Thursday, December 31, 2020

December Songs

I hate to have to break it to you, but we've got a comparatively sparse selection this month. I was at work for the whole of December. Something of a novelty, true, although let's not exaggerate. In accordance with my Travis McGee-inspired life-plan to take my retirement in instalments I only work three days a week. Still, I posted less last month than has been my habit throughout most of 2020. 

Never fear (or maybe fear quite a lot, now I come to think of it). All the talk at work right now is of another lockdown in early 2021, at least for the half of the country not already in one, so there's a fair chance I'll have more time to post in January or February. It's an ill wind, as they say, when they're handing out crass and insensitive cliches.

Luckily, aware that it might be thin pickings, I made a few notes along the way. I have some alternate takes and general meanderings prepared to bulk things out. Same as ever, really. Don't know why I mentioned it.

First up we have the title number from last month's post, confusingly using the name of the month before. That's something I probably could have thought through a little more carefully when I came up with the idea. Never mind, I'm sure we'll all cope.

November Songs - November Song - Yerin Baek - I had never heard of Yerin Baek until I went looking for songs called after the names of months. Even now, all I really know is what I've read in her Wikipedia entry. A couple of things there didn't seem to jibe with the lounge jazz I was hearing so I riffled through her back catalogue on YouTube and yes, indeed, Avril Levigne covers and indie rock seem to be more what she's about.

She has a side-project, the Volunteers, which is actually her, backed by a Korean indie band called Bye Bye Badman, who took their name from a Stone Roses song and sound like it. They're a lot better backing Baek. With the Volunteers she plays guitar and does her own material, most of which she writes in English. I love the off-kilter way she turns the language around - "My only friend l barely hear from" or "If I have the answer I wouldn't say it", both from Radio.

Darkness Darkness - Mott the Hoople - a cover of the Youngbloods' original from one of Mott's earlier albums, Brain Capers, which I bought when I was about fifteen or sixteen. It's a moody, dark collection that takes some getting into, although as time goes on I feel I might even prefer Mott before Bowie gave them their glam makeover along with one of the best songs he ever wrote, (and when we're talking Bowie's back catalog, that's saying something). 

This Is Not The Ending (You're looking For) - This Is Not The Ending - The Bravery - I like this one a lot but, come on, it's London Calling as re-envisioned by the Bluetones, isn't it?


Weekend Pass - That Train Don't Run - Matraca Berg - I am a complete and utter sucker for this kind of thing even if I can't tell you what kind of thing it is. Country? Country-rock? Alt-country? Americana? Maybe she's just a good old-fashioned singer-songwriter. Nothing wrong with that tag if you can carry it. Which clearly she can.


Time Capsule - Matthew Sweet - Matthew Sweet got the pipes, don't he? Something about the burr. Just can't resist it. I guess this isn't too far from whatever it is Matraca Berg's doing and yet Matthew Sweet is going to come up "indie rock" every time you search him on iTunes. I'd say damn these artificial categories  if only they weren't such fun to play with.

Otha Fish or You Can't Get (All Your) Blood From A (Standing) Stone - Otha Fish - The Pharcyde - Quite possibly the worst title I have ever come up with. The Otha Fish part is fine - it's the excruciatingly overworked pun that breaks it. And it's not like I didn't think twice. I ummed and aahed for a good half-hour, fiddling, fixing, trying to make it work. I couldn't but I hit "Publish" anyway. That "kill your babies" thing is real. I should have stuck to my guns and gone with just the "Otha Fish"part, only somehow I managed to convince myself that would make it too obscure. Like that ever mattered here...

On the upside, at least it reminded me I need to listen to more Pharcyde. Daisy Age forever!

Down The Mountain - Mountain Energei - The Fall - I really stopped following the Fall too early. What happened was I saw them in the mid-90s at a club in the city where I live and they were not very good, to put it mildly. It must have been around the sixth time I'd seen them. I'd lost count. They were always famously variable, what with the ever-shifting line-ups, Mark E. Smith's erratic persona, his incipient alcoholism and tendency to sack or split up with bandmates and partners on a whim but until then I'd never known the Fall be dull.

I figured Mark had finally burned out whatever core had kept him going for more than twenty years. I'd had the best of him. I figured I could do myself a favor by dipping out before the final, fatal implosion. So I stopped paying attention and missed almost all of Smith's late-flowering, as he re-invented the Fall as a post-glam festival favorite with a sound so hard and tight you could use it for a force-field.


YouTube is peppered with performances like this one, an increasingly grizzled and simian Smith stalking and prowling, glaring out at an audience half his age, expecting and getting the respect he always acted as though he deserved, while his band, youthful and determined, thunders and throbs behind him.

It's all a long way from Mark and yer granny on bongos but it's always, unmistakeably, the Fall. This isn't - it's a cover by Curtis Gaston - but at least you can hear the words

Living In The Shadow - Cloe Beaudoin -Add this to the ever-growing pile of things I'd never have known existed if I didn't insist on this peculiar, convoluted method of naming my posts. There are a million people, all ages, all races, all genders, all strumming away on guitars, all sounding out their troubles. How's anyone supposed to sort through them all? Mine seems like as good a way as any.

Last Year's Model - There's A Break In The Road - Originally by Betty Harris but here in an exceptionally rockist version by something called the Tedeschi Trucks Band. Looks like a classic showband deal to me - always great when you see them live with a few drinks inside you, not so much when taken sober at home.  

Obviously I was really thinking of Elvis Costello and the Attractions' I Don't Want to Go to Chelsea when I came up with the idea but I've had the same kind of break with Elvis most Smiths fans have had with Morrissey. I can't even bear to listen to him any more.

Gonna Get What's Mine - I'm Gonna Get What's Mine - Graffiti Ghosts - okay, that barely counts as a name-change, does it? Never heard of them before but this is a great groove with a cruncher of a chorus. I'd like it even more if it didn't remind me so very much of Ted Leo and the Pharmacists magnificent Me and Mia, a much better song, which I first encountered in a superb fanmade video that no longer seems to exist on YouTube. I was sure I'd downloaded it, too, but if I did I can't find it. Grrr.


Fortunately, Ted's solo acoustic cover almost outdoes the full band version for ferocity and it's still there to enjoy. Here too, now. Some of those lyrics literally make the hair on the back of my neck stand up, every time.

All Around The City - Crying - Bjork - Can't say I'm a huge Bjork fan but she's kind of like Nick Cave or Tom Waits or Kate Bush, isn't she? There are always a handful of songs or maybe one album you really, really love and everything else is quality but kind of, oh, I don't know... there. Sometimes I think it doesn't really pay to be too consistent, especially not too consistently good. Keep up the standard for long enough and eventually people stop noticing and just expect it. You're better off coming out with a real clunker just once in a while, if only to remind people how good you normally are.

Skipping (Doors Lead To Other Doors) - Skipping - The Associates - But then, sometimes, even an amazing voice, great songs, an outrageous persona and complete consistency still isn't enough. Bjork, Cave and Waits are all household names (well, in the right kind of household) but who remembers Billy McKenzie?


Actually, I can name one person. Other than me. Alright, not name, exactly. He was a customer at the bookstore where I work and it was a few years ago. I was showing off to myself by whistling (accurately and in tune) the mesmerizing arpeggio that opens the Associates biggest hit when this guy says to me "Is that Party Fears Two? That's a great song!". Which it is. And I am a great whistler, especially when it comes to intros. I can do the opening to Another Girl, Another Planet, too!

Second Impression - Greed For Your Love - Missy Higgins - Add this to the list. I mean, "Missy Higgins"? "Greed For Your Love"? Who's going to click on that? Auatralians, apparently. Totally never heard of her but it seems she's huge down under. (Don't. Just don't). You can hear her accent quite clearly but would I have noticed if I didn't know?

One thing that is weird about her is the way she performs this song on keyboards one time and guitar another. Okay, it's not that weird. I can't decide which I prefer. They sound almost identical. Maybe that's what's weird. 

Crystal Blue Persuasion - Tommy James and the Shondells - About time we had a title I pulled straight out of my head. I always liked Tommy James and the Shondells. They were AM radio and a true pop act but somehow they always felt left-field to me, maybe because they were never more than a one-hit wonder over here. Around the coming of punk I somehow got hold of a greatest hits set and I had that in my punk-friendly precursor collection along with early Who and the Shangri-Las. As I've said before, punk was different when it began. 

There are a lot of covers of Crystal Blue Persuasion, something I find odd, although nowhere near as odd as learning it's actually about Jesus stopping the Vietnam war. I think I got that right. It really fits Boy George's style and Morcheeba's too but the knockout goes to the puntasmically-named Hip Spanic Allstars. They really bring out that lowrider groove (it says here).


Winter Break - Girl Problem - Her Space Holiday - "I got a girl problem, I got a drug problem". My 1980s in a nutshell. 

Binge Watch Sorrow? - Bad Orange - Reliant Tom - Okay, we're on a roll now. Those are some great titles and band names and the tunes aren't too shabby, either. And this one has a great video to go with it. Not the ending so much. I mean, the oranges rolling across the studio floor, okay, that works, but the cheesy special effects make it look like they're about to bring on Pan's People. Or maybe Ruby Flipper.

Two Weeks Later - I'm Getting Sick Of You - Le Butcherettes - As one wag observes in the comments, "I was wondering where PJ Harvey went..."

And that's your lot for this month and this year. Feel free to use this post as the soundtrack to your socially-distanced, stay-at-home, virtual New Year's Eve Party. I know I'm going to.

Stay safe and stay sane, if you can!

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