Steinbeck on Random — 7.7.06

It’s been too long, my friends.

I missed last week’s Steinbeck on Random – we’re still trying to put our house back together after the “Grand Floor Refinishing Project” while preparing for painting, carpeting, and furniture arrival for our basement. We’ll also be having a rummage sale next weekend. Stop by, if you want – it’ll be huge event. Our trash, hopefully, can someday be your treasure.

Of course, this means nothing to you. All you want is my iPod. Well, Steinbeck is ready to shuffle again.

1. “Couples Only” – Recess Theory
They Would Walk Into the Picture

During my time as a Resident Advisor (Assistant? I never knew the actual job title, and it differs from university to university) I fell in love with this little program called “Napster.” You may have heard of it. It was great. Any music you could want – and I mean anything – was available. The usual big name stuff. Indie rock. Unknown artists will little airplay. Everything.

Recess Theory was one of the bands I discovered through Napster. I downloaded their album, and then promptly forgot about them. It ended up on my iPod because, well, I put everything on there. Including a few songs off of all of those emo-indie bands I never got a chance to soak in.

This song sounds just like every other emo song – very Get Up Kids-esque, almost too much so. Yet, it’s not bad. So it’s worth listening to once out of every 6661 songs.

2. “I Bet They Won’t Play This Song On The Radio” – Monty Python
The Final Rip Off

NOFX tried to do a song similar to this once (“Please Play This Song On the Radio”) but it’s nowhere near the original. You need the dulcet tones of Eric Idle to make it worthwhile.

I love this Monty Python album – a two-disk greatest hits collection that I’ve owned three separate times. I finally had to order it again from – just for skits like “The Cheese Shop” and “The Book Shop.” If you don’t know Monty Python, then there’s nothing I can say to convince you to listen/watch than to say “you’re dumb” if you don’t.

3. “For Tomorrow” – Blur
The Best Of
Another Brit-pop song from the band that created Brit-pop. This is a long song – over six minutes – but I’m not sure why. The original (on Modern Life is Rubbish) is only four and a half minutes long, and there isn’t any mention of this being an “extended, Best Of only version.” Regardless, it is one of their best songs.

4. “Upon This Title Wave Of Young Blood” – Clap Your Hands and Say Yeah
Clap Your Hands and Say Yeah

Imagine you were a band with no label, no means of producing and promoting albums without doing it yourself. Now imagine you become one of the biggest things in indie rock, plastered all over the Internet and on Sirius 26 (Left of Center). That’s Clap Your Hands and Say Yeah – a great band – and that’s this song. I first heard this through Sirius, liking it upon first listen. It’s a different sound, yet something basic enough to grasp on first listen, catchy and subdued. A true success story by word of mouth.

5. “Suffragette City” – David Bowie
Best of Bowie

My interest in Bowie, I will admit, is purely soundtrack-oriented. I only discovered that I liked David Bowie after seeing The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and hearing Seu Jorge play numerous Bowie songs in Portuguese aboard Zissou’s boat. Really, I only know the better-known stuff, and that’s fine with me. Bowie has a lot of good songs, but he has an equally numerous collection of horrible songs. “Let’s Dance?” No thanks.

6. “Abusing of the Rib” — Atmosphere

If there’s anything I enjoy about Atmosphere, it’s the brutal truths, the opening up and pouring out of his heart. It’s his calling card. It’s what makes him different. It’s especially true on the Headshots material – his low-production-value demos that reek with personal triumph and terror. It’s self-absorbed but self-conscience. Slug looks for answers without blurring the questions with beats and samples. His new stuff is more accessible, more friendly – still as potent, but not as raw – but these demos are wonderfully open and untouched.

7. “Carry the Zero” – Built To Spill
Keep It Like A Secret

Hands down, this is one of my five favorite Built To Spill songs. I don’t know why it took me until college to discover them, but really – there are few bands better. It’s in my top ten because it features some great lyrics:

“Took it with you/When you moved and got it broke
Found the pieces/We counted them all alone
Didn’t add up/Forgot to carry a zero”

I sometimes think that Built To Spill gets caught up in the “indie jam-band” label too much. They’re more than that – they’re able to throw together short and long songs of increasingly complex nature, but they’re also able to crank out some poppy little numbers, the kind that end up on “Good Morning” mix tapes.

8. “St. Swithin’s Day” – Billy Bragg
Back to Basics

A folk ballad by the most British of folk balladeers. “St. Swithin’s Day” is another song about loss. Bragg either writes songs about politics or about losing a love. This is of the second camp.

According to an Internet site I found, “St. Swithin’s Day is 15th July, a day on which people watch the weather (because) tradition says that what ever the weather is like on St. Swithin’s Day, it will continue so for the next forty days.” So now you know.

9. “Jesus Are You Real” – Mason Jennings

I’m very glad that this song came up, not for the song itself but for the fact that this is the newest cd we’ve purchased and it’s really good. Mason Jennings, for those who don’t know, is a semi-local (Minneapolis) artist who should be a lot bigger than he is. He’s got a very distinct voice and is a hell of a songwriter. This album, while not his best, is still a great major-label debut and should hopefully get the word out that Mason Jennings is wonderful and deserves piles of success and praise. If he’s doesn’t receive those things, you’ll answer to me. Listen to him. You’ll love him. Or else.

“Jesus” is about as sincere sounding as you can get – a struggle between religion and politics, about how “our life is not ours to keep but ours to give.”

10. “Nebraska” – Bruce Springsteen
The Essential Bruce Springsteen

I can’t think of a better song to leave off with as I prepare to travel this weekend. Bruce is a master of delivering songs that sound great while driving along the interstate through the Plains region, as if the songs were sprouting from the ground like wheat or barley. Every song is a rest stop, an exit sign, a turning lane. He’s as middle America as anyone has ever been, more than Mellencamp and more than Willie.

This was lovingly handwritten on July 7th, 2006