tremble clef

Friday, August 31, 2007

Jens Lekman, "A Postcard To Nina" (2007)

I'm not one for grand, sweeping pronouncements, but I will venture to say that of all the pop songs narrated from the hilarious perspective of a man who is conscripted into being a merkin for his lesbian friend, who brings him to a family dinner that can only be safely navigated if he correctly reads the degree to which her left eyebrow is raised, even as he has to suffer the bruising that comes from repeated kicks under the table as well as the interrogations of her sweet old father, all of which proves to be too much and finally drives him to touchingly advise her to just be true to her badass dyke self already, girl, Jens Lekman's "A Postcard To Nina" is the best.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Popium, "Beautiful Thing" (2002)/"Perfectly Numb" (2002)

Today we're talking about Popium. You go first.

I'm in category 3 myself: as a Sox fan, I was of course obligated to watch Fever Pitch (aka The Perfect Catch). There's a lot of talk about the eternal suffering that comes with being a Sox fan, but no one warned me about having to watch Jimmy Fallon try to act. Thankfully, the film at least featured highlights of the 2004 season; also, in one scene, a lovely shimmering late night song played, the kind that the Tindersticks or Richard Hawley or Cousteau or Weeping Willows might have done. (For this, I imagine we have to thank the exquisite taste of the film's scorer: Craig Armstrong.)

The track, titled "Sooner Or Later," is instead by Popium, a five-man band from Bergen, Norway. The band has been around for a while, and have released four albums. A self-titled debut came out in 2001; this was followed by Permanently High in 2002, and Camp in 2004 (from which "Sooner Or Later" was culled). Last year saw the release of The Miniature Mile in Scandinavia (you can hear tracks from the record at the band's myspace). That looks to be getting a UK release next month, although three of the four albums are already available on US iTunes. And of course, Youtube proves useful as well, with a few videos for the band's singles. Including this one, for the ridiculously infectious "Beautiful Thing":

The song is a duet with fellow Bergen artist Christine Sandtorv, whom some of you may recognize as a member of Ephemera. It's cheerful 60s-inflected power-pop, and a lot of its charm comes from the absurd way both singers enunciate the word "beautiful" (or "beaudeeefall"). From the same album I also like the much subtler "Perfectly Numb." It's a slower track, though not as smoky as "Sooner Or Later." It reminds me a little of Lucky Soul's "My Darling Anything" or "Struck Dumb," and features castanets, which always make a track a winner in my book. With their name, the band is obviously setting me up to make references to how addictive their music is, but I'll just pretend that the word means something totally different in Norwegian and resist to the end. I'm nobody's ventriloquist's dummy!

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

(We Are) Performance, "(In Your Own Words) Chernobyl" (2007)

Once, when I was just starting an academic program, I was asked to provide two favorite "literary quotations" to accompany my personal details for a mini-phonebook that would tell my classmates who I was. I opted for something from J.D. Salinger. No, it wasn't from Catcher In The Rye -- I may have been a snotty moron, but at least I wasn't too clich├ęd -- but plucked from Seymour: An Introduction:

Please accept from me this unpretentious bouquet of very early-blooming parentheses: ( ( ( ( ) ) ) ).

Sort of funny, no? No? At least appropriate for a document that was meant to be introductory? No? Eh. Tough crowd.

Ah, the parenthesis. In my early years, when I labo(u)red under the remnants of British colonialism, I only knew you by the much less attractive name of "brackets," like you were some cheap workshop implement, no more than a vice. But in fact, you're such a classy, pretty punctuation mark -- and yet so brainy (you just missed out on being philosophical)! So coquettish! So curvaceous!

And yet, you are so often abused in pop music. Step forward, Jamiroquai: explain why you released a song with the idiotic title of "(Don't) Give Hate A Chance." Does it EVER make sense to place ONE word of a song title in the loving embrace of a pair of parenthesis? Like, what, Jay, you're really giving listeners the option of being able to shorten a title by a syllable? And how does it make sense to have the two alternate titles mean exactly the opposite of each other? "Folks, here's Jamiroquai with his new single, 'Give Hate A Chance'! No,'s 'Don't Give Hate A Chance'! Or is it?! Oh, I'm so confused. Should I hate or should I not hate? I was considering some genocide before lunch, but now I'm not sure. This is too much. Let's go to traffic and weather instead."*

If you're going to use the parethesis, fucking use it. Witness: "Where The Streets Have No Name (I Can't Take My Eyes Off You)." That's more like it. Let it contain multitudes.

Two years ago, I heard a track called "Love Life," by a group called Performance. Perhaps realizing what an ungoogleable name that is, the Mancurian electrorock band returned this year with a full-length album and a new name. Well, a new name that offers you choices, at least. They are now called (We Are) Performance.

Genius! I added the group and their album to my iTunes when the program was still on Version 7.2. In that incarnation, iTunes showed you your artists beginning not with the "A"s, but with the numerically-named groups (in order: 1 Giant Leap, 2 Banks Of 4, 2Pac, 2Raumwohnung, 4 Strings, 4Hero, 10 cc...) -- but even before those, the punctuated bands. Like !!!. But then !!! totally got pwned: (We Are) Performance shot right to the top of my iTunes window. They've got their eye on the technological generation, I tell you. Of course, their album didn't stay intact on my iTunes for very long. (Live by technology, die by technology.) It's pretty good, but I already have Fischerspooner on my iPod. Still, I quite enjoy "(In Your Own Words) Chernobyl," and if the song is additionally awesome because it too uses parenthesis, hey, that's just a bonus. (Very) well-played, (We Are) Performance, (very) well-played indeed.

*Yes. I understand that Jamiroquai wanted their song title to look like "Give Peace A Chance." Still stupid.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Sugababes, "About You Now" (2007)

Youtube is of course littered with bad video of bad singers singing their bad favorites badly, so it's a minor miracle to see something that isn't shit. Here, a woman nicknamed Giftofmelody performs an abbreviated version of the new Sugababes single, "About You Now," and the result is quite mesmerizing. It's entirely possible that I played the video on a loop a few evenings ago.

The charms of her rendition aren't mysterious. She sings the song as a ballad, backed only by a piano; consequently, its melancholy nature emerges more clearly. Her voice has the kind of tremulous fragility that lends itself perfectly to the rueful song, and even the way the top of her head remains a bit out of frame makes the whole thing extra endearing. But what I love most is the way Giftofmelody changes the structure of the song, for the better. Perhaps she only meant to reduce the song to a more bite-size morsel for impatient netizens, but whatever the reason, she gives us only a verse, pre-chorus, chorus, a second verse, pre-chorus, and then the middle eight -- and, in the process, the song goes from good to great.

There's already an emerging opinion on the interwebs that the middle eight is the best part of the song (whose lyric is here) -- the most melodically beautiful, perhaps. Indeed, because the Sugababes' version is (1) produced by Dr Luke, and (2) is very Dr Lukesque, the song's distractors have faulted it for reminding them too much of Kelly Clarkson, Pink, or The Veronicas. The similarities don't bother me that much, but even I can't help but wish that Xenomania had taken over the production. Given their proclivities, I can see them shuffling the parts and maybe ending "About You Now," as Giftofmelody did, with the middle eight.

But back in the non-fantasy world, we have this Youtube version to thank for underlining more emphatically the stroke of genius that is the middle eight. And its genius lies not just in its gorgeous melody, but because it contains two...I suppose we could loosely call them "mistakes," though they are hauntological mistakes that deepen the song for me.

The first "mistake" has to do with tenses. The opening lines of the middle eight go, "not a day passed me by, not a day passed me by/When I don't think about you," but the tenses in that couplet are all wrong. If the point of the song is that the narrator now knows that she loves him, and she thinks about him everyday (as the second line confirms), then it's strange that the days when she thinks about him have stopped passing her by. Of course, the "logical" reason for the slip is that the correct tense -- "not a day passes me by" -- won't scan, but the 'Babes could have gotten around the problem by simply singing "not a day passes by." If we therefore take the lines seriously, they instead suggest that she has now stopped thinking about him -- not because she no longer loves him, but because her pining can no longer have any effect.

Indeed, what the middle eight does is disrupt the time scheme of the song, which had hitherto seemed straightforward. They essentially raise the possibility that the song takes place at a moment in the "future." Prior to the middle eight, we understand the track to allude to two time periods. (1) In the first, our narrator is "dumb" and "wrong," because she didn't love him. (2) But she "now" knows how she feels about him, and this second time frame is supposedly the one of the song.

But the middle eight suddenly reveals that the "now" may not really be now, because the days of obsessively thinking about him are in the past. For a moment, whether intended or not, we are in a future moment when it's all over. He's gone. There's no happy ending. Not only can she not bring Time #1 back around, but even Time #2 -- which was at least a time of hope -- devastatingly turns out to be in the past.

Not that our narrator admits this hopelessness; indeed, what makes the song moving is the way she can't admit this. We fathom this in the second oddity of the middle eight, which has to do with a ghostly rhyme. The third line of the middle eight goes like this: "And there's no moving on/Cause I know you're the one." The rhyme, you'll notice, is not perfect; at best, "on" and "one" are half-rhymes. That would be unremarkable, if weren't for the fact that there is a much more obvious word that could have been used to rhyme with "on": "gone." "And there's no moving on/Though I know that you're gone," for example, would make more sense and scan perfectly. In fact, the first few times I heard the song, I think my mind supplied that much more natural rhyme, and in that sense it may not be too fanciful to say that the middle eight is haunted by the specter of a rhyme it can't admit.

Once she didn't love him. Then she knew how she felt about him. She tried to bring time back around, but he's gone. She spent days and days thinking about him. She still says that she does, except for the moments when a slipped tense, and an absent rhyme, reveal the fruitlessness of that gesture. And in everything that isn't said lies her heartbreak, and mine.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Pet Shop Boys, "Integral (PSB Perfect Immaculate 7-Inch Mix)" (2007)

Despite the fact that it was a stripped-down, cube-free show, there were too many highlights to recount when the Pet Shop Boys played SingFest back on August 8. (Sprockets to me: "That was the best concert I've ever been to. Granted, I don't go to any, but still.")

But as far as favorite audience moments go, I had two indisputable ones. Both came courtesy of the group of men who stood to my left. They were excitable to the point of being hysterical, and verged on being rubbish gays, but they were obviously huge fans who could sing along to every single word of "The Sodom and Gomorrah Show." (A song that has, by the way, since I first wrote about it, gotten more enshrined in my mind as the peak of Fundamental, as an update of and worthy successor to "Being Boring.")

The first highlight these men provided came with the opening strains of "Suburbia," when they barked along with the doggie sound effects. BARKED ALONG. That's hardcore fandom, y'all.

The second highlight was more inadvertent. As Neil trotted out in his military regalia -- and, since it was so humid here, the backing vocalists (including my future husband Andy Love) meanwhile chose to be shirtless for this number, which, hallelujah -- the booming, problematically Big Brotherish notes of "Integral" started. One of the gays shrieked and seemed close to a conniption, or perhaps to actually going out of his everlovin' mind, but he had enough left in him to...raise his right hand skywards to the melody. For just a moment, the scene was unfortunately fascistic. But the heiling gesture couldn't sustain itself, because the proverbial limp wrist took over.

It was a perfect little moment. As much as Pet Shop Boys might flirt with fascist imagery, if only to illustrate and parody it, here was an assurance -- or, if you want, call it an illusion -- that homosexuality will always work, even accidentally, to undercut it. Maybe the relationship between gayness and fascism is one that, hopefully, will always be doomed to failure.

(But just in case, Neil and Chris have severely rearranged "Integral" -- for the upcoming Disco 4 compilation, although this is the 7-inch version that won't see a commercial release. In the terrific booklet for the Cubism DVD, Chris's complaint after a rehearsal is that "the dancers stand at the front in some of the uptempo songs...and commit the sin of 'grooving.' (He says the word as though it denotes an obviously ridiculous and reprehensible type of behaviour.) Because, he reasons, '"Integral" is meant to be an ode to fascism, isn't it?'" They'll find "grooving" to this new version much more difficult; it sounds less seductively fascistic, more unambiguously sinister and evil. In this day and age, you can never be too sure.)