Saturday, August 20, 2011

2001: The Cowboy Bebop Edition

The Seatbelts: Slipper Sleaze

The Seatbelts ft. Mem Nahadr: Butterfly

The Seatbelts ft. Raj Ramayya: Ask DNA


I've been wanting to feature music from the many soundtracks of Cowboy Bebop for yonks but never had the chance to properly write it up until now.

Short summary: Cowboy Bebop is a Japanese anime series about futuristic bounty hunters traveling the universe on their spaceship, the Bebop. What is especially noteworthy, especially for us, is the Americentric music that was integral to the series. In fact, it's so Western---jazz, mostly, but also fusion, blues, hip-hop, funk, country-western, pop, alt-rock, and electronica---that I bet I won't even get flamed for posting it. Each episode had a unique musical theme, with names reflecting that: Jamming with Edward, Bohemian Rhapsody, Speak Like A Child, Black Dog Serenade, The Real Folk Blues…

Nearly all of the music was composed and arranged by Yoko Kanno, (think John Williams for anime scores, except she also sings from time to time). The music performance is credited to The Seatbelts, a changing mix of dozens of Japanese, American, and French musicians. Kanno and the Seatbelts released seven or so albums for Cowboy Bebop. Luckily for us, three of them were released in 2001. I swear, though, it was hard to narrow it down to just three songs, and I hope to be able to feature more in future SMM themes. Or, you know, you could check out the albums yourself!

Slipper Sleaze, from Cowgirl Ed is a laid-back jazz fusion piece that features a pretty sweet guitar/piano/bass melody.

Butterfly, from Future Blues the soundtrack to Cowboy Bebop: The Movie is a slow jazz ballad, with gorgeous English vocals by Mem Nahadr.

Ask DNA, from the album of the same name, is an alt-pop tune. The guy who sounds like Rob Thomas, is actually Indo-Canadian singer Raj Ramayya.

2001: Back In Black

Hayseed Dixie: Back In Black


Coverlovers know 2001 as the year that Hayseed Dixie released their debut album "A Hillbilly Tribute To AC/DC," thus introducing the world to "rockgrass", and the inevitable imitators that would follow.

It's hard to find the real story behind the absurdism here. The band's entirely implausible mythos, as presented in this picture-perfect parody of a down-home Disney YouTube video, has them as true redneck hillbillies, all coveralls and beards, shotguns and twang, who discovered the complete works of namesakes AC/DC when a city slicker's car crashed on their rural Appalachian property. The Boston Globe says they're "way out of left field"; Word Magazine says their music is like "The Beverly Hillbillies suddenly gripped by a death wish"; their first show ever was at SXSW; their most recent album is in Norwegian, and no one is sure why. Feel free to put on your ironic hipster glasses before rejoicing in their faux-thenticity.

2001: Chrystal Frontier (Widescreen Version)

Calexico: Chrystal Frontier (Widescreen Version)


The name of the band Calexico arises by combining California with Mexico. Chrystal Frontier (Widescreen Version) comes from an EP of flip sides and rarities, but the song is a perfect example of how the band mixes these two places. Mexico, in this song, is a land still haunted by the ghosts of ancient cultures, and also a wild place of violence akin to the Old West. Immigrants to California come seeking a place that has been tamed, but they also bring some of that modern wildness and ancient magic with them. The song presents a few of these immigrants at the border, caught between the old and the new. The music includes the Mariachi horns that are such an important part of Calexico’s sound, but also a modern beat that you can dance to. Both lyrical and musically, Calexico makes the combination work.

Friday, August 19, 2011

2001: Linger

Jonatha Brooke: Linger


It's funny the things you remember. I was only ever in Missouri for a few hours, when I flew into the St. Louis airport to visit a friend living in Southern Illinois, and yet in my few hours there, I purchased this album.

This song became my favorite from the album, I loved the lyrics. A few years later when I was attending grad school I used a quote from this song as an away message on my computer. The quote being:

You saw me through the key hole
Of a door that I kept locked
But I decorate the threshold
Just in case you knocked.

I thought it made a nice away message, and one of my roommates at the time very much agreed. She saw it and instantly loved it and wanted to know what it was from. I ended up making her a mix with the song on it. She was grateful, but thought the song didn't live up to the marvelous quote. I had to explain that Jonatha Brooke was what they often referred to as a "songwriter's songwriter" and it took a few listens to fall in I had felt the same way when I first listened to her and now she is one of my favorites. And indeed, my roommate kept listening and then began to adore it. It's always a fond memory when you can share something you love with others and see the light go on for them as well.

2001: Joy

Silverbullit: Joy


Silverbullit - one of all of those great bands destined to die in obscurity. Though they partly have themselves to blame for that; not only are they unproductive (three albums in fourteen years, and not a new album since 2004), they're also notoriously reluctant to do anything that might be considered crowd-pleasing.

The first album Silverbullit, released in 1997, was a hell-raising, high octane rock 'n' roll juggernaut inspired by The Stooges, MC5 and The Doors. After much turmoil, the follow-up Citizen Bird was released in 2001. Despite being recorded on and off for several years in a few different studios and with six different drummers, Citizen Bird has no problem holding together like one cohesive and mightily impressive album.

While it in parts retained the all American Detroit-tinged boogie r'n'r' energy, the band now took most of its cues from Spiritualized/Spacemen 3, The Velvet Underground, Suicide, DAF, Joy Division/New Order, krautrock and old school computer game music, creating something wholly unique and endlessly fascinating.

No doubt one of my favorite albums of all time. Get your copy today.

2001: The Wedding Song

Charlie Robison (with Natalie Maines): The Wedding Song


The Wedding Song is a duet, and it came out on a major label from their Nashville division. So you would expect a lush production with a wall of strings, and you would expect to hear a couple proclaiming their undying love for each other. What you get is evidence of why Charlie Robison probably should never have been on a major country label, despite the fact that the album made a respectable showing on the country charts.

At the time of this song’s release, Charlie Robison had been married to Emily Robison of the Dixie Chicks for two years, but his duet partner here is Emily’s bandmate Natalie Maines. To the ear, The Wedding Song is indeed a love ballad, based on an acoustic guitar, and sweetened with pedal steel. Other than that, the production is refreshingly low key. But then there are the lyrics. Robison and Maines each sing one of the first two verses, and each of those verses starts with these lines:

“Well, you are still here,
And I am still here,
Whether I ever loved you is
Not perfectly clear.”

Hardly the stuff of romance. As I see it, there are two ways to read this. Maybe the song is about a couple whose lack of romance means that they are realistic about what they have, and therefore their marriage is likely to endure. Or maybe the song is a droll send-up of romantic love ballads. I have always felt that this kind of ambiguity is a mark of great songwriting, and I stand by that here.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

2001: Baby, You're My Light

Richard Hawley: Baby, You’re My Light


Richard Hawley, a former member of Britpop groups Longpigs and Pulp, has produced a series of delightful and always affecting albums that started with his full debut in 2001, Late Night Final (it was preceded by a self-titled EP in 2000), and culminated in a masterpiece with 2009’s Truelove Gutter. The gorgeously melancholy, late night mood of that great triptych of Hawley albums — Coles Corner, Lady’s Bridge, Truelove Gutter — is already evident on the debut, from which the lovely ‘Baby, You’re My Light’ comes. His voice has now dropped a register and the arrangements have become more intricate since Late Night Final, but the basics of the Hawley sound, and the quality, are already there.

Most Hawley songs that address the fancies of romance are downbeat, speaking of loneliness, longing or disappointment. ‘Baby, You’re My Light’, as the title suggests, takes a more upbeat direction as we follow the narrator’s through three stages. First we meet the young man who is awkward in matters of the heart, then the more confident adult who allows himself to take the risks of a broken heart, and finally the seasoned campaigner in romance who yields to love. The opening line is quite wonderful: “First time, the longing in you wears the girl that grows it.”

Monday, August 15, 2011

2001: Angeldust (Please Come Down)

Jump, Little Children: Angeldust (Please Come Down)


Jump, Little Children was an alt-rock band made up of students studying classical music at North Carolina's School of the Arts. They started by playing live traditional Irish music, then added a dash of Delta blues before switching (mostly) to their own stuff. The group's vocalist, Jay Clifford, wrote all of the songs on this, their sophomore release. Yes, his voice reaches some pretty high ranges, isn't that cool? Are you surprised, given my affinity for falsetto, that I love this band? Most people who have actually heard them did, too, but unfortunately not enough of us existed, so sadly they called it quits after album #3 in 2004.

The islands off the coast are on fire
Orange and violet,
Standing on a thundering beach
Frozen in silence.
The rising sound of burning ground
Is like a carbon echo of a smoking gun.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

2001: Broken Things

David Byrne: Broken Things


By 2001, new wave music had happened twenty years earlier. Talking Heads had made some of the most original music of the 80s, but now leader David Byrne was well into his solo career. Byrne had always thrived on defying expectations. By 2001, that could mean making heavily produced music, with live strings and other orchestration. In Byrne’s hands, this evoked the sounds of Brazil, and that was the basis for much of his 2001 album Look Into the Eyeball. Broken Things is something of a throwback to Byrne’s earlier sounds. Yes, there is a horn section, but it is used with great subtlety. This one has real bite, more so because of the music that surrounds it on the album. As for lyrics, Byrne has always been an elliptical writer, but the most important repair to be made in this song is emotional rather than physical.