Saturday, February 04, 2006

If you have not heard these songs... (Part I of II)

...listen to them right now. I'm not saying that these are the best songs ever or anything, merely that I like them.

(Warning: long post)

1) The Everglow by Mae

Not the song “The Everglow” (though it is very good). I mean the entire CD. Yes, this is cheating just a bit, but listening to just one of the songs from The Everglow is like reading one chapter from Huck Finn by itself. The songs in this CD go together, and you really need to listen to them all. At this point you’re probably thinking “A concept album? What kind of pretentious crap is that?” A concept album, yes, but only in the very loosest sense. And not pretentious in the least, but everything that music should be. The Everglow is emotional without losing sincerity; it gives a message that has been told before but in an entirely new light. The most remarkable thing about Mae’s music is that the vocals actually integrate themselves into the music; it’s as if the singing is another instrument. This music has the tendency to be classified as “emo” or “indie” but I think it transcends genres into just “music.” “We’re So Far Away” is one of the most poetically beautiful songs I’ve ever heard; “The Ocean” is emotional, sincere, and moving, and “Suspension” is near-perfect musically and gives the best sense of Mae’s music in a single song, if you’re only going to listen to a single song. But don’t, because that would be doing injustice to what I truly believe to be one of the greatest albums ever.

2) “IV: Allegro Con Fuoco” from Symphony No. 9: From the New World by Antonin Dvorak

People who are not fans of classical music especially need to listen to this piece. Too many people are content to listen to what’s contemporary and think “So what? What’s the big deal about classical music anyway?” The fourth movement from From the New World gives the listener a very good idea of what the big deal about classical music is. Technically, Dvorak’s music is from the Romantic/Nationalist era, which comes later than the “classical” period of classical music, but that’s not particularly relevant. Suffice it to say that Dvorak is one of the greatest masters ever to compose for the orchestra, using each instrument to its fullest potential. One caveat here: Dvorak is particularly adept at interweaving themes throughout movements, so listening to the finale to Dvorak’s Ninth by itself will cause you to miss out on a few of those masterful strokes. But in a single movement, Dvorak gives very powerful meaning to the symphonic composition. If you’ve heard the cliché that something is “like a symphony” and did not know what it meant, Dvorak’s From the New World can give you a very good idea.

3) “Penny Lane” by the Beatles

There are people who give the Beatles credit for revolutionizing music, for reinventing the American (maybe the world) music scene, for writing some of the very best popular music of the 20th century. I tend to agree with that estimation. So there was no question in my mind that a Beatles song was going on this list; the question was merely “which one?”. While Revolver was probably the greatest rock band ever’s greatest album, Magical Mystery Tour (besides being steeped in drug allusion) was the one that really made people sit up and think “There is something out there besides Frank Sinatra and Elvis.” And “Penny Lane” is an integral part of that. Some people like the Beatles because of their originality, some for their simple yet image-rich themes, some for their musical imagination, like incorporating orchestral instruments. Penny Lane” is quintessential Beatles: musical ingenuity and depiction of a British suburban lifestyle flawlessly integrate, and a piccolo trumpet solo and rich vocal imagery complete the artistry.

4) Overture from Music for the Royal Fireworks by George Frideric Handel

As a whole, my favorite genre of music is baroque. That’s a subcategory of the choking morass known as “classical,” in much the same way something might be rock, but also “alternative” or “metal.” (On a side note, if anyone can tell me what “alternative” means, specifically what it is an alternative to, I’ll pay you five bucks.) Basically, ask someone with a respectable amount of knowledge about baroque to name a baroque composer, and you’ll get Vivaldi, Handel, or Bach. Ask someone with a great deal of musical knowledge the same question, and you’ll get Telemann, Albioni, or worse, just so he or she can prove that great deal of musical knowledge. Vivaldi, Handel, and Bach are all very good (see also Brandenburg Concertos by Bach and The Four Seasons by Vivaldi), but I think Handel’s music is more interesting than Bach’s and more varied than Vivaldi’s. And Handel is best known for The Messiah, but I think he deserves as much credit for Music for the Royal Fireworks. The Overture, specifically, is artistic and embellished, majestic and dignified, structured but not predictable, and tonal but not uniform: it is baroque in a nutshell.

5) “Bohemian Like You” by the Dandy Warhols

Given my love of satire, it’s entirely appropriate that a satiric song should make its way onto the list. “Bohemian Like You,” like the rest of Thirteen Tales from Urban Bohemia, is experimental and much more complex than it first appears. The lyrics in this song are musical genius, completely skewering an “idealistic” lifestyle that desperately needed a bit of skewering. From vegetarianism to the “starving artist” mentality, nothing is safe from the Dandy Warhols’ barbed wit. You’ll laugh probably harder than you’ve ever laughed at a rock song and appreciate the musical talent that this band clearly possesses while you’re listening to this song, and you’ll be unconsciously humming the song’s upbeat and carefree (dare I say… Bohemian?) chorus once it’s finished.

More to come later.


Anonymous said...

The Dandy Worhols! I'm very surprised you found them listenable. It's about time someone sensisble started reviewing songs; it's very enjoyable reading.


Anonymous said...

You should try Spoon sometime; I think you'd like them.