Saturday, August 23, 2008

Songs that Defined My Summer

In the past, I've always been of the opinion that lists like this one were simply pretentious attempts both to impress the reader with the writer's impeccable taste in music and also to instill in the writer a certain sense of smuggadocio. But now that I'm a hot-shit college sophomore with a taste for Canadian Club and a painful awareness of whose sleeves are rolled up Italian-style (thanks, GQ), I think I've scored enough undeserved self-satisfaction to make my own list. It's also been the first summer of my life where something very embarrassing (like Coldplay or Death Cab, both music taste death sentences but also guilty pleasures of mine) hasn't marred my seasonal score. I've only bought three new albums this year, one of which was, I admit, Viva la Vida; but the other two, Beck's Modern Guilt and Nine Inch Nails' The Slip (which I guess I didn't technically buy). Everything else on the list was either something less new of which I hadn't previously been aware or something from my own library that hadn't previously caught my ear. I tend to discover new music I already own all the time, I guess as a result of my bad habit of not listening to albums all the way through when I buy them. Anyway, enough about my sensibilities as an audience. Here you go:

Sonic Youth: Incinerate
I know, I know. This is about as accessible a song as you'll find in the Sonic Youth catalog. And I suppose it could be counted against me that the first time I heard it was at a Youth concert when they played with the Flaming Lips. I couldn't get around the observation that all their fans in the general admission crowd seemed so adamant about slam-dancing (even during breaks between songs) to grasp how awesome this track really is. It took a surprise listen on one of my most deliberately ignored radio stations, The Current, to get me into it. It's starting to be just un-cool enough to like Sonic Youth that I can allow myself to listen to them without feeling like a douchebag. Fleet Foxes will have to wait, though.

Beck: Round the Bend
Sea Change, which in general is probably Beck's most hated album of all time will probably be etched in as one of my top five albums of all time. I'd go so far as to say that this eerie, sinisterly melodic engineering masterpiece has had as much of an impact on my love of the American West (or at least my glamorized idea of it) as did my aunt who bought me embroidered boots, spurs and a six-shooter when I was visiting her in Oregon about a decade and a half ago. The album itself has been a mainstay of my collection for a couple of years now, but the song in question has only made me drool for the last few months, coinciding directly with my sudden infatuation with well-loved killer Charles Starkweather. The bleakness of the song matches my vision of the stark landscapes of Nebraska and Wyoming, black and white highways, classic cars, non-filtered cigarettes, blah blah blah.

Vashti Bunyan: Glow Worms
Here's a song I listened to and eventually learned with the intention of playing it for a certain woman in my life. I never did and probably never will, and I fear this strikes a poor precedent for the path of the rest of the relationship.

Nine Inch Nails: Right where it Belongs
I've always liked this song, but I've been listening to it more often than usual these last few months, partially in preparation for the NIN show on August 2nd (which was canceled; THANKS, TRENT). I guess I also listened to it a lot this summer because I know the lyrics to it, and I've been on a big singalong jag recently.

Brahms: Allegro con Giocoso III
I fucking LOVED There Will Be Blood, and for a little while, I actually tried to build the wardrobe of a 1920's petroleum tycoon, but I soon realized that I don't have the financial heft, even in 1920's dollars, required for such an undertaking. I did, however, have the 99 cents required for the third part of Brahms' soul-igniting violin concerto, which is the last piece of music in the film. I invariably find myself listening to this in my car, steering with one hand and vigorously conducting the orchestra on the road in front of me with the other.

Flight of the Conchords: Think About It
Here's one I memorized by placing my computer next to the shower stall and turning the speakers all the way up. I guess what I like about it, atypically brilliant melodies aside, is that it makes fun of everything I worry about in this sick world, but somehow keeps a certain reverence that tells us maybe we should care a little more.

Elton John: Tiny Dancer
Another one I listened to a lot because I knew the lyrics, but also just a really great fucking song. I think it will make a good karaoke challenge some night when I'm trashed.

Bob Dylan: Simple Twist of Fate
I've listened to this many times in the past, but it struck a new chord this summer as the aforementioned woman in my life has nested comfortably in the better part of my thoughts. I'd like to think the fact that I've been able to connect this song to my life in a meaningful way means that I'm starting to embrace a more adult (and therefore, more authentic, right?) idea of love, although I realize that Dylan probably wrote it with a wistful sense of nostalgic, youthful romance in the air.

The Seeds: Can’t Seem to Make You Mine
Take all the subtlety and smoothness out of the last song, and you've got a good picture of this song to work with. This one's a bit ornery and twangy and garage-y, but it's great. And yes, the first time I heard it was in the AXE commercial.

David Bowie: Quicksand
I won't pretend I know entirely what this song is about, but I just love it. I didn't discover it until I burned Hunky Dory for my nephew and we (I say we because, although he is one year old, he stayed in the room while it was playing) listened to it all the way through.

Elliott Smith: Christian Brothers
Elliott Smith will probably be the last bastion of my whiny folk music phase.

Frédéric Chopin – Ballade No. 1 in G minor, Op. 23
I've never been good at adapting to the very much pragmatic system of naming music used by everybody back in the good old days. These damn kids are so used to their hooks and licks and jingles. So it's understandable if the exact piece of music I'm talking about doesn't come to mind when I reference it, even with a catchy title like Ballade No. 1 in G minor, Op. 23. You might remember it better as the woeful piano music that makes up the bulk of the soundtrack for The Pianist.

Beck: Chemtrails
I guess the fact that Beck released his new album about the same time I started to really like the kind of music on it means he's a year or two ahead of me in music taste. Bravo, Beck.

MGMT: Electric Feel
The return of disco music has coincided with my bitchy, dandy popinjay phase. Blame it on a simple twist of fate.

The Knife: Heartbeats (Live)
How I find something to love in a press-hating, shrill duo of Swedes with a penchant for Black Plague-era fashion and oscillating keyboards is something of a mystery. Or maybe not.

The Rolling Stones: Wild Horses
This song is so untouchably perfect to me that I can't say I know quite how to put down my feelings about it. Even the fact that Mick Jagger sort of stole it from Keith Richards and rewrote the lyrics to change its meaning altogether doesn't soil it for me.

Bon Iver: Flume
I only put this one in because it was playing on my iPod the only time I've ever been pulled over, which was some time in June, I think. I got off with a warning, so, you know, it's something of a good luck charm.

Daniel Johnston: Grievances
Again with that gulldarned woman.

Marvin Gaye: The Star-Spangled Banner
My hearing this song was maybe the only good thing to come out of either Nike or the Olympics in a long, long time. Leave it to Marvin Gaye to put some soul into the whitest song of all time, and to produce a few tears in the crowd while doing it. I'm no patriot in the traditional sense, but I just about lit up a dozen bottle rockets with a NASCAR lighter after I heard this the first time.

My apologies if this list was insufferably boring. But, as my former writing teacher (who must be thinking this blog is becoming a little him-centric by now) asked me, "if you don't like your own writing, why would you make other people read it?" I'm doing it because it took a long time to write, so someone had better well fucking appreciate it!