In which we hit the shuffle button and review the crap out of whatever comes up.
1.Coldplay - Swallowed in the Sea, from X&Y
Okay haters, look, I really like Coldplay. Most of the time. In fact, I'd even say I love three out of four of their albums (this is being written before their fifth is out to market). Guess which one I sorta can't stand? This track is classic generic Coldplay doing their I-wanna-be-U2 thing, meaning it's an emotionally epic song that probably sounds great in a 50,000-person laser utilizing stadium or in the background of the serious part of a romantic comedy. The montage part. Gentle piano, crooning, slightly pleasantly distorted vintage fender guitars coming out of a Vox AC30 amplifier (edit: after doing some fact-checking, it's actually a Fender Hot Rod Deville), a slow build into a swath of sound with warm production. It's like aural comfort food: It's not good for you and won't change your life, but it's there for you when you need to curl up and listen to something else between Dave Matthew's Band albums. 2.5 stars.
2. Chaka Khan - The Christmas Song, from 40 Years: A Charlie Brown Christmas
Uh oh, what's this loungey piano...oh, a Christmas tune sung by Chaka Khan. Right. Well, I do love Christmas and love to listen to Christmas music (only AFTER Thanksgiving, my favorite holiday, let's be clear) and love the music in A Charlie Brown Christmas. I think I got this album for free somewhere. If there are songs on it that I like, it's not this one. I'll leave an extended rant about covers to an article, but I'll just say here that, although the piano, upright bass, and jazzy brush work making up the percussion are standard easy-listening-jazz fare fit for background tree-decorating music, this song makes me want to kick Chaka Khan in the larynx. 1 star.
3. Jazz Jury - Pictures, from Swingers: The Soundtrack
I really hope this whole list isn't gonna be soundtracks and stinkers. The movie Swingers is great, so go rent it. And the some of the tunes on the soundtrack are actually pretty awesome--especially so for a high schooler (ahem, 1996) ignorant of such fare, from standards ("You're Nobody 'til Somebody Loves You" - Dean Martin) and decent swing-revival songs ("You & Me & The Bottle Makes 3 Tonight" - Big Bad Voodoo Daddy) to classics ("Pick Up the Pieces" - Average White Band) and even some more eclectic weird ones ("Paid For Loving" - Love Jones). And then there's the filler, like this background jazzy music wallpaper. Disposable. 2 stars.
4. Maximum Balloon - Apartment Wrestling, from Maximum Balloon
This is more like it. On last year's excellent album, Dave Sitek from TV on the Radio put together an electro-indie-funk-rock re-player with excellent guests and a fun feel. David Byrne, lead songwriter of The Talking Heads, is the guest here, and it sounds like it in the best way possible. The track is funky, groovy, totally fun, and, though it may start out apparently about autoeroticism, it ends up being about isolation, independence, and the opportunity to do discover oneself. The sound jitters around while palm-muted guitars constantly jig. Exuberant. 5 stars.
5. Liars - Nothing Is Ever Lost Or Can Be Lost My Science Friend, from They Threw Us In A Trench And Stuck A Monument On Top
There is a word that encapsulates the sound of the Liars' career: Unnerving. Whether doing disco punk or art rock, these guys love to make us feel uncomfortable. That may sound bad, but they do it with such style that it is much more than just bearable. This track starts off with an overdistorted bass rift and heavy percussive thumping that sounds like the tables in your house are being vibrated by too-loud speakers. The background guitar line is a muted siren that gives a warning without being abrasive enough to turn off the listener. Between the repeated mention of the outside being "dead" and disturbing electronic decays, it is the sound of staggering through an old graveyard. How is it that they do strained and scary without it being painful? 4 stars.
Side note: Liars have some of the best album and song titles of all time. My favorite? "If You're a Wizard Then Why Do You Wear Glasses?" Touche, Harry Potter.
6. Led Zeppelin - Tangerine, from Led Zeppelin III
Ah, Led Zeppelin. It's hard to review an essential track like this because it's almost impossible to listen to it without the associated memories and history behind it. I personally can't divide the sound of this song from my memory of being in a sound studio with my then-girlfriend-soon-to-be-fiance who was working on re-soundtracking Apocalypse Now for a sound design class. She and her partner chose "Tangerine" for the opening scene, and the resignation and sadness and 60s-ness of the sound just stood out incredibly while helicopters firebombed Vietnamese jungle. It was a perfect choice, and I can barely even remember the original song in the background--was it "The End" by the Doors? One interesting thing about Led Zeppelin in general is that, although people often associate them with hard rock and give them partial credit with "inventing" the heavy metal genre, they also were one of the best of their time at amalgamating the sounds of blues rock and folk into their groundbreaking style. They did this better than almost any other group of their era, including the Rolling Stones. This track illustrates this, and shows them playing with a country feel (mostly due to the sweet slide guitar). It also sounds sort of like a Byrds song--the gorgeous opening strum-and-pick of the 12-string guitar captures melancholy and happiness instantly. This is probably one of the ten best songs ever to listen to whilst taking a road trip on a sunny day. 5 stars.
That seems like a good ending point. See you next time.