From the album Songs in the Key of X (1996)
Recorded during the tumultuous sessions of the band’s second album, Irresistible Bliss, Unmarked Helicopters is prototypical Soul Coughing and an achievement in “slacker jazz.” That intra-band strife of the time seems to help this song, better than any other, capture the zeitgeist of The X-Files, the feeling of alienation and suspicion that the show projected.
The intro borrows from of the show’s disembodied main theme and sets the stage for an agitated and unnerving story. Over the course of three and a half minutes, the song makes oblique references to hovering lights on houses (and those that pursue them), fear of the end times and the role of the person who knows the truth. This thing is an ode to American society’s grand paranoia of truth and government that the show epitomized.
Unmarked Helicopters appeared as the second track on the Songs in the Key of X compilation, the whimsical soundtrack released at the height of the TV show’s popularity. In early 1997, the song was featured prominently in the fourth season episode Max.
What I Love: The whole shebang.
Photo from DefenseLINK
Back in 1998-1999, when the mp3 file trading scene really was like the wild wild west, no one really had much idea how to treat the phenomenon. Sure, labels and artists weren’t keen on infinitely duplicatable copies of their music being sent around, but there was also a free wheeling sense to see what would become of the phenomenon, even among established acts.
Take Soul Coughing. For several months during that time, the band was in the habit of putting mp3s on the now-defunct 5% Nation site soulcoughing.com. It was great; free downloads of rarities, remixes and live tracks. That party didn’t last too long though. Financial concerns got in the way, as the band wondered how this free distribution would affect any potential future albums.
Here’s the Wayback Machine’s archive of the takedown notice.
In a way, the move was prescient of the concerns of the digital distribution of music era. It is similar to the way that The Grateful Dead supplied archive.org with soundboard recordings of their live shows, only to remove them when iTunes Music Store model showed that there was money to be made.
So the files went away and were replaced by time-limited Liquid Audio files remember those?, but not before a humorous cover of The Coffee Song made it into the wild. Written by Bob Hilliard and Richard Miles and made famous be Frankie “Blue Eye” Sinatra, the song is an ode to a certain Brazilian cash crop.
All the band’s work is brilliant, but Screenwriter’s Blues is transcendental.
a solid 3 hours and 40 minutes in today, which doesn’t seem long enough to have covered all the items below. but a lot of them are singles, just 2-4 songs each, plus i don’t actually list an album here until i’ve played all its songs. i had 6 songs left in the soul coughing show and only the last 2 of sigur ros’ (). so those didn’t make the list until today, despite the fact that most of the songs had been played earlier.
also, i know adding more music to my library doesn’t make this task any easier. but i’m always running into new stuff and i don’t want to become musically stagnant. thus, more music. today it was a tortoise show in san francisco 2005.
- aarhus symphony performing vagn holmboe’s no.8
- weezer [buddy holly]single
- soul couging live in boston 1996
- london symphony performing stravinsky’s "card game"
- the breeders [cannonball] single
- foo fighters [big me] single
- helmut [biscuits for smut] single
- lithops [blasmusik / intendo 7"]
- hooverphonic [blue wonder power milk]
- sigur ros [()]
- lalo schifrin [bullit]
there are a few albums in a persons life that are emotive of a particular time or place, albums that, when heard, take you back to the feelings you felt when the music was fresh and new. smashing pumpkins’ mellon collie is one such album, taking me back to the winter and spring of my 11th grade year, when nearly-daily bomb threats meant being sent to hang out at the football stadium or skipping school altogether. those were fun times for over-achievers.
likewise for hooverphonic’s blue wonder power milk, and particularly the song "renaissance affair." every time i hear that song, i travel back in time to the summer after i graduated college, when i was high on my academic achievements in ad school with big dreams of landing a job a hot agency. that summer was amazing; i had few obligations, plenty of friends (old and new) and plenty of fun. i spent a good deal of time learning capoeira and exercising my creativity. it felt like a non-stop party.
while things haven’t turned out as expected (i never did get that ad job) and life has been generally good to me, when i hear that album, i can’t help but think what might have been.
One of the effects of loading the iPod alphabetically by album is that I’m getting a refresher course in live music. The tagging scheme I use for live performances looks like this:
year.month.date venue, city
Thus, all the shows are listed chronologically. As far as iTunes is concerned, each show is just an album that starts with a number.
Today found me listening to a 1995 Soul Coughing show in New York City, a completely rockin’ Toronto 2004 performance by Mouse on Mars who I’ve managed to see, twice. If you get the chance, go! and a 2001 show by Air [french band] in Los Angeles.
Also sandwiched in there was A Data Learn the Language, an uber-smooth postrock record by The Mercury Program. Good stuff that.