Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Re: Mixtape, Pt. II

(Part II of II, a review of a Charlie T-to-Spike mixtape)

TRACK 12: Willow Tree- Chad Van Gaalen
You can blame my ears. Clearly they aren't attuned enough, indie enough to love the school of New Warblers on first warble. Yet I've always felt like it's unfair when folks allow a "challenging" voice to automatically disqualify its song. I will come back to you, Chad. Just like I did for Dylan, Neil, Waits, Cohen, Prine, Chesnutt. Those guys not only got me past the "Voice Barrier," but actually converted me to loving their voices. Do you fit in that club, buddy? Well, do you?

TRACK 13: Silver Stallions- Cat Power
I know I'm supposed to worship Chan Marshall. I own three of her records and really like maybe a song or two off of each (The Greatest is, well, the greatest). I've seen her live three times (because I was late on the bandwagon, I never got to see Early Meltdown Chan, though bad sound at last year's Bridge School looked like it might trigger a relapse) and none of the performances slayed me like I hoped they would. I realize, full well, that this is my problem and not Chan's. I'm missing something. Of course I am. But I can't pretend there's something there any more than the Clippers can pretend they're gonna make a playoff run. Maybe someday. But not today.

But, wait. Hold on. I love this song. Love it. Did she write it? Just on first impression, I don't think she did. (UPDATE: It's a Highwaymen song. Thanks, Google.) It's no wonder Cat Power has done a couple of All Covers records.

SPIKE RULE: If you can get the listener to finally give in to an artist they've resisted, you might very well get a medal. You'll have to make it yourself, but don't let anybody tell you don't deserve it.

TRACK 14: Golden Hearts- Conrad Ford
I thought this was Eels before I got the tracklisting. It also feels a little like a less experimental Sparklehorse. (Yes. There was no artwork. Artwork isn't a SPIKE RULE for me, but it'll buy you a heaping Shaq-helping of extra credit.)

TRACK 15: Islands In The Sun (cover)- Feist & The Constantines
SPIKE RULE: Include a good cover, when it fits.
I don't love this cover. Maybe it's because I'm not all that fond of the Kenny/Dolly original (though I have a soft spot for the Bulworth soundtrack's revision. I know: Mya, Pras? What could possibly go bad there? Does it say something terrible about me that I prefer Mya/Pras to Feist/Constantines? Tough. Ghetto superstar/that is what you are.)
SPIKE RULE: Go back. Find the roots. Give the album some context. All good mixtapes need some history. It can be as obvious as the Beatles, as recent as the 90s, as kitschy as 70s country, as obscure as late 60s Brazilian psychedelia, just do it. I suppose you could break this if it's a pure New Music Mixtape. But who wants one of those?
Covers don't count. Unless they're old covers of old songs.

TRACK 16: Monster Ballads (demo)- Josh Ritter
A different version of a familiar song. Always a good mixtape trick. This one is an especially good choice since it might trump the album version. I am a sucker for songs stripped down to their essence like this.

TRACK 17: Ghosts- Laura Marling
A good build. When the drums first come in, I'm onboard. Same with the strings. Still, for some reason, I can't say this song ever asks me to come back for tea. But I don't skip it, which a real mixtape afficionado should never do anyway, because- by nature- TAPES MADE IT A TOTAL PAIN TO EVEN FAST FORWARD (before the fancyboy song-by-song fast forwarders).
SPIKE RULE: (more of a listener than a creator rule) Don't skip tracks. The songs are there for a reason. Give them the time they deserve, a MINIMUM of 4 listens.
I credit tapes with helping me appreciate the entirety of albums like Grant Lee Buffalo's Mighty Joe Moon and Freedy Johnston's This Perfect World (among others) in ways that I wouldn't have if I'd had CDs.

UPDATE: I was previously saddling this song with the "Good But Unmemorable" tag. Then, last night, as I was brushing my teeth, the melody came to me. You win, Laura Marling.

TRACKS 18 & 19: Wisconsin/For Emma (myspace transmission)- Bon Iver
SPIKE RULE: Set up the finish with your penultimate track. That means, if it's quiet, you might want to go loud. Or if it's a big bang, ramp up to it. You just need to do SOMETHING that gives the last song its proper Last Song Gravity. This rule is breakable on punk compilations, which should be decidedly noncomformist. Whatever that means.
Bon Iver's For Emma, Forever Ago was my favorite album last year. So this was a no-brainer. I already had the Myspace Transmissions sessions, which are really really good and a pleasant departure from the album arrangements. Charlie T does an interesting thing in pairing songs by the same artist in Twofers. I don't have a rule against it (though I don't do it), but I am curious as to the motivation behind it. Were you raised on classic rock Two-For-Tuesdays, Charlie T? Are you the guy that will get suckered into buying the 2-pack of Dran-O, even though you'll maybe use it twice a year? Growing up, was your favorite show My Two Dads? Were you, like Dwight Schrute, supposed to be a twin, except you resorbed the other fetus and now have the strength of a grown man and a little baby? What is it about twos, man?

TRACK 2o: Long May You Run (Neil Young cover)- Josh Ritter & Sarah Harmer
SPIKE RULE: Close strong. No matter what.
SPIKE RULE: Include a good cover, when it fits.

Done and done. Love Neil Young. Love Josh Ritter. Love Sarah Harmer, one of the underrated voices and writers of the last decade or so. Her vocals on Great Lake Swimmers' I Became Awake kill me every single time. So does her song Coffee Stain. And so does her duet cover of Long May You Run.

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