Thursday, May 22, 2008

171. Dave Dill: Follow The Summer (2008)

Sometimes things just dovetail. As I write, we're in the middle of a pleasantly mild spring, I've just finished compiling a list of the Top 100 Songs of the '70s, and I'm about to get married. Also, I've been listening to Dave Dill's independently-released CD, Follow the Summer. How do these four things relate?

Well, Dill's CD is full of birds, flowers, sunshine, '70s inspired sounds, and love songs. Like I said, dovetailing.

By now we're well into the 4th decade of songwriters who follow in the well-crafted, melodic footsteps of The Beach Boys and The Beatles. That means we have artists now who are inspired by other artists who were inspired by artists who were inspired by the compositions of Wilson, Lennon, and McCartney. I don't doubt that Dave Dill went right to the source, but his music also brings up allusions to many of these aforementioned inspirees. Since I have a serious love/hate relationship with the critical school of comparing one artist to another, I'll get it all out of my system right away: Badfinger, Chicago, E.L.O., The Kinks, Queen, The Raspberries, XTC.

Ahhh, that feels better.

It's worth mentioning that Dill wrote, produced and performed everything on the album. More often than not these bedroom albums feel strangely over-polished and artificial, like the CGI humans in video games and movies. This is thankfully not the case with Follow the Summer. For whatever reason, Dill's songs are full and organic, with space to breathe. It also helps that Dill's voice isn't choir-boy perfect. There's an appealingly rough edge that balances well against the sweetness of the melodies.

The same balancing act happens with the lyrical content. Some power-poppers are so intoxicated by their own melodies and harmonies that they forget to really say anything of consequence. The result is like a blockbuster romantic comedy: fluffy and forgettable. Thankfully, Dill's songs are more like an indie romantic comedy: sweet, but with some bite.

The opener, Today, is a prime example. Dill fantasizes about his girl, and "getting married in the spring." It's undeniably celebratory until you get to the line "maybe we've only got today." As if to underscore the point, the song ends on a somber instrumental note, as if a storm is on the horizon. In You Don't Believe It (one of 3 songs written with Derek Holt of Climax Blues Band) he declares his love clearly, but the object of his affection is reluctant to acknowledge his dedication. And the rockin' Happily Ever After sounds as joyful as its title would indicate, save for the fact that those three words are followed by "I'm after you," meaning that he's forever chasing someone he can't have.

So maybe it was slightly misleading to say the album is full of love songs, but there are more than a handful. Everyday Song, Perfect There, and Never So Beautiful are the most unabashed, by turns declaring "I love you so / and I won't let go", "you're everything to me", and "you make the stars much brighter." All three are hanky affairs.

Finally, we have the outright break-up songs. Though Dill spends the entire song detailing how he's leaving and will be untraceable, Hide and Seek's title belies the message. It's almost as if the whole song is a bluff and he really does want to be found. The swaying title track uses the metaphor of summer's end to explain the end of a relationship. Miss America could have multiple interpretations, but I think it's another clever metaphor, comparing disillusionment with the state of the union to a difficult break up: "Miss America / You can never say that it wasn't fun / But the time is here / You and I we'll fade like the setting sun."

I can safely say that finding my soon-to-be wife was 75% about timing. Well, the same is true for finding an album you really like. Follow the Summer has hit me at the exact right time. With spring in full bloom and summer on the horizon, it might just do the same for you.

Grade: B+
Fave Song: Never So Beautiful

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Friday, May 16, 2008

2008 a

If you haven't noticed, I started 2008 with a renewed commitment to posting regularly on 3 Minutes, 49 Seconds. If that has faltered in the last couple of weeks, it's only because my energies have been focused on the Top 100 Songs of the '70s list. Go look at it if you haven't already; I'll wait.

Every year I make two mixes of songs that move me, one for each half of the year. The time has come to share the tracklisting for the first half of 2008 (I know, technically we haven't had 6 months yet, but humor me).

The artwork you see to the right is courtesy of Sam Brown. Check his stuff out here. Take a look at the tracks that made it:

1. The B-52's - Hot Corner
2. The Old 97's - Dance With Me
3. Liam Finn - Energy Spent
4. Nada Surf - I Like What You Say
5. Chris Walla - Everybody Needs a Home
6. Kathleen Edwards - Oil Man's War
7. Tift Merritt - Another Country
8. Kid Dakota - Stars
9. The Republic Tigers - Weatherbeaten
10. Dave Dill - Never So Beautiful
11. Supergrass - Rebel In You
12. Gary Louris - To Die a Happy Man

New reviews are coming soon!

Saturday, May 10, 2008

12 by Everclear

Here's the drill: 12 songs to summarize an artist's career, in chronological order (of course).

Week 18

The most bizarre sequence of events in my short life involved awkwardly running into a friend's ex at a coffee shop, a car crashing into an apartment building, and passing 2/3 of Everclear on the street. This all happened within 10 minutes and 2 blocks. True story.

This list ignores the last couple of Everclear albums, partly because the band overhauled their membership and partly because I didn't buy them.

1. Santa Monica (from Sparkle & Fade, 1995)
A memorable and simple guitar figure and the introduction of Art Alexakis' enduring theme: Running away from a bad situation to someplace where things are clearer.

2. Local God (from Romeo + Juliet, 1996)
On the other hand, a celebration of the "stupid happy and numb" life Alexakis often wants to run away from.

3. Everything To Everyone (from So Much For the Afterglow, 1997)
This was the song and album that changed my tune about Everclear. At first I lumped them in with every other post-grunge band that eked out a single hit, but the So Much For the Afterglow album showed a surprising depth. It helped that the lyrics to Everything To Everyone - a screed against someone who ratchets up drama, tells people what they want to hear and plays the victim - seemed to exactly describe a girl I held a frustrating crush on at the time.

4. One Hit Wonder (from So Much For the Afterglow, 1997)
This is another aspect that endeared me to Alexakis, an unpitying self-awareness. And yes, I think he's totally being self-referential when he says, "he knows that if he ever even gets the chance he'll sell his soul to make the monster dance."

5. So Much For The Afterglow (from So Much For the Afterglow, 1997)
The final aspect that won me over was the Beach Boys harmony on the intro to this album opener. Gets me every time. The rest of the song is a handclappy speed racer about a couple on the verge of divorce, or at least marriage counseling.

6. Father of Mine (from So Much For the Afterglow, 1997)
Alexakis mines the same minimal guitar figure that made Santa Monica a hit and scores again! The lyrics are nakedly autobiographical, with the final verses cutting sharply: "Father of mine / Tell me how do you sleep / With the children you abandoned / And the wife I saw you beat." He goes on to admit he'll never be right in the head, but he also vows he's also going to learn from the mistakes of the past.

7. A.M. Radio (from Songs from an American Movie, Vol.1: Learning How To Smile, 2000)
A rock band using a sample? From Mr. Good Stuff? Sure. More autobiography, this one a celebration of childhood and the music that inspired him. But when he says he never liked disco, I think he's lying.

8. Unemployed Boyfriend (from Songs from an American Movie, Vol.1: Learning How To Smile, 2000)
Alexakis breaks out the acoustic and puts the mack down on a hottie at the unemployment office. Strange, but sweet as he promises to treat her like she's perfect, watch chick flicks, never make out with her friends, and always make her come.

9. Wonderful (from Songs from an American Movie, Vol.1: Learning How To Smile, 2000)
This time Alexakis looks through the eyes of a child facing his parents' divorce. Like kids usually do, he cuts through the bullshit: "I don't want to hear you say everything is wonderful now."

10. Learning How To Smile (from Songs from an American Movie, Vol.1: Learning How To Smile, 2000)
On the album, this is the payoff moment, where all the confusion and trouble becomes clarity. It revisits that theme I mentioned earlier, namely getting the hell out of dire conditions. There's also some hard-earned wisdom: "Yes I know there is no finish line / I know this never ends / We are just learning how to fall and get back up again."

11. When It All Goes Wrong Again (from Songs from an American Movie, Vol.2: Good Time For a Bad Attitude, 2000)
This seems to be a pattern: Bad times and choices are followed by clarity and rebirth which are in turn followed by new problems (or old problems in new forms). This rocker makes its point aurally by being grimier and grittier.

12. Songs from an American Move, Pt. 2 (from Songs from an American Movie, Vol.2: Good Time For a Bad Attitude, 2000)
A full-length expansion of a similar song on the previous album, this one shows off a pragmatic optimism, acknowledging that life's peaks and valleys are never going away. Instead, Alexakis tells us we have to find out what makes us "happy just to be alive." For him, it's his daughter's laugh. Surprising and touching without being sickening.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Top 100 Songs of the '70s

A couple of years ago, in response to a Pitchfork list of The 200 Greatest Songs of the '60s, I called on some friends to help me compile our own (newly redesigned and revised) Top 200 Songs of the '80s. A little while after that we repeated the feat, and produced the (also newly redesigned and revised) Top 200 Songs of the '90s.

All the while, that last little missing decade has been waiting patiently for its turn in the spotlight. Well, '70s, your time has come!

I think you'll be surprised at the depth and breadth of this maligned decade. God willing, I'll be posting 10 entries every day or two until the list is complete. Check it out and enjoy: Top 100 Songs of the '70s

Thursday, May 01, 2008

12 by Ben Folds

Here's the drill: 12 songs to summarize an artist's career, in chronological order (of course).

Week 17

It seems disrespectful to make this list, when a person has little excuse to not own all 5 proper Ben Folds albums.

But, if you are determined to be frugal, you can't go wrong with these 12. And, yes,
Brick is a great song; consider it a silently obvious #13.

1. Philosophy (from Ben Folds Five, 1995)
Wow, right out of the gate you have to be impressed by that ivory-tickling. Phil Spector pioneered the wall of sound, but this is the wall of piano. And is that a sly paraphrase of Rhapsody In Blue that I hear?

2. Alice Childress (from Ben Folds Five, 1995)
Before you ask about it, Alice Childress is a children's author who wrote A Hero Ain't Nothin' But A Sandwich. The selling point here is the harmony, as well as the rainy day contemplative air.

3. One Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces (from Whatever and Ever Amen, 1996)
Sadly, it's not really about a dwarf. That terms is used to refer to a child who is bullied and vows revenge on his classmates. I always think of Bill Gates for some reason.

4. Song for the Dumped (from Whatever and Ever Amen, 1996)
Another pissed off narrator. I love how the dumpee cuts right through the soft-landing talk: "So you wanted to take a break, slow it down some and have your space / Well, fuck you too!"

5. Selfless, Cold, and Composed (from Whatever and Ever Amen, 1996)
If you take this song in tandem with Song for the Dumped you have a nearly complete picture of Ben Folds as a songwriter. Both songs are about the end of relationships, but whereas the latter is funny and angry, this one is sad, thoughtful and resigned. It's the difference between a break-up and a divorce.

6. Don't Change Your Plans (from The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner, 1999)
I didn't intend a theme, but there seems to be one nonetheless. Don't Change Your Plans is clearly a cousin of Selfless, Cold, and Composed. But this time, the narrator is the one moving on. Musically, this is as ambitious as we'd heard up to that point. Folds had clearly been listening to Bacharach/David compostions.

7. Army (from The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner, 1999)
Another funny song, but with an undercurrent of truth. Our protagonist is not only a victim of arrested development, he's also vaguely delusional. I love the final verse where we find out he's become a politician. George W. Bush wasn't elected until 2000, making this a prescient tune.

8. Still Fighting It (from Rockin' The Suburbs, 2002)
A sweet, heartbreaking song addressed to his son: "And you're so much like me / I'm sorry."

9. Not The Same (from Rockin' The Suburbs, 2002)
Supposedly a true story about a friend who drops acid at a party, falls out of a tree and then becomes born again. I love how Folds namechecks his old band mate, Robert Sledge.

10. The Luckiest (from Rockin' The Suburbs, 2002)
One of the best love songs ever written. Seriously. "Next door / There's an old man who lived to his nineties and one day passed away in his sleep / And his wife / She stayed for a couple of days and passed away / I'm sorry I know that's a strange way to tell you that I know / We belong."

11. Trusted (from Songs For Silverman, 2005)
Beautiful melodies and twisty lyrics about the politics of relationships.

12. Landed (from Songs For Silverman, 2005)
Folds does his best Elton John impression on an apology/explanation from a friend who has been completely wrapped up in a bad relationship. The title phrase "come pick me up, I've landed" works both literally (he's at the airport) and figuratively (he's come to his senses).