Tuesday, December 16, 2008

More Crap About What's on My iPod

You know, I think about this all the time--the music on my iPod. That, smells, a certain concept of place, and the weather. That seems to occupy a lot of my mental real estate lately. So let's have a listen to what else is on my iPod (the mini now, not the shuffle. The mini with a one-day battery life. Vad hände????). I'll just go through and yap about whatever seems yappable.

Apple Juice Kissing - DeeLite. (Hmmm, I noticed that I mentioned this one before, so I'll keep this short.) Sometimes DeeLite feels like therapy. You listen to it and you're like, "Oh, this is how chill people think." And I love how it's romantic and even cliched at parts but still sexy and laidback. I even look dreamy when I listen to this. This is what La Isla Bonita should feel like (all of them--Madonna, David Hasslehoff, me....)

Sufjan Stevens Christmas songs. Oh SHIT these are good! I have to admit, I didn't really want to life SS, because isn't he some crazyass Catholic Mormon Baptist shaman? AND he's really good looking AND talented AND young AND in this hipster community?!? But anyway, I heard I think that Illinoize album a while ago and liked it, but didn't go far with it. But this xmas album--it's absolutely transcendent! The song I have on right now, "boogie to the elf dance" or something, the lyrics are just amazing. Not flowery or complicated, but just straightforward, original and sincere. Did I say original? Because WHERE else could you hear a lyric like 'Your sister's bangs--she cut them herself"??!?! It's brilliant! Especially because it's not thrown in there clearly randomly in an attempt to seem clever. Also: "Kmart is closed..." It's not thrown in to be a smart-ass like it usually would have been. It describes this small town he's talking about (that's how I read it anyway). "What a great day..." "Tell all the neighbors there's cookies to eat..." OK are these supposed to be ironic and corny?? I don't think so, which is what makes them so great; because the way he sings them, you can totally see it, you can believe this is a real situation. The complete opposite of the trite phoniness of someone like Celine Dion. I think part of the effect of this song is that 1) SS isn't the most amazing singer there's ever been (he's not BAD, but he's not Jennifer Hudson) 2) the music is odd but it works: banjos, what sounds like a piano recorded in a living room 3) this almost smalltown music-theater quality of the arrangements; and I think there may be kids singing on some of the songs, except that here they sound natural. This almost sounds like it could have been recorded in someone's living room at Christmas. Or maybe a super-idealized family-room. Oh, and I also like how he goes, "There's a lot to shout about" but then instead of talking about Jesus, which is what you expect, he says that "Santa Claus is coming to town." Now how's that for being inclusive?!

And since I mentioned that song, let's also mention All the King's Horns. It starts out just these small delayed bells, and it sounds quite like that one all-bells song on Bjork's Vespertine. Of course, then these really cool, interesting, strange flute-like(?) sounds come in, which just sound otherworldly, but also kind of sound like an animal. It's hard to describe, but you really get the sense that "All the King's Horns" was a perfect name for the song. Moving on...

PSA, by Ed Shepp. Damn. This is the kind of thing that I listen to and think, "I did THAT???!" In a good way. It's just fantastic to look at or hear something you did a long time ago and forgot about and be amazed by how much you like it. And I like this. And I can remember doing it, with these really blunt instruments. It's still fascinating to me how you can get some of the best results in sounds and images with some of the least functional tools. Anyway, moving on still...

The Raging Swedes podcast. OK, I don't get this. I can hear some foreign-language stuff and understand why it's funny, but this is passing me by. It just sounds like a bunch of guys sitting around, eating(!!!!), talking over each other sometimes, coughing, and I'm like, "Wha??" iTunes made it seem like it was popular. Maybe I'm not getting it because it's in another language. Maybe there's a reason why they open with Kitaro. Who can solve the mystery.....

Hair, Japanese Cast. Oh, dear. Well, the funniest thing about this (it's the main song, about 'gimme a head with hair...') is the first part. The line "gimme a head with hair." You know how in English the guy takes his time with this part, because it's supposed to sound langorous and sexy? Well, this is the one time a Japanese translation lived up to the stereotype: there are like 32 syllables here, and it sounds ghastly. The rest: not much better. Is Japanese just a terminally unsexy language? The real weirdest part of the song, however is this: When you think of Japanese people, don't you think of people who work really, really hard to get shit right? Like, they all play the cello and they went through crazyass high schools and shit, right? So if you hear a Japanese song, you expect no vibrato and you expect it will be chromatically perfect on the pitch, right? Well, maybe it's supposed to be off because they're playing "American," maybe not. Whatever the case, they don't sound in tune. Maybe they are, but I expected something like When Does Cry or some crazy auto-tuned country song. (It's really disturbing when every part is tuned like that.) Anyway... the next song is the American version. I have to admit, I just love this song. Apart from the musical, which I'm not as crazy about as I thought I could be. It's a sexy song. Too bad it's from Hair. You listen to it on the subway and Abigail Dupont-Mortimer Johnson&Johnson Snickers Van-Cartier Clinton is all like, "Hmmph. He's listening to Hair. What a filthy hippie!"

Jingle Bells by the Carpenters. This song is such a masterpiece it baffles me. It's so perfect I know there was some intelligent design behind it. Brilliance like this doesn't just happen. I think the greatest thing about this song is that it comes off genuinely creepy, like it would be right at home in a horror movie. It reminds me in tone of the Jingle Bells (was it Jingle Bells) from the One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest movie. It's extremely over-earnest and has a lot of instruments that were used in television or movies way way way way back in the day, so that it already sounds like a parody of itself. Then way they sort of make the strings and horns "talk" is one example of that. You sometimes hear it in Disney movies. And the vocals: It starts out with Karen Carpenter sounding like she always does, but then at the end of the first verse, at "is to ride," comes in this chorus that sounds like it was recorded on a tape player, recorded from some children's special--actually most of these vocals sound like they are from a TV special. Then a crazy chorus of women in head voice, some guys singing and doing that ghastly harmony people do, and sometimes just letting all the air out on the word "bells." Then an instrumental bit in the middle, with this high-pitched horror movie sound that is so high it sounds a little out of tune, just because the frequency is so harsh. Then the chorus takes us out, but some guy is so far forward on the mix, with this chorus effect on his voice (and of course he doesn't sound as good as the background singers), that it just adds yet more to the creepiness factor. And then it ends in a hollow crescendo.

Phantom of the Opera, Wing. Honestly, what's there to say about Wing? The concept is so straightforward: a really, really bad singer who really, really thinks she's good. But in this case the concept works. I've never been crazy about this song, but damn, this recording is GOOD! Those horns sound so real and full! And the strings so lush and, well, real. And in the second verse this HUGE timpani! But it seems like the horns really do it. They just sound so great. You can almost pretend that Wing is, like, the king of Korea's first mistress and that this is the royal orchestra playing just to humor this beeyotch. But anyway, about her singing: Yes, it's terrible, and here's why: 1) if she ever lands on a right pitch it's pure luck--she's flat here, sharp there, and oftentimes just singing different notes altogether. The end is problematic for me: she is getting higher than she was progressively, and then just parks. I wonder if in the original song, which I don't know well enough, whether the singer keeps going UP, but Wing just stops because of her lack of ability. In this sense I could see her hearing HERSELF as going up, but not in reality. 2) Her voice is tight as a drum, and she just has wretched technique all around 3) She never even approaches a vibrato, and honestly she seems to be singing in a non-western scale. Sometimes there are these really weird notes or almost-trills that she does that sound like Asian music. 4) Her accent is like sandpaper. It's weird how you can hear her accent most at the end, when she's supposed to be singing an 'ah' phoneme, but is just making a sound, and it sounds like it could be a non-Western vowel sound, but maybe it's just straining.

Carol of the Bells/What Child Is This, Point of Grace. The music: beautiful. Absolutely breathtaking. And also natural-sounding. All this until they start singing. Then the music takes a back seat and isn't really interesting anymore. Of course, AFTER they finish singing, the music swells again and goes out really interesting, in this great church-bells-pealing sound. But then, these girls also are not Jennifer Hudson, so if the music had stayed interesting they whole time, they would've been drowned. I'd like to hear someone who could really, really sing perform this. But I'd prefer a good instrumental.

The Magic of Christmas Day, Celine Dion. I really can't say enough about this song, about the myriad ways that it is bad and good and could be great, but I will not say anything about it now. I will merely award it an honorable mention.


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