Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Princess Street / Jon Lindsay

Hey there, tastemakers! (Since anyone with the good sense to read this blog must be a tastemaker par excellence. . . . ) I assume you've been eagerly awaiting the new Jon Lindsay album, having gotten hooked ever since my post on Jon's first album two years ago. Well, his new LP dropped last summer, and it's absolutely charming. I guess it's about time I finally shared it with you. 

A little taste to whet your appetite....

Confession: I've had this post teed up for a while now, as well as two other posts about other tracks on this record. They're all insanely earworm-y and I just couldn't decide which one to write about. "Tiny Violins" is a beauty, but it's similar enough to "Futuretown" that I felt it wouldn't give you a fair idea of Lindsay's range. Then I had a week of obsession with "King of the Offseason," followed by a flirtation with "Margot." Bottom line: get the whole album, you can't go wrong.

Yet "Princess Street" is the one I kept coming back to. It must be the keyboard riffs and musical hooks of the chorus -- god knows the lyrics still puzzle me. It seems like a dark tale of a battered girl, with her "mystery bruises" and "blackened bottom feet," and later verses suggest she's escaped from a an abusive father, or at any rate a stern and repressive one. Not my usual cup of tea, that's for sure.

But there's nothing mournful about this song: it's a lush, tuneful track with a bouncy backbeat and syncopated hooks. Listen to those choruses: "She knew just who she was / And she was free"; "I could have this if I want"; "I will listen to my heart . . . " Most of all, listen to Lindsay's snazzy "ohh-oo-oh-oh-oh oh oh's" between verses -- they practically defy you not to hum along. Talk about triumphs of the spirit -- you go, girl!

The more I think about it, this is what I like most about Jon Lindsay's stuff -- the cryptic stories suggested in his songs, sketched with details so specific, you gotta figure they're autobiographical. I'm drawn in, curious about the lives hovering inside these songs, lives too individial and real to be crammed into pop song cliches.

At the same time I'm swept along by the melodies and by the richly-textured arrangements. (It's almost unfair to discover that Lindsay plays most of the instruments here -- really? Really?  Could you not at least pretend not to be so talented, Jon?)  I've been thinking about this a lot lately, about the competing demands of crafting your trademark "sound" while at the same time assembling an album where all the tracks don't sound the same. It's a particularly tricky challenge for a sophomore album.  (Hey, Marcus Mumford, I'm talking to you, too!)  Jon Lindsay acquits himself more than honorably on that score.

I finally realized that I wasn't going to "solve" this song anytime soon -- but that was no reason to keep sitting on this post. After all, you're the tastemakers -- have a listen and see what YOU think . . . .

Saturday, September 22, 2012

The First Shuffle of Autumn

Back to school, my brothers and sisters. I don't know about you, but I've got a stack of fresh notebooks and sharpened pencils and a new plaid skirt,, and I am ready to ROCK. 

1. "Sitting in My Hotel" / The Kinks
From Everybody's in Show-Biz (1972)
There are days -- many days -- when this is my favorite Kinks song. I start to think about Ray Davies "prancing round the room like some outrageous poove,"  and it almost makes my heart break. A perfect way to kick off the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness.*

2. "She Loves the Jerk" / John Hiatt
From Riding with the King (1983)
"'Johnny,' she says, 'Never do these things to me,'"... And this is why I love this guy, too. The deep, deep songcraft here slays me every time. Simple plot: Guy loves girl, who loves another guy, but spends hours on the phone confiding in the first guy, who we can all see is better for her . . . yadda yadda yadda. But seriously, how could you not love lines like, "'Well you married the wrong guy,' is all I ever say / But she'll never let him go /He's a no-good so-and-so, / Though she knows it will never work, she loves the jerk." And so the dance goes on.

3. "Hey Rabbit" / Fionn Regan
From The End of History (2007)
Okay, so the Kinks and John Hiatt, they go way deep with me. But Fionn Regan? This Irish singer-songwriter landed in my in-box almost by accident, but from the very first listen, he's been one of My Guys. He's got the Celtic besottedness with words, matched with the sort of alt-lit sensibility that's catnip to an unreformed English major like me. Do yourself a favor, check him out, please.

4. "Sinister But She Was Happy" / Robyn Hitchcock
From Moss Elixir (1996)
I am literally sitting here laughing. Robyn, too? This guy short-circuited straight onto the play list of My Guys faster than anybody. That alt-lit sensibility, he's got it in spades, with way more absurdist wit than anyone should ever be able to get away with. Dig the zestful splashes of strings -- well, somebody's having fun.

5. "The Best Record Ever Made" / Bill Lloyd
From Boy King of Tokyo (2012)
I SO owe you guys a full post about this track, and about this album. Bill Lloyd absolutely shares the love of late-60s Britsh pop that keeps some of us getting out of bed in the morning, and this paean to that groove dives straight to my heart.

6. "When Your Mind's Made Up" / Glen Hansard
From Once (2007)
Now that it's been turned into a Broadway hit musical, I'm trying very hard not to resent the co-opting of this gem of an Irish indie film. The whole point of it, I thought, was that it was rough and authentic and unpolished -- hand-held cameras, acoustic soundtrack, the works. Glen Hansard looked so shaggy with that beat-up guitar, moping around Dublin, boring pedestrians with these heartfelt anthems to misery. Just made me want to take him home and brew him up a cuppa tea.

7. "She's Leaving Home" / The Beatles
From Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967)
And then a Beatles track dials up, and  . . . no contest. As I've already said . . .

8. "Martha My Dear" / The Beatles
From The White Album (1968)
When the Shuffle Gods decide to give me two Beatle songs in a row, I do not resist. A minor Beatles song you may say -- but I beg to differ. There ARE NO minor Beatles songs. And especially not coming from what is perhaps my favorite side of any album EVER.

9. "Right Around the Corner" / The Five Royales
From Dedicated to You (1956)
Whoa! Talk about jumping genres. Snappy 1950s doo-wop, courtesy of Marshall Crenshaw, who introduced me to this jive outfit on his great WFUV-FM radio The Bottomless Pit. Which I should be listening to right now, Saturday nights 10-11pm.

10. "Follow You" / The Tories
From Wonderful Life (1997)
The point is, you got to keep your ears open. If I didn't keep my ears open, I wouldn't have been able to discover bands like the Tories. Power pop Southern California-style, with hooks a-plenty. Two albums and they were done, but I still hold out hope.

* A prize to the first reader to identify that literary allusion. No Googling allowed!

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Hey Julie / Fountains of Wayne

How perfect for Labor Day -- a song about how mind-numbing work can be. (Yes, people, despite all the cookouts and back-to-school sales, Labor Day was originally conceived as a way to honor America's working people.) And because it's Fountains of Wayne, they give it a special sweet spin, thanking the singer's girlfriend -- the Julie of the title -- for being the one bright spot in his office drone life.

So the idea's not totally original -- I'm pretty sure that FoW, being devotees of classic British pop, know they owe a debt to the Beatles' "Hard Day's Night" and the Kinks' "You Make It All Worthwhile." But in the world of modern music, this is hardly an overworked topic. Considering how many music listeners hold, or will someday hold, an office job, you'd think there would be more songs about it. (Compare this to the number of songs about the stresses of being a rock star, an experience just about none of us will ever have.) Fist-bumps to FoW for crafting this perky cha-cha-cha earworm from such mundane material.

That opening verse says it all: "Working all day for a mean little man / With a clip-on tie and a rub-on tan / He's got me running round the office like a dog around a track / When I get back home you're always there to rub my back." Now, I've been lucky: I always had good bosses and jobs I enjoyed. But that doesn't matter: I still know exactly how he feels.

In the end, he doesn't really tell us much about Julie -- he's too tangled up in the hassles of office life. He really hates that boss -- in verse three we get another vignette: "Working all day for a mean little guy / With a bad toupee and a soup-stained tie / He's got me running around the office like a gerbil in a wheel / He can tell me what to do but he can't tell me how to feel." Maybe after the back-rub, Julie will come more into focus, but right now his nerves are still jangled and raw.

Like Ray Davies of the Kinks, Adam Schlesinger and Chris Collingwood of Fountains of Wayne are born storytellers, homing right in on the telling details, like that soup-stained clip-on tie. They're also more invested in ordinary people's lives than in autobiographical navel-gazing. "Hey Julie" is just the upbeat flipside of the bittersweet song "Hackensack," also on their 2003 album Welcome Interstate Managers.

I have to giggle when I listen to this song, but behind the giggle lies the pathos of an unsung life. Maybe there aren't more pop songs about  photocopying and bookkeeping for the simple reason that most rock stars wouldn't be caught dead doing those things. All the more reason why we need Fountains of Wayne to come along and sing our songs, too.