Songs of the Week 03/10/2023

Howdy doody, dark and broody. Check out Fire of Love if you please, leaving Hulu today! It’s a race against time! Go, go, go!

MY EL DORADO | Shakey Graves NEW SHAKEY GRAVES?? HELLO??? NEW SHAKEY GRAVES ALBUM?!?! Okay, so, as the title might suggest, Deadstock – A Shakey Graves Day Anthology isn’t technically an all-new album—much like the two-disc b-side compilation, Shakey Graves and the Horse He Rode In On, Deadstock dips into the Shakey Grave’s extensive, unreleased back catalogue. God forgive me, I’m about to make a major parasocial assumption, but I’m thinking Shakey and I have very different ideas of what an album can and should be—though I love pretty much everything about his artistic mind, when it comes to his organizational skills, they kind of drive me up the wall. From what I can gather, Mr. Graves follows a very romantic notion of the album as a transient and nebulous art form—his first album, Roll the Bones, was itself intended to have no final form, instead released as a series of eclectic EPs and updated versions given to friends. This style of album creation, while not necessarily lacking a thematic backbone, feels very mix-and-match to me—Roll the Bones itself, in fact, was whittled down from “literally hundreds of tracks.” I have a feeling Shakey’s released material is only the tip of the iceberg, with still hundreds more waiting to see the light (or darkness) of streaming. In this sense, it’s easy to see why Deadstock feels, to me, like just another album—minus the numerous live versions of already released songs, most of the tracks here feel like A-side material, sieved straight from Shakey’s imagination. All this to say, I like Deadstock very much, yes I do, and it’s just as high quality as any “official” album, even without any unifying artistic vision.

Okay, we have a song to talk about, though, don’t we? Right. While I’d say this is almost a no-skips album, upon repeat listenings, some songs are more reminiscent of earlier eras than others, and many tread well-worn territory (which I’ll cut him some slack for, since he’s so good at that territory). “My El Dorado,” however, feels like a taste of the future, leaning into the synth sensibilities of latest EP Look Alive with entirely new leanings into an almost extraterrestrial sound. Needless to say, I really love this one—it’s almost eerie at points, perhaps stalking, but for the most part entirely unreadable. I’m a huge fan of its shuffling drums and stark, almost antarctic synth, like the backing track in some outdated documentary. I’d call it “cerebral” in that I never knew where it was going at any specific point, from the crescendo of erratic drums and crunching, warping guitar to 2:39’s odd, ominous bridge of almost beethoven-esque synths. I’d have been okay with a full six minutes and seventeen seconds of this fantastic build, but at 4:24, there’s instead a total, tonal shift towards an unreality I think I’ve only experienced in sick dreams. And then it just… ends.

Pairs Well With: Music of the Spheres – The Planets” (Camille McCausland), “Night Boat” (Duran Duran), “Interface” (Hexsystem)

BEHIND THE WATERFALL | The Apples in Stereo So, this is already well established in canon, but I’m sensitive, and one of the perks of that is feeling every song super hard. While I wouldn’t always call it a benefit, it’s not often something I back down from, and I really value being able to read emotions so strongly. Sometimes, though… aS aN eMpAtH… I’m prone to making every song sad, even when there’s clearly no sadness to be seen. It’s always a vibe-killer when I bring it up, but at the end of the day, songs like “Mr. Blue Sky” or “Wouldn’t it be Nice?” have put a pit in my stomach since I was still in a carseat, and I’ll always be stubborn about that. One such song I was delighted to rediscover recently is The Apples in Stereo’s “Behind the Waterfall”—you know, The Apples in Stereo, a factory for verklempt and mournful dirges. If my life depended on weirdo whimsy, Robert Schneider might be the first man I’d call—no, not that one, the other Robert Schneider, AKA Robbert Bobbert, the prolific pop mathematician/musician that created The Apples in Stereo, Marbles, Thee American Revolution, and Air-sea Dolphin, produced Neutral Milk Hotel’s critically lauded In The Aeroplane Over The Sea as well as work by The Olivia Tremor Control, and founded the Elephant 6. That Rob Schneider. The dude’s an incredible mind, and as well as subbing in as my Bauhaus diaspora bit this week, he’s also brimming with bizarre sound choices. While much of his Apples in Stereo work relegates these to warbling disco-robot voices (it makes sense in context bro), “Behind the Waterfall” goes absolutely nuts with its soundscape. I fall in love with this song all over again every time its opening chords babble in like a brook, and like no synth should be able to. That alone should be the selling point of this song—like, the whole thing gurgles, next?—but as delightfully as this might read, the song itself feels at best melancholic and at worst tearful. I’m not gonna pretend detecting this was some feat of empath sorcery—lyrics like “don’t wanna be like / don’t wanna be like the wind / restless and lonely / that is the only path I see” are pretty hard to interpret happily—but given what a delightful soundscape Schneider has created here, with its pitter-pattering bongos and gulping synths, I feel like it’s a feat to not listen to “Behind the Waterfall” gleefully. In fact, I paired it with Certified Happy Song™️ “Mr. Blue Sky” just to prove myself right, which will in turn prove myself wrong. Never let them know your next move.

Pairs Well With: It Feels Like We Only Go Backwards” (Tame Impala), “Mr. Blue Sky” (The Electric Light Orchestra), “Where’d All the Time Go?” (Dr. Dog)

AIN’T CLOUDY OUT | I Love You I’ll admit it: in the fight against rock gem I Love You’s plunge into obscurity, my response time leaves something to be desired. After starting my crusade a couple weeks ago, though, I’m not about to drop these guys so soon. Having heard the album’s highlights for decades now, I went into my full listen of All of Us with the apprehension that I’d already heard its best. Obviously, I was proven wrong multiple times, but to still be so surprised by new songs eleven tracks in is astonishing in itself. Back to back with February’s trudging powerhouse “The Stone,” “Ain’t Cloudy Out” is the penultimate song of the album, and it somehow sounds completely different from its siblings without so much as a dip in quality. I mean this with love, but for the duration of All of Us‘s first ten songs, I’d pinned I Love You as a one-song band: in the spirit of Royal Blood or the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, I assumed they only had one song, but they were so god damn good at writing that one song that they could get away with coasting on it for a whole album. From its jolting false start and cackling like a colony of bats, “Ain’t Cloudy Out” proved me flat-out wrong, totally breaking from the band’s normal sound. Right off the bat, this song’s fuzzed-out riffs reek of Jimi Hendrix, replacing I Love You’s usual hammering acoustic and raspy, high vocals. As if this shift wasn’t enough, “Ain’t Cloudy Out” performs a deceptively simple balancing act, teeter-tottering between Hendrix-esque undulating arpeggios and a chugging chorus ripped right from the Foo Fighters’ “White Limo.” I don’t mean simple demeaningly, either—I’m just always impressed when a song sounds more complicated than it is. Here, that teeter-tottering is just a slight change in time signature—where the arpeggios follow jazzy, eighth-note triplets (asking google the real questions for y’all this week, like “drums that go tss tt tt tss tt tt”), the chugging sections slip into a regular 4:4. No matter how the music breaks down, though, what matters is that I Love You branched out, which always impresses me.

Pairs Well With:Freedom” (Jimi Hendrix), “Wicked World” (Black Sabbath), “White Limo” (Foo Fighters)

MORE… | Wilco Wilco’s Star Wars, named to purposely incite a law suit so that they could call the album Cease and Desist instead, is a bizarre, bottled moment that I don’t think will ever be replicated. Everything from the circumstances of its unannounced, free digital release to its strange, squawking sound will always stand out starkly in my memory. When Star Wars dropped one 2015 July evening, I’d been at a late Tae Kwon Do class, and my dad and I barely got out of the building before starting the album. Though “EKG” is technically the first song, I like to think of it as more of a prologue—a disharmonious and off-putting guitar instrumental that says little beyond “this ain’t your mama’s Wilco.” It wasn’t until “More…”‘s acoustic strums scraped into stuttering synths that the album really started, and we realized Star Wars was going to be something special. Though its instrumentation feels deliberate and decisive, there’s something fundamentally off-kilter about “More…,” from its descending, unorthodox chords, to its solos that can’t be pinned to quite one emotion—not to mention its nigh-incomprehensible lyrics. More than anything, “More…” makes me think of songs in minor keys that still sound major, or perhaps approaching something familiar from a strange and new angle. By the time “More…” is overcome by crackling guitar fuzz that grinds the song’s footsteps to a halt, I almost feel as though I’ve witnessed a retro-futurist, Seussian machine briefly sputter back to life, only to die back down after a perfect cycle. While “More…” might be my favorite song on the album (maybe), if my last surprise Star Wars revival is anything to go by, I’ll always have more to say about it. Every track is a gem in its own right, a distinctly specialized song that could only come from this era of Wilco, and there’s a reason I always circle back to it.

Pairs Well With:You Satellite” (Wilco), “Now, Now” (St. Vincent), “Miracle Drug” (A. C. Newman)

WHILE I’M STILL HERE / BLACK NOISE | Nine Inch Nails I’ve already had my overzealous rant about modern Nine Inch Nails, but needless to say, I’m a fan. As with any aging artists defined by the sound of their early superstardom, Trent Reznor will always be held to the standard of albums created by an angry, hurt young man, While I understand how timeless (and great) that early music is, it’s so frustrating to see his maturation into true artistic mastery overshadowed. Though there are signs of this maturation as early as 1999’s The Fragile, 2013’s Hesitation Marks clearly demarcates the transition into this new era. Breaking Nine Inch Nails’s five-year hiatus, Hesitation Marks bears missing history behinds its eyes. Between Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’s foray into film scores with The Social Network and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (winning them an easy Golden Globe and an Academy Award in change) and their side project How to Destroy Angels with Reznor’s now wife, Mariqueen Maandig, it’s easy to see why. In fact, the title Hesitation Marks has been read as a reflection on Reznor’s decision not to kill Nine Inch Nails despite his diversifying career, though I like to read it more as a reversal of The Downward Spiral‘s suicidal ideations. While it’s admittedly not my favorite of the bunch, I have a real soft spot for album’s sound. According to Reznor, he put himself under purposefully minimalist conditions in order to return to the days of pressing drum machine pads in his bedroom at nineteen while recording Pretty Hate Machine. In this sense, Hesitation Marks is sort of a second first album, and while I’m always impressed by the menagerie of sounds it’s able to squeeze out of a single synth, I’m surprised to say that this week, I found myself returning to its most sparse song.

To be clear, I’m not illegally squeezing two songs into one slot this week to make up for this sparseness—like my two song Ty Segall post, I’ve picked a song today that can’t really be listened to without its partner. “While I’m Still Here” and its instrumental sequel “Black Noise” are simmering and even unassuming on the album, but it’s their malleable potential that fascinates me. The dying, ashen fuzz backing ticking synth and Reznor’s mournful vocals is meant to evoke the song’s apocalyptic premise—that the speaker has learned the world is ending and is making peace with their mortality. Though not nearly as operatic as David Bowie’s similar “Five Years,” it has a very similar sentiment amidst the bleakness, with its last lines “Stay with me / hold me near / while I’m still here.” After this, the music really comes into stride, with a few curt saxophone breaths ushering in the weeping, rending eruption of “Black Noise,” almost sounding to me like a skyscraper’s corpse riddled with flies.

But, okay, about that potential—there’s a lot of empty space in this song, especially if you’re listening to it with bad headphones, and when I first heard this in High School, I wasn’t privy to any of “While I’m Still Here”‘s nuances. This feels a little sacrilegious to admit, but at that point, I preferred the Breyer P-Orridge “Howler” remix on the album’s deluxe addition, with its skin-crawling pig snorting and sampled interviews with Lady Jaye P-Orridge that feel uncannily Manson (and I don’t mean Marilyn). I was an edgy kid, and it’s an edgy remix, one that I’ve largely lost my stomach for these days—while I appreciate the grimy horror atmosphere, I think it completely undermines the song’s original meditation on mortality. This song shouldn’t be creepy, but verklempt, and as a sensitive person… well, you know the drill. If I’m gonna recommend any version of this song, I would IMPLORE in ALL CAPS that you check out this live performance of the song from 2013—with its incredible saxophonist and backup singers, this slow-burn into total chaos literally moves me to tears every time I watch it. Seriously, I cry every time. I was listening to this while in line to get my emissions checked and I cried that time, too. I’m actually crying right now. Give me a second to get a hold of myself and watch it in the meantime.

Pairs Well With:I Would For You” (Nine Inch Nails), “Congregation” (Low), “Leaving Caladan” (Hans Zimmer)

Of all the places I expected to find Remedios Varo, Thomas Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49 was not one of them, but expecting the unexpected is about the best way to process Varo’s work. In “Bordando el Manto Terrestre,” translating to “Embroidering the Earth’s Mantle,” we’re treated to a delightfully surreal scene of a convent perched high in a windowless tower, their knitting flowing out into the very Earth’s landscape. Pynchon’s use of this painting is super clever, framing protagonist Oedipa Maas’s entire existential crisis through the lens of “Embroidering the Earth’s Mantle” as a kind of Rapunzel story—everything outside of her world was simply created in her own head. It’s a very solipsistic take that I really like, though I don’t think it covers the entirety of this painting’s meaning, especially considering Varo’s rebellion against her Catholic school roots. Outside of all that, this is just a cool group of guys, right? Dream blunt rotation. Would you hit the insidious, shrouded figure’s hookah? Let me know in the comments! Like and subscribe! Smash that bell!



  1. sabinaespinet · March 14

    Remedios always knocks it out of the weirdo park. Thanks for that Apples song, I forgot about it but it’s a great sad banger!

  2. Michael Bos · April 3

    “Would you hit the insidious, shrouded figure’s hookah?”
    Once, while recreationally passing time in a parking lot, I met a bearded magic-man who let me hit his hookah. Naive child that I was, I didn’t think to ask what I was inhaling. What I had thought would be nothing more than simple, wholesome cannabis flower turned out to actually be powdered Salvia Divinorum, also called “Sage of the Diviners.” I only realized this when the mystic began to laugh at my amateur mistake. My attempts to reply to him were curtailed by the fact that I was rapidly shrinking.
    I shrunk to the size of an insect, then to the size of an atom, then to a size far more minuscule than it is possible to describe. Eventually I fell down to the fabric threads at the bottom of the universe and, being so tiny, I fell through a gap in the stitches. I’m not sure where I ended up – outside space and time, certainly, but also outside of reality itself. I had shrunk to the point that I had no body, and likewise, there was nothing physical to experience down there anyways. No color, no sound, nothing at all.
    Eventually, I realized that I wasn’t going to make it back to the world I had left so unexpectedly, because I was trapped beneath the bottom of reality. Actually, I realized pretty quickly where I was – I was in the blank space and time before the universe began. This was a tricky situation for me, because if I was ever going to return to where I had come from, I was going to have to get there myself. After a few practice attempts that I don’t want to think about, I began to recreate the universe stitch by stitch. Unfortunately for everyone, I didn’t know a whole lot about physics or science, so I made up a lot of stuff as I went along. Sorry about all that.
    Eventually, I got time working again – it’s trickier than you think – and the universe more or less back to the way it was. After countless millennia, things had more or less returned to how I remembered them. I returned to my life and resolved to forget that the whole thing had happened, but, one thing lead to another, and, wouldn’t you know it, I ended up back in a parking lot, once again recreationally passing the time I had created, when this young, goofy looking kid asked me if he could take a hit off my hookah…

    • maxtodd · April 3

      This explains a lot about the empirical/spiritual schism of current society and also about the band Salvia Plath

  3. Pingback: Songs of the Week 04/28/2023 | Max Todd.

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