After a mention two columns ago of the neglected—at least in my case—practice of devising mix tapes, I’ve felt a slight nag, especially in the mornings, when I put on music and wait for the French press to finish pressing. There in the queasy, post-dawn ennui, it might be nice, I think, to hear that one Shins song I was humming yesterday afternoon, but Jesus, that would mean getting up and walking all the way over to that side of the room.
I recall this impulse-energy deficit again when I am jogging/walking in Riverside Park, holding a plain old CD player instead of an iPod. I’m sick of iPods because I’m jealous and because I own no technology for either MP3 conversion or CD burning since I continue to write on an old Toshiba factory-model laptop from 1997 with three working programs. (One of them is solitaire.) My stereo, somewhat quaintly, features a tape recorder in case I want to make an actual tape, but please. What am I, twelve? I’m waiting for Maisonneuve to buy me an iPod. I don’t think it will happen. Besides, I’d need a new computer to go with it as well as instructions on how the two relate to each other.
I’ve been thinking that the concept of the homemade mix was perhaps born of our generation’s famed attention deficits—the practice contradicts an older generation’s faith in the phenomenon of album-oriented rock (AOR). AOR grew out of a late sixties–early seventies love affair with the full-length record, the album-as-happening, a serious investment of time and attention that involved a big piece of stereo furniture, padded headphones, album artwork, lyrics up and down the sleeve, photos from the road, gatefolds and mail-in postcards requesting membership in the (a) Kiss Army, (b) Cliff Richard Fan Club or (c) sweepstakes giveaway of a Billy Idol seven-inch “Eyes Without A Face” single recorded on neon blue-tinted vinyl (B-side “Catch My Fall”), signed by Billy, with free lapel button. Now that CDs themselves are recordable, now that we have a bit more disposable cash than we did when we were twelve, now that everyone in the city but me seems to own a slim and attractive little iPod, mixes are back. They employ lists, too, which most grown men love to make. (I don’t know about women—not in that regard.)
Regardless, here in the list-making spirit is the Score’s most current fall rotation: modest suggestions toward an autumnal mix, bits of what has played in my front room to a full conclusion while waiting for the French press, each piece of music sugared—for me—with that layered, fleeting sense of bright scarves and college football and the taste of spiked cider and the smell of a leaf’s underside. Naturally, I invite any and all Maisonneuve readers to weigh in with a list of their own devising.
(Also, if you would like to further suggest that Mr. Derek Webster, editor-in-chief of Maisonneuve Magazine, secure a certain contributing editor somewhere in the neighborhood of $2,000 for the latest in music-consumer technology, I would not object.)
Singles and full-length records, in no particular order:
1. Iron and Wine, Our Endless Numbered Days. Sam Beam is a one-man band of such Gothic austerity—he fingerpicks an acoustic, he writes as if he’s the last surviving member of a farm clan that has never known an answered prayer, he breathes his vocals as if recording under the covers—it’s no wonder that everyone who loved I&W’s previous album (The Creek Drank the Cradle) spoke of its power with a hushed anxiety, fearful the unwashed might hear of it and, like tourists at the Louvre, pollute its sacred loveliness with their grubby philistine fingers. He sings of God (see #8) with the authority of a skeptic and writes of connubial love without blinking an eye—two things that are hard to do. Comparisons to both Nick Drake and Flannery O’Connor are not uncommon.
2. The Arcade Fire, Funeral. An appreciative salute to Montreal’s newest, a bracing (bracing like cinnamon or bourbon) mix of multi-instrumentalists who have made quite possibly the strangest and least expected “rock” album of the year. Descriptions of the sound—symphonic schizo-pop? Talking Heads at the millennium concert?—do nothing to further word of mouth, so I’ll say the following: find the Arcade Fire, see the Arcade Fire and then tell someone about it.
3. Rufus Wainwright, “Beautiful Child,” from Want One. If you thought Rufus, dear old ballad-loving Rufus, could get no bigger or brassier, friend, have I got a song for you. As improbable as it is gorgeous, this dervish dance in 3/4 time makes the whole world expand to its proper epic size (for a few moments, anyway; well, for at least the length of the song). Play at high volume. Sing in shower. Repeat.
4. Black Star (Mos Def and Talib Kweli), Black Star. It’s six years old and it hasn’t aged a day. Spanglish, grime, subways, the smell of rotten bananas: a kingdom of youth. City living is living for the city.
5. Handsome Boy Modeling School, So … How’s Your Girl? Because there are some who feel this is the most perfect producer-centred hip hop record ever made, and because the guest appearances are like the cast of a Spike Lee film you wish he’d get around to making, and because rock and roll will never, ever hip hop like this.
6. Keith Jarrett, La Scala. Keith Jarrett Trio, The Out-of-Towners. There’s always been something autumnal about Jarrett’s famed solo concerts, as if they had been recorded on a cold night, in secret, on the other side of the International Date Line, before an audience of contest winners. Each solo is a set of improvised melodies and countermelodies infused with unbearable—unbearable because they unfold in real time, unbearable because ephemeral—elegance. This last, recorded live at Milan’s Teatro alla Scala, stuns once and then deepens its imprint with each listen. The encore of “Over The Rainbow” has turned me into a sensitive six-year-old plenty of times, even when I sit and practice not being that. As a companion disc, Jarrett’s most recent captured performance with his long-time trio (bassist Gary Peacock, drummer Jack DeJohnette) is among his sharpest, a fierce brotherly embrace of Gerry Mulligan and Cole Porter on a bare stage somewhere in Munich. Jarrett’s work never fails to align the senses, or create that slightest bit of breathing room in which you simultaneously notice the moment and bid it farewell—call it Zen romanticism, whatever: it’s clear and beautiful to an uncomfortable degree. Vive le Keith.
7. Sonic Youth, “Unmade Bed,” from Sonic Nurse. A fan of SY described their last album as background music. I don’t think it was a compliment. I don’t think this person knew what she was talking about, either.
8. Sufjan Stevens, Seven Swans. Stevens writes acoustic ditties about Jesus of Nazareth from the perspective, I think, of Mary Magdalene, easily the earthiest and most interesting—in a life-experience sort of way—of those who hung out with the Son of God. Stevens sings of faith and uses a banjo to underscore his convictions, and this somehow works. He has also written the funniest, most touching love song ever to take the test of Christian charity as its subject (though not how you might think): “I can see a lot of life in you …, I can see a lot of light in you,” he sings like a hip young priest administering a cheerful pick-me-up. Then, in a softer voice, the punch: “And I think that dress looks nice on you.”
9. Television, Marquee Moon. If by chance this autumn you’re drinking in a pub on a Friday afternoon (or evening) and the pub has a jukebox, and the jukebox happens to include this 1977 jewel of an album, and if by chance someone attractive stands up from a corner table, leaving a Harp lager unattended to put on “Venus,” and then stands by the jukebox, hips swaying, half-dancing, please get up and dance with that someone.
10. Explosions in the Sky, “With Tired Eyes, Tired Minds, Tired Souls, We Slept,” from Those Who Tell the Truth Shall Die, Those Who Tell the Truth Shall Live Forever. As featured prominently in the new film Friday Night Lights, a film about youth and terror and heartbreak and misplaced obsession in rural America—as well as a glimpse for non-Americans into why George W. Bush is in an otherwise inexplicable dead heat with someone who seems, in fact, competent enough to run the country—this instrumental sounds more than a bit like Sigur Rós with massive swinging balls. A phenomenal band, destined for greatness.
11. That goddamned Frou Frou song, “Let Go,” from Garden State.
12. Finally, because I would feel bad if I didn’t mention it, the Cars’ “Drive,” from Heartbeat City. The Cars are due for a revival. Their penultimate album must have come out in the fall of 1984, around the time I stopped putting vinyl records on my brother Tom’s turntable when he was smoking with his stoner friends and instead put a white cassette tape in this new contraption called a Walkman and went for a long walk, down by the rail tracks, replaying side one as often as I seemed to need. Never in my entire conscious life have I gotten sick of hearing this song. Not once.
Paul Winner unfurls the Score every second Monday.