24 December 2012

this is a test

1. Feeling Pulled Apart By Horses (OGG, AAC)

2. Lights (OGG, MP3)

3. Feeling Pulled Apart By Horses (OGG only)

Dear people of the web (especially smartphone and tablet users), can you do me a favor? Can you see which of the above song uploads are playing on your device, and tell me what device you're using?

My New Year's resolution is to restart this blog, which I've neglected since 2008 and nearly removed from existence last year when Apple discontinued its .Mac file-hosting service, which put all the songs I had uploaded out of commission. I have just successfully transferred all the songs to another host, and so they're all playable again on non-iOS devices.

Now, since we are living in a post-PC era if some people are to be believed, I want this blog to be mobile-friendly unlike before. So rather than relying on Flash, I'm trying out HTML5 for my song uploads.

Please let me know by writing a comment below.

Thank you.

06 January 2009

eternalized, objectified : the best of 2008

Better a tad late than never, that's my middle name, so here goes a recap. I think 2008 was a year of big decisions for me. Nothing earth-changing, really, but they could eventually be for me. I bit off more than I could chew, that's for sure, especially in the second half of the year, which explains my absence from this blog. But I haven't been completely out of touch with music; in fact, I think I bought more music in 2008 than the year before, which explains why I'm able to come up with a longer list of the best songs of the year (44) than the two lists prior. I could have rounded the list to 50, but some of the other songs just don't fit in the two mixes I've made below. Truth be told, they weren't easy to make. It was clear early on that I could split my list between electric and acoustic, fast and slow, bands and singer-songwriters, but actually grouping the songs that I liked in a way that made them gel together (an OCD behavior typical of mix-tape fanatics) meant that I had to violate some of the contrasts I just described. This is why you'll find a Portishead song in the same mix as Bon Iver, and why I included Kings of Leon's Sex on Fire instead of Manhattan, my favorite from their album.

Like I keep saying, this blog is about songs, but I won't hesitate naming the 10 albums I listened a lot to last year, which necessarily makes them my Best Albums of 2008. In no particular order:
  • Dear Science: TV On The Radio
  • Vampire Weekend: Vampire Weekend
  • Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!: Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds
  • God is an Astronaut: God is an Astronaut
  • April: Sun Kil Moon
  • For Emma, Forever Ago: Bon Iver
  • Sleight of Heart: Malcolm Middleton
  • Fleet Foxes: Fleet Foxes
  • Limbo, Panto: Wild Beasts
  • Car Alarm: The Sea and Cake
Anyway, enjoy these songs:

Best of 2008 Mix 1
click here or on the image above to stream the entire list in one go, or click on the titles below to listen to the songs individually
  1. (The Forgotten People) : Thievery Corporation
  2. Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa : Vampire Weekend
  3. Head Honcho : DeVotchKa
  4. Youthless : Beck
  5. Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! : Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
  6. The Fix : Elbow
  7. DLZ : TV on the Radio
  8. Shores Of Orion : God Is An Astronaut
  9. Rooks : Shearwater
  10. These Hands : Deerhunter
  11. The Devil's Crayon : Wild Beasts
  12. Say Back Something : Tapes 'n Tapes
  13. Sleeper Hold : No Age
  14. Documented Minor Emotional Breakdown #1 : Los Campesinos!
  15. Electric Feel : MGMT
  16. Better Than This : Keane
  17. Graveyard Girl : M83
  18. Holy Cow! : Margot & The Nuclear So And So's
  19. To Be Where There's Life : Oasis
  20. Sex On Fire : Kings Of Leon
  21. One For The Cutters : The Hold Steady
  22. Daddy's Gone : Glasvegas
Some highlights:

Mix 1 of music to groove to was made with some compromises, but overall I'm very happy with it. The musical output from 2008 was weird in a good way for me in that the songs that stood out the most are very diverse. Thievery Corporation, the Washington, D.C.-based DJ duo that puts a club spin on so-called world music, released their best album since Abductions and Reconstructions from a decade ago, and I thought The Forgotten People, their own composition, made for a rousing opener.

Dig, Lazarus, Digg!!! by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds is easily my most played song of 2008. What an amazing record, with an addictive hook and an interesting twist on the old narrative of the artist's struggle between purity and popularity. At least that's how I see it.

How Elbow had gone by under the radar all these years is a mystery to me. These guys have been making tremendous records since 2001. They finally won the Mercury Prize last year, but I think they're just getting started. Elbow is very versatile; their debut album, Asleep in the Back, is track-for-track half a world away from last year's The Seldom Seen Kid, but both are equally good, although the latter is obviously the more self-assured. The Fix is full of mischief.

Album buyers will find TV On The Radio's Dear Science great value for money; they'll get 11 well-crafted songs that cross genres. DLZ, whatever that means, is the most brooding song of the album, a scathing critique, the way I read it, of George W. Bush and his wars.

God is an Astronaut was a big surprise. Scottish post-rockers Mogwai released an excellent album last year in The Hawk is Howling, yet here I am posting a song by a group that obviously takes after them. God is an Astronaut's self-titled album is a revelation, every song is stirring, and Shores of Orion uncorks a pent-up indignation.

Wild Beasts was an awesome find. This new English band has its own sound. They cook up highly original guitar melodies, but their songs aren't for everyone. What could put people off is the vocals. They make liberal use of falsettos alternating with pure grit, and the combination can be grating. The best example is She Purred While I Grrd – listen to it when your tolerance hormone level is high. The Devil's Crayon is tamer, but no less ear-catching.

I don't know how many new bands released their debut and sophomore albums on the same year, but Los Campesinos did it, and they did it well. What makes this Welsh seven-piece amazing is they don't only deliver fun party songs for the artsy, but their lyrics can also be cleverly graphic and hilarious without making the songs ridiculous. Documented #1, from the second album, is such an example; the first line never fails to make me sniggle.

Did any band release a more fun record in 2008 than MGMT? These guys have had a great run, and let's hope they don't crash and burn. Oracular Spectacular is just what the album name suggests: an exciting piece of work that hints at even greater things.

Sometimes it's hard to take a band seriously because of their choice of name, but Margot and the Nuclear So & So's is a good argument for, well, not taking a band for its name. Holy Cow is seriously professional in sound and arrangement – perhaps more so than the band would have liked, since this comes from Not Animal, the version of the album their label wanted to release. (The band's preferred version, Animal, was also released, and it's equally good.)

I had stopped taking notice of Oasis since What's the Story Morning Glory?, but Dig Out Your Soul restored my faith, perhaps because the album is mature, perhaps because the Gallaghers are more mature. They've been easing their grip on the group's creative output, and To Be Where There's Life is guitarist Gem Archer's work. It could well have been George Harrison's composition sung by Lennon. It has the makings of a classic in spite of the novelty – a £12.50 toy sitar, if Noel's claim is to be believed.

Only By The Night by Kings of Leon probably gets the award for the most polarizing album of 2008. The band has grabbed the public's attention since their debut, but with each record they've veered further away from their southern roots. Some hated them for it, most loved them even more. I'm with the latter. Take the past out of the picture and you'll agree that they're making great records. Who could resist Sex on Fire?

Best of 2008 Mix 2
click here or on the image above to stream the entire list, or click on the titles below to listen to the songs individually
  1. White Winter Hymnal : Fleet Foxes
  2. Writer's Minor Holiday : Calexico
  3. Total Belief : Malcolm Middleton
  4. Twist Of The Knife : Andy Yorke
  5. I Still Care For You : Ray LaMontagne
  6. Skinny Love : Bon Iver
  7. Always : Peter Bradley Adams
  8. Moorestown : Sun Kil Moon
  9. Face Down In The Right Town : Earlimart
  10. New Schools : The Sea and Cake
  11. Speak : Dark Captain Light Captain
  12. Listen : Amos Lee
  13. Hard White Wall : Joan As Police Woman
  14. Little Black Sandals : Sia
  15. Hearts Club Band : Martha Wainwright
  16. A&E : Goldfrapp
  17. The Rip : Portishead
  18. Gódan Daginn : Sigur Rós
  19. Cape Canaveral : Conor Oberst
  20. Swallows Of San Juan : Alejandro Escovedo
  21. Cath... : Death Cab for Cutie
  22. Weightless : Nada Surf
This Mix 2 of rock for wimps has some of my favorite songs of the year. White Winter Hymnal by Fleet Foxes was a shoo-in, although this isn't my favorite from the album (that would be Ragged Wood). These guys are really good and oozing with minty freshness, even though they're very 70s Americana. I thought I'd get sick of them easily, but I'm still listening to the album. They'll probably have to find a newer sound for their future albums, though, perhaps with the help of a new producer who could funk them out a little bit. It's not that their original sound is bad, it's just that even Mentos comes in different flavors.

Calexico is back. Their Garden Ruin album from 2006 didn't really pluck my strings, but Carried to Dust has quite a number of gems, including this here's Writer's Minor Holiday, plus House of Valparaiso, Two Silver Trees and Red Blooms.

I grew fond of Malcolm Middleton very easily. This former Arab Strap lays incredibly simple but engaging acoustic arrangements in his latest solo album, Sleight of Heart. The self-deprecating Total Belief is typical of his ironic humor. "I woke late today with a puzzle in mind, I found myself hoping for the destruction of mankind, Nothing bad you know and not out of spite."

You wouldn't know Andy Yorke was Thom's younger brother just by listening to him. In Simple, his debut album as a solo artist, he got the sensitive singer-songerwriter virtuosity down pat. Twist of the Knife easily holds a candle to artists of the same ilk, like Ray LaMontagne, who subdues his normally powerful caffeine-and-nicotine vocals into whispers in I Still Care for You, or Bon Iver, aka Justin Vernon, who found himself being the alternative press's darling thanks to For Emma, Forever Ago. While Skinny Love is again an easy pick for last year's favorites, many other tracks from For Emma are more elegant, though a bit less radio-friendly. Re: Stacks is a painting in gentle brushstrokes of moving on from a failed relationship. "This is not the sound of a new man or a crispy realization, It's the sound of the unlocking and the lift away. Your love will be safe with me." The heart aches. I'll count Peter Bradley Adams in this group. His album Leavetaking is overly sentimental, but the songs – nay, serenades – are expressions in soft sighs of an honest wanting. Sun Kil Moon didn't really impress me with April, but Mark Kozelek is enshrined in this blog (see picture above) and he can do no wrong – even with The Finally, his latest album of covers, which incudes Send in the Clowns. (Really.)

Earlimart was an accidental find. I can't remember which artist I was browsing on iTunes that showed them as related, but I clicked and liked what I heard. This male-female duo makes amiable music that refuses to fade into the background, with their little elements of earcandy such as bird chirps and vocal harmonies. The Sea and Cake and Dark Captain Light Captain use the same technique, but the former slides a bit into jazz-pop and the latter alt-folk. Amos Lee straddles these genres with relative deftness. And just to wrap this up: Martha Wainwright continues to beguile, Sigur Ros finally became accessble to me, Alejandro Escovedo has a sweet soft side you want to explore, and Nada Surf are still underrated!

22 June 2008

catching hold of the light

click on the song titles to listen

The first thing you will notice when you listen to This Too Will Pass, an album by Hrishikesh Hirway or The One AM Radio, is the melancholy of his sound. These are midnight songs, best heard in bed in the company of empty space, eyes open staring into darkness. The second thing you will notice is the serenity of his voice. Hirway does not sing as much as softly breathes, but his is the monotony of quietude. If he is perturbed, he has found peace with it. And if neither has yet grabbed your attention, the third thing you will notice is his visual lyricism. Hirway's songs are beautiful pieces of haiku stretched into prose, creating imagery with attendant mood: calm but intense, unadorned but symbolic, concise but redolent of a rich narrative. Consider this, the entire lyrics to Our Fall Apart, about a couple on the brink of a perhaps decisive separation:
We stood within the dappled shade of the small backyard where we had our start. You kept your eyes on your cupped hands, held as though you might catch hold of the light. Behind the curtain of your hair, you began to say, half-turned away, "How strange to find this place unchanged to our hardened hearts, and our fall apart."
And then there's Cast Away, which is a haunting song about a man struggling to accept the prosaic reality of normal life after a long surrender to depression.
The first thing you saw when you washed up onto the shore were the words "I don't love you anymore" scrawled into the sand. And as the sun and the din from the street beat you sore, you had a sudden ache for the ocean floor. Every night you dream of the same underwater scene, where you nearly made your peace, but then the silence suddenly ceased. And placed by an unseen hand, you were brought back to the tumult of land. The sound of the hull against the waves is not around to lull you to sleep nowadays. You just lie awake, listening to the gulls in the bay. Breathe in salt air as you stare at the ceiling, trying to recapture the feeling of being married to the sea, but your vision gets so watery. Every night you dream of the same underwater scene, but safe beneath your sheets, you'll never find your way back to that peace.
It makes you think: Is it possible for someone to be so depressed, he wants to stay depressed?

20 June 2008

three portrayals of almost love

Or, films with characters that sing.

click on the song titles to listen

An Irish indie hit from last year, Once tells the story of a relationship that develops between a Dublin busker and an immigrant flower vendor who inspires him to pursue his recording ambitions. I first saw it on a plane and fell asleep halfway through. I thought the story was more interesting than the music, but felt it was too slow to keep my attention. I gave it another chance on DVD, and loved it. It's intimate storytelling; we don't even get to know the characters' names. Theirs is a relationship of mutual respect, admiration and love of music, with physical and emotional attraction an undeniable presence, a looming uncertainty over how it might change the course of the lives they're trying to carve for themselves.

One of the film's many charms is the simplicity of its story, and watching it unfold raises only two questions: Will he make it, and will they end up together? Spoiler alert. We only learn about the latter, and I can't think of a better ending: They record, he decides to go to London, they spend a day together before he leaves, and they confess to a mutual attraction in a sweet, awkward goodbye, where she declines his suggestion to consummate the relationship, afraid it would only lead to pointless "hanky panky." What a girl.

So here are my two favorite songs from the film. Frankly, we've heard Hansard's style before, which many people say reminds them of Damien Rice, but to me sounds more like a stripped down, pre-White Ladder David Gray. I like the way When Your Mind's Made Up develops by gradually adding and removing various elements – guitar, piano, voice, drums, backing vocals – to complement the mood of specific parts of the song. Gold, on the other hand, is a duality, alternating string virtuosity with vocal and lyrical purity. The latter, however, stands out in its earnestness. Vocalist Fergus O'Farrell sings with the withered voice of a medieval troubadour, delivering a song that is not only traditional in sound, but also in its use of metaphor. It's amazing to me how a song like this can still come from this century.

click on the song titles to listen

The Hottest State had its moments, but in the end I decided that it was an overdramatized piece of work that lasted far longer than its statement was worth. Written and directed by Ethan Hawke based on his own debut novel of the same title – in other words, it's self-masturbatory – The Hottest State tells the story of how a young struggling actor, William, falls in self-destructive fashion for a young struggling musician, Sarah. Their mutual attraction is obvious from the moment they meet – he is beguiled by her air of mystery, she by his mawkish verbosity – but the relationship they eventually establish remains platonic, until Sarah declares herself ready to get over a prior rejection, and by extension, to let herself fall in love again. Not long after the act, she begins to distance herself and decides that she doesn't want a relationship after all.

Unable to understand why, William tries to win her back, progressively becoming more obsessive, through midnight phone calls and recitations of Shakespeare in front of her apartment. You begin to get the idea – which, I guess, is that love can be real and passionate even at an early age – but Hawke rubs it in by sending William to a downward spiral that becomes too exasperating to watch. Perhaps it's due to a weakness in direction. Unlike other talky films that Hawke is very well familiar with – like Before Sunrise, where the conversations cleverly explore each character's lives – The Hottest State uses uncreative dialog and narration to explain. The flashbacks of William's early separation from his father are a disjointed explanation of how he developed his need for a relationship he could hold on to, and everything we get to know about Sarah's past is crammed in a dinner scene almost as an afterthought. This is, of course, a film about William as much as Ethan Hawke, who has called his novel a work of autobiographical fiction. But the film takes itself too seriously that it becomes pretentious – words that have been used to describe Hawke himself.

Thankfully, the soundtrack is enjoyable, made up mostly of songs written by the unheralded Jesse Harris, performed by some good artists and himself. One Day The Dam Will Break is an uplifting self-medication against an inevitable fall, and Never See You is a shy wish for a second chance.

click on the song titles to listen

I don't really have much to say about this film, which the world and half of Mars have probably seen, other than it's worthy of its acclaim. The soundtrack is an excellent alternation of mostly classic folk/rock songs and Kimya Dawson's jocular songwriting talent and tongue-in-cheek folk sensibility. Director Jason Reitman's song choices give the soundtrack a character as quirky as the film itself, and it's impossible to listen to it without thinking of the film's story and its starkly different characters. I predict Juno will be up there in the company of Singles, Garden State, and Pulp Fiction in all-time lists of Hollywood's most memorable soundtracks.

14 June 2008

do you hear that, mr. anderson?

a playlist : ringtones for people who hate ringtones
click here or on the image below to listen

Bear with me for a bit and let's talk about numbers. I was happily ambling about the internet the other day when I came upon this highly disturbing bit of news: According to soothsayers, mobile phone users will spend about $6.65 billion in ringtone downloads by the year 2012. Assuming that by then there will be at least 3.3 billion people with cellphones, and that the price of ringtones remains about a dollar each, then that amounts to at least two ringtones for every mobile phone in existence. That means there's going to be an awfully good chance that every phone that rings in the future will do so to the sound of music. But that's just the half of it. According to misfortune tellers, ringback tones will be more popular than ringtones within just a couple of years. That means instead of hearing the familiar ring when you're calling someone's phone, you will be hearing a song that that person has chosen for you to hear. So what kind of music will you be hearing more of – against your will – in the streets, in restaurants, in public transport, and even on your own phone in the near future? Check Billboard's Hot Ringtones chart for a hint.

Now I don't really care what songs they are. Putting it mildly, I'm not very fond of ringtones. All of them. I think ringtones are one of the most useless inventions ever, way up there in the ignominious company of electric candles, umbrella hats, and superhero capes (except Batman, who isn't superhuman, so he needs it). People have taken to ringtones to publicly announce what cool individuals they are or how much sense of humor they have. Well let me tell you something, Mr. Bleeding Love, your ringtone sucks, and when you pretend to be embarrassed when your phone rings and you fumble as if you can't find it just so the song plays a bit longer, what you're actually saying is, "Ooh, look at me, I'm an attention whore!" Twat. Apologize is for pole dancing, not moviehouses. Shake It and Pork and Beans are for frathouse pukefests, not supermarket aisles. Viva la Vida is for driving yourself off into a cliff, not for hospital waiting areas. And you should all be reminded that a blaring playback of Beautiful Girls in an ATM line is an abuse of airspace rights, tantamount to assault. One day, someone will Taser your ass in revenge and I'll be cheering them, bro.

Of course, I and the rest of us ringtone non-fans know that this rant is a futile exercise in rational bitchin', as there apparently is no shortage of people who will fork 99 cents for the cheapest badge of individuality they can buy. But if there's one lesson we, the people, should all have learned from Hillary!, it is to never give up and to keep rolling on. We have within our means a number of ways to keep the fight for a sane, noise-free environment, and as responsible urban citizens, we must assert our rights and do any of the following:
  1. Write for your congressman to legislate a total ban on ringtones. That way, we can litigate ringtone users to death and make their lives as miserable as they've made ours. Punishment for the guilty will vary. End-users will be isolated in a jail facility with a sound system playing Buy U a Drank on repeat 24/7, while ringtone manufacturers (including iTunes – I worship you, Steve, but please take them off the store and sack whoever told you that selling them was a good idea) will be hung, drawn, and quartered twice over.
  2. Ask Dean Kamen, the inventor of Segway, to invent a ringtone-blocking device that city planners can install in public areas, defined as any amount of space with a population density of more than one person per square meter mile. (We don't really want to be thought of as being overly selfish, so this seems like a reasonable size to me.)
  3. With the economy in a rut, the government could surely use some money. In these trying times, imposing a 1,000,000% tax on ringtone purchases is truly a win-win situation and a genius idea whose time has come. Lobby it.
  4. Start a grassroots organization and initiate a "World No Ringtone Day." Spread the word through text messages simply saying, "Today is a good day to respect the rights of others to not be violated by your insensitive ringtone. Please set your mobile phone on vibrate and shove it up a nice, warm place within your body, if you know what I mean."
  5. And now for the fun part: Beat ringtone users at their own game. Tell them how much their ringtones are the pig's ass by using one that will call their attention and slap their faces silly. Make it hard, make it punchy, make it as in-your-face as possible – anything with an angry riff, a cascade of drumming, or lyrics that will feed on their paranoia, because more often than not, these ringtone folks are right-wing Snapple drinkers who believe that terrorists are contaminating their bottled-water sources and so they try to seek comfort from wherever they can, including their cell phones. Therefore, I humbly propose the following songs:
  • Human Fly : The Cramps
  • Black Betty : Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
  • Heartbreak Hotel : John Cale
  • Shake Your Rump : Beastie Boys
  • Pay to Play : Nirvana
  • Suicide Blonde : INXS
  • It's the End of the World as We Know It (and I Feel Fine) : R.E.M.
  • Psycho Man : Black Sabbath
  • Man in the Box : Alice in Chains
  • Rebel Yell : Billy Idol
  • Space Oddity : David Bowie
  • Kashmir : Led Zeppelin
Got better ideas in mind?

16 May 2008

insert big sigh here

shots is fired
hard drive
Both songs by Evan Dando. Click here or on the image below to listen

Shots Is Fired is what you feel when you've scarred your feet from what you thought was a march to a hopeful end and the road all of a sudden forks and both paths look bleak and turning back is not an option and neither is a pause because you hear the ticking on your wrist that says time is running out. You wonder how in hell you even got here when just a moment ago or was it just a moment ago everything was so straight and so simple and so sure and you remember that you tried to blaze a trail because you weren't content with straight simple sure. Whatever part of you that's been calling the shots is fired. Tell him he's lost control how can it be how could he let you down how could he leave you on your own. But you gotta do it you gotta take a step left right right left it doesn't matter just take that step close your eyes it's gonna be okay it's gonna be fine maybe it's even gonna be easy but who are we kidding. Whatever. Get in motion. Hard Drive is what you feel when you know you'll get there you'll get to it it'll be over if not soon then eventually. You'll see it. A familiar street. The house of a friend. Pale paint on wooden gate. Your name carved in a tree trunk. Porch. Home. A path to the beach. A hand to hold. Palm on palm. Fingers locked. Wrinkled skin. You touch each other's aged face. And don't you know it, you're happy, just when it matters.

16 March 2008

heart on a stick, dipped in a vat of burnt sugar

or, a playlist : songs for the lovestruck and forlorn

Here's a playlist I've kept from one iPod to the next. I don't really have a name for it other than the generic Acoustic Ballads, but I've learned to live with it. Any other adjective would be inaccurate, any other noun contrived. Songs have come and gone on this list, but they all have one thing in common: they're stripped down songs about love, loss and yearning, and they're unabashedly sentimental. It doesn't necessarily mean they're gooey and clichéd. Most of them are not off-the-shelf expressions of abstract feelings, but experiences written as stories, as intentions, as streams of consciousness. 

As usual, you can listen to the songs two ways: Click on the image below to hear them all in one go, or on the song titles to hear each song individually.

  1. Somebody That I Used To Know : Elliott Smith
  2. No Fear Of Falling : I Am Kloot
  3. Saturday : Josh Rouse
  4. Naked As We Came : Iron & Wine
  5. To Be Alone With You : Sufjan Stevens
  6. I Wouldn't Miss It For The World : Johnathan Rice
  7. Poetry & Aeroplanes : Teitur
  8. Sleeping To Dream : Jason Mraz
  9. Only You : Joshua Radin
  10. Your Sweet Voice : The Reindeer Section
  11. Trouble : Ray LaMontagne
  12. My Winding Wheel : Ryan Adams
  13. Kathleen : Josh Ritter
  14. Dogs : Damien Rice
  15. Silent Sigh : Badly Drawn Boy
  16. Babylon : David Gray
  17. On Your Side : Pete Yorn

21 February 2008

a boat ends its journey

playa girón : silvio rodríguez
click here or on the image below to listen

I believe that idealism is a mark of noble leadership, but its practice should not humble a people to poverty. I believe that every person has the right to health care and education, but not at the cost of his freedom of expression. I believe in the pursuit of national unity, but not to the point of denying individualism. I know very little about Cuba, I know very little about Castro. What I do know is just enough to make me both respect and revile the man, impressions I no doubt share with countless others who have neither set foot on the island nor met any of its people. And yet, I have a strong sense that Castro enjoys a positive popular bias. His name has become synonymous with romantic notions about revolution, that what he has come to symbolize seems to have overshadowed what he has actually achieved. Castro may be a divisive figure, but also an inspirational one. Forget his influence on the current turn to the left in Latin American politics. While on one hand he has driven away some of the best musicians the island has produced, on the other his rule has led others to sing of his ideals in ways that are poignant and sublime. In Playa Girón, Silvio Rodríguez, a trovador and member of the Cuban parliament, pays tribute to the fishing boat where he worked in 1969, an experience that to him represented not just man's return to primitive form, constantly in battle with the forces of nature, but also the virtue of toiling not for mere individual survival but for the shared benefit of many. The song, he says, is "an intimate and human tribute to the nameless men who work in sometimes perilous circumstances for the Cuban population." But what makes the song really moving is that it is its own answer to the very question it asks: What words and rhythm do justice to a boat as vital as the Playa Girón? Here are the original lyrics below, followed by my very liberal, not literal, translation in English.

Playa Girón

Compañeros poetas,
tomando en cuenta
los últimos sucesos
en la poesía,
quisiera preguntar
—me urge—
¿qué tipo de adjetivos
se deben usar para hacer
el poema de un barco
sin que se haga sentimental,
fuera de la vanguardia
o evidente panfleto,
si debo usar palabras
como Flota Cubana de Pesca
y «Playa Girón»?

Compañeros de música,
tomando en cuenta
esas politonales
y audaces canciones,
quisiera preguntar
—me urge—
¿qué tipo de armonía
se debe usar para hacer
la canción de este barco
con hombres de poca niñez,
hombres y solamente
hombres sobre cubierta,
hombres negros y rojos
y azules los hombres que pueblan
el «Playa Girón»?

Compañeros de historia,
tomando en cuenta
lo implacable
que debe ser la verdad,
quisiera preguntar
—me urge tanto—
¿qué debiera decir,
qué fronteras debo respetar?
Si alguien roba comida
y después da la vida,
¿qué hacer?
¿Hasta dónde debemos
practicar las verdades?
¿Hasta dónde sabemos?
Que escriban, pues, la historia,
su historia los hombres
del «Playa Girón».

Playa Girón

My comrades in poetry,
considering the many ways in which
poems are written these days,
I would like to ask you,
I'm very keen to know,
what words must one use
to pen a poem about a boat
without making it sound sentimental,
without making it pretentious
or an obvious propaganda,
considering that I have to call it
the Cuban Fishing Fleet
and Playa Girón?

My comrades in music,
considering the wealth of tones
and the boldness one can employ
in the process of writing a song,
I have to know,
what harmonies one must use
to create a song about this boat,
this boat of men who knew little about childhood,
men and only men on deck,
black men, red men, blue men,
yet men who spent their lives in Playa Girón?

My comrades in history,
considering that truth is never a compromise,
I would like to ask,
I'm dying to know,
what do you say,
where do you draw the line
when someone steals food
then sacrifices his life for another?
What do you do?
To what extent do you uphold the truth?
How much do you really know?
Let them write, then, their own story,
their own history,
the men of Playa Girón.

08 December 2007

sounds of silver : the best of 2007

Not to let a good year in music pass this blog by, I'm making a last ditch effort to resuscitate it after being long out of commission due to a technical glitch. Nothing serious; my iMac just decided one day to, you know, die, and this trusty PowerBook didn't have the program that lets me stream songs in Flash format, until recently. I'm still going to get a new computer; the act has just been delayed, first because of the wait for Leopard, and now for whatever upgrade comes after Macworld next month. I'm also torn between a new 24-inch iMac and a 17-inch MacBook Pro, but enough of the tedious stuff. I'm back on track, and since it's the end of the year, I thought I'd make the second of what will hopefully be my annual list of the year's best songs.

That's right, this blog is all about songs, not albums, so I won't even bother (We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank, Modest Mouse) telling you (Because Of The Times, Kings of Leon) what are (Armchair Apocrypha, Andrew Bird) to my biased ears (In Rainbows, Radiohead) the best albums of 2007 (Boxer, The National) even though (Sound of Silver, LCD Soundsystem) I enjoyed (Crime & Beauty, Suzanne Vega) this year (The Con, Tegan & Sara) more than (Leaves In The River, Sea Wolf) the last (Wincing The Night Away, The Shins). I just wanted to make that clear.

I'm sure I'm not the only one thinking that alternative rock is entering a new, quiet golden age, not just in the sense of today's music being not of the out-loud variety that grunge was, but also because the independent music scene seems to have found a lasting mode of survival, thriving and happy to be buzzing under the radar like never before. I am, of course, talking more about its manner of distribution than the creation of new styles. MySpace and Facebook have made word-of-mouth not only easier and more effective but also cool again, and these new channels have allowed bands to reach new and old audiences without reliance on corporate marketing. While getting rid of the middleman has long been possible through downloads from artists' websites, the conundrum has always been how to translate this freedom from labels into revenues. Radiohead's pay-as-you-wish model for "In Rainbows" introduced a clever way of doing so, because although it no doubt attracted low-ballers, it also won for the band a new market in those who wouldn't have thought of buying the entire album otherwise. I'm pretty sure it won't be the last, and as new, creative ways of selling songs and albums come up, independent artists will continue to make music the way they really want them to sound.

Which brings me back to my blog. Next year, I'll be back to posting songs not just because they're new and worthy, but because they mean something to me. In the meantime, enjoy this list, which took me a while to compile. A few housekeeping notes: There are two ways to listen to these songs. Apart from uploading them individually, I've also grouped the songs in two virtual mix tapes. All songs in each mix are in the same file, and will play one after the other in the sequence below. You can, however, jump from one song to the next or the one before by clicking the forward and back buttons. You can also play them in shuffle mode by clicking on the cube icon. So without further ado:

Best of 2007 Mix 1
click here or on the image above to stream the entire list, or
click on the titles to listen to the songs individually
  1. Australia : The Shins
  2. Do Me A Favour : Arctic Monkeys
  3. Don't You Evah : Spoon
  4. Go Tell The Woman : Grinderman
  5. Coat Check Dream Song : Bright Eyes
  6. People As Places As People : Modest Mouse
  7. Time To Get Away : LCD Soundsystem
  8. A Hand To Take Hold Of The Scene : Okkervil River
  9. Plasticities : Andrew Bird
  10. Mistaken For Strangers : The National
  11. House Of Cards : Radiohead
  12. The Opposite Of Hallelujah : Jens Lekman
  13. Somewhere Between Waking And Sleeping : Air
  14. No Cars Go : The Arcade Fire
  15. Fans : Kings of Leon
  16. Makeup : Everybody Else
  17. Yankee Go Home : Clap Your Hands Say Yeah

Best of 2007 Mix 2
click here or on the image above to stream the entire list, or
click on the titles to listen to the songs individually
  1. Heart It Races : Architecture In Helsinki
  2. Gronlandic Edit : Of Montreal
  3. Raise The Roof : Tracey Thorn
  4. Close Call : Rilo Kiley
  5. Zephyr & I : Suzanne Vega
  6. Myriad Harbour : The New Pornographers
  7. Lay Your Head Down : Keren Ann
  8. I Feel It All : Feist
  9. Lifesize : A Fine Frenzy
  10. The Con : Tegan & Sara
  11. Love Me Like The World Is Ending : Ben Lee
  12. Basement Parties : Matt Pond PA
  13. Pioneer To The Falls : Interpol
  14. Like Something Worth Remembering : Mixtapes & Cellmates
  15. Pots & Pans : Les Savy Fav
  16. You're A Wolf : Sea Wolf
  17. Tonight I Have To Leave It : Shout Out Louds

03 October 2007

thoughts from a boat ride

cartwheels : reindeer section
click here or on the image below to listen

How much can you write in half an hour? Half an hour is my ferry ride to work. The amount of time it takes for me to decide where I'm having lunch and actually getting there. Three, maybe five, percent of my waking hours that slips past cognizance as I trawl the internet. (Is that all?) Three hundred and sixty seconds of gainful knowledge as I read the editorial page. Six songs and many years of adolescent memories from my eighties playlist. A tall soya no whip mocha for flatfoot. How do you occupy your mind in a half-hour commute? Sometimes I get to wondering about thought process itself. What do I normally think about when I have nothing to think about? I never knew, or maybe I did, but have forgotten. Thoughts are funnily tentative, like dreams, which are thoughts you never knew you had. Sometimes I steal glances at other people. Do you look at other people too? Mentally pick on the man next to you for his coffee-stained two-buck necktie from Bangkok? Do you close your eyes and try to take a nap? Reminisce your childhood? Cartwheels are the stuff of childhood. I have never cartwheeled in my life. Or maybe I have, but never with any measure of success. I climbed walls and trees and jumped off them to scare my mom. I tumbled in the grass, on my parents' bed, on our living room couch, which wasn't much of a couch, as the make was firm and you hardly sank. I remember the giant shell on the side table. I would put it against my ear to listen to the sound of hollow. The sound of hollow. Empty has a sound. Empty takes aural space. Space is funnily fleeting, like time. My thirty minutes is over. My ferry is about to dock. Good day.