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Musical Discoveries Feb 2021 #2

See also: Jan 2021 and March 2021 (View all)

One of the funniest scenes from Schitt’s Creek was Alexis’ Rose wacky audition for a musical with her “hit song.” Here’s a live performance of her hit song with another Texas singer named Kelley. Even better is a folk-acoustic duet version starring Noah Reid (who also is an actor from the show).

Recently I’ve fallen in love with Brandi Carlile, especially the song Stranger at my Door. How about these lyrics!

I have seen the fire watcher’s daughter
Watching fires burn from smoke to black
There’s nothing she won’t burn
From Styrofoam to urns, to someone else’s ashes in a sack
You can scorch the metal, you can even melt the glass
You can pass the time here, fire lives into the past
An all-consuming flame, that refines and new begins
It’ll take your family heirlooms,
But it can take your darkest sins
It’s a good ol’ bedtime story, give you nightmares ’til you die
And the ones that love to tell it, hide the mischief in their eyes
Condemn their sons to Hades
And Gehenna is full of guys, alive and well
But there ain’t no hell for a fire-watchers daughter
We exercise the demons of the things we used to know
The gnashing of the teeth become the remnants of our homes
We think we’re moving on, from materials we long
To forget we ever sold our souls to own
There’s a chilling absolution that we’re given from our birth
A powerful delusion and a plague upon the earth
But nothing scares me more
Then the stranger at my door
Who I fail to give shelter, time, and worth
Let the good ol’ bedtime story, give you nightmares ’til you die
And the ones that love to tell it, hide the mischief in their eyes
Condemn their sons to Hades
And Gehenna is full of guys, alive and well
But there ain’t no hell for a fire-watchers daughter..

I don’t pay much attention to lyrics, but sometimes it’s fun to look up an English translation of lyrics to see what the hell the song is about. There’s an amazing Ukrainian song by a Ukrainian group Время и Стекло (Time and Glass). I looked up the lyrics online to find that the song was called Love.net (pronounced Love.nyet!)

No love dot net, no love and it is our final point
The curtains are drawn and light is switched off
no love dot net, I am not waiting for a call
I do not believe in love, no love dot net

For Franco’s song, sometimes the song has a very specific meaning: the outstanding song Azda is simply the music to a car commercial. Another song — the moving Kinshasa Mboka Ya Makambo (Kinshasa Town of Problems) is about friends who betray him. A rough translation online:

The same friends i used to work with want hurt me because they’ve lost their medals.
Please, authorities , grant them a medal so they won’t try to hurt me anymore .

(Musicians had been spreading lies about Franco’s life and career after his success). Franco’s guitar solos in both of these songs are just incredible!

Good live acoustic version of Sheryl Crow singing Love is a Good Thing. The yell isn’t as piercing, but it’s still cool and that song is just so dazzling — love that harmonica solo! Her voice is so versatile and expressive! Other Crow live versions: Gasoline/Gimme Shelter

Here’s a song by Japanese punk group Otoboke Beaver which can’t be unseen. Here’s another from these scream queens.

I’ve been listening to songs from a gigantic stash of songs from the South By Southwest bit torrent — the heroic collection and distribution of 1000s of songs by musicians who perform at that Austin festival. But 2020 was an anomaly. We had the torrent, but none of the musicians showed up! I’ve been collecting all 15 years, and I generally try to rank songs on a 1-5 scale. I delete the 1s immediately, but I keep the rest. After I finish rating all the tracks, I relisten to the 3s to decide if I want to increase their rating. The reason I do this is when I create playlists, I use only 4s and 5s — sometimes only 5s!

By far the hardest part about rating everything is listening to every single rap/hip hop song. That’s not my genre admittedly, but the average rating for the rap tracks is pretty low; it is painful to listen to all 150-200 rap songs every year. Some styles (the so called “Trap rap”) is choppy and more playing on sounds than the meaning of words. Sometimes the bass is really heavy and sometimes these rappers rely too much on autotuneAlso, some songs are laced with obscenities, expressions of violence or anger. I mean, a little of that is okay — especially if there’s a social message here, but sometimes it seems gratuitous or just hammy. That said, I do identify some rap songs deserving of a 5; I end up becoming a superfan of these artists. Here’s what I’ve found so far:

Musical Spreadsheet

In 2014 I decided to start a simple spreadsheet of albums I liked. I created a simple Google form which allowed space for a short review. I ripped/downloaded and listened to so much music that I needed to keep track. I haven’t been super-conscientious about filling it in or even writing trenchant criticism, but so far I have 416 reviews. This is just a small fraction of music I have listened to (and even loved), but generally I’ve hit the main discoveries since that time. The simple fact is that it’s hard to keep names and albums in my head — especially for indie albums or instrumentals.

Filling out the form has been useful. It has forced me to try to assign categories to music and to look up basic information (such as when I downloaded it and reviewed it). Actually, the biggest challenge has been to describe the music in a memorable way. For a classroom exercise for English learners, I would play mysterious pieces for students and ask them to describe it metaphorically – using familiar language. I provided helpful vocabulary, but I realized at the time how hard it was to do this. For a nonmusical type who hasn’t studied music in any way, you can’t throw in musical terms (and maybe you don’t recognize what a chord progression is or even what instrument is even playing). Even lyrics can be hard to decipher or understand the meaning of (Luckily there are multiple lyric songs and lyric translation sites…not to mention Google Translate). But I’ll be honest; I don’t pay all that much attention to lyrics whose language I actually understand. While living overseas, I realized that the best thing about country music was that you actually could understand and appreciate the lyrics. That’s not nothing.

Reviewing albums is hard, and frankly I don’t see how Robert Christgau or the writers at Pitchfork do it.

Brief Reviews of my Collection

Morskaya (Nautical) by Mummiy Troll (1997): Quirky, fun and Russian rock album by a goofy singer who looks like Mick Jagger but sings strange/nonsense lyrics in a relaxed /sarcastic way like David Byrne. Mummiy Troll has survived the Russian music scene for 20+ years, but this album has staying power — esp with Utekay and Zabavy. The rock band’s arrangements keep it lively and rocking — with certain effects — like the guitar reverb for the refrain of Zabavy. This album doesn’t impress at first, but I’ve keep coming back to this 1997 album.

Laurie Anderson’s Homeland (2010): Another series of great fine poetic songs for a hybrid-avante pop album. Melodies still have occasional pop resonances (Bodies in Motion), albeit with subversive political messages (Only an expert) and Eastern spirituality. There’s a lot of stillness, long pauses, subdued violins and slow-motion chanting — with occasional gongs to mark time. Despite the vocals, the energy comes from the violins and eerie reverberations from god-knows-what. Songs are soothing, but troubled and dissonant. The only song my ears couldn’t tolerate was a slow-moving 11 minute chant-story with sound effects (and sung with a deeper voice). The songs keep returning to the decline of America and civilization(Dark Time in Revolution). Novices to Anderson’s oeuvre might find the songs plodding, but I found  them intense and all-enveloping. I don’t think anyone is doing this kind of thing in the pop world (maybe Suzanne Vega or Yo Lo Tengo), but I am finding echoes of Brian Eno, Philip Glass and John Cage.

Law of the Playground by Boy Least Likely To. These upbeat lyrical songs seem lovely, deliberately insubstantial, with the simple hummable melodies you’d find on a kid’s show. Underneath that are sophisticated arrangements with banjos, electronic toots, , an emphasis on concrete images from childhood (balloon, butterflies, worm, lemonade). The vocals seem a little too airy and muttering (and possibly monotonous?). Group with Mike Viola or Eliot Smith.

Firewatcher’s Daughter by Brandi Carlile (2015). Lovely mix of upbeat country rock and lilting ballads. It’s melancholy and wistful. That pounding energy reminds one of Johnny Cash (especially STRANGER AT MY DOOR which is chilling and very poetic — also BEGINNING TO FEEL THE YEARS). The band knows how to belt out some tunes, and the singer feels country at times (Allison Moorer) and at other times more contemporary (like Sheryl Crow or Bonnie Raitt). As a song lyricist, Carlile’s talent is unsurpassed (somewhat introspective, but more cautionary and story-oriented), and all of the tracks are unadorned enough that they’d probably sound even better as live performances.

How Can We Be Silent by BarlowGirl (2007). BarlowGirl sing epic Christian progrock with soaring electric guitars and heavy metal drums. It has the full symphonic sound of a Boston or Metallica, feisty chick energy (Heart) and generally upbeat song lyrics. The vocal harmonies emphasize the power and unity of the message, and there’s enough slow lyrical parts to showcase the great singing chops of Alyssa and Lauren Barlow. Despite the limitations of Christian message music, these songs are refreshingly original, would definitely appeal to teens of all persuasions and the studio arrangements are divine. I have to wonder how these would sound in a pared down performance. Update: It needs to be said that I love almost every BarlowGirl album — but that group has long since disbanded.


Sorry to hear that jazz great Chick Corea has passed away. Unfortunately it reminds me of the time in the early 1990s when I won free concert tickets from a radio station. After I picked up the Chick Corea tickets, I asked a girl I had recently met at a college mixer to come along. She said yes and we agreed to meet at a cafe so we could drive together to the concert. As it happens, on the evening of the concert, the girl “forgot” and wasn’t home to hear my phone message asking where the hell she was. So no Chick Corea concert for me. That night I learned a valuable dating lesson: if you are asking someone on a date to a concert, you should ALWAYS meet them at the concert venue so if the woman ends up flaking, you can still enjoy the concert! Here’s a Tiny Desk concert from 2016.

Emusic Purchases

Okay, even though I know that browsing through emusic is a pain in the neck, I’ve decided to pay for another $200 credit (costing $75) to keep downloading away. I rationalize it by saying that there are a few quality labels still there that if worse comes to worse, I can just buy out their inventory.

  1. Journey into the Sun Within by Travellers. 5.49, 6 tracks, 52 minutes. (review) Outstanding prog-rock from the Polish Metal Mind label. Wojtek Szadkowski from Satellite formed this amazing one-time band.
  2. Nostalgia by Satellite. 7 tracks, 57 minutes, 2.99. More from Wojtek’s original band.
  3. Live by Alpes, 4 tracks, 20 minutes 99 cents.
  4. Whoop Dee Do by Muffs, 6.49, 37 minutes, 12 tracks. Muffs are a great punk bad led by Kim Shattuck (who died in late 2019). Released in 2014 (after they had their moment in the sun and also after Shattuck finished her 6 month stint with the Pixies), this well-received album stays lively and silly — and yes, there’s a lot of screaming. This was their last album, but it feels as fresh as what they were pumping out in the 1990s

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