POTW #7: Telling Fortunes In American Slang

You know, this year I’ve been trying to follow a weekly posting schedule just so I can keep this blog updated and also give me something to do. Lately I’ve been slipping in that particular regard. That’s the thing about those Blast From The Past posts — they take a really long time to write. Also, I’ve had one sister graduate from college (yay Kerry!) and we had to move both of them back home. And then there’s that whole “job hunting” thing… yes, still. Oh, and I’ve been volunteering with the local MLS team, the Philadelphia Union, for their home games.

But enough about me. Here are my picks for this week… after this new Arcade Fire song.

And also this new Arcade Fire song.

And also after the jump, just like always.

Fleet Foxes, “Battery Kinzie”

The new Fleet Foxes album Helplessness Blues just came out a few weeks ago. Their first album got a lot of rave reviews, but I didn’t pay much attention to it outside of “White Winter Hymnal,” which is a really good song. I listened to a few songs from Helplessness Blues and was actually pretty impressed — in some places it reminds me of Grizzly Bear’s Veckatimest in the sense that it combines indie-folk-rock with “chamber pop” instrumentals and lots of vocal harmonies. Also, lead singer Robin Pecknold joins Ben Bridwell of Band Of Horses in the Lead Singers Who Remind Me Of Jim James (the singer from My Morning Jacket) Club. In terms of the folk-rock dichotomy, the Jacket tends toward rock, the Foxes favor folk, and the Horses are somewhere in between.

The song that jumped out at the most (and there were several) was “Battery Kinzie,” which has an insanely catchy verse melody and a time signature that I can’t quite wrap my head around. This makes humming the song to myself rather confusing because I can’t get the timing right. “Battery Kinzie” was the clincher, the song that made me decide to grab a copy of Helplessness Blues. And I know I keep saying I’m not much of a folk fan, but consider the following. I have the first Bon Iver album. I plan on getting the next Bon Iver album. I just got the new Fleet Foxes album and will probably get their debut later. The next act I’ll probably check out? The Tallest Man On Earth, because I love “King Of Spain” and have been meaning to listen to some of his other stuff. Maybe there’s something to this folk revival after all.

Elbow, “Lippy Kids”

One Top 5 list I considered doing on my show that I never ended up doing was the Top 5 Singers I Wish I Could Sing Like. Thom Yorke probably would have made that list. Chris Cornell absolutely would have. And if I’d started listening to Elbow while I was mentally piecing that list together, Guy Garvey absolutely would have made it. As if songs like “Lippy Kids,” a standout from their new album Build A Rocket Boys!, wasn’t beautiful enough already, Garvey’s voice makes it even more so. He gets compared to Peter Gabriel a lot, and I definitely hear the similarity — even if you probably won’t hear Elbow write a song like “Sledgehammer” or “Shock The Monkey.” (Fittingly enough, Elbow was one of the artists Gabriel chose for his Scratch My Back/I’ll Scratch Yours project.)

“Lippy Kids” is another one of those songs where as soon as I heard it I was like, “I must get a copy of this.” If any song exists that really nails that sense of nostalgia for youth and childhood, this is probably it. I’d put Joe Cocker’s excellent cover of “With A Little Help From My Friends” up there too, but that’s mostly by virtue of it being the theme song from The Wonder Years. Listening to this makes me wish I was a kid again, back when my lifelong dream was launching rockets into space for NASA (no, seriously) and I could spend entire afternoons riding my bike all over Drexel Hill or playing tag with the kids in my neighborhood. And I’m 24.

Coldplay, “Strawberry Swing”

I’ll be honest — I never thought I’d hear a song quite like this from Coldplay. They always seemed to specialize in big, stadium-friendly piano-n’-strings anthems. “Strawberry Swing,” on the other hand, features soft organ drones, gentle drum thumps and guitar chugs, and an oddly fascinating loop of what sounds like a Japanese guitar played backwards. And it really sounds like the soundtrack to “such a perfect day.” The atmosphere the band creates in “Strawberry Swing” is so vast, spacious, and gorgeous; it’s the kind of song that would play in the background of a movie scene with two lovers running through a field or a forest in slow motion. It’s probably my favorite thing these guys have ever done.

The Gaslight Anthem, “American Slang”

Brian Fallon’s another one of those singers that I wouldn’t mind sounding like. He isn’t just the kind of guy who wears his heart on his sleeve. No, he’s the kind of guy who gets it permanently inked on his skin. And I’m not just talking about the lyric from the outstanding chorus in the title track from the Gaslight Anthem’s latest album (“I’ve got your name tattooed inside of my arm”). The man literally has the phrase “You made me cry” tattooed on his neck. And all that emotion comes pouring out with pretty much every note he sings. But the biggest reason “American Slang” is on this POTW list? Because it’s been stuck in my head for the last few days.

Mastodon, “Sleeping Giant”

I’m willing to bet that if any individual song on Blood Mountain could be pinpointed as the most direct ancestor of the often sprawling and otherworldly prog-metal Mastodon explored on Crack The Skye, “Sleeping Giant” would probably be it. My favorite part of this song is the lead guitar line played between verses, echoing off into space and building an imposing atmosphere. It’s like the album’s crystal-skull-carrying protagonist (no, not Indiana Jones) is looking out across a barren wasteland and only seeing some gigantic monster that he must defeat in order to continue along his journey. If a video game based on Blood Mountain were ever made, I envision “Sleeping Giant” playing during a boss fight ripped straight out of Shadow Of The Colossus, where your hero has to climb to a weak spot atop a creature who looks tall enough to actually crack the sky.

Spoon, “Out Go The Lights”

Ah, Spoon. One of the most consistently good bands around. “Out Go The Lights” comes toward the end of last year’s Transference, the album where Spoon went half-demo, half-studio with their sound. In other words, half the songs on this album sound more like demos than fully produced tracks, an unusual choice for a band that’s become quite skilled at using the studio. This is a song that showcases that skill — the closing instrumental section, which makes up about the last two minutes, is a gradual cool-down to an already mellow song as it reaches the end. Along the way it’s filled with short little piano flourishes, a catchy bass line, and jangling guitars that are perfectly timed to chime in as the bass melody ends. And even though it goes on for the last two minutes, it never gets boring. It’s a really well-constructed section of music, my favorite part of “Out Go The Lights,” and one of my favorite parts of the album.

Well, that just about covers my Picks of the Week for this week. I’ve got a couple more albums coming out in the next few weeks that I’ve been looking forward to for a while — My Morning Jacket, Arctic Monkeys, Bon Iver, and even the first new Cave In album since 2005 — oh wait, you mean that Cave In album came out this week? Sweet!

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