Archive for the tag “Shuffle up and deal”

Shuffle Up and Deal: Pinback–Bbtone

Wherein I mash that shuffle button and use the song as writing prompt.

Sometimes the ol’ shuffle deals you a song that has layers of meanings for you. I got into Pinback during some difficult times and found great comfort in them. Some people find the band to be a bit gloomy and I get that. I appreciate their subtle humor and experimentalism. They are so fun to see live and I happened to move to their hometown so my appreciation of them has grown over time.


best pic i could find from last show Mari and I went to at Belly Up.

I associate Bbtone with the daily struggle of the cluttered mind and brain chemistry issues. The lyrics seem to reference the claustrophobic feelings that come from dealing with said struggle and the frustration of approaching feeling good or “normal” but not quite making it there. The last verse spells this out well:

Forever wishing
Someone near the goal
Forever pushing
Sisyphus would know
Forever wasting
Promise as it goes
Foresenics (sic) show
A summer in the hole, buddy

This isn’t a “sad” song for me though or one that puts me in a sad place. The struggle IS the point. Life is difficult, people are difficult, your own brain can be difficult.  But the drive to get by and endeavor to make things better is amazing. I take not only that lesson from this song, but also the thought that better or “normal” will (and should be) always over the next ridge.

Shuffle up and deal

NOFX — We Called it America

Love it when a punk song comes up on the shuffle and this song is appropriate for the dark and dreary times we’re struggling through. Saw some great NOFX shows back in the 90’s. Good times. Accordingly I’m more of a fan of their 90’s stuff but this song is a good piece of their later work (2009).

The song opens with a quote from Alec Baldwin’s character in Glengarry Glen Ross.

The leads are weak? Fucking leads are weak? YOU’RE weak.

The vinyl version of the song uses a different quote by Jack Lemmon instead of the Baldwin one. I’m not really an Alec Baldwin fan (I find him to be quite insufferable), but his work in Glengarry Glen Ross is his best.

The song has the usual strong guitar interplay and lightning fast tempo from Fat Mike and the boys. The lyrics paint a bleak (but accurate) portrait of where America has been and where we’re going. Some lyrics:

Remember when America had a middle class
And an upper class, that was way before the exodus
That was the America that we thought was number one,
Thought would overcome, thought would never die
That was just our pride and faith, two shitty deadly sins
I know faith isn’t one of ’em but it should have been
Cuz when things were crumbling, we had no camaraderie
Just a faith someone would save us from despondence

Seems like they’re onto something, no?

Shuffle up and deal

Ambulance LTD — Stay Where You Are

Until I just did some research, I had no idea where these guys were from (Spanish Harlem via Ohio) or whether they were still a group (sort of). I did know a few things, though:

First, this is one heck of a pop song. Obvious Beatles influence. The arrangement and harmonies are beautiful.

Second, As much as I have enjoyed this song over the past decade, I never felt the urge to go seek out other Ambulance LTD songs. I think this is because I didn’t want to figure out that they’re a one hit wonder. Without searching, I’ll never know.

Third, I HATE songs with long intros/outros. HATE is not too strong of a word here. I don’t have the patience, apparently, to wait for a long meaningless intro. In fact, I almost missed out on one of my favorite songs (Meat Grinder by Madvillain) because I always hit skip instead of forwarding through the intro. Maybe it’s my fat fingers, but I have some difficulties with sliding the bar on my phone to forward through the intros, especially if I’m doing something else like driving. So, artists, please refrain from this practice. Make the intro a separate song. Please. /endrant

Shuffle up and deal

The Shins — Kissing the Lipless

I’m not here to tell you that The Shins will “change your life” like Natalie Portman’s character notably did in Garden State.  That statement is hyperbolic for me.  But I am here to tell you that James Mercer of The Shins is one heck of a songwriter and that this particular song is beautiful.  The subject matter seems to be sad and messed up, the song is beautiful nonetheless.

The song begins with non-sequitur consisting of a small flurry of claps and a “Woo!”, which happens from time to time with Shins songs.  For example, Australia (from Wincing the Night Away, my favorite Shins album) begins with studio chatter.  Someone, in a German accent says, “Time to put the ear-goggles on!”, to which another high-pitched voice replies, “NO!”.  The Shins like to incorporate those moments of exuberance pre-song.  I’m a fan.  I’m doubly a fan of the “ear goggles” line because it pays homage to the line in the Beastie Boys song Sure Shot where Ad Rock says, “I strap on my ear goggles and I’m ready to go.”

Back to the song at hand.  The structure is relatively simple to begin with and is dominated by acoustic strumming with just a smidgen of “psychedelia”.  As the song goes forward the sonic landscape becomes more complex with beautifully haunting keyboards and glockenspiel.  The last verse and the bridge have an increased urgency and furious guitars. The end part of this song is particularly captivating and beautiful to me.  It’s also where my favorite lyrics of the song come in:

You tested your mettle of doe’s skin and petals
While kissing the lipless
Who bleed all the sweetness away

The visual of kissing a lipless person is off-putting, at a minimum. What do you all think?

Shuffle Up and Deal

Foster The People — Don’t Stop (Color on the Walls)

Foster the People are just a fun band and I’m not entirely sure why we haven’t caught them live yet. I did catch an interview/live performance with them on Palladia a while back which is really cool. Check it out if you can.

I initially thought that Foster the People were a one hit wonder with Pumped up Kicks because it seemed like a novelty song. Fortunately, I heard a couple of their other songs and I got hooked. I think there can never be enough bands that make you happy and make you boogie a bit. FTP definitely hits both marks for me. They put out some good videos, too. The one for Houdini is especially good, in my not humble at all opinion.

FTP is interesting to me because Mark Foster takes a sort of scientific approach to songwriting. Prior to FTP, he wrote jingles for commercials and such so that was his entry to understanding how music resonates with its intended audience. Some other songwriters take this approach. Rivers Cuomo from Weezer still believes that there is a mathematical formula to the perfect pop song and he has dedicated himself to cataloging and analyzing the great songs throughout history. I appreciate the approach these guys take and I can’t argue with the results.

Don’t Stop is novel because it is written in the perspective of a three or four-year old kid. Some lyrics:

Sleigh ride boat ride piggy back-a ride
I’m going to show them all how I can ride
One two three close your eyes and count to four
I’m gonna (I’d like) to hide behind my bedroom door
Crayons on walls
I’ll color on them all
I’ll draw until I’ve broken every law

After reading up a bit on FTP, I have a theory about this song. Mark Foster lists Blur as one of his influences. I think that Don’t Stop is FTP’s homage to the Blur song Coffee and TV. It’s one of my favorite Blur songs (I tend to like the ones where Graham Coxon sings instead of Damon Albarn). Both songs have a simple rhythm guitar strumming as their backbones and the same tempo. Then the songs juxtapose the rhythm section with some angry guitar sounds (in Coffee and TV) and modulated synth and some angry guitar (in Don’t Stop). The structure of the songs is very similar. Dontcha think?

Shuffle up and Deal

The National — Sea of Love

I resisted liking The National for some time. Resisted them even though I admitted to myself that I liked a bunch of their songs. Eventually I got around to asking myself why I was resisting them and it came down to the stupidest of all reasons: Some people that I am not fans of or actively dislike were singing the praises of the National (and rightfully so) and I transferred my dislike to the band. Poor choice.

Sea of Love was the song that made me ask myself why I didn’t like them. I love the arrangement, the tempo, and the urgency embedded in the song. The chorus bored into my skull like a superheated drill bit:

Hey Jo sorry I hurt you, but they say love is a virtue don’t they?

Been on both sides of that equation and there is a lot of tough-to-come-by wisdom in there.

I heartily encourage you to check them out. Cool video for this song too.

Shuffle Up and Deal

Deerhunter — Nothing Ever Happened

Deerhunter is one of those that I have polarized feelings about. I either really like or dislike their songs. This is a song I really like (which stands to reason as it occupies space on my ipod/phone). I’ve seen the song described as the song to play for people who don’t think they like Deerhunter. I find that interesting because this song was not written by the creative force behind Deerhunter (and Atlas Sound), Bradlee Cox. Instead it was written by the bassist, Josh Fauver. So it differs somewhat from typical Deerhunter fare.

I tend to think of this song as a two or three different song ideas crammed together. There is a distinction between the initial portion and choruses and the remainder of the song which is really an extended jam with each instrument taking a turn. So I want to say it’s like The Beatles’ Happiness is a Warm Gun or Radiohead’s Paranoid Android. Those comparisons may be a bit forced.

Check it out. 🙂 If you like it, I’m also partial to Never Stops and Helicopter.

Shuffle Up and Deal

Boards of Canada — Aquarius

Boards of Canada are not from Canada. They’re brothers from Scotland who were inspired by Canadian public access television. They sample from those shows in some of their works.

I found out about BoC back in the early 2000’s and I love their Music has the Right to Children album. This is one of the better tracks from that LP. Not much in the way of lyrics outside of “Orange”, “Yeah, that’s right”, kids laughing and computerized sequential counting that goes random after a while. But with BoC, the lyrics are not very important. They’re masters at layering sounds and Aquarius is a great example. Check ’em out. 🙂

Shuffle up and deal

The Raveonettes — Love in a Trashcan

Hi, y’allz. Sorry for the lack of posting. We added another baby girl condiment to our condiment tray so exciting times around our house. We’ll be back with inane (mine) and useful (Mari’s) posts shortly.

So, this is the only song by the Raveonettes that I have on any of my devices. I’m thinking that’s a shame and I should do some more digging. I find Sharon Foo to be quite lovely. 🙂 Now to the music itself….. I love the interplay between the jangly guitars (I’m fairly on record with my love for the jangle) and the xylophone as well as the harmonizing between the two vocalists. Also, love the unexpectedly cool guitar solo.

This song has kind of a Velvet Underground feel (R.I.P. Lou Reed), which is a bonus for me. I have seen the video described as “an early 60’s cosmetic commercial”, which I sorta get. I can’t tell if they deliberately misstated some of the “slogans” such as “Sneak a Peak” or whether that’s due to the band and the director being Belgian.

Lyrics are short so I’m putting them all here:

If you touch that girl, you know it’s okay
People say she’s a whore anyway
I think she looks like a nice vamp
Looking for love in a trashcan

If you kiss that girl, you won’t be caught dead
She’s the coolest girl you think you ever met
I think she fits right into my life
On the road till the end of time
On the road till the end of time

Now the time is right and you feel the need
To go down low and receive a treat
The jukebox churns out songs about sex
Come on baby you’re my best fix
Come on baby you’re my best fix

Love, love in a trashcan
Love, love in a trashcan

Shuffle up and deal

Billy Bragg & Wilco — California Stars

We had this song in our wedding playlist. It’s an old Woody Guthrie song so the imagery of the vocals is great and the arrangement is beautiful. While I’m not the biggest Guthrie fan, I do love Wilco and Jeff Tweedy’s vocals hit the spot for me. Also, I would give this world just to dream a dream with my lovely wife in our bed of California stars. 🙂

Some lyrics:

I’d like to dream
My troubles all away
On a bed of California stars

Jump up from my star bed
Make another day
Underneath my California stars

They hang like grapes
On vines that shine
And warm the lovers’ glass
Like friendly wine

So I’d give this world
Just to dream a dream with you
On our bed of California stars

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