Saturday, December 31, 2005

Ben's Top 10 Favorite "Really, Really Long" Songs

I recently realized that a lot of my favorite songs are really over ten minutes long. Therefore, I thought it would be fun to compile a list of my top ten favorite songs that are ten minutes long or longer. The only other stipulation was that they could not be live versions of songs; because a lot of bands turn 5 minute songs into long jams on stage. So, the songs had to be studio recordings that are officially 10 minutes long or longer.

10) Animal Collective - "Alvin Row" from Spirit They're Gone, Spirit They've Vanished (12:39)

The final song off the Animal Collective's first album is one of their crowning acheivements. Over the course of 12 and a half minutes, this song contorts itself through at least 3 different parts, and, eventually blooms into a beautifully formed climax. Paradoxically, the song begins on a rather abrasive, dissonant note and ends as one of their most uplifting and harmonious songs (the last 4-5 minutes are reminiscent of the Arcade Fire's "Tunnels").

9) Sleater-Kinney - "Let's Call It Love" from The Woods (11:01)

Equal parts My Bloody Valentine's "Only Shallow" and Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love", this song begins like a boxer rearing to fight. Hell, you can even hear the sound of a bell being rung at the beginning of each verse - as if to siginify the next round. Listening to Corin and Carrie gasp and howl over the ragged crunch of their interlocking guitars is like being blown through a wind tunnel. After 11 minutes, you're left bloody and sweating, wondering where the fuck that came from. Yes, this is the same band that wrote "Little Babies."

8) Sigur Ros - "Viðrar vel til loftárása" from Ágætis Byrjun (10:17)

Since all of Sigur Ros' songs are very long, it was kinda hard to pick just one, but, this is my favorite song of theirs. From day one, Sigur Ros' music has struck me as being both "classical" and "rock" - and that is one of reasons this song has carved a place in my heart. It feels absolutely epic and timeless. The song fades in with a sublime piano line that Beethoven would have used. The song builds up and around the elegiac piano melody until it bursts into a tidal wave of jubilation. All respect to Brian Wilson, but, this truly is a symphony to God.

7) Kraftwerk - "Autobahn" from Autobahn (22:43)

In my opinion, Autobahn is Kraftwerk's single finest moment. Even at almost 23 minutes, it never feels too long, and, perfectly simulates the feeling of speeding down an infinite pastoral highway. With it's warm, evolving melody and vocal harmonies, Autobahn almost approximates the Beach Boys being played by robots. The propulsive motorik rhythm of this song also makes it the perfect soundtrack for commuting on the "L".

6) Led Zeppelin - "In My Time of Dying" from Physical Graffiti (11:05)

This is one of my favorite songs off my favorite Zeppelin album. This song finds Zeppelin returning from the Delta with greasy slide-guitar blues. This is a shining example of the grandeur of Robert Plant's banshee wail and Jimmy Page's ripcord slide work. Honestly, you have to hear these breakneck slide-guitar solos to believe them - all the ink spilt praising Jimmy Page is well spent. Is it just me, or does anyone else find themselves dancing like Ian Curtis while listening to Zeppelin?

5) David Bowie - "Station To Station" from Station To Station (10:14)

To my knowledge, this is Bowie's longest song and one of his best. A sweeping epic informed by Kraftwerk's "Autobahn" and performed with gospel fervor. Heralding in the "return of the thin white duke," the song is divided into 3 distinct parts - eventually culminating in a headrush of a finale. The driving rhythm maintained throughout the song is frequently punctuated by Carlos Alomar's superbly gnarled guitarwork. Those who think Bowie didn't begin his exploration into electronic and avant-garde music until Low need to start here.

4) Bob Dylan - "Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands" from Blonde On Blonde (11:20)

This is one of Dylan's most heartfelt love songs - written for his first wife Sara. More than any other song on Blonde On Blonde, this song best exemplifies the "wild, thin mercury sound" that Dylan was trying to create for this album. The words and music are just that - fluid and mercurial - rolling into the triumphant chorus again and again. The band (it literally was The Band) provided a dense, careening sound for Dylan and those aqueous organ riffs just sound like autumn. The best compliment I've ever heard about this song was that "it will burn into the retina of your ear forever."

3) Television - "Marquee Moon" from Marquee Moon (10:47)

This song is Television's apex and a song permanently lodged in rock's Valhalla. You want a guitar god? This band had TWO. Hearing Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd lock horns will make you rethink your stance on "jamming." Very few bands have been able to capture the grace and majesty of Television's guitar interplay. During the song's long instrumental middle section, you don't hear chords. You hear whirlwinds whipping, worlds colliding, raindrops falling, and bluebirds singing.

2) Bob Dylan - "Desolation Row" from Highway 61 Revisited (11:20)

This song is like a living, breathing world all on its own. It is also ardent proof that Dylan was a master storyteller and songwriter in a league all by himself. The circuitous melody running through this song will stay in your head the rest of your life. Dylan sings and strums righteously as Mike Bloomfield accompanies him with a spellbinding flamenco guitar figure. If you want to hear a song that will change your life, spend a night on desolation row.

1) Velvet Underground - "Sister Ray" from White Light/White Heat (17:27)

Listening to this song from begining to end will take a physical toll on you. It is a hypnotic black hole that will suck you deep into its world. The Velvet Underground basically decided to play this song until their recording tape ran out - hence the 17 minute length. Those 17 minutes become a literal war between the feuding band founders, Lou Reed and John Cale, as they claw and struggle to be heard over everyone else. Lou strangles feedback-laced riffs and hooks from his Gretsch guitar and John continually pumps the pedal to raise the volume on his electric organ - creating a cacophony of glorious white noise. Christ, if wild band improv and noise could ever be beautiful, it was here on this song.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Album of the Week (12.25.05)

Artist: Belle & Sebastian
Album: If You're Feeling Sinister (Live)

I'm not that big of a Belle & Sebastian fan, but I love love love If You're Feeling Sinister. The band recently played the album in its entirety at the Barbican in London in September. It's now available exclusively as an iTunes download.

Given the budget, time, and resources that they now have access to, the original album might have been recorded differently in 1996. And I think I may have taken to preferring the live album to the studio version. It sounds more engaging, uplifting, and Stuart Murdoch's voice has much more range. The songs now seem to be more urgent and playful. There also seems to be more (and more interesting) instrumentation throughout. If ever an album was underproduced, it was the original recording of this one.

If it weren't for hand claps, applause, and some cheers, it wouldn't be necessarily obvious that this was a live recording. It sounds great. My only problem is that there are slight breaks between the songs and that it doesn't appear seamless. Sure, what we're missing is mostly just applause, some tuning, and maybe some banter, but those things all add to a live experience.

Personal favorite: "If You're Feeling Sinister"

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Addendum to "Misc. Monday Song (12.26.05)"

Artist: Talking Heads
Song: (Nothing But) Flowers
Album: Naked

Briefly: While I don't especially like to ride on Rob's coattails, I am equally enraptured with the Talking Heads right now. I'm not saying they're my favorite band, but, my love for their music has been growing over the years and it is at an all time high right now. I recently heard "Road To Nowhere" and "(Nothing But) Flowers" for the first time in my life (yeah, I know my cred is slipping through the cracks right now). Since Rob has already got "Road To Nowhere" covered, I wanted to praise "(Nothing But) Flowers."

Why?: "(Nothing But) Flowers" sounds very much like a brilliant outtake from Paul Simon's Graceland while still retaining a uniquely Talking Heads vibe. Lyrically, it is the utopian flipside to Modest Mouse's dystopian "Teeth Like God's Shoeshine." I make this point mainly because Isaac Brock has gone on record as being a devout Talking Heads fan ("Tiny Cities Made of Ashes" anyone?) and because Isaac Brock's songs are frequently preoccupied with fear and anxiety over the ongoing commodification of America, urban sprawl, etc. Converse to Brock's bleak outlook, Davd Byrne's "(Nothing But) Flowers" imagines an Eden where strip malls and restaurant chains are replaced by flowers, streams, and cornfields. It also helps that Byrne's lyrics are bouncing alongside one of his most immortal melodies.

Here we stand
Like an Adam and an Eve
The Garden of Eden
Two fools in love
So beautiful and strong
The birds in the trees
Are smiling upon them
From the age of the dinosaurs
Cars have run on gasoline
Where, where have they gone?
Now, it's nothing but flowers
There was a factory
Now there are mountains and rivers
you got it, you got it
We caught a rattlesnake
Now we got something for dinner
we got it, we got it
There was a shopping mall
Now it's all covered with flowers
you've got it, you've got it
If this is paradise
I wish I had a lawnmower
you've got it, you've got it
Years ago
I was an angry young man
I'd pretend
That I was a billboard
Standing tall
By the side of the road
I fell in love
With a beautiful highway
This used to be real estate
Now it's only fields and trees
Where, where is the town
Now, it's nothing but flowers
The highways and cars
Were sacrificed for agriculture
I thought that we'd start over
But I guess I was wrong
Once there were parking lots
Now it's a peaceful oasis
you got it, you got it
This was a Pizza Hut
Now it's all covered with daisies
you got it, you got it
I miss the honky tonks,
Dairy Queens, and 7-Elevens
you got it, you got it
And as things fell apart
Nobody paid much attention
you got it, you got it
I dream of cherry pies,
Candy bars, and chocolate chip cookies
you got it, you got it
We used to microwave
Now we just eat nuts and berries
you got it, you got it
This was a discount store,
Now it's turned into a cornfield
you got it, you got it
Don't leave me stranded here
I can't get used to this lifestyle

Frequent Listening

On January 1, I am going to reset my iTunes song count so that in 2006 I can accurately measure how many times I've listened to a song. I probably listen to 90% of my music on my computer. The rest being records, in the car, and on my iPod. But the bulk of it is on my computer, and I don't listen to CDs on a stereo. However, thanks to AirTunes I can listen to my songs through my stereo speakers (which are new 7.1 surround sound speakers, thanks mom and dad!).

I think this'll be interesting because I'm curious what I'll listen to a lot in early 2006 and forget by the end of the year, or stuff I'll play steadily throughout the year. Obviously there are flaws, in that iTunes only counts a song you've listened to 100%, which is my may be more useful, because it counts songs that you've listened to roughly 50% of. But that's not fully accurate either. An interesting trend I noticed throughout my top 100 most played songs was that a majority of them were drawn from the first two or three songs on an album. I guess means I start listening to albums and then stop. My goal for 2006 is to listen to things more thorougly and completely. So we'll see what happens.

Currently, my iTunes only has a record of songs I listened to since the middle of June, when I had to reinstall the program. So, here's what I listened to the most in the second half of 2005. I think it's fairly accurate in relating to my top ten albums, as well as older stuff I got really into, etc.

1. Animal Collective - "Did You See The Words?
2. Joy Division - "Disorder"
3. New Order - "Age of Consent"
4. Animal Collective - "Grass"
5. Sufjan Stevens - "Concerning the UFO Sighting Near Highland, IL"
6. Wolf Parade - "Dear Sons and Daughters of Hungry Ghosts"
7. T.Rex - "Mambo Sun"
8. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah - "The Skin of My Yellow Country Teeth"
9. Kanye West - "Heard 'Em Say"
10. Sufjan Stevens - "Come On! Feel the Illinoise!"

Monday, December 26, 2005

Misc. Monday Song (12.26.05)

Artist: Talking Heads
Song: Road to Nowhere (4:20)
Album: Little Creatures

Download here.

Briefly: While I don't especially like to make such sweeping statements, the Talking Heads may very well be my favorite band. I couldn't comprehend anyone listening to them and not having enjoying themself. Very simply, the Talking Heads just make me happy. And the great thing about this band, for me, is that at any time I'm listening to them, any song can jump out at me as incredible. This happened recently with "Road to Nowhere".

Why?: Little Creatures followed up the landmark live album Stop Making Sense. Its sound is more comparable to their first couple of albums than Speaking In Tongues and Remain In Light. While I still enjoy the two albums that followed this one, True Stories and Naked, this may have been the last great one. Certainly more poppy than the frantic rhythms of previous few albums, Little Creatures is also more simple, stripped down to mostly the four members of the band. "Road to Nowhere" is the most epic song on the album, and it opens with an a capella verse that sounds much bigger than it actually is. And then the song just rolls forward, propelled by the marching drums. This song certainly sounds more like their previous work than anything else on the album, but it also sounds just right where it is at the end of the album.

Further listening:
Little Creatures by Talking Heads
Stop Making Sense by Talking Heads


Well we know where we’re goin’
But we don’t know where we’ve been
And we know what we’re knowin’
But we can’t say what we’ve seen
And we’re not little children
And we know what we want
And the future is certain
Give us time to work it out

We’re on a road to nowhere
Come on inside
Takin’ that ride to nowhere
We’ll take that ride

I’m feelin’ okay this mornin’
And you know
We’re on the road to paradise
Here we go, here we go

We’re on a ride to nowhere
Come on inside
Takin’ that ride to nowhere
We’ll take that ride

Maybe you wonder where you are
I don’t care
Here is where time is on our side
Take you there, take you there

We’re on a road to nowhere
We’re on a road to nowhere
We’re on a road to nowhere

There’s a city in my mind
Come along and take that ride
And it’s all right, baby, it’s all right

And it’s very far away
But it’s growing day by day
And it’s all right, baby, it’s all right

They can tell you what to do
But they’ll make a fool of you
And it’s all right, baby, it’s all right

We’re on a road to nowhere...