Monday, April 13, 2009

Songs of the Week (4/12)

These are actually the songs of last week, but whatever, here goes:

1. 'Beautiful Girls' by Deer Tick

I certainly didn't appreciate the original version of this song when Sean Kingston dropped it in 2007 and it blew up on urban radio. I was probably turned off by Jamaican accent tinged, auto-tuned crooning and slick, schlocky r&b radio production values. However, the John McCauley's rendition with his band Deer Tick exposes it for what it is: a great bit of r&b song writing in the tradition of Smokey Robinson. "You're far too beautiful girl, that's why this will never work/ You'll have me suicidal, suicidal when you say that its over." Simple, honest lyrics about the agony of love wrapped up in an upbeat, catchy melody (that borrows heavily from Ben E. King's 'Stand By Me'). Far from being the cliched white indie group doing an ironic cover of a hit urban song, Deer Tick approach the material with passionate reverence and innovation. They throw in some countryish harmonies and play up the 50's r&b roots of the song by adding in an organ and smooth guitar licks. The result is invigorating, especially as the song reaches its climax and McCauley transitions into the lyrics of 'Stand By Me' without flinching. Check it out now, it won't be up on myspace forever.

2. 'Lady Pilot' by Neko Case

In the runup to the Neko concert I'll be attending a week from today, I've been listening to her 3rd full length, Blacklisted. I don't know if I've listened to the album enough to get a handle on it, but at least one track so far shines out as easily one of Neko's best: 'Lady Pilot.' Haven't fully deciphered the lyrics yet, but I think the song has something to do with a lady flying a plane at night and maybe there's a crash. The one line that won't get out my head is Neko's full-throated declaration midway through that 'We've got a lady pilot, and she's not afraid to die!' Its probably all some dark metaphor for something, but what really makes this song is Neko's powerful pipes over catchy acoustic strumming. I really hope she reaches back into her catalogue and does this one ...

3. 'Cherry Chapstick' by Yo La Tengo

Rarely can I tolerate songs over 6 minutes long, but when one comes along that can rock me from start to finish, I know its great. I also have a hard time falling in love with songs whose lyrics don't 'move' me. However, 'Cherry Chapstick' is a rare breed: a long, heavily instrumental jam that just kills me. All that shoegazy goodness packed into tight hooky riffs that repeat over and over again but mutate spontaneously throughout the song into new wonderous sounds, but all the way keeping locked in step to a constant, driving groove. The more Yo La Tengo I here, the more I recognize their undeniable musical brilliance.

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