Thursday, October 22, 2009

5 Songs I'm Feeling

5 Songs I'm Feeling:

"She's a Woman" - I know that I just (well, not just - my last music post was in late June) wrote a whole thing about two Beatles' albums, but having just gotten the re-mastered version of the "Past Masters" double CD (including rarities and singles) there were a few songs I have never owned a personal copy of. "She's a Woman" was the b-side to "I Feel Fine" and is among my favorite Beatles songs because it strikes me as classic and I am amused to no end by the rhythm and rhyme-scheme. And there is something appealingly crunchy about the timbre of the guitar. It is not an overly complex song, but there are some musical aspects that appeal to me, like how the guitars just hit the backbeat staccato the whole time, and how the piano doubles the melody, trailing out after each sung phrase. But there is also earnest playfulness of the lyrics, "My love don't give me presents! I know that she's no peasant!" and Paul McCartney's straining voice, trying hard to emulate Little Richard. Like I said before, the rhyming is pleasing and cute and submerged into the lyrical phrase so it is kind of broken and suggests a jerkiness with the rhythm, "She will never make me jealous / gives me all her time as well as / lovin', don't ask me why." Or, "Turn me on when I get lonely / People tell me that she's only / foolin', I know she isn't." I can listen to this song over and over, and finally let us not forget that few things in this world sound as good as Lennon and McCartney's harmonies - their voices together are greater than the sum of their parts and tickles some aesthetic sense I cannot pinpoint.

"Mountains" - I want to avoid saying this is Prince's best song because it isn't (necessarily), it just sometimes feels that way in the middle of listening to it, and I am listening to it right now. The song has a full sound that comes in after a few reverb-y snare drums and echoing handclaps that punctuate a song built so that it rides a short and simple progression of low-end chords on the piano. Prince sings at the high end of his register (but not the highest), setting up a proposition, that is, the obstacle presented by 17 mountains surrounded by the sea (17 being a number important in Prince's oeuvre) and "the Devil's" suggestion that there will be only more obstacles (mountains) and that "the sea would 1 day overflow with all your tears / And love will always leave u lonely." But then the refrain comes in, full of a chorus of voices (most of them Prince) to bolster the lead vocal and accented by the horn section. It sounds almost like a gospel refrain, but without the traditional gospel harmonic structure. I cannot emphasize how the sound is simultaneously full and muted. . . There is humming synthesized drone deep in the mix and the guitars fill up the mid-section. The fullness of the mid and low ends makes Prince's voice seem to float that much more above it all, and yet never seems distinct from the song, but rather anchored by it. In the second verse, Prince’s voice starts out alone again, but the chorus comes back to back him up on the lyrics "Africa divided, hijack in the air" and never leaves. And then there is the chorus itself (that is, the refrain) which is nothing complex (Prince's songs are rarely lyrically complex), but reaffirms that gospel feel despite its staccato delivery, "It's only mountains and the sea / Love will conquer if you just believe." The first line is then repeated more melodically, and we then hear "There's nothing greater than u and me." As I once mentioned in a post about "instructions" in music, or the meta-aspects of music in songs, I love them, and there is a point in this song when Prince calls to the band, "Guitars and drums on the 1!" and we get just that for a few measures, so we once again get that spacey feels of the drums and the pogo-boing of the bass guitar part. There is a nice little bridge that deconstructs the melody (while keeping that backing drum and builds back to the echoey handclap and the boinging bass and the outro) and there are also lots of little grunts and spoken encouragements that act as a kind of glue. I really can't do it justice. Go out and listen to it and/or check out this live version here:

"I'll Fight" - Off of Wilco's latest album, "Wilco (the album)," this song opens with an acoustic guitar that plays out the main melody which is reinforced (once Jeff Tweedy starts singing) by the repetitiveness of the introductory lyric. "I'll go, I'll go, I'll go, I'll go for you, I'll fight, I'll fight, I'll fight for you, I'll kill, I'll kill, I'll kill for you, I will. I will. I will." The repetitiveness underscores a certain sense of plaintive earnestness, or perhaps a better word is resignation to fate and to a role. The second time through the "fighting" turns to "I'll die for you." The rest of the song tells the story of the loss felt by those left behind, but how time goes on, wounds are healed, and ultimately nothing changes - except of course that everything has changed. As Tweedy sings,
And you'll sing to yourself
The rising falling melody
That you could never read
Without the choirs' lead
Still alone and lost in deep
And your soul will not be free.
The song is a painful one and its sense of lament is reinforced by the use of an organ (and the way everything is stripped back down to that acoustic guitar in the interlude). I can't help but think of my nephew when I hear this song and the ideological apparatuses that bolstered not only his enlistment in the army, but the myth of the efficacy of war, the complacency of those of us still here and how it all leads to pain and loss no matter what let ourselves believe about the reasons that it all happens.

"Aquellos Ojos Verdes" - Ibrahim Ferrer. This bolero begins with a dramatic brush of piano that suggests the main melody accompanied by more literal brushes on the ride cymbal. And then Ibrahim's distinctive voice comes in "Aquellos ojos verdes. . ." The reason this song has been on my mind, aside from the obvious. . . (Guess who has green eyes?) is because of the treachery of translation, and the lyrics which are so beautiful in Spanish but seem trite and unoriginal in English - Well, I guess they are not necessarily so original in Spanish either, but the construction itself leads to connotations that I cannot translate and make sense to me as someone immersed in the Spanish language since birth (I like to joke that English is not my first language, but neither is Spanish - they both came second). In particular, I think of the word "tristesas," which very literally can be translated to "sadnesses," but has a suggestion closer to "tragedies." Except of course, that "tragedies" already has a translatable word, "tragedias," and anyway "tragedy" is simultaneously too powerful and too facetious a word to be of use to me. "Sadnesses" doesn't quite work either because it makes the sad feeling into the noun, while "tristestas" suggests an event (thus the suggestion of "tragedy"). Anyway, it is a beautiful song and I recommend listening to it.

"Brooklyn" - In the realm of hip-hop Mos Def's "Black on Both Sides" is already old, having come out in 1999. Then again, in the realm of the culture industry anything 10 years old is considered old, but 10 years hardly seems like any time at all to me. And according to my own naturalized chronometer if I think about 1999 or 2000 I would say it feels like three or four years ago. Weird. Anyway, being here in Binghamton now, I find myself going back to this song to remember Brooklyn in both my romanticized nostalgia vein and also as a means of complicating my relationship to the "broken land". The song opens with an homage to the opening of Red Hot Chili Peppers' "Under the Bridge." "Sometimes I feel like my only friend is the city I live in / Let's hear it for Brooklyn." The song is then broken up into three sections, so it is kind of like a suite. The first section sounds kind of laconic with this great sampled loop in the mix of a handclap and someone calling out "Go Brooklyn!" and the lyrics like most in the song hit a nostalgic note. In fact, my critique of the song comes from the fact that the three sections while sonically representing the plurality of Brooklyn do not thematically (lyrically) cohere among themselves. The second section also has a looped sampled sound of strings and a voice repeating "We live in Brooklyn, baby. . ." that leads to the introduction of a new rhyme scheme (or in the parlance of hip-hop, "style" - something KRS-One often raps about doing and then does it mid-song). This section has one of my favorite lines, "One year as a resident, deeper sentiment / Shout out 'Go Brooklyn!', they representin’ it." Because I am that person that at a concert or other event that calls out when Brooklyn is mentioned. It also has the reference to Brooklyn as "a planet" that one hears in a lot of hip-hop songs from/about the area and a way of refering to the motherland that I personally use often. A couple of weekends ago I was back in Brooklyn and I commented that I feel when returning there the way some of my relatives must feel upon returning to Puerto Rico. I feel an irrational nationalism about Brooklyn, and thus lyrics like, ". . .generals of armies / When it's time to form, just call me / And let this song be, playin’ loud and long, bee / If you love Bucktown STRONGLY!" The third section (which has more of a disjointed rhythm and high-pitched descending scale) is notable for a less idealized view of the borough, "crack babies tryin’ to find where they mama's at / It's off the handle, black / wit big police scandals that / Turn into actions screenplays sold to Miramax," and "The doorstep where the dispossessed posted at / Dope fiends out at Franklin Ave sellin’ zovarax." The song's transitions means that when the next track on the album, "Habitat," it is hard to tell that a new song has begun especially since they are thematically so similar. Check it out.

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