cartwheels into your heart

Friday, December 31, 2004

I think I've figured out how Jim DeRogatis puts together his top 10 list. You see, he basically only has like eight categories of music that he likes, and so each category gets at least one slot on his list, and a couple categories get two. Easy.

From glancing at his 2001-04 top tens, here are the categories:

1. "Conscious" Hip-Hop [see Cherrywine, Common, OutKast, The Roots (twice), Kanye West]

2. Neo-Soul Divas [see Macy Gray (twice), Jill Scott; I'm pretty sure he loves Angie Stone, too, so I'm not sure why she hasn't made it]

3. Legends [see Bob Dylan, Peter Gabriel, Marianne Faithfull, Iggy Pop, Prince, Wire, Neil Young]

4. "Political" "Punks" [see Green Day, Thursday, and maybe Steve Earle (twice), who gets an automatic ticket because he also fits in]

5. Americana [see Beck, Kelly Hogan, Wilco (twice)]

6. Good Old Fashioned Rock'N'Roll Done Right [see Franz Ferdinand, Mark Lanegan Band, The Strokes (twice)]

7. Psychedelic: Uplifting KCRW Variety [see Grandaddy, Flaming Lips, Polyphonic Spree]

8. Psychedelic: Dark Stoner Variety [see Monster Magnet, Secret Machines, Warlocks]

Seriously, there's only five artists out of 35 that don't really fit into this rubric, and I bet you could make a case for a couple of them: Longwave, Mary Timony (both called "psychedelic"), Deftones ("trippy"), Mellow, and Moby.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Does anyone else feel sick after submitting a Pazz and Jop ballot? I feel okay about my albums list, despite a last-minute substitution, because I'd been agonizing over it for months. But, not wanting twice the agony, I decided to throw the singles list together on the day I submitted. So no pre-list obsessiveness but lots of post-list remorse. Right now I'm telling myself that it's okay I left off "Slow Jamz" because I repped for Kanye on albums and two singles ft. Twista might be too much. But argh.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004


The end of the year round-up officially begins. Over the next week or so, I'll be writing about my favorite albums and singles of 2004. To tide you over, I've put together a mix of 72 of the year's best tracks, from indie rock to hip-hop to dance.

As with my top tens, I don't intend for this to be the last word on what was popular 2004. It's mostly just songs I dug. I know some genres are represented better than others, and if you have a problem with that, then you should recommend me some stuff I missed. (And yes, I like Twista; no, I'm not crazy about Usher.)

Anyway, this will likely be tweaked over the next few days -- I haven't actually listened to the whole thing straight through yet -- but I thought I'd throw it up here just for kicks:

1. I Miss You - Blink-182
2. Float On - Modest Mouse
3. Handshake Drugs - Wilco
4. Cinnamon Girl - Prince
5. Your Cover's Blown - Belle & Sebastian
6. When I Wake - The Changes
7. Take Me Out - Franz Ferdinand
8. Toxic - Local H
9. C'mon C'mon - The Von Bondies
10. Slow Hands - Interpol
11. Before Three - The Cure
12. Irish Blood, English Heart - Morrissey
13. New Health Rock - TV on The Radio
14. Massive Cure - Smoosh
15. Unmade Bed - Sonic Youth
16. Shame - PJ Harvey
17. Love Song Long - Tara Jane O'Neil
18. Laguna - Fennesz
19. Grey Snake - Palaxy Tracks

20. Fortress - Pinback
21. Salt The Skies - Tortoise
22. Velouria - The Bad Plus
23. Just Joker Blues - Azita
24. All Caps - Madvillain
25. Through The Walls - RJD2
26. Junior Kickstart - The Go! Team
27. Margerine Rock - Stereolab
28. Straight Street - The Fiery Furnaces
29. Fit But You Know It - The Streets
30. Wipe That Sound - Mouse On Mars
31. Triumph Of A Heart - Björk
32. Drop It Like Its Hot - Snoop Dogg Ft. Pharrell
33. Some Girls - JC Chasez Ft. ODB
34. Move Ya Body - Nina Sky
35. Galang - MIA
36. Stand Up Tall - Dizzee Rascal
37. Let's Go - Trick Daddy Ft Lil Jon & Twista

38. Jesus Walks - Kanye West
39. Overnight Celebrity - Twista
40. Naughty Girl - Beyoncé
41. Dip It Low - Christina Milian
42. All Nite (Don't Stop) - Janet Jackson
43. She Wants To Move - N.E.R.D
44. Everything Is Everything - Phoenix
45. I'd Rather Dance With You - Kings of Convenience
46. The Owls Go - Architecture In Helsinki
47. Theme ("Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind") - Jon Brion
48. Phone Call - Jon Brion
49. Naked As We Came - Iron & Wine
50. Sprout and the Bean - Joanna Newsom
51. It's Gonna Take an Airplane - Destroyer
52. Surf's Up - Brian Wilson
53. Who Could Win a Rabbit - Animal Collective
54. Neighborhood #2 (Laika) - The Arcade Fire
55. Hello? Is This Thing On? - !!!
56. The Black Meat - Bark Psychosis

57. Universal Traveler - Air
58. Littleboy - Aluminum Group
59. With You - Jessica Simpson
60. Heartbeats - The Knife
61. Lovers In The Backseat - Scissor Sisters
62. Open Your Eyes - U.S.E. (United State Of Electronica)
63. That Was Just A Dream - Cut Copy
64. Uu - Cut Copy
65. What You Waiting For (Jacques LuCont's TWD Mix) - Gwen Stefani
66. Nina - Felix Da Housecat
67. High Come Down - Junior Boys
68. What Good - Luomo
69. So Weit Wie Noch Nie (Erlend Øye Mix) - Jürgen Paape
70. Heartbeat - Annie
71. Maps - Ada
72. Snooze Bar - Velvetron

Let me know if you want a copy. I'd prefer to keep it as a single-disc mp3 CD, but if you want, I can also split it into four audio CDs, with breaks shown as above.

Monday, December 27, 2004

I'm very excited to be filling in for Matthew on Fluxblog today. Click here to read my notes on songs by exotica king Les Baxter; groovy krautrocker Holger Czukay; and one of the best unsigned bands in Chicago, Velvetron. You can download 'em all, too!

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Almost exactly nine years ago, I made a mix tape for my friend Chris entitled The Bible and C-SPAN: 27 Songs That Will Make You Wanna Do Karate in a Hotel Room. (I have only the vaguest recollection as to what that refers to.) I recently discovered liner notes to the tape and posted them as a footnote on my new blog, Shouting the Poetic Truths of High School Journal Keepers, devoted to chronicling my high-school journal entries.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

A few months ago on ILX, Nick, who lives in Scotland, unexpectedly praised a piece of music I liked but was convinced that nobody else had noticed. I became embarrassingly apoplectic:

You mean, I'm not the only one in the world that loves this little 1:03 bit of perfection?? I KISS YOU

"Aye, it's beautiful," he replied. I was already swooning when Mitch from South Africa chimed in:

jaymc, it must have been you that hyped "phone call" first on one of the ESOTSM threads way back when - i downloaded it after seeing the film ... and forgot to tell you how right you were. i put it on a cd and while driving home tonight i just kept pressing the 'back' button - considering it takes about 20 minutes to get home, i must have listened to it about 20 times. i was thinking while listening that i should find that thread where you first talk about it and thank you, but this will do.

Oh right! That other thread! Ha. I suddenly felt rather sheepish about my wild enthusiasm. And then Nick came back with a small clarification:

(psst - I got it after you raved about it too ... I didn't mention this before because it seemed like it might deflate your excitement...)

Haha, no. The idea that I had influenced the listening habits of two semi-random strangers in far-flung locales very much pleased me. I mean, that's what this whole global community is all about, innit?

The piece is called "Phone Call," and it's on Jon Brion's score for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, which is still, nine months later, my favorite film of 2004. It's a recurring motif in the movie, but its first appearance (and to which it owes its title) is when Joel returns home after his first date with Clementine and is so giddy and lovestruck that he immediately calls her. She teases him: "What took you so long?" Cue music.

It's a fairly simple composition in some ways, although I'm going to try to describe it with music theory, which I'm sure will make it seem more complicated than it actually is. The basic element of the piece is a D-flat chord, arpeggiated Philip Glass-style (eighth-note pulses) and set against the backdrop of a G-flat chord, thus creating a harmonic 9th. The D-flat arpeggios are played by a clean guitar, while the harmonic backdrop seems to be created primarily through a string section. This happens for three measures, and then changes for one measure: the first note in the arpeggio drops a half step to a C, while the backdrop shifts to a D-flat chord, thus giving the overall feel of a 7th. That whole pattern (Gb9, Gb9, Gb9, Db7) happens three times before a bridge of sorts is introduced. In the bridge the arpeggio fades to the background slightly as the strings rise with their own melodic line; the chords produced are E9, E9, Ab9, Ab9. And then we're back into the basic pattern again, except the strings play a much more dominant role here, carrying on their line from the bridge. As with the first part of the song, this pattern happens three times, and then that's it. It's a minute and three seconds.

If that made any sense to you, it may not surprise you to learn that the overall mood of the piece is bittersweet. (Or, you know, you could just click on the link and listen to it.) The 7th and 9th chords have a way of blending major and minor structures such that you experience hope and pain, joy and sadness, all at once. The soaring, melodramatic strings also give it a certain immediacy or intensity that's capable of prompting tears. As Mitch remarked later, "whenever it comes on, it makes whatever I'm doing feel unbearably poignant." And in the film this is a perfect quality for the music to have: you feel Joel and Clementine's happiness but also their vulnerability (Joel's shyness, Clem's desperation), and even -- though you don't quite realize it on a first viewing -- their subsconscious nostalgia for their erased relationship.

But there's also another brilliant element in the mix that can't easily be transcribed, something I couldn't replicate on my Casio when I was figuring out the chords: The whole track is underlaid with vinyl static, and you can hear the pop of a stylus reaching the end of a record on the first beat of each measure, as if the composition is a lock groove. (It even sounds like the correct interval between pops for a 33 1/3 record.) It's a cool sound, of course, but it's also a metaphor for the way Joel and Clementine's relationship starts over and repeats (and possibly infinitely, as the end-credits loop of the two running through the snow suggests). That Brion was able to capture one of the central themes of the film through sound alone is, I have to say, pretty impressive.

(Brion first caught my attention with his nervous racket of a score for Punch-Drunk Love; only later did I discover that he's also written songs for Aimee Mann and produced Fiona Apple. This NYT Magazine profile is fairly informative and entertaining. Also: listen to "Monday," from Brion's other notable score of 2004, I Heart Huckabees. The music luckily survives the scatterbrained film.)

Saturday, December 11, 2004

I'm only getting around to listening to some of 69 Love Songs for the first time, and I know there's bound to be lots of sounds-likes on the record, but here's one: "When My Boy Walks Down the Street" = Velvet Underground covering "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away."

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Long before the days of iTunes and Audioscrobbler (the latter praised by a friend for bringing together his four passions: music, the Internet, voyeurism, and meaningless statistics!), I remember wishing for ways to transform my unrecorded speech and brain patterns into hard data. I was curious what a transcript of my day's conversations would look like: how many pages would it be, how long the silences had been, that sort of thing.

As I got older, I started to wonder about tracking thoughts, too. It occurred to me the other day that my high-school chemistry teacher would be turning 70 within a few months. I remember this because he'd told the class on his birthday that he was 60 (which seemed quite old then) and that was 10 years ago. But almost as soon as that memory surfaced, I realized that I'd thought about him in another context recently, too. Which seemed unusual. I suddenly wanted to consult a giant index, tracing my finger under "Buss, Donald -- calculation of age (6): 10/10/96, 3/17/97, 4/20/99, 12/1/00, 7/13/02, 12/4/04; pleasant disposition (12) ..." (etc.)

Of course, thoughts are almost impossible to quantify in such a manner. Every morning I think about lunch, but what counts as a lunch-thought? When I actually ask myself what I'm going to eat and make plans accordingly? Or do I also have to include the little dribbles of mental energy when I start looking at the clock more frequently between 11 and 12? I suppose what I'm doing is telling myself that lunch is coming up, but it's a practically subconscious activity. And even if those moments count, how often? Every fleeting time?

Thursday, December 02, 2004

So I finally bought an iPod yesterday. Back when I had a job I could drive to and where I had iTunes already installed on my computer, I just never felt like I needed one. But now that I'm taking the el to work (almost an hour each way) and use an old PC that will only let me install RealPlayer (the design of which is kind of a mess), it seemed like it was time.

Considering that I've never even owned a Discman or Walkman ever, the idea of listening to music outside of the environment of an apartment or an office or a bar is still new and vaguely thrilling. Here's some of what I listened to today and where:

Junior Boys, over frozen sidewalks, the scattered frost shot with early morning sunlight.

Kraftwerk, hurriedly zig-zagging through a busy subway station.

Arto Lindsay, on the dark, lonely walk home, wanting red wine and warm fires.

The object now is to not spoil myself with all this instant access and thus get sick of all five thousand songs before the new year. I am telling myself I will be good.