Known Johnson

August 7, 2005

Tag, I’m it

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tom @ 10:00 pm

Chris tagged me in one of these blog-games where you have to answer questions or whatnot, and luckily it’s nothing very potentially embarassing. The task? List 10 songs that you’re currently addicted to. I can handle that. Except I’m changing the rules for some of the entries to instead be about albums or bands that I’ve been listening to a lot, because I’m generally not a single-song listener.

In no particular order:

Alice In Chains: “Sludge Factory,” from the self-titled album. I’ve been on a renaissance of sorts with Alice In Chains, having recently re-bought after many years Dirt and then their MTV Unplugged set. As a cheap used copy of the self-titled album wings its way across the US to me, I couldn’t wait and downloaded mp3s to tide me over. While I’d been listening to the Unplugged version of “Sludge Factory,” where the entire song is handled, quite well I might mention, acoustically, I was really struck by the production of this song on the self-titled album it came from. There’s a claustrophobic hollow ring to the long guitar-string strikes that back the verses. I find it entirely fascinating, a sound which makes this paranoid drug-adled rant sound all the more disturbing. I also find humor in one of the worst lines of lyric that I can recall: “I say stay long enough to repay all who cause strife.” It just screams angsty high-school poetry, and yet the music and the vocals, especially, are so powerful that they overcome the juvenile nature of the words.

King’s X: “(Thinking and Wondering) What I’m Going To Do” from Ear Candy. Ah, those melodious vocals, that rumbling bass, the sweet soaring guitar. The intro to this song is just killer stuff, and then it breaks down into a semi-acoustic groove. Doug Pinnick is the master of some of the lowest, most soulful basslines in all of rock. On a good stereo, especially in a car, the tones of his bass bathe you in sound waves. It sounds like the earth, and warmth. I love King’s X, and this is one of those rare songs I really probably could hear over and over again and never get sick of.

Elvis Costello: “Welcome to the Working Week” from My Aim Is True. I don’t know how anyone couldn’t love this song. I’m not even a big fan of the album My Aim Is True – for whatever reason, I just don’t connect with much of this album. Maybe it’s because it starts off on such a driving, energizing note. How could the rest of the album possibly live up the 84 seconds of greatness that is “Working Week”?

Andrew Bird: “Measuring Cups,” from Andrew Bird and the Mysterious Production of Eggs. I don’t know why this song, of all the amazing material on this album, stands out in particular. It’s not the song I’d necessarily recommend to newcomers to check out, yet I find the simple chorus echoing through my head.

Bruce Dickinson: “Navigate the Seas of the Sun” from Tyranny of Souls. It’s kind of a cliche for metal musicians to do an acoustic ballad-type of song, but some are such old pros at it that it just plain works, which is the case here. It’s big and lyrically ridiculous – if the title doesn’t make it obvious, it’s got a sci-fi theme, and I honestly have no idea what it’s actually about. But that’s not important – it’s just a great song and it frequently finds itself lodged in my brain.

Girls Against Boys: “300 Looks for the Summer,” from You Can’t Fight What You Can’t See. I just recently discovered GvsB and have spent the last few months berating myself for ignoring them so long. See, a coworker at this little music/shirt shop I worked at in college used to play them all the time. I got kind of fed up with him, because he would play things over and over, not just for himself, but for friends that would frequently come in. Especially if it was a new album – for weeks he’d be putting that CD back in the CD player, stopping whatever had been playing and we’d get to hear that new disc by some band he loved . . . over and over and over again. So while he introduced me to some really interesting stuff, he also killed off any interest I’d have in the band by bludgeoning me to death with their music. Strangely, now, 10 years later, I’m suddenly starting to snatch up discs by these bands. I’ve managed to get past his inflicted burn-out on a couple other bands (Fugazi being the biggest one – and, honestly, I have to admit that Fugazi can have some really irritating elements in their music, like the grating, repetitive yelling of a word or phrase, so it’s easy to get sick of them – and yet I love them just the same) but until now, GvsB has firmly remained locked in the no-hear shelter (along with another recent re-find, Jawbox. Damn if he didn’t have some great taste in rock.) And aside from the burn out, I can’t see why I wouldn’t love this band – an unusual singer (who has a kind of lazy, yet belligerent talk-sing) backed by inventive guitars and keyboards that explore noise textures against a tight funk-based rhythm section. Really invigorating music, and those who like Fugazi are highly recommended to check them out (if you haven’t already – I’m probably the last to jump on the band wagon.)

Mike Keneally: “Dancing,” from Dancing. As a big Keneally fan, I feel a little ashamed to say that I’ve always felt a strong pull away from his 2000 release, Dancing. There’s something I’ve always felt uneasy about this album, and it wasn’t until a few days ago, when the title track was playing, that I figured it out. Dancing is a deeply personal album written by Keneally, from what I understand, during a period of turmoil in his life – divorcing his wife, figuring out how to carry on as a single person, and all that goes along with it. The album reflects this not only in the lyrics, which seem to yearn for a person the protagonist can’t seem to reach, but also in the music, which jumps from one style to another – from catchy song to difficult instrument and back again. It feels almost as if it was purposely structured so the music formed a barrier around the fragile, vulnerable person inside – multi-tiered, difficult instruments give way to heartfelt displays of confusion and anguish in the songs. That’s not to say this album doesn’t rock – it does (witness rousing opening “Live in Japan” (which has an amazingly “live” sounding guitar that sounds like it’s right in the room with you,) “Ankle Bracelet” and the multitude of brain-tickling instrumentals,) but when it’s not, it’s digging into some deep emotional baggage. And for that, I feel like maybe I’m privy to feelings and thoughts that I, as a simple listener, shouldn’t be.

Catherine Wheel: “Here Comes the Fat Controller,” from Adam & Eve. I’ve kind of ignored this song for years, and then suddenly I’ve found it rolling through my head at odd moments lately for no reason. Adam & Eve, one of my favorite albums of all time, is a great driving album – there’s a yearning quality in the music, a real “lost, desperate to find my way” type of feel, but this song’s always been a bit of a mystery to me. What the hell is a “Fat Controller”? It’s a question that occupied my brain and until the Ipod came along, allowing this song to pop up on shuffle with no warning, I would always sit and think about that question. Now I don’t care – well, that’s not true, I’d like to know – but the song sticks out now as a complex, epic dirge. It, like the rest of the album, is fantastic.

Billy Bragg and Wilco: “California Stars,” from Mermaid Avenue. As one of those lead by Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy on the collaborative album where Bragg enlisted Wilco to record some never-before-heard Woody Guthrie pieces, this is one of my favorite Wilco-related moments. It’s a simple, beautiful ballad.

Bill Frisell: “My Buffalo Girl,” from Good Dog, Happy Man. This album is never far from me. Frisell seems to have practically invented the genre that became known as “Americana.” It’s a little country, a little jazz, a little bluegrass, but it’s Frisell’s deceptively simple, lyrical fret work that really makes this stand out. He’s one of those guitarists who can say everything with a single, ringing note, the kind who make it seem so simple to do what he does. And yet no one can.


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