I can’t write about A Moon Shaped Pool in its entirety. It contains multitudes. So I’m going to try going one track at a time.
Having said that, let me open with a statement about the album as a whole: most of it is as introverted, by turns warm and claustrophobic, an album as has ever been recorded. But “Burn the Witch,” the opening, is a different animal, something that feels more like the overtly political Hail to the Thief than the darkly personal In Rainbows. We’re encouraged by the cheerily ominous strings and the bass line to simultaneously embrace and cower in fear from the witch hunt underway. “Abandon all reason / avoid all contact / do not react / shoot the messengers,” Yorke sings. The high strings gradually become more and more unhinged in the second chorus, dropping out for a bit, then coming back in to escalate into complete mayhem.
It’s hard not to interpret the song as referring to the current state of democratic political discourse. But I’m going to suggest that there’s more to it. On a much more personal level, this is the sound of someone’s life coming apart. “This is a low flying panic attack” is not a political response but a personal one. This isn’t “a roundup”; the singer is getting rounded up. The “loose talk around tables” is a personal attack.
I can’t help but think of the context of Yorke’s marriage dissolving, of his singing “I just wanna be your lover…forget about your house of cards, and I’ll do mine” nine years ago, only to follow with “your ears should be burning” regarding the gossip following infidelity. “Denial, denial” indeed. “Burn the Witch” is the sound of old hurts coming home to roost.
And yes, it’s also about unfair demonization of immigrants. Funny how art works that way.
If you need me, I’ll be curled up with this album for a while.
It’s been a rainy week back in Massachusetts, and that’s contributing to a small sense of writer’s block for me this morning. So it is that I double-dip and write about music again today.
China Girl (David Bowie, Nothing Has Changed): to say that this song skirts the edge of offense today is probably an understatement, between the title and frequent invocation of “my little China girl” and the stereotypical “oriental” melody in the opening guitars, it’s kind of astonishing that it escapes the valley of offense. But it’s one of Bowie’s more interesting 1980s melodies, though the backing track, especially the bassline, is solidly 80s, and his unhinged second verse opening “I stumble into town/just like a sacred cow” is kind of brilliant.
Come the Meantimes (Elvis Costello, Wise Up Ghost): If EC is really leaving the world of albums behind, as he hints in his brilliant autobiography, he could have done worse with a parting shot than this album. The Roots seem like a counterintuitive backing band for Elvis, but then so did the Dirty Dozen Brass Band on Spike. The backing rap “you can’t beg” on the chorus makes this song feel a little like his early angry young man songs like “Goon Squad,” but the beat is a lot funkier.
This Ole House (Live) (The Statler Brothers on Johnny Cash, Live at Folsom Prison Legacy Edition): What a bass part!
Walk Alone (The Roots, How I Got Over): More Roots, but this is in their own wheelhouse. Lots of different directions in this track, unified by a great chorus sample.
Tempest (Bob Dylan, Tempest): A fourteen minute evocation of the sinking of the Titanic with fiddle band accompaniment? Sure, why not.
One of the key concepts that’s stuck with me after reading Crossing the Chasm, Geoffrey Moore’s pivotal book about marketing high-tech products in a world in which buyers react differently to innovation, is the concept of the whole product. It’s one that a lot of product companies, especially those that focus closely on the technology side of product development, don’t get, very much to their detriment.
“Whole product” simply means that which is required to address 100% of a customer’s need. Counterintuitively, it’s almost never met simply by a technology product (the “generic product”), but typically requires partner products, services and other pieces to fill in the gap. Moore cites the example of a web browser as an example of a generic product, and the web browser plus plugins, HTML5 applications, an internet service provider, a search engine, and an easy way to buy goods online as the whole product.
How do otherwise smart product companies fall into the trap of ignoring the whole product? Sometimes it’s just a question of not thinking hard enough about what the customer needs. A customer usually doesn’t need a new Android phone with a high megapixel camera; they need to take better pictures of their kids. So instead of competing solely on megapixel count and similar tech specs, whole product companies will invest in technologies to give the customers a better fit to their ultimate goal, such as image stabilization, easier ways to transfer the photos off the phone, system-wide easy access to photos so they can be shared, the ability to create books and calendars of the photos, and so forth.
But it’s so easy to fall into the “speeds and feeds” trap and not understand where the customer’s full needs are. It’s also easy to misjudge the needs of the customer and misunderstand that something that seems like “just another feature” is actually part of the whole product. Thus, the art of product management and product marketing.
This has been germinating for a while, and I had to drive to North Carolina and back to finish it. This was the mix of no rules, as you can tell by the length.
- Baby, I’m In the Mood for You – Bob Dylan (The Bootleg Series, Vol. 9: The Witmark Demos: 1962-1964) A demo of Dylan’s raunchiest, most rural love song? Sure, why not.
- Bring it On Down to My House – Warner Williams with Jay Summerour (Classic African American Songsters from Smithsonian Folkways) A raunchy blues song? Sure, why not.
- Jake Leg Rag – Narmour & Smith (Lead Kindly Light) A fiddle tune? Sure, why not.
- Where Shall I Go? – Sister Marie Knight (When the Moon Goes Down in the Valley of Time: African-American Gospel, 1939-51) A gospel tune that lifts off into the stratosphere? Sure, why not.
- Little Island Walking (Peel Session) – Jim O’Rourke (Peel Session) Jim O’Rourke doing a straight-on John Fahey pastiche? Sure, why not.
- We Would Be Building – Daniel Bachman (Orange Co. Serenade) Primitive guitar cover of a Methodist hymn? Sure, why not.
- On The Banks Of The Owichita – John Fahey (The Dance Of Death & Other Plantation Favorites) A primitive guitar evocation of the slow river? Sure, why not.
- I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free – Nina Simone (Nina Revisited… A Tribute to Nina Simone) A landmark Nina Simone tune? Sure, why not.
- Peace And Love – Gary Bartz And NTU Troop (I’ve Known Rivers And Other Bodies). “We got a hand for the Bronx”? Sure, why not.
- The Raven Speaks – Gary Burton & Keith Jarrett (Gary Burton & Keith Jarrett) A funk number with Keith Jarrett on the Fender and Burton on vibes? Sure, why not.
- Brown-Baggin’ – 24-Carat Black (Ghetto: Misfortune’s Wealth) Straight ahead funk from a very strange concept album? Sure, why not.
- Disrobe – Medeski, Martin & Wood (The End of Violence) A groove I’ve been sitting on for a very long time? Sure, why not.
- Doing It to Death, Pt. 1 (Single) – The J.B.’s & Fred Wesley (Pass the Peas: The Best of the J.B.’s). “In order to get down, I got to get in D”? Sure, why not.
- You Can’t Blame Me – Johnson, Hawkins, Tatum, & Durr (Eccentric Soul: The Capsoul Label) The world’s weirdest soul hook? Sure, why not.
- Everybody Loves the Sunshine – Roy Ayers Ubiquity (The Best of Roy Ayers (The Best of Roy Ayers: Love Fantasy)) A blissed out fusion number? Sure, why not.
- Blue Lines – Massive Attack (Blue Lines) A genre-creating Tricky rap? Sure, why not.
- The Sad Punk – Pixies (Trompe Le Monde) Changing gears abruptly? Sure, why not.
- Marrow (Live) – David Byrne & St. Vincent (Brass Tactics EP) St. Vincent backed by a freaking great horn section? Sure, why not.
- What We Loved Was Not Enough – Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra (F*ck Off Get Free We Pour Light On Everything) Heartrending Canadians? Sure, why not.
- Roked – Shye Ben Tzur, Jonny Greenwood & The Rajasthan Express (Junun) Israeli composer, Indian musicians, Radiohead guitarist? Sure, why not.
- %%%%%%%%%% $$$$$$$$$ >>>>>>>> >> >> >> @@@@@@@ – The User (Symphony #2 For Dot Matrix Printers) Dot matrix printer music? Sure, why not.
- Do the Dog – The Specials (The Specials) Do the dog, not the donkey? Sure, why not.
- You Satellite – Wilco (Star Wars) Wilco does late period Sonic Youth? Sure, why not.
- Nothing Clings Like Ivy – Elvis Costello & The Imposters (The Delivery Man) Plaintive country rock from a London kid? Sure, why not.
- Just One Thing – My Morning Jacket (It Still Moves) Unabashed Southern rock? Sure, why not.
- Are You Okay? – Dum Dum Girls (Too True) Can’t be flip about this track. The bridge kills me: “I’m reckless at night/I’m sorry for days.”
- Shake It Off – Ryan Adams (1989) A dark rewrite of an infectious Taylor Swift original? Sure, why not.
- One Sunday Morning (Song For Jane Smiley’s Boyfriend) – Wilco (The Whole Love) Eleven minutes of a murder mystery wrapped up in an NPR-friendly arrangement? Sure, why not.
- Moonshine Blues [live 1962 10 at Gaslight Café, New York City] – Bob Dylan (The Gaslight Tapes [live 1962 10 at Gaslight Café, New York City]) A stark folk original and probably the most harrowing version ever recorded? Sure, why not.
- Bladesteel – Daniel Lanois (Here Is What Is) Four minutes of slide guitar with New Orleans drums by Lanois? Sure why not.
- Amy – Ryan Adams (Heartbreaker) A track that opens with Adams’ most annoying verse melody, but transitions into his most heartbreaking chorus melody? Sure why not.
- Stanwell Perpetual – David Grubbs (The Spectrum Between) Three minutes of unresolved tension building with the horn section from Camoufleur? Sure, why not.
- The Things I Say – Joanna Newsom (Divers) A straight folk track that resolves to an ascending backtracked vocal cliffhanger conclusion? Sure, why not.
- Untitled – R.E.M. (Green) Michael Stipe’s paean to his parents? Sure, why not.
- Sun Is Shining – The Fireman (Electric Arguments) Electronica by Paul McCartney and Youth? Sure, why not.
Reentering after a week-plus of travel and family time is a little challenging, but I’m managing it. This morning was, of course, errandsville: getting shoes fixed, getting a tire ordered for the car, voting.
It strikes me as unlikely that the profession of cobbler still exists, given the increasingly disposable nature of shoes. But I’m glad it does; I’d much rather spend tens of dollars to fix a pair than $200 to replace them. The cobbler in Arlington, around the corner from my son’s old preschool, works in a cluttered shop on a cash only basis but does phenomenal work. I don’t know who’ll take his place when he’s gone
And voting: my son will enter kindergarten in the fall, in (redistricting willing) an extremely crowded elementary school. So it’s time for our town to deal with Proposition 2 1/2. Fortunately, our town seems pretty rational about the whole thing, recognizing that the high quality of the schools is what makes our homes worth something. So I’ll pay a little more for the privilege of sending my son to one of the finest public school systems in the country. Seems like a fair trade.