In what is surely a cosmic coincidence, Jay Reatard’s estate — one day after his passing — found a recent recording laying around and released it. It’s a cover — if this were fiction we couldn’t have written it out any better — of Nirvana’s “Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge On Seattle.” And how’s this for perhaps the last chorus Mr. Reatard ever recorded: “I miss the comfort in being sad.”
Wasn’t that our whole argument for “It Ain’t Gonna Save Me”? That the song was despair transformed into a comfortable, almost happy, emotional release?
We’ll go ahead and chalk up a few more points for ourselves.
10) “1901,” Phoenix. That synthesizer tone is enough, in and of itself, to force “1901” into the ten-spot. It’s perfect: round, deep, fuzzy, yet clear and taut despite its wall-to-wall massiveness. The song, built as it is on the synth line, sports the same unusual qualities. There’s no wonder the song dances so well in car commercials and as background music for teens shopping at Urban Outfitters — any listener is sold on its charm immediately. The synth, the hard-to-understand (they’re French but sing in English, duh) yet soothing chirps of lead singer Thomas Mars, the heyheyheyhey of the pre-chorus, the parts make a whole so downright satisfying that there just might be an excess of good-songwriting here, give or take a chorus. In short, these guys are hotter than Phoenix, Arizona.
9) “It Ain’t Gonna Save Me,” Jay Reatard. When an artist dies unexpectedly, we return to their songs to hunt — hopelessly — for a few choice lyrics, a certain signifier to provide a guide to understanding their deaths. Nirvana fans, for example, wrestled with Cobain’s morbid lyrics on songs like “Milk It,” where the chorus included the line, “look on the bright side, suicide,” desperately trying to match music with method, as if Kurt’s screams were shotgun shells, loaded as they were by the verse, fired in the chorus.
Jay Reatard died early yesterday morning. No one knows why, exactly. Could be drugs, could be homicide (the police are investigating). His death, at 29, alters this song and his legacy immediately and irreversibly. As for overanalyzing, we’ll indulge ourselves for a few short points and then get to a more important and ultimately compelling point-of-view.
First, the title: Whatever it is, it sure didn’t save you, Mr. Reatard. Second, the song’s catchy post-chorus closing chant of “all is lost / there is no hope / all is lost / you can go home / all is lost / for me” becomes exponentially more of a downer, to the point of almost sounding fucking twisted. Couple that with the album title, Watch Me Fall, add a pinch of paranoia and we’ve got ourselves an ominous little death note in song form.
That said, now is the time to replace that pinch of paranoia with some salt, and proffer a reading that is both serious and supportable. The song’s pleasure emerges from its conflicts and contradictions — its attempt to be simultaneously the catchiest, most upbeat rock song Mr. Reatard has ever written and an absolute resignation to his own melancholy. Accordingly, the form and the lyrics couldn’t be in more opposition. Unless they just, well, aren’t. As in, this is despair as emotional release — short, sweet, catchy. An upbeat earworm born from the most tragic emotions: loneliness, negativity, feelings of low self-worth, melancholy.
It’s funny, too, just how much this form-conflicting-with-content argument about Reatard’s song reminds us of something else that has to do with death. It’s that ritual, inevitably plagued with sadness but which tries to keep the mood upbeat and provide a forum for emotional release and a chance to get rid of all those leftover emotions that linger with death; where we are inevitably told to laugh and cry at the same time and remember all the good times we shared with someone while, at the same time, reminding ourselves that we’ll never have those times, with them, ever again. Celebrate his life; mourn his death. This is the purpose of the funeral.
Moreover, the same purpose maps pretty well onto “It Ain’t Gonna Save Me.” Which is to say, “It Ain’t Gonna Save Me” might be the most unpretentious funeral song we’ve ever heard. R.I.P. Jay Reatard.
8.) “This Blackest Purse,” Why?. Yoni Wolf has become one of the best lyricists in indie rock. What were, early in his career, scattershot metaphors — seemingly random for random’s sake — have become poignant and accurate portrayals of what life really means for a certain segment of society: the twenty-something’s of today, urban dwellers stuck looking for their specific village (hipster, frat, punk, jock, et cetera); hip to outsiders, confused to themselves. Wolf is always drunk and sober at once. He almost undermines our notion of those things as mutually exclusive, his lyrics so desperately without inhibition, so furiously introspective and personal, fused with a practiced, seductive delivery. Listeners are never quite sure whether or not to give Wolf a hug, concede sexually to his advances, or tattoo the lyrics on their biceps like some kind of hipster gospel. This explains Why? their shows have come to include sing-along-horny teenage girls, young moody intellectuals and, at least in Europe, British kids — taxonomically somewhere between hipsters and ex-N-Sync fan girls — snorting coke in the front row.
We won’t parse the song’s lyrics. That’s for you and your British and/or underage girlfriend to do. We’d just like to add that “This Blackest Purse” is Why? in the most revealing clothes they’ve ever worn: nothing more than a simple piano line, a touch of bass and drums, and Wolf’s voice upfront and clear. It’s poetry set to music, or maybe it’s the other way around. We’re not really sure.
7) “Idiot Heart” / “Insane Love Is Awakening,” Sunset Rubdown. We would like to take this opportunity to call anyone who doesn’t like SR — using Krug’s very specific word choice — an idiot.
Two songs chosen here because they were released around the same time and showcase exactly how dynamic Krug’s songwriting is insofar as he can move between rambling, rumbling, busy songs like “Idiot Heart” and the naked, electric-guitar-and-that’s-it pseudo-folk of “Insane Love.” Krug’s resume with Wolf Parade, Swan Lake, Frog Eyes and Sunset Rubdown practically murders the competition — or as he describes it, “flashing silver like the knife of a killer.” (PS: The silver/killer half rhyme is insanely rewarding.)
6) “And The Hazy Sea,” Cymbals Eat Guitars. We will wager that the moment of silence at 3:34 — the point at which “Hazy Sea” falls into an eerie stillness, the only audible sound the buzzing of guitar amps — still stands five years in the future as one of the best moves a rookie band has ever made. The silence breaks a second later, when the vocalist takes a deep breath (to be remembered alongside Cobain’s sigh from “Where Did You Sleep Last Night” and Yorke’s panicked “Idioteque” breathing) and lets go of a piercing scream into the cacophony — all at once, crashing symbols, bass, a guitar solo, howling struggling to become recognizable words, and then, sudden and immediate release: The pounding stops, the tension retreats, deep breaths return once again — the illusion of peace. As with life, so goes the song.
Due to Brett’s suffering with lisztomania, I’ve been convinced that posting a Top 25 Albums of the Decade is in order. That will be coming soon (maybe even with download links, if I think we won’t get shut-down faster than a crack slinger in Beverly Hills). But, since that posts would require quite an investment of time, labor, and capital, and it being Halloween, a Top 5 Songs of the Week will have to be enough sugar for you’ll (all 1 of you) to last through the weekend.
1) 11th Dimension — Julian Casablancas
This song feels like what we’ve all been waiting for from Mr. Casablancas. Giddy, 80s keyboards rocking back and forth behind his suave vocals. Moreover the song is fantastically catchy, but even after hearing it 15 times you still won’t be able to explain to someone else how it goes without hearing the music. It’s a puzzle of a song, a bunch of different pieces, all decadent and neon with an energy that feels just right for a Saturday night.
And you thought Andrew W.K. was awesome before? Try Mr. AWK throwing his party-anthem talents at a full album of Japanese pop songs (technically called J-pop). It’s got comedy (the direct, silly lyric translation), serious power chord rock-outs, a breakdown stolen straight out of a Wolf Parade song, and a chorus that hits like an atom bomb. Oh, was that in poor taste? My mistake.
Before their newest album, There is No Enemy, Built to Spill have never been able to keep my attention. But all that’s changed. Album opener “Aisle 13” has that perfect balance between the vocals — which sound like teenagers star-gazing, that sort of bewildered, soft tone that’s unique to Doug Martsch — and the detailed, mature guitar rock that backs up the track. The lyrics are bugged-eyed too, the kind of adolescent stoner revelations you might have alone with your best-friends (“No one sees because no one wants to / see what’s in their minds). Plus, as one commentator mentioned on YouTube, the track name is rather clever: Built to Spill on Aisle 13. Are we talking about spilling groceries or idle minds?
4) It Ain’t Gonna Save Me — Jay Reatard
Is it punk rock? Disco? Dance punk? Trendy hipster bullshit? Catchy as fuck? All I know is that I can’t stop listening to it. And once you give it try, no one will be able to save you either.
The Very Best are one of those global bands. Singer Esau Mwamwaya is from Malawi and some of the other guys in the band are European. Whatever, all that shits not that important. The song, on the other hand, is. Warm chants, Afro-beats, a hip-hop low end, this track really does come from the Warm Heart of Africa. As your listening, wave hello to Ted Gurney — this is about as close as most of us will ever come to Togo.
Carey Mercer of Frog Eyes
One of my favorite musicians, Carey Mercer, blogs about all things. In addition to being an astonishing songwriter, he’s a good writer too. I think I read once that he teaches high school English.