John Vanderslice – Exodus Damage: Spellbinding storytelling

John Vanderslice- Exodus Damage

From the album Pixel Revolt (2005). Download MP3.

Man, I am obsessed with this song. Seriously, it’s been on repeat in my head for the past seven days. I can’t decide what I find more compelling, the musical arrangement, melody and composition of the song or its fascinating subject matter.

I heard it for the first time a week ago, while partaking in my weekly Podcast Friday™ podcast listening spree and from there, its hold on my mind gotten deeper and more tenacious. The podcast in question was actually an old episode of The Sound of Young America and the topic at hand was Analog vs Digital, featuring, in part, musician/producer John Vanderslice, who operates one of the last remaining all-analog recording studios in the world.

Through the interview, Vanderslice talked about his studio, his recording techniques and the philosophy of maintaining the art of analog production in a world that is increasingly digital. He also covered some of the music he’s recorded himself, and admitted an attraction to “extreme” subject matter.

Exodus Damage is a prominent example of that attraction. Vanderslice discussed the song from the perspective of the American right-wing militant anti-government movement, and he noted the depreciation of that movement since the events of September 11, 2001. That is the overall theme of the song, told from perspective of an unsure acolyte, a follower of the movement and focuses on his relationship with the “true believer”. On his website, Vanderslice likens the relationship of his characters to that of Timothy McVeigh and one of his accomplices Michael Fortier (who helped survey the Murrah Federal Building prior to the bombing. Echos of this can be seen in the video, where the main character seems to be surveying buildings himself.)

Let’s take a closer look at this song:

I’ll see you next fall
at another gun show
I’ll call the day before, like usual

Our story opens in the late 1990s, at one of the favorite hangouts of militiamen and other colorful characters, a gun show. Our protagonist makes his customary arrangements to meet with his mentor at the next one.

but I wanted so much more
I got exodus damage bleed,
could not commit, some things I’ll never be

so now we’re talking about this
I’m starting to lose my confidence
no one ever says a word about
so much that happens in the world

Our protagonist admits that his devotion to the cause is waning.

dance dance revolution
all we’re gonna get
unless it falls apart
so I say: go go go
let it fall down
I’m ready for the end

Despite his uncertainty to the cause, our protagonist has his mantra memorized. You can’t have a revolution until you are ready to destroy what already exists. Unless you’re willing to blow something up, you might as well just play video games.

so the second plane hit at 9:02
I saw it live on a hotel tv, talking on my cell with you
you said this would happen, and just like that, it did
wrong about the feeling, wrong about the sound
but right to say we would stand down

A clear reference to the September 11, 2001 attacks. When the United Flight 175 hit, everyone knew that the first was no accident. Among the anti-government movement, there are those who suggest that this type of event was planned and executed by elites in the New World Order. There are even some who claim that talk show host and conspiracy filmmaker Alex Jones predicted the attack in July/August 2001, going so far as to name Bin Laden as a puppet of the elites.

Such speculation is rampant among conspiracy theorists.

When the attacks actually occur, our protagonists faith is shaken and is relieved when the mentor calls off any plans they may have been making.

Incidentally, the Wikipedia timeline says the second plane hit at 9:03AM. However, the bomb that exploded in Oklahoma City did indeed detonate at 9:02AM.

an hour went by without a fighter in the sky
you said there’s a reason why
so tell me now, I must confess
I’m not sick enough to guess

One claim made by conspiracy theorists is that, despite the threat of additional errant planes, military jets were far too slow in scrambling that morning and have suggested diabolical explanations for that. Again, the distrust of government kicks in for our protagonist, but his mind isn’t capable of taking the leap that his mentor’s is.

dance dance revolution
all we’re gonna get
unless it falls apart
so I say: go go go
let it fall down
I’m ready for the end

so you hope that one person
could solve everything
and for me, that’s you
sometimes that dream
is a sad delusion
but sometimes it’s true

Our protagonist realizes that the goal he’s worked toward is an illusion, but can’t shake his fascination with his mentor.

so now we’re talking about this
I’m starting to lose my confidence
no one ever says a word about
so much that happens in the world

dance dance revolution
all we’re gonna get
unless it falls apart
so I say: go go go
let it fall down
I’m ready for the end

All in all, I find Exodus Damage irresistibly engaging, as it shows both a glimpse into a foreign world and the intense personal struggle portrayed by its main character. Combined with its sheer listen-ability, the song will be on my playlists into the far far future.

Download Exodus Damage.

Want More? Get Pixel Revolt on iTunes.

The Mountain Goats: Dance Music

From the album The Sunset Tree (2005)

This song is about escapism. With poignancy and daft lyrical narration, John Darnielle (aka The Mountain Goats) weaves a tale of domestic violence and a troubled life on the skids. The only outlet for the song’s protagonist is the volume knob on his stereo and the “dance music” it amplifies, which he uses to elude the strife in his life.

The beautiful part of this song however, is its clear-as-day construction. With unadorned instrumentation and a simple verse-chorus-verse structure, Dance Music is classic Mountain Goats. What else would you expect from “America’s best non-hip-hop lyricist“?

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What I Love: It’s peppy and sad at the same time.

PS- John Darnielle maintains a blog at Last Plane to Jakarta.

dance music at itunes

dance music at amazon

Weird Al – Trapped in the Drive Thru: Perfect Parody

What can I say? This is brilliant. It’s a bit long (11 minutes), so block out some time to watch the whole thing.

It also helps to be familiar with Trapped in the Closet, R. Kelly’s hip-hop opera in multiple parts which tells a complex story (with several interwoven plots) of increasingly bizarre cases of infidelity and sexual hang-ups. Here’s a Google Video if you need to brush up. Sometimes referred to as the “Plan 9” of music videos, the series has obtained a bit of a cult following and it has been a ripe target for parody since its 2005 release.

So it should be no surprise that Weird Al decided to tackle it. But the caliber of the results, now that is a bit surprising. Mr. Yankovic has done some amazingly clever and funny work in the past (his Star Wars Episode I song comes to mind), but the source material for this is just so ridiculously over-the-top that its quite the feat that he was able to top it. And of course, it’s all the more astonishing that he does it by transposing the excessive and strained drama of the original to a topic most mundane: the search for dinner.

Trapped in the Drive-Thru – "Weird Al" Yankovic (Doogtoons)

trapped in the drive thru at itunes

Herbaliser – Who’s the Realist?: Electro-TripTable-JazzHop-DanceRock-Funkism

very mercenary

London’s The Herbaliser is one of those bands that takes its inspiration from just about whatever it can find. Featuring some extremely above-the-bar production values, the band specializes in a kind of funk-laden rap that borrows from and incorporates just about every musical style under the sun. Yet, despite the amalgam, each song is distinctly Herbaliser in its nature.

Lest you think that the band is all rhymes and loops, however, it should be known that the duo behind the act, Ollie Teeba and Jake Wherry, can write some immersive grooves. In fact, it’s The Herbaliser’s instrumentalizations that draw you in, persuading you to swagger and head-bob, even if all you’re doing is sitting at a computer. Add to that some smooth tag-team lyrics that, thankfully, aren’t misanthropic celebrations of opulance, and well, you’ve got the makings of masterpieces.

From 1999’s Very Mercenary, here’s Who’s the Realist?

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The Herbaliser - Very Mercenary - Who's the Realest?

A Big Fat Drunk Disgruntled Yuletide Rambo

yuletide rambo

Tis the season and all. Yep, Xmas is around the corner and its related tunes can be heard, sometimes whispering sometimes shouting, from computers and stereos and iPods and speakers in the ceiling at the mall. Old chestnuts, classical interpretations and indie versions all will make their appearances during the next couple weeks, probably to the point of nausea.

They are songs that celebrate the season, reminding us of the wonder and good times of family togetherness or heralding the birth of a certain religious deity. Still others focus on the practices of gift-giving and gift-receiving while encouraging little ones to behave in order to partake in said gifts. Then there’s the jolly fat man in red suit and funny hat; he’s the stern but gentle patriarch who does everything right, is generous with material things and never wants anything in return except maybe some cookies.

But all that unrequited altruism would take its toll on even the most selfless person… or so this one particular Xmas song surmises.

The Night Santa Went Crazy from Weird Al’s 1996 Bad Hair Day tells the narrative, in borderline morbidly graphic detail, of a certain evening in Santa’s Workshop, when the big guy finally loses his cool, going on a rampage from which Xmas will never recover.

This song is perhaps the pinnacle of Weird Al’s songwriting. It is musically exceptional, with astute holiday underpinnings and some of Al’s most remarkably clever lyrics to date. He manages to incorporate and reference the unique culture of the North Pole, successfully transposing it into a scenario that’s half Die Hard, half Headline News.

So I present what is perhaps the best song to queue up when you’re about to overdose on holiday cheer and the thought of good will toward men makes you want to slug someone.

The Night Santa Went Crazy:

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"Weird Al" Yankovic - Bad Hair Day - The Night Santa Went Crazy

Here are the lyrics if you want to sing along:

Down in the workshop all the elves were makin’ toys
For the good Gentile girls and the good Gentile boys
When the boss busted in, nearly scared ’em half to death
Had a rifle in his hands and cheap whiskey on his breath
From his beard to his boots he was covered with ammo
Like a big fat drunk disgruntled Yuletide Rambo
And he smiled as he said with a twinkle in his eye,
“Merry Christmas to all… now you’re all gonna die!”

The night Santa went crazy
The night St. Nick went insane
Realized he’d been gettin’ a raw deal
Something finally must have snapped in his brain

Well, the workshop is gone now he decided to bomb it
Everywhere you’ll find pieces of Cupid and Comet
And he tied up his helpers and he held the elves hostage
And he ground up poor Rudolph into reindeer sausage
He got Dancer and Prancer with an old German Luger
And he slashed up Dasher just like Freddie Krueger
And he picked up a flamethrower and he barbequed Blitzen
And he took a big bite and said, “It tastes just like chicken!”

The night Santa went crazy
The night Kris Kringle went nuts
Now you can hardly walk around the North Pole
Without steppin’ in reindeer guts

There’s the National Guard and the F.B.I.
There’s a van from the Eyewitness News and helicopters circlin’ ’round in the sky
And the bullets are flyin’, the body count’s risin’ and everyone’s dyin’ to know, oh Santa, why?
My my my my my my
You used to be such a jolly guy

Yes, Virginia, now Santa’s doing time
In a federal prison for his infamous crime
Hey, little friend, now don’t you cry no more tears
He’ll be out with good behavior in 700 more years
But now Vixen’s in therapy and Donner’s still nervous
And the elves all got jobs working for the postal service
And they say Mrs. Claus, she’s on the phone every night
With her lawyer negotiating the movie rights

They’re talkin’ ’bout – the night Santa went crazy
The night St. Nicholas flipped
Broke his back for some milk and cookies
Sounds to me like he was tired of gettin’ gypped

Wo, the night Santa went crazy
The night St. Nick went insane
Realized he’d been gettin’ a raw deal
Something finally must have snapped in his brain
Wo, something finally must have snapped in his brain
Tell ya, something finally must have snapped… in his brain

Stereolab – Ping Pong: Geo-political Rock

ping pong

ping pong at itunes

Ping Pong is an unusually uptempo, rockin’ song from Stereolab’s mars audiac quintet. It’s one of my favorites from the groop and the increase in tempo gives its lyrics a stronger visceral impact.

Though released in 1994, the lyrics show a degree of timelessness, given the current geo-political situation.

it’s alright ‘cos the historical pattern has shown
how the economical cycle tends to revolve.
in a round of decades three stages stand out in a loop.
a slump and war then peel back to square one and back for more

bigger slump and bigger wars and a smaller recovery
huger slump and greater wars and a shallower recovery

you see the recovery always comes ’round again
there’s nothing to worry for things will look after themselves
it’s alright recovery always comes ’round again
there’s nothing to worry if things can only get better

there’s only millions that lose their jobs and homes and sometimes accents
there’s only millions that die in their bloody wars, it’s alright

it’s only their lives and the lives of their next of kin that they are losing
it’s only their lives and the lives of their next of kin that they are losing

it’s alright ‘cos the historical pattern has shown
how the economical cycle tends to revolve.
in a round of decades three stages stand out in a loop.
a slump and war then peel back to square one and back for more

bigger slump and bigger wars and a smaller recovery
huger slump and greater wars and a shallower recovery

don’t worry. be happy. things will get better naturally.
don’t worry. shut up. sit down. go with it and be happy.

Meanwhile, enjoy this poor quailty music video of the song; it’s so very 90s:

jim o’rourke’s damn fine lyrics

insignificance

i said yesterday that i'm convinced that jim o'rourke is a musical genius. at the time i was simply talking about his compositions. but i spun through his 2001 album insignificance today and i submit that the same applies to his lyrics as well. see this site for a full list (plus discography and other extras. it can be slow loading), but i like these lines in particular:

Listening to you, reminds me of
A motor’s endless drone
And how the deaf are so damn lucky

-Memory Lame