Songs of the Week 04/28/2023

Don’t Change the Channel! Next up: a surprise wedding is revealed, an unlikely friendship is formed, and someone whose name rhymes with Geter Pabriel loses his fucking mind.

THE FRAIL (REMIX) | Nine Inch Nails If I haven’t already aired my unnecessarily righteous grievances with remixes… well, yea, what can I say? Remixes bad. I’m well aware of how unjustifiably arbitrary my distaste for remixes is—if I was to take a stab at why I’ve always mistrusted them, the most I’d have to defend my stance is that they often dilute the original source. I wonder if this is because remixes are ripe for the same conditions that produce the worst covers—a thin coat of chrome paint that fails to bring any new perspective to the original piece. I’d wager that the shallowness of most remixes comes from the fact that they’re made by the original artists in the first place, at best in collaboration with a featured guest but never truly severed from the source. Of course, I’d be lying if I said I’d never met a remix I liked, but Songs of the Week (Max! Todd! Dot! Com! Songs! Of! The! Week!) often categorizes remixes as alternate versions of a weekly pick rather than the central pick itself for a reason. This week, though, we’re breaking that rule with the rare sort of man who makes remixes wholly new works of art: Trent Reznor.

Though apparently brutally snubbed by critics, Things Falling Apart continues Nine Inch Nails’s track record of releasing refreshing remix albums that stand separately from the source material. While not universal, I regard almost every Nine Inch Nails remix as an entirely new song of its own, draping a yellowed skin over a wholly new skeleton. From “Closer’s” iconic “precursor” remix featured in Se7en’s opening titles to the Broken EP’s mirrored counterpart Fixed, these remixes earn their advertised fresh faces by virtue of their totally restructured foundations, creating a separate set of tones, images, and soundscapes. While a song as bare and weeping as “The Frail” would not have been my first choice to remix, acting more as a soulful piano prologue to a far harsher album, this version from Things Falling Apart may perhaps be my favorite Nine Inch Nails remix to date. Exchanging the sparse piano for legato layers of strings, this song populates its previous desolation with the biodiversity of a fast-forwarded lifetime. The veritable zoo of samples that fills in every empty space sounds like a stop motion collage. With the rocking of the strings like waves, these sounds remind me of a fishing net surfacing full of garbage, each piece of plastic imprinted with faded memories. Where the original piece never instilled in me such oceanic depth, the broad and gulping strings provide such a shift in scale—between the long and trembling high notes on violin and the concurrent cello slurring at a higher tempo, these sounds start to encompass a much more spacious breadth. While I’d love to attribute all of this to Trent’s usual genius, I’d be remiss if I didn’t credit collaborator Joshua Eustis, who toured with Nine Inch Nails in 2013 as Benelli. I haven’t heard much from our man Josh, but considering this song’s beauty, I’d love to hear more.

Pairs Well With:Undo” (Björk), “Is it Cold in the Water?” (SOPHIE), “Waves” (Carolina Eyck & Eversines)

MORIBUND THE BÜRGERMEISTER | Peter Gabriel After listening to so much of his mid to late discography, I never realized how much early Peter Gabriel sounds like Genesis—or, as my Dad said, how much Genesis sounds so much like Peter Gabriel. For a long time, I had assumed that Gabriel’s core sound must have been the ballad stylings of songs like “Solsbury Hill,” “Red Rain,” or “Come Talk to Me“—not that I’d have ever call his experimental side auxiliary, but I had just figured that his truest self emerged with age. While there may be something to this, given the subtler sound of his recent work on I/O, “Moribund Burgermeister” made me realize so much of what made Genesis cutting edge was Gabriel’s own prog essence. Look, Phil Collins, Philly C… love you, man, don’t take this personally… but Genesis was inarguably never the same after Gabriel’s departure. He brought a good chunk of the weirdness to the table, and when he left, he took a good chunk of that weirdness with him.

I can’t imagine what it was like to be a Genesis fan back in 1977 and the uncertainty that came with Peter Gabriel’s first solo album, Peter Gabriel (the first of four with that title, because fuck you. We’ll just call it Car instead). After an opening track like “Moribund the Bürgermeister,” though, I’m sure relief was a pretty big part of it. If that viciously quirked up title wasn’t enough of a tipoff, this song is about as Genesis as Peter Gabriel gets, or maybe as Peter Gabriel as Genesis gets, with the prog progressions, key changes, and symphonic chorus to stand alongside any song on Selling England by the Pound. If anything, this song might even go too prog, with the heavy reverb muddying Gabriel’s signature voice to almost a King Crimson degree. Then again, I’m sure that could be spun into a testament to Gabriel’s musical confidence to lose his most recognizable sound behind the new and strange. Oh, and then this song goes right into “Solsbury Hill,” by the way. Car? More like, whiplash. Buckle up.

Pairs Well With:I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)” (Genesis), “Violin” (Kate Bush), “Lost Like This” (Oingo Boingo)

ROTTEN OL’ ME | Shakey Graves Hey, huge congratulations to Not Man and Not Wife Shakey Graves & Buffalo Hunt, longtime partners just married this April! If I was more thoughtful, I’d have chosen a song from his latest release, Deadstock – A Shakey Graves Day Anthology, that features both of them, but “Rotten Ol’ Me” has been locked and loaded in my drafts for so long that it would be insulting to pick anything else at this point. Ironically, “Rotten Ol’ Me” has itself been waiting years for a streaming release, though not the version released in 2023. One of my favorite aspects of Deadstock as an extras album is its hodgepodge quality, featuring a collage of snapshots from across Shakey’s career thus far. From its opening, rending guitar, “Rotten Ol’ Me” sounded to me like it was ripped straight from Roll the Bones and other of Shakey’s earliest songs, complete with fuzzy recording quality, off-kilter harmonies, and the chugging guitar that made him famous. In a way, I wasn’t wrong that “Rotten Ol’ Me” is early material—actually, it’s an old fan favorite, but not in this form. “Rotten Old Me,” so far as I can see, dates back almost a decade, but I’m shocked to report that these earliest performances sound less like early Shakey Graves than this modern remix. I’ll always be a fan of the wild and mischievous spirit Shakey Graves brings to his performances—I’d believe in a heartbeat that, like Robert Johnson, he’d sold his soul to become the best performer in the west. While that can’t be overstated enough, though, I feel pretty lukewarm about this earlier take, and also the ball cap (sorry Shakey). I might just want something with a touch more outlaw zest to it, but I’ve been wrong before, so see for yourself here:

Where this tinder doesn’t spark, though, Deadstock’s revitalization goes fully ablaze with the same down-tuned, kick-drum magic that makes me fall in love with Roll the Bones every time I hear it. Certainly, this rendition’s spirit, like a crackling campfire story, does far more justice to desperately Romantic lines like “Tried not to sing along / tried so hard not to hide it / now I have to go / oh God, this I have to see” (my girlfriend’s favorite). While I’ve loved every new direction Shakey takes his fans, it’s nice to see that, like in his criminally amazing live performances, the core of his essence has always remained intact.

Pairs Well With:Roll the Bones” (Shakey Graves), “If Not For You” (Shakey Graves), “Dirty Jim” (Richard Swift)

BLUE RIDGE MOUNTAINS | Fleet Foxes Welcome back to “Max Begrudgingly Reexamines His Pretentious Anti-Mainstream Bigotry,” apparently a regular segment on Songs of the Week (Max! Todd! Dot! Okay you get it I already did this once, I’ll get new material). Maybe I’m being the littlest bit misleading this time around—I’ve never disliked Fleet Foxes, but even after listening to their music recommended by three separate friends over three separate years, I just never took to any of their work. Maybe it’s their whole appeal, but the whole ethereal harmonies and mountain man mandolins shtick never resonated with me, which is crazy, considering I just wet myself over Shakey Graves like three sentences ago. I’m not totally sure what flipped the switch for me when I recently returned to “Blue Ridge Mountains” after a friend’s recommendation, but even as I skeptically hit play, I was immediately struck. Apparently, this week’s theme is indescribable instinct—the unquantifiable magic of certain sounds to immediately evoke an emotion where other phrases feel empty. Like with the earlier version of “Rotten Ol’ Me” and the key change we’ll soon talk about in “Don’t Push Your Foot On the Heartbrake,” “Blue Ridge Mountains” hits a sweet spot in me from its very first strum, and I’m not certain I have the music theory radar to pinpoint exactly why. There’s something so softly epic about this song’s intro, like it belongs in the esoteric fog of a faithfully surreal Arthurian legend. I’m reminded by the similarly ethereal, airy, and echoing voices of Panda Bear’s “Comfy in Nautica,” but where that song stops, the Fleet Foxes push onward. I was afraid I’d stop “getting it” at the song’s staccato tempo change, but instead, I found this song to be surprisingly danceable through to the end. I won’t spoil it, but it’s a journey worth going on all the way yourself.

Songs like “Blue Ridge Mountains” make me freak out about how many songs I’ve dismissively brushed past on the first listen, but I suppose none of us owe art the sort of guilt-listening I catch myself affording in these states of mind. We like songs when we like them, we don’t when we don’t, and what matters in the end are the emotions they crystalize in the moment, I think. Songs like “Blue Ridge Mountain” may reappear as surprises, but I like to think even songs we pass over aren’t lost—they’ll return to us when we need them.

Pairs Well With:Comfy in Nautica” (Panda Bear), “America” (Simon & Garfunkel), “Made Up in Blue” (The Bats)

DON’T PUSH YOUR FOOT ON THE HEARTBRAKE | Kate Bush Are there better songs to talk about on Kate Bush’s sophomore album, Lionheart? Sure, technically. But are there any even half as cheesy as this? That’s right, even with an album cover like that (Kate Bush Fursona reveal?), nothing on Lionheart is as 70s rock schlock as “Don’t Push Your Foot On the Heartbrake.” Of course, nothing Kate Bush creates could ever be called “schlock” in good faith—even at her campiest, she sells the soaring drama. Like, come on. Kate Bush bat costume?

Come on.

I’ll admit, even with a title as delightful as this (and it is delightful), I wasn’t totally impressed with the lilting opening of “Don’t Push Your Foot On The Heartbrake.” As above, this is one of those situations where I wish I paid better attention to the music theory parts of childhood violin lessons, although I’m not sure even that could quantify why certain sounds engage me way less than others—I always hope I can explain these things, but truthfully, this might be a “just because” scenario. In any case, when the chorus hits, its key change changes my entire outlook on the song. From a slow and steady build with serene piano and tip-tapping drums, we’re suddenly sent careening into a rip-roaring, funk-rock shock—some of the hardest straight-up rock that I think I’ve heard from Kate Bush. Even with the screams from the backing saxophones and Bush’s own voice alike, it’s never far from the British uptightness that characterized her early work, making for a perfect balance. For every wild release, there’s still those bardic, chirping vocals we all know and love. It’s very much an early Kate Bush song—far closer to the piano pop that she would later disintegrate and reinvent—but it’s the sort of fun I could never see manifesting on her latest albums, and I love “Don’t Push Your Foot on the Heartbrake” for that.

Pairs Well With:Wow” (Kate Bush), “Moving” (Kate Bush), “Touch-a, Touch-a, Touch Me” (Susan Sarandon & The Cast of Rocky Horror Picture Show)

Anyone who’s been around me lately knows I’ve been insufferable about Ari Aster’s surrealist comedy Beau Is Afraid for the past week, and I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon. One thing I noticed that, as a total novice when it comes to cinematography, I never usually notice, was the lighting. Though not horror in the same way his film Midsommar is, the two both have scenes with this off-putting composition where the character in the foreground appears ever so slightly lit up in the nighttime scenes while the rest of the background is appropriately dark. While still common in real life under porch lights and street lamps, its sourceless-ness leaves me with the same sense of masquerading unreality as a nightmare.

But we’re here to talk about clinical botanical art, actually, which is strange, given striking the lighting in Peter Henderson’s “The Dragon Arum.” My lovely girlfriend and I came across this piece and several others’ of Hendersons collected in a book at the Denver Botanic Gardens, and we were both so struck by the emotion we both got from this seemingly static anatomical piece. The background, for its haziness, is doing a lot of heavy lifting in terms of the moodiness, though the flower’s alien shape and sheen really complete this almost ominous figure. Beautiful work, and also maybe a little foreboding. Thanks, Pete.



  1. geter pabriel 1: cat

  2. sabinaespinet · April 30

    remixes are to music as movie adaptations are to books

  3. sabinaespinet · April 30

    Also, Shakey did warn you, ready or not, here comes the wedding …

  4. JT · May 1

    I really don’t know how she does it. I would really dislike anyone who did half off the things that KB does creatively but, I end up loving her more for dressing up like a bat and Heartbrake. The more I’ve listened to it, the more I’ve picked up on the little nuances here and there that I really like. I’ve learned a long time ago to not question my love for KB, it just is. Also, nice aspiring w Touch a, spot on.
    I agree about Rotten Ol’ Me, good stuff. And thanks for Blueridge, that’s a good song.

    • maxtodd · May 1

      Glad I’m not the only one who hears Rocky Horror in that. Both of them are the perfect kind of cheese

      • JT · May 1


  5. JT · May 1

    Oops….nice pairing not aspiring!

  6. Pingback: Songs of the Week 05/12/2023 (coming to you from 05/19/2023) | Max Todd.

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