18 Great Songs Under 2:00 In Length


When you think about it, there are very few notable songs that are less than two minutes long.  It’s just not done very much in modern music. So much of music is about repetition, about building themes and expanding on them, or emphasizing them.  Less than two minutes isn’t enough time to go verse chorus verse chorus bridge verse chorus chorus.

But less than two minutes is still enough to hook you, with the right song.  Here are 18 tracks that weigh in at under two minutes, yet are pretty hefty in their own right.

1. Tea For The Tillerman / Cat Stevens / 1:02

I’m guessing there’s an age line for people who know this song from the Cat Stevens album and people who know it from the credits to Extras.  I’m one of the latter.  What I love about this song is that even with how short it is, it still has a great buildup.  That opening piano riff sets the tone, and when the somewhat solemn little ditty evolves into stride piano and then the choir kicks in to cap it off, it makes it seem like a complete statement even though it’s just 1 minute long.

2. Vincent of Jersey / Big Head Todd and the Monsters / 1:13

Here’s something that feels like more of a random thought.  It still paints a pretty evocative picture, but it’s a still picture.  It’s a short “slice of life” peek into a character.  The fact that it’s a solitary guitar, a bit meandering and arrhythmic, really reenforces this tone.  Of course, the sentiment of the last few lines is something that can hit you pretty hard, too, if you happen to be in a bit of a blue mood.

3. The Next Time You Say “Forever” / Neko Case / 1:45

I mean, it’s Neko Case, right?  I’m sure it means something.  I always get a kick out of the line, “The next time you say forever, I will punch you in your face.”  I’m a big fan of the end, too.  The chord progression of those last two lines really gives it an ominous kick.

4. Prelude / Bonobo / 1:18

For something called “Prelude,” this stands on its own really well.  It’s hard not to get swept away in those strings and gentle piano riffs.

5. Victory Rag / Doc Watson / 1:46

One of my all-time favorite guitar licks.  A cheerful little ditty that hides some cool technical sophistication.  It’s nice, because you can casually listen to this and it’s pleasant, but the more you focus, the more you appreciate its nuance.

6. Mystery Dance / Elvis Costello / 1:36

This song packs a great punch for a minute-thirty.  I’m not sure exactly why I flashed to this, but it could easily be a replacement for “Johnny B. Goode” if they ever remake Back to the Future.  Most of the time I like Costello’s more somber songs (“Deep Dark Truthful Mirror ” is an all-time favorite), but this one I always come back to for a fun little jaunt.

7. Cheap Day Return / Jethro Tull / 1:23

A John Stewart special, who drew my attention to the sublime stutter-step Tull pulls off on the line “the way she sh-should.”  It’s amazing how catchy this song is for being so short.  It also actually builds a theme and then plays with it, and has a real conclusion.  It’s basically like if you condensed a Yes song into 90 seconds.

8. Last Year / Akron/Family / 1:40

I like simple songs, but that are simple in an interesting way.  Repeating one line over and over shouldn’t work, but it does.  Somehow.

9. Dygnet Runt / Detektivbyran / 1:05

Now here’s a strange one.  Probably the most simple song yet.  This isn’t trying to build any themes or do anything beyond one single thought, but it’s basically a lullaby, so no problems there.  It’s beautiful like a music box, and about as precise.

10. The 59th Street Bridge Song / Simon and Garfunkel / 1:50

I’m sorry, I like this song.  WHAT?  WHAT?  YOU GOT A PROBLEM WITH THAT? I like other, better things, too.  Whatever.  This song is absurd.  I like how they just give up on the idea of lyrics halfway through and start making noises.  I can’t really defend why I like this, but I do.  It’s also simple enough that two average-ish musicians can reproduce it in about 10 minutes and it sounds passable, which is a bonus.

11. Tame / The Pixies / 1:56

Because it’s kind of a microcosm of why the Pixies are awesome.  You don’t want to access this mental space at all times, but when you do, it’s hard to top a good Pixies song to do it.  In true Pixies fashion, it always seems 2 steps away from dissolving into pure noise, but never does.

12. I’m Still Here / Tom Waits / 1:49

One of the most sad/beautiful songs ever, in my opinion.  No one does “evocatively broken” like Waits.  No one.  I wrote a whole 10-minute play just to work towards an ending where I had a character who’d just been dumped play a few lines of this at a piano as the lights faded, and I have to say, it worked pretty damn well.  The ending just destroys me.  The way the chords are set up (most of the song is anticipatory, leaving you hanging, but the end is firmly a resolution) makes it walk the line between optimistic and just pure heartbreak.  I love this song.  Love it.

13. Lady of Rome, Sister of Brazil / Al Di Meola / 1:46

I’ve listened to this song, according to iTunes, more than any other song I have, and over 100 times.  It does something pretty amazing.  It tells a story without words.  That moment at :45 where the meandering, wandering guitar finally breaks into rhythm just totally melts me every time.  I get the biggest smile.  My only quibble is that it fades out; I’ve always thought that was kind of a bullshit way to end a song.

14. Song for George / Eric Johnson / 1:50

Kinda reminds me of a Stephen Stills lick, in a good way.  Just an incredibly skilled guitarist taking a musical thought and polishing it up.

15. HC / Plants and Animals / 0:52 (!)

Though it’s the shortest at less than 60 seconds, this one might be the best of the lot.  I’m blown away by this song, and how it manages to do so much with so little.  3 freakin’ lines.  Short lines.  And yet so evocative.  Might not quick pack the emotional punch of Hemingway’s famous six-word short story, but it’s damn close.  The instrumental backing is just perfect as well.

16. Fugue from Prelude/Fugue No. 20 in A minor, BWV, 889 / Bela Fleck & The Flecktones  / 1:51

Because the things these guys can get their instruments to do are pretty amazing.

17. Comrade’s Twenty-Sixth / Beulah / 1:54

At just under 2 minutes, this one feels like a full-length song.  The thing I’m drawn to is that brass lick that repeats throughout the 2nd half.  It has such a good buildup as the song drives to the end.

18. The Gold Finch and the Red Oak Tree / Ted Leo / 1:54

Duh.

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My Favorite Lake Street Dive Videos


After a friend of my brother’s from his AmeriCorps days showed him a video of this band playing “I Want You Back” on a sidewalk in Boston, my brother turned around and passed it on to me, and thus began my obsession with Lake Street Dive.

LSD has been around for awhile (2003-ish?), and there’s something wonderful about discovering a contemporary band that hasn’t “blown up” yet, is excellent, and has a good amount of work in the bank already.  I’ve been proselytizing for Lake Street Dive for about a year now, and I have yet to meet anyone who doesn’t like them.  Part of that has to do with their pop/jazz combination – they’re literally perfect background music.

But another, larger part of that has to do with the fact that they’re just incredibly good.  Rachael Price has a voice like a bourbon-infused angel, the music is fun-first while maintaining enough jazz elements to make it surprising at times, and most importantly, these guys have fun.  It’s eminently clear that these four individuals just have a blast playing music, and that’s a huge plus in my book.

Here are some of my favorite Lake Street Dive videos.  Their albums – In This Episode…, Promises, Promises, Lake Street Dive, Fun Machine, and the upcoming Bad Self Portraits are well worth your time.  The upcoming one – out in February – is going to be the first album I’ve physically bought in about a decade, and I’m looking forward to it the way I look forward to a new book in a beloved series.

A collection of awesome Lake Street Dive videos

If you’ve heard of them at all, it’s probably from this video:

Right away, you get a sense of irreverent, whimsical enjoyment with the various takes of the four of them posing.  And when the music starts, Price’s voice is on full display.  It’s amazing how lush the song sounds when you think about how sparse it actually is – voice, drums, trumpet, bass.  No guitar, no piano – nothing to give it a noise foundation.  But the reconstitution of a beloved pop song, the jazz sensibilities, the fact that it’s on a sidewalk, and Price’s vocal stylings all combine to make this an amazing, jaw-dropping video.

Here’s one to get a sense of how amazing they’d be to see live.  The energy is just palpable.  Mike Calabrese’s drumming leads the way, really driving the song.  Mike “McDuck” Olson really shows off his trumpet chops as well, as his solo really stands out and compliments Price’s voice here.

Breaking away from their admittedly spectacular covers of pop songs, here’s an original.  Bass player Bridget Kearney wrote this one, from what I can tell, and it’s extremely solid.  The buildup and slight dive before the chorus is just awe-inspiring.  Calabrese gets a verse (while still drumming, ‘natch) and his harmony with Price is really fun to listen to.  Olson’s switch from trumpet to guitar (he seems to be doing this more often, from what I can tell) gives the song a bluesy, upscale dive bar-type feeling.

Here’s LSD covering Fleetwood Mac’s “Second Hand News” – made all the more awesome for the impromptu nature of the recording.  It’s obvious a rough cut – Calabrese plays percussion on a chair, they’re not mic’ed, so you’re hearing just what the camera picks up, so the levels are off, they have some hilarious synchronized moves they do during the song that they’ve obviously only practiced a couple times, Price starts laughing halfway through a verse…etc.  I know it sounds like I’m being negative, but these are all positive.  It comes off as incredibly heartwarming and endearing.  The fact that they can do something like this off-the-cuff is just flippin’ amazing.

Every Halloween they dress up as 2 girl, 2 guy bands. (Previous video – Fleetwood Mac).  This year, they did the Starland Vocal Band.  Yep.  Let me just point out a few things about this video:

– Maybe it’s just the lighting, but at 0:21, when she turns sideways, Bridget Kearney looks like the goddamn Platonic ideal of beauty.

– The look Price gives Calabrese at 0:30 when he’s starting his verse is incredibly adorable.

– 1:47 WHAT A FIDDLE OH MY GOD THAT’S AMAZING, ALWAYS DO THAT

– The harmonies at 2:00 are just. wonderful.  Especially Price’s harmony on the line “come around.”

– OK, this is wierdly specific, I know, but since this is the most low-impact blog ever and basically only my 10 friends read it, I’m going for it.  2:56, I cannot shake the notion that Bridget Kearney’s expression + what she does with her hand, just that little subtle gesture, is eerily reminiscent of my friend Carolina.  Someone back me up here.  It’s not so much the physical similarity (although I think they do look something alike) as it is her expression and what she’s emoting.

Couple more.  Here’s one from Pickathon 2012.  This one’s an original.  The thing I like about this is just the pure physicality of Price.  She sings with movement.  Check out 3:32; that’s just so cool.  Really, really makes me want to see them live.

http://grooveshark.com/s/This+Paddleball+Game/4bYQJi?src=5

I can’t figure out how to embed this, so whatever, just click the link.  This one’s hard to find, but amazing in a down-tempo, melancholy way.  The lyrics really get me on this one.

Last but not least, here’s a teaser from Lake Street Dive’s upcoming album.  Yep.  Yep yep yep.  Rachael Price has pipes.

15 Songs My Dad Hates


That isn’t my dad.  My dad actually looks very little like an angry Asian man, but that’s the first image that popped up when I searched for “Angry Dad,” so let’s just roll with it.

Somewhere between the vast generational gap and the ever-evolving landscape of music is the concept of “good,” as in, “that’s a good song.”  It’s tricky, since both objectivity and subjectivity aren’t without their flaws.  Needless to say, my dad and I disagree about any number of things when it comes to music.  This playlist is full of songs that, for one reason or another, I think have some real value.  They’re also songs I thought he would absolutely hate.  It’s a strange feeling, to really like something yet to be able to put yourself into someone else’s shoes for a moment and think, “he’d hate this.”

Let’s be clear: I’m not saying these are “Great Songs.”  These are songs that I like for one reason or another, but some of them I wouldn’t listen to frequently, some of them (most of them) have their flaws, and I wouldn’t go to the mat for all of them.

That being said; it’s an interesting test.  I was recently home for Christmas, and I played these for my dad, all at once, at a loud volume, all in a row.  Give them a listen.  Do you come down on my side, or my dad’s?

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Beating Heart Baby –  Head Automatica

I say: “A surprisingly workable twist on a standard romantic pop song.  It’s creative and dynamic and has a pretty strong dose of love worked into its framework, all of which is surprising from a pop album.  I would want to be able to play this for my girlfriend and have her not only get why I like it, but like it herself.  Also, off the same album, if you’re looking for a song to listen to while you’re running that’s capable of pushing you that last 100 meters at a sprint, give ‘At The Speed of a Yellow Bullet’ a try.”

My dad says:  “Could the beat be a little bit more subtle?  The juxtaposition of the words and music are like a pickle in hot cocoa.  This is not morning music.”

Problems – Arrah and the Ferns

I say: “Good music doesn’t always have to be serious.  The power of art is that it lets us experience strong emotion without consequence, and too often the highest examples of that art focus on the darker emotions.  People love Parks and Recreation and Community, and people love Breaking Bad and The Wire, but it’s those last two that are far more frequently cited for their artistic merit.  That doesn’t always have to be the case.  Point of the point, this album is silly, this song is silly.  It’s a Disney movie and a childhood campfire and a middle school play mixed in an Optimism Bowl.  And that’s okay.  Sometimes, that’s even required.”

My dad says:  “Music to play miniature golf by.”

Shoot Speed/Kill Light – Primal Scream

I say:  “H. L. Mencken said, ‘Every normal man must be tempted at times to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats.’  This is the music isn’t quite that black, but it’s in the ballpark.  It’s certainly music for doing something intense and epic.  This song came on randomly during my last run and it legitimately made me run that mile about 45 seconds faster.”

My dad says:  “I’d rather take a hypodermic needle to the eye.”

Hold This – Child Abuse

I say: “OK, this takes a little explaining.  I’m not saying this is a good song or that I even particularly like it.  Mostly I just wanted to see my dad’s reaction.  I just started laughing at his expression at 0:55 when the main part starts.  It’s just perfectly the opposite of what my dad would enjoy in a million, billion years.  And yet some part of me sees the value if I get into the right frame of mind.  This is hardcore revenge music.  This is like, the antagonist in the movie has just crossed the Moral Event Horizon and stabbed my puppy, and I’m looking up with dark intent at a bunch of his lackeys, and then I have a katana in each hand and I’m going so insane with rage that this is the part of the narrative where it’s unclear if I’ll come back from the Dark Side.  This is hateful, hateful music that I will break things to.”

My dad says: (laughing)  “If I can’t find my bottle of Imitrex I’m going to kill myself.”

Intro – M83

I say: “I was a little late to the M83 bandwagon, but that doesn’t stop me from being enthusiastically on board now.  Picking one song off this album was tricky as hell.  Eventually I went with this one because of its intense cinematic quality, which my dad (credit where credit is due) picked up on.  This could easily be the soundtrack for a 2-minute trailer for, say, MirrorMask.  It’s dreamy, slightly narcotic, but upbeat and surprising enough to engage with.”

My dad says: (puzzled expression)  “What movie is this from?  Wake me up when the music starts.”

Bottled In Cork – Ted Leo & the Pharmacists

I say:  “Ted Leo’s latest album is just as good as the stuff we listened to in college.  Living With The Living was mediocre, in my opinion, but this one is right up there with The Tyranny of Distance.  This album is more of the same, which in this case is a great thing.  Same style, same sweaty punk energy, same poppy guitar chords, and a refreshing sense of focus.  This song in particular is just a winner.  Reminds me a little of a more optimistic ‘Ballad of the Sin Eater.’  The ending in particular is golden; the multilayer vocals just melt your heartstrings into putty.  So, so heartfelt.”

My dad says:  “I’m glad I can’t understand the words.”

Blue Eyes – Destroyer

I say:  “Soft rock with a goodly amount of cheese.  But intentionally so.  Hear that wailing sax?  If you weren’t paying attention it would be easy to write this off as some kind of incomprehensible, campy 80’s music.  But there’s some subtly here that makes this music fascinating.  The catchy, layered hooks.  The surprisingly dark and clever lyrics.  It’s like a midnight snack that’s a bunch of healthy food you threw together and melted a bunch of cheese on.”

My dad says: “He reminds me of Tiny Tim.”

Middle – Jamie Woon

I say: “I wonder if this is the birth of a new genre: soulful vocals over electronic beats.  In any case, Jamie Woon’s Mirrorwriting, though it draws inevitable comparisons with James Blake, is really filling its own niche.  The vocals are pure soul, but the structure is very upbeat, almost reminiscent of Miike Snow.  This is just very modern, soulful music that’s great to sit down and chill to when you want something in that genre but less dark than, say, The Weeknd.  If you dig this particular song you should dig the whole album.”

My dad says: (Confused look)  “What are they saying in the background?  Unnum munnum?”

Jam For Jerry – Holy Ghost!

I say: “I try to stay away from comparisons (Artist X = Artist A + Artist B/Genre C), but in this case, it’s just too perfect:  Holy Ghost! = Phoenix + disco.  This album is simply fun; lyrically driven and eminently danceable.  It’s probably not the most complex or compelling music ever, but it certainly hits what it’s aiming for.”

My dad says:  “Where’s John Travolta when we really need him?”

The Morning – The Weeknd

I say: “Dark, tense, soulful, dirty R&B.  Beautiful music about terrible things.  The Weeknd takes debauchery to a sometimes creepy level, stripping the larger-than-life, sometimes whimsical attitude that you frequently find in hip-hop and making it brutally honest.  Not introducing anyone to anything new here (except my dad) because The Weeknd got a ridiculous amount of hype, but so much of it was deserved.”

My dad says: “Is there a loose wire in your speakers?”

Throne of Blood (The Jump Off) – The Dead Science

I say: “I’m not quite sure what to say about this one, only that you have to listen to the whole album – Villainaire – to give it a fair shake.  This is something I ran across almost by accident, turned on track one (the track I included), and was about 2 seconds away from turning it off, and then the drums kicked in.  Along with the vocals.  The guy singing – Sam Mickens – has an almost feminine quality that is, for lack of a better word, bizarre.  The drums are almost jazzy, and the guitar, strangely, wildly technical.  The fact that Mickens is singing and playing the guitar at the same time here is enough to praise this album on purely technical grounds.  The music itself, though, is damn compelling.  Strange, haunting, odd, but very compelling.  The genre is, I guess, experimental rock?  Which is a way of saying who the hell knows.  It’s infectious in its dissonance and beautiful in its lyricism and harmony.  I really don’t know what to say about this one, other than if you give it (the whole album) an undivided hour of your time (a lot to ask, honestly, in this day and age), and you listen to it on good speakers or headphones and really listen, with no distractions, I can just about guarantee you three to five ‘Musical Moments of Amazement’, and you guys know what I’m talking about there.”

My dad says: (horrified expression) “I thought the harp was bad but it was the best part.”

The Rabbit, the Bat, and the Reindeer – Dr. Dog

I say: “I had this one pegged as the one my dad might actually like; it’s very intentional throwback music.  There’s not much depth here, but it’s very soothing.”

My dad says: “The piano player needs more lessons.”

Get Better – Mates of State

I say: “I’m a huge sucker for catchy pop music with male/female harmonies; the fact that this is a husband and wife team just sweetens the deal.  This whole album is pretty good.  The vocals are really what make it work for me; they’re bright and clear, with a clever cadence.”

My dad says: “I like this.”

Kärlekens Alla Färjor – Detektivbyrån

I say: “Whenever I hear about a band that’s described as “transcending genre,” I’m always suspicious.  Usually that’s code for shitty modern rock, but in this case, I challenge anyone to put a label on this album.  Wikipedia says “folk/electronic,” and that’s about as good as you can do.  They play with a glockenspiel, toy piano, accordion and drums, and each song on the album is unique.  This is music for the world’s strangest carnival ride, like a carousel where all the mounts were horses with human legs. “

My dad says: “I like this too.  The little bells in the background are kind of cloying, like a drink that’s too sweet.  But the tune is cool.”

Streetlight – John Maus

I say: “This is art you can dance to.  It could be pretty standard pop except for Maus’ voice booming and echoing in the background.  The whole album has an ethereal vibe to it (I’m just now realizing that ‘ethereal’ is probably an overused word when it comes to music, but damn it, it fits).  The album – We Must Become the Pitiless Censors of Ourselves – is a wonderful mix of highbrow and lowbrow.  The music feels personal, like Bon Iver’s first album – it feels like one guy trying to do a thing, and so when you listen to it, you’re approaching it and not the other way around.  Despite that, it’s easy to listen to.  Even though I can hardly ever tell what Maus is saying, I find myself singing along with these tracks.”

My dad says: “If you’re already queasy, you’re going to lose your marbles and hurl chunks.”

Too Cool For Spotify


Spotify is a great tool, but it’s not perfect.  It has a lot of songs, but it doesn’t have ALL the songs, which is a problem.  Here’s a playlist composed entirely of songs that you can’t find on Spotify.

O Holy Night – Tipitina’s Foundation

Just because it was recently Christmas, here’s an old favorite covered by a New Orleans brass band including Troy Andrews aka Trombone Shorty.  This song was featured on Aaron Sorkin’s short-lived Studio 60, and was featured in the Christmas episode in a very moving finale.

Wicked Games – Coeur de Pirate

You’ve heard The Weeknd, but until you’ve heard ‘Wicked Games’ covered by the Canadian and mostly French singing Béatrice Martin with a simple piano accompaniment, you haven’t heard Shakespeare the way it was meant to be done.

Another Reflection – Nujabes

It’s hard to know what to say about this one, other than you can sit there and groove to it.  That, and I wish youtube had better sound quality.  Also, this is how much I care about lyrics: not at all.  I mean if they’re exceptional then it’s a bonus, but I straight up cannot make out the words to this song, and it doesn’t matter at all.

Crystal Blue Persuasion – Morcheeba

This is an old song covered with a generous helping of cheese.  I find something very sensual in the vocals.  I might prefer it to the original.  Hands up if you first heard the original on Breaking Bad; one, two, everybody under 50?  That’s what I thought.

Wicked Little Town – The Breeders

First of all, this is from Hedwig and the Angry Inch, and if you haven’t seen it, you should do so immediately.  It’s an amazing movie built around some amazing music.  This particular song is from a tribute album where various artists – Ben Folds, the Polyphonic Spree, the Pixies – covered songs from the movie.  ‘Wicked Little Town’ is fine as a standalone, but do yourself a favor and check out the film as well.

Happy Song – Victor Wooten

This song is ‘as advertised;’ it’s super happy.  There was a time in my life when I was so psyched with Wooten that I may have OD’ed and now it’s a well I almost never go back to, but once in a while…

These Days – The Tallest Man on Earth

Here’s a special one.  Tallest Man is great, and I’m happy to see he’s finally getting some recognition.  This is him covering Jackson Browne’s “These Days” (for some reason the video link says it’s a Nico cover; that’s completely wrong).  What makes the video special is the location; the Music Inn in New York.  It’s him wandering around the music store and basically fucking around and creating a beautiful song.

The Tom and Jerry Show – Hiromi

Hiromi is probably my favorite contemporary musician.  Why?  Briefly, she has incredible chops and plays with unbridled joy.  Here’s a song that demonstrates both, though it’s more of a show piece than a compositional masterwork, of which she has several.  The amazing thing about this song is you truly don’t grasp how hard it is to make what she does look easy.  That is, until you start looking at some of the attempted covers:

Here’s one

Here’s another

What’s striking is that these are pretty competent musicians; just to get to that level to play that speed with that accuracy you have to be pretty good.  I could probably practice that song for 6 months and not get to that level.  But you can tell, right away, that they’re playing with about 5% of Hiromi’s flair and fluidity.  She’s got the incredible chops, but she’s also got incredible musicianship, creativity, and feel.  That’s a scary combination.

Reptilia – The Punch Brothers

These guys play very technically good bluegrass, but they’re creative about it too.  Known as much for their interesting covers as for their more traditional fare, this one hangs out on the far side of that dichotomy.  “Reptilia,” of course, being a Strokes song, and if you’re familiar with the original, it’s hard to imagine it being driven by mandolin, fiddle, and banjo.  Nevertheless, this works like gangbusters, capturing much of the dark urgency of the original and imbuing it with a bluegrass flair.

Latin Lover – Mi Ami

So I’m pretty comfortable with extreme hyperbole, which means if I said this was the best song of 2010, no one would care.  That doesn’t make it not true, however.  This song just bites its fangs into your neck until you get on board with the sickness.  It might seem like your standard dance-punk extendo-blast, but just feel yourself get swept up in the noise, how the guitar seamlessly morphs into a series of staccato laser blasts, the banshee wail of a voice inciting you to, basically, riot.  This song is categorized on Allmusic as “Post Punk/Noise” and the album is called Steal Your Face.  Have I sufficiently hyped it?

Piesta 8 – Keith Jarrett

Just for kicks, here’s one of my favorite songs of all time.  This is one of three songs that tops 100 plays on my iTunes library.  It’s one of the most beautiful solo piano pieces I’ve ever heard.  Check that, one of the most beautiful, period.  And it was improvised.  Chew on that for a minute.  This track is a part of the Radiance album, a totally improvised concert Jarrett played in Osaka in 2005.

Jazz for Readin’/Teachin’/Intellectualizin’


As a genre, jazz can often prove a difficult backdrop for other activities. By its very nature, it demands attention – syncopation and swung notes; improvisation; nuanced harmonies; technical phrases, solos. These qualities can make it a distracting medium should you find yourself simultaneously trying to be somewhat productive. As an elementary teacher, I had a few different classroom playlists that I created to both expose the kids to good music and to maintain a desired ambiance conducive to reading or independent work. I found that compiling jazz tunes to fit the bill (especially for immature jazz ears) was a difficult, but rewarding task. For today’s post, I’ve recycled some of the same material, with updates to include some recent finds. So here you go: a jazz playlist that is full of goodies, but optimally chilled for silent reading time, studying, or hammocking.

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Blue in Green – Miles Davis

This song (off the timeless Kind of Blue record) really needs no introduction. It is one of my all-time favorites. I once heard a jazz expert (I believe that was his title) give a brief lecture on the album, and he described the timeless feel of this song as having a ‘heroin pulse’. Here’s a review found on allmusic.com by Thomas Ward:

“Blue in Green” is arguably the most beautiful piece of music on Kind of Blue. The ensemble playing reaches new levels of subtlety and transcendence, and the work benefits greatly from the introduction of pianist Bill Evans, one of Miles Davis’ greatest collaborators. Indeed, his piano part is magnificent, and his solo is a masterpiece of his unrivaled lyricism. The tempo of the tune is audaciously slow, and it’s easy for the listener to think that it will fall apart at any moment. It doesn’t,  however, due to the genius of the ensemble. “Blue in Green” is also a greatly important piece; it shows that the values of “cool jazz” can have huge artistic value – it’s not just laid-back music for the sake of it, it’s music of extraordinary depth of feeling.

Starmaker – Roy Hargrove

This album, Earfood, is one of my favorite jazz albums of all time. If you don’t know Roy Hargrove, get familiar. He’s one of the most talented trumpet/bandleaders out there right now. Unfortunately I understand he’s got an issue with heroin as well, which can (negatively) impact his live performances. This highly sensual song exemplifies everything I like about his playing: tasteful, lyrical phrases teased out with impeccable tone.

Toy – Cannonball Adderley & Bill Evans

This is the first of three songs on this playlist from the exceptional record, Know What I Mean. I like Cannonball’s style for its expression. He sounds like he’s talking! He’s especially playful on this one, appropriate given the title of this Cliff Jordan cover.

Waltz for Debby – Cannonball Adderley & Bill Evans

Now that the pasta is boiling, or your projects are otherwise on auto-pilot, the music relaxes a bit. Ha, just wanted to make sure you were paying attention – that bit comes from my last post. You can hear Bill Evans’ flourishes a bit more on this tune than the last. Very pretty song.

Julia – Medeski, Martin, Scofield, & Wood

An incredibly beautiful Beatles cover. Deeply emotional and rich. The subtle changes made by John Medeski on the chords played are brilliant. This may be my favorite song of all time.

Take Five – Dave Brubeck Quartet

After Dave’s recent passing, I had to include this timeless gem.

My Funny Valentine – Miles Davis Quintet

Frequently covered, but this is my favorite version. I love the piano intro.

Behind Closed Doors – John Scofield

Again, Scofield’s tone is sensational. I was previously unaware that this was a classic country cover. Worth a listen to compare: Charlie Rich – Behind Closed Doors. His ability to mold a country song in such a way makes me think it was his idea to do the cover of Julia (above).

Nancy (With the Laughing Face) – Cannonball Adderley & Bill Evans

Originally a Sinatra recording, this song makes me feel like I’m walking through an art museum. ‘Cause I would walk around about that that fast, without any urgency.

Be Good (Lion’s Song) – Gregory Porter

I tried to make the playlist strictly instrumental, but I couldn’t resist this one. Indy got a sneak peek at this one and said it reminded him of a modern Nat King Cole. I see the similarity, though I think Porter’s got more of a sensual, smooth sound. If you like him, I also recommend this tune about asking for a girl’s hand: Gregory Porter – Real Good Hands

The Stroke – The RH Factor

Roy Hargrove’s group from the early 2000’s. This song has an incredible intimacy.

Naima – John Coltrane

Coltrane’s wife inspired this ballad, which serves as a stark contrast to the more upbeat songs on the Giant Steps album.

Peace Piece – Bill Evans

You can tell that I like Bill Evans. Heard this on the radio on MLK day, on a jazz program dedicated to playing songs that reminded the DJ of Dr. King. The octave and fifth intervals that pervade remind me of Debussy. A truly peaceful tune to conclude the set. I hope you enjoyed!

Music For Writers, Part II


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In Part II of our two-part series, we continue to examine songs that are particularly helpful when it comes to writing.  Specifically, writing scenes.  It could be a scene in a novel, dialogue for a play, a piece of creative nonfiction, a screenplay, a letter to a friend recounting something important in your life – but the idea is that you’re trying to capture a mood, a feeling, a tone.  Oftentimes when I write, I run the scene through my head like a movie and I think – what song would be playing here?

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The Underdog – Spoon

Every writing session, for me at least, includes a healthy dose of vacansopapurosophobia (that might not be a real thing).  There’s something undeniably daunting and exciting about a blank page, and to swing yourself over to the correct side of that teeter-totter you need to get irrationally cocky.  This song is a perfect blend of catchy instrumentals and good old fashioned generation-bashing lyrics.

Half Asleep – School Of Seven Bells

Once you’re off and writing, you need someplace to go.  For me, the best mental state for creativity is when you’re, wait for it, half asleep.  Out of reality enough to silence a little of your internal critic, still aware enough to be sharp and playful.  The awesomely-named School Of Seven Bells has music that fits that state like a glove.  This whole album is solid; I picked this song because the chorus is triumphant.

Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 8, ‘Pathetique’ – Hiromi

This is a cooler, a comedown song.  It takes some context.  If you know Hiromi, you know she plays at a million miles a minute, notes cascading out of the piano like a runaway train.  The last time I saw her live, she played three such songs in a row, and the whole place was almost out of breath, overloaded.  Then she started this number.  The downshift, the elegance, the smooth playfulness… it was pure pleasure.  My brother and I looked at each other with huge, impossible grins.  Right at 0:31 where it goes from classical to jazz, I could have melted.  I’ll always remember that moment, and I’ll always use this song to go to that place.

Burden of Tomorrow – The Tallest Man On Earth

This guy has some of the most evocative lyrics outside of a Waits/Dylan song.  This simple song has deceptively complex guitar work, and while Kristian Matsson’s voice isn’t for everyone, I’m a big fan.  And the lyrics…

Ah, but rumor has it that I wasn’t born,
I just walked in one frosty morn,
Into the vision of some vacant mind.

Oh once I held a pony by its flagging mane,
And once I called the shadow in the turning game
But I will fight this stranger that you should fear
So I won’t be your burden of tomorrow dear

Talk about evocative… for me, these are the kind of lyrics that suggest rather than declare.  In my mind, that’s what the best writing does as well.

Heysátan – Sigur Rós

This song is all about the mood it conjures.  It’s just intensely, achingly beautiful.  Love and tragedy supervene on this song.  This is a big gun to pull out, and I don’t do it often or lightly, but when a scene demands that level of grief, romance, and depth, this is where I go.

The Hungry Rock/The Sleuce Gate/Evening Comes Early (Reels) – John Doyle

Sometimes you hit a wall.  You’re trying to form a thought, to make it coherent, or to find the perfect word.  Whatever the situation, when the gate is down, the lights are flashing, but the train isn’t coming – use this.  It’s a musical palate cleanser; just close your eyes, put on headphones, and pay attention.  You could let this song wash over you in the background as you did something else, but you’d be missing the true pleasure here.  If you honestly focus on it, follow the winding, up-and-down guitar line, and stay with it, you’ll see what I mean.  The rhythm of the notes, the punctuation of the musical sentences, the subtle changes in a repeated phrase… you’ll come out of it refreshed and ready to write.

I’m Still Here – Tom Waits

Truthfully, you could make an entire list of Music for Writing of just Tom Waits songs.  Here’s one that will quietly break your heart with little fanfare.  If you can inject even a tenth of the pathos of this song into your writing, you’re on the right track.

Operation Ground and Pound – DragonForce

Doing a quick 180, this one is fairly self-explanatory.  At some point, you’re going to want to write a fantasy novel, and at some point in that novel, you’re going to want your main character to have an epic sword fight with twenty demons while his dragon-army battles evil wizards all around him while the moon is slowly exploding above them, well, you’ll probably want to write that scene while you listen to this song.

Hora Ca la Usari – Taraf de Haïdouks

The one will drive the point home.  Sometimes you just need to blast on through it, the frenetic, almost hypnotic beat and half chanted, half shouted words will get the job done.

Desoto – Jeremiah McLane

A song featuring accordion and concertina shouldn’t be this lovely.  As far as writing goes, this is the perfect late-night journey song.  It’s dark out, no one is around, and you’re creating worlds in your head.  That’s kind of absurd, and you have to laugh at it a little even though you have to embrace it completely.  It’s absurd, but it’s a good thing.  It’s joyful.  This song captures that.

Pop Music Vol. 1


Rather than go for my Music for the Elderly playlist which John referenced to last week, I’ve decided to derive my first entry from my recent desire to listen to pop gems that I’ve discovered over the years. I figured it best to go where my current musical mood took me. Sometimes there’s nothing better than a catchy song that sticks with you. I mean who doesn’t like handclaps, cowbells and glockenspiels? Since some of these have been in my heavy rotation pile for quite some time, I might have played them for you at some point or another, but I still thought them worth sharing again. Without further ado:

Miracle Drug – A.C. Newman

A.C. Newman (AKA Carl Newman of New Pornographers fame) of crafting a perfect pop gem with the first track of his album The Slow Wonder. Other tracks to listen to include Secretarial and Come Crash

Promises – The Morning Benders

This SF band recently changed their name to Pop, Etc. Their debut album Big Echo was one of my favorites of 2010

Lolita – Throw Me the Statue

The moniker of multi-instrumentalist Scott Reitherman who has moved all over the country but settled in Seattle just before Moonbeams was released. His music can be at times hit or miss, but this song is fantastic.

No One Does it Like You – Department of Eagles

Department of Eagles is project of two college roommates, one of whom ended up playing with Grizzly Bear. Originally inspired by Van Dyke Parks and Paul McCartney, this work isn’t too far off from the bands that the two eventually joined. I really dig the production on this one.

Golden Retriever – Super Furry Animals

Welsh band Super Furry Animals are known for super catchy and very clever jams as well as playing in full spacesuits. One of my favorite tracks is Herman Love Pauline is written about Albert Eistein’s parents. Listen closely to the lyrics as they could equally describe the dog of the same name or a bank robber.

Who Are You? – Kathryn Calder

Kathryn Calder is the niece of Carl Newman (A.C. Newman mentioned above). I had the pleasure of playing a string of West Coast dates with her and her band for the release of her album Bright and Vivid. She’s got an amazing voice and I highly recommend checking out the whole record.
Emma Blowgun’s Last Stand – Beulah

Beulah was an indie-pop seven piece band that broke up in the early 2000’s because of the strain of trying to stay afloat with a group of that size. I’ve been a big fan of them ever since I stumbled into a few of their records in the KWCW library.

Some Constellation – Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin

Speaking of KWCW, SSYLBY came out with their debut album when I was a music director there. They might be the coolest act to come out of Springfield, Missouri.

Songy Darko – Headlights

Sharing the same label as SSLYBY, Headlights first record Kill Them With Kindness was quite entertaining. I haven’t paid much attention to them since then, but they put on a great show when I saw them in NYC back in 2006.

Left Side Clouded – The Sea and Cake

HIP ELEVATOR MUSIC

Blue Bird – The Rosebuds

The Rosebuds are a husband and wife duo from NC. I was introduced to them when I was working at Suicide Squeeze records.
Oh Fine – The French Kicks

This song never gets old. Again this band is one that I stopped following awhile back because they’re quite hit or miss, but this song is great!
You’re So Pretty – Field Music

I highly recommend you guys listen to more of this band. They’re most recent album Plumb has a Steely Dan vibe to it and they are exceptional songwriters.

Music for Hosting Ol’ Friends


For this week’s playlist, I wanted to continue the trend that Indy started with Week 1 – that is, a functional playlist. Filtering all those musical gems that you’ve unearthed over the last few months into a cohesive playlist that doesn’t just sound like your ‘My Top Rated’-on-shuffle-mode can be a difficult task. For me, it helps to have some activity or setting in mind while building a playlist. This is why I’ve recently been so smitten with music app Songza, as they specifically focus on this aspect of music enjoyment. To that end, you can use the app to build a custom playlist based on your choice of activity – activities that range from coding, to cooking, to baby-making. To my knowledge, Songza does not have a playlist for hosting old friends (and no, this is not a playlist for entertaining the elderly – Keith’s working on that playlist for another week), so this will fill a clear need during the holiday season, when we see folks that we may not have seen in a while. This playlist will tell assure them that you have maintained a healthy appreciation for good tunes, or at least have a friend that made you a dynamite playlist. Hope you enjoy:

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Til I Met Thee – Cody Chesnutt

Scene: Your company has arrived, has wine glass(es) in hand and is ready to start helping out in food preparations. This song will get your feet moving; before long you will be chopping onions and mincing garlic to the beat. So this is definitely my jam of late. This is the guitarist from The Roots, famous for his singing on The Seed 2.0. The outro is powerful.

Keep on Pushing – The Impressions

I’m ashamed to admit that I just discovered these guys, although some of their hits like It’s All Right and People Get Ready are familiar. This is the group that gave Curtis Mayfield his start, before he went solo in the early ’70s.  The harmonies on this song will even make those sizzling onions sing along.

Don’t Leave Me – Regina Spektor

This is my favorite track off her new record. This upbeat track will maintain a lively feel in the kitchen as you continue final food preparations.

Valerie – ’68 version – Amy Winehouse

Now that the pasta is boiling, or your projects are otherwise on auto-pilot, the music relaxes a bit. This cover is absolutely beautiful. The laidback strummy sound on the guitar is a perfect complement to Amy’s free, expressive style. This comes off a wildly underappreciated posthumous compilation album, Lioness – Hidden Treasures. I like this stuff way more than her mainstream LP’s.

Heartbreaker – The Walkmen

These guys are one of my recent faves. Singer Walter Martin has a distinctive voice, which I happen to like a lot. Cool story here is that these guys have been playing together since the 5th grade.

Love the Way You Walk Away – Blitzen Trapper

While I’ve not been blown away by their stuff generally, I think this song is just great.

Roscoe – Midlake

I think this is one of a couple songs from this playlist that I Shazam’ed off KEXP’s morning show with John, which is consistently solid. Also, SoundHound > Shazam. It has real-time lyrics, and you can sing/hum the song if you can’t play the real thing! I just couldn’t use SoundHound in verb-form…

Changes – Sandro Perri

Those that know me and my jammy tendencies will understand why I’m in love with this tune, starting at 3:40 (but the whole song is lovely). And not to neglect the whole hosting/cooking dialogue…this track and the next are the transition points – transporting food to table and getting settled down to eat.

Alvear Orilla/Estancia Santa Maria – Chango Spasiuk

Arguably the most talented accordion player in the world, Chango’s style blends obvious technical skill with great songwriting craft.

Midnight in Harlem – Tedeschi Trucks Band

Talented singer (and infamous cougar) Susan Tedeschi teams up with hubby Derek Trucks on the most epic track from their recent record, Revelator (recommended). Classy background music for mastication.

Smoke Ring Halo – The Wood Brothers

I’ve been digging on these guys for a while, but I still can’t get enough of their sound. Listen for the mounting, swelling organ near the end which is effective as a crescendo.

The Good Life – Railroad Earth

You’ll notice by this point that the playlist has taken a country/bluegrass/americana turn. A song celebrating life, appropriately wedged in the space where you’re in the midst of great drink/eats/and guests. The bass line in this song is fun.

Poor Fool –Justin Townes Earle

This song is just downright pleasant. Steve Earle gave his son Townes Van Zandt’s name as a middle name. Justin makes pretty good music in his own right.

What It Is – Mark Knopfler

The opening track off of another under-appreciated album, Sailing to Philadelphia (on which the elegant title track features James Taylor!). This lively gem will help avert food coma, and reinvigorate your company for the next stage of the party, whatever that may be…

Music for Writers, Part I


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Sometimes it’s not enough to put pen to paper; sometimes you have to give the creative state a little nudge in the right direction.  These are songs that I’ve gone back to with that in mind.  I usually write without any distractions, but when I hit a wall, I listen to one of these songs to help me with the mood.

I’ve split this into two parts, and I had to exclude some songs because while Spotify has a lot of songs, they don’t have all the songs, so in this case you’re missing out on some Chocolate Genius Incorporated and Nujabes.

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Track 1: Aceyalone / The Way It Was – use this one to get pumped up about starting in the first place; good writing should be coming straight out of the oven, hot and playful.

Track 2: Alex Clare / Damn Your Eyes – this cover of an Etta James song has a deliberate cadence and sparseness that make it perfect for writing certain kinds of passion and anger.

Track 3: Darren Korb / Build That Wall (Zia’s Theme) – this is a song from the criminally underexposed video game Bastion.  This song in particular is simple and haunting.  There’s something a little menacing about the lyrics, too.

Track 4: The Be Good Tanyas / Ship Out On The Sea – this one is warm, harmonious, even lovely.  It’s upbeat enough to not be lethargic, and it really evokes a kind of relationship that’s more platonic than romantic.

Track 5: Brandon Vance & Mark Minkler / Song For Taryn – expansive, lush… there’s something about the piano/fiddle combination that just evokes rolling green hills and scattered wildflowers.

Track 6: Corinne Bailey Rae / No Lovechild – this one is very intimate, even playful at the end.  For me this one evokes happiness and joy.  The way it builds up is perfect in a narrative sense, too… you can see how it leads somewhere.

Track 7: Cults / Go Outside – So part of the way I write scenes is to imagine them from different angles.  I’ll rehash things in different terms to see what’s really important.  In this case, I look at a bunch of scenes from the book as quick cuts of a movie trailer with this song playing in the background.  No dialogue, just a couple seconds of each scene and this song and ask myself: what story am I telling?

Track 8: Lake Street Dive / My Heart’s In the Right Place – Lake Street Dive is my current obsession.  Partly because as a pop/jazz quartet they’re just right in the middle of my wheelhouse, and partly because of this (3:30 to 3:40…and all of it) and this and basically Rachael Price’s voice in general.  This song in particular I actually use as anti-writing… it just takes me away from the current problem for a moment.  It’s a great song to just close your eyes and sink into.

Track 9: Megafaun / Kill The Horns – there’s something about the way this song is broken into discreet parts that makes it great to write dialogue to.  There’s a cadence to it that sounds almost conversational.

Track 10: Popular Computer / Lointain (Robotaki Remix) – this one is pure “let’s get this shit done” music.  And boy does it do a great job.  I’ve thought about putting a piece of tape over my macbook’s camera because I don’t want whatever government agency controls it to see me chair-dancing to this song.

Anyway, that’s Part I of the list.  If y’all dig it, I’ll get to work on Part II.