Monthly Archives: February 2009

Heart-wrenching, crippling desire

Portishead, UK.  The band's namesake.

Portishead, UK. The band's namesake.

Portishead – “Undenied” from Portishead [1997]

Allow me to begin by saying that this is not quite my favorite Portishead song.  It’s my favorite song from their second album, but 1994’s Dummy has a few gems that are beyond compare.  That’s not to say I’m depriving you, dear readers, of quality Portishead goodness.  This song has a feeling that is unmatched by anything on Dummy or Portishead, and honestly I think this song is enough to convince you that you can’t live another minute without buying all their albums.  In keeping with our current “feelings” series here, I offer you “Undenied.”  This song evokes a feeling of overwhelming desire.  There is just something about Beth Gibbons’ voice, coupled with her delivery and the lyrics of this song that makes you really, truly know what it feels like to want someone, to quote the song, “totally.”

I also love the noir-ish, lo-fi feel of this song.  All of Portishead’s work has that feel, but it’s particularly evident in this song, which sounds as if it were being played on a scratchy vinyl LP.

I will go on record and say that Dummy is quite possibly the sexiest thing ever put to tape.  Portishead is darker and moodier, but parts of it sound like post-coital bliss.

Trip-Hop is not dead.

Posted by Adam



Filed under 1990s


consider this an endorsement

consider this an endorsement

Ted Leo and the Pharmacists – “Hearts of Oak” from Hearts of Oak (2003)

Hope, not only the moniker of the alma mater to 3/4s of SWR, is an emotion called forth by some of my favorite music.

As noted here before, Ted Leo writes great songs about walking around–which, for whatever reason, I tend to associate with feelings of hopefulness. In “Hearts of Oak,” I can’t figure out whether he’s talking about a new band or a new love. Either way, it’s a great one to sing to yourself as you walk or bike (as I’ve been doing during the recent heatwave down south, hoping for more nice weather).

(Though this heat is probably attributable to global warming, a surefire killer-of-hope if there was one.)

Get your prescription from Ted Leo, Pharm.D.

Posted by Glenn

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Filed under 2000s, Punk, Rock


Illinoiss dumbest holiday

Illinois's dumbest holiday

Sufjan Stevens – “Casimir Pulaski Day” from Come On Feel The Illinoise (2005)

I don’t listen to this one too much when I am actually feeling sad, but when it comes on I can’t help but being swept up in the low-key sorrow in this tale of love, grief, and waiting.

The song does a pretty good job of translating a philosophical concern (the absence of God’s hand in human tragedy) into emotional affect, by using, guess what, specificity, storytelling, and a great fucking melody–hallmarks of any good song. Its literary affectations (“and the cardinal hits the window”) skirt the edge of corn canyon but end up underscoring the story with a sort of mysterious subtext that opens it up. Great, great song.

(By the way, Jord-dog and other SWR mutts: sometimes I have trouble distinguishing emotions from other states of mind, so my subsequent posts in this series may stretch the boundaries a bit. Like, hope is an emotion, I’m pretty sure, but is romantic love? How about meanness? Regret? Dejection? Guilt? It’s like taste–you can say that something tastes crunchy, but come on, that’s texture, not flavor. But texture is as important as flavor sometimes. Hmm.)

Buy it here

Posted by Glenn

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Filed under 2000s, Acoustic, Americana, Folk, Pop, Singer-Songwriter


Explosions in the Sky – “The Only Moment We Were Alone” from The Earth is Not a Cold Dead Place (2003)

Triumphalism has long been a sought-after criterion among my musical peers.  These songs usually grow a repeating chord progression over increasing layers of instrumentation into a moment (or, if you’re lucky, moments) of loud, dragon-slaying righteousness.

Explosions in the Sky of Austin, TX are masters of this format.  Their contrapuntal guitar work makes for an even headier climax.  This is life-affirming stuff.  Each of their songs on The Earth is not a Cold Dead Place is a born-again experience.  I picked this particular song because it has more of the good stuff (esp. the lead-up to 7:00 and at 8:30).

I saw these guys in Phoenix a couple years ago and it was everything I imagined but louder.

Buy Explosions in the Sky

Posted by Jordy


Filed under 2000s, Instrumental, Rock


Red House Painters – “Down Colorful Hill” from Down Colorful Hill (1992)

For me, music (and art generally) is about empathy.  I need to feel some connection to the songwriter’s joy or pain or to any of the other millions of emotions in between.  The successful songsmith will write a melody that is an immediate and pure distillation of a feeling to which I can relate and by which I can be comforted.  In the end, such songs are the only reason I continue to listen at all.

There was a time in my life when I listened to a lot of Red House Painters.  Each of their songs is an expression of despair.  Luckily for the listener, each is also of great beauty.  This, the album’s centerpiece, is among my favorite RHP songs.

Do you have a song that is therapeutic in its hurt?

Get your House Painted Red

Posted by Jordy


Filed under 1990s, Rock

“Well, all right/We’ll live and love with all our might”


Buddy Holly – “Well…All Right” single [1958], “Rave On” from Buddy Holly [1958] and “That’ll Be The Day” from The “Chirping” Crickets [1957]

Fifty years ago today, a private plane carrying Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson crashed in an Iowa cornfield, killing all three, and instantly setting the progress of rock music back by at least five years.  Listen to “Well…All Right” and you’ll see what I mean.  To say that Holly was “ahead of his time” is cliche, but it is true, and that song proves it.  The emotions expressed in that song (not to mention the music itself) are more complex than anything anyone would hear until 1965, with the release of Rubber Soul.  Blind Faith did a great cover of this song on their album.  But listen to the original first.

This event was immortalized as “The Day The Music Died” in Don McLean’s “American Pie,” an eight-minute epic that traces the history of rock ‘n roll from Feb. 3, 1959 through about 1970 and connects Holly, Valens and the Big Bopper to Bob Dylan, The Beatles, The Byrds, The Rolling Stones, and Janis Joplin.  Listen to Don McLean too, but listen to Buddy Holly first.

Buy Buddy

Posted by Adam

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Filed under 1950s, Americana, Rock