“Intro” and “Never Sell Out” – Anthony B
Anthony B stands out as a raggae artist for being political at a time when the genre was a popular vehicle for songs about sex. There’s something endearing about how self-aware an album can be when it introduces itself like this one does, saying “Welcome the Black Star.” Accompanied with only backup vocals and percussion, you know you’re stepping into a Jamaican-wonderland. The song “Never Sell Out” is pretty self-explanatory, but hey, what’s cooler than somebody telling you that your roots are more important than money?
“Time to Get Away” – LCD Soundsystem
The year is 2007 and LCD Soundsystem is streaming their whole album on Myspace, the coolest place for new music. Before the huge success of Zedd and Tiesto, James Murphy was making the music that 10 year old me thought every New Yorker was jamming to. The song’s rhythm section hit a Meters-like rhythm and the staccato mostly add to the rhythm, just in a higher pitch. There’s also just subtle guitar/bass fills that sound mettalic, as if the instruments were picked up from the scrapyard. That’s only the first half. After that, the song keeps complicating in textures, really showing how to make a catchy dance song without being repetitive.
“Georgia Bound” – Blind Blake
This song lies in an interesting intersection between ragtime and the blues. It does have the recognizable rolling swing and happy chipper momentum you hear from ice cream trucks (look up Scott Joplin’s “The Entertainer”) but it’s got the classic guitar-vocals setup of a Midwestern blues song. Combine it with lyrics about traveling across this country, and you hear about how exciting a time it was for American music. Bonus points to Spotify for keeping the old static-y sound of these old songs.
“Dead Fox” – Courtney Barnett
Barnett’s band plays loud rock and roll, but it doesn’t maintain the same toughness or aggressiveness throughout. This is probably because of Courtney’s laidback talk-sing of grocery shopping. After the second chorus, the guitar does a very short, panicky solo and then everybody else falls likes dominoes in intense fashion, all bashing their instruments in Who-like competition.
“Jeu des Princesses avec les Pommes D’Or” – Igor Stravinsky
Stravinsky’s biggest claim to fame was making music so scary progressive, it incited riots in Paris. Although it was Rites of Spring that started that mess (this piece is from Firebird) and even thought the choreography of the accompanying ballet was a big reason to riot (modern dance is the epitome of “weird for the sake of weird” art), you can hear Stravinsky’s bold dissonances and uneven dynamics in even short passages as this one.
“Weak (A Capella)” -SWV
Sisters With Voices had the goods vocally. Their voices just sound like silk. I love their hit song “Weak”, but 1993 was not the year pop music figured out synthesizers, and that sometimes ruins the song for me. Thankfully, It’s About Time features an a capella version. You really appreciate the delay on the voices and quiet ticking of a clock, keeping it from sounding too quiet. Even when there is a break that’s supposed to filled by drums/synths, there is something beautiful in that contrast with the gospel vocals.
“Turn Your Lights Down Low” – Bob Marley and the Wailers
In a music class I took in high school, while studying Ziggy Marley, we had found out that he had some very obscure accomplishment over him. Something like his had sold more than Exodus had in its first week in Germany. One kid had naively asked if this meant Ziggy was better than his own father. My music teacher, in his Bostonian accent, had replied “No way! You don’t see college dorms full of Ziggy Marley posters do you?” So this song goes out to all the kids who are starting their college life off right.
“Work Song” – Hozier
It’s easy to say good artists “transcend genres and labels,” so I won’t. Instead, we’ll say Hozier is equal parts of everything. You can hear the indie in his voice and demeanor. The blues is in his chord progressions and guitar licks. The gospel comes from his powerful choruses and simple arrangements colored with soul. Then his songwriting is folksy/country, having the vulnerability of a man who doesn’t stay in one place for too long.
“The Makings of You (Take 32)” – Curtis Mayfield
This version doesn’t have any singing, but the original version feels like the band is rushing in the intro. That and it’s just a beautifully peaceful band arrangement on its own. For my honeymoon, I want my wife and I to ride into the sunset-colored sea on two white horses (who are also in love with each other) to this song.