Part 4: Music That's Been Blowing My Mind, At Least A Little Bit
by Sean
Please note: MP3s are only kept online for a short time, and if this entry is from more than a couple of weeks ago, the music probably won't be available to download any more.


Andrew Bird - "Fake Palindromes"

Within hours of my posting about Final Fantasy, Kathryn - so on the ball she is the ball, - emailed asking about Andrew Bird. He's an obvious Final Fantasy connection, I guess, what with his fiddling and stuff. But as Kathryn pointed out, it's to "a far, ah, less fey result." Where Has A Good Home seems reared by Sufjan Stevens, Camera Obscura, the Hidden Cameras, and Bach, The Mysterious Production of Eggs (great title) suckles at the teat of Ryan Adams, Calexico and (if we're being cruel,) Pete Yorn.

(Of course this is Bird's fifth LP or something. The only earlier one I've heard, Weather Systems, is a whole lot more "fey" than you might guess.)

Preamble aside, I'm not qualified to talk about Andrew Bird. I only heard of the guy last week, when this tune, "Fake Palindromes," made its way to my ears.

But gee whiz - gee whiz! - is it a good song!

First of all, it's only two minutes and fifty-two seconds, which is a very good sign. Also, I don't think the lyrics contain any palindromes. But we're putting the cart before the cattle (is that an expression?). We need to cut to the meat of the matter in a patented Said the Gramophone run-on sentence. The song's clear and obvious claim-to-fame, the wet and beating heart, the energizing whip-snap, is that killer fiddle hook, that four-note earworm, that vivacious blast, that indian sneer of strings with the thunderstomp of drum-and-shaker.

And if you don't fall in love with the tune in the first two seconds, you will when Andrew Bird drawls "coulda died... shoulda died". Or when you notice the weird electric guitar that's stalking through the briar in the back, with long long legs. (Is it a "monster that walks the earth?") Or when "Fake Palindromes" ends (it ends!) after a scarce two minutes and fifty-two seconds. "I want to drill a tiny hole into your head," he sings. Well sign me up - just let me hear this thing again! Put it on a whirling repeat in a purple room with the blinds drawn. Run through that barrage of images, the formaldehyde-swap, the singles ads, the blood in her eyes. And then open the wardrobe and loose the violins, the super strings, the brown swooping things what lift me out the closed window and straight to the moon. [buy]


Clem Snide - End of Love

Clem Snide's new one is a good 'un, probably the best since Favorite Music, which is no small compliment. It's got dazzle and wit, unabashed love and niggling doubts. The sentimentality of Soft Spot has been put into a poorly-welded box, only to be wheeled out on special occasions. There's exactly the right amount of meanness, and perfect shirt-sleeved descents into noise. That is to say, they take risks - the right ones. (And the album's weak points, "Tiny European Cars" for instance, are those moments when everything's on auto-pilot, Eef's whimsy accompanied by merely pleasant music.)

Since hearing it in concert last year, I've been waiting for the crazy tango of "Something Beautiful." It's caustic and sincere partner for the Mountain Goats' "International Small Arms Trader Blues," rough and fleet-footed. "Made for TV" is so sweet it'll melt the coldest of hearts; but it's not just schlock, it's not just 'a duet with a kid' -- the kid's uncertainty, the mistakes, make it something scary and true.

And "End of Love," my favourite song on the album, is just plain good fun, a rock song where Eef's voice squawks in perfect rhythm with the tune. The vocals are genius, bouncing so effortlessly, taking new twists of emphasis and letting the words hang there in front of your eyes. I don't know how he manages to make the lyrics matter so much, how he pulls such feeling with little, little changes of tone... but he does. "DON'T be apocalyptic," / "what is true-oo," / "SO WHAT," / "secret's [the slightest of pause] safe with you" / "Are you still feeling bad?" / "GUESS what, your pain [with sudden empathy] 's been done." Then there's the coda, of course, the big blow-out where it's all been leading, the horns that sound to me like reversed guitars, everything getting sucked into a black hole at the very end of love.

I was going to put "End of Love" up here, but I see that the fine new blog, Borrowed Tunes, beat me to it. So go get it there, and read John's thoughts on the record as well. (He says it starts like the Counting Crows. Is this a bad thing? [Answer: Sometimes.])



Loudon Wainwright III - "The Swimming Song"

Another tune from the marvellous anne rousselot.

This is such a clean tune, for all the bluegrassy arrangement. The mandolins are well groomed, the banjos have brushed their teeth. And Loudon's never carried away, he just sings the hopskotch poetry of his lyrics, letting the joy of the repeated words speak for themselves.

"And I moved my arms around."

Even the "Aaaay-hoo!" sounds like something planned, polished to be presentable.

But where this would normally put me off, this preparedness, this shine, here it's wonderful, it's just right. This isn't a hoedown, a barn-burner, a moment of the ecstatic - it's a lesson. It's wisdom. It's a glad and earnest recipe for life, a simple suggestion. It's easy, what Loudon's singing, you could do it. I could do it. "Self-destructive fool[s]" could do it. And there will be bright-and-shiny people to help you through, bright-and-shiny water to catch you fall, bright-and-shiny sunlight to see you do it, to see you hold your breath and kick your feet and move your arms around. To see you swim. Because I know you might have drowned. But you won't. Just listen.



M.I.A. - Arular

I've not been following the prep-school-Tamil-Tigers-politics-and-art debate about M.I.A., mostly because I only have internet access for a brief time every day, and can't spare the minutes. So I'm going to keep this short:

I get the bombs to make you blow. I got the bits to make you bang bang bang.




Van Morrison - "(Straight To Your Heart) Like A Cannonball"

The last time I went on about the masterpiece that is Astral Weeks, some commenters on this blog entreated me to go back to some of Van's other old records. Their feeling was that despite my blanket assertion that everything after Astral Weeks sucks (with the exception of "Brown Eyed Girl" and "Crazy Love," I suppose), Van's done a lot of good work, on records like T.B. Sheets and Tupelo Honey, etc.

Well, I went back and listened. And in the end, what do I think? Everything after Astral Weeks still sucks, but with the exception of "Brown Eyed Girl," "Crazy Love," "Wild Night" and "(Straight To Your Heart) Like A Cannonball".

Ok - download and listen to this song. Please.

Now play it. And ignore the wiggly ringo starr guitar-line. Bear with it. Listen to Van Morrison and his little existential drama. Listen to the girls who sing to his left. And wait. Wait. WAIT- YES. Flutes. Flutes! How could flutes be so wonderful!?

But oh, they are! They are they are. Keep listening. You're waiting for the flutes, aren't you? You're waiting for that two-and-a-half-bar sounding that seems to affirm all the delight in the world, that seems to affirm all the promise of love.

Van knows how good those flutes are. He knows it. He makes you wait. Then he looses them in a row. Oh god, oh gosh, how much there is for me in those silly breathy brushes of sound, that chorus of woodwind.

Am I wrong?




LazyWeb: I realize this is a long shot, but I recently heard that Gmail Swap was mentioned (in passing, or a sidebar or something) in Time Magazine last year. Does anyone happen to have seen that reference? I'd love a scan of it, or at least the date/issue, so that I can add it to the appropriate file. thanks!

Posted by Sean at March 3, 2005 8:54 AM

nice picks dude. the new Andrew Bird is def my fave album so far this year still. can't wait to see him here in Minneapolis next week.

and great pick for a song to share too, that's one of my faves, along w/ Measuring Cups, Masterfade, and Tables & Chairs.

Posted by solace at March 3, 2005 10:21 AM


First of all:

Astral Weeks: 1968
Brown-Eyed Girl: 1967


You are out your f-ing mind in your blanket dismissal of everything after AS. There's a lot of crap on those (seems like hundreds of) albums, granted, but in and amongst the dross are some amazing songs.

Posted by Phil at March 3, 2005 10:39 AM

Convince me!

Posted by Sean at March 3, 2005 10:45 AM

Okay, I have to jump in here. After taking a stance similar to yours with Van a friend encouraged me to pick up "Moondance," despite the fact that the song of the same name will for forever be associated with an abominable ad campaign for non-alcoholic wine coolers in the '80s ("Sundance"--anyone, anyone?). With its rumbling cello and brass ellipses, "Into the Mystic" isn't Astral Weeks-worthy, sure, but still a nicely pensive song. Then there's "Glad Tidings" and its insistent guitar followed by one of the most irresistable chorus of La-la-la-las ever recorded. C'mon, if you can respect Kelly Clarkson's product, you have to give it up to at least those songs.

That said, I haven't gone any further into Morrisson's more recent work. I'm scared.

Posted by chris at March 3, 2005 11:12 AM

Thanks for the link to Andrew Bird. I saw Final Fantasy on tour with Arcade Fire, and from what I've heard of Andrew Bird, I'm sure I'm going to love him.

Bought the CD today.

Posted by John at March 3, 2005 2:16 PM

that is one of my favorite LW III songs. in the liner notes Loudon explains how Anna (then wife Anna Mcgarrigle ) taught him how to frail on the banjo, which he does to great effect on this song.

Have you heard the rest of that record? "Clockwork Chartreuse" is brilliant also. for me his records are slow burners...and i have grown to love many of them.

Posted by bmr at March 3, 2005 2:38 PM

Well hello hello. A pleasure to see you back.

Posted by Tuwa at March 3, 2005 2:55 PM

Ooh. Good stuff all. Esp the Loudon and the flutes. Flutes! indeed.

Posted by Hillary at March 3, 2005 3:25 PM

van's work is spotty. he tries a lot of things. some work, some don't. but every moment of each of them, wins and losses, are embued his unique art. to my mind, that's one of the only common denominators of genius... and the uneven nature of an artist's body of work as evidenced by critical response is the most direct sign of it. especially in pop music, where you have to turn out so many pieces. still, back to van, nothing touches astral weeks, before (brown eyed, gloria, t.b. sheets) or after (tupelo, etc). that said you might try veedon fleece (written upon his return to ireland) which is very similiar to a.w.

i like final fantasy better than andrew bird. i get into fights having to defend this. kind of sad, like the world isn't big enough for their two violins.

again, great having you back.

Posted by cody at March 3, 2005 4:28 PM

van knows flutes. you should listen to the version of "wonderful remark" found on philosopher's stone. i've no idea whether it's pre or post astral weeks (i'd guess post), but it's great. some people hate it, i think it's brilliant (maybe a little long for its own good though). you know, they might actually be recorders. either way, brilliant.

Posted by dkosbob at March 3, 2005 5:44 PM

Van's uneven as hell (I can't think of a single album of his that I enjoy from front to back; sorry, Astral Weeks), but he's closer to brilliant than disposable. If nothing else, he's maybe the best singer in the world.

Posted by Paul at March 3, 2005 6:21 PM

I can't say that everything after Astral Weeks is bad, but I can concur that Astral Weeks is amazing, and my favourite album of his. Then again, I even enjoyed bits of The Healing Game, there is one song,whose title I can't recollect (I only have a badly taped version of the album) that is one of my fave songs that I remember now and again.

And for what it's worth, I can't get into Final Fantasy, but I really dig this Andrew Bird track, which is funny, cuz I lumped him in with FF and wrote him off without hearing him.

Posted by caley at March 3, 2005 7:41 PM

Hey Sean, I love you man (and welcome back), but you're still wrong about Van. I would say that he's a great exemplar of a genre you just don't like, but I'm not sure what genre that would be. It is odd, though, he went from seeming crucial to feeling somehow bypassed by history. He became sort of a genre unto himself, like Leonard Cohen or Serge Gainsbourg or Bob Dylan. (Actually, I feel about pre- and post-Blonde on Blonde Dylan the way you do about pre- and post Astral Weeks Van, so I guess I understand, I just disagree.)

I would point to:

Into the Mystic (both on, yes, Moondance)
Tupelo Honey (you may disagree, but what a song)
Jackie Wilson Said
Almost Independence Day
Linden Arden Stole the Highlights (and most of the rest Veedon Fleece)

as worth your time.

Posted by rodii at March 3, 2005 9:59 PM

In addition to Astral Weeks
and Moondance,
this is the syllabus:

Listen to the Lion
Saint Dominic's Preview
I Love You (The Smile You Smile)
Madame George (Bang Sessions Version)
Spanish Rose
Brown Eyed Girl
Joe Harper Saturday Morning
Who drove the red sports car
Redwood Tree
Tir Na Nog
In the Garden

Just Like A Woman (Bootleg)

It's Too Late to Stop Now (Live album)

(With Chieftans)
Marie's Wedding
Celtic Ray
She moved through the fair
Irish Heartbeat

Posted by Theo at March 4, 2005 2:15 AM

Your (pl.) Van remarks are illuminating. I listened to "Glad Tidings" which is pretty wonderful, yeah, and I think I can hear the appeal of "Into the Mystic" (but oh, how that title makes me loathe it). Apart from the opening vocal bars of "Moondance," though, it just doesn't do it for me. I think you might be right, Rodii, that he's trying to do something I simply don't appreciate, in a categorical sense. I'll hunt out those other songs you recommended, though, wheN I get broadband back.

Hi Tuwa!

Posted by Sean at March 4, 2005 7:06 AM

I think I like Greg Brown's cover of Moondance more than Van's original. Sacrilege to some, I suppose. But check it out, you might like it.

Posted by eric at March 5, 2005 1:10 AM

wisdom is a good word to use for lwIII. i recommend his other stuff.

Posted by anne at March 5, 2005 2:37 PM

Hmm, why does the title of "Into the Mystic" matter? (Supposedly it was supposed to be called "Into the Mist" but "Mystic" fit the meter better. Van was, I think, pretty uninterested in the actual meanings of his lyrics much of the time--it was all about getting that ecstatic flow going.) Things I like about ItM: the "foghorn" organ hum at the foghorn line, the weird floaty horn obbligato after the chorus, and the way Van articulates "magnificently", the way he just floats away into a yowl at the last "Iiiii want to rock your gypsy soul"... you may also dislike the doofy hippie lyrics--I wouldn't blame you. I mean "rock your gypsy soul," wtf? They are of their day, for sure. But it's what he does to them with his voice, the way he uses it like a tenor sax, that moves me.

I also think maybe his openheartedness doesn't play well in this ironic age, and that may be why Astral Weeks is everyone's favorite now--it's Van emo record for sure (but cf. the aforementioned Bang Sessions version of "T.B.Sheets" for the ultimate fear and loathing Van--he's a complex guy)--and I think the reason I love Moondance so much is that, coming after Astral Weeks, it was Van seeking (and finding) some respite. I mean, really, where do you go after "T.B.Sheets" and the Astral Weeks? Down or up. (I want to compare it to the transition between White Light, White Heat and The Velvet Undergound.)

Blah blah blah... also wanted to say how much I am loving that Okkervil River track you posted.

Posted by rodii at March 6, 2005 2:51 PM

I'd like to add "Jackie Wilson said (I'm in heaven when you smile" to the syllabus. It marries the sacred and the profane under blue-eyed soul skies. It sounds best in springtime.

Posted by pat at March 7, 2005 6:46 PM

Stuff from His Band and the Street Choir is terrific — hippie lyrics, but terrific, loose arrangements. "Blue Money," "Domino," "Call Me Up in Dreamland. . . ."

He knew what to do with that band.

Posted by AKMA at March 7, 2005 11:54 PM

I just have to recommend the Van Morrison mp3 here: to illuminate the transition from Bang Records to Warner Brothers; the distance between "Brown Eyed Girl" and "Astral Weeks"...

Posted by Hazy Dave at March 8, 2005 5:27 PM

Just found this blog and this post and wanted to say that I *did* fall in love with "Fake Palindromes" in the first two seconds, and then just sat there with my mouth half-open, fingers stilled over my keyboard, for the next two minutes-fifty; it's such a disappointment when it actually ends. I'll certainly be checking out the CD. Thank you!

Posted by Bonnie at March 13, 2005 10:58 PM

I'll go ahead and make the blanket statement that Van Morrison sucks no matter what year. I can't tune out fast enough when I hear that gawdawful voice! yuk

Posted by lisa at March 15, 2005 4:56 PM

I am looking to buy Van Morrison performing his Astral Weeks album - live, studio, etc., anything. Can anyone help? Just email info to address. Thanks so much!

Posted by Kelly at November 22, 2006 11:58 AM

The observation about Van Morrison as an artist will always be subjective at best. A blanket statement about Boy George and his material is just about as profound. Someone out there likes them both...Van Morrison as a person seems like a sad sack to me though. He seems like a bothered soul, full of darkness and resentment. A person who maybe expected more but was rewarded with praise on his "lesser" material. Kind of a 40+ year continual slap in the face. That's why he hates Brown Eyed Girl...I sort of pitty the old man.

Posted by Brdfan at March 27, 2009 4:55 PM

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Sean Michaels is the founder of Said the Gramophone. He is a writer, critic and author of the theremin novel Us Conductors. Follow him on Twitter or reach him by email here. Click here to browse his posts.

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