 1968). Twenty years later Paul Young covered it, and took it to #1 in the UK. The song is addressed to a woman, to whom Marvin/Paul are giving the kiss-off. "By the look in your eye/I can tell you're gonna cry/Is it over me?" Here's the problem: he's a self-confessed flirt: "I'm the kind of guy/that gives a girl the eye/Everybody knows/I love 'em and I leave 'em/Break their hearts and deceive them/Everywhere I go." It's not her fault; it's his. "If it is save your tears/For I'm not worth it you see." Same song, right? Yes, but two very different takes.

Marvin's original version is jaunty. The tempo is obviously faster, and the whole thing is almost a Motown stomper (listen to those horns). And, in his phrasing, you can hear that Marvin revels in the freedom that he sings about. In a line like, "For I'm the kind of guy who is always on the ro-ro-ad," for example, you can feel his delight about being transient. Each time "road" is sung in a slightly different way, as if Marvin's turning the word over and over on his tongue, relishing its taste. Even his backing vocalists are there in agreement ("that's my home!"); they're not a counter-voice. Marvin's a free spirit, that's how it is, and it's not reason for remorse.

Paul's song is quite a different creature. From the first notes -- mournful, wavering like they're just that bit off-pitch, or as if your record player is still warming up to the right speed -- you can hear it. Paul's voice is typically hoarse, and, indeed, damaged. There're certainly no horns on this. What it does have, by way of instrumentation, is a little riff of tinkering notes -- they follow every "always on the road" in the chorus -- that sound like they might be played on a xylophone or chimes. When the second verse begins, a drum beat comes in, but even that is an echoing one that is somehow empty and hollow.

Because of this build-up, the bridge on Paul's version sounds surprisingly pained, despite a lyric that seems like it might be exasperated: "You keep telling me/You keep telling me/I'm your man/What do I have to do/To make you understand?" When those chimes come back in again, it's remarkable how moving they sound. They sound like an opportunity -- for a different way of life, for love -- fading away before Paul. I have to confess that I have often teared up, listening to this.

Do I believe Paul in a way that I don't with Marvin? Am I saying you should, ABC? Perhaps. But, sadly, with men you never know, do you? Paul's version maybe goes on a minute too long: in that last minute, Paul's ad libs ("I'm not saying I don't love you") might sound a little forced, like he is beginning to protest too much. The chiming riff might even start to sound rehearsed, like a spiel. Just how many times has he said this before, to other girls, in other places? You have to wonder.

Um, so, yeah, good luck. I hope you figure it out.

Monday, January 23, 2006

AM and the UV, "Wonderful, Beautiful" (2004)

In a shameless bid to grab attention, I always try to start posts about lesser-known acts with a shocking, shocking! SHOCKING!!! fact about them. So here goes. Anne Marie Almedal is a Norwegian singer working in electronica -- last warning, you might want to turn away if you wear a pacemaker -- who, as far as I can tell, has not work with Röyksopp.

Yes, Virginia, they do exist. Anne Marie has instead pitched her caboose -- and it's a shapely one: her record company calls her "the girl you’ve been in love with, but never met." Say what, record company? -- to a different duo, Nicholas Sillitoe and Ken Theodorsen, who have produced records as Ultraviolet. Viola, AM and the UV! It worked for ABBA and the BGs, didn't it? AM and the UV goes one better, spanning the entire alphabet from A to V!

I first heard AM and the UV on a surprisingly good covermount CD that came with Jockey Slut magazine, called Way Out North, which was chockfull of Scandinavian electronic acts. The record kicked off with an AM and the UV song called "Everybody's Girlfriend." Months later I found a copy of the band's full-length debut, Candy Thunder, on which this is my favorite track.

It's not easy to do a cheery, optimistic song. Our collective hearts have turned too cold to be won over. But "Wonderful, Beautiful" thaws mine, at least for three-and-a-half minutes. It begins with some quiet synth notes, and then a quivering, dubby reverb beat kicks in. Over this a sharp, almost theremin-like sound plays. But this is all prelude to a wondrous chorus that's quite simple in its joy. Between the end of the first chorus and the second verse, the song stops for a second, notes clatters all over the place, only to gallop off again, this time bringing in an "umm-umm-umm-umm" backing vocal. "And who says that the world can't be perfect?" Nobody, that's who. Come back soon, AM and the UV (their website is quiet about what they've been up to), and bring me more joy.

Bonus: Way Out North also included a track called "Where Are You," by Moonflowers -- which is Anne Marie singing with another stalwart of the Scandinavian electronica scene, Rune Lindbaek. Listen to it and tell me it doesn't remind you a teensy bit of Röyksopp's "What Else Is There."

Friday, January 20, 2006

Curiosity Killed The Cat, "Misfit (Extended Version)" (1987)

I used to -- read this slowly and carefully -- doodle. Now, not so much.

For this state of affairs, I blame...well, growing up. But part of it is due to bands no longer having good logos. They no longer have logos, period. It's seen as too uncool, probably with good reason. It's like TV theme songs, which have gone from the delightfully nebbish "you take the good you take the bad and there you have the facts of life!" to something so minimalist as to be non-existent, like "Eee-ooo-eee-ooo" (that's from Lost, in case you're wondering).

Band logos are an equally lost art (see what I did there, etc.), although many heavy metal groups still have them. Their fans need something to tattoo on their asses, I guess. But in pop, nowadays this is what passes for a band logo:

Come on. My cat shat a better one last week, and I don't even have a cat.

But speaking of cats: the late 80s saw an influx of whiteboy soul bands into the UK charts. Living In A Box! Wet Wet Wet! Johnny Hates Jazz! Curiosity Killed The Cat! Each of them may have had one or two good singles, but for the most part they were a little bland, and sometimes downright crap.

Jean, my musical partner-in-crime at that time, counted herself a fan of the last group (who, by the way, was signed by Simon Cowell. How mildly interesting). I'm not sure why. Maybe she just liked imagining taking as her last name "Volpeliere-Pierrot" should she be so lucky to one day marry frontman Ben. (I kid. I think she liked one of the others better. Mig, or maybe it was Ju. Do you really care?) Aside from his last name, Voluptuous-Parrot-Lulu-Shazaam-Suzuki was mostly famous for wearing a Greek fisherman's cap backwards (apparently no one in pop wore one before him, nor in that way; you remember how useful it is to not have the beak of a cap be in the way when you're down on your knees...well, you know). His other claim to fame, if I didn't hallucinate this, came from knowing how to roll up the cuffs of his trouser legs in a way that made them taper more than usual. Don't look at me that way. I swear there was even a feature in Smash Hits in which Ben demonstrated this fashion trick. After which I'm sure he had to fend Mensa off.

Anyway, despite all her efforts, Jean couldn't get me interested in those four boys. Okay, "Misfit" and "Down To Earth" had some charms, and years later , seeing a copy of their debut album in a used CD store, I even had a "bloody 'ell!" moment and bought it. (Your gain, too: surely you would love the extended version of "Misfit," no? Anyone?).

However, my fancy was grabbed by the band's logo. In other words, the band proved to be less interesting to me than their two-dimensional artwork. Jean had a T-shirt she sent away for (I told you she was a fan), on which the word "Curiosity" was stylishly arranged to form -- oh my god, a man's face! She and I therefore spend hours aping and doodling the design, which we would then pass back and forth to each other in class. 1987 was a slow year.

Given that, you would think that I can recreate said doodle, eh? Well, let's see. I think it went something like...

And...I'm out. I'm pretty sure the "c" and the "u" formed the man's hair. But then the other letters are a bit of crapshoot, and I can't for the life of me figure out how the "-ity" fit in. Twist them to form a neck? Mmm.

I can't find any evidence online of this logo's existence, and even the CD sleeve doesn't feature it. It was probably less of a logo than some one-off thing for that T-shirt. But now it's gonna bug me, so, for the love of God, if you have evidence to show that I'm not insane -- if you remember the logo, if you can find a pic of it online, or, holy mother of all grails, have the actual T-shirt -- then satisfy, you know, my curiosity.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Tina Dico, "Warm Sand" (2006)

And Tina Dico...well, Tina is my least favorite, and part of what made the second Zero 7 album less interesting than the first may have been her -- at least comparatively speaking -- colorlessness. Sorry, Tina. You have a tough last name ("Dickow," hee hee), so I realize I'm just adding to your problems. Maybe in the future I'll post something from your solo album, to make it up to you.

Oh hell, why not. The future is now. And I'm too busy today for anything else. Tina's been a star in her native Denmark for a while now, under her real name Tina Dickow. For reasons I'm sure I can't possibly understand, she has dropped the "k" and "w" for her foray into international pop waters, although I note with amusement that my promo copy of her album, while adopting the new spelling on the sleeve, still shows "Dickow" when you insert the CD into iTunes. You can run, but you can't hide.

This is Tina's first single for the international market, "Warm Sand." It's not that remarkable, honestly, but I guess pleasant enough in that watered-down way I've mentioned Zero 7's singers being dismissed for (except in this case, there's some truth to it). Yes, its title invites confusion with Zero 7's "Warm Sound." Furthermore, and unfortunately, it also makes me think that the song will be about taking a piss on the beach. I'm classy that way.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Mozez featuring Yvonne John-Lewis, "Spinning Top" (2005)

Say what you will about Zero 7 -- and many people who think the band is, or has devolved into, coffee table muzak do -- but they sure know how to pick their vocalists.

I don't simply mean that the boys of Zero 7 have done a pretty good job choosing some very strong and/or distinctive singers. Although that's true too: Sia Furler has a weary-yet-growly voice that is unmistakeable, as is Sophie Barker's ethereal one. (And when the band has the foresight to combine the two, on a classic like "Destiny," the results are stunning, and no overexposure of the song via a million chillout compilations should change that.) Mozez may at points sound a little too transparently like the band's attempt to have their own Terry Callier, but his voice has a warmth that's very comforting. And Tina Dico...well, Tina is my least favorite, and part of what made the second Zero 7 album less interesting than the first may have been her -- at least comparatively speaking -- colorlessness. Sorry, Tina. You have a tough last name ("Dickow," hee hee), so I realize I'm just adding to your problems. Maybe in the future I'll post something from your solo album, to make it up to you.

No, what I find additionally interesting about Zero 7's vocalists is the way that, even as they work with the band as, essentially, glorified session singers, they nevertheless seem to be making music they themselves enjoy. They're being true to their souls, man. Zero 7, that is to say, create the impression that they have always used, not just hired larynxes, but people who appear to be like-minded souls. We know this because, when the solo albums come, as they have, they keep with the kind of music Zero 7 makes. Sophie's floaty mini-album from last year, Earthbound, is not a million miles from her Zero 7 tracks (except, unfortunately, less catchy), while Sia's work has actually become more and more aligned with the chilled soul of Zero 7. Her big song, "Breathe Me," after all, while a little more electronically bleepy, could have fitted into the last Zero 7 long player, whereas her other, earlier big number, "Taken For Granted," couldn't.

I like this sort of continuity: it makes me feel warm and fuzzy, imagining that they are all one big happy family. I get somewhat annoyed when a singer with some act -- say, a disco diva who lends her pipes to a big house number -- gets a solo deal as a result, then is all like, "Yes, but what I really want to do is direct," and goes on to make a 20s polka album or something.

But of course, the drawback that comes when Zero 7's singers make albums that sound like Zero 7's work is that the former's efforts then get overlooked or dismissed. (Sia's gradual success with "Breathe Me" really came about because of the song's use in several TV shows, and, in the US, it's not she's known as "that voice in Zero 7" anyway.) Mozez's album from last year, So Still, didn't garner that much attention. Maybe that's indeed because he didn't shy away from, or try to break with Zero 7's sound. Quite the opposite. Henry Binns even guests on one track, and the whole album features the kind of smooth, sweeping organic soul numbers that resemble "I Have Seen" or, especially, "Warm Sound."

The best song on the album, this track called "Spinning Top," even courts trouble with a lyric ("Spinning wheel keep turning/until our destiny is one") that namechecks, not one, but two Zero 7 tracks. But you know, it's all fine, because Mozez comes close to trumping his teachers on this song. It's, well, really very, very pretty and swirly. In what is either a breathtaking act of stupidity or selflessness, Mozez has handed over all vocal duties on what is the album's standout track to a vocalist that he in turn discovered, one Yvonne John-Lewis (who, yeah, sounds a bit like Sophie). The production features a strummy acoustic guitar, laid over a chunky bass and a bed of silky backing vocals -- all very Zero 7. When the second refrain kicks in, some subtle pizzicato strings even enter to keep things fresh. And then there is that killer chorus: dreamy, going up an octave higher from the verses, and sung with undeniably emotive yearning. Zero 7 should just take the song as is and plop it on their third album. (And then we just need to keep it off those million chillout comps.)

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Delays, "Cavalry" (2006)

A song title like "Cavalry" should free you, give you license. It should inspire a pulsating, propulsive song that's a complete rush, that gallops, that sweeps all before it, taking no prisoners. (Or maybe takes everyone and everything prisoner; I never fully understood that metaphor.)

And does this ever.

"To the bitter end/I have fought to love/Now this cavalry/Is coming home."

The song -- and the forthcoming album You See Colours, on which this appears to be the first track -- begins with an acapella bit, which is always the best way to begin a song that comes to be relentless. And how it comes: a synthesized string riff rises, one so heart-racingly brilliant and memorable that you might find yourself hard-pressed to hear anything else in the song. It sounds like the most urgent string arrangement since Faithless's "Insomnia," to which it owes something, although where Rollo's pizzicato strings were suitably dark and claustrophobic, the ones on "Cavalry" are expansive, though not exactly uplifting. They don't stop to be uplifting -- they have somewhere to get to, and you should come along for the ride.

Delays might be forgiven for riding the riff all the way through the song; instead, two and a half minutes into the song, the hook, almost shockingly, drops out. What replaces it, at first, is a simple, pounding drumbeat that effectively takes over the job of not-letting-up. The words keep time to the beat, while another voice ah-ah-ahs in the background and some percussion clatters away like the faintest of handclaps: "In/Time/In/Side/Here comes the falling rain/In/Time/In/Side/Here comes the poisoned rain." Then a whole new synthesized string riff comes in. This one sounds a little like the mirror image of the first: where the first riff goes up-up-up, this one descends. Perhaps we've switched horses, but there's no changing direction.

It's probably a good thing that, after their first album Faded Seaside Glamour, Delays released the stop-gap single "Lost In A Melody," which already featured the kind of rock-with-electronic-new-wavy touches sound we hear here. Otherwise they might be accused of jumping on the electrorock bandwagon (or more than they will now be). Instead, this song has a chance of being recognized as genius, and, if ever released as a single (it's not the first single, which is an inferior song called "Valentine"), it might do what another electrorock song -- the Stereophonics' "Dakota," which sounds like a MOR ballad next to this -- did around this time last year: top the charts. (Nah. It probably won't. But it's #1 in my heart this week.)

Monday, January 16, 2006

Baccara, "Yes Sir, I Can Boogie 2005 (Extended Mix)" (2005)

War and suffering. The Special Theory of Relativity. Cookies without milk. Kevin Federline. None of these things make sense. On the other hand, it's a no-brainer that "Yes Sir, I Can Boogie" has been covered by both Goldfrapp and Sophie Ellis-Bextor.

Because it's pervy: the first verse is so bossily on-the-make that you best listen to it with some form of full-body protection. "Mister, your eyes are full of hesitation/Sure makes me wonder/If you know what you're looking for." As in: are you certain you're looking for a cheap whore? Okay, maybe not "cheap," because I actually have a "reputation," and "if you try me once you'll beg for more." Phwoar, etc.. But you might want to stop pestering me, or else I'm going meta on your ass: "You wanna know if I can dance/Yes sir, already told you in the first verse/And in the chorus/But I will give you one more chance."

Because it's polite: in somewhat of a contrast to the come-hither, confident, sassy verses, the chorus is all deference. "Yes sir, I can boogie/But I need a certain song." How fussy. I like to imagine the line sung in the voice of a prim librarian...cast in the title role of the musical version of Oliver Twist. David Hyde Pierce could be good, but an electropop babe who always sounds like she has a stick up her ass -- and I mean that in the nicest way -- would do just as well. In a pinch.

Or maybe it's a deference that's in-character. Perhaps we have entered into some role-playing as we realize that the mister enjoys a bit of subservience. Perhaps the persnicketiness is merely another layer of come-on. Why, yes, I will keep these old lady glasses on, and my hair up in its bun. Whatever floats your boat.

This version of the song is the 2005 remix, because of course there is a 2005 remix (albeit one with a vampy piano straight out of 90s Italo). The glorious cheese, however, remains intact.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Johnny Boy, "Johnny Boy Theme" (2006)

I'm always been mildly amused by how instantly gratifying I find Wall of Sound records, despite the fact that they are all done with smokes and mirrors. It's like being in love with a mirage. You know the drill: an echoing drum hits, and immediately the record soars, sounding huge and uplifting, and your eyes fill with a million stars. With Spector, some of that size comes from the way he did use real orchestras of musicians (and not just musicians you would normally only find in orchestras. I like the idea of trying to direct four or five guitar players in a studio. Do you think they take turns smashing each other over the head?). But of course Spector also utilized an echo chamber, and the reverb probably does way more to create the signature vastness of a Wall of Sound record than the real life musicians. It's a Cecile B. DeMille movie with an actual cast of twelve, a crowd scene created by CGI.

You'll be hard-pressed to find any writing on Johnny Boy that doesn't mention "Wall of Sound." Quite rightly. The band that made everyone shout "yeah! yeah!" in 2004 with its "You Are The Generation That Bought More Shoes And You Get What You Deserve" obviously does take a cue from Spector, and on that record, did so just perfectly. (If I were Fluxblog's Matt, who I think broke the song in the "blogosphere," I would consider having on my tombstone the inscription: He introduced us to "You Are The Generation That Bought More Shoes," and so has gone to heaven like he deserves.)

"Johnny Boy Theme," which first appeared as the band's debut 7", but now closes the upcoming and long-awaited album by the group, tweaks the formula a little. One thing about much Wall of Sound -- and the one that does the most to disrupt my illusion about the number of people in the room -- is the way that, delayed reverberations notwithstanding, everyone is essentially playing and singing along to the same thing.

"Johnny Boy Theme" works the illusion harder. Here, I can better imagine that there are indeed a million people contributing to this record, because they pretend they are all busy doing their own, different things. And yet their own things are also, miraculously, one thing. The chopped-up vocals in the background -- they may in fact be samples (especially on the 7", if not the album version) -- sound like they're following five different pieces of sheet music. It's a Wall of Sound Collages (one reason why The Go! Team may also pop up as a reference point). At points they even sound like sessions musicians practising scales on their own. Ah-ahhh! Ae-eeee! Another moment several different melody lines float by. And yet it all blends together, most beautifully in the middle eight: the drums drop down a notch, yet another new melody surfaces, and all the parts gets shouted, sung, emoted, and it all fits. In the movie version of this song, this would be when all the traffic noises, all the kids shrieking in the streets, all the different women on balconies humming, all come together, and then, as now, it has and will have the effect of squeezing my heart really, really tight.

Ah. I see that Fluxblog and Greenpea-ness both have "Fifteen Minutes," another track from the album, up. Aren't you lucky.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Sandra Bernhard, "You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)" (1994)

If you ask me on the right days, I will tell you that Sandra's version improves on the original. Gasp! But I adore the way she changes the melody of the title line, for example, and the stuttering-but-smooth beat. To avoid actually comitting this sacrilege, I'll instead take the stance that, since this has essentially a new lyric and so many other tweaks, it's less a cover than a new song anyway.

But really, my choice of Sandra over Sylvester might best be attributed to the fact that I'm just a big old L Word-lovin' lez.

Bonus! The "Manhattan radio mix" of the song, which gay-clubs-up the beat and adds some delicious horns. Because dykes like me love (over-)sharing.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Samantha Jones, "Do I Still Figure In Your Life" (1969)

Few things please me more than a good and unusual figure of speech in a pop song, especially if it also forms the title. "Do I still figure in your life?" is so much more interesting a query than, say, "Am I still a part of your world?" "Figure" is wonderfully delicate as a verb. Even if the answer turns out to be "yes," the vagueness of "figure" suggests that the partners still have work to tease out exactly what role she will play. She's a figure in his life, but what kind of figure will it be, precisely?

But good turns of phrases can turn bad. Here, the question stands alone when it first occurs at the end of the first verse. When it recurs at the end of the second, however, it is preceded by the line, "To think that you once took me for your wife." Much less pleasing: the diction seems awkward -- does anyone, after all, say "take me as your wife" unless she is in a Jane Austen novel? -- and it's in contrast not an awkwardness that can be passed off as the result of anxiety, nervousness, uncertainty on the singer's part.

Oh well. We can still enjoy the instantly captivating drums that kickstart the song, as well as some very emotive singing by Samantha Jones -- not of Sex and the City fame -- on this cover of a song originally by The Honeybus, found on Dreambabes Vol 6: Sassy and Stonefree.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Bodies Without Organs, "Sunshine In The Rain" (2005)

I come home, after three weeks away, to heavy rains. It's monsoon season. Yesterday it didn't stopped pouring, I don't think, for a single minute. Good thing I have a new umbrella.

Because Beardsley, who lived at my place while I was away, has a cleaner (or, as he would say, "a houseboy," and then we would crack up skeevily), the apartment that greeted me was impeccable. Spotless. I miss the dust bunnies, a little bit. To make up for this, Beardsley has left me things that he presumably couldn't or wouldn't fit into his luggage. Wandering around the apartment, coming across random objects -- it's like Easter crossed with Christmas. Some rubbing alcohol in the bathroom. A carpet. A box of latex gloves right next to my bed. One must try not to read too much into things.

And there's a blue umbrella by the door. Possibly jetlagged, I somehow felt compelled to open it. There's the superstition that opening an umbrella indoors will bring bad luck and/or death to your family and/or everyone who resides in the building and/or universe, but I'm not one for superstitions.

So, of course, a few hours later, my ceiling started leaking. A steady drip of water snaked its ways down one of my overhead lamps, and dribbled on my floor.