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?

Tuesday, December 31, 2002

The top five ear-waking-est tunes of 2002 (the songs that clamped onto my brain and refused to let go, in order of tenacity):

5. Nelly/"Hot in Herre"
4. Mclusky/"To Hell With Good Intentions"
3. The Walkmen/"Wake Up"
2. Kylie Minogue/"Can't Get You Out of My Head"
1. Interpol/"PDA"

Everybody be safe out there tonight. And may you wake up in 2003 to some good music.

Monday, December 30, 2002

Flaming Lips/"Can't Get You Out of My Head" -- The Lips turn this year's best dance-pop song into an opera. They get it right by co-opting the original's tendency to build and swell into bursts of melodic energy, la la la, la-la-la-la la la. But they miss the song's climax, the "la la las" combining with the chorus like voices in Kylie Minogue's head.

Hope everyone had a happy holiday. Thanks to Paul for the kind words in his Christmas Eve entry.

Monday, December 23, 2002

Mazzy Star/"Halah" -- My roommate Schmubb was playing a Silver Jews album this morning, and the strumming just reminded me of this song. There's no formal connection or anything, just those weird musical parallels you make when you're half-listening. This is my favorite Mazzy Star song, because it's actually kind of up-tempo. That lilting chorus makes it sound almost like a folk song.

Friday, December 20, 2002

Mouse On Mars/"Catching Butterflies With Hands" -- I had a dream early this morning that I was sitting at a kitchen table with the White Stripes. Actually, it was Meg White and two Jack Whites. The sunlight was streaming in from the window to my right, casting a warm glow on the Jack White on the left, who had a guitar. He started playing a catchy staccato riff, bouncy, jumpy, with a tropical feel. Meg smiled and passed me a casserole. Turns out she is quite the cook. It smelled good. I woke up, and Jack on the Left's song was playing on my computer. It was actually created by two German DJs.

Thursday, December 19, 2002

Beck/"Minus" -- This is the balls-out, vocals-distorted, bass-rambling punk song from Odelay. It popped into my head quite unexpectedly this morning. I just listened to Sea Change for the first time the other night, and it was -- how shall I put it -- boring. Pretty, but boring. Like both Lord of the Rings films. I don't care if Beck does a quiet album. I liked Mutations. But in Sea Change, he's lost his passion. He doesn't seem excited about the music, just impressed with his lyrics. He needs to get over this girl. Fast.

Tuesday, December 17, 2002

(Smog)/"Real Live Dress" -- I'm not really familiar with Bill Callahan's oeuvre, but this cut from this year's singles collection has piqued my interest. That killer line: "There's no substitute for human fleeeeeesh," with "flesh" drawn out in a little yodel. Wow. And then he starts quoting "Baby Got Back." Really mesmerizing stuff.

Monday, December 16, 2002

Alvin Youngblood Hart/"How Long Before I Change My Clothes" -- It's about being in prison, and Hart has this terrific banshee wail that feels rich and authentic.

My roommate Schmubb is on a blues kick right now, having picked up a CD by Fred McDowell shortly after buying Doug Martsch's Now You Know. Both include the spiritual "Woke Up This Morning with My Mind on Jesus." If you like the Martsch version, I encourage you to check out the older one, because McDowell blows Martsch out of the water. And kudos to Martsch for encouraging Schmubb -- and probably others -- to dig up an old treasure. Oh, and kudos to Alan Lomax and Shirley Collins for recording that old treasure back in the '50s.

Friday, December 13, 2002

Modest Mouse/"Tiny Cities Made of Ashes" -- We're drinkin drinkin drinkin drinkin Coca- Coca-Cola. Quick post. Busy day.

Thursday, December 12, 2002

Ramones/"Do You Remember Rock N' Roll Radio" -- It's Phil Spector-produced, so it drives out all the lovely impurities in the Ramones' sound. But Joey's role as a music historian hits its peak here, giving you a sense of the sheer joy of discovering music for yourself, with the covers pulled up over your head. Ah, what that must have been like.

Wednesday, December 11, 2002

Vince Guaraldi/"Christmas Time is Here" -- The second most hauntingly beautiful Christmas song of all time. The first is "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel," performed in this clip by the Robert Shaw Chorale.

Sorry I've been AWOL the past few days. Lots of business to attend to. But I'll be faithful at least through the holidays, I promise.

Friday, December 06, 2002

Frank Black and the Catholics/"Jane the Queen of Love" -- This song was part of Frank's jaw-dropping 2 1/2-hour set last night here in Dallas. I'm still recovering. He also did "Monkey Gone to Heaven" and "Freedom Rock," two of my big favorites. I'm so glad he's become willing of late to play some of the old stuff, because a lot of us who love his music weren't old enough to go to shows in 1989.

When I first heard Black Letter Days, "Jane" seemed like a miss, inconsistent with the rest of the album and lacking a strong chorus. And both of those descriptions are still true, but seeing it live improved my opinion of it quite a bit. It has that Frank Black swagger, the little lyrical jokes and eccentric guitar work, that makes his greatest stuff great. And while I won't put "Jane" in the category of "Speedy Marie" anytime soon, I certainly won't dismiss it again.

Happy birthday to Mr. Inskeep.

Thursday, December 05, 2002

Rage Against the Machine/"Renegades of Funk" -- The lead single off the 2000 Renegades covers album has the requisite nifty guitar tricks from Tom Morello and the cool-and-angry vocals of Zach de la Rocha. But it also has something that Rage were just beginning to tap into when they broke up -- a beat. The rhythm section makes this song come alive, and I would've loved to hear more in that direction. From what I've read of Audioslave, that ain't happenin', but I have yet to check them out myself.

Wednesday, December 04, 2002

Stevie Wonder/"Village Ghetto Land" -- Blur away the lyrics, and it sounds like you're listening to "Puff the Magic Dragon." That's the genius of this song -- those synthesized violins sound like they're right out of medieval times, and the tone in Wonder's voice sounds like he's at the Happiest Place on Earth. Gary Byrd's lyrics, meanwhile, seem like a 1920s muckraking journalist's description of some evil capitalist's factory. The contrast is stark.

Tuesday, December 03, 2002

Wolfgang Press/"Going South" -- This is the only song I know by this band -- I taped it off MTV's 120 Minutes way back in 1995. It was very majestic and epic, a combination of a funk dirge and a Western road trip. Or something like that. Anyway, Wolfgang Press debuted in 1983 with this album, called Burden of Mules.

Monday, December 02, 2002

Guided By Voices/"Everywhere With Helicopter" -- I mentioned last month that Universal Truths and Cycles never really gripped me the way Isolation Drills did, but I'm taking Matthew's advice to heart and giving it a good, solid listen. I think this song was the obvious single from the album, and I love the melody -- Pollard's little trill in the first syllable of every line sounds really cool and full of glee. But this song illustrates to me why I took so quickly to Drills and not to Cycles. "Helicopter" is one of the few songs on Cycles that actually has some semblance of a chorus, whereas Drills had plenty of songs like that -- "Glad Girls," "Chasing Heather Crazy," "Run Wild," etc. I think I latch on better to albums that have choruses like those -- they're easier to remember because they're repeated, and that gives you a way to start singing along with the song, and put it on repeat, and learn the rest of the words, and then get to know the rest of the album.

So that's why I'm having a harder time latching on to Cycles. Basically, I'm a simple-minded person who needs repetitive mantras to pique my interest. This is disappointing. But worry not, Matthew -- I'll keep working on Cycles.


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