Dresden Dolls, “Sing”
I was recently digging through a Care Bears trashcan full of cd’s hastily removed from my poor Chevy Cavalier (a.k.a., “The Yellow Submarine”) after it was totaled in an accident back in December 2007. I had, apparently, purchased a copy of The Dresden Dolls’ “Yes, Virgina” somewhere along the line. I hadn’t even removed the shrinkwrap. I figured, well, at some point I decided to buy this cd and it probably cost me a good $18 so I might as well listen to it. I also have a friend who is a devout Amanda Palmer disciple, and I do actually like a few Dresden Dolls’ songs here and there (“Girl Anachronism,” “Good Day,” etc.), so I decided I might as well give it a listen.
I put it on while zipping around doing other things, and consequently, didn’t have the time to really listen. Until “Sing,” the final track on the album, came on. I stopped what I was doing and listened. I even teared up a little. In general, I turn my nose up at most lay-my-heart-and-soul-on-my-piano chanteuses. Not really my style. And Amanda Palmer’s brand of musical exhibitionism was definitely not my style, I determined. I also just didn’t like her voice; she sings like she is trying to squeeze her stomach out of her nose and I find it off-putting. But when she sang, “Sing for the teachers who told you that you couldn’t sing,” well, I got it. I understood. Her voice is kind of, well, strange and off-putting but she’s singing ’cause it’s obvious, singing for the teachers who told her that she couldn’t sing, singing for all the people who are silenced and all the people who have tried to silence her. That’s kind of beautiful. It doesn’t really apply when she’s singing about ex-boyfriends who say mean things about her in music magazines or the pratfalls of fame and being stuck in a hotel room while on tour, but in “Sing,” she gets it right.
Metric, “Satellite Mind”
“Fantasies” is a great album with a lot of tight, clever songs on it and “Satellite Mind,” apparently the tale of Emily Haines (whom I kind of consider to be an indie rock pop star, sort of like Kelly Clarkson with hipster cred) getting off to listening to some guy fuck through the wall. It’s very sexy, very catchy, and it totally rocks. I listen to “Fantasies” a lot while driving (try it; it’s a good road album!) but “Satellite Mind” is the one song I usually end up skipping back to.
Mischief Brew, “Nomad’s Revolt”
In the winter, I always crave some good folk-punk. I don’t know why, really. Usually when it’s cold out, you can find me listening to Mischief Brew or Defiance Ohio. Erik Petersen is my favorite folk-punker — he’s not only a crust punk with a message, he’s a great storyteller and songwriter. “Nomad’s Revolt,” from “Smash the Windows,” is one of my favorite songs of his. It’s a lot more polished than you would expect and paints a spot-on picture of punks growing out of being punks with funny hair and facial piercings and clothes with dental-floss patches and studs (“Can you believe who’s a mother, and that so-and-so’s cut off their dreads?”). It’s something I’ve experienced a lot lately; I was never what you would consider punk (though I did go through a rather embarrassing goth phase in high school) but more and more I find myself assimilating to the “mainstream” and adopting the role of an adult and laying to rest the protest-sign-yielding, slogan-spouting, soapbox-standing radical potboiler ways of my younger years. “Nomad’s Revolt” is a perfect testament to getting old and changing your priorities; as he rasps, “There is power in unions of ramblers who’ve got nothing to own, but there’s more in one fist-swinging mother, swearing ‘my children will never be sold.'” It’s a reassurance that it’s possible to be a grown-up while still being castaways & cutouts at heart.
Arcade Fire, “Antichrist Television Blues”
“Neon Bible” is actually my favorite Arcade Fire album, much moreso than “Funeral,” and possibly one of my favorite albums of all-time. I keep finding new songs to love on “Neon Bible” and, recently, I find myself humming “Antichrist Television Blues.” It is, from what I can tell, about 9/11. (“I don’t want to work in a building downtown, I don’t know what I’m gonna do, ’cause the planes keep crashing always two by two.”) Songs About 9/11 is not really my favorite genre of music, in fact, it’s right up there with Movies About 9/11 on my list of Things I Generally Do Not Enjoy, but this song actually does it in such an understated way that I didn’t even initially realize what it was about. It’s got an unbelievably catchy alt-country stomp to it and I think it shows off how great Win Butler’s voice actually is; it tends to blend into the grand majesty of the Arcade Fire’s sound, but it is a wondrous thing to behold on its own, with just an acoustic guitar and some drums. It definitely one of the more understated tracks on the album but, for that reason, it’s one of my favorites.
The Decemberists, “Yankee Bayonet (I Will Be Home Then)”
In winter 2006, I worked as a barista in a Barnes & Noble Cafe. This is around the time “The Crane Wife” was released. In Barnes & Noble, the people who are working in the music section get to choose the music from a selection of albums that Barnes & Noble is trying to promote. During that season, we had a person working the music floor who really really liked The Decemberists. When the Christmas shopping season hit, there were two songs that were played over and over again: “Christmastime” from “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” and strangely, “Yankee Bayonet (I Will Be Home Then).” As a result, this song always makes me wistful for that period of my life. It is forever related to the holidays, and the few months near the end of 2006 when I spent my days making white chocolate mochas to a soundtrack of Peanuts and Civil War ghost stories.
But aside from my own personal associations with this song, it’s just a gorgeous song. It’s an awfully sad one, the tale of a fallen soldier and the girl he left behind, “blankets barren and my own belt big with child.” It’s sung by Colin Meloy and Laura Viers, from across the divide. The soldier sings, “When you make a grave, I will be home then.” When the music swells, and Meloy & Viers sing together, “Stems and stones and stone walls too could keep me from you, skein of skin is all too few to keep me from you,” it’s only of my favorite moments in any Decemberists song.
Neko Case, “Maybe Sparrow”
Neko Case has pretty much my favorite voice ever. While the songs on “Blacklisted” feel like a musky, steamy summer in the South to me, the songs on “Fox Confessor Brings the Flood” feel a little bit more like winter. “Maybe Sparrow” is my favorite track on the album, and the song I’d point someone to if they wanted to know what the big deal about Neko Case is. One of the verses aptly describes the experience of listening to the song itself: “Notes are hung so effortless, with the rise and fall of sparrow’s breast, it’s a drowning dive and back to the chorus…”