Waking Ear

We have a pact, you and I. I write down what song I had in my head when I woke up in the morning. And, maybe, why. You click on "What's in your waking ear?" and tell me what's in your head right now. We discover new music and maybe learn something about how our minds work. Yeah?

Saturday, August 31, 2002

Queen and David Bowie/"Under Pressure" -- Heard on a jukebox at the bar last night. The Roommate and I decided, a little drunkenly, that it was one of the greatest songs ever recorded. Now, a little more sober, I don't know if I'd go that far, but I still think it's a great, classic song. The bass line, later pinched, of course, by Vanilla Ice, is like a virus, slowly and methodically consuming all in its path. And Bowie's drug-scarred voice is a perfect compliment to Mercury's adolescent-angst wail. The Roommate informs me that the song was basically written and recorded in two takes after Bowie surprised Queen with a visit in the studio. That seems a little too perfect to me, but it's nice to believe.

Friday, August 30, 2002

Sleater-Kinney/"Oh!" -- The police-siren guitar. That's all I've got to say. Click here to hear it in Real Audio. I'm going to spend a long time listening to One Beat. It's one of the best albums of the year.

Some of my archives have disappeared for some reason. I didn't do anything. I hope they come back.

You may also notice that I changed the "Comments" link to read "What's in your waking ear?" Because I want to know what's in your head. Especially if you have an MP3 of it and don't mind e-mailing it to me. Thanks for all the comments yesterday. It was fun. Let's do it again sometime.

Thursday, August 29, 2002

the Flaming Lips/"Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, Pt. 1" -- I've just heard this one on the radio. I've bought the album of the same name, but haven't listened to it yet -- still processing this masterpiece at the moment. From all that I've read, Yoshimi is nice enough, but no The Soft Bulletin. I'm a big fan of Alex and respect his opinion (check the Aug. 20 entry -- I couldn't get the permalink to work), but I can't write off The Soft Bulletin as "bombast pop." It's too layered and well thought-out, and when it's loud and, well, bombastic, it's that way for a reason. But I don't think the Lips abuse the privilege. They play around a lot with dynamics and include some nice, soft, intimate moments on that record.

But anyway, back to the song at hand. I didn't think much of it at first, but it's sweet and playful and it's sticking to me like bubblegum. I can't pinpoint exactly why. The lyrics ("Oh Yoshimi/They don't believe me/But you won't let those robots eat me") are weird enough to be catchy, but the tune itself isn't particularly infectious. Or maybe it is. I'll sit and struggle with it for a while.

Wednesday, August 28, 2002

In case you haven't heard it at all, CDNow has a Real Audio sample of "Bag Lady" here, with the Dr. Dre riff intact.

Erykah Badu/"Bag Lady" -- Takes the sample from Dr. Dre's "Xplosive" and gives it real soul. The Girlfriend and I went to see Ms. Badu at a special charity show last night. We had to leave early, so I can only take an educated guess that she played this and "Tyrone" after we left. But man, what a show. She's developed this rock'n'roll scream that absolutely floors a crowd, especially when the band is in the middle of a funk jam. Other highlights: the backing band launches into the loop from Cam'ron's "Oh Boy" during, I believe, Badu's "Cleva." Then, during "Kiss Me On My Neck," we drop out to just the rhythm section, and Badu chants, "My neck, my back, my neck AND my back," an edited version of Khia's ubiquitous paean to pleasure zones. And then, oh my god, Badu does a little Miami bass booty dance. Highly recommended, live or on record.

Tuesday, August 27, 2002

Clinic/"Come Into Our Room" -- When I saw Clinic a few months ago, I hadn't heard any of their music and was completely unprepared for their appearance in surgeons' gowns and masks. I spent half the show trying to figure out how their vocals didn't sound muffled (they cut slits in the masks). This song stuck with me, and I've been playing it over and over since I got the album last week. It's wonderfully creepy without being detached. That's the nice thing about Clinic -- as automated and robotic as they sound on the surface, there's a real warmth underneath, whether it's through the vocals or the harmonica or whatever.

On an unrelated note, the Roommate and I bought Luke Wilson a drink last night. He was sitting with a friend at the other end of the bar. I wanted to go up and say hi and be a bug-eyed fan, but the Roommate wouldn't let me. He told me about how his ex-girlfriend once ran into Jeremy Irons at a bar. She walked up and said, "You're Jeremy Irons!" And he said, "Yes. Now leave me alone." I wish there was some way to express your appreciation to an artist without bugging the crap out of them. I mean, if I'm ever in the same room as Thom Yorke, I want to talk to the guy, y'know?

For the record, he ordered a Kaliber, which was interesting. And he patted the Roommate on the shoulder as he left, and said, "Thanks." Classy, that Luke Wilson.

Monday, August 26, 2002

Dang. No comments in a while. I miss you all.

Interpol/"Obstacle 1" -- I can't say this enough. Buy this album. Forget about the Joy Division comparisons. These songs have vitality and energy where Joy Division had despair and longing. Do it. Now.

Sunday, August 25, 2002

the Beach Boys/"Sloop John B." -- Pet Sounds rules.

I started listening in earnest to the album only a few years ago. Then, somehow, I ended up putting the CD in a tote bag and forgetting that it was there. I only recently discovered it. And I enjoyed that experience so much that I think I'm going to just plant really good albums in strange places in my house, so that I can find them later and listen to them like it was the first time.

Saturday, August 24, 2002

Sly and the Family Stone/"Hot Fun in the Summertime" -- When it's hot outside, like this, an evil kind of heat, this is the song in my head. Because it's not about fun at all. Those gospel-esque harmonies are expressing something else. It's almost like regret. The fun is over now. Reminds me of this.

Friday, August 23, 2002

the Lemonheads/"It's About Time" -- Sure, he's pretty, but Evan Dando actually was a decent songwriter, especially when he dipped into Gram Parsons' bag of tricks. This sort-of-ballad is one of my favorites, written, as far as I can tell, from the perspective of a woman who's slowly learning to be comfortable with herself and to not seek validation in others. At least that's what I read into it. The riff is sweet, even a little cutesy, and Juliana Hatfield's baby-girl harmony works perfectly. It feels like an effortless pop song, but the layers are very deep, and that's why I'm down with it.

Thursday, August 22, 2002

Guns 'n' Roses/"Don't Cry" -- It was so much better than November Rain, which just got old and self-congratulating after about the third listen. This was Axl's real epic, right down to the drawn-out, warbling vocal at the end. The video was better too, with Axl in the psychiatric ward and Shannon Hoon wailing in the background before anybody knew who he was. This had all the glamour and guitar noodling of metal with something way more fucked-up in the subtext. Also, check out Paul's Aug. 15 entry on why Slash deserves his place among the greatest guitarists ever. (Sorry, can't perma-link it.)

Wednesday, August 21, 2002

Sunny Day Real Estate/"In Circles" -- It's a testament to this song that it has stuck in the collective indie-rock head for about a decade now, despite the various break-ups and Christianity conversions in the band. And to tell you the truth, I have no idea what it's about. But man, that voice resonated in my 16-year-old heart in a way that few others (Morrissey, of course) could. And the whole soft verse/loud chorus guitar dynamic thing doesn't hurt. But when Enigk just gets fucked up in the bridge and then calms down to sing the chorus, there's a moment there when the song just makes me feel -- I don't know -- satisfied.

Tuesday, August 20, 2002

El-P/"Deep Space 9mm" -- One of my favorite cuts off of Fantastic Damage. This one oozes style and sophistication, with a breakbeat that sounds like it's straight from a James Brown record and ominous organ notes. In one verse, El Producto disses a formerly cool label ("Sign with Rawkus? I'd rather get mouth-fucked by Nazis unconscious"), then quotes Phil Hartman ("I'm just a caveman") in another. I'm not necessarily wowed by a rapper whose flow is so fast that you can't understand him, but there's method to El-P's lyrical madness.

Monday, August 19, 2002

Frank Black and the Catholics/"Modern Age" -- I've been immersing myself in the two new albums (and the back catalog), so you'll have to excuse the Charles Thompson-heavy bloggings of the last few days. This is one of my favorites off Devil's Workshop, the better, more lo-fi and livelier of the two. It's not a Strokes cover. It's pedal steel guitar-heavy, kind of dreamy, with Frank Black's hoarse vocals singing fondly about the good times. It feels sunny and kind of wistful.

I didn't post yesterday because I was drunk all day. The Roommate suggested we celebrate "So drunk in the August sun"-day, in reference to the Pavement lyric. So we sat on our front porch in lawn chairs (highly recommended), listened to music and got schnockered. Everyone should do this.

Saturday, August 17, 2002

Pixies/"Rock Music" -- In which Black Francis damages his vocal cords beyond repair. The Roommate played this as we were driving home from the bar last night, and we screamed along as best we could. But nobody can scream like that, like an angel of vengeance.

I had a bizarre dream last night that I was at a wedding and an orgy broke out. I didn't know anyone there, but they all started taking their clothes off and rolling around and moaning. And then some people got knives and machetes and other sharp things and started cutting each other, so it was just one big mass of flesh and blood. I got out of there as quickly as I could and woke up very relieved. "Rock Song" and my dream seem to go very well together, for some reason.

Friday, August 16, 2002

The Smiths/"Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want" -- We pre-empt your regularly scheduled Waking Ear in honor of my good friend Michelle, who's having a bad day. So we'll just go with some Morrissey-penned lyrics:

"Good times for a change
See, the luck I've had
Can make a good man
Turn bad

So please please please
Let me, let me, let me
Let me get what I want
This time

Haven't had a dream in a long time
See, the life I've had
Can make a good man bad

So for once in my life
Let me get what I want
Lord knows, it would be the first time
Lord knows, it would be the first time."

Help me make Michelle feel better. If there's a song you listen to when you're feeling down about how crappy the opposite (or same) sex is, or if you just have some general wallowing music, let's hear it.

Thursday, August 15, 2002

Frank Black and the Catholics/"Dog Gone" -- From his first album with the Catholics. I've started listening to the older ones as I slog through the two new albums. I've found that Frank's later stuff is rewarding with time -- and blowing off the dust on those old ones seems to have given them new life. I always loved this one, a mournful ballad with just enough flair and spark to make it idiosyncratic.

Wednesday, August 14, 2002

Keith Sweat and Athena Cage/"Nobody" -- It's pretty much a bland R&B ballad, but Keith Sweat has that distinctive voice. Athena Cage fills in admirably as the woman of his desires. And an "oh-oh-on and on on" chorus makes it stick in my head. The song also employs the late '90s popular usage of "sex" as a verb, as in, "Who can sex you like me? Nobody."

Saw Beth Orton last night. I haven't heard the new album yet, but I'm a fan of the older stuff. I'll stay that way after seeing this show. The new stuff layered over her smoky vocals too much, watering it down. She's one musician you don't want to overproduce, though she always flirts with that temptation.

Tuesday, August 13, 2002

Desaparecidos/"Manana" -- I fully accept the eye-rolling that may come my way on this one. There's a lot of passionate hate out there for Conor Oberst. And I can understand why. He's pretentious, simplistic and overly eager. That's also why I like him. He just seems so earnest and straightforward and opinionated. And he's getting better with every recording. Give the guy a break. He's 22 and he's charming. This song was one of the best cuts off of the Desaparecidos album, a roaring, shrieking hiss directed against... well, against I'm not sure what, but I know Oberst means it.

A lesser, but equally earnest, Desaparecidos track here.

Monday, August 12, 2002

The Microphones/"I Want Wind to Blow" -- I got turned on to this album after reading this list. This, the first track, is a 5 1/2-minute, quiet masterpiece that sounds best when you're driving late at night in a neighborhood you don't know and you feel a little scared. Pitchfork reviews the band's B-sides collection today.

Sunday, August 11, 2002

Spoon/"Everything Hits at Once" -- I'm a latecomer to the Spoon fan club, having just bought the seminal Girls Can Tell a month ago on a whim in a tiny (highly recommended) record shop in the Mission District of San Francisco. I listened to it in its entirety as I drove back to Sacramento, where I had traveled on business. I can't remember another time I've been so thoroughly captivated by an entire album. I've read that the album has way higher production value than Spoon's major-label stuff, and I believe it. Every transition is timed perfectly, every drumbeat is crisp. It's challenging and simultaneously easy on the ears. And "Everything Hits at Once," especially, doesn't sacrifice emotion in its dedication to the science. The band lets the line "I go to sleep and think that you're next to me" hang in the air, delivered at a slightly different cadence every time, catching you off guard like a good dream interrupted.

You can find a gently remixed version of the song and some other tracks here.

Saturday, August 10, 2002

Cat Power/"Troubled Waters" -- A deeply personal rendition of the old standard. The song, in itself, might be a little campy in other hands, but Chan Marshall turns it into an emotional self-flagellation. You feel the desperate isolation. One of the best tracks on The Covers Record, a ghostly collection of songs stripped down to a breathy, haunting voice, a guitar and a piano. And I don't mean ghostly and haunting in the spooky night around the campfire sort of way. I mean ghostly and haunting in the way you feel when you look into the face of someone defeated by life and can't look away. I hope Ms. Marshall keeps exorcising those demons.

Friday, August 09, 2002

Macha Loved Bedhead/"Believe" -- A 1999 cover of that weird Cher anthem. So Macha and Bedhead strip it down beyond the point of recognition, altering the lyrics slightly so that the chorus actually starts sounding poignant. "Do you believe in life after love?/ 'Cause I felt something inside me say/ That it had gone on long enough" Oh, and they also do the vocoder-like effect that turned Cher into Robot-Cher. That, along with all the telephone dialtones, make this song seem pretty gimmicky. But that's what hidden tracks are for. And, actually, they get away with sounding a little mournful despite probably having had a great time playing with the vocal distortion.

RIP, Bedhead. Long live the New Year.

Thursday, August 08, 2002

OK. I have a confession to make. I'm greedy and lazy. I want more music and I want it to come to me. I scour the Web and the radio every day to find noise that makes me smile or think or cry or orgasm. So I started this site, in part, to have some of that noise flow to me naturally, tractor beam, whirrrrr, suck me right in.

I'm getting a lot of visitors here, already, and I'm really grateful to all of you who stop by. I'm even more grateful to people like Alexander who have referred others here and said very nice things. I don't mind lurkers -- I'm often one -- but I want to make this more collaborative. No, not like an art project. I just want to know what you're listening to. What song has been powerful enough, for good or for evil, to elbow its way into your brain and refuse to leave? Please click below and tell me.

Oh, and there's no requirement here. I call this site Waking Ear because I usually post in the morning and I usually have a song in my head in the morning. But if you're checking in at 3 p.m. and Jay-Z is feasting on your mind, let me know. I've changed the standing column on your right to make myself more clear.

Sorry for the long post -- I've been praised for my brevity and am proud of it in this sometimes longwinded world of blogs. Back to your regularly scheduled deprogramming.

Fat Joe feat. Ashanti and Ja Rule/"What's Luv?" -- Of all the waking ears in all the towns in all the world, "What's Luv?" walks into mine. Baby don't hurt me. Don't hurt me. No more. Fat Joe's all right, and he's kind of old school, but Ashanti's bland baby voice and Ja Rule's bleat both make this joint tiresome quicker than you can say "Annie Mae Bullock." Make it stop.

Wednesday, August 07, 2002

Wilco/"Kamera" -- This song is so complicated and structured and layered, and yet it feels so... effortless. I was driving one time with my good friend Nicholas, and this album was playing. Nick, who's in a band, said, "I wonder at what point you get to the stage, as a band, when you can get away with writing pretty songs." I think he was saying that at some point, you have enough credibility that people will let you get away with being beautiful without having to sneer. Wilco's there.

At Starbucks this morning (it was a rare visit, I swear), The Girlfriend noticed that a terrible version of "Spit on a Stranger" was playing. I haven't been able to track down who did the cover so I can put them on my assassination list. If anybody knows, I'm all ears. Heh. Get it?

This site has video of Wilco's performance at All Tomorrow's Parties. Can't wait till they come to my town.

Tuesday, August 06, 2002

the Velvet Teen/"Into the Open" -- I haven't heard anything else by these guys, but from the sound of this song, they're just looking to get beat up, critically speaking. Jeff Buckley vocals over Radioheadish guitar jangle. But this song, at least, stands up. Anthemic choruses are anthemic choruses, and this one's got a gorgeous, swelling falsetto.

And, look, is it really an insult to say a band sounds kinda like Radiohead? I would always give the biggest props to bands that create their own sound. But that doesn't mean I completely scrap the rest.

Monday, August 05, 2002

Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy/"California Uber Alles" -- Another California mix selection. This one samples the Dead Kennedys song of the same name. Instead of the Kennedys' Hitler, Jerry Brown, Michael Franti's target is Pete Wilson. Franti is characteristically earnest, and this song wants so bad to be Public Enemy's "Yo! Bum Rush the Show," but it's still a fine slice of what hip-hop was supposed to be. I'll always admire Franti for sticking to his guns, but I'll always think of the guy as a musical also-ran.

Sunday, August 04, 2002

Phantom Planet/"California" -- I'm actually cheating, because Nelly's "Hot in Herre" was in my head again this morning, but I've already written about that one. But The Girlfriend started playing this when we got up this morning. It's sweet 1994 indie rock, a light, puffy pastry.

I made The Girlfriend a mix CD that was totally comprised of songs with the word "California" in their title. I've found that this is a good way to make a mix -- pick a word, then look through your catalog and for MP3s that have the word in the title. You get a good mix of music that way and you hear stuff you wouldn't have heard otherwise. You basically make a mix for yourself and still have the ability to surprise yourself. I did that with "Summer," and I'm working on "Autumn" now. OK, so I'm a huge dork. Fuck you.

One of my favorite parts of High Fidelity is when he's describing his mix-tape methodology, the big-bang assault to captivate the listener, then a big follow-up, then taking it down a notch, etc.

So, standing question: What was in your head this morning/now?

Question of the day: do you have a methodology for making mix tapes/CDs?

Oh, and here's the video in RealVideo format (direct link).

Saturday, August 03, 2002

Nelly Furtado/"Shit on the Radio" -- I'm not going to try to defend myself here. I think she's got talent. I've seen her live, and she's captivating, in full neon with an impish smile. She's not choreographed or airbrushed, and she doesn't come armed with a horde of publicists. She keeps it pretty real, and that makes me look past the fact that she's Canadian. OK, I guess I did try to defend myself.

Here's the full song (the link will open up your RealAudio, just warning ya).

So, the standing question is, of course: what music was in your head this morning? Or right now?

And the question of the day is: is there an artist you like that you feel like you constantly have to defend? Not a guilty pleasure, one you know is bad but you just like, but one you really honestly believe is talented and nobody else understands?

Friday, August 02, 2002

Sonic Youth/"Rain on Tin" -- Saw 'em last night. They mostly played the new album, which most critics have described as a splendid hybrid of their older, wilder indie rock and their later post-rock noodling. I subscribe to that description, but you really don't get the translation in full until you see them live, see Thurston Moore tossing his big fat hair around, see Kim Gordon wielding a bass like a rifle, see fucking Jim O'Rourke quietly tearing shit up in the background.

And this is the song that really hit home for me, seeing it there in front of me. It's the only instrumental, if memory serves, on the album. It has a gorgeous, wistful melody that reminds you of why you like the old stuff, and it's always there, lingering in the air while the band grinds underneath it.

Oh, and watching Gordon bounce up and down like a 6-year-old during "Bull in the Heather" from Washing Machine brought me back to high school.

By the way, you can download another cut from Murray Street here.

Thursday, August 01, 2002

My good buddy Michelle has explored the meaning behind my squirrel dream:

"i tried to find what dreaming about a squirrel means, but came up with
nothing. so instead, i looked up rat - cuz a squirrel is a cute rat and a
rat has rabies which you were concerned about. also, the kitchen...

|Houses in dreams generally represent the dreamer (dreamer = house). The |
|kitchen is the heart of the house. For most families, the kitchen is a |
|place of warmth and nourishment (emotional as well as physical). Examine |
|the conditions of your dream kitchen and you may become aware of some |
|emotional needs and feelings toward yourself and others. |

|They are unpleasant and symbolize danger, poverty, filth, and illness. |
|Your unconscious mind may be bringing up unpleasant images due to a |
|disturbance in daily life. The dream's purpose is to make you aware of |
|negative feelings that may encourage you to directly deal with the |
|negativity in your life. Dreaming about rats leaves the dreamer feeling |
|apprehensive and disgusted. Attempt to connect these feelings with those |
|things that produce this type of anxiety during the day. |

So apparently there's some bad shit that's threatening my emotional needs. I need to chase it out of my pipes. And my roommate has to help me.

But what is it? What is that rat/squirrel doing to me? Is it the rat/squirrel of my financial disarray? That's my biggest pressing problem. Or is there some deeper, darker rat/squirrel that I must explore?

Interpol/"NYC" -- Nothing was really jumping out at me this morning, so I wanted to take this moment to recommend this stellar song. It's anthemic and gritty and really, really pretty without being too pretty. Here's where to find the MP3. Do it. Now. Best post-Sept. 11 New York song around, though I probably should be disqualified because I haven't heard the new Springsteen album.

Oh, and yes, Interpol is a Joy Division ripoff. You gotta start somewhere.


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