Friday, July 04, 2008

Anatomy of a Mix Tape: Part IV

Continued from part III.

Track 16: "King of Carrot Flowers, Pt. One" by Neutral Milk Hotel, track 1 from In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, February 1998

The last track on the CD I came to directly though Nick, "King of Carrot Flowers Part I" is the beginning to Neutral Milk Hotel's maybe-masterpiece. I say "maybe" because it's some of the densest, most obtuse music you'll ever listen to. The quote I like the best about this album is "In the Aeroplane Over the Sea is undoubtedly a major statement, but just what it's saying is anyone's guess." Even today, I still don't know what I think about this album. I'll listen to it, not know whether I'm sincerely enjoying it, or merely making fun of it. So I'll listen to it again to try and figure that out. I might listen again immediately, or wait a few days or weeks or months, but the outcome is always the same: I still don't know what I thought of it. And if someone chances to mention Neutral Milk Hotel, I can't help but grinning and proclaiming "yeah! I love Neutral Milk Hotel!" But whether I love them, or love knowing who they are, is, well... anyone's guess.

The fact remains that, no matter how tongue-in-cheek the admiration for this band may be, hearing (or hearing about) a track on In the Aeroplane Over the Sea always makes me smile. Andrew has a hypothesis that the entire album is about incest; I don't know about incest necessarily, but the sexual innuendos are rife throughout. And no track gives more smiles or innuendos than "King of Carrot Flowers, Pt. One". In case you're wondering, there is in fact a Pt. 2, and a Pt. 3, and for whatever reason, they're the same track. If that's not obtuse, I don't know what is.

Honorable mentions: open to pretty much anything here. This was pretty much a last-minute addition to fill a few minutes.

Track 17: "My Name is Jonas" by Weezer, track 1 from the Blue Album, May 1994.

My recent review of Weezer's Red Album was so thorough and comprehensive as to cover pretty much all of my sentiments toward and history with the band. So I'll keep this one short. The Blue Album just slightly edges out Green for "best Weezer album in my book", but that's probably out of a nod to its historical significance rather than it necessarily being better music.

And what better song than "My Name is Jonas" to represent the album, and the band as a whole? It has insistent guitar riffs and a singably simple structure that assures it'll remain a concert staple and fan favorite as long as the band continues to play. And that's not even to mention impromptu concerts in the form of Weezer Sing-Alongs that are undoubtedly going on in someone's car even as you read this.

Honorable mentions: "No One Else" and "In the Garage" from the Blue Album, "Photograph" from the Green Album, "Keep Fishin'" from Maladroit

Track 18: "Strawberry Swing" by Coldplay, track 9 from Viva la Vida, June 2008

I've also delved into Coldplay, and specifically Viva la Vida recently. It's tough to recall how I first came to Coldplay, but the first friend I can remember who actually vouched for their goodness was a guy named Chris. Chris and I were pretty good friends in late elementary and early middle school, eventually going our separate ways when we went to different high schools. But in that turn-of-the-century time, he was a pretty effective in his avocation of Parachutes and his anticipation of A Rush of Blood to the Head. Now that the band's taken on a different--and in my opinion much better--sound, I wonder if he still listens?

"Strawberry Swing" is one of the band's most relaxing, though managing not to be boring, songs they've ever written. "Strawberry" evokes a certain flavor right away, that sweet pinkish-red inexorably associated with relaxing during the summer. Plus, the song features an intriguing pentatonic countermelody that doesn't necessarily add anything to the song's meaning, but at least makes it really pleasant to listen to.

Honorable mentions: "Talk" from X&Y, "Cemeteries of London" and "Violet Hill" from Viva la Vida

Track 19: "Hands Open" by Snow Patrol, track 2 from Eyes Open, May 2006

Personal history with Snow Patrol dates back to an indeterminate time in high school, more likely than not senior year. And it was in one of my friend's cars, but exactly whose I can't honestly recall. The band is nominally indie, though certainly not in the Decemberists-Shins mode of the genre. I'd put them a lot closer to the "alternative" of Coldplay and Keane and the Fray. That is, the sort of music that can either be immensely entertaining, but has to face the constant danger of falling into lullaby-falsetto mode.

Fortunately, Snow Patrol avoids that trap more often than not. As has become sort of a trend in the Mix CD, "Hands Open" is by far the hardest, most energetic track off a CD that's not exactly known for its hard rock. The song contains a few surprisingly insightful aphorisms, like "it's hard to argue when/ you won't stop making sense." And it of course features what's possibly the most wonderful allusion to an indie song ever: "Put Sufjan Stevens on, and we'll sing your favorite song./ 'Chicago' bursts to life, and your sweet smile remembers you." If "Chicago" is Snow Patrol's favorite song, or Snow Patrol's girlfriend's favorite song, that's good enough for me.

Honorable mentions: Relationally, something from Dizzy Up the Girl by the Goo Goo Dolls, perhaps "Broadway". Granted, that's a stretch, but you can make it work.

Track 20: "Penny Lane" by the Beatles, track 3 from side 2 of Magical Mystery Tour, November 1967

Of course, "roll up" in the title track has nothing at all to do with marijuana. It's a tour bus. Honestly. If Revolver is recognized as the Beatles' most triumphant album stylistically and technically, then Magical Mystery Tour is the most salient example of their psychedelic influences. The Beatles on a whole need no introduction, except for me to reaffirm the mantra that anything good we seen in popular music today is in some way, directly or obliquely, thanks to the Beatles.

This is a startlingly impressive album. "I Am the Walrus", "Strawberry Fields Forever", "The Fool on the Hill", and of course "Penny Lane", plus several more very strong tracks, all in one release? Only the Beatles could pull that off. "Penny Lane itself" has anything you could want. Personal, expressive lyrics that don't necessarily need to be about anything or proving a point. A piccolo trumpet solo, which was an incredibly innovative touch for the time. Imagery to rich as to make us believe we're actually in an English suburb, and sound effects to help us get there too. A work of brilliance by the greatest band of the 20th century to close off the CD.

Honorable mentions: "Yellow Submarine" from Revolver, "Strawberry Fields Forever" from Magical Mystery Tour, "Let it Be" from Let it Be

Tomorrow, we take a look back at these twenty songs and see what interesting patterns emerge.

Currently listening: "In the Chess Court", soundtrack to Hero

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