Radars to the Sky play this Saturday, June 23rd at The Central in Santa Monica. Radio Free Silverlake presents the show, which also features omnipresent buzzfave Torches, the inimitable The Hectors, the charisma parade of Fort King, and talented newcomer Ceeca. If you write to radarstothesky(at)gmail(dot)com, and give them unlimited names, you and your friends are in for $5.
by Andrew Spitser
There really must be some theme I can muster here. My five favorite songs of all time? (Impossible task.) Five songs you've never heard before? (Meh. I've covered some of my favorite underappreciated songs before. And it's not like I'm some connoisseur of of obscure tunes to begin with.) A history of my musical tastes of 30-some-odd years? (I don't think anyone would read past "John Denver.") Five great songs by local bands we love? (Hard to pick five without slighting someone, and I haven't been going out very much in the last year or so, making the list rather dated.) One song from each of five continents? (I could just choose five Beirut songs instead, I guess.) The five songs with the highest play totals in my iTunes? (I checked -- too narcissistic; if you want that, just go here.)
No, I guess this will simply be five songs that I'd like to share with you; some you've heard, some you might not have heard; some have influenced the way I write music, some not as much. But all are awesome. Now there's a theme.
1. "Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now" by The Smiths
Maybe because it's after midnight and I'm sitting in near darkness thinking about my daughter having turned 5 today, and I'm trying not to wake anyone with the clickety-clack of these keys, and I haven't been sleeping well; or maybe it's because I've always had a tendency to be slightly nostalgic for things, even before they end; but, in any event, but I'm feeling nostalgic. I've recently been trying to master Back to the Old House, which I was going to include here until I stumbled upon this incredible live video of "Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now," which fits my mood just fine. Johnny Marr's guitar work on both of these songs is so rich, so textured, and so subtle, it's incredible. Back to the Old House doesn't even sound complicated, and I've been playing guitar for more than half my life, but there are subtle phrasing things that he pulls off, that absolutely make the song, that I can't quite pull off. A true master.
In this video, I can't get over the easy charisma that Morrissey carries. You take a picture of him up there on that stage, divorce it from the music, and you have a sort of odd-looking cat with a weird belt hanging phallicly down his pants. And even live, his dancing is sort of off, and he doesn't engage the crowd at all. But damn, is he not one of the greatest frontmen ever? Yes, yes, he is.
I remember getting in my brother's car, many years ago when my now-college age niece was small, and hearing "Fruit Salad" by The Wiggles, then hearing it again, then hearing it again, and then hearing it again... you get the picture. I vowed that I would never allow myself to be subjected to insufferable kids' music in my car. My kids would learn to appreciate The Beatles, Bob Marley, and Iron and Wine, then graduate to Death Cab and The Cure. By 10, I expect Maya to be able to play the chords for all of Keep it Like a Secret so I can play all the cool lead parts. And we've stuck with that, for the most part.
But along the way Kate and I have discovered that there are a lot of really musical people out there making really interesting, fun, music for kids. Some of it happens to just be great music. Laura Veirs has put out 7 or 8 albums worth of her own music, and it's pretty good, but then decided to make a kids' album after she had a baby. This has led to mixed results. Jewel's record is a bit uneven, though it has some charming songs. Lisa Loeb is a winner. But Laura Veirs absolutely nails it. Probably one of my favorite albums I've heard in the last year or two, kid oriented or not. Check out the guitar and odd rhythms on this song, that somehow makes total sense as a kids' song. Wonderous.
3. "Bermuda" by Kisses
I don't really know what Chillwave is. I can honestly say I've never listened to anything by Toro y Moi, though I read enough Pitchfork to know who he is and that there is a sub-genre of "blissed-out, sun-soaked tunes that hearken back to a Southern California August day at the beach, just before sunset." I'm not sure if this fits. I suppose so. But mostly, it's just really infectious. And it makes me want to dance, which is sort of rare. Sometimes music doesn't have to be more than that (but only sometimes). I dare you to listen to this and not smile. Okay, not you, Mr. Testosterone Guy. But the rest of you. Also -- and I only found this out when I just went to find a link -- this video is either awesome or awful, I can't decide; which, of course, means it's awesome, since I went back and watched twice.
I've heard this song played live twice in my life, and neither time by The Stone Roses, who are certainly top 5 on my list of bands I've never gotten to see live (No. 1, by a long shot, is also No. 1 on this list). The first time was one of the best nights of my life. I was traveling alone in Ireland and ended up in Belfast. A good friend is from Belfast, so she got me in touch with a friend and we arranged to meet up. Turns out Ian Brown (ex- Stone Roses lead singer) was playing in town that night. He got us tickets. Turns out Ian Brown is from Manchester. Turns out Manchester United were playing in the Finals of one of the really big European "football" championships (FA Cup? Champions League?). Turns out the place where Ian Brown was playing opened up early so that folks could watch this big match, and he and the whole band were there watching the game. Which was pretty amazing in and of itself -- hell, just being in Belfast watching a really important (to them) soccer match, being young and fearless and unattached and slightly drunk and feeling like my whole life was ahead of me was pretty amazing.
But then again, Manchester United were losing by a goal and folks there were taking it pretty hard and the mood had turned quite somber, especially when the regular time expired with the old "Reds" behind. All that was left was the "injury time" -- a unique and wonderful, though totally maddening aspect of soccer where after the allotted game time ends the referees add an amount of time only they know to compensate for the number of minutes missed throughout the match while players flopped to the ground and writhed in pain, Paul Pierce style, trying to draw a foul call despite having been barely brushed. In any event, as it came to pass, Man U scored not one, but two goals during the 5 minutes or so of "injury time," one of the iconic moments in soccer history (think Kirk Gibson but without Vin Scully sanctifying the moment with his mellifluous tenor), the place went absolutely bat shit crazy, the doors open, the whole crowd, whipped into a frenzy, spills into the hall next door, the band breaks out into an amazing set that includes a cover of Thriller, a bunch of great solo stuff, and a handful of Stone Roses tunes, includingI Wanna Be Adored. More drinks were shared with the band post-show, I somehow made it back to my hostel, and slept fitfully thinking of Sugar Spun Sisters and corner kicks. One of those amazing nights they make shitty beer commercials about.
The second time I heard this song played live was not quite the iconic night as above, but still came at the end of one of the better local shows I've ever seen. I came in late to an absolutely packed house at Spaceland for a Monsters Are Waiting show (residency show, maybe?) about 4 or 5 years ago. They'd been recommended to me, but didn't know anything about them. They closed with an incredible cover of this song that thrummed with energy, and their lead singer, Annalee, absolutely owned the room. Turns out she has a new band, called Lonely Trees. They are really good, and she is terrific as ever. Anyhow, here is the Monsters are Waiting cover of this tune. What they did with the build-up intro is really cool.
5. "Night on the Sun" by Modest Mouse
This is my favorite song ever. I once got a copy of an extended version of this, but I can't seem to find the CD. It was on my old computer, but that computer died in child birth (a nurse knocked a glass of water onto it while Kate was in labor; good times). I believe the full-length version might have been the b-side to a 12" single for one of the tracks from Building Nothing Out of Something (Interstate 8, maybe?). It was also the first track on a Japanese-issued-only EP of the same name (I'm not a big fan or anything.) it's not on iTunes, though.
They put a truncated version of this tune on a b-sides compilation called Everywhere and His Nasty Parlour Tricks. But then Youtube comes through. So now I need to stop typing, turn off the rest of the lights, and listen to this on headphones. Everything is going to be alright.