Hello and welcome to Volume 5 of “No Mainstream Fridays,” my weekly listing of songs that are:
1. worth listening to
2. probably not being featured elsewhere at the moment
3. would be mainstream if there were such a thing…
Go here to see the great stuff featured in Volume 1, Volume 2, Volume 3, and Volume 4.
Ezra Pound said “poetry is news that stays news.” So is music, and in that spirit, here are some songs and bands from past and present that merit headlines…
This week’s news:
Hoover Factory by Elvis Costello & the Attractions. Somehow, amidst all the others, Elvis C has sort of been my center of the wheel, and this 1:46 song was (and maybe still is) my favorite choice gem of them all. When I was in my early teens, this song fascinated me endlessly. It sounds faster to me now than it did then (how trite and symbolic!) A slice of b-side heaven for everyone….
The Spirits And I by Royal Wood. This is a new record from a new artist who sings like Andrew Bird and writes pop songs that are both endearing and good. Melodies and hooks, people. I love the phrasing in this one.
Drink To Sher by Tanakh. Getting into some deeper waters here, this is a beautiful song that combines the sensibilities of orchestrated indie rock with larger, more grandiose rock idioms. Somehow, it’s both dry and lush, and always very tasteful. A lovely balancing act that just needs repeat listens, not in order to be enjoyed, but in order to be savored.
Bazooka Tooth by Aesop Rock. Changing course, here’s the brainy and zany Aesop Rock with some deliciously cluttered and crazy wordplay over gritty samples and beats. More killer hip hop from Def Jux. Warning: Contains “embargo piggybackers… bumper bolt monster mash… tim libby’s lava lamp… lobster hands… nocturnally orchestrated car alarms…”
Degradation of Tapes by Merzbow. Merzbow is the most important artist in noise music, a fearless pioneer, invincible genius, sonic wizard, and crafter of slabs of hideous, grating, hellish pieces like this 19 minute crusher. The beauty of this music requires faith and dedication in order to be discerned. Don’t let that fool you into thinking that it isn’t there….
Manzanita (First Variation) by The Tony Rice Unit. From the storm to the calm, here’s the flatpicking titan Tony Rice with a bit of newgrass. A breezy intro of typically crisp picking detours into some modern bluegrass. As always, the appeal here is greatly connected to the instrumental facility of the players, which makes it seem a bit technical to some. Decide for yourself!
Cowboys Lost At Sea by For Stars. When I first heard this record, it was maybe the first thing that a friend of mine had done that really worked as a record from start to finish. It stands up, with gorgeous melodies and a commitment to mood and focus that can teach any record-maker important lessons about how to eliminate everything but the essence. And the songs kill, too.
Rainy Day Mushroom Pillow by Strawberry Alarm Clock. Ah, my sunshine psych pop (maybe people are starting to figure out that I have a bit of a sweet tooth for this stuff…). Rainy Day Mushroom Pillow?? Are you kidding? I’m SO listening to a song called that! This one has some great harmonies, and the usual charming innocence and technicolor instrumentation that characterize the genre. We have lots of this stuff in Pandora, so make a station with this one and see what you find!
Indian Giver by 1910 Fruitgum Company. This song is borderline offensive (I do like to provoke you now and then – you know that, right?). It’s called “Indian Giver,” which is really unfortunate, because it’s an interesting song. But it’s kind of cool because 1) it’s by the 1910 Fruitgum Company for cry eye! and 2) it somehow sounds a lot like mid-period Elvis Costello even though it’s from 1968. Wonder if he ever listened to these guys.
Metallic Sonata No. 1 by The Lothars. Just when you thought it was safe to start singing along… here are The Lothars, with 3 theremins, one electric guitar, and great patience. This is drone-licious. Dark. Beautiful. A great new world of sound awaits you, should you choose to enter here…
Lost Diamond by Gregory Paul. This is a solo record by the man behind The Autumndivers, and this particular song is epic, mysterious and very very cool. The narcotic melody and good singing lead the soft charge here. Touches of strings make it even heavieer, and the reckless use of reverbs somehow manages to avoid cheesiness entirely. Right on!
Bears by Steven Fromholz. I guess Lyle Lovett covered this song, but this is the original, with banjo and (in an inspired moment of wacky genius), clavinet. It’s always interesting to listen to the songwriter’s version of a song that someone else made famous, so here ya go. Love that clavinet.
Whatcha Gonna Do by Peter Tosh. Love that clavinet so much it reminded me of the classic Peter Tosh sound from back when – I wore this record out when I was in high school in the 80’s.
Five Years by David Bowie. And finally, as a closer, here’s the classic Bowie tune that opens Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust. This was on the other side of the tape that had the Peter Tosh on it. I will forever associate the two records with each other, and with my walkman, backpack, and long walks through my beloved suburban Maryland commercial and residential wastelands.