What’s that? A Songs of the Week without one single mention of Kate Bush? You know I can’t let that happen. She’s still going in the tags. Suck it.
WORLD SHUT YOUR MOUTH | Julian Cope At this point, I’ve talked about Julian Cope a number of times (and that number is two), and in keeping with tradition, this third pick from St. Julian is at once both very different than the others we’ve discussed and also so very Julian Cope. Where “Beautiful Love” gave us bubbly britpop and “Planet Ride” gave us something flavored almost more like Arcadia, “World Shut Your Mouth” feels like the truest rock anthem of the three, though it’s far more than that for me. “She’s flying in the face of fashion” is one of the first lyrics I can remember remembering outside of Christmas Songs and Nursery Rhymes, though when I was still five or so, I don’t think I’d totally unpacked what those words meant. Even so, given how expertly catchy both the melody and the lyricism here is, I’m not surprised to still find myself humming it today. A declaration like “World, shut your mouth! / shut your mouth! / put your head back in the clouds and shut your mouth,” is something I could do to surprise myself with more often, and one that Julian Cope clearly takes to heart, which is why we’ll be talking about him again next week. But for now, another selection from my early years…
MY PATCH | Jim Noir Here’s that classic Jim Noir song I was talking about talking about. Remember that? Probably… it was like, yesterday. It always feels wrong labelling a musician’s earliest work as their best—especially if that work is their only widely-known. I’d hate to reinforce a one-hit wonder status for any artist, but for many, that’s exactly the label that fits Jim Noir and his body of work. While many may not know the song, many from my generation have nostalgic associations with it given its usage in the game LittleBigPlanet, as well as in a holiday Target commercial one year earlier (albeit with objectively worse altered lyrics. All my homies HATE corporations. Exposure my ass). The instrumental riff that opens the main body of the song is even used as the theme of The Unbelievable Truth, a BBC comedy show, which shows the staying power of a deceptively simple tune like this. Unfortunately, despite a vast catalogue of pop gems almost on par with this song, Jim Noir’s commercial success has only been confined to his first LP, Tower of Love, with only one other song, “Eanie Meany,” used in an Adidas commercial for the 2006 World Cup (the second song at 0:56). All this to say, stick with Jim—he won’t disappoint.
No matter how much I ramble about one-hit wonders and commercialization and the fallout of musical success, the truth still remains: “My Patch” really is all that. With only one repeated line stretched over four minutes and a single descending riff, this song is the definition of doing a lot with a little, consisting of a rising crescendo of piano, guitar, and acapella, a main body used in the radio edit, a psychedelic bridge, and a reprise of the body to fade us out. It’s the kind of complexity in pop that’s reminiscent of Brian Wilson’s work with both the Beach Boys and his solo masterwork Smile, which I’m 1000% certain is on Jim’s Spotify wrapped given how similar the two sound. It’s truly a testament to what a good hook can do—while it can sprawl out into zen sections between the excitement, it can also tug a song tightly back together in a radio-friendly fashion. But, and I can’t stress this enough, a warning to the wayward: if you’re gonna front on this British goofiness, I’ll bring you down. Personally.
MANSION DOOR | Shakey Graves Speaking of taking risks, or maybe of how the music industry sucks, did you know we could have lost Shakey Graves’s Can’t Wake Up if he wasn’t such a maverick vagabond highwayman rock star (and talented, and handsome, and strong, too… I mean, sorry…)? In all seriousness, like with a lot of musicians we’ve talked about here, I seriously aspire to have Shakey’s indomitable sense of self, or what appears to be such from the outside. When his folkier style from And the War Came topped both rock and folk charts after years of elusively lurking on Bandcamp, record labels realized that the Shakey Graves image was profitable. That’s exactly why they almost didn’t want to release Can’t Wake Up—it’s a serious departure from husky folk, though I wouldn’t call it radical. In my eyes, this album only enhances the heart and humor that Shakey Graves always brings to the table by allowing his flourishing talent to reach its roots into all sorts of new niches. That said, I was regrettably just as skeptical when I first listened to the whole thing a few years ago—despite its delightfully weirder moments, there’s an indie rock polish to this album that, in some of the more mainstream tracks, can sound almost overproduced without dingy recording and folk instrumentation. “Mansion Door” was one such song that I wrote off, having been a little less impressed with its… I don’t know, accessibility? I know, I know, but listen, I need to be insufferably different. I may die alone and withered and nameless in the nursing home, but when they see my record collection, they’ll be like, “damn, this guy was the realest.” Worth it… anyways. To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with an accessible song—see “My Patch”—I just know Shakey Graves is capable of such driven, emotional, masterful songs that make me feel like I’m floating in space, and compared to companions like “Counting Sheep,” “Dining Alone,” and “Aibophobia,” “Mansion Door” just didn’t feel particularly noteworthy. Wait, wait! Come back! It really grew on me! Much like both “World Shut Your Mouth” and “My Patch,” this song weaves its way into my thoughts on the regular, with an undeniable catchiness that pairs this declarative, triumphant sentiment with a low yet pervasive melancholy. It sort of floats, or swims, or something like that—like an eel at sunset. In the end, unfortunately, this song and its album may have charted, but they didn’t manage to muster quite the splash that Roll the Bones or And the War Came made, and that’s unfortunate—being profit-driven machines, studios lack the capacity to learn the value of a slow-burn hit or a cult classic before they’ve already written a piece of art off, and I just wish experiments were rewarded more often. Regardless of where he goes in the future, though, I’ll always follow Shakey Graves. Unless he’s racist. Don’t do that, Shakey! Very bad!
FREEDOM | Jimi Hendrix I guess I’m just on an anti-corporate-meddling-in-the-arts tear (though I wouldn’t mind some corporate meddling to tell me how to say that more concisely. This week’s songs are sponsored by Grammarly), but I’ve also always felt a little weird about partaking in music released posthumously, without prior planning on the artist’s part. Though the Hendrix family has made some dubious calls on how to handle Jimi’s legacy going forward, this song, thankfully, was already performed live by the man himself by the time of his death. Since I’ll always find a way to feel guilty for enjoying things, though, here’s a little downer: given that it was one of the last complete songs Hendrix wrote, it’s naturally an angry tirade towards heroin, and how it has consumed not just his life, but his girlfriend’s. Hence, “Freedom” isn’t necessarily a triumph, but a plea. I’m thankful to have never experienced addiction to that degree, and it’s a true tragedy that he was taken from us so unceremoniously, but unfortunately, this song is also, like… really fun. It rocks hard. Classic Jimi Hendrix stuff. Am I allowed to smile? Feels weird, man. In the end, we can always wonder what wonders he may have released further down the line had he not died in the sixties, and I’ve spent a long time wondering about the alternate timelines where art has been totally changed by a deviation in the process, or the lack of an accident that lead to genius—not just in Hendrix’s art, but my own, and that of others. “Freedom,” however, may be just a great example of the well-known sentiment that there is no finished product in art—there’s only what happens when you let it go.
ALL MY LOVING | Jim Noir If you need proof that Jim Noir has been putting out music of “My Patch” for the better part of two decades—not just consistently, but prolifically—then look no further than November 1st’s release, EP 7, for proof. While the last two monthly (yes, monthly) EP’s leading up to the release of Deep Blue View have been a little on the fatigued side, the songs on 7 feel like a return to form, and “All My Loving” distills it into one song: the whimsy, the wistfulness, and the undeniable melodies that make Jim Noir one of my favorite musicians out there. As always, if you want to support Jim Noir and listen to his newest releases, please support his Patreon. We’ve been tentatively promised some 16 EPs, so y’all had better not let our man down…
For this week’s art, we’re revisiting some delightful news that I’m a full two years late on, which is crazy, because the speculative evolution community is dominating the airwaves right now. If you’re so uninformed as to not know what speculative evolution might be, it’s a field at the intersection of art and science communication that speculates (get it?) on the evolution (get it??) of organisms in altered environmental circumstances. Essentially, it’s creature design that only uses the predetermined laws of nature that have been observed on Earth today, and extrapolates from there. While writer/artist Dougal Dixon, the father of SpecEvo (we’re using the hip acronyms now), pioneered the genre as it pertains to Earth with animals of the future (see the books After Man as well as Man After Man and the pseudo-documentary series The Future is Wild!) as well as alternate prehistories (see The New Dinosaurs), it was renowned creature artist Wayne Barlowe who took the genre to outer space with Expedition, a collection of nature art from an alien planet. And listen, I’m a real alien weirdo, I’ve seen a lot of aliens in my time, but these expedition pieces continue to defend their top spot as the most alien life forms I have ever seen depicted. Perhaps one of my favorite pieces depicts the largest recorded organisms in the history of this book—the six hundred foot tall Emperor Sea Striders—in their perpetual and absurd walk across the amoebic sea, a body of water sealed away by a mat of microorganisms in order to preserve it from the planet’s last ice age. I’d keep talking, but I’m something of a fake fan, because I’ve never actually read Expedition—I’ve only seen the documentary adaptation Alien Planet. That was thanks to the hundred-dollar price tag on a first edition of Expedition, which was the only edition that ever existed until this wonderful, flawless 2020. I don’t know who to thank for this minor miracle, but I’ll start praising any god you say in the comments if it means we’ll get more content like this. If you’re interested in this incredible book of art, it’s available on Amazon now—though it’s still pretty pricey, it’s a lot more accessible than it’s been in decades. This week, may your buoyancy bladders be inflated and your bioluminescence be bright despite your eyeless physiology. See you guys next time.