Take Five

Finds of the Week

  • WERS did it again. The other morning, I was sitting at my desk when a vaguely familiar tune began playing. It was crisp, delicious power pop, with an early ’80s sound. I quickly went to WERS.org and saw that the song was “Whenever You’re on my Mind” by Marshall Crenshaw. Before I left for work, I had ordered a two-disc, 30-song collection of his work from eBay.It never ceases to amaze me. Certain songs, even if you’ve only heard them once before, can leave such a profound influence that, even upon hearing them years later, they are raised to the surface and freshly recalled as if the album has been in heavy rotation for years. Or maybe those songs simply contain elements so universal and essential that they sound familiar, like a root language. Either way, when I make those discoveries (or rediscoveries), it’s always a treat.
  • I’ve always been a fan of bargain bins. I love the thrill of possibly unearthing a gem for a pittance. I was lucky enough to do this on Saturday, when I found two Del Amitri albums — “Change Everything” and “Twisted” — for $1 each at Planet Records. I also found a copy of the Mike Viola/Candy Butchers‘ EP “Live at La Bonbonniere,” which I already own but am hoping to offer to a fan who doesn’t have it in their collection. (Any takers?)

New Releases

I couldn’t muster love for the Bird and the Bee‘s Hall & Oates tribute album, and I didn’t know why. It just sounded same-y and uninspired. All of Hall & Oates kitschy, quirky glory had been whitewashed with a muted, hipsterrific veneer. Then, Matt Dyson (@dirkler on Twitter) made me realize why I felt that way. Because it’s true!

When you have The Bird and The Bee take Hall & Oates and treat them as elder statesmen for a tongue-in-cheek society that wants to be taken seriously, what ends up happening is similar to when you watch a bad movie that is in fact much too bad: you watch and giggle for about a half hour, then suddenly get bored with being ironic about it and just want to be entertained.

Second Thoughts

The other evening, I was walking home from work when Roxy Music‘s “More Than This” came on my iPod. I was nearly stopped in my tracks by the all-consuming need to, at that moment, watch the movie “Lost in Translation.” So what did I do? Shortly after I got home, I popped it in, of course. What choice did I have?

I’ve always been a huge fan of that movie — it’s probably in my top 10 of all time. Not just any movie can hold me emotionally rapt even when the viewings have likely entered the double-digits. One of the most compelling things about “Lost in Translation” is the music. Each song so profoundly aligns with the emotion of the scene which it accompanies. The scene featuring “More Than This” — when Bill Murray’s Bob Harris sings it in the karaoke lounge, obviously directing it toward Scarlett Johansson’s Charlotte — is taut with longing, and that song represents exactly what both of them are feeling at that moment. No wonder simply hearing that song on my iPod instantly connected me to the movie and tapped my affection for it.

Music has always been an emotional interest for me. I invest a lot in a song — maybe too much — but songs help me understand the world and my own weird life. That said, when I make a mix CD for somebody, it’s rarely just a random collection of recent songs, or genre songs. It’s an emotional journey across the entire arc of a series of events or feelings, whether it’s graduation or moving or finding true love or losing true love. Essentially, it’s storytelling. I’m just using the words and music of others to craft the narrative — as much for myself as the recipient.

The other day, I was preparing to head out to celebrate a friend’s moving to Boston from DC to be with his fiancee. With just a short amount of time before we needed to go, I remembered that I had wanted to make him a mix CD. Somehow, I quickly pulled together a pretty decent mix that reflects a lot of the themes at play — starting a new life in Boston, finally being someplace he considers home, being with his true love, his faith and some other relevant topics.

After I’m done making a mix, I like to listen through it from the perspective of the recipient. I like to consider the reasons I picked a song, then wonder how the recipient might react to that song selection. Do they get what I was trying to say, or not?

I guess it doesn’t matter. I just hope he enjoys listening to it as much as I enjoyed making it.


Of all my Amie Street grabs recently, I love The Kissaway Trail‘s “Sleep Mountain” the most. This Danish band has an unpretentious grandeur and a full and lovely sound. They remind me of one of my favorite Norwegian bands, Poor Rich Ones. I really can’t recommend them enough if you want something earnest, fresh, powerful and musically solid.

Looking Ahead

It’s been a great couple of weeks for advance streams of highly anticipated albums. Upcoming albums by the New Pornographers (May 4),  The Hold Steady (May 4) and The National (May 11) have all been available for preview from fine media establishments such as NPR and the New York Times (which also did a really cool profile of the band). Early returns are all positive, and I will be at Newbury Comics with my debit card on the appointed Tuesdays, ready to purchase.

Also, I’m working on a compilation of my favorite songs of the year so far for the Higher Ed Music Critics blog. So stay tuned for a link to that.


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