10 Songs About Art

Seems like theme playlists have been coming to mind a lot lately. There's something reassuring about finding patterns and links between disparate objects. I think that's essentially the English major's curse. Or maybe the curse of the artist in general. We seek links among varying areas of study. We are philosophers of all things expressive. So, when music is the common link, well, that's a simpler equation. They're all songs! says the doubter. There are only so many potential combinations of notes! The chord progressions used in rock/pop/hip-hop/blues/reggae/jazz all rely on the same rule set. Eh. It's true. I often hear songs that sound similar/the same as something previous to it, or even something contemporary. Sometimes I'm not entirely correct in my guess. It may be a hanging note here or there that forges a link in my mind, but it's the same way that we can see one aspect of a person's face and think they look like someone they do not look like. It's a bag of tricks, all this comparison and contrasting.

Initially, I planned to focus in only on songs about writing. But, as any reader, writer, or interesting person will tell you: When people write about writing it's usually an exercise in mundane masturbation. Luckily, there is only one song about the "writing process" in this list, and even that one has more to do with using writing to track a timeline of love than about the process itself. That's just a kind way of keeping us from getting bored. A song called, "I'm Typing for the Eighth Month Straight" isn't selling any records. And we're lucky that most songs, with the exception of a couple sappy love songs I wrote back in high school, don't reference "songwriting" immediately in their lyrics. We prefer art to be self-aware, but not always self-referential. It's an afront to the listener, like the excellent Twitter @humblebrag. Artists are supposed to, in some sense, create without being too cloying about it. We don't want to know where the work comes from, that it was a human process of insight, failure and complaint. We prefer the magic trick, unspoiled, to be wow us each and every time. So, here are 10 Songs About Art. One of them, Cursive's "Art Is Hard" actually just all that complaining, but in a rocking enough way that I think we'll all find it palatable.

1. "The Engine Driver" by The Decemberists from Picaresque
This is a sort of universal song about love and wishing it wouldn't haunt us in our worst hours. Colin Meloy is especially earnest with his lyrics here, juxtaposing broad-stroke concepts of different professions with the cry that love is a sort of curse. Throughout the song, no matter what persona the principle character takes on, he can't escape the fact that love is the thing that has let him down. Love is the thing that holds him in stasis, keeping him from growing into something "happy" regardless of all his achievements. And the bridge refrain, "I am a writer. A writer of fictions. I am the heart that you call home. And I've written pages upon pages trying to rid you from my bones," speaks so directly to the cathartic property of art, and the temporary nature of catharsis, that it becomes haunting in itself. Art becomes an addiction, a good one, but one that provides little boosts that we thrive on for a short time. Unfortunately, we always need to make more. No project ever really ends, we just give up on it to get a fresh, new high from a new creation.

2. "Modern Art" by Art Brut from Bang Bang Rock & Roll
Despite the playful and semi-ironic tone of this track, Art Brut is capturing the vivid powerful feeling of sublime existential crisis that some art can evoke in the viewer. Modern art, specifically, can do this well because there's the glow of color and the power of undefined shape. While a classic portrait may lead us to bask in the beauty of its construction, the art that really gets under the skin is the stuff that we have to impress our own experience upon. Looking at a canvas of pure color makes us feel the things we associate with that color, and while there are "rules" about color theory, a certain red may make me remember the color of my '66 Mustang convertible or the blood on the asphalt following a car accident when my father was a volunteer firefighter, it may make another viewer think of cherries or something more charmingly banal. It's eye of the beholder shit. And if modern art makes Art Brut want to rock out, then it's entirely possible it could make another viewer want to break down in tears.

3. "Write About Love" by Belle & Sebastian from Write About Love
Stuart Murdoch is really singing about love here. And the way that in our most desperate/loving moments we want to find the spell that will break our mundane worlds apart and bring the person we care about back to us. Of course, love is drug in this case, and spells are just a magical stand-in for drugs too. Art too is a kind of drug, as I noted above. We turn to art, and writing and whatever additional expression we can find to get some welcome respite from our busy lives. And that's why all of this important. All Dystopian novels tend toward worlds (with the exception of Brave New World) where art is completely banished. Human expression is a curse and a necessity. It's funny that something so simple, just wanting to be emotionally resonant can be considered such a suck on productivity. Happy workers are healthy productive workers. Art, then, should be everywhere.

4. "Art House Director" by Broken Social Scene from Forgiveness Rock Record
This is kind of just a song I like, for it's frenetic pacing and machine gun horns, but also it's about that "creative process" I noted earlier. Art has struggles built into it inherently. We often don't see them because we consume art in its "finished" form, but this song's interest in the starlet who seems to be ruining a film's production highlights that struggle and points to the human drama that involves all art. We've seen montages of writers attempting to write, balling up page after failed page and casting them to the wastebasket until it overflows and it seems sort of hackneyed. But it's true. There's a lot of failure in art. There's failure inevitable when creating anything. Not all the pieces fit. Not every word or line falls into place. And well, love is that way too. Some projects seem to work better than they actually do, and some projects thrive on error, getting better with each incorrect turn and misplaced sentence.

5. "Classical Records" by Department of Eagles from In Ear Park
This Grizzly Bear off-shoot band opens with a question about whether we listen to classical records anymore. Or do we let them sleep in their sleeves where they dream? It's a haunting track that builds into a clattering clockwork of musical expression. And it's clearly a partially constructed song, since these were mostly B-sides in the first place, but the implication that music, or any art, sleeps and dreams when we do not look at it is intriguing. Art is meant to be experienced. Left to its own devices, if art were sentient, it would almost certainly go insane, like a singer without a voice or a writer without words. The whole concept of expression is predicated upon another experiencing it, otherwise, the value is unknowable and the emotion almost doesn't exist anymore. This is a Zen kind of concept, if art is hung in a museum and no one ever looks upon does it make an impression?

6. "Nose Art" by Flying Lotus from Cosmogramma
Nose art refers to the artwork done on the noses of war airplanes and fighters through the two World Wars and beyond. It's a kind of graffiti, but it's the ultimate expression for men who identified themselves by their modes of transportation/warfare. The track itself runs on a loop that sounds like the combination of a propeller and roaring engines. It's a disorienting song that places you right in that nose art, making the listener merely a picture upon front of a war machine. The experience is chaotic, booming and looping, almost maddening. As insane as battle may become, these little touches of art grounded pilots and personnel in their lives, allowing that minuscule glimmer of humanity to blink through when it was needed most.

7. "Art Is Hard" by Cursive from The Ugly Organ
This is possibly the most self-aware song about art and writing that I've ever heard. The lyric seep with complaints and notes about the process of writing a song. Even using "Oh a second verse" to open the second verse. The refrain "Cause we all know art is hard, young artists have gotta starve, try and fail and try again" marks that struggle with most honesty. Many people do art as a way to ward off insanity, as that catharsis I discussed earlier, but there's also the issue that we all know the "starving artist" concept and that it is divisive depending on who is viewing the artist. Some people think artistic pursuits are wasteful and silly. Others admire the choice. And still more people choose the appearance of artistic starvation as an excuse to not grow up. Art breeds strange thoughts.

8. "The Painter" by I'm From Barcelona from Let Me Introduce My Friends
The insanely sweet pop of this song makes it instantly enjoyable, though a bit cloying. The beauty of horns and and a chorus of voices telling us that we shouldn't give up on our dreams. It's a song that attacks the idea that success means doing things that are traditionally successful, money making, etc. Instead, the painter in the song acknowledges that he "does [his] crappy art" but also that he sees something special in people. The artist's eye isn't only expressed in the things he creates, but in the things he notices. Being artistic doesn't mean making something big and beautiful or selling a lot of gallery tickets, it can be as simple as just looking at the beauty in the world with an open mind and an open heart.

9. "Photobooth" by Friendly Fires from Friendly Fires
We love to capture moments. We love to think that we can keep photos and keep the memory. Really, it just keeps the memory more vivid. The photo booth is a great example of this. It gives three brief moments, where as they say in the song "we're posing like this year's models," and those moments are just impressions of reality. They are bookmarks for our memories, the way that all of our senses can cue such reactions about place, time and space. With photos though, we have the opportunity to alter the light of the image or even more importantly alter the perspective. We often don't look at ceilings. I think about that a lot. And I try to look at the ceiling in every place I go because it's the part that we don't pay a lot of attention to. Ceilings are artificial skies. We always look at the sky because it represents future, but never ceilings, even if they can (though not always) represent security, safety and architectural greatness. The point I guess, is that art can make us look at things in a new way, specifically in a new direction, from a new angle.

10. "Everyday I Write The Book" by Elvis Costello from Punch The Clock
Pretty simple link here, book writing links to art. We all know this song well, but the beauty of it is that while it starts as a song about the creative process, it's ultimately about how we write our own narratives about our relationships. Not everyone's versions of the story may match up exactly, but when provided information from one writer, the story seems to be very clear. Sure, it's not essential to break life down into chapters, or to catalog relationships that way, but we do it. It's easy to start chapters at milestones, keeping a close eye on moments that changed the way we saw another person. When we said "Hello," when we said "I love you" and when we moved in together... to when we said "Goodbye." Costello's book is aware of all the nuances and errors that have been in and out of the relationship too. It's a great testament to how we perceive our worlds and our lives. Also, it's a fine song.
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Words On Film: Exit Through the Gift Shop

How can we define art? Is art predicated by its creative process, namely struggle combined with innovation? Or can art just happen through emulation and market savvy? Thirdly, perhaps art is a mutable quantity that never really existed in the first place. Maybe art is a Schrödinger's cat scenario. Maybe art only happens because we open that box, looking at the work and ascribing a value. But in so doing, we as art viewers (and perhaps amateur aestheticists) make some things art by consensus, even if we don't know any better. These are some of the underlying questions of street-artist and provocateur Banksy's film Exit Through the Gift Shop, assuming, considering some conjecture that the film too may be a hoax, this documentary actually depicts what it claims to. Either way, the film is a carefully crafted, humorous and sometimes snide look into the beginnings of street art, obsession, documentation and the commoditization of artist properties (both for "heroic" and "sell-out" purposes).

The film, by Banksy's (or a shrouded man labeled as such) admission, was originally intended to be a chronicle of street art from its beginnings. But, the true main character in study, Thierry Guetta, a French shop owner and amateur cameraman, turns out to be "more interesting" than anything Banksy could have told us about himself. It is, in the opening frame, a beautiful bait-and-switch. Audiences seeking a rare look into street art's most sought after folk hero instead get the story of an eccentric goofball. That's assuming that Banksy really exists as a single person, or that he's not just a hoax himself. But, let's not get too crazy on conspiracy theories. In the film, Guetta makes an implied fortune running a store in L.A. where he sells products imported from Europe, like handbags and Adidas, that are otherwise unavailable in the United States. He admits, gleefully, to applying a huge mark up for his wares, essentially because he can. This is important primarily because the arc of the film ties Guetta's business sense into his "artistic value" at the end. Interestingly, Guetta is obsessive, and tells a story of his mother's death that precipitated his predilection for video taping everything in his life. He doesn't want to miss anything ever again, so he records it all.

By recording the world, Guetta doesn't really live in it. Yes, it's possible to enjoy life via the camera, but when one's focus lies in immortalizing moments, those moments also become infinitely separate from the self. In this way, Guetta becomes adept at capturing life, but not at expressing it. And perhaps that is why his own street art is merely a reworking of styles from his friends/obsessions Shepard Fairey and Banksy (plus others). Art can be defined as an expression of life experience, and Guetta spends the majority of his life recording rather than experiencing, so he isn't qualified to create something tied to himself. He has no self to express. Instead, he can only record and regurgitate what he has seen, using a fair, if minute, portion of creativity to distinguish his work from that of others. So, Guetta, who follows and idolizes street artists, who seems to seek some genuine camaraderie, friendship and possibly love from the "cool kids," becomes an artist because Banksy (seemingly and merely) suggests the idea to get rid of him.

Guetta applies his previously demonstrated business acumen to his art. During the construction of his show in L.A.'s abandoned CBS Studios, Guetta has canned responses for his work, all of it mash-ups of pop art and street art, but he spends his greatest enthusiasm on the phone, telling unnamed people the prices for his work. At one point, he even paints a simple eye-patch on another artist's illustration and claims that now it was worth thousands of dollars more than it was before. The beauty is that people buy it. Guetta is a success. And his "friends" Banksy and Fairey show some notable jealousy. On one hand, I could argue that there's some artful in Guetta's business sense. But on the other, he bastardizes the work of others for a profit. In either case, success appears to come his way, defining the film's title. Exit Through the Gift Shop implies that you can go to a museum, see the real art and then purchase the souvenirs. You can go to the Louvre and see the Mona Lisa and then on the way out buy a postcard of the painting. The postcard isn't art, but it is an object of implied value. Guetta makes objects of implied value. He is the gift shop man, who once sold European clothing to Americans and then sold street art to a hungry, demanding populous. There's no message in his work, though he claims via his moniker Mr. Brainwash, that the art is about how pop culture cleans our minds of their ability to create novelty.

If the film and the character are all a hoax, something claimed by several film critics, then the joke about brainwashing takes on a new level. Banksy could have created Guetta and then convinced us that he created objects disguised as art, posing the larger question of art's true existence. If you can buy a piece of art, if art is something that is no longer for art's sake in ANY way, then maybe it ceases to become art. Maybe art is everything, or maybe art is nothing. And perhaps Banksy's last laugh is that he succeeded in convincing film-goers that Guetta exists at all, much in the way that he printed fake British bank notes with Lady Di's face on them and then used them as actual currency. After all, Exit Through the Gift Shop is a film that people pay to see. It is art created to depict events, and real/true or not, we all bought it from him.
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Radiohead - The King of Limbs

The King of Limbs seems to be all about definitions, images, memories, shapes and implications. This is not a traditional Radiohead album. In fact, it's different, save for the principle participants, than just about anything else the band has done. Sure, it offers hints of the cool gasps of Amnesiac, and there's a bit of the spare undertones that decorate In Rainbows, but in The King of Limbs, there's very little put forth that tells you what to want from it. This is an album of subtlety, decorated with gentle echos and sweet piano, with just enough drums to maintain a beat. It is far from a rock album. It's far from any album. So my thoughts on the 37 minute EP dressed in LP's clothing, range pretty wildly. As an ambient statement, a piece of art, The King of Limbs is incredible. Thom Yorke sings carefully and more interestingly on this album than he has in the past, no longer relying on a combination of guttural meets falsetto. Yorke feels alive in a sort of infinite playground. His character on this album is a lost child in a lot of respects.

When it comes to diction, and you know I love me some diction, the album title speaks volumes about the music it envelopes. First, and follow me on this, "limbs" are extremities, the ends of things, the roots, the branches, the leaves, the arms and the fingers. The album is piano heavy, but comparison to other Radiohead discs, and piano requires fingers more adeptly and differently than does guitar (and this band has never employed an epic-guitar-solo-devil horn hands/oral sex gesture kind of guitarist). Also, all the songs are aesthetically thin, impressing information rather than expressing it overtly. This is not a torso album, it's a full body album. This album is about the stuff on the ends of things, the sounds at the edges. I'd even go so far as to call this a sort of Nature album (even the artwork blends tall, leafless trees as shadows in the background), a Winter album that occasionally takes place outdoors. The imagery and the feeling is important here because Yorke & Co. have given us a significant primer to these new designs. Radiohead has long ago abandoned the typical song structure. They don't give us what we expect, and that began, really with Kid A. After Ok Computer we still expected some of the powerful, more traditional rock that they had brought with them previously, but Kid A changed that. And like an adapting, growing creature, Radiohead continues to progress toward whatever endpoint asymptote they seek. Possibly complete minimalism or a sort of musical absolute zero.

Or, maybe The King of Limbs isn't that deep, despite the allusions to ghosts, spies, death, nature and distance. This could be a record to whet our appetites. It's barely long enough, at least in digital release, to qualify as a non-Weezer full-length. We don't know yet what the amazing $50 package currently on pre-sale will really include. Or, if this is it for them for 2011. That doesn't matter so much, but I've learned to import a healthy amount of conjecture with every digital album that comes out months before the real thing. Anyway, specific tracks of note include the jaunty, bounding and rubbery "Morning Mr. Magpie," the shuffling sample fest "Feral," the nature-sound heavy "Give Up the Ghost" and the vaguely jazzy closer (possibly the most beautiful song on the album) "Separator." And "Lotus Flower" for which there is this great video. This is an excellent album, and a subtle one. You have to really listen to The King of Limbs to enjoy it. And not merely as background music. This album is a project constructed of nuances, and like a Roman statue, this may appear beautiful, but unexciting at a distance, but upon careful inspection, there are details that filter through without immediate notice. Listen deeply, not just repeatedly, and you will fall in love with it.
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The Dears - Degeneration Street

I've read several reviews of Degeneration Street already. The mix is pretty wide open. Either a reviewer finds virtue in the overloaded way The Dears offer just about any album (this isn't the first case of their music being metaphor heavy and forceful), or the reviewer finds the lack of cohesiveness in style and tone to be a crippling defect. It's just about impossible for me to take an objective look at this new album. I have loved The Dears since 2006's Gang of Losers, so you'll get renouncement satisfaction from me. The thing is, either you enjoy this band or you don't. And I wouldn't say that about most artists because some do make regrettable follow-ups to their greatest works. Even my dear The Dears, with 2008's Missiles, missed for me. And while that album received some solid praise, I felt that it was so dour and spare, so pared down and emptily sad, that it just never felt like the band I fell in love with. It's not, in retrospect, a bad album, but I think it illustrates an important concern. Calling an album based on what you want from it or expect from it is dangerous. And it's especially dangerous when we start claiming that one form of direct, hit-you-over-the-head emotionalism is suddenly more overwrought than its predecessor.

My point is, I guess, that Degeneration Street is much more like Gang of Losers, and even 2003's No Cities Left, than Missiles ever could have tried to be. This new release brings back the anthems and heartfelt, if often schmaltzy, ballads to love and protests against the modern conditions of ignorance and irony. Murray Lightburn and the band he has now is quite different from the one that played on those earlier records, but his sentimentality and strength in crafting prog-rocky, poetically-interested, emotionally-informed songs has not suddenly evaporated. Yes, just like any of their other releases, this album is far from perfect. Lightburn and Co. may not be built for an insane opus of incredible proportions, but they play songs that can stick with you. The Dears are a melodramatic band. That's a genre choice. And if that's not something you can get into and enjoy, then it's not your bag. For example, 2001 me, assuming I was writing these reviews probably doesn't get Jay-Z's The Blueprint. I didn't know rap and hip-hop back then. I didn't care for it. I wouldn't have understood the successes or the nuances or the subtleties. If I didn't like it, I'd be wrong, in the reviewer sense. It's a great album, and my illiteracy wouldn't excuse a poor review.

Pitchfork gave Degeneration Street a 2.4. That's akin to saying, this album sounds like your grandparents fucking in the alley behind a porno theater. That is to say, completely nonessential. Don't even look at it. Let alone pass money in a transaction to acquire this music. I disagree. This isn't a great album. It's not the best that The Dears have ever done. But, there are gems in there. "Blood," "Lamentation," "Galactic Tides," "Stick With Me Kid," "Tiny Man," "Unsung," and "1854" are all good songs. If you like The Dears, you will like these tracks. They feature the thick, mournful strength of Lightburn's voice. Lots of synth, guitars, powering drums and songs that build and build and explode mixed with soulful, teary outcries of desperation. That's The Dears. This sound is their M.O. If you know their discography, you know that is overloaded, melodramatic anthem is what they're up to. And "Lamentation" even has a hint of Radiohead-worship in there. What you get with Degeneration Street is a lot of epic, sweeping music that wears its heart on its sleeve. And it won't be the best version of The Dears you could hear, but it's still pretty goddamn good, cohesive or not.
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Words On Film: The King's Speech

By far the most conventional film I have seen in the theater this year, The King's Speech, is also one of the most directly heartfelt. As a historical drama; given that any of us with access to Wikipedia or some background knowledge on the principle subjects, we already know where the plot will go, so it's not a film of twists and turns or any kind of suspense. Instead, The King's Speech remains compelling specifically on the basis of its actors, the human relationships that develop, and the sweet and humorous moments that maintain the plot. Leaving the film, I wasn't as agitated and altered as I was following Black Swan, nor as psyched and charmed as after True Grit. This time the film was more like a fine scotch. Full and enjoyable all the way through, with a pleasant sort of mellowing aftertaste. I would not place The King's Speech above number three in my top five of this year, but I would defend its beauty and quality to the death. The casting is spectacular throughout and the writing is exceptional. And the themes and implications about royalty and human bonding were phenomenal.

So, really, I'm going to spoil this film, but then, there's that pesky issue of spoiling history (which is impossible) and the major note, that it's not the story, so much as the people that matter in this case. The King's Speech covers the early life and early reign of King George VI, played by Colin Firth (exceptionally), who suffered a terrible stammer throughout his life. George VI is unable to speak publicly, first as the Duke of York, and then as King, in a time when wireless radio was all the rage. Needless to say, this complicated things for him. He and his wife (Helena Bonham Carter) seek assistance with a speech therapist played by Geoffrey Rush. Wackiness ensues. And, as the title so subtly suggests, the King must give a Speech... Luckily, that title is mentioned in dialogue only once, so there's no risk of a drinking game developing (unless of course one wants to drink whenever Mozart is playing, but that could make for a dangerously short night).

The costuming, set design and setting (from colors to tones to feeling) all places the audience very comfortably in the 1920s, '30s and '40s. The world of post-WWI-pre-WWII England is flawless. But the true beauty lies in the way that almost all of a film centered around monarchs takes place in meager, common places. The King's Speech is not about deifying or glorifying royalty. It's really about people, who when all the regalia is stripped, are just like everyone else. Monarchs are not special. They are born into the idea of special, but they take their responsibilities reluctantly, and savor the small bits of privacy they hold, as briefly as they hold them. The story hinges on what radio changed about the English monarchy, as I noted above, but specifically that royals went from merely looking the part, to have to SPEAK the part to their people. The king and queen remained figureheads, but with the burden of the people's dreams and hopes upon their newly accessible backs. George VI's brother, Edward VIII (briefly) and then the Duke of Windsor, is the charismatic one, and takes the throne upon George V's death. But Edward chooses Love over power, stepping down to be with a woman (the twice divorced Wallis Simpson) who the Church and his people would not approve him marrying. This leaves George VI the throne, which he does not want. Royalty in The King's Speech is a remarkable curse.

These flawed people, these flawed people who were ordained by God to be the leaders of England, appear more as reluctant players in the monarchical game than willing combatants. But there's more heart. George VI's relationship with Lionel Logue and the former's quest to get rid of his stammer. The stammer is more of a set piece, but also an important character in its own right. Sure, it acts as the film's antagonist, but it's also a catalyst to a friendship that transcends birthright. In Logue, George VI finds a true friend, and opens up to someone, a commoner, more than he appears to have with anyone previously in his life. That's the second layer. Royals are just like commoners, with flashy responsibilities, but friendship, true connection, knows nothing of the dressings we place on our societies. And that means that parts of The King's Speech feel like a British buddy comedy, which is by no means derisive.

With all those themes and ideas, the underlying note of burden and equality, and the issue of friendship, the film still could have looked beautiful and sucked. It does not suck because Colin Firth is amazing, which is a news flash, I know. Geoffrey Rush is spectacular as well. Not to mention Guy Pearce, Helena Bonham Carter, Timothy Spall (as Churchill), and Michael "Dumbledore 2: The Revenge" Gambon. The actors are the main reason to see this film, especially if history does not delight you. You won't find yourself wondering what's going on, what's going to happen next, or waiting for a scene of sex or violence. The King's Speech is a study of people, people represented beautifully by incredible actors. It's the type of film that could have easily been a stage performance instead, and in either case it succeeds remarkably.
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18 Songs About Hearts, Love and Valentines.

It's that time of year again. A day of tiny cards and nearly inedible candy hearts, brief messages attached to long, longing looks, dreams and romance and just plain appreciation for all the love you give and get. And yeah, Valentine's Day may be a Hallmark holiday. It may be an excuse to do something epically romantic that you could really do any and every day of the year. The dinners are expensive and lovely. The orchestra swells to crescendo and kisses are exchanged. And even if that last part doesn't happen, it can be a beautiful. Music is mostly, shit almost entirely about love, and more often than not it's about "capital L" Love. Songs express words and feelings we can't write down or speak as adequately. It's the same way that dancing is different from walking around. We bond and communicate through new mediums when we're dealing with love. And music is an ideal conduit for emotion. One far more conducive than images, or flowers or candy or crudely drawn paper hearts. Here are 18 songs that fit the bill today, for the loved, the lovers, the loving and the lovelorn. Nobody gets left out. The whole list is ready for your streaming pleasure below.

1. "Valentine's Day" - James Taylor; Never Die Young
This is one of those albums that accompanied every road trip I took with my 'rents as a child. And in Taylor's song, Valentine's Day is a mess of references. It's sweet and absurdly loving, what with fishy love, but it's also a simple and melancholy track that free associates in the way that we all sort of fall in love. It's never a plotted course from meeting to love, it's a mad wonder of chemicals, laughter and sweetness.

2. "Only Shallow" - My Bloody Valentine; Loveless
Talk about a sweeping monument to greatness! This song is all about mood. Lyrics are less than important. And it's a song about imagery, dissociation and darkness. All dressed up in powerful beauty.

3. "The St. Valentine's Day Massacre" - Starling Electric; Clouded Staircase
This album flew under the radar a couple years back, but it is an ideal neo-powerpop set loaded with anthems. On this song, it's the powerful riff, the sort of sad-anger invoked in the guitar, and the beauty of whispering vocals, wishing for greater things. "And you started guarding your stars..." is a great lyric.

4. "Dear Valentine" - Guster; Ganging Up On The Sun
I never felt the same about Guster since their great Lost And Gone Forever, but this song, with horns and frank lyrics that overflow with sad harmonies is one of the winners. And, you know, it's appropriate.

5. "The Two Sides of Monsieur Valentine" - Spoon; Gimme Fiction
Britt Daniel is a pretty exceptional lyrical poet. This song is no exception. It calls to its own mythology, riding on the idea of optimism, mixed with the idea of split identity. Every day you can be someone else, or love anew.

6. "Kick Drum Heart" - Avett Brothers; I And Love And You
Let's be straightforward here. It's about being young and free and exploring. This is love in its most playful, simple form.

7. "Come Pick Me Up" - Ryan Adams; Heartbreaker
This song is pretty much the quintessential "you done me wrong" break-up song. It's so honest, so seeping and oozing with sadness and tiny glints of hope. I have a lot of memories attached to this song, and hell, Love is about loss sometimes.

8. "I Am Trying To Break Your Heart" - Wilco; Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
Come on, this song is as epic as a song gets. And you know, it encapsulates the complex insanity that sometimes dictates Love. Somehow even games aren't games sometimes, and even winners lose for winning.

9. "Playground Love" - Air; The Virgin Suicides
This is a sweet song, driven by ideals of Love. That first time you think you like somebody, like LIKE them, that's a huge moment and it's the kind of thing that sticks in your mind forever. We always remember the firsts.

10. "Loved Despite of Great Faults" - Blonde Redhead; Melody of Certain Damaged Lemons
Sometimes we're surprised when people don't leave us. And in this caterwauling number, it's all about that sort of inspiring confusion.

11. "Lovesong" - The Cure; Disintegration
I had to. "Lovesong" is loaded with great metaphors. Love does strange things to people; beautiful things. Just look at Robert Smith's hair.

12. "I'm Leaving You Because I Don't Love You" - Jens Lekman; Night Falls Over Kortedala
Lekman succeeds in taking some truly tragic lyrics, in which all cliche of breaking up is stripped away, and still manages to make the song enjoyable.

13. "Satellite of Love" - Lou Reed; Transformer
 In his very Bowie-esque voice, Lou Reed pokes at technology, the future and wonders playfully (if snidely) about the comings and goings of a lover.

14. "The Death of Ferdinand De Saussure" - The Magnetic Fields; 69 Love Songs, Vol. 3
Probably the best song of all 69 for me. The powerful guitar and bass riffs mixed with the thoughtful, intelligent lyrics that touch on linguistics, philosophy and Motown (Holland-Dozier-Holland).

15. "This is Love" - PJ Harvey; Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea
A powerful woman capturing love as lust. It's a fucking great song. That's all.

16. "How Can I Love You If You Won't Lie Down" - Silver Jews; Tanglewood Numbers
I love the harmonies and country funk in this song. And you know, it's a good question.

17. "Your Ex-Lover Is Dead" - Stars; Set Yourself On Fire
Stars just excel at capturing the break-up moments, decanting them down to the purest form, and then showing them to you so your heart can weep along with theirs.

18. "Modern Romance" - Yeah Yeah Yeahs; Fever To Tell
I have to disagree. There is modern romance. But, this is a great way to close the list.

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He Went To Jared: Fennesz - Endless Summer

Welcome back to another He Went To Jared (HWTJ). This time Jared has proposed Christian Fennesz's highly-regarded 2001 album Endless Summer. And as a special treat, Jared, yes the man himself! will be sitting in (via email from his transplant home in San Francisco, CA) to close out the bulk of the review.

Experimental electronic music is one of those music apparati that tends to be extremely divisive. As I recall from the good ol' days at my old job, there was much joking and jawing about the senseless "glitchy nonsense" that pours from the speakers. My feeling, listening to Endless Summer, an album that could easily fall into that category, is that our perception and reception of experimental electronic songs relies greatly on our individual willingness to sift and discover the melody. At first, Fennesz's work feels like a lot of fuzz, hollow echoes, clatter and static, much like listening to breaking waves along the sea shore (something I am sure is intentional given the album title), but there's also a very distinct backing melody. And there's the sense that the static you're hearing is the bouncing of an ancient phonograph needle, hearkening back to the golden days of summertime music appreciation. It takes a while to kick in, but once you have an ear for the way the music intended to sound, once you learn the language, so to speak, even the most distant, chaotic tracks take a more recognizable musical shape. It reminds me of a course Jared and I took in college on Art Aesthetics. Our professor said that he could never appreciate techno/dance music because he couldn't understand it. He couldn't find the melody trapped in the loops. Fennesz requires that skill. Be warned.

Even as I listened through the album, my mind made one of those instant word connections. You know, the ones that are normal and not at all unique to me or indicative that I'm about to have a brain-splosion. The connection was Fennesz and finesse. That's no mistake. This music is gentle, unpretentious and somehow effortless, but it still succeeds in construing, and imbuing, an emotional resonance that qualifies as an experience. Fun music, this is not, but valuable music, yes. You can feel through the tracks, something I know Jared will be discussing at length in just a few more sentences from me, the sunrise, sunset, crashing waves, the texture of beach sand, the cold of a breeze, and the heat of midday. There are no lyrics to tell you what to feel, so our imaginations, whatever we have left of them, makes those choices. These are songs that evoke memories, rather than creating them. And for me, there's something more powerful about drudging up something in the listener, than merely getting them to react to a sonic pratfall or melodrama. That doesn't make Fennesz or Endless Summer better than other music, but it does make it unique and necessary. I found myself with a special connection to "Caecilia" and "Shisheido," but to say that these are definitive is to undercut the value of the album as a whole. Now, I will turn to my dear pal and comrade in music-appreciative-arms, Jared. Note: I've linked as many of the track titles to a free listen below, so we can all share in the magic.

Good day, and welcome to this album!

Fennesz is a critically lauded experimental composer who has met with great success in Europe and other nearby areas, and Endless Summer created a very large cult following here. I've met people from all walks of life who love this album. I've met a lot who don't quite know what to think of it. I can't say, though, that I've met someone who actively dislikes it.

I can't quite pinpoint when I first heard this album. Pitchfork did a very glowing review (as well as a myriad of other blogs/sites, etc) and I thought I would do well to check it out. I remember hearing it at first (I think my first track was "Caecilia," which might be the most accessible song on the album) and not being certain. Now I can't imagine not hearing it. The same thing happened with My Bloody Valentine. I was driving home from the CD store in my car, playing it and wondering what the hell I was listening to. I was going to take the CD back, but I didn't. I gave it time. Now, Loveless might be the most influential thing I've ever heard. That's the opinion of me and roughly a billion other people now.

Loveless taught me how versatile music and the electric guitar could be. Since then, I've always enjoyed the large swell of guitars. It stemmed from My Bloody Valentine's Loveless and Sigur Ros' heavenly drones. The idea of feedback as a viable and valid method of creating songs absolutely shaped my later (and current) tastes. Even larger, it shaped my opinion of what music could BE. This album opened a new chapter, for me, so to speak. I'm indebted to it. But it takes the sound of an electric guitar and doesn't wash over you with wave after wave of feedback. It divides it, shapes it, picks it apart and creates percussion from it. It warps it until it's hardly what it used to be. And it never forgets the primary purpose - a melody. This album isn't a chart-topping array of instantly-enjoyable pop songs, and yet pop forms the basis of it. Even the title is a nod to the sun-drenched, intricate melodies of the Beach Boys. This album is warm, complex, and completely unique. The production, though it might sound haphazard at first, yields itself to be meticulous and detailed (as said: this is a headphone album in every sense of the word). It's noise and it's pop and it's difficult and it's beautiful. Most importantly in the realm of various experimental artists and styles of said genres, be it electronic music or noise, it does a remarkable job of including an ever-present humanity to it. Let's get started.

1. "Made In Hong Kong" - This is a great opener because it lets you know, off the bat, what sort of album you're getting into. Pinpricks of noise come up with the gentle percolating of static underneath. All of these sounds, for the most part, are from his electric guitar. This is a classic build and technique of Fennesz. Like a house falling apart in reverse, elements gradually build, lean, sway, and eventually stack up to where, suddenly, you're listening to an actual song. Crackles and clips gather together until it becomes one of the best songs on the album.

2. "Endless Summer" - In what sounds like a summer on Mars, Fennesz mixes strums and picking. The warp is audible, but the guitar is there. What sounds like an acoustic guitar rests behind burbles of more warped guitar.The mixing on this always, always gives you more details if you listen to (and for) them. Halfway through, the main riffs take a vacation, so to speak, and fade out. You're left with a very minimal sound for a while, and then from the deep end of the pool comes the same riff, far back in the mix but still present. The human element is there - you can hear his fingers sliding against the strings. This song is, in a word, delicate.

3. "A Year In A Minute" - This track is one of the more simple songs on here. The fuzz on the guitar is warm and fuzzy, but not in the kitten sense. If you're familiar with some of My Bloody Valentine's more soft songs, this is a good comparison. Later, small glitches and pricks of sound come through, not abrasive but adding more texture. As the song progresses, these become bigger until the track fades into a more electronic smattering of round-panning sounds. The guitar comes back like a welcome friend, and there it is. As I'm in love with the sound of guitars that drape over you like a Snuggie (full disclosure: I've never worn a Snuggie but I've at least worn a blanket) [Nate note: A Snuggie is just a bathrobe on backwards. We all figured the product out as children and we should all be millionaires. Capitalism is a hideous bitch-goddess.], I take comfort in this album. It's one thing I can say about the mixing on this whole album: it wraps around you and doesn't leave you cold.

4. "Caecilia" - To me, this is the highlight of the album besides the last track. It's the most traditionally accessible song on the album and is the finest example of the Fennesz method of building a song from simple noises. At the start, the song feels out your eardrums with gentle bells and your normal Fennesz guitar. And then, suddenly, it takes all of these fragments and pushes a sort of swinging swell behind it that gives it a structure, a frame to then move like the warm, alive song that it is. I remember hearing this song and being struck by the arrival of the complete melody: what started as a blueprint comes into fruition with one deft move from Fennesz. The bass playing behind it gives it a backbone, the guitar gives it the flesh, and the layers upon layers give it motion. It's a beautiful creation and one of my favorite songs by him, if not the favorite.

5. "Got To Move On" - In what is one of the more experimental songs on the album, this might be more enjoyable to people who have tried to re-create various textures and sounds from their guitar. More feeling out sounds than a song like the prior track.

6. "Shisheido" - Like the title track, this brings to mind the more summer-like sounds. The guitar is cleaner in this, but various small pieces of feedback blip and burble around it. A soothing track, but still not letting you forget the more eclectic aspects of Fennesz - stuttering bits of prior strings played.

7. "Before I Leave" - The most experimental track on this album. It's a bit more heavy-handed in the idea of noise + melody. What sounds like a CD skipping, and choosing chords from it. It's probably the most difficult track on the album and, to be honest, not my favorite, but there's merit in it. It's overshadowed, however, by the final (and my other favorite track), "Happy Audio."

8. "Happy Audio" - This song loops but in an entirely different way than the colder "Before I Leave." "Before I Leave" is very up-front about the fact that it's manipulated audio because it's more robotic. This track is the opposite, and far and away the track that yields the most treasures from careful and repeated listenings. You hear a loop of what sounds like 3 seconds long, but there are very minor but careful sounds that guide it into a smoother loop, which the prior track completely abandoned. Please give this headphones. The track is the longest on the album, clocking in at 10 minutes and 55 seconds. It takes patience. As it loops, Fennesz gradually introduces what sounds like a phaser effect. It's very buried, but it's there. Light panning from ear to ear. It gradually gets more apparent, and while you have the backbone of the very first loop, which never leaves the song, the phased sounds becomes more pronounced. Again, "pronounced" in a very mild way. Further, very small bits of rougher texture come in. It sounds like a granulated effect, which is essentially taking a riff and treated it so that it's scrambled and made into a static of sorts. It rises in the mix. The length of this song means that Fennesz can take his time with the song and allow these sounds to blossom at a rate that is comparable to a long, steady drive to somewhere - that becomes practically unnoticeable until you're suddenly there.

I remember sitting outside of my apartment at Brookside in Boulder. I had recently decided to really try to find out what the big deal was about this album. In what is the most striking and wonderful part of the album to me, the song eventually rests on this bed of static and warm loops and bits and scattered fragments and as I listened and focused, I realized that there was another melody playing underneath all of this, and I then knew that I loved this album, because the sound appears to be a string section. It's largely bass, no high whine of violins, much more bass-heavy, but I swear it's there, and it blows me away. The subtlety of this album (and song) is remarkable -  it never chooses to hit you over the head with anything. Instead, if you search, you'll find some wonderful elements of someone taking a labor of love and making something really special. What can I say? I've fallen asleep to this song every night for 10 years.

I'd like to thank Jared for sitting in on this edition of HWTJ, and for sharing such an incredible sonic experience. Fennesz isn't going to fit every person's taste, but part of me feels that this is one of those essential, life-defining experiences with music. Missing out on something just because it lacks a traditional structure, lyrics, or a poppy hook, sort of precludes ALL of the unusual experiences that populate our lives. Yes, everything would be simpler if life was as concisely, formulaically crafted as a pop song. We'd all be singing and our emotions would be larger and more clear, but we'd all be fictional. Endless Summer turns pop music over, declaring that our narratives are not structured, and often they are so subtle we miss details until we go back several times. It's a beautifully complex album for a beautifully complex world.
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PJ Harvey - Let England Shake

Good luck pinning PJ Harvey down, if that's your angle. It's not going to happen. Harvey continues to dance around the various musical styles she has employed throughout her career, never settling for more than an album on any specific sound. Whether it was the under-produced clatter of Rid of Me and Dry or the pop-addled delight of Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea, Harvey held her own creating lyric driven sonic poetry that combined punk, pop and hints of jazz and blues. I fell in love with her through the aforementioned Stories... and subsequently sought out the rest of her catalog. The earlier stuff, that is the stuff more than eleven years old now, was harder for me to get into, only because I came to expect a certain thing. And the point, the way PJ Harvey excels, is through keeping us guessing. Let England Shake leans more tightly toward my first impression through Stories..., but it's also unique and surprising in its own right. I'll get this part out of the way: It's excellent. Really. I know I always say that, but minus a couple of a "eh" tracks, this is a phenomenal album.

This time, PJ Harvey is melancholy. Most of Let England Shake takes place in a space of lamentation, contemplation and distance. The album is visceral, dealing frankly with death, war, time and the future. Harvey maintains a strong political stance throughout, touching on the decay of the environment, especially in "Written On The Forehead." But it's a grown up album, looking forward, feeling responsible and seeing the world as a large place beyond the body, beyond the individual. The lyrics are poignant and range from essential to haunting, but what really amazes is how big many of the songs get. The arrangements are lush and intriguing. Often these songs utilize just three instruments, plus vocals, but they end up feeling infinitely larger. Even as the tone remains mostly staid, calm, nearly sad at times, the music feels passionate. This isn't the passion of "This Is Love" or "Man-Size," the rock is further away. This is the passion in implication, in the words. Still, there are a few upbeat tracks too, most notably "Bitter Branches," which, pardon the expression, fucking kicks the shit out your face.

Throughout Let England Shake, the composition is more traditionally poppy. There isn't a lot of experimentation, no dissonant sounds thrust toward the listener like a bee-hive on a stick. The music is understandable, strong and unimposing. And that doesn't work for everybody. But, Harvey's lyrics are so strong that it often does, resulting in a unique expression that is set-to-music, rather than being music-with-words, if you understand the distinction. Her voice is incredible as always, though on a couple tracks the mix and effects send her into a faux-Bjork territory that I found distracting. But even that is a minor issue that doesn't warrant any demerits, especially when there are so many memorable tracks that immediately catch your ear. "The Glorious Land," "The Words That Maketh Murder" and "England" each intrigue and haunt in a unique way, leaving no image or poetic phrasing unturned. Harvey has received a lot of praise for this album on the other side of the pond already, and it really is amazing. You can check out Let England Shake in its entirety through NPR's First Listen, and the album comes out officially on Valentine's Day in the U.K. and on the 15th here in the States.
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Cut Copy - Zonoscope

I latched instantly onto Cut Copy through 2008's In Ghost Colours. That album was a revelation, combining the pop anthem with aggressively charming dance beats, and loaded with memorable track after memorable track. It wasn't until 2009 that I really jumped in, but Cut Copy successfully brought me fully into dance music, or at least, indie pop-dance, breaking my lifelong obsession with songs about heartbreak accompanied by rocky hooks or acoustic guitars. Cut Copy was a window for me into a larger music scene, and not to put too much on them, but this band gave me the impetus to listen to everything from hip-hop to experimental electronic music. Well, them and LCD Soundsystem. (Note: If you live in, or plan to travel to NYC and want to see LCD's farewell 3-hour FINAL SHOW ever, it's on April 2nd at MSG. Get tickets soon.) Knowing that Zonoscope was dropping this week, I was all aflutter. It was a chance to reacquaint with an old friend and hear new stories. Albums are that way. We feel like we know the artist, based on what they've told us before, the soul they've bore. But we have to spend a couple years apart every time. And then we get back together for a whole new round of sonic monologue.

Zonoscope is every bit as strong and fun as In Ghost Colours, but it lacks some of the instant anthems. That's not a bad thing. It opens strong with the kind of slow-building track that feels like pieces falling back into place, a real welcome back to us moment. From drum-beats to tinkling notes to claps and then a break into a low-key vocals. I guess, really, the album is a little more sleepy. Structurally, Cut Copy remains what they have been, but they meander in and out of energy a lot over the course of Zonoscope. We receive great highlights, like the Aussie infused, nearly Men at Work-y "Take Me Over." I mean, listen to that riff. [Singing]: I come from a land down under. Great stuff. And the energy is higher, but never peaks to oh shit! high. Still, it's all catchy enough, and darts from time period and back. There's the '80s style I mentioned above, and the very '60s Beatles/Beach Boys influenced "Where I'm Going." So there's a lot of genre-study happening, but ultimately, this is an ideal Cut Copy album because it's mature and sonically interesting. They keep the sounds and samples and loops coming and every single one is well placed.

I have to give specific praise to "Hanging Onto Every Heartbeat," a song that hits all the ballad-y, delicate notes, even paring back to more traditional instrumentation for the verses. It's a sweet song that feels timeless. In total, Zonoscope (a play on sonoscope computer music) is a time-traveling capsule. It holds artifacts of music past inside, dressed in new technology. The heart is undeniable beneath the well-chosen digital bleating and driving beats. Cut Copy took pieces from so many musical traditions and put them in a new outfit, altering them, but all the while paying honest homage. That means that Zonoscope isn't the most consistent of experiences from front to back, but it is consistently enjoyable and damn it's nice to sit down one more time with an old friend to swap some stories.

You can listen to the album assembled on prettymuchamazing.com here.
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He Went To Jared: Parts & Labor - Mapmaker

Today I'm cracking open a new feature idea. It's called, as is evident from today's title, He Went To Jared. But this isn't about diamond shopping, oh no. This space will be used to review albums recommended to me by my dear friend Jared. Some of these albums may qualify, technically for the Underappreciated Music File, but I'll save that floor for stuff I dig up. So, without further ado...

Parts & Labor's 2007 album Mapmaker is something of an enigma. It toes the line between hardcore clattering speed and hook-laden pop. Drums are the heavy feature throughout, but there's also a healthy injection of electronic buzz, samples and looping. It's a lively album that the aforementioned Jared even stated should only be listened to after two cups of coffee. "No less," he continued. The heavy drumming and speeding lines fall in contrast to a lot of a solid, chanting and slow lyrical flourishes. It's kind of a chocolate-covered pretzel of music. Sweet and savory; equally cloying and enchanting. And while the album as a whole isn't perfect. It's a dynamic aural experience that requires attentive listening to dissect. There are layers of information coming at you in almost every track, allowing for hints of stadium rock anthem-esque charm amid the density of crashing cymbals.

The opener, "Fractured Skies" is powered by drums, but allows for a calm vocal refrain. And the second track, "Brighter Days," relies more heavily on the sung word, still running on drums and thrashing beats, but also allowing for an ornate, looping guitar riff that descends into grungy chaos between the verses and choruses. Really, there's a way in which Parts & Labor feels like Built to Spill on speed (and perhaps a bit of acid) because they are adept at composing catchy tracks, but are not content to let them ride only guitars and a backing beat. The beat here is one of the headliners. If you ever wanted to be a drummer in a band and your are neither Phil Collins nor Tommy Lee, Parts & Labor is the group to join for a healthy dose of attention. On "Vision of Repair," which is weaker than the two openers, the vocals accelerate, and the drums churn wildly like a fire built out of popping, damp wood. It's like boiling oil. It just keeps assaulting you. And the guitars are just for accent, a bit of a healthy electric wail, dressed in static.

For "The Gold We're Digging" we receive a transition. It's a march, with carefully paced lyrics and wailing, fuzzy guitars. And the drums seem to blend back a little more, but they are still essential. Again, this track is an anthem. It begs you to listen, even with the lyrics drowned in noise. But, that's the idea, with an experimental noise rock band, as they are labeled on Wikipedia. Parts & Labor try to maintain a bit of pop sensibility even as they're hitting you with chaotic, disparate sounds. "New Crimes" lives by a pop hook of a riff. And dives into a chaotic, mixed-signature drum beat, while "Long Way Down" may be the closest thing to a "radio-friendly single" on the album with its clear lyrics and machine-gun drum licks. All told, the album maintains its interest in experimentation, but never goes off the deep end. The album is welcoming enough, as long as you are a fan of drum talent. A hidden gem is a cover of the Minutemen's "King of the Hill" that Parts & Labor successfully makes their own. The original being a 1985 classic of the DIY punks, this version cranks up the speed and mixes the drums higher. The only loss comes from drowning vocals and guitar licks that are slightly subdued.

Pitchfork gave Mapmaker a 7.5 back in 2007. And I think that's a fair assessment. The album is not perfect, but it does a solid job combining beauty and chaos into something that requires multiple listens to fully appreciate. Were a couple of tracks near the album's end a little stronger, this would be an album deserving even greater respect, but as it stands noise-rock, glitchy-ness and healthy hooks keep Parts & Labor in a great place throughout. Take a chance on this one, and don't forget those two cups of coffee beforehand.
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Mashville - The Brothers of Chico Dusty by Wick-it the Instigator

The virtue and merit in the mash-up is debatable. It begs the question: does the combined and mixed work of two or more artists (canon or contemporary) qualify as new, original art in itself? At one point does rearranging preexisting work jump from mere middling distraction to original expression? Really, the mash-up is like buying two or three puzzles, and then mixing the bits up so you have a wagon full of puppies careening through the Grand Canyon with Van Gogh's Starry Night matted along the rocky wall. Of course, not all puzzles fit together easily, so even creating an absurd but enjoyable mix requires a great deal of acuity and effort. The same can be said, obviously, for combinations of music. In both cases a good artist of the mix will seek pieces that are at least cut similarly enough that they can fit together, if not seamlessly, than at least tightly with a bit of a hammer blow.

I know that we've discussed the mash-up issue before, regarding Girl Talk's All Day, and I've defended it staunchly already, so I won't go on for too long. But I think, really, the value of any mash-up lies in the listener realizing that the pieces are fitting together, but also noticing that they don't notice the pieces as separate immediately. As much as I fought for the pulling out the pieces aspect before, there's something to be said for the way we lose the pieces too. A good mash-up feels complete, much like the puppies-Grand Canyon-Starry Night, but with a blending that makes sense and feels right. There is always an iteration in combining events that seems just as complete as each individual event anyway. Look at revisionist history. Or, look at the current state of cable news reporting. The event is really the sum of its interpretations, not its parts. And that, pardon the expression, sucks balls.

Regardless, mash-ups are art in the sense that it takes an artist to blend other art into something understandable. You can't just throw a can of paint on the Mona Lisa and say its a DaVinci/Pollack. It has got to be delighting, interesting and enjoyable. And it can't do too much. And that's the success in Wick-it the Instigator's mash-up (for Mashville and available here, because GB the interweb) of Big Boi and the Black Keys. It is called The Brothers of Chico Dusty, which really sums up the nature of the mashing. The Black Keys involvement is almost purely musical, adding just an injection of bluesy guitar and rock-epic-ness, with the exception of a couple chorus-pop-ups here and there. The result is that Big Boi's music sounds fuller and more like a sort of rap-rock-opera-narrative. It's hard to pin down, since, ultimately, it is easily described as spectacular. And yeah, I know that I "like" everything that I write about in this space for the most part. But Brothers (yeah, we're shortening it) is stronger than All Day and the Lil Wayne mash-up (500) Days of Weezy.

Part of the success here is that the two "ingredient" artists are so similar. Wick-it the Instigator has chosen two sets of pieces that have the same cut, to continue the puzzle analogy, which makes assembling so much easier. We're not looking at a lot of disparate material, instead, we're seeing blues-rock mixed with beat-driven hip-hop. And guess what... hip-hop and blues have a lot in common, from the storytelling nature of the lyrics to the driving, consistent progressions. So, Brothers, ends up being a quality academic choice for mashing anyway. Considering it mathematically, this shit just makes sense. Value-wise, this mash-up maintains what is essentially Big Boi's work with new garnish and flourish. It puts a new coat of paint on the same car. Since the original car happened to be of the racing variety, the added material just improves it. Go check it out. It's free, and it's really dance-able, crunchy and, dare I say, delighting.
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