Top 3 "Non-2007 Release" Music Items of 2007

I know what you are thinking. That title makes absolutely no sense. Allow me to ellaborate. Throughout the year, I will listen to a wealth of new music. However, not all of this music was released in the current year, and then I never get a chance to include it in my year-end lists (which are still to come this month). The way I see it, I have spent the whole year listening to this music, and it deserves some recognition. As such, this year I decided to put together a (mini) list of musical odds and ends that I discovered this year. The only criteria was that it was "new to Jameson" in 2007. Here they are, in no particular order.

Music from Hotel Chevalier/The Darjeeling Limited
Wes Anderson is notorious for his expert use of popular music in his films. Whether it was Elliott Smith's, "Needle in the Hay" as Richie Tenenbaum carved gashes into his wrists in The Royal Tenenbaums, or David Bowie's, "Life On Mars" as Steve Zissou first meets the man who may be his illegitimate son, Ned Plimpton, in The Life Acquatic, Anderson has always managed to find the perfect songs for his not-so-perfect characters. In 2007, Anderson released one full-length film, The Darjeeling Limited, and one short film, Hotel Chevalier (which served as a prequel to the aforementioned full-length film). I have probably watched Hotel Chevalier at least ten times since i first acquired it (Late September 2007), and I have seen The Darjeeling Limited twice in the theatre. As you could have guessed, I am quite fond of both films, and suggest you make whatever efforts necessary to see them.

As far as the music is concerned, these films are right in line with his prior efforts. Once more, Wes Anderson has found the perfect balance of familiarity and quirkiness to frame these two films. Hotel Chevalier, Anderson's story of a heart broken man whose lover suddenly reappears in his life, is soundtracked entirely by 1960's singer-songwriter, Peter Sastedt's, "Where Do You Go To (My Lovely)". Sarstedt's crooner style translates perfectly into the French hotel room (where the film's entire 13 minutes transpires), and the song's tale of a rags to riches socialite who has left the song's narrator, along with her impoverished past, integrates seamlessly with Anderson's anecdote. As for The Darjeeling Limited, Anderson chose the somewhat less prominent British Invasion band, the Kinks, to outline his chronicle of three brothers' trek across India. There are three Kinks songs that appear in the film: "This Time Tomorrow" plays during the opening scene as Peter (Adrien Brody) runs to catch a speeding train, "Strangers" scores the brothers' entrance at the funeral of an Indian boy (perhaps my favorite scene from the film), and "Powerman" brings the film to a close as the brothers run to catch (yet another) speeding train. These songs all hail from the Kinks' 1970 album, Lola vs. the Powerman & the Money-Go-Round, Pt.1, which displays a substantially more folkier incarnation of the Kinks. To be honest, I would never have guessed that the Kinks' unconventional brand of pop music would serve as the perfect counterpart to a movie with this setting (India) and this subject matter (three brothers finding eachother and themselves), but not only does it work, it is wildly successful. I guess that is why Wes Anderson is making remarkable movies, and I am writing a music blog read by 6 people.

Big Star - "Thirteen"
In all honesty, I did not stumble upon Big Star's track, "Thirteen", on my own accord. At some point during the first half of 2007, I innocently bought a book written by Rob Sheffield that altered my outlook on "things". The aforementioned book, Love Is A Mix Tape, is the story of Sheffield's life, outlined by the mix tapes that he made throughout the years. While there are some comical pre-pubescent tales and early lost-love stories, the majority of the book centers around the rise and fall that was Sheffield's life with his (now deceased) wife. So the story goes, Sheffield first met his wife in a Charlottesville, VA bar when he noticed she was the only individual in the bar to "perk up" when the bartender put on Big Star's second album, Radio City. The two started talking, and they realized they had the same favorite Big Star song, "Thirteen". The couple ends up getting married, dancing to the song at their wedding, and then (after five years of marriage) Sheffield's wife, Renée, suddenly collapses and dies of a pulmonary embolism, leaving Sheffield shattered (It should be noted that up to Renée's untimely death, this story is more or less my idea of a modern-day, fairy tale romance.). The remainder of the book follows Sheffield as he picks up the pieces, detailing the music that he listened to along the way.

Love Is A Mix Tape is both heart-breaking and inspirational, and I would encourage everyone (specifically anyone who has ever meticulously slaved over a mix tape for a girl) to check it out. However, this post was intended to be less about the book, and rather more about the song, "Thirteen", which I discovered from it. A simple acoustic ballad, "Thirteen", is an equally simple tale of adolescent love. With innocently painted lyrics of walking a crush "home from school", and asking her to a dance, Big Star's, Alex Chilton, captures the nervous feeling of one's first love perfectly. Chilton even ends the song with a verse akin to a middle school note, asking the object of his affection: "Won't you tell me what you're thinking of / Would you be an outlaw for my love / if it's so, well, let me know / if it's "no", well, I can go / I won't make you" (read: Do you like me? Check yes or no in one of the boxes below).

The whole song is only 2:35, and its perfect from start to finish. It is (currently) the most played song on my (one year old) computer (86 plays and counting...). On one level, it delivers us to a time when love was (presumably) much easier (purer, even). When words like "commitment" meant you had a date to the dance, and you felt like you "scored" because a girl agreed to meet you at the pool (nevermind the fact that you both brought 5 friends along). The narrator is neither scorned, nor familiar with the phrase "We need to talk", but rather just a virginal romantic, venturing out of his shell for the first time. On another level though, the song is still applicable to those beyond their first crush because the emotions expressed in "Thirteen" (most notably excitement and anxiety) are a part of the experience of love no matter how old you are. This uncanny ability to extract nostalgia while delivering modern-day relativity to listeners makes "Thirteen" the perfect rock ballad. Evidently, rock and roll is here to stay.

The National - Cherry Tree EP
As I have previously noted, when a band releases a new album, I will often find myself revisiting their old material. It's almost like discovering the band all over again. 2007 saw the release of the National's fourth full-length album, Boxer. (I will not talk about Boxer here because I have a feeling it may get mentioned - in depth - somewhere else on this blog before the year is over). With the release of Boxer though, I found myself going back and listening to the National's (spectacular) third album, Alligator (My #2 album from 2005), a number of times. After repeated listens of both Boxer and Alligator in 2007, I needed more of the National. One day, while reading a review of Alligator (this is what I do in my free time - scour the internet for record reviews of old records that I already like...hoping to find another "quality" music site to waste time on), I saw mention of Alligator's predecessor, a seven song EP, Cherry Tree. Being quite fond of both Boxer and Alligator, I decided it would be worth my time to check the Cherry Tree EP out.

The only regret I have about this collection of seven songs is that it took me so long to actually listen to them. I would argue that the otherwise unreleased original material ("Wasp Nest", "All Dolled-Up In Straps", "Cherry Tree", and "About Today") on this EP rivals anything the National has released on their other albums. Opener, "Wasp Nest", fades in with bells reminiscent of a Christmas song, but Berringer's deadpan delivery and bittersweet words about a beautiful woman that is nothing but trouble ("poison in a pretty glass"), remind us quickly we are not on holiday. An early version of the Alligator track, "All the Wine", follows, serving as a seamless preface to what I would argue is the best "three song-stretch" on any of the National's releases (writer's note: I may retract this statement someday if/when I write about the three songs that close Alligator: "The Geese of Beverly Road", "City Middle", "Mr. November"). The first of these three songs, "All Dolled-Up In Straps", is the story of a man tied down by the memories of a past relationship. Told over minimal piano and strings, Berringer speaks for a man who cannot get beyond the loss of his former lover ("My head plays it over and over"), and as a result he sees her everywhere and in everything. Next comes the EP's title track, "Cherry Tree". Starting as a solitary finger-picked guitar, "Cherry Tree" swells slowly into a turbulent climax, eventually bursting with feverish piano, frantic strings, and crashing drums. Amidst the chaos lies Berringer's chilling baritone alternating between a cautionary declaration ("Loose lips sink ships") and a condescending inquiry ("Can we show a little discipline?"). Rounding out this stellar stretch of songs is "About Today", the straightforward account of an individual in a fading relationship. The song's narrator is cognizant of the dire situation, and Berringer hauntingly conveys this sentiment ("Today you were far away, and I didn't ask you why. What could I say? I was far away. You just walked away, and I just watched you"..."Tonight you just close your eyes, and I just watch you slip away"). As Berringer exhales the final words of the song's foreboding last verse ("Hey, are you awake. Yeah, I'm right here. Well can I ask you about today? How close am I to losing you? How close am i to losing..."), "About Today's" soft steady drums also breathe their last breath, fittingly leaving listeners with the sonic equivalent of emptiness. After this epic stretch, the EP closes with (perhaps the only misstep on the release) a live version of Sad Songs For Dirty Lovers' rocking track, "Murder Me Rachel", and then a raw (but well done) cover of Padma Newsome's, "Reasonable Man (I Don't Mind)".

I would love to preach about the National in this closing paragraph, or perhaps talk about how the Cherry Tree EP soundtracked a portion of my 2007 (I honestly spent about 2-3 months of 2007 where I almost exclusively listened to the National and Okkervil River). However, I will leave my sermon for the not-so-distant future, and save the personal story for a rainy day. Right now, I am on a good mixture, and I don't want to waste it.




Luke said...

I sometimes find myself humming the tune to that hotel chevalier song at the strangest times.

We need to get together soon jaymo... and have that house party we briefly discussed, heh.