Thursday, January 18, 2007

Download These: Great Songs from so-so (or Worse) Sources

Record labels worldwide would likely kill for more schlubs like me.

Now that I'm (barely) financially stable enough to indulge in fairly frequent trips to the local record store, I really make it a point to support artists with my dollars. Hell, I'm so much of a nerd I seldom borrow other folks' CDs to burn them for myself--partly because I like giving bands I like my money, and partly because the collector/packrat/nerd in me just loves the tactile sensation of holding a pre-recorded compact disc and poring over the artwork and liner notes as I listen. The latter rationale is also why I've seldom downloaded music from online sources--it just feels sorta antiseptic to me.

I'm slowly tiptoeing into the heady waters of the 21st century, however. The old-fashioned route to purchasing music--buying a full-length album on the strength of one or two killer tracks--is getting to become more and more of a pricy crapshoot. And with my geezerly advancing years comes the revelation that life's too short to spend forty minutes to an hour listening to a CD with two gems buried amidst a sizeable pile of Just OK-ness, or worse.

The wonders of music downloading have opened up to me in recent months, and the missus and I have also begun liquidating sizeable piles of miscellaneous media for some extra cash. So I've purchased a small handful of individual songs online, and also ripped one or two killer tracks each from several discs that I just don't listen to very much before selling said full lengths.

The net result: a mix CD full of great songs from so-so full lengths: all killer, no filler. Enclosed is a list (I love lists--don't you?) of ten of the tracks that made it onto said mix disc. And since most are available from online music stores, you can sample and/or purchase all of these at will at iTunes, Napster, etc.

Elefant, "Misfit" and "Static at Channel 4": This New York quartet surfaced a few years ago during the wave of Post-Punk revivalism that carried bands like The Killers and Franz Ferdinand to prominence. The schtick on their debut full-length, Sunlight Makes Me Paranoid (compact new-wave guitar riffs backing singer Diego Garcia's Morrissey/Bowie-lite croon) reads just fine on paper, but the most of the tunes don't stick to the ribs. These two tracks form the glorious exception. "Misfit" gooses Garcia's sense of pithy romance ("Talk about the dreams we had while we were growing old/Wrote a poem on the back of your shoulder")with punchy drums and an utterly irresistible spike of a guitar hook, and "Static" is a short but haunting slice of Man-Who-Fell-to-Earth space-age atmosphere. A few more songs like this and these guys could conquer the world.

Kings of Leon, "Molly's Chambers": Lynyrd Skynyrd and Chuck Berry take turns opening up a can of swaggering and nervy post-punk rock and roll whoop-ass. From the Nashville band's sporadic-but-promising 2003 debut, Youth and Young Manhood. Damn, this song rocks.

Lindsey Buckingham, "Trouble": Fleetwood Mac were always a song-on-the-dial band for me, my attention contingent on how much of Stevie Nicks' goat-whinny of a voice I could tolerate at one sitting. Then there was the Felix-Unger-worthy fussiness of singer/guitarist Buckingham's songwriting and production, which contained all of Brian Wilson's craftsmanship but none of the heart. Even the most insufferable anal-retentive rock twits can bowl a strike once in awhile, though, as this 1981 song demonstrates. "Trouble" is a seductive and masterful blend of Roy Orbison and Bryan Ferry, and the production glistens on the ears instead of antibacterially-sanitizing 'em.

M83, "Don't Save Us from the Flames": It figures that my favorite song by a French techno band is its least-techno moment: a swirly epic of stormy drums (or are they drum samples?), siren-song backing vocals, and magnetic guitar (or is it a sample?) chords. So atmospheric and cool, even lead singer Anthony Gonzalez's thickly-Gallic accent works.

The Posies, "I Am the Cosmos": the Northwest's finest purveyors of power-pop classicism cover an old Chris Bell song to crystalline perfection. If you're a Posies fan (which I am) and you don't want to purchase a good-but-redundant Greatest-Hits collection for one obscure track, this is the perfect Itunes purchase.

Blur, "There's No Other Way": This Britpop band was just one of a crowd of outfits combining druggy slurring with danceable tempos at the beginning of the 1990's. They evolved into a pretty terrific pop band, combining the acerbic wit of Village Green-era Kinks with a broad post-punk pallate, but their first full-length, Leisure, was strictly by-the-numbers dance pop. Its one moment of brilliance: this pulsing, lazily sensual, and catchy-as-hell single. Makes me wanna grab a glow-stick and bob like an apple in a waterbarrel.

My Morning Jacket, "Wordless Melody": MMJ's overall sound seems made for critics to love--eclectic and well-played, gently psychedelic rock with Neil Young-muppet-warbling vocals--but I had a helluva time cozying up to it. Then I heard this gorgeous pop gem, with its subtly-insistent keyboard hook and its soaring (and yes, wordless) chorus of vocal harmonies. Truly transcendant.

Chicago, "Wishing You Were Here": God, admitting to this one almost hurts. My virulent hatred for Chicago's brand of dumbed-down mellow pop knows no bounds. It's Steely Dan slathered with cheesy horns, a bowl of mud with a spoonful of Cool Whip on top. Good thing downloading gives you the ultimate opportunity to indulge in those anomalous freak tracks by bands that you normally loathe. "Wishing You Were Here" is brilliant, a haunting song of longing with some of the most ethereal harmonies I've heard in a seventies ballad. Sole credit goes to the Beach Boys, who guest on the song and anchor Peter Cetera's treacly songwriting (that cheesy-ass bridge has gotta go) with their luminous intertwining voices.

Elton John, "Bennie and the Jets": My parents, brother, dogs, and myself were packed into an orange Chevy Nova en route to the mountains: I couldn't have been more than five. As the car sped through lush green forest, the loping piano melody stomped onto the car radio speakers. It spiked into a vibe of nostalgic melancholy that defied understanding back then, and the song still packs that impact. This hissy-fit-throwin', weave-topped diva has exactly six great songs to show for his thirty-plus years in the industry. "Bennie," the greatest of them all, remains the only thing keeping me from drop-kicking Elton John off of a cliff.


Vince said...

Chicago?!? You are a brave man. And to be fair, that is a great song.

Rita said...

I'm embarrassed for you and frightened at your revelation about Chicago. Where is the man I married?? What did you do to him you freak pod person?!

L.E.S. Teens said...

hi. you might want to visit to share & archive your lists...seems like you might like it!