Thursday, April 20, 2006

The Canon #6

Built To Spill - "Velvet Waltz"

When I was young enough to believe that a band could save my life, Built To Spill saved my life. What did they save me from exactly? Not hyperbole. They simply gave me much-needed solace in the form of sublime guitar symphonies. Built To Spill's music is simultaneously epic and intimate. Their songs have always taken lofty themes like dreams, eternity, space, the loss of innocence, and the ugly side of human nature, and dealt with them on a very personal level.

"Velvet Waltz" is Built To Spill at the peak of their abilities. Set to a 3/4 waltz beat (duh), the song's lucid melody chimes in as Doug Martsch laments: "If there's a word for you/it doesn't" mean anything/I've got some words for you/They don't offer anything." As the verse progresses, the pace quickens and a cello and moog synthesizer materialize inside the dense swirl of guitar - creating a thick fever dream of song. Around the 5 minute mark, the lyrics come to an abrupt end as Doug proclaims: "but how could you have known/the temperature, the distance to the sun." Almost immediately, Doug and Bret Netson's guitars start erupting into astral flares - searing peels of melodic feedback bleeding everywhere. The rhythm section holds everything together at that steady waltz time as Doug and Bret continue to create the aural equivalent of staring at the sun.

Listening to this on my headphones or in my car over and over again probably never had any effect on my lifespan, but, at the very least, it put some beauty and wonder into my life.

Video for Wolf Parade's "Modern World"

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Heavy Rotation

Here is a short list of songs that I can't seem to get enough of lately (in no particular order):

Liars - "The Other Side of Mt. Heart Attack": When I first heard this song, I was completely blind-sided. I found the whole of Drum's Not Dead to be an engaging, innovative, and strangely hypnotic album, but, this song went straight for my heartstrings. It is a gorgeous, droning lullaby in the vein of Jeff Buckley's cover of "Hallelujah" with lyrics that leave no room for misinterpretation. In his most tender falsetto, Angus Andrew repeatedly promises "If you need me/I can always be found/If you want me to stay/I will stay by your side/And I want you to find me - so I'll stay by your side." Given the fact that his ex-girlfriend Karen O wrote the song "Maps" for him, it is very reasonable to suspect that Angus wrote this song as a loving response.

Built to Spill - "Liar" and "Saturday": I wanted to list both these songs because they seem to compliment each other so well on You In Reverse. Like some of the best Smiths songs, their jangly melodies belie their depth and complexity. It takes about 5 listens for the surface simplicity to wear away and reveal the intricate guitarwork and radiant melodies streaming from each song. It's not just the guitar-playing that is superb. Doug's vocals also supply many subtle treats: the way he gently intones "Look out, the world's destroyin' ya/Relax, it isn't fair" in "Liar," and the way his voice lilts when he sings "you waited for my birthday" in "Saturday."

Sunset Rubdown - "Stadiums and Shrines II": This song's spiralling, ascending guitar lines and triumphant melody remind me of the way Johnny Greenwood used to play. Spencer Krug counter-balances those guitars with his trademark technicolor keyboards and assertively pleads his cryptic case. About two-third's of the way through, the band pulls back and slows the tempo while Spencer mutters "I'm sorry that anybody dies at all these days," and, then, the guitar and keyboards interlock and return to the forefront - taking the song to a dizzying headrush of a finale.

Tom Verlaine - "The Day On You": Tom Verlaine must be the most nimble guitarist out there. With his dazzling, silver spitcurls of guitar, he wrings every last ounce of potential from the six-string. This standout track from Songs and Other Things rumbles along for six glorious minutes and provides ample proof that Tom has lost none of his formidable gifts. Even his voice still sounds young and lean.

Danielson - "Sitting Ducks": Danielson has been around for some time, but, his new album, Ships, is head and shoulders above his past work. He also co-founded the Asthmatic Kitty label with his buddy Sufjan Stevens - so there are musical similarities to be found. At different points, this tracks recalls Animal Collective's poppier moments, the White Stripes' playful outbursts, the Arcade Fire in general, and the aforementioned Sufjan. Within this song, all of these sounds flow seamlessly, and, are presented in a kaleidoscopic suite that you won't be able to get out of your head.