The Serpico Mixes: The Women 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!)

 See what I did here?

See what I did here?

Mix #18

Theme: Hey, Ladies!

 This is a top 3 result when you type "women" into Google Images. So, go internet, I guess. (photo from timarco.com)

This is a top 3 result when you type "women" into Google Images. So, go internet, I guess. (photo from timarco.com)

That’s Her by Katreese Barnes & Kyle Gordon- A wonderfully bubbly note to start this disc on.

Violet Stars Happy Hunting by Janelle Monae- There’s no part of this song that I did not love. The music is appropriately (subversively) bouncy. The social commentary is unblinkingly delivered but wrapped up in clever lyrics. Monae’s vocals balances well against the heft of her “message” and the eminently poppy quality of the music. I could listen to this kind of thing all the time.

Like Poison by Martina Tolpey-Bird- This song feels so familiar to me, but I cannot place where I would have encountered in the past. Assuming I’m not just forgetting some previous encounter, I think it is because it is very of an era. It sounds like the 90’s to me, between Tolpey-Bird’s voice, the electronic production, and the verse/chorus structure…it is all very reminiscent of female singers that were making music and getting attention before the bubblegum pop era broke in circa ’98 and swept them all off the charts.

I was all in during that era so this is a good association. To be clear, I think the song is good on its own, but evoking an era of music I bought into does not hurt it either.

L.E.S. Artistes by Santogold- In some ways what I said above applies here as well, but what I really responded to with this offering is the alternating between the music that underscores the lyrics versus the chorus. The chorus boasts a brighter, bigger sound while the verses are sparse and backed by mostly simple percussion (like stick on stick percussion).

The effect elevates Santogold’s voice on the chorus even though I do not think she much changes her tone. She definitely opens up her voice a bit more, but she does not shake the growl from it. And yet, the chorus almost makes you feel as though she has. It’s an interesting effect and one born of, I assume, someone who spent a lot of time thinking about how the song structure would affect the vocals.

New Heights by A Fine Frenzy- I think Fine Frenzy is an underrated band (or group, I suppose, although I think my assumption of band is right) and while I do not think this is one of their best, I still like Sudol’s voice and the music track, with its splashy piano, beneath it.

Cherokee by Cat Power- Cat Power is an interesting artist for me. On first blush, I almost always came away from one of her songs with an “ok, but not great” sort of feeling, but they stick to my ribs. “Cherokee” did not make a big impact on me the first time through this disc, but I found myself drumming out the beat (especially the clapping part that happens around 2:09). It is a silent invader, a covert operative who surprisingly seizes you.

Sadness is a Blessing by Lykke Li- First, great title. Right up there with “Suicide is Painless.” (Please do not take my love of that title to be an endorsement of that message though.)

The song as a whole I am less a fan of. I like the sort so spaced out fifties quality it has with Li’s vocal styling and the music bed, but lyrically it just did not engage me.

The Strangers by St. Vincent- The opening moments of this song, with the low moan “ahhhh” choir effect, reminded me of a late 80’s/early 90’s gothic score to an unmade Tim Burton movie. Then, later, there’s a trilling music effect that took my mind to several of Sufjan Stevens’s various Christmas offerings. Cannot say St. Vincent is not diverse.

However, I find her more effective as an album artist. With an album, she can set the proverbial table and really draw in and “wrap” a listener in her work. Each song on its own does not grab in the same way though.

Siamese by Wye Oak- This is a well-made song that I like musically and vocally. And yet, at a 1:41 I was kind of ready for it to end.  It might be that it is firmly lodged at low to mid-tempo and it never plays with that tone or energy so by 1:41 I “got” all I was going to get out of it.

Dry by PJ Harvey- This is another entry in that early 90’s musical era except I remember this song and the artist. PJ Harvey’s due for a re-appreciation, right? If not, can I petition the High Counsel of Music to see that she is?

Velvert Divorce by Sneaker Pimps- So “Velvet Divorce” highlights for me how dumb I am to have never sought out more Sneaker Pimps despite the fact that I absolutely unabashedly love the one song of theirs I have heard. I hang my head low in shame.

Light As a Feather by Norah Jones- Whoa, whoa, whoa! What’s this? A Norah Jones song with a big of heft to it? I mean…wow. It does not even sound like here. It has a beat. It is interesting. I’m not asleep. I…I’m not sure what to do with this new information. It does not fit my existing schema in the least.

Rise Up With Fists!!! by Jenny Lewis and the Watson Twins - Protest songs rarely sound this…upbeat? I mean, this is some pretty unhappy stuff filled with social criticism but I’ll be damned if Lewis or the music ever betray that. Only the lyrics make it clear. I enjoy the subversiveness of it.

’81 by Joanna Newsom – I don’t love Newsome’s voice…it is a little too high for my tastes. This song though is so simple and pretty I came around pretty quick on things. I think I would still enjoy someone else’s efforts with these lyrics more, but…I don’t mind it.

Lonely Lonely by Feist- And speaking of pretty, this is a beautiful offering.

Possibly Maybe by Bjork- Bjork is undeniably compelling. There is something about the way she articulates her lyrics that I find very attention grabbing. I do not always like her lyrical content—here, for instance, the song feels a little thinly written—but her delivery sells things I might not otherwise buy.

With this track I began with a less than enthusiastic feeling but by about 2:45 I was fully onboard. I like who she “grew” her voice and amplified to the back row, shrank down, and then came right back loud again.

The World is Not Enough by Garbage- I know there are some people out there who consider this the best Bond song or the best of post-lawsuit Bond songs (from 199 – the present) and while they are obviously wrong (Because it is, of course, “Die Another Day” which is, probably, the greatest Bond song of all time. The greatest song of all time? Well, that’s not for me to say. But, yes, that too.) I generally respect the people I’ve heard it from enough to pay a bit closer attention.

I am not sure if I’ve heard it since seeing the film it was attached to in theatres (although I recently discovered I own THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH, which is a head scratcher as I consider it probably the worst Bond film I’ve even seen) but it is pretty good.

Two lyrics to focus on before me move on. First, “I feel scared, I feel ready.” We’re talking sex, right?

Second, “The world is not enough but it’s such a lovely place to start, my love,” is a pretty solid lyric on its own but for a Bond film, it is basically perfect. Still no “Die Another Day” though, am I right?

In The Round by The Cardigans- My contractually obligated reminder that if you only know The Cardigans as that band that did “Lovefool,” you are missing out on a great band. Seriously. Expand your understanding of them.

There is so much good in this song lyrically that I could just fill the next several lines with selected quotes like, “I am one but I asked for two; I didn’t get anything,” “I am young and I’m alive; I wanna talk about things,” and so on. Honestly, so good.

Brave One by The Watson Twins- The best of this song is the first 30 or so seconds. I just really enjoy that bit of music. The rest of the song is…fine. A bit beige but certainly not bad.

Grown Man by Jessica Lea Mayfield- A sexy little song, although I’m not sure “sitting with your legs crossed and no clothes on” is the strongest presentation of the male body ever.

All jesting aside, Mayfield conveys the sexual longing of this song in a nicely straightforward manner. There’s something very commanding about how matter-of-fact she is about it without being either blunt or shocking.

The Pharoahs by Neko Case- I think I favor this one over the earlier offering—at least until its circus music ending—but then I’m also a sucker for unrequited love.