Friday, January 27, 2017

Mini Songbook

I just finished reading The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout. I liked things about it, but could never quite gain momentum--it took me an embarrassingly long time to get through. My reward for finally finishing is Songbook by Nick Hornby, which is the book I wish I'd thought to write (I suppose, though, you have to have already written a book like High Fidelity before people will pay to hear your ramblings on music).

Songbook, as I understand it, is basically a playlist in book form(!!); each chapter is a song and why the song is good (not for him personally, but why it's objectively great). I haven't started reading it yet; I try to use nap times for writing and evenings for reading, but I've been thinking about it so much. I've been thinking about what songs I would choose if I had written that book and what I'd say about them. And I didn't write High Fidelity, but blog posts are free, so, here:

(I know you wouldn't know this if I didn't tell you, because you're reading it after the fact, but I just took a picture of the book to add to the top of this blog post and then opened the book and started reading even though I said I wasn't going to. Nap time is almost over, and I'm disappointed in myself. This list is going to have to be short. I will say, though, that Nick Hornby appears to be kind of snobby, with sweeping statements like, "Anyone who likes music knows who so-and-so is," or, "Anyone who says a song reminds them of their honeymoon really must not like music very much." He talks about not being a big Dylan fan but owning four of his albums because, "Anyone who likes music owns these." That's just straight-up weird. What the heck, Hornby? I'm still determined to love this book, but I'm bristling a little.)

Anyway, ahem:

Mini Songbook
by Suzy Krause, who has a lot of opinions but has yet to write a book about music that later becomes a movie starring John Cusack but hey, her fingers are crossed because if you dream it you can achieve it

1. "Hide and Seek" by Imogen Heap

This song was my introduction to the vocoder which, as far as I can tell, is a device that allows you to 'play' your voice. She was by no means the first person to use it (Pink Floyd used it, putting the sound of a barking dog through it in "Dogs", Phil Collins used it in "In the Air Tonight," Styx used it in "Mr. Roboto," and the list goes on--Michael Jackson, Coldplay, Daft Punk, etc). The difference is that in this song, it's just Heap and her vocoder and her synthesizer, no other instruments at all, and the effect is haunting. It might not have been the first time I heard a vocoder, but it was the first time I realized I was hearing one and went, "What. Is. That?" I don't remember what city I was in when I heard it (Winnipeg, maybe?), but I know I was in a car with a bunch of people I didn't know and one of them had just purchased Speak for Yourself and when "Hide and Seek" came on everyone in the car fell silent and got simultaneous goosebumps.

Now I'm trying to think of where I was and why I was there and who was with me and why I never kept in touch with any of those people but all I can picture is a dark car and silhouettes. Maybe Hornby's right on this one point. Maybe if a song is really good, the memory of hearing it for the first time won't be of anything except the song itself. 

2. "Marching Bands of Manhattan" by Death Cab for Cutie

The first great thing about this song is that it's the first song on Plans, which is Death Cab's best album (fight me), and it sounds like a first song. When you listen to it, you feel like you're cresting a hill, approaching a new and exciting city. Like Calgary. Or Swift Current. I don't know how else to describe it, but it's a very good way to start an album, in my opinion.

Then there's that piano part in the background that just repeats itself over and over near the middle-end but never gets old. Death Cab has the corner on songs that use repetition really well ("Transatlanticism," "I Will Possess Your Heart")--it's a talent that nobody seems to recognize as a talent and even mistake for laziness. A guy once told me he thought they were boring for it, and I thought and still think he's blatantly wrong (move over, Hornby, I'm going to be snobby for a sec). They know how to subtly build on a riff without beating it to death.

Plus, Benjamin Gibbard's lyrics are aways so perfect. As I've said before, it's too bad he sounds, in his own words, like a terrible person.

Huh. I don't remember where I was the first time I heard this song either. Hornby! Wow!

3. "High Hopes" by Pink Floyd

I mean, if you're into anguish. Even the guitar sounds desperately sad. People who can make you feel sorry for their instruments are next level musicians.

4. "Angry Sea" by Mother Mother

Mother Mother isn't great anymore, but they used to be. Their harmonies, their musicianship, their outright strangeness. I think, I'm not sure but I think, they might hold spots one through three for my favourite live shows of all time (back before they ditched Norma Jean or Norma Jean ditched them). And this song is very simple, but the first low note at exactly 32 seconds in? Gets me every time. A very fun song to sing along with.

5. "The Garden" by Rush

Here's what you do: You go to Chapters (Amazon, whatever, wherever), and you buy Clockwork Angels by Kevin J. Anderson and Neil Peart. You read that, and then you...well. Ideally, you would go back in time and catch Rush's Clockwork Angels tour, which was backed by a string orchestra and was really the best possible way to experience the book's soundtrack. But if you're pressed for time (and time machines), you could just put the album on loudly and listen through headphones. The songs follow the story and the effect is quite breathtaking. Every book should have a soundtrack. This song is the last one on the album and makes me feel like I'm going to cry every time I listen to it, like I've just finished reading the book all over again.

The best books paint a picture in your mind, and same goes for the best songs--the marrying of the two is a solid union.

Sullivan just woke up, so I have to go, but I feel like I could actually go on for several pages. Give me your mini songbook in the comments and I'll build a giant playlist for us.