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!)
Theme: Songs of Love
Cannonball by Damien Rice- That early line, “Still a little bit of your taste in my mouth” could be a sort of super creepy come-on but instead plays as sad, broken, and more than a little bit lonely. That’s a pretty accurate summation of the rest of the song, Rice’s no-nonsense vocals against a simple backdrop of piano and guitar.
Also, there’s something about the line “Courage teach me to be shy” that…I don’t know. It hits me in the guts.
Twilight by Elliott Smith- I’ve been relatively lucky in my love life that I’ve never really fallen for someone who already had someone. I’ve especially been lucky not to end up with a crush on someone who was with someone who made them miserable. This song, though, gives me insight into how that might feel. That pain of love unrequited mixed in with the knowledge that the object of your affection is not available to ask out in part because they won’t leave someone who makes them unhappy. It’s not just that they don’t want you, it’s that they don’t want you to the tune of choosing unhappiness over you. That’s not, perhaps, rationally true, but I can imagine drawing that conclusion.
The flipping of roles in the final verse adds that extra knife to the heart. The woman being sung to has finally come around…just in time for the singer to have gotten himself into a relationship of his own. The pain…the pain. As usual, Smith just nails it.
I do confess, though, that the bed of summer night sounds the song ends on fails, to me at least, to further the themes of the song or ground the situation.
Some Unholy Way by Amy Winehouse- Considering how much emotion Winehouse can ring out of things, this is a disappointing midtempo offering that never utilizes the range of her voice or her passion.
Alison by Elvis Costello- Not to show my ignorance, but in the spirit of being honest, I have to admit I always though the name of this song was “My Aim is True.” I’m a dope.
Despite my lack of knowledge of the title (again, super embarrassing) I’ve always had an affection for this song. There’s an earnest to it and a sense of Costello’s character’s inability to look away from his love even as he knows there’s nothing he can do for her or to be her love too. You never get the feeling the song reaches her ears…it’s a quiet declaration of love that will never be realized.
My Lady’s House by Iron & Wine- The hush of the vocals here give the whole song a haunting quality. I always imagined, despite there not really being any in-text evidence of it, that perhaps the Lady was no longer with us…the song just has that feel of irrevocable loss to it.
Melt Your Heart by Jenny Lewis with The Watson Twins- I am fascinated by the line “It’s like a Valentin from your mother.” I don’t think I really know what the means. At all.
Otherwise this song doesn’t make much of an impression.
Anything We Want by Fiona Apple- I like how the music gets increasingly complex as the song continues, but the vocals let the song down. Apple never lets her voice get out of first gear.
Size Too Small by Sufjan Stevens- This is, I think, a story of friend love and the feeling of becoming a third wheel and maybe being shoved out entirely when one of the duo finds romantic love? That’s my read, anyway, and I like that read. A very different kind of love song.
The Shining by Badly Drawn Boy- It takes a minute and 18 seconds for the song to really start, after an Overture that fails to actually set out any of the musical themes of the rest of the song. That’s a ding.
After a 1:18, however, it’s a very good song. Given that it goes for 5:18 total, I find myself wondering why not cut the Overture and just let the song stand on its on.
Intuition by Feist- A pretty song that I just never emotionally connected with. Honestly not sure what got in the way there.
Rise Up by Ben Lee- A little too bland and Lee never feels really involved with his own song. If he doesn’t believe it, how can I?
Unison by Bjork- Bjork often surprises me because I forget how much of her stuff that I have found enjoyment in. There are moments that this song achieves that, but at over six minutes there are far more moments that I check entirely out of the song. Rare is the song that can justify a running time of this length and this Bjork offering is not one of the exceptions.
Miracles by Jefferson Starship- I am content to leave this song back in the era it hails from. Fit for lite radio, not for my ears. And it is almost seven minutes!
Everlong by Foo Fighters- Wow. Very different in this slowed down, acoustic (I assume) version. I think I like it better than the original but it does leave the not great lyrics relatively unprotected by the loud crunch of the original’s music. Still I think I favor this one. I would just say slow and acoustic does not have to mean “emotionally measured to the point of sleepwalking.”
Cherry Lane by Ryan Adams- The first notes Adams sings on this song are so wobbly and rough that if I wasn’t listening to this for the Serpico Mixes, I probably would’ve just skipped the damn thing. I’m glad to say, though, that that would’ve been a mistake. It’s a solid tune that does a nice job of weaving Adams lead vocals with a supporting female voice and a musical scheme that knows when to go lush and when to go stripped down. But those first few notes…ouch.
Angels by The xx- Hushed like a female vocal equivalent of the earlier Iron & Wine offering but far more upfront with its pain. So stripped down musically, the voice has to carry all the weight here and does. If your heart doesn’t break a bit for the protagonist, well, you may be dead inside.
True Love Waits by Radiohead- Very pretty. Radiohead does this kind of music entirely too rarely, in my opinion.