Sunday, May 15, 2011

Musical Observations on the Drive to Karlstad

(Breakfast, lunch and dinner for a whole week!)

So this week, I've embarked on a week-long quest to Karlstad, MN, a charming little town of 900 or so about a stone's throw from Canada. I'm guest-teaching poetry classes at the school here. I also had to drive here. If you know me, you might know that I don't drive. Like, ever. So six hours alone in the car was very, very strange for me. The upside, though, is that I got to listen to six hours or music.

And sure, I have the new Elzhi, the new No Bird Sing, a bunch of cool stuff. But part of not ever driving is not being very good at doing stuff WHILE driving. So I just put on a random seven-hour playlist of stuff that I like and let it go. It was nice to reconnect to a lot of my favorite music. Here's a journal of my trip:

Hour 1: Silence. 
Trying not to crash. I'm driving. I'm driving.

Hour 2: Fall Out Boy
Now, I'll probably forever be a FOB apologist. I didn't discover them until relatively recently, so I missed both the bandwagon and the backlash to the bandwagon and can enjoy the music without a lot of social/cultural baggage. And I really enjoy the music. I know the lyrics are silly, but I appreciate the fact that they're in the foreground-- they're actually part of the music and not just window dressing (which I think is the case with most bands). I'd MUCH rather have silly (and occasionally pretty great) lyrics than forgettable lyrics. I also love the band's use of dynamics, engaging song structures (pre-hooks, breakdowns, bridges, double-hooks, etc.) and a singer who actually SINGS. If you take the best few songs from each of their last three albums, that's a pretty brilliant 15 or so tracks, critics be damned.

Hour 3: '90s one-hit wonder male R&B stars! 
~Javier: October Sky (not his hit, but his best song and one that should be a classic)
~Musiq Soulchild: Half Crazy (I know Musiq isn't a one-hit wonder, but this is the only song of his I listen to regularly)
~Raphael Saadiq: Still Ray (also not a one-hit wonder, but this is still the best song he'll ever make)
~The Transitions: A Rainy Night In Harlem (I guarantee you've never heard this song, and it's beautiful; it's one singer, until the very end when one of the other guys in the group comes in and starts vamping and murders it).
~Calvin Richardson: Keep on Pushin' (this song sounds great, but when you listen to the lyrics it kind of sounds like the prelude to domestic violence; just noticed that)
~Donell Jones: Where I Wanna Be (I love the percussion in this one)
~Glenn Lewis: It's Not Fair (it really isn't)
~Tank: I actually didn't listen to any Tank today but it felt wrong not to include him here.

Hour 4: Pop Music Gems
~No Doubt: Ex-Girlfriend (my vote for their best song, and one of the best pop songs I know. I really want to cover this someday)
~Van Hunt: At the End of a Slow Dance (one of my favorite songs-- such a weird mash-up of styles and influences, but it all comes together because of the songwriting)
~The Cardigans: Lovefool (this is the PERFECT pop song; catchy, well-produced, light-hearted but with an edge)
~Nelly Furtado: Powerless (remember THIS Nelly Furtado?  What a brilliant song)
~NERD: Maybe, Provider, Sooner or Later (NERD is so hit-and-miss, but their hits are weirdly beautiful)
~P!nk: Who Knew (the distance between P!nk's good stuff and her awful stuff is HUGE, more than any other artist.  Her bad stuff is REALLY bad, but her good stuff is bonkers-- she has such a powerful, unique voice)
~Amy Winehouse: Valerie (such a great cover; Marc Ronson is one of my favorite producers right now)
~Cee-lo: F*** You (Cee-lo was and is my favorite rapper.  His rap work with Goodie Mob is probably my biggest influence as an MC.  I wish he's still rap, but I'm glad he's at least successful.  And this is just such a happy summertime song)
~Fiona Apple: Paper Bag (this could go in the next category too, but it fits here.  Great lyrics and such an expressive vocal performance that really brings the words to life)

Hour 5: Depressing Singer Songwriters
~Brandi Carlile: Turpentine, The Story, Dying Day, plus covers of Creep and Hallelujah (her super-powerful-voice-that-gets-pushed-until-it-breaks thing that she does might be gimmicky to some people, but it gets me every time.  These are the only songs of hers that I really like, but I listen to them a lot)
~Haley Bonar: Us, Am I Allowed, Big Star, Better Half (in what universe is Haley not a huge star?  Oh yeah, this one.  Because this one sucks)
~Regina Spektor: Blue (I love a ton of her material, but this one sticks out for me-- such weird, engaging songwriting)
~Bruce Springsteen: Atlantic City, Thunder Road, Born to Run, State Trooper (god these four songs are brilliant.  He's a master of writing personal songs that speak to political issues, even if it's buried deep down)
~Mermaid Avenue (Billy Bragg and Wilco singing Woodie Guthrie lyrics): Birds and Ships, California Stars, The Unwelcome Guest (I love these albums.  Hearing a political folkie writing songs about love and loss is the most heartbreaking thing in the world.  And the songs that actually are overtly political have such weight to them)
~Corinne Bailey Rae: Young and Foolish, Like a Star (CBR can do no wrong)
~A Fine Frenzy: Almost Lover (this is by far the most maudlin song EVER and I still like it)

Hour 6: And Then Things Get Weird
~Madeleine Peyroux: Between the Bars (if you're going to cover a great song, put a unique spin on it.  I actually prefer this one to the original)
~Emily Bindiger: Adieu (this is from Cowboy Bebop, and I can't separate the music from the emotional attachment I have to the series)
~Gogol Bordello: Wanderlust King (that line about presidents and generals gets me every time)
~Radiodread: Let Down (Toots and Maytals covering my favorite Radiohead song.  Wow)
~Fastball: The Way (Is this a pro-suicide song? I know the story behind this song, but it's really easy to interpret it that way)
~Bush: Glycerine (such a pretty/ugly song)
~Rufus Wainwright: Hallelujah (my favorite version of the song; sue me)
~Sam Cooke: Bring it on Home to Me (one of my favorite songs ever)
~Doris Day: Que Sera, Sera (When I'm famous, we're going to end all of my shows with a group singalong of this song)
~Janelle Monae: Cold War (this is actually the song that was playing as I pulled into the hotel.  Her latest album hasn't stuck with me the way I had hoped, but this song is still a monster)

And now here I am. There were more songs in there, but this is what I remember.  It's fun to talk about WHY you like the songs you like.  These aren't all my favorite songs (no hip hop represented on this drive), but it's close.  I guess I'm not so much a music nerd (which connotes good taste, doesn't it?) as I am a music appreciator.  As much as I talk/write about the importance of lyrics, substance and originality, I like pretty songs.  I like well-produced songs.  I like catchy songs.  An interesting observation for myself.

So now you should drive up here and meet me and record YOUR six hour playlist.

1 comment:

Amy said...

Just wanted to say I also think Rufus Wainwright's "Hallelujah" is my favorite version.