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After the jump, is a song by song run-down of the music contained within this one really long mp3 file.
Laura Gibson – Hands in Pockets
This enjoyable little tune from Laura Gibson would be a near-perfect wake-up song. Her light voice seems to float over the spare instrumentation in a particularly unique. The song doesn’t go anywhere, but it doesn’t really need to.
Johnny Flynn – The Wrote & The Writ
It should be noted that Johnny Flynn is a former Shakespearean actor, and it shows through his incredible lyricism. I’ll post a link here, so you can see what I’m talking about. While his lyrics are good enough to be appreciated outside the context of his music, to do so would overlook one of the best parts of his appeal. The simple, folksy instrumentation drives the song around his slightly distorted, finger picked guitar line never overtaking his calm earnest voice.
“What are all those wayward priests,
the ones who like to drink,
Do you suppose they swap their blood for wine
Like you swap yours for ink, for ink?”
Iron & Wine – Free Until They Cut Me Down
Speaking of great lyricists, Iron & Wine’s Sam Beam stands among an elite class. “Free Until They Cut Me Down is a cut from Our Endless Numbered Days, an album he made in his bedroom. Much more obviously country-blues, his guitar is the standard hopping line found in many old songs which holds the song down under Beam’s whispery vocals.. The lyrics can be found here.
“When the wind wraps me like the reaper’s hand
I will swing free until they cut me down“
The Decemberists – The Engine Driver
The Decemberist’s Colin Meloy is a wordsmith of a different nature. Instead of personal revelations, he creates characters and stories around them, often of an antique nature. His talent comes in weaving his words around his songs, and his ability to give each song a unique character of their own. Curiously, Meloy seems strongest in the short-song format, as The Decemberists’ last album, The Hazards of Love followed one story throughout, and felt weaker for it.
This song, while of a first person view, is clearly from the perspective of a character and whether or not Meloy has any stake in the emotional standings of his character is a separate debate.
“I am a writer, writer of fictions,
I am the heart that you call home.”
The Leisure Society – Something [Beatles Cover]
There isn’t much to say about The Beatles’ “Something,” the only Harrison song they released as a single. It’s one of the most legendary love songs of all time and covering it must be a daunting task. I’m not sure who used the ukulele for it first, McCartney or The Leisure Society, but it’s perfect for this song. Light and happy, the ukulele gives a dramatic change to the feel of the song, a feeling The Leisure Society then carry over into the rest of their instrumentation. While the original made strong use of the opening electric riff, it’s only present in the orchestra of this version, giving it a much lighter feel.
Joanna Newsom – Sprout and the Bean (from Yarn and Glue EP)
Joanna Newsom’s “Sprout and the Bean” is one of her signature songs, and is a perfect example of her early sound. Unfortunately, the original release on Milk-Eyed Meander double-tracked the vocals on the chorus, giving the song a strange, eerie feel. While this is interesting when coupled with the beauty of her harp playing, it felt haphazardly done and unintentionally ugly. The version from the Yarn and Glue EP is entirely stripped down and starkly intimate. Obviously done in a small space in a single take, it captures the power of Newsom’s playing and unique voice without being overly obvious or demanding. Her lyrics, as always, are top-notch.
“And as I said,
I slept as though dead
dreaming seamless dreams of lead.“
Local Natives – Who Knows Who Cares
Local Natives’ debut album Gorilla Manor is a contender for Album of the Year for me. “Who Knows Who Cares” isn’t the stand-out single of the album, but it stands as one of the most earnest songs on the album. It’s not as driving or rocking as the rest, but its melody and light production lend a slightly cinematic feel. While the rest of the album is far and away solid, it does have the quality of the debut of a rock band. It’s this song that I think shows the most potential for growth for the band. It’s got the most obvious production touches and tons of sonic variety, and is one of the tighest written songs on the record.
“Water’s in the clouds
Is my life about to change?
Who knows, who cares”
The Kills – Wait
In direct contrast to the production blowout of the last song, The Kills’ “Wait” is about as simplistic as you can get. Resting solely on two chords and a kick drum, the song’s most diverse instrument is its bass, which holds the underlying melody. The Kills are a two-piece band, and this song is only done by those two people. Short and sweet, “Wait” isn’t lyrically or musically complex, but it’s simplicity lends it a child-like and innocent tone.
K’Naan – Stugglin’
K’Naan’s got a very, very eminem-like sound on this one. The song’s about his native country of Somalia and is a light commentary on the gangsta image prevalent in rap and hip hop. The thing I like about this song is the honesty with which he approaches himself. The chorus itself is very anti-image. He doesn’t try to be macho. He doesn’t talk about how he’s killed. In fact, he’s saying the opposite; he’s often scared, and wants more to run than fight. His struggles derive not from his desire to die, but from a desperate need to live.
Saying something like this is suicide in mainstream hip-hop, but I’m glad the genre can still hold this kind of honesty, even if it is on the fringes.
“I’m up and stressin, when other folks sleep,
believe me, I know struggle, and struggle knows me,”
Cat Stevens – Father and Son
There isn’t much to say about this one. I made it a closer because it’s easily one of my favorite songs, and definitely my favorite Cat Stevens song. The song is sung from the perspectives of a father and then his son.The father dolls out his wisdom of calmness, patience and virtue. The son then comes into the picture, detailing how unable he is to communicate with his father. The son’s ambition and desire for change is seen as rash by the father and necessary by the son. It’s an excellent picture of much of the father-son relationship, though I curiously side with the father. I don’t know if Stevens’ intention was as such, but without context the father’s approach seems like the better one.
The lyrics can be found here.
“But take your time, think a lot,
Why, think of everything you’ve got.
For you will still be here tomorrow, but your dreams may not.”