Michael Zapruder knows mix tapes. Back in 1999, his composition-a-week 52 Songs project kickstarted a whole universe of ideas about how to disseminate music online. As curator for customizable internet radio site Pandora, he gets exposed to all sorts of highly analyzed genres. This month, Zapruder is releasing Dragon Chinese Cocktail Horoscope (Sidecho), his latest album of agile orchestral pop featuring members of Tom Waits’ band and the Decemberists.
“Ads For Feelings” (download):
ELVIS COSTELLO AND THE ATTRACTIONS “Hoover Factory” (1980)
I don’t really know what it was about this track that got to me so much when I was a kid, but I wore out my cassette of Taking Liberties by repeating this over and over. It’s less than two minutes, just a little gem, but there is something so lush and melancholy about the music and the sentiment of the song: a kind of ennui prompted by looking at an old dilapidated factory building. I’ve always liked songs that talk about locations, anyway.
SILVER JEWS “My Pillow Is The Threshold” (2008)
There’s no lyricist I admire more than David Berman, and this track, like so many of his others, does something amazing. Not only is there strong imagery, but the song points to mysterious things, dreams and a deep human yearning for something more, all the while without being precious. It’s just a heavy track. I like the way it makes a place for those things that are intangible in a person’s life and even expresses the idea that they are the main things in life. I want to sleep, ’cause my dreams are where it’s really at.
BEE GEES “Cucumber Castle” (1967)
I have no idea what the story of this song is, and I just don’t care. I don’t even care that the whole Cucumber Castle idea is endearingly derivative of Beatles’ songs of the late ’60s. Barry Gibb’s voice is an excellent thing, and the musical arrangement by Bill Shepherd is transcendent. I am charmed, repeatedly.
GEORGIA MASS CHOIR “Holy Ghost” (2007)
There is something going on with these kinds of rabble-rousing gospel shout chorus songs. Usually, I am incredibly uncomfortable with people who think they have answers to the big questions (and I’m no fan of the religious missionary agenda), but they sure can make some uplifting music. It’s in the voices, I think. Since I’m not a Christian, it’s kind of weird to listen to this, and that’s even more the case because all the instrumentation is kind of synthetic and smooth. It’s weird to like things you don’t usually like, which is probably some part of why I like this.
ROBYN HITCHCOCK “Cathedral” (1984)
Robyn Hitchcock recorded I Often Dream Of Trains one year when he decided to completely stop thinking about making music for other people and just tried to get down to his own impulses. So simple and so radically unusual, he has his own harmonic language, which is weird and awkwardly beautiful, and his words are just strange enough to ring true. “In the cathedral of the mind/All the worshippers are blind.” I couldn’t agree more (please take note, Georgia Mass Choir). “There behind your open face/Lies an awful lot of space.” Is he talking about the cathedral, or something else? I love not knowing. This song has amazing lyrics.
MALA RODRIGUEZ “Jugadoras, Jugadores” (2003)
I came across this song on a Spanish-language hip-hop record. It’s minimal and repetitive and magnetic. Since I don’t speak Spanish, the words just become a kind of music, and there’s lots of catchy, song-like sounds there. I like not knowing much about the song. This is also really good exercise music. Plus, it features triangle. Play on, players.
THE BEACH BOYS “Busy Doin’ Nothing” (1968)
In all the strange byways and inspirations in Brian Wilson’s catalog, this has to be one of the most interesting. It’s resolutely trivial, like a little answering-machine message or something. But the best part is when he gives directions to his house: “Drive for a couple miles/You see a sign and turn left for a couple blocks/Next is mine, you’ll turn left on little road/It’s a bumpy one/You’ll see a white fence/Move the gate and drive through on the left side/Come right in and you’ll find me in my house somewhere.” I love that last part—how he minimizes himself that way. It’s so friendly. I love Brian Wilson.
OF MONTREAL “Gronlandic Edit” (2007)
I don’t know anyone else who can combine such intelligent words with such irrational yet utterly perfect melody and music the way Kevin Barnes can. Plus, you can dance to it! If we can get our education system together, songs like this one will top the pop charts. This might well be deal-with-the-devil music, it works so well. Packed so full of brilliance, magic and genius that I listen to it at least five times in a row anytime I hear it.