My Soundtrack To Paris
Last night I flew back home after spending the previous week in Paris, France. Did you miss me? Although my trip (which consisted mostly of visiting museums, eating, and wistfully sighing at all the beautiful architecture of the city) prevented me from doing very much blogging, I did get a chance to listen to a lot of music, particularly on the two bookending 9 hour flights. Now that I’m back, I thought that it would be a nice way to return from my vacation by briefly discussing some of the music that I listened to on the trip. Some of these were new, some of them I had listened to before, and others were among my favorite records. They are listed in the order in which I listened to them, thanks to last.fm.
Also, just as a head’s up, I will be doing my radio show tonight from 6 to 8 PM, so get ready for that.
The Cure - The Head On The Door (1985)
This post-punk gem marked a transition for The Cure from the depressive goth rock of their earlier records to the glittery new wave and shoegaze that characterized their later material. The opening track “In Between Days” is the one that everybody knows, and there’s a good reason for that; it was probably the first great pop song that Robert Smith ever wrote, and it remains a career highlight for the band to this day. The rest of the tracks aren’t quite as shiny or immediately appealing, but they’re still pretty interesting; “The Blood” explores religious themes over a danceable latin beat, and “Close To Me” somehow makes the combination of handclaps and panflute sound fantastic.
- Key track: “In Between Days”
OFWGKTA - The OF Tape Vol. 2 (2012)
As far as I was concerned before listening to the new Odd Future mixtape, this was the album that would make or break the group in my eyes. Now that I’ve listened to it, I’m still not really sure what side I’m on. Overall, it’s a more enjoyable listen than Tyler, The Creator’s Goblin, the last high profile release from the OFWGKTA camp, but it suffers from its understandable lack of coherence and its general tone. It seems that at times, the group has confused its own particularly unique brand of humor that defined records like Tyler’s Bastard and Earl Sweatshirt’s Earl with something much more generic. Still, the group seems very strong in their convictions. As Tyler says at the end of the lengthy highlight closer “Oldie,” “Just admit, not only are we talented, we’re rad as fuck.” It’s pretty hard to argue with that, especially with Earl Sweatshirt back in the fold.
- Key track: “Oldie”
Godspeed You! Black Emperor - Lift Yr. Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven! (2000)
I’ve been listening to a lot of Godspeed lately in an attempt to gear up for what will surely be a fascinating performance at the Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago this year. I’ve never completely understood the scope of the appeal of Skinny Fists, although I have enjoyed listening to it in the past, but playing it on the plane over the Atlantic Ocean gave me the different perspective I needed to enjoy it even more. I listened to it through my earphones while watching some shitty romantic comedy with the sound turned off on the screen in front of me, and I think it might have given me an epiphany…
- Key track: “Sleep”
Various Artists - Drive OST (2011)
Drive was one of my favorite films of last year, but I only wish that I had delved into the soundtrack more directly when I first saw it. After a deeper exploration, this soundtrack is genuinely one of the best releases of 2011. Much like the film, it’s a deeply moving, evocative work, and just as it complements the movie’s visuals, it also stands up just fine on its own. The majority of the soundtrack, scored by Cliff Martinez, is moody instrumental electronic music, soothing in its gentle ambience but steeped in dark themes and soundscapes. The real highlight comes in the first five tracks, however — experimental dancefloor tracks that sound like Bizarro versions of 80s eurodance hits.
- Key track: College - “A Real Hero (Feat. Electric Youth)”
Beach House - Bloom (2012)
Luckily for me, the new Beach House album leaked just a few days before I left, months in advance of its release date and even before an album cover had been released. It must be pretty embarrassing for the band, but it’s pretty great for me; I got to listen to this just as I was dozing off on my brief connected flight from Amsterdam to Paris. I’m not sure if it was my near catatonic state or just the record itself, but that first listen afforded me a lot more entertainment than the band’s previous release Teen Dream did. The formula is essentially the same on here as on that album, but the execution seems more sharp. Woozy synths and Alex Scally’s clean guitar lines lather themselves over punctual drum machine beats, and Victoria LeGrande’s wonderfully deep voice undercuts it all. It’s a great record to drift off to, but it could use a few more hooks.
- Key track: “Lazuli”
Venetian Snares - Rossz Csillag Alatt Született (2005)
Here’s a novel idea: What if you took a bunch of classical music composed by the likes of Stravinsky, Bartok, and Mahler, cut it up into neat samples, and recorded frenetic, aggressive drum and bass music over it? That’s what Venetian Snares did on this record, and believe it or not, there are times when it actually works. Sometimes, the contrast between the droning strings and the livid breakbeats becomes too great, but when the emotion of the classical samples matches the catharsis of the electronics, the effect is captivating. To the credit of Aaron Funk (the mastermind of Venetian Snares), he always manages to throw in the beats when the listener least expects it.
- Key track: “Hajnal”
Desaparecidos - Read Music/Speak Spanish (2002)
One of the many highlights of my Paris trip occurred a few days in, when I decided to wake up early and enjoy a morning run along the Seine river. For a running soundtrack, I decided to listen to Read Music/Speak Spanish, the one and only full length album from Conor Oberst’s short lived Desaparecidos project, a punk rock band that he fronted in 2002 before dissolving it soon thereafter. It’s hard to believe that Conor Oberst wrote and released two fantastic albums that year (the other was Bright Eyes‘ Lifted) but it’s true; this really is an excellent punk record, with the cathartic aggression of 90s emo and the distinctive lyrical pen of Oberst himself. It’s angrier than anything he’s ever done, and also more outwardly political in its lyrics. Sometimes I wish Conor would get angry instead of getting sad more often.
- Key track: “Manana”
Borsalino - Metropolitain (2011)
I picked up this CD of French swing jazz music when I saw Borsalino perform an impromptu show on the steps of the Musée d’Orsay. With a lively instrumental mix of guitar, clarinet, accordion, bass, and violin, it certainly sounds like Paris. If you enjoyed the soundtrack for Woody Allen’s Midnight In Paris last year, you’ll definitely like this. I wouldn’t be surprised if this band was actually featured on that film’s soundtrack. I couldn’t find any of the music on this particular CD on youtube, but here’s a video of the band performing live on the street in Paris that’s worth watching.
Titus Andronicus - Titus Andronicus LLC Mixtape Vol 1 (2012)
This collection of Titus Andronicus singles, demos, and various other odds and ends is a definitive “fans only” compilation. Do not listen to this as your first taste of Titus Andronicus. That said, fans of the New Jersey-based punk rock band should definitely get on this. Among other things, the ‘mixtape’ boasts early recordings of pre-The Airing Of Grievances material, demos from the The Monitor sessions, sloppy live covers of artists such as Thin Lizzy, Weezer, and The Replacements, along with the new TA single “Upon Viewing Oregon’s Landscape With The Flood of Detritus.” Download it for free here at the band’s official tumblr page.
The Unicorns - Who Will Cut Our Hair When We’re Gone? (2003)
Writing about them briefly in my piece about The Shins last week made me want to revisit The Unicorns, and so I gave a listen to their beloved 2003 LP on the plane trip back, only to remember that the album’s first song “I Don’t Wanna Die” references a plane crash. Oops. Anyway, I found the relisten very rewarding. As someone who writes and records music myself, it’s fascinating to analyze the way other independent musicians do their recording work, and Nick Thorburn certainly has a unique approach to recording. The record’s aesthetic reminds me of a psyched up Mt. Eerie, and Thorburn’s vocals even evoke those of Phil Elverum. Unlike Elverum’s work, however, this record is just a lot of fun, and can be enjoyed passively just as much as it can be deeply scrutinized.
- Key track: “Jellybones”
Ben Kweller - Sha Sha (2002)
Ben Kweller’s 2002 debut is a similarly whimsical and light-hearted affair, although it’s clear that Kweller had his heart in a place where Thorburn’s was not at the time of this record’s release. The sincerity of this record is endearing, and it makes Sha Sha’s faults a little more forgivable. I’ve heard this album compared to Weezer, and that influence certainly manifests itself in the grungy power pop aesthetic and in Kweller’s affected nerdy lyrics. The overly sentimental piano ballads (particularly the too-long “In Other Words”) are a little much, but they’re balanced out by intricate, well-arranged rockers like the highlights “Wasted and Ready” and “Harriet’s Got A Song.”
- Key track: “Wasted and Ready”
Polica - Give You The Ghost (2012)
The Minneapolis-based band Polica just released their debut album Give You The Ghost this week after generating some impressive buzz at South By Southwest. After listening to this record, I can assure you that the buzz surrounding it was justified. This is a fascinating piece of art pop, with amorphous, multi-tracked female vocals cloaked in tasteful auto-tune, dynamic synths buzzing underneath, and subtle atmospheric inflections throughout. The songs are there too — engaging and catchy new wave-style gems with strong hooks and surprisingly emotive lyrics. There’s a lot of musical influence taken from Sufjan Stevens‘ The Age Of Adz, but whereas that record focused on mind expansion and otherworldly themes, Give You The Ghost is very grounded and relatable. It was a nice end to a very musical trip!
- Key track: “Dark Star”
Video: Radiohead - “Bloom” (Live From The Basement version)
Stereogum just posted the full set of videos from Radiohead’s recently-broadcasted From The Basement session. Watch the video of the band performing The King Of Limbs’ opener “Bloom” live above, and click HERE to watch the rest.