Songs of the Week 09/29/2022

hnngsongs or somethinbg

THEM HEAVY PEOPLE | Kate Bush One of my most productive and also most unsustainable habits as of now is assigning Kate Bush albums to each month, starting with her first, and only listening further once I’ve had more than enough time with the last one. Maybe I’m afraid of burning out, or maybe I’m afraid that I’ll find something I won’t like, and either way, I’m definitely overthinking my relationship with the way I process music, which is absolutely the correct way to enjoy the things I love, I’m not taking any questions. In any case, I’ve spent maybe too much time with this song, which flew in the face of my established rules the moment I started following them. In my defense, “Them Heavy People” is stunningly strange for how early it comes it Kate Bush’s career. Like, listen to this. She wrote this when she was nineteen. What am I ever going to do? And it’s like, so funky and joyous, and it’s all through the touching lyrics describing finding kindred spirits through their writing. Granted, Kate Bush hasn’t fully come into her own here, and doesn’t have quite have her own voice, though it’s already very weird. Luckily, the voice she has is like the best of the late 70s— in fact, both lyrically and rhythmically, “Them Heavy People” could be right off of David Bowie’s Hunky Dory, which is an instant sell. I mean, right? It should be.

FORGED BY NERON | Mastodon One of my toxic traits is an unnecessary hatred of unsorted b-sides without a neat little album box to be sorted into. That’s what counter culture is all about, after all, and a messy discography is an obvious no-no. While I work on unlearning my prejudices, please enjoy proof that I’m wrong: Mastodon’s “Forged by Neron,” a tie-in with DC’s crisis event Dark Knights: Death Metal (written and illustrated by the dream team, Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo). While not technically “Death Metal” in the strictest sense (though I dare not wade into the muck of metal genre taxonomy), this song is everything tie-in music isn’t: it’s bold, it stands on its own, it speaks from its own emotional well, and it rocks as hard as some of Mastodon’s best. This might be a controversial opinion, and probably rich coming from a hipster metalhead try-hard (my taste is largely confined to before cookie monster started doing vocals), but I think if anyone in the metal game is going to pull off a stunt like this, it’s Mastodon. They strike an incredible balance between achieving tremendous feats of musicianship and prog rock experimentation while still clearly playing from the soul— they’re not too lost in the sauce to seem inaccessible. In this way, it’s an odd pairing with the source comic— for anyone curious because the art goes way harder than it has any right to, for as good of a writer as Scott Snyder is, it might be one of the worst comics to start with. Unlike a lot of his other stories, this one was catered specifically to longtime fans of DC, and interwove a mind-numbing number of canon threads into a story that ultimately has a powerful sentiment at its core, but which goes a little too far into the stratosphere to anchor readers to much. Not Mastodon, though! Or any of the other songs on the Dark Knights: Death Metal album, for that matter. Trust me, this won’t be the last time you hear about it.

GRATITUDE [SHORT VERSION] | Danny Elfman Just as The White Stripes are basically just Jack White (love you Meg), after hearing his Solo (So-Lo, to be precise) music, it’s undeniable that Oingo Boingo is basically just Danny Elfman. If you don’t know him from his career as frontman of Oingo Boingo, you almost certainly know him from his prolific compositional career, from the Batman 1989 and Spider-Man 2002, to the The Simpsons, to The Nightmare Before Christmas, to his most recent score to Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (and his unforgettable dreamwalking theme, “A Cup of Tea“). While his film scores undoubtedly changed my life, I’m personally pretty attached to and moved by his personal career. It’s really delightful to me to trace his progress across the decades— while his newest solo album Big Mess can be slotted more or less right after the radically new direction Oingo Boingo took with their very last album, Boingo, “Gratitude” fits right in with the Boingo album that follows right on its heels, Dead Man’s Party. It’s pocked with campy-creepy lyrics over electric instrumentation that somehow still sounds symphonic, matching the unmatchable energy that Oingo Boingo’s iconic brass band lineup brings. It’s really a testament to the strength of Danny Elfman’s identity, whose footprints can be distinctly followed no matter where his career takes him. That kind of signature is something I’ll always find inspiration in.

THE GREEN LADY | Big Audio Dynamite Big Audio Dynamite’s Megatop Phoenix is an album which warrants many, many successive listens, which is something I have absolutely not granted it. I put this song on here preemptively expecting I’d have finally come back to the album as a whole, but it’s been a week, and that very much did not happen. Without dissecting their music, all I’ll say is this: Big Audio Dynamite has mastered the musical collage, with tapestries of diverse samples rivaling those of the Beastie Boys’ Paul’s Boutique (which only predates this album by about two months— it was evidently a good 1989, between that and Danny Elfman). Sometimes, the fun of a collage is in acknowledging that it is, in fact, a collage, and while this applies to many of the more eclectic songs on Megatop Phoenix, this is not true for songs like “The Green Lady,” a deceptively simple club song. Amongst an album of clear and scattered samples, I’m unsure if I can parse out any individual sound from this song that feels out of place, and this sort of cohesive rhythm feels like an accomplishment in and of itself in such a scrapbook album. That sounds like a backhanded compliment, doesn’t it? I swear it’s not, but they’re the ones who chose a name that shortens to BAD, so…

THE BIG COME DOWN | Nine Inch Nails Third Nine Inch Nails song in a row? That seems about fair. I know I made some wild claims about Bad Witch being Nine Inch Nails’s best work, I know, I know, but if there was ever a contender for that spot from earlier in Trent’s career, my vote would be for The Fragile. It has the raw, industrial, pots-and-pans sound that defined the older, grinding anger of The Downward Spiral, but it eases into an aching tenderness unseen on any Nine Inch Nails record beforehand. I’m sure I’ll talk about this ability to rise and fall from the muck another time, but today’s pick is a real cut-and-dry industrial song (though it’s easily one of my favorites). “The Big Come Down” is eerie, foreboding, discordant, and mechanical, like a twisting, nonsensical tank tread. Like much of the preceding album, this track feels angry, chafed, and beaten, though there’s a wiser nuance previously unseen in a lot of his work. My Dad, who’s both an OG NIN fan (I can’t cram any more acronyms into that. BAD) and a Jungian psychoanalyst, traces this back to lyrics like “it feels like it keeps coming from the inside” and “try to get back to where I’m from / the closer I get, the worse it becomes”— a pretty spot-on summary of the introspection that comes with analysis. If that all sounds pretty heavy (it is), the funkiness of this piece will probably be the most surprising part— it’s disturbingly danceable, and definitely doesn’t leave listeners with the same abyssal emptiness that songs like “Hurt” punch straight into your soul. It’s a testament to not only birthing art from one’s pain, but to creating an energy from one’s lowest lows that hadn’t been there before.

And speaking of disturbingly dancey, here’s the staggeringly, cruelly imaginative “Garden of Earthly Delights,” straight from the twisted mind of Hieronymus Bosch, circa 1515! I’ve only chosen a small segment of this painting from the lower right corner for this week’s songs, so there’s a chance I’ll feature another square of this inimitable masterpiece some other week down the line. My girlfriend went on a Hieronymus spiral recently after reading about his work in a book on fungi of all places, and told me that his work was allegedly made from a deep, defining religious fear, and was meant to scare onlookers into piety. I’m sure that’s what he told himself, but I know a closeted monster dork when I see one. Good luck down there, Hieronymus. Hope this week finds you anywhere except being digested by a blue bird-man and excreted into a pit of putrid defecation and embers.

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