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?

Friday, January 31, 2003

Stephen Malkmus/"(Do Not Feed The) Oyster" -- I'm getting into Pig Lib the way I absorbed many a Pavement album -- v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y. There's lots of interesting noise in here. Is that a zither I hear in this song? I don't know what you call that thing. But Malkmus songs don't come in and hit you over the head and make you like them. This collection especially. There's a lot of guitar noodling and jamming, though for the most part it's good noodling and jamming, the kind that goes in interesting directions and doesn't just trickle on out into outer space. The lyrics continued the trend of Malkmus' solo debut, slightly more story-like and cohesive. And Malkmus is showing more versatility in his voice, which changes things up a bit. In "Vanessa From Brooklyn," for instance, he adopts a whispery tone that actually doesn't sound sarcastic.

It just takes some time to let this all soak in. It's a busy record, even busier and more curveball-throwing than the last one. Ultimately, I've found these things rewarding in the long run.

Thursday, January 30, 2003

Shelby Lynne/"Leaving" -- Frankville's finest came leaping out of the Girlfriend's stereo this morning, rolling in anguish and begging for more pain. I got to see her live about a year ago, and she looks every bit as backwoods 'Bama as she sounds -- bleached-blonde, skinny and sneering. Fuck J-Lo. Shelby's real.

Wednesday, January 29, 2003

Jennifer Lopez/"Jenny from the Block (Phantroll version)" -- This is weird. I have never heard "Jenny from the Block" in my life. I have only read the chorus portion of the lyrics: "Used to have a little, now I have a lot," that whole thing. And I know there's a flute in there. And so, somehow, my mind has made up a version of what the song sounds like, and that fucking song is running through my head as I'm brushing my teeth this morning. Is this right? The musical equivalent of hearing voices?

The version in my head is OK, though. Lopez (I refuse to use the nickname. I don't know here well enough to use it.) always sounds like she's singing along to somebody else's record, breezing in that little-girl voice that women who can't sing use because they think it sounds pretty. Which has its own kind of charm. The flute loop is almost a mirror image of the one in the Beastie Boys' "Sure Shot." There are also elements of the chorus from Outkast's "West Savannah" in the melody.

I now hereby refuse to ever hear the real version.

Tuesday, January 28, 2003

Valeria/"Rhythm of the Night" -- When you hear this conga-line favorite, you automatically think of Gloria Estefan, right? A night in a sweaty Latin club. But what if I were to tell you that it was actually penned by Diane Warren, composer of such standouts as Aerosmith's "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing" and Starship's "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now?" Not so great.

But Valeria (I think the link above is the correct Valeria -- she's pretty elusive, even on the 'Net) does a good job of making us forget Ms. Warren on her "Rhythm of the Night" cover on the Moulin Rouge soundtrack. She doesn't have Estefan's pouty alto, but she injects enough throw-back-your-hair sass to make the song fun.

The only song I skip over when I'm listening to on the soundtrack is Beck's "Diamond Dogs," produced by Timbaland. How did two geniuses produce such a big piece of crap?

CORRECTION: Mr. Inskeep has informed me that I am incorrect about the original performer of "Rhythm of the Night." Check the sidebar and see if you can figure out who it really was.

Monday, January 27, 2003

Prince Paul/"Steady Slobbin'" -- I hate it when producers just pull an older rhythm or hook as a sample and use it in its original context, with some rapping over it. Like, if you're going to sample a Jacksons song, and you just pull the whole bass line and plop it into your song and rap over it, that's not really that creative. I like "Steady Slobbin'" because it catches a little harmonica riff in mid-blow, a little snippet of the instrument at its most soulful and agonizing, wheezing a little bit like harmonicas do when they're making a point, and loops it into a workingman's hip-hop blues jam. Catching the subtleties of sound and creating new rhythms from them requires true talent.

Friday, January 24, 2003

Grandaddy/"Levitz" -- My roommate Schmubb does many things well that I do poorly. He's a far better athlete. He can smoke and drink large quantities of alcohol and still run circles around me. He's a creative and resourceful cook. And he dedicates himself enough to an artist that, when he likes the first album he hears, he goes back and collects the artist's back catalog, something I never seem to get around to doing. Schmubb, like many of us, first heard Grandaddy through their magnum opus, The Sophtware Slump. But he's collected the rest of the oeuvre, including this gem from Concrete Dunes. I have him to thank for the light, frothy melody with the fuzzed-up bass foil running through my head this morning.

Thursday, January 23, 2003

Flaming Lips/"Do You Realize" -- It's not a bad song, really. But it seems to suffer from that malaise the envelops Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots. Everything just seems sleepy and drugged out, a big haze. I know this is psychedelia, but if you're trying to tell the story of a Japanese girl saving the world from robots programmed to destroy is, you should really sound a little more awake. Is all I'm saying.

Sorry for the lack of posts. Busy week. Thanks for checking in.

Monday, January 20, 2003

Bangles/"September Gurls" -- I did this really great mix CD a couple of years ago, during the summer, of songs that all had the word summer in their title, or had a summer month in their title. I started working on an autumn version and never completed it. But if I ever do, this Big Star cover will be on it. It has Alex Chilton's genius songwriting and the Bangles' effervescent cool, all rolled into one. And Chilton was misspelling random words long before Nelly.

Friday, January 17, 2003

Kosheen/"I Want It All" -- I passed this song off as a Portishead ripoff long ago, right down to the ghostly female vocals, which sound like they're being recorded in a claustrophobia-inducing space. But it has this nasty habit of staying in my head.

Thursday, January 16, 2003

Bjork/"It's Not Up To You" -- At first Vespertine seemed passive, laconic to me. I still longed for the growling Bjork of "Army of Me" and its ilk, and Vespertine never reaches that level of crescendo. But lurking underneath the album's calm and tenderness, Bjork's fierceness still rages, albeit in a more restrained, mature form. And nowhere better than in "It's Not Up To You," where she scolds herself for thinking she can control her destiny.

Wednesday, January 15, 2003

Neil Diamond/"America" -- I was reading a story in the paper this morning about immigrants, and this popped into my head. The song is totally patriotic, but it didn't get dredged up the way Lee Greenwood's "God Bless the USA (I'm Proud to Be an American)" did after the World Trade Center attacks. Was it anti-immigrant discrimination? (The Greenwood song, by the way, is known with reverence in my home state of Alabama as "The Redneck National Anthem." Everybody stands up at the part where he sings, "And I gladly stand up!")

But back to "America." I had no idea, until today, that the song came from a 1980 remake of The Jazz Singer, starring Mr. Diamond himself and Laurence Olivier. Has anybody seen this?

Tuesday, January 14, 2003

Interpol/"Obstacle 1" -- Way back in September, Schmubb, Chelle and I saw Interpol in the tiny Tea Room portion of Dallas' Gypsy Tea Room. The band was originally slated to play in the bigger ballroom, but, as often happens with bands that are playing sold-out shows in New York, nobody seemed to care about them here.

I've read a lot of reviews of live Interpol shows, and it seems that they're inconsistent -- some good nights, some bad nights, some so-so nights. We got a good night here, with Carlos D. banging the fuck -- and I do mean the fuck -- out of his bass and Samuel Fogarino wringing the sweat out of his drums. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that we get the good Interpol next month at Dallas' legendary club Trees.

Monday, January 13, 2003

Fela Kuti/"Water No Get Enemy" -- I'm listening to Red Hot + Riot, filled with covers and send-ups of the African pop star's work. It's fun stuff, though, like many a Red Hot album, it bogs down toward the end. "Water No Get Enemy," with its brilliant trumpet riff, was the first Fela Kuti song I ever heard. I caught on to him, like many people, when MCA started reissuing his stuff and the music press began drooling over him. D'Angelo and Macy Gray, who sing with Femi Kuti on the Red Hot version of "Water," seem to get swept up in that exuberance, letting their voices break and glide and then slide back into the harmony.

Friday, January 10, 2003

Jimi Hendrix Experience/"She's So Fine" -- If you read interviews with Noel Redding, the Experience's bass player, he always sounds pissed off that he never got his due. "She's So Fine," I think, is evidence that he probably had pretty good chops, with its psychedelic harmony and killer, heart-bursting riff. In the interview I linked above, he also claims credit for parts of "Foxy Lady" and "Red House."

But my man should be a little kinder to Jimi. I don't know of many musical geniuses who would cede control of songwriting and vocals to their hired-hand bass player. I've always gotten the feeling that Hendrix was a musician's musician, a man who respected talented artists and liked to collaborate.

Thursday, January 09, 2003

Minutemen/"Corona" -- I have a theory that goes like this: if the Minutemen had come to be 15 years later, they would have embraced hip-hop along with the other genres they co-opt in Double Nickels on the Dime. And then they would sound a whole hell of a lot like Sublime. Disagree? Then listen to "Corona," which is, in many ways, their "Santeria."

Wednesday, January 08, 2003

Pavement/"Fillmore Jive" -- I was going to go the gym this morning. I swear I was. But my bed was so warm, and it was so cold outside (relatively speaking -- Dallas is pretty warm). So I kept hitting "snooze." "I need to sleep," I thought. "I need to sleep, why won't you let me?"

Tuesday, January 07, 2003

Spoon/"The Way We Get By" -- The second cut from Kill the Moonlight has had a sudden resurgence in my brain. I think of it as a pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps anthem in the same vein of "It's the Hard-Knock Life" from Annie: A New Musical. I'm serious. I think of Annie whenever I hear it. I think that crisp, almost hand-clappy percussion has something to do with it, too.

Monday, January 06, 2003

Neko Case/"Deep Red Bells" -- I don't think we've heard a voice like this in a long, long time. And this song lets her drawwwwwwwl it out, dig in her heels and let that voice sweep us in like a siren call.

Friday, January 03, 2003

Morrissey/"The More You Ignore Me, The Closer I Get" -- The line that always gets me is this one: "I will be at the bar/with my head on the bar." When lyrics only rhyme because the same word is repeated, it's funny. And Morrissey knows it -- if you listen to his phrasing, I think even he's laughing at the line.

"The More You Ignore Me" is one of Morrissey's few upbeat songs. When he sings "Let me in" in that longing tone, he actually sounds optimistic.

Thursday, January 02, 2003

George Michael/"They Won't Go When I Go" -- Thanks to Paul's comment, I found myself singing this Stevie Wonder cover from 1990's Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1 while I was in the shower this morning. (To those of you who know me outside of cyberspace, I apologize for the mental image.) The song kind of captures the feel of the whole album -- ghostly and gospel, haunted and hurting, and, finally, redeeming, when those voices swell and die out to GM's last aching cry: "my-y-y-y destiny-y-y-y."

Listen Without Prejudice came out eight years before George Michael came out. And looking back on the album, it's remarkable nobody caught the subtext (maybe they did -- I was 12 in 1990, so I sure didn't). This was a man who was trying to figure out what he wanted and what he could be for the world. And then record company bullshit shut down our access to that whole developing plot, and we probably missed out on some great records.


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