Some Songs Considered #005 – Girlpool, Dan Deacon, and Jon B.
Welcome to Some Songs Considered, a column that recognizes they can’t all be zingers and truly appreciates the ones that are.
Girlpool – “Before The World Was Big”
by Bryce Rudow
People like to say that time is a man-made concept, thinking that somehow diminishes its power or its tangibility. The truth is though, our sense of a measurable finiteness is the definitive characteristic of our existence, and as time passes, it’s easily grasped by examining the ever-widening gap between then and now. And that chrono-gap is measured in change; changes in our appearance, changes in our surroundings, changes in our priorities. To get Snick about it…
When I was a kid, I remember watching a classic episode of Rugrats set against the backdrop of the Ultra Bowl (the copyright-free version of the Super Bowl) where Grandpa gives all the kids bottles of milk except Tommy, whom he bequeaths a special bottle of chocolate milk. This immediately makes Tommy a target for the envious Angelica, and an epic game of keep-away ensues, with the football announcers on their TV seemingly broadcasting every nail-biting moment of suspense in the Pickles household:
It may have just been a bottle of chocolate milk, but when your world is the size of a playpen, it’s everything.
Fast forward about twenty years later to last week. I was standing in my kitchen talking to my fiancé Mollie about her mom’s late-stage terminal cancer. We had tried to talk objectively about what her mom’s passing would mean, and we even made a few morbid-humor jokes to help cope with the whole thing#, but after a few minutes she finally broke down and collapsed crying into my arms. With her face smushed against my chest, this woman of almost 28 screamed a muffled, heartbreaking plea into my chest: “That’s my mommy!”
When your world’s as heavy as it is big, you’d do anything to make it small again.
And that brings us to Girlpool.
While every song available on this LA duo’s Spotify channel is worth a listen, nothing is going to hit you as hard as “Before The World Was Big.” It’s not just the obvious stuff like the lyrics or the well-delivered vocal inflections or even those cute bells in the very beginning. It’s things like the guitar riff they use throughout the song; it’s the same major-scale noodling that anyone whose played guitar for more than 3 months has stumbled upon, but it’s the perfect soundtrack for an ode to naivety. It becomes another voice missing how it felt standing next to you wearing matching dresses before the world was big.
Cleo Tucker and Harmony Tividad are only 18 and 19 years old, respectively, but they’ve locked onto something deeper than nostalgia and less toxic than regret. It’s not life-shattering, it’s just an ever-growing awareness that now feels farther than ever away from then.
Two days ago, Mollie and I were out braving the impending summer heat when she told me she wanted to get something to drink. We were trying to decide between coffee and beer when she cut me off and said, “Honestly, all I want right now is a good glass of chocolate milk, is that weird?”
Death Cab for Cutie – “Black Sun (Dan Deacon Remix)”
by Charles Bramesco
Last week, I singled out Fever Ray’s atmospheric, menacing “If I Had A Heart” for special commendation. Specifically, I noted Karin Dreijer Andersson’s tendency to warp and distort her own voice to create otherworldly terror. Entries on the grand list of Things Karin Dreijer Andersson Sounds Like include “robot learning to kill”, “sex demon”, “vacuum cleaner possessed by Satan”, and “Nicolas Cage as Ghost Rider, except better”.
This week, we shift gears to another artist fond of vocal tinkering, Dan Deacon. The Baltimore-bred avant-pop musician has practically hard-wired a vocoder directly to his own voice box, occasionally twisting his own vocals past the point of recognition until they add yet another layer of cacophonous joy to the sonic fray. Come to think of it, after catching three live appearances, I’m still not entirely sure what Deacon’s actual voice sounds like. He likes to filter all of his banter # through his magic suitcase full of knobs and dials.
Deacon’s not trying to freak anybody out with his vocal mutations, though. They’re not scary or anything; at most, they’re a little overwhelming. Generally, they serve to sweep the listeners away from the analytical bits of their brains and usher them into the lobe designed for frenzied dancing. On Deacon’s excellent latest LP Gliss Riffer, a handful of tracks include thoughtful lyrics, their intelligibility fading in and out through Deacon’s manipulations. In lead single “Feel the Lightning”, the only lyrics I got on my first listen were the Tom Petty and Johnny Depp name-checks.
It’s a privilege to hear Deacon futzing around with someone else’s voice for a change of pace, and especially when that someone is Death Cab for Cutie frontman Ben Gibbard. On Deacon’s stellar remix of Death Cab’s Kintsugi single “Black Sun,” he goes to work reshaping Gibbard’s iconically touchy-feely vocals into something entirely novel. After a minute or so of typically jittery Deaconian synth playtime, he introduces Gibbard’s vox, swaddled in reverb, vibrating around the fringes. Every now and then, Deacon clips off the last millisecond of a lyric and tosses it right into the relay race of noises already off and running. Even with Deacon scribbling little doodles around the edge of it, Gibbard’s voice provides a smooth, clear counterpoint to the chaos that Deacon’s created in his remix. It’s a study in opposites: Deacon the id, Gibbard the superego.
Jon B. – Bonafide
by Julian Kimble
He’s no pioneer of blue-eyed soul, but Jon B.’s music has struck a chord with my generation. I went to a show he did last year, and the second he hit the stage, a mob of black women in their early 30s rushed to it like they were teenagers. Twenty years ago tomorrow—before he gave us moments of brilliance like “Are U Still Down?” and “They Don’t Know”—the singer released his debut album, Bonafide.
Bonafide’s lead single was “Someone to Love,” a duet with Babyface that I actually forgot was also included on the Bad Boys soundtrack until a ceremonious 20th anniversary viewing of the film last month. What I’ll always remember about the video (other than the sepia-toned footage and intrusive camera angles) is Jon B.’s leather jacket and Babyface’s dire need of cufflinks.
To be honest, I’ve always preferred “Pretty Girl” to “Someone to Love,” but Babyface’s presence – and obvious influence — are likely why the latter earned a grammy nomination in 1996.
Preference aside, “Someone to Love” will always stand out because it was my introduction to the patron saint of the white boy chinstrap beard. Better yet, Drake’s sampling of his “Calling on You” on Take Care’s “Cameras” reinforces the impact of Jon B.’s music (and ‘90s R&B, in general) on ‘80s babies. We were all paying attention to the same things, and now we can hold our collective breath for the faint hope that Drake brings Jon B. out at some future show to perform “Calling On You/Cameras” live.
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