Mar 25, 2014

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3 Songs: “The Standout” Edition

Our relationship with music is really interesting. We respond to individual songs on an almost visceral level, but songs are rarely consumed in a vacuum; they’re grouped together on albums by an artist who’s showing off his or her (or their) specific skills. They have a musical style that you’ll either like or dislike. Normally, when you hear one song you thoroughly enjoy, you’re guaranteed to like at least some of the artist’s other works; after all, there are sure to be elements in common between the song that got your attention and the rest of the catalogue.

But sometimes you only like one song from an artist, and the rest of their work doesn’t appeal to you. You may even wish you liked the artist more than you do, but other than the one stand-out single you’re just not into it. These three songs are all those stand-outs for me; I love them, but am indifferent to the rest of the musician’s works.

Noah and the Whale, “Heart of Nowhere”

I prematurely proclaimed my love for the new Noah and the Whale album before I let it all sink in and realized that there was no substance beneath the sheen; it’s a problem I’ve started calling the James Mercer Effect, after The Shins’ frontman, who has pulled the wool over my head three different times. But that’s another 3 Songs for another day.
The point is, I wish I liked the rest of Heart of Nowhere, instead of just the title song. There’s a solid concept there, but after a stunning introduction it just doesn’t go to the places I wanted it to go. But the title song is genuinely beautiful, with a strings-led hook that reminds me of Michael Nyman’s score for A Zed and Two Noughts and guest vocals from Anna Calvi which sound exactly like Ellen Foley’s work on Bat Out of Hell. It seems that Noah and the Whale is destined to release precisely one song every five years that I’ll like; if they just wrote songs for other, less obnoxiously twee bands, they’d produce some of the most successful indie tracks ever made.

The Divine Comedy, “Come Home Billy Bird”

Originally mentioned by a Youtube video, I looked up this song out of curiosity and was immediately entranced. I fell head over heels in love with the introductory symphony-style chords, with the female backup vocalist on the chorus, and with the genuinely touching and creative music video. The story of a man trying to balance work and family isn’t necessarily something you find in a lot of pop songs, and it’s told very effectively here. The song is off a Divine Comedy album called Absent Friends, because it featured the lead singer without his usual bandmates, and the rest of his catalog just isn’t as appealing as this one absolutely lovely little outlier.

The Uncluded, “Delicate Cycle”

I wish I wish I wish I liked the rest of Hokey Fright. I should like it; it’s a rap group featuring Kimya Dawson of The Moldy Peaches and alt-rapper Ian Matthias Bavitz, AKA Aesop Rock. I love this song’s perspective on class and privilege. Bavitz’s rap verses contain tons of wordplay about how work and debt take away parts of ourselves that may as well be physical; Dawson’s interludes, meanwhile, detail a child’s perspective growing up as part of the working class, revealing the fallacies in the common narrative of youngsters growing up wanting only to escape their poor backgrounds. It’s some great rap from two of the most hipster motherfuckers you’ll ever meet (the music video contains a cameo from Lil Bub, fercrissake) but I just haven’t enjoyed any other songs by The Uncluded, and I genuinely don’t know if I will.

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