The Serpico Mixes: The Story Disc

In a joint collaboration with my weekday roommate and Bronx ally Skip Serpico, I’ll be discussing a mix CD a week. He makes them, I listen to them and provide my in the moment commentary. You, hopefully, read said commentary and maybe open up your musical horizons. You can come here every week for the Serpico Mixes. And you should also visit Skip’s site, Fission Spaghetti, for his musings on food and Saturday Night Live (and more!)

Did I ever tell you the one about this script I once got handed? Oh, you're gonna wanna sit down for this."

Did I ever tell you the one about this script I once got handed? Oh, you're gonna wanna sit down for this."

Mix #13

Theme: The Story Disc

"...and so Obamacare destroyed the United States. The end."

"...and so Obamacare destroyed the United States. The end."

HBO’s Feature Presentation- It took me far too long to recognize the HBO music here. It’s pretty amazing in that unafraid to be cornball kind of way.

The Man Who Told Everything by Doves- There’s a dreamlike quality to this song that works for it. The lyrics are a bit empty, they do not give me much of a feel for the song’s protagonist, but the sort of unhurried, hushed delivery of the vocals over the track’s music gives it an ethereal feel that makes up for that emptiness.

Cab_Fare by Souls of Mischief- Bonus points immediately awarded for using the Taxi theme as a sample. Bold (and thematically appropriate) move there.

I appreciate that this song traffics in an aggressive amorality that is different from the usual criminals in songs. I’m guessing there aren’t a lot of songs that sing the praises of overcharging old people and the blind without being challenged on the matter. So if you’ve been searching for that kind of thing, you’re search is over.

Passing Me By by The Pharcyde- The opening verse is well-written and I understand why the rapper put on that early adolescent voice to match its lyrical content, but damn if it isn’t a healthy dose of annoying.

Verses 2 and 3 are much better and had me ready to recommend this.

Then came the repetitive last minute plus and I’m back to annoying.

Overall, it is well-written and delivered. I just wish they had tried a different voice for verse 1 and not bothered with the endless “she keep passing me by” chanting.

The Long Black Veil by Johnny Cash- Possibly confessing to a murder in the opening lines of your song is a good way to grab your audience’s attention and it worked on me here. To then layer on a wrongful conviction, an affair with a friend’s wife, an execution, and a woman left behind to forever mourn? That’s quality intrigue, especially within just over three minutes.

I found myself wanting a bit more in the end though. It sets the table nicely but never delivers the meal, to torture that metaphor extensively.

Down Low (Nobody Has to Know) by R. Kelly- The first time I learned where the expression “on the down low” came from, I was floored. That’s not the kind of expression you expect to spread through the general populace, but there you go.

Anyway, this particular down low is a heterosexual one so it isn’t an exploration of a secret gay affair set to an R&B track from Robert, which feels like a missed opportunity.

To comment on what the song is rather than what it isn’t, it’s a bit of subversion of the format as a man is the “other woman” (if you will) who is forever being promised by his attached lover that she’ll leave her man for him any day now.

As a R&B track to make out to, I wouldn’t recommend it, but it is good on its own merits. It’s a sexy sounding song that is aggressively unsexy about how it talks about the affair which is an interesting juxtaposition.

Strokes by The Beatnuts- Oh boy…that sure was an interesting start.

From the phone message to the grunting/giggling back and forth, this is a song totally unafraid to put exactly what kind of song it is right on front street. Do not expect a serious, thoughtful exploration of heterosexual sexual expression here.

It is gleefully dumb and I can’t be the slightest bit mad at it for that.

Twin Falls by Bend Folds Five- This is an overused expression but honestly, this song made my damn heart ache. If you want to know what kind of thing just absolutely slays me, this fits the bill. Not love lost, per se, but that sense of being so close to…something.

Lord Don’t Let It by Bilal- Sometimes I have to just let myself say, “I don’t like it” and we all have to be ok with that. Now is one of those times.

Kaw-Liga by Hank Williams- So I’ve heard this one in a Quentin Tarantino movie, right? It had to be in one! At least up until :53.

I applaud the idea of writing a song about a tortured love that never was affair between two tacky (and possibly racist) pieces of antique bric-a-brac and I largely like this execution. Except the chorus. The chorus is terrible.

Jack Killed Mom by Jenny Lewis- This is my pretty close to my platonic ideal of a story song. Big, bold, a real floor shaking breakdown part, and a real story—origin, middle action, climax, tragic aftermath. The genre is not necessarily my favorite as it runs a bit more country than I am into these days, but that hardly stops this offering from going down easy.

Carolina Drama by The Raconteurs- As noted in an earlier Mix review, there is very little Jack White touches that I don’t like and this just further reinforces my beliefs on the matter. A nasty tale of escalating violence, milk bottles, and hopes for a better life set to White’s distinctive delivery style.

Money Talks by Lil’ Kim- Wow. This is so long. And filled with clichés (“money talks, bullshit walks” “have it your way” spoken in the same cadence as the fast food slogan).

Also, when the long is almost six minute long, I should have an idea what it’s about. Is it a diss track at Drake? What’s all this about being in love with a man twice her age? None of it seems to go together.

Josephine by Hi-Tek- And now a single game I call, “Compliment?” To wit, I submit this snippet of a verse from this song: “She’s awfully hot. Asshole burning like tabasco.” So, thoughts? I’m just fascinated by the idea that there is a world out there that where things like this (or “dumps like a truck”) are totally considered strong pickup lines.

Anyway, a surprisingly sensitive hip hop take on drug addiction and prostitution that’s perhaps a bit facile but a welcome change of pace from say the song before this.

Until that last twist. That last twist is Tyler Perry-esque. Literally actually. Look it up kids, Mr. Perry’s got himself a mean streak.

My Mind Playing Tricks on Me by Geto Boys A tale (or multiple tales…can’t quite tell if I am supposed to believe this all the same man) of mental illness that only resorts to violence once—and it is questionable if that violent act ever took place? Sign me up!

Well, I mean…not like that enthusiastically, but still…well done. Smart sense of creeping delusion and allow the protagonist(s) to at least be questioning if his reality is accurate or if, perhaps, he is alone in seeing what he’s seeing until it crescendos with what seems to be a pretty definitive answer. Musically and vocally, it is no great shakes, but content is king here.

Engine Running by Talib Kweli & Madlib- While I appreciative the cumulative view provided here, I was a bit sad that the song too soon abandons the most compelling in the whole tune, the high school student (I assume he’s a high schooler from some lyrical cues) who goes for a joyride in his dad’s car and finds a far more dangerous situation than his dad catching him. The rest of the song is strong but it is never as propulsive as that first verse which really grounds you in the kid’s life with strong details and a palpable sense of a night suddenly very out of control.

Run by Ghostface Killah ft Jadakiss- Not so much a story as a series of pointers about when to run to evade problems in your life, especially of the law enforcement variety. Nothing to sink my teeth into so I found my attention wandering away from it more often than I was paying attention.

The Projects by Handsome Boy Modeling School- A day in the life of the project that I appreciated for its sense of the mundane. It moves through the neighborhood offering a peek into all the windows, into moments big, but mostly, small. Alas, it gets a little derailed by a bit of crime drama towards the end, but I think that too is, unfortunately, a sort of