Friday Random 5: Snowed in edition

One of those annoying winter storms today—not a real blizzard, just messy enough to cancel the kids’ school. So here I am working at home and watching the woods fill up with snow. Time for a Random 5!

  1. Cowboy BootsMacklemore & Ryan Lewis (The Heist). Let’s not judge, okay? I grew to appreciate Macklemore during his many live in-studios on KEXP, and there’s something homey about hearing him rap about the passage of time—though the chorus about urban cowboys on Capitol Hill is a little annoying.
  2. Sarah AnneDaniel Bachman (Jesus I’m a Sinner). It’s not fair, the talent of this kid, who comes across as the second coming of John Fahey. This is a strong track from what’s ultimately a journeyman album compared to his epic River, but still mesmerizing.
  3. Last TimeBlack Dub (Black Dub). A disappointing track that buries the old gospel song in layers of drums and reverb, along with the stylistically unsuited (if strong) voice of Chris Whitley’s daughter Trixie. I expected better from Daniel Lanois.
  4. SuperheroJane’s Addiction (Strays). Okay, Shuffle, I guess the theme of today’s Random 5 is “regret.” As in, regret that I picked up this reunion disk 13 years ago. At least the playing is as tight as Perry’s lyrics are lame (“I’m not your average guy”? Really?).
  5. Like a VirginMadonna (Celebration). This is where I’m supposed to dump on Madonna like I did when I was 12 years old, right? Can’t do it. Incredible track, and her still-hiccuppy vocals sell the song in a way that her more mature voice couldn’t have done years later. I’m reminded of the joke in Sting’s “Nothing Like the Sun” tour program, where they did capsule bios of each band member—including Branford Marsalis, Minu Cinelu, and the late great Kenny Kirkland—and asked them about their musical guilty pleasure. “Madonna’s backing band” came up about four times.

Friday Random 5: far afield edition

Returning for another edition of the newly resurrected Friday Random 5, here’s what’s on my personal music channel this morning:

  1. DisorderJoy Division (Unknown Pleasures). Great start to an undercaffeinated Friday morning. There’s something about the starkness of this early Joy Division song: the extremely dry studio production, the guitar all fifths and fourths, the great Peter Hook bass line moving frenetically around the guitar in sixths, and the way the song completely comes apart with Ian Curtis’s frantic “I got the spirit.” I could listen to this song all day. And have.
  2. Grandma Brackbill Dec. 1978 w/Ralph Homsher (track 4). This is an odd one, but a cool one. It’s an interview with my great-grandmother Esta Leaman Brackbill when she was 91 years old, conducted by my great-uncle Ralph, that our family recently digitized. Not a lot of revelations, but a fun retelling of the story of the man who got drunk and tried to burn down Uncle Frank Leaman’s barn and was caught on the porch of my great-grandmother’s house while she and the other children were inside and their parents were off somewhere. Good stuff.
  3. I Will Be ThereVan Morrison (Saint Dominic’s Preview). I went deep down the rabbit hole on Van Morrison a few years ago (ten? geez) on discovering Astral Weeks, and picked up this album and a few others. Of course, nothing else is like Astral Weeks, but Van doing traditional blues is fantastic, even with the tossed off line “Gonna grab my suitcase, and my toothbrush, and my overcoat, and my underwear”!
  4. Pieces of SkyBeth Orton (Comfort of Strangers). Beth Orton’s Central Reservation was on constant repeat for me for about a year, and the followup Daybreaker accompanied more than a few road trips, but her subsequent albums haven’t worked as well for me. This song might be an example of why: the production (courtesy Jim O’Rourke) has just the right amount of emotional restraint but she disappears into it, and the song feels unfinished—it ends too soon.
  5. Messe basse (Fauré): SanctusChoir of St. John’s College, Cambridge, George Guest conductor (Fauré: Requiem, Cantique de Jean Racine; Duruflé: Requiem, Quatre Motets). A brief movement for choir and organ from a lesser known Fauré work. He jointly composed a full mass setting with his pupil André Messager providing the Kyrie and the O Salutaris; the Fauré movements (Gloria, Sanctus, Agnus Dei) were subsequently published stand-alone as the Messe basse. It’s a brief but effective setting of the Sanctus for treble and alto voices with organ; I want to go back and listen to the rest.

The return of the Friday Random 10 … er, 5

It’s been over five years since I did a Friday Random 10 post. When I was last blogging daily, these posts started out as a group blogging challenge, a fun way to talk music and other stuff. After a while they became mechanical and they stopped along with my other blogging. Now that I’m three full weeks into my resolution to blog every weekday, I thought it might be time to resurrect the format, but with some changes. Namely, I’m not just going to post a list of tunes, I’m also going to write a little bit about each one, and so I’m shortening it from a Random 10 to a Random 5.

Otherwise the rules are the same: turn on your music player, hit shuffle, and list the first 5 tunes that come up… no cheating. I hereby swear to blog about it even if it’s embarrassing.

So here we go:

  1. What Is Your SecretNada Surf (The Weight is a Gift). A favorite band ten years ago, I need to go back and revisit some of their later albums which didn’t stick as much with me. But The Weight is a Gift and its predecessor, Let Go, are in my top 100 albums list, and even a lesser song like this is still a great listen for the harmonization.
  2. Song That Made Us What We Are Today (Demo)Red Hot Chili Peppers (Mother’s Milk). I’m not the biggest Chili Peppers fan in the world but I do love their earlier, edgier stuff, and this instrumental track is all bristly funk.
  3. Oh CarolinaVirginia Glee Club (Songs of Virginia). I’ve written about this track before and it’s still funny. What I didn’t write about is the musical form. A lot of these football songs were written for the spectators to sing at a football game and never had harmonizations, so when the Glee Club went to record this one they had to come up with a new arrangement for it. It’s a fun combination of traditional harmonization and multi-octave voicing that I hope we do as an alumni song someday.
  4. Like the 309Johnny Cash (American V – A Hundred Highways). In the aftermath of David Bowie’s death, it’s interesting to revisit Cash’s. Where Bowie’s was, in retrospect, a premeditated surprise managed for maximum artistic impact, Johnny Cash’s had all the inevitability of Revelations—the public awareness of his health problems, the death of June, the elegiac tone of the last few albums. In that context, his first posthumous release is both moving and comforting, with the bluesy shuffle of “Like the 309” a good representation of the tone.
  5. Above ChiangmaiBrian Eno (Ambient 2 – The Plateaux of Mirror). I went back to find the other albums in Eno’s Ambient series the other week, and was glad I did. This one is mostly composer Harold Budd on piano responding to “tones” introduced by Eno, who otherwise contributes mostly sound textures to the recording. The track “Above Chiangmai” is a soundscape in itself, sounding as though the piano is heard through the bones of the skull rather than the ears, and is hypnotic in its simple melodic improvisation. A little Satie, a little Cage, and all Eno.