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?

Thursday, October 31, 2002

Wakin' Ear, as Snoop would call it. (Thanks Inskeep.)

Elvis Costello/"When I Was Cruel No. 2" -- I don't know how Costello purists feel about this stuff, but I love it. Portishead-y elegance combined with Costello eloquence. Mix in a healthy dose of confusion, outrage and sadness.

I'm waiting feverishly for the verdict (see yesterday's comments): will Paul have N.E.R.D. in his head or Sigur Ros? Stay tuned, on As the Waking Ear Turns (Over and Goes Back to Sleep).

Wednesday, October 30, 2002

The Avalanches/"Radio" -- I think they're using those bubbles from the VH1 "Pop-Up Videos" show in the background. Or something like that. The song is like a labyrinth. Try searching for the source of that bass-heavy beat. What is it? It's constantly changing, morphing, composed of different elements. That's why the Avalanches are fun; you can try (and fail) to dissect the songs for hours, or you can just sit back and let the whole disparate mass wash over you. Oh, and I also just like Australians.

Tuesday, October 29, 2002

Fugazi/"Oh" --
"Memo to the partners
I'm changing all the locks
I'm pissing on your modems
I'm shredding all the stocks
Choose a color for your ceiling
I'm waiting for the bottom to drop
In a room so brightly lit
I can't see in"

Pitchfork's Ryan Schreiber on Monday lamented the death of political rock. (We won't include hip-hop such as Mr. Lif and The Coup in this discussion for genre purposes.) And, yeah, listening to Fugazi's The Argument, which he would probably lump in with the Black Flag/Dead Kennedys generation, I have to admit that I agree with him. Where are the musical equivalents of Tom Tomorrow and Michael Moore? Even a musical equivalent of Get Your War On, with its exasperated confusion at the political landscape, is sorely needed right now. Bright Eyes' "Let's Not Shit Ourselves" is probably the best attempt yet.

"Oh" was a prescient fuck-you to corporate culture, which has so invaded our political system as to be indistinguishable. On top of that, it's one of the reasons The Argument is Fugazi's best work -- a masterpiece of disjointed, helter-skelter songs threaded by common themes. Rare is the band whose political messages are as sharp as its music, or vice versa. Sleater-Kinney is up there, too. Ani DiFranco has her moments of glory. And if there are any I'm missing, I'd like to know about them.

Monday, October 28, 2002

Janet Jackson/"Black Cat" -- I've been keeping a friend's two cats while she's in the hospital. One of them is black with white patches. That's the only explanation.

There was a time there when pop artists started trying out some of the conventions of what, at the time, passed for heavy metal. Remember Michael Jackson's "Dirty Diana"? En Vogue's "Free Your Mind"? I'm sure there are some others I'm missing. Basically the idea was that you threw in a really rough-sounding guitar hook into your song, and -- poof -- it was a metal experiment. Do Britney & Co. do this kind of thing now? I remember Usher's "U Got It Bad" having a guitar solo straight out of a Richard Marx song, but that's as close as I can get in the current generation of pop stars. It's all hip-hop now. Watered-down hip-hop is the new watered-down metal.

Sunday, October 27, 2002

Coldplay/"Politik" -- I finally got A Rush of Blood to the Head, out of the used bin no less. The late verdict: I remain pleasantly surprised by this band. When I first listened to Parachutes, I figured it would be a one-hit kind of thing, and I think the band did, too, from reading about it. But perhaps that took some of the pressure off. The UK is a rough place, especially if you've suffered through any sort of "next Radiohead" tag, and these guys have managed to pull off a solid, if not stellar, second album. This is one of the best songs, successfully walking in that gray area between drama and genuine emotion. I think it's a song about waking up to the world around you, popping your head out of the little hole you've dug to deal with your own problems. Or maybe I'm missing the point. But it's gorgeously rendered, no doubt about it.

Saturday, October 26, 2002

Tori Amos/"Liquid Diamonds" -- I'm really on a Tori kick right now, anticipating the new album Scarlet's Walk. In a recent post I'm too lazy to track down, Matthew said the sampler from the new album had him a little concerned that she was going down that twisted adult alternative trail, and I agreed with him. But the reviews I've seen since have got my hopes up again -- it seems arty and brainy, the way I like her to be.

In Google-ing for Matt's post on Tori, I came across his comparison of one of the new Radiohead tunes to "Liquid Diamonds." I agree with him -- nice, slow, restrained build-ups with big payoffs. Here's "A Punch Up At A Wedding" if you'd like to compare for yourself.

Friday, October 25, 2002

Prince and the New Power Generation/"Money Don't Matter 2 Night" -- I've been thinking about money way too much. I get in a constant push and pull with myself about whether I should save now for later or spend while I'm young and can still enjoy it. That conflict seems to be the root of this song, which, in my opinion, was bluesy and raw enough to have been on Sign O' The Times.

Thursday, October 24, 2002

The Walkmen/"Wake Up" -- The Waking Ear theme song? I'm taking suggestions.

I just bought the Walkmen's Everyone Who Pretended To Like Me Is Gone last week. It's a very sleek album, very Velvet-y. It's going to take a few more listens to get the hang of it, and that's a good thing. "Wake Up" is a little different from the rest, with a simpler song structure than the other tracks, which do some pretty complex things with rhythm. But damn, it sounds good with coffee.

Wednesday, October 23, 2002

John Denver/"Take Me Home, Country Roads" -- It's weird how the brain works. My girlfriend told me last night that she had talked to her college roommate, who's from a little town fully equipped with country roads in West Virginia. Normally when I think of her college roommate, I think of this song. They've become inextricably linked in my mind. But it didn't pop into my head until this morning, when I literally opened my eyes and heard it in my head. It took me probably half an hour to pinpoint why it was in my head, do the whole Freud-association thing. It's a fun exercise, for those of you who have frequent Waking Ears.

I was thinking in the shower about how the Denver song is the only song I can think of about West Virginia. Then I started thinking of other states. Does Idaho have a song? Oh yeah, Built to Spill's "Twin Falls." Kansas? "Wichita Lineman," among others. Oklahoma? Just an entire fucking musical!

Some are tougher. Wyoming has 'em, according to AMG. But "Wyoming in the Gloaming" isn't very well known. Garth Brooks' "The Beaches of Cheyenne" is probably more popular, and it's actually not a bad song.

So where am I going with this? I don't know. It's a fun game. But I think that every place needs its song, something to sing shitfaced in the bar when it comes on the jukebox, something to remind you of the place where you belong, even if you don't belong there anymore.

Tuesday, October 22, 2002

Nirvana/"You Know You're Right" -- This is not one of Kurt Cobain's best songs, but it proves why the band deserves the legacy it has received. At first listen, it struck me how much the song sounds like a lot of stuff you hear on the radio nowadays -- the crappy rock radio. I'm talking Creed, Staind, etc. But those overproduced, treacly pieces of crap can't touch the honesty in Cobain's voice, the anger and resignation, the way his voice cracks like a grunge version of Hank Williams (I'm talking to you, Isaac Brock). The guitar here is delicate and washed out, and the bass is cold and distant. Oh, and Dave Grohl can fucking drum. The result is a song that sounds effortless, straightforward and (yes, with some help from context) moving. I'll be listening to In Utero on the way to work this morning.

By the way, my friend Nick has a new blog that's worth checking out. He's one of the smartest, most creative people I know, and unlike me, he's as good at writing music as he is listening to it. I'm glad he's up and running on the Web, if only for the selfish reason that I get to find out what he's listening to on a more regular basis. Also, I've added Ineffable to my blog list in the right column, because Michelle was kind enough to link me and send some visitors my way and because she seems to be bursting at the seams with creativity.

Monday, October 21, 2002

Otis Redding/"A Woman, A Lover, A Friend" -- The Girlfriend put this on a mixtape for me about a year and a half ago. Actually, it was before she was The Girlfriend. I had never heard it before, and that makes me sad. I went to the record store Saturday and bought five new CDs, all of which came out this year. I don't really dip into back catalogs -- I want to keep up with what's new. But I know I'm missing out on some good stuff. My roommate Schmubb bought Nebraska a couple of months ago, and I was jealous. I don't own fucking Nebraska!

The Redding song sticks with me for two reasons. At the time, I did want a woman, a lover, a friend, and Otis bring out the hurt in you, the longing, with that old, wise voice, aged like a sympathetic wine. I somehow got lucky enough to be with that woman I wanted, and this song reminds me how lucky I am. The other thing that gets me is those little half-notes, those flats and sharps, that Otis can hit for just a split second. Most blues singers will hold those notes, really nail that minor key. But Otis touches them just for an instant, like they're too painful to dwell on for too long.

Friday, October 18, 2002

System of a Down/"Aerials" -- I think this on the radio a lot now, but I don't listen to the radio a lot, so I'm not sick of it yet. A love Serj Tankian's operatic voice -- so exaggerated and maudlin. It fits perfectly with the sturm and drang metal. It's overwrought, but somehow it still all feels genuine, like the mighty crescendo of an aria where the tragic heroine is meeting her maker. Has anyone heard their first album, the self-titled one? I'd like to investigate it, because Toxicity was one of my favorites from last year.

Thursday, October 17, 2002

X/"Hungry Wolf" -- I have a dilemma. X is playing in Dallas the same night that Beck performs with the Flaming Lips in Fort Worth. I hate it when this happens. I need guidance. Someone tell me what to do.

Oh, and "Hungry Wolf" -- heard it at the bar a couple of nights ago. The slightly off-key harmonies, that bad-ass bass riff. I couldn't concentrate on the conversation I was having.

Tuesday, October 15, 2002

Tori Amos/"New Age" -- The raucous Velvet cover from Strange Little Girls. I got the latest issue of Rolling Stone today, and it has the "Women in Rock" on the cover. Apparently "Women in Rock" includes Britney, Shakira, Mary J. Blige, Alanis, Avril and Ashanti. Now, say what you will about any of these performers (I love Mary J., Shakira is my guilty pleasure and the rest I can live without), but isn't there something missing here? OK, I really did give up on RS years ago, and only got this subscription because it was free with my cellphone plan, but I'll be damned if they didn't go and get me pissed off all over again. Didn't this magazine once actually rock? Or was that just a myth?

So anyway, the subhed on the magazine cover does indeed mention Tori Amos, Sleater-Kinney and "13 Other Queens of the New Age." And that's why Tori's cover is in my head.

Blogging has been light, and will continue to be light, on this site this week. I'll try to keep up as best as I can, but it's just going to be busy. Please have patience and feel free to comment away.

Sunday, October 13, 2002

Tom Jones/"What's New Pussycat" -- My parents visited over the weekend, and I took them to my favorite bar, where someone inevitably plays this song on the jukebox. My mom, a little tipsy from her cosmopolitan, starts belting it out, closing her eyes and swaying to the music. I've seldom seen this side of her -- she's usually staid and slightly neurotic, so it was nice to see her let loose. Thanks, Mr. Jones.

Friday, October 11, 2002

Dwight Yoakam/"Guitars, Cadillacs" -- My boss took us worker bees to the Texas State Fair for lunch, an annual tradition. It's a gigantic event -- you'll probably see it if you watch the University of Texas-Oklahoma University football game tomorrow. Anyway, as we walked past the livestock yards, this song -- one of my favorites -- was blaring on the loudspeakers. It's the kind of song that makes you feel cool, makes you strut a little bit, especially when that slap-you-in-the-face bass line kicks in. Props to Pete Anderson.

Thursday, October 10, 2002

Jay-Z/"Hard Knock Life" -- I was thinking this morning about how I have no money, and Jigga popped into my head, along with the most ingenious sample of 1998. And then I started thinking about how I'm not actually all that poor, that people in the ghetto don't have 401(k)s, that if I just didn't spend so much money on beer and music I would actually be in pretty good shape. But goddamn, beer and music are too good to pass up. I don't want to look back on my 20s and think about how great it was that I saved up all this money.

And then I started thinking that Jay-Z's life isn't very hard-knock either, at least not anymore. I mean, he's not sweeping the floor for Mrs. Hannigan.

I don't own any Jay-Z records. Should I? Is he a seminal rap artist, or are we going to look back at him and say, "Oh, yeah, and MC Hammer?"

Wednesday, October 09, 2002

Mogwai/"Yes! I Am A Long Way From Home" -- I'm waiting feverishly for something new from these guys. Uus and I saw them live last year and they blew our ears off. Quite literally, on my part -- I'm still looking for my right ear. And then there was that news last year that they were doing something with Chino. And still... nothing. This song is one of my favorites, with a languid, sad guitar melody, as if something momentous has happened and a great chapter of life has closed. And then loud, angry guitar trying to wrestle that chapter open again, but losing.

Tuesday, October 08, 2002

Nine Inch Nails/"Head Like A Hole" -- I was thinking about this song yesterday. I really, in retrospect, don't like it all that much. At the time it sounded futuristic and dangerous, but now it just sounds obnoxious. I like the later, subtler Trent Reznor better. The Fragile got a bad rap. It was too long, but there was some good stuff in there.

Monday, October 07, 2002

Interpol/"Obstacle 1" -- I can't get them out of my head. Their love is all I think about. La la la, la la la-la la la.

I saw Bright Eyes Saturday night, and I think I figured it out. Conor Oberst is that guy in high school who liked the same music you did, dressed the same way you did and cared about the same things you did. You thought his poetry was bad, but somehow he managed to get all the girls you didn't. But as much as my sneering indie-rock brain wants to hate him, I can't. His enthusiasm knows no bounds, and the 15-piece orchestra on stage Saturday night seemed to roll right along with him. It was genuine, never pompous. Look, just because some overzealous magazine writers call him the new Dylan doesn't mean he thinks he's the new Dylan. He's a growing, budding artist. His lyrics have grown less self-obsessed and more complex, and his ambitious musicianship has taken him far already. Consider me a fan, and give Lifted a good listen if you haven't already.

Friday, October 04, 2002

Res/"They-Say Vision" -- My good friend Chelle was nice enough to let me borrow a copy of Res' How I Do, a smart collection of R&B-rock hybrids that almost hits the mark. This is one of the songs that work, a simple beat under a layer of guitar jangle with sassy vocal harmony. I like the production on this album, just off-kilter and minor-key enough to not be hip-hop, which makes it refreshing. But much of it doesn't hit me the way pop music is supposed to hit me -- there are a lot of almost-great songs here that just needed a little oomph. Res is like the Neneh Cherry of our brave new century, and that could mean a future of mixed reviews. But with the right producer, she might be onto something.

Thursday, October 03, 2002

Oasis/"Wonderwall" -- I leave you guys alone for one day and you're yelling at each other. Very funny comments yesterday, but now this stupid song's in my head.

I have never liked Oasis and I never will. I don't think they've had an original thought in their lives, although those Gallagher boys are pretty funny in interviews. They're like the male equivalent of the Spice Girls -- manufactured and utterly exhausting. I never got caught up in "Wonderwall," but I heard it enough passively to learn the lyrics, and I'm not against singing along to it with a bunch of drunken friends. But that's as far as I go.

I was out of town yesterday, incidentally, on business. I didn't bring a CD player on the plane, because it was just a one-day trip and I was packing really light. But it contributed heavily to my argument to myself that I should just go even more massively into debt and buy an iPod. God damn you, iPod! You are so lovable. Anyway, I spent an entire 24 hours without direct access to music, and it was weird. The background music in the airport, the boom box blaring bluegrass in a parking attendant's both, and -- in an especially Bjork-y moment -- the sound of construction machines clanking in what sounded like an eerie African polyrhythm all leapt out at me in a way they usually don't. I started hearing things again. It was a nice way to cleanse the palate. And when I got into my car at the airport, turned the keys and heard The Last Broadcast again, it felt really powerful and moving.

Tuesday, October 01, 2002

Doves/"There Goes The Fear" -- I hesitantly like this band. I am hesitant because I'm wary of British "next big thing" bands, and there are definite Oasis-y moments on The Last Broadcast. I am also hesitant because at their show Friday in Dallas, I was impressed with the performance, but I was even more impressed with the rich, powerful stage lighting. I want to love the chubby, bearded lead singer, Jimi Goodwin, but his goddamn name is Jimi. Their mix of psychedelia and mope rock is impressive, and in concert, they showed marvelous restraint. If Doves hang on to their egos, I think they've got a shot. I'm rooting for them.


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