Monday, August 24, 2009

Heavy Rotation: Musics I'm Loving

Here are a few songs I'm listening to nearly constantly. With one exception (Everlast), all are either British, or part of a British collaboration. What gives? Well, I'll tell you. The Italians gave us opera, the Russians, ballet. The Germans make great cars, and the British? They make the best pop/rock music in the world, full stop. Rue Britannia!

Why is this? Well, from my experience, the British are the coolest, funniest people in the world. They've always been a class-driven society, but with the advent of rock and roll, common Britons could suddenly find themselves richer than The Royal Family. Detached from racial politics, the Brits were quicker to embrace black American music, and they've always represented the leading edge of studio experimentation. This combination has captivated the world, and firmly thrust the Brits to the pop fore, going on 50 years now.

"The Golden Path" - The Chemical Brothers featuring The Flaming Lips
What a great marriage of styles! The Chemical Brothers, with their post-psychedelic electronica, and the Flaming Lips, with their ramshackle organic psychedelica are a perfect fit on this track. The song bubbles and percolates like a video game soundtrack, which is appropriate, considering the existential "life is a game" lyrics. Interesting stuff, even after multiple listens. Not bad for a bunch of forty-somethings trying navigating the world of modern rock.

"LDN" - Lily Allen
I resisted Lily Allen for years (she was way overexposed in the British press) but a chance encounter with Wookies remix of "LDN" completely floored me. Here's "LDN" performed with only an acoustic guitar. She's a compelling performer, with Susanna Hoffs eyes, and a demure facade that she seems all too willing to dismantle. She's the face of young British pop, and she's the real deal.

"Up the Hill Backwards" - David Bowie
From the 1979 Scary Monsters LP, this song sounds as if it was released yesterday. It's creative and clever, with an unexpected arrangement of acoustic and electric guitars churning underneath multi-tracked Bowie vocals. Great stuff, from a classic album.

"Black Cherry" - Goldfrapp
I played this song once while DJ'ing at the OKC Dr. Sketchy's Anti-Art School. During a break a young art chick walked over to my booth and asked, "Who did that song you played about "Black Cherry?" I wasn't surprised. Artisticly-minded young folk can't resist this song's slow, seductive groove, and Alison Goldfrapp's vocals beautifully communicate the pain of a lost love.

"Ends" - Everlast
White-boy soft rap with a low-key groove and a self-assured delivery. This could sound laughable in someone else's hands, but Everlast pulls it off.

"Rain" - The Beatles
While this song isn't as well-known as Beatles hits, it's got a great proto-psychedelic arrangement and energetic rhythm playing. Paul McCartney's bass lines are intuitive and creative, and are prominent in the mix. Meanwhile, Ringo Starr's drums add an element of surprise to the song, sung by John Lennon at his world-weary best. The outro, beginning at 2:27, is a fantastic piece of bass and drum interaction. The Beatles managed to make the avant-garde accessible, and the accessible avant-garde. Why does anyone else even bother to form a band? The Beatles did it all 45 years ago, better than anyone can ever hope to equal. All in all, this is one of The Beatles most under-appreciated classics, and I never tire of it.

"Valerie" - Mark Ronson, featuring Amy Winehouse
Producer du jour Ronson, brother of Samantha (Lindsay Lohan's ex-girlfriend) and stepson of Foreigner's Mick Jones, has perfected a Phil Spector-redux sound. His work with Amy Winehouse is self-assured and memorable, and "Valerie" is no exception. Winehouse is a once-in-a-generation talent, a fragile creature born to make music. Her performance here is extraordinary. Listening note: check out the out-of-key horns, a Ronson trademark. It shatters the computerized perfection of modern music, reminding us that human beings make music, not machines. It's pure New Orleans jazz funeral, targeted at kids who've never heard of New Orleans jazz.

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