No offense to today’s date, but what an unsatisfying set of numbers. Don’t they just leave the weirdest aftertaste? Anyways, happy birthday to anyone who was born on October 14th!
NELLIE | Dr. Dog Bad news, Dr. Dog fans: I saw Dr. Dog open for Wilco way back in 2012, and I thought they were profoundly lame. Maybe it was because I wanted to see Wilco, or maybe it was because I was a fresh middle schooler, or maybe it was both of those things stewing while someone had the audacity to fill the silence with a banjo, but whatever the case, it’s a prejudice that I’m still actively unlearning. After being humbled by their emotional, swelling song “Where’d All the Time Go?” two years ago, I’ve been giving the good Dr. a second chance… slowly. For perspective, “Nellie” is the only other Dr. Dog song I’ve remembered listening to in that time, and while it doesn’t quite reach the psychedelic highs and melancholic lows of “Where’d All the Time Go?,” it certainly comes close. If you’re a jaded folk detractor that’s absolutely no fun like me, the idea of this song as a swaying, earnest, indie-folk-rock ballad with a sprinkle of tambourines on top might be off-putting, but “Nellie” is a song that owns exactly what it is and still pulls it off. For me, it goes the extra mile of not just being an earworm, but also conveying what appears to be a genuine sincerity behind it, which is far easier said than done— I struggle in that regard with not just writing, but even talking. So, thanks to “Nellie,” I guess it’s time I reluctantly forgive Dr. Dog for making me wait an extra hour to see Wilco. My b, guys.
2020 | SUUNS You guys remember this trailer, right?
Yea, wow, that looks good and cool and imaginative, huh? Just a real, class-A movie. You guys wouldn’t let a movie like that bomb at the box office, right? In this economy?
Well, in any case, I always hate saying this because I’m usually so averse to advertising no matter how masterful it is, but this incredibly well-done trailer not only brought me to the fantastical adventure of Three Thousand Years of Longing, but also to SUUNS’s “2020,” which is honestly such an inspired pairing with the visuals of this movie. I was surprised to find how many of the trailer’s disparate sounds were already part of the song. I think it’s amongst catchiest modern psychedelic music I’ve experienced— it’s very palatable despite all of these clashing elements that somehow elevate one another. The thrumming baseline that rumbles to the forefront, like the ultrasonic ululations elephants use to stun their enemies (or alligators use to communicate with space shuttles), sounds almost from a wholly different world than that of the breathy vocals, with the gap between them bridged by the descending chimes and guitar arpeggio (which I don’t have the musical vocabulary to really articulate… it sounds cool??). Like all of the songs on this week’s list, I definitely over-listened to it. You’re gonna read “earworm” a lot today.
IN YOUR MIND | Johnny Cash This time accompanying a film I haven’t seen, Dead Men Walking, Johnny Cash’s “In Your Mind” absolutely dominated my week. Though I’ve never exactly been pro-country, Johnny Cash has always been the outlier for me, with music I at best love and at worst respect. This may stray into heretical territory, but “In Your Mind” might be my favorite song of his, despite how different it sounds from his body of work. I’ll always be a fan of the mournful, bluesy Cash who sings like a saved man but knows where he’s headed when it’s all over, this song doesn’t quite carry that harshness, though it isn’t exactly light, either. Here, Cash leans heavy into his gospel influences, bringing not only outstanding backup choral vocals, but that trademark, karmic sass that I’m such a sucker for in religious music. Like the best of righteous Gospel music, “In Your Mind” almost gleefully brings down the hammer on hypocritical heathens who put on a pious face without the integrity to back it up. I can’t help but smile ear-to-ear every time I hear “you eat your fundamentalist pie / but just a piece, you understand / you’ll get the rest up in the sky” or “Eternity is down the hall / and you sit there bendin’ spoons.” Like, God damn, dude! Unlike a lot of parable songs in this genre, though, the lyrics sort of go beyond simplistic moral lessons to take on more of an empowering tone. As the title suggests, “it all goes down in your mind,” and it appears to depict the universal struggle of making the right choices, spiritually and ethically. The answer to redemption, to vengeance, to the blues, to finding the truth, is all inside. I’m pretty sure Cash meant that in a “God knows your real intentions no matter what you show outside” kind of way, but I feel like there’s a more positive spin to be spun on this song (or just less ominous). Either way, it’s just simply excellent. No notes.
BABOOSHKA | Kate Bush Continuing with my carefully-rationed Kate Bush consumption, this week’s pick, “Babooshka,” is a classic from her third album, Never for Ever. Though it has my favorite cover— and brace yourselves, Max Todd Dot Com readers, because the following may be shocking material— this might be my least favorite of her albums thus far. To me, though it has no shortage of the artistic and innovative weirdness that got her in trouble with record companies, Never for Ever sounds more than a little dated at times, and lacks a cohesive atmosphere (which shouldn’t be a standard for any musician, but once you’ve made something as perfect as The Dreaming, it’s gonna be a hard act to follow). At its worst, the weirdness presented feels more theatrical than the source behind it warrants, though writing that down, I often feel like my own emotions could probably be described the same way (but I’ve never claimed to not be a hypocrite). This all seems pretty harsh, but I wanted to get all of that out of the way before saying that I actually really like this album in spite of it all— it’s astonishing how seeing someone’s masterpieces can transform everything they’ve done before. There were so many times listening to this album where I was like, “boy, I don’t know, I would’ve hated this a year ago” and then the song would kick in and I’d just have to smile and trust never to doubt Kate bush. And though the album does stumble to find its footing (though never totally missing the mark), nobody can tell me it doesn’t start off with a bang. “Babooshka” does right what the rest of the album can’t always recapture— though it’s undeniably 80s, it’s a jaunty, roaring romp carried not just by the passion of Kate Bush’s voice, but the full ensemble of the song, including a captivating story and some truly inventive sound design. It chronicles a woman’s paranoid testing of her husband’s loyalty, posing as a younger woman writing to him under the pen name “Babooshka.” I thought it was a pretty cool plot on its own until I was unceremoniously reminded that this is also the plot of Piña Colada, but listen, let me defend myself here. Kate Bush is such a masterful storyteller to me, creating these little vignettes that say a lot with a little (something the length of this entry has already proven I’m not very good at), and I think Babooshka leaves listeners with so much to chew on. There’s some really creepy age stuff going on in this one too, but I think it’s the paranoia that I really find interesting, and how honestly well-founded it ends up being— even when the husband meets his wife in person, he doesn’t recognize her, despite a nagging familiar feeling. Even so, her machinations have bitten her in the butt all the same, and she’ll either lose her marriage or herself in the process. It’s a really tragic story, but there’s a sort of playfulness that comes with the absurdity of it, hence how fun the song sounds. It’s actually one of the very first uses of sampling (ever???) using a synthesizer, helping her use shattering glass as percussion. It’s an instantly ear-catching sound that the song pauses to emphasize, and every time it happens it’s so cool, but these are all just preludes to the explosive shattering loop that overwhelms the rest of the sound as the song crumbles to a close. Alright, I don’t even remember where I was going with this one, but yea, good stuff.
MIDDLE PART | Yankee Escape System I realize I may have tossed a few readers in hot with my last Yankee Escape System post— just right into the drama— so I figured this week we could return to their roots and check out one of the classics. Unfortunately, as with all of their discography, no records have yet signed YES, so they’re about as underground as you can get— as usual, support them on Patreon if you’re financially able. Anyways, this track is one of the classics from their sophomore album, Girl, Anyways, a torn and somber tribute to their tour bus, The Chool Bus, who they express their conflicted love for despite their anarcho-primitivist politics. Though the Chool Bus has since been replaced in favor of a private jet, the band’s potent memories on tour paint a pained portrait that still hits home despite such an absurd premise. The agricultural revolution may have been a mistake, but truly, The Chool Bus was not. As is always strong their early and current work, YES’s bedroom-pop influences shine through, though their music technically falls under wonky-tonk, a genre they themselves named and pioneered. Though it’s before their truly weird phase, Girl, Anyways is no stranger to the experimental, with an intentionally low-budget recording aesthetic and a two-second untitled song (not to be confused with “Untitled,” another song on the same record) as the album’s interlude. The fact that their soul comes through beneath this mess of weirdness is truly a testament to the band’s strong, signature sound: a ukulele, a raspy, sad singer, and a wish.
As for this week’s art, we have another cheater piece— the album cover for Kate Bush’s Never for Ever. I don’t like to have redundancies here, but as with Add Violence a couple weeks ago, I felt this cover fit too well not to talk about. Aside from the obvious cheekiness here, this piece by Nick Price is very fun stylistically— I’m a sucker for a good creature swarm, and these faded, fairy-looking folks are reminiscent of some of my favorite 80s creature illustrations (see After Man: a Zoology of the Future). Kate Bush herself has stated that this is meant to represent birthing the overflowing creations of her imagination, which totally fits the whimsical, almost cartoony style on display. Unlike Kate, I am not particularly overflowing with imagination right now, so I can’t think of a good segue to end this post so… bye? See you next week? Hey and don’t stick around for too long, it’s okay, the longer we both wait here, the longer I’m just gonna keep talking and making it awkward. See? It’s weird now! My need to fill silence has not become any more palatable just because I’ve acknowledged it! I told you this would happen! I told you!