Saturday, January 13, 2007

Itunes Nomad

I do not mean, in the titling of what I hope will be a regular music component to this blog, to plug Apple's leviathan-like music service (as if it should require the meager publicity generated by this remote web outpost). Rather, i hoped, honestly to capture the method by which I discover new music: aimless, half-asleep clicks through itunes, that fantasia of cleverly organized, easily-sampled sounds. As with this post, I will, from time to time, introduce, or perhaps re-introduce songs I'm particularly moved by at the moment.

The Shins - Phantom Limb

Its difficult to disassociate the Shins from Zach Braff, but try one must. This, the first single from The Shins' forthcoming album, is absolutely, and without qualification, a great pop song. Opening with a fantastical, scene-setting bit of imagery, sung in a dreamy, lilting beach boys glow "frozen into coats, white girls of the north..." we see clearly, and from the beginning, that we are in for a treat. The song flits back and forth between melancholy tales of aimless youth, to its more anthemic pronouncements, all the while riding a sweet-as-cupcake-frosting guitar groove. And though those guitars make for a pleasing enough backdrop, the story here is the voice, or rather, the singing style of Mr. James Mercer. The guy is flat out unafraid to let himself soar into barely-intelligible, ethereal anunciations that make this a song of sweetly mumbled vowels. The effect is dizzying. I can hardly wait for summer, for this song, I can already tell, will not be fully experienced until it accompanies you, at illegal speeds, down a stretch of coastal highway, the wind filling the holes in the melody.

Nas - Can't Forget About You

Hip Hop, that brilliant recylcer of melodies old, has given us its take on that most timeless of Nat King Cole songs: Unforgettable. Just when I'd thought, all the cool, jazzy emotion had been wrung from that tune, with the advent of the Grammy winning, special-effects-assisted duet with Nat and daughter Natalie some years back. But no, for the moment, Nas, our foremost urban poet, will have the last word. What's most impressive is the way the melody, the bellsy twinkling of the original has been scaled back here. It would certainly have verged on the cloying for this version to be drenched, sentimentally, in the original. You could be forgiven for missing the connection until, at the end of the track, the beat drops out, and Nat intones, strong and clear, that refrain from yesteryear "That's why darlin', it's incredible...". Rap music, with its image-dense couplets, and high word counts that dwarf competing genres, is perhaps the music most suited to the remembrance of things past. Indeed, there is a rich tradition of cozy reminiscing in Hip Hop, dating back to Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth's seminal 'T.R.O.Y. (They Reminisce Over You)' and then most definitively, with the radio-friendly 'Back in the Day' by Ahmad, a song imprinted deep into the psyche of white, generation X/Y/Z suburbia. Nas serves the tradition well here, offering up a few universal gems of our collective experience, "Remember Jordan's retirement/ the shot Robert Horry hit to win the Finals, kid" or "Mike when his talk was live/ when he first did the moonwalk on Motown 25". Pleasant memories, all, but this will not be a song recalled for its superb lyricism, as much as its haunting, bittersweet hook: a first person love letter to that art-producing cauldron of black experience: "these streets hold my deepest days...".

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