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.

05 September 2007

and i thought it was gonna be the worstest

don't fence me in : david byrne
click here or on the image below to listen

Summer is officially over; how was it for you? I have to say it was good for me, too. I didn't think it would be, what with the new job cutting my annual leave days in half to a miserly 12. A change in company policy brought it to 15, and that was good enough for me to go somewhere far for a few days in July. So I spent my birthday in Prague, followed by a series of trips that were small in scale but surprisingly big on fun. Right after returning from the city of a hundred spires, I played host and tour guide to a few friends whom I met at an internet travel forum, then wore a black shirt, black jeans, and black eyeliners to watch the reunion concert of The Cure. Shortly after, I went to Manila to attend the wedding of a friend, saw Gwen Stefani in concert (please keep that thought to yourself), then went to Singapore, China and Japan, both for business and, with careful planning, weekends of pleasure. My legs are still hurting after climbing Mt. Fuji last Saturday. Needless to say, I'm not complaining. So it is with great pride that I present to you this song – one of the few that I promised to deliver during the Triassic period. Don't Fence Me In is a cowboy song extolling the freedom of the open space, and that's enough for me to call it a travel song. Written by Cole Porter, this version is by David Byrne – one of the guys in the picture above – who also wrote what I call the best. travel song. ever!

12 June 2007

hello, what's this?

everything hits at once (for discos) : spoon
click here or on the image below to listen

Okay, so I'm still officially off the air, but as I was cleaning my iDisk last weekend, I found quite a few songs I had uploaded but have somehow forgotten to post. In fact, there are seven of them, and I'm putting them up here in single installments, for added suspense. Or something. This here is the funkier version of the first song off Spoon's 2001 album, Girls Can Tell. Everything Hits At Once is a post-breakup song that captures the unease that sets in right after the end of a relationship. It's not quite sadness, but an emptiness that's almost corporeal. You actually feel something hollow in your chest. A chasm that grows every minute you're made aware of your sudden solitude. A vacuum that turns into a whirlpool that sucks you in with every memory of your own mistakes. You want to plug this hole. You want to save yourself. You try to do something, anything – a haircut, a singles bar, a pornographic site – just to take your mind far away from your insignificant reality, but you only end up being spaced out, making a fool of yourself as a matter of course. You catch your own reflection in the elevator door, and it mocks you. Get a grip, for heaven's sake! And you let out a laugh, a sob, a drawn-out sigh. It feels good. You close your eyes, breathe in, breathe out. And tomorrow you'll get over it. Best line: Merging in traffic, cross the lanes, and then we become something bigger than just anyone. Best part: The xylophonic loop that's absent in the original.

04 May 2007

alternative sounds takes a break

As if this blog wasn't irregular enough, I'm taking a break for about a couple of months.

My iMac, which has the program that converts my songs into the Flash format you listen to here, has died on me. I'm still thinking whether to buy a new one or have it fixed. Either way, it'll take a while before my online life is back on track. If you wish to know when I start blogging again, please e-mail me at alternativesounds {at} gmail.com

Now as to why I've been quiet for a longer while than usual, yes, that was a bit rude, not making good on my promise of a diverse all-women March. Weird as it may sound, my frame of mind has just been focused on something else. Since my last post, I've not only quit my job, but I've also left the world of journalism where I spent many happy years. Truth is, I had long been wanting to shift careers, but it was never easy for me to do, being in a place the language of which I don't speak, and not having letters of higher learning after my name. You can imagine how happy I was when I got this new job – the title and description will bore you, but it's exactly what I'd been looking for – and so I wanted to make sure that my mind was a fresh, clean slate before my first day. I'm still going through a learning curve, but I think I'll be fine.

In other news, I had 10 days off in between jobs, and during that time, I finally had the chance to organize my CDs. I think I overdid it. I separately alphabetized my English-language and world-music albums by artist name. Then I stacked my compilation CDs by genre and alphabetized them by album title, then my soundtrack albums by film title, and then my freebie CDs by the names of the magazines they came from.

I've also been buying a lot of new albums. Here are some of them, and it pains me that I can't blog about them just yet:
  • Air : Pocket Symphony
  • Andrew Bird : Armchair Apocrypha
  • The Arcade Fire : Neon Bible
  • Archie Bronson Outfit : Derdang Derdang
  • Arctic Monkeys : Favourite Worst Nightmare
  • Bright Eyes : Cassadaga
  • Clap Your Hands Say Yeah : Some Loud Thunder
  • Everybody Else : Eponymous
  • Grinderman : Eponymous
  • Kings of Leon : Because of the Times
  • LCD Soundsystem : Sound of Silver
  • Low : Drums and Guns
  • Matt Costa : Songs We Sing
  • Modest Mouse : We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank
  • Rodrigo y Gabriela : Eponymous
  • The Shins : Wincing The Night Away
  • Tracy Thorn : Out of the Woods
Anyway. I was actually able to convert three songs into Flash before my iMac died. Here's the rest of what I promised last month.

fall at your feet : mary black
click here or on the image below to listen

Fall At Your Feet by Crowded House ranks high up in my favorite songs of all time, and this cover version doesn't disappoint. Mary Black, an Irish folk artist, made it her own and even infused a lot more emotion than the original.

zomaye : gigi
click here or on the image below to listen

A strong reminder that some of the best beats in music can be heard outside the English-speaking world. Gigi is from Ethiopia.

recovery : new buffalo
click here or on the image below to listen

I saw this act in Sydney last year. Very good.

19 March 2007

women's march : part 2

These are some of my favorite female artists from the 90s whose work I still find immensely relevant to this day. The 90s was a great era for women in music. There was so much diversity in rock alone: from Hole to Mazzy Star to PJ Harvey to Tracy Bonham. These are the ones I listened to the most.

sinéad o'connor : red football
sinéad o'connor : sacrifice
click here or on the image below to listen

Did you know that more women aged 15 to 44 suffer death or disability from domestic violence than from war, cancer, malaria, and road accidents combined? Sad but true. I grew up in a household full of strong, nurturing women, who selflessly raised, educated, and provided for me and my siblings. It's simply beyond my understanding why women should suffer from violence at home and from biases in the workplace, politics, and many other facets of society. Not a lot of female pop artists take up these issues in their work, but you can't blame them. Any form of entertainment is less likely to have mass appeal when its content is heavy. Never one for commercial success, Red Football is doubtlessly Sinéad O'Connor's most up-front statement about women's rights. What this song achieves is it delivers an unequivocal message without being moralistic. Indeed, calling an end to violence against women no longer needs to simply appeal to people's morals. It needs to confront. It needs to provoke. It needs to agitate, as the ending of this song does. Of course, Sinéad is not only to be appreciated for her bravery, but also for her vocal uniqueness. Which is why I also have to post Sacrifice, her cover of Elton John's song about infidelity, which Sinéad delivers with unfurling anger. You will notice the change in her tone when she sings "We lose direction, no stone unturned." Even for a Sinéad song, Sacrifice is heavy on the reverb, but it only highlights what she can do with her voice.

paula cole : happy home
click here or on the image below to listen

If you knew Paula Cole from her breakthrough album, This Fire, you would know that Happy Home, from her debut album Harbinger, is anything but happy. In fact, it's about the opportunities women miss and the compromises they make, willingly or otherwise, when they carry out the roles of wife and mother. But what's good about this song is it's a story of two people: the mother suffering a crisis of what defines her identity, and the well-meaning daughter trying to figure out what is going on. It reminds me of the relationship between the young son and his mother, played by Julianne Moore, in that excellent film, The Hours. Best line: But everybody could feel the suffocation underneath the façade of a happy home. Best part: The mix of acoustic and electric after the bridge where she sings "Home sweet freedom, flowing in my mind."

crossroads : tracy chapman
click here or on the image below to listen

Yes, I know Crossroads came out in 1989. But like many, I had dismissed Tracy Chapman as a one-hit-album wonder until she released Give Me One Reason in 1995. The album where it's from, New Beginning, renewed my interest in her music. So while I listened to the spawns of the grunge era in the 90s, I was also rediscovering her sound, which is why I will always associate this song with the 90s. There's a lot of sorrow in her music, but she never makes them sound hopeless or desperate. Her voice doesn't have the range or versatility that the rest of the artists here have, but it beats in itself, not with anger, but with willpower. Hers is the voice of quiet defiance, which you will hear in Crossroads, a song about a woman's refusal to make compromises. Best Line: Standing at the point, the road it cross you down, what is at your back, which way do you turn. Best Part: The intro hooked me to the rest of the song.

caught a light sneeze : tori amos
click here or on the image below to listen

I'm not a Toriphile, but I did enjoy her music immensely from Under the Pink to Boys for Pele. The albums that came after were just too labored for my taste, until she released Scarlet's Walk in 2002, where she became a watered-down version of her old self. That said, what I like most about old Tori is not so much her lyrics as her voice and sound, from the restraint of Merman to the more elaborate arrangement of Tear In Your Hand. Most of the time, her lyrics are too coded for me to comprehend; I don't think I've ever agreed with anyone about what Silent All These Years means. Caught A Light Sneeze is no less difficult, but there are enough hints to say it's about the meltdown of her relationship with Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails. The reference to Pretty Hate Machine, the album that catapulted NIN to fame, is a giveaway. Best line: I need a big loan from a girl zone. (I have no idea what it means, but it sure sounds good the way she sings it.) Best part: How she stretches "building tumbling down" at the chorus.

ghost : indigo girls
click here or on the image below to listen

I first learned about the Indigo Girls when their album Swamp Ophelia was given to me as a birthday present by someone I dated. While the relationship didn't last long – it was in fact my shortest ever – the impact of Emily Saliers and Amy Ray's music on me did. I was so impressed by that album that I immediately looked for their prior work and discovered Rites of Passage, where Ghost is from. Where do I even begin to talk about this song? It's a gem. It captures you with its quiet start, then with the lyrics bit by bit, and then ultimately with its totality. Your appreciation of it grows the more you hear it. There's so much beauty in this song that every time you listen to it again, you're touched by one aspect that's different from the last – a poetic line, Emily's tearful wail, Amy's somber backing, or the way their fingers slide on their guitars. What first struck me was the first line in the chorus – There's not enough room in this world for my pain. It sounds so sincere that it reaches out to your own sense of pain and longing. The best line? It's hard to choose, but it would probably be from the final verse: This bitter pill I swallow is the silence that I keep, It poisons me I can't swim free, the river is too deep. The best part? I love the bridge, where Emily delivers an evocative wail, followed by a reversal of the duo's vocal roles.

10 March 2007

women's march : part 1

March is all-women month at Alternative Sounds, being that part of the year when we celebrate International Women's Day, which is on the 8th. I thought I'd make a conscious attempt to increase the representation of female artists in this blog. This first installment consists of artists from the 80s. The next one will be from the 90s, followed by women of folk and women from around the world.

all i want : susanna hoffs
click here or on the image below to listen

Before there was Lisa Loeb, before there was Natalie Imbruglia, before there were Frente!, Luscious Jackson and The Corrs, there was Susanna Hoffs. The most prominent one-fourth of The Bangles was the original pop-rock sweetheart, who exuded vulnerable sexuality with her delicately saccharine voice and wistful acoustic guitar. To someone growing up in the 80s and who was just beginning to form his own hormonally influenced notion of an ideal woman, Susanna Hoffs was the definitive girlfriend material. Madonna was too wild. Cyndi Lauper was too weird. Bananarama were just too...bleached. With her hoop earrings, tapered jeans and Aqua Net-architectured curls, Hoffs came out of VH1 and MTV like a singing porcelain doll, a small, shapely creature with the face of an angel, graced by a full set of lips that broke into a disarming smile, and wide eyes that charmed every time they half-closed. In other words, Susanna Hoffs was the first female artist that gave me the bone. She came to her peak in 1989 when the band released Eternal Flame – that irresistibly mushy ballad to undying love, the first three words of which provoke a universal sigh. But at age 48 – basking in the acclaim of Under The Covers, her 2006 album of duets with Matthew Sweet – Hoffs is still beguiling as ever, outlasting her 90s facsimiles, while her voice has hardly changed. I'm posting her 1996 cover of the Lightning Seeds classic All I Want, which she manages to make cute and edgy with her trademark rasp at the chorus. She only changes the instrumentation, giving it a minimalist treatment but keeping to the pace and form of the original. Best line: Confidence, coincidence, call it a sin, it's just like people say. Best part: I love the drums at the intro and the jangle of acoustic guitar at the first chorus.

soap and water : suzanne vega
click here or on the image below to listen

If you're not new to this blog, you may have noticed the new personality in the header art. Why didn't I think of putting Suzanne Vega up there in the first place? I've been a fan since Luka, which I realized even at 13 or 14 was a remarkable song. I had been exposed to pop music dealing with social issues before, or since I cared enough to actually mull over the lyrics – from famine (Do They Know It's Christmas?) to war (State of the Nation) to teen pregnancy (Papa Don't Preach) – but somethig was different about Luka. For one, whoever thought of writing a song about child abuse from the point of view of the child? (If you hear something late at night, some kind of trouble, some kind of fight, just don't ask me what it was) The words are haunting enough; the melody couldn't have accompanied them better. The brilliance of the songwriting becomes even sharper when compared with What's The Matter Here? by 10,000 Maniacs, about the same theme, released on the same year (1987). (I'm tired of the excuses everybody uses, he's your kid, do as you see fit.) Make no mistake – the song, written by vocalist Natalie Merchant, is equally brilliant, but Luka is more poetic and empathetic. In fact, a poet who happens to sing is what Suzanne Vega is. Her songs are always full of symbolism. It's not always obvious, but it speaks to you in ways only you can understand – just listen to Gypsy. Luka is one of the easy ones; Soap And Water is another – a song about a couple's separation and how it ravages the emotions of the child. But see how beautiful she illustrates tragedy: Soap and water, wash the year from my life, straighten all that we trampled and tore, heal the cut we call husband and wife. It's hard to think of another female singer-songwriter who approximates her intelligence. Best line: The verse I just quoted. Best part: The six guitar notes that run throughout the song.

circle dream : 10,000 maniacs
click here or on the image below to listen

Resolute is one of the words I use to describe Natalie Merchant's voice. It's an amazing instrument she has. You hear her sing, and you know she's out to make a statement – from depression (Like The Weather, which you can listen to right here) to media desensitization (Candy Everybody Wants) to unwanted pregnancy (Eat For Two). Or at least that's what I think the last song is about. Motherhood is a theme that Merchant writes about with emotional acuity, free of clichés and mawkish testimonies. Circle Dream, from the band's 1992 album Our Time In Eden, is a celebration of life – and here you'll see some parallelism between her and Suzanne Vega's songwriting, because it's written from the voice of the unborn child. Best line: Her warmth coming near, calling me "Sweetness," calling me "Dear." Best part: Natalie's own backing and harmony vocals.

28 February 2007

say, whatever happened to...

I had this idea for a post after watching the Grammys a few weeks ago and seeing Dixie Chicks receive their award for Song of the Year. The award is a songwriting honor, and it was nice to see a long-lost face go up on stage. Dan Wilson, of the post-grunge band Semisonic, co-wrote the song with the Chicks. The sight of him made me wonder what had become of him and his contemporaries. Semisonic emerged in 1998 with the hit Closing Time, and disappeared soon after. A song Wilson wrote was included in the soundtrack to American Pie in 1999 – a duet with Bic Runga which you can listen to right here – and that was the last I heard of him. So now he appears to be back, not just as a songwriter, but also as a solo artist. MTV.com reports that Wilson will release the album Free Life this summer. Anyway, Dan looks like a good guy, and sounds like it too, and I wish him luck. In the meantime, here are a couple of his contemporaries who have gone up in smoke:

pathfinder : gay dad
click here or on the image below to listen

Also known as Cliff Jones, Gay Dad released Leisure Noise in 1999, which was decent enough to make it somewhere at the bottom of a few year-end-best-albums lists. But with a name like that, and a sound that was neither original nor innovative, Gay Dad was never taken seriously. Their sophomore album, Transmission, was a considerable flop, although some thought it to be better than the first. The band has split up since, and I have no idea what Jones is up to now. I have the full Leisure Noise in my iPod; I think the songs are pleasant enough to keep. Pathfinder is my favorite, because it manages to be emotionally playful – a rousing intro, a wounded refrain, a carefree chorus, and a torrid bridge – without being messy. The post-Siamese Dream Smashing Pumpkins is a bit like that, and Pathfinder actually reminds me of the pacing of Perfect and 1979 – not to mention that Jones occasionally sounds like Billy Corgan. Best line: You know that crying won't help you now, if it ever did at all. Best part: The vocals in the bridge, 2m 08s into the song.

someday we'll know : new radicals
click here or on the image below to listen

Now here's a band whose loss is regrettable. The New Radicals burst into the scene in 1999 with their album Maybe You've Been Brainwashed Too, and their debut single, You Get What You Give, was a smash hit. I loved its video of chaos in a mall. The song was a standout, and the album brought a freshly loose pop sound that was clearly veering away from the angst that had defined rock for the most part of the decade. Sadly, the New Radicals disbanded before the release of the second single, which is this song. Band leader Gregg Alexander went on to become almost a Grammy winner. Like Dan Wilson, he worked behind the scenes, and wrote and produced The Game of Love, the 2002 duet between Santana and Michelle Branch, which won the following year for best pop collaboration with vocals. In Someday We'll Know, Alexander gives a jocular twist to the familiar sigh over a star-crossed relationship – both in lyrics and in tone. The song is full of wit – Did the captain of the Titanic cry? Someday we'll know – and he delivers it with unsentimental sincerity. Best line: Whatever happened to Amelia Earhart? Best part: When he sings "Why aren't you here with me?", 2m 47s into the song.

17 February 2007

with love from bollywood

dil kya kare : adnan sami
click here or on the image below to listen

This was supposed to be a Valentine post. The last month has been both hectic and nerve-wracking. I had a fascinating business trip to India to report on the business of Bollywood, which sort of explains why I'm putting these two songs up. You probably know that the Indian film industry is the largest in the world, producing over a thousand films a year, or thrice as much as Hollywood. But did you also know that it used to be funded in large part by the underworld? That changed in 2001 when the government officially recognized film-making as an industry, which meant financial institutions could now lend to film-makers. Also, Bollywood actually refers only to the Hindi-language film industry, which is based in Mumbai (formerly Bombay, hence Bollywood). Hindi films make up just a fourth of the total output; the rest are in the couple dozen other languages in India, but largely Tamil and Malayalam, spoken in the south. Anyway, it probably is true that most Indian films stick to the formula of boy meets girl, are pulled apart, but end up happily together – with often outlandish song-and-dance numbers in posh MTV-like sets or against Alpine mountains (yes, some of them do film in Switzerland in lieu of Kashmir, an area of conflict between India and Pakistan). And because music from films is so pervasive in India, the two industries are hard to separate. But before I bore you with any more details, let's get on with the songs, and the movie they're from.

salaam-e-ishq : various artists
click here or on the image below to listen

These two songs come from the film Salaam-e-Ishq, or Tribute to Love, a minor hit in spite of the number of A-list Bollywood actors in the cast. I was told that part of the reason is it veers away from the formula described above, following instead the lives of six couples intersecting in the end. (Critics liken it to Love, Actually, which I haven't seen in full.) I saw it in Mumbai (without subtitles, but the plot was easy to follow) and I thought it was way too long at 3h 45m, and some of the story lines were simply not compelling enough. (I especially liked the couple living in London where the middle-aged husband falls for a much younger dance instructor, the Delhi man who can't commit to marrying his girlfriend, and the British girl who goes to Udaipur to stop her boyfriend's arranged marriage with an Indian girl.) But I think it's pretty much universally agreed that the soundtrack is outstanding. I love these two songs the most: Dil Kya Kare because it's tender and sweet, and the seven-minute title track which is a dance tune that still has a largely traditional sound. I'm posting the lyrics to Dil Kya Kare below, because I asked what it's about in a travel forum, and someone was kind enough to translate it for me. Below is his translation, which I have liberally amended in some parts.

We're back to regular programming after this post.

Dil Kya Kare
(What's the Heart to Do?)

In the slow searing night
I burn in the rain
I drown in memories
What's the heart to do?
I am lost in myself
There is something I wish to say
But something else escapes my mouth
I endure this strange pain
What's the heart to do?

Through a meeting of the eyes
Through an exchange of words
Someone has taken
Someone has given
Salutations to love

Everyday it feels as though I'm missing something
I do not know what it is I wish for
I am alone in the crowd
What's the heart to do?

I have forgotten the day, the month, the year
I sweat in January
I am not comfortable in any place
If I sit I forget to get up

I head for the door but I keep walking about
Restlessness has set in
I laugh while I cry
Someone moves about in my memory
Whether I am asleep or awake
Why do I lose my way?
Why do I hum endlessly?

I set out in tattered jeans
Unaware whether I'm wearing a shirt
Or if a button is undone
The heartbeat plays all kinds of tunes
What's the heart to do?

21 January 2007

déjà vu all over again : the best songs of 2006

As the new year has come, it struck me as a good idea to revisit 2006 and list the best songs of the past year. The thought of a creating compilation excited me, and I knew it wasn't going to be too difficult since I already knew my favorites. The only challenge was whittling them down to 34 and trying to see how to best group them in two. Thirty-four is not a number I picked for the sake of being random. I still make mix tapes ("mix CDs" just doesn't roll well off the tongue) with the intention of sharing and sending them to friends, and 17 just happens to be the average number of songs I can burn in a normal CD. 

In these mixes, you'll clearly see that the first puts together songs that rock, and the second, songs of a more folksy nature. Now, the diligent mix tape nerd will disregard the fact that most people now listen to music on their computers or iPods in shuffle mode, and will take pains putting the songs in proper sequence. You just don't throw them into a pot; you have a whole set of issues to think about. Do you start with a bang or do you gradually build up the mood? Can you follow a song that ends abruptly with one that starts slowly? How do you make a transition between two completely different genres? Can you build a story out of your song choices? Admittedly, I factored all these when I started to make this set, but in the end I left it up to the wisdom of iTunes: I sorted them by song length, shortest first. And you know what? I'm happy with the way it turned out. I hope you enjoy listening to them as much as I did putting them together.

Best of 2006 Mix 1
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. Red Light Indicates Doors Are Secured : Arctic Monkeys
  2. Nausea : Beck
  3. Portrait : Upper Room
  4. Long Distance Call : Phoenix
  5. You Only Live Once : The Strokes
  6. You & I : Graham Coxon
  7. Have A Good Time : Morning Runner
  8. Stadiums & Shrines II : Sunset Rubdown
  9. Into The Ocean : Blue October
  10. Mr. Tough : Yo La Tengo
  11. Somewhere Down The River : Elf Power
  12. Typical : MuteMath
  13. Dead Funny : Archie Bronson Outfit
  14. The Clock : Thom Yorke
  15. Postcards From Italy : Beirut
  16. The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song : The Flaming Lips
  17. Young Bride : Midlake

Best of 2006 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. Summertime : Josh Rouse
  2. Yours And Mine : Calexico
  3. Love You More : Alexi Murdoch
  4. Irene : Rose Melberg
  5. This Voice : Ane Brun
  6. Thief About To Break In : Teitur
  7. Born In The 70s : Ed Harcourt
  8. Half-Assed : Ani Difranco
  9. Lucile (Where Did The Love Go?) : M. Craft
  10. Oh People : Tim Easton
  11. Yellow Taxi : Matt Costa
  12. Splendid Isolation : Pete Yorn
  13. Forget About You : Cary Brothers
  14. Rootless Tree : Damien Rice
  15. Brighter Discontent : The Submarines
  16. It's Beginning To Get To Me : Snow Patrol
  17. Young Folks : Peter Bjorn & John