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?