As if I don’t have enough to do I managed to get bored during one of my commutes a week or so ago. I ended up jotting down a set list I would like to play if I was given an hour of air time on the radio. It was just for fun.
While doing so I thought I should come up with a theme to make things easier and ended up writing “lo-fi.” I wanted to choose songs with something strange in the way they were recorded, whether the details were big or small.
The results? Well, basically a set list most radio listeners would shut off because it makes them “feel weird/pissed off.” Also, it’s really obvious that I don’t feel they’re weird at all because I was raised on Tom Waits.
And yes, there is Tom Waits in here.
I scribbled down notes about each song on about fifty post-it notes, writing things bits and pieces while on the bus, sitting on a floor, leaning against a wall, etc., then transcribed them here. They’re conversational, I guess. Prepare to hear what it’s like when I’m talking at you.
1) Grimes – “Caladan”
“This track is so unique, unlike anything else. It’s like it was recorded in a rainstorm or a bathtub. I downloaded almost all of Grimes’ stuff at the same time and it immediately stood out. Since releasing Geidi Primes she has called the album ‘naive,’ but sometimes an artist’s first time out is the most interesting- they are completely unguarded, uninhibited and unchecked. Even better, she went out on a limb and did all of this on her own. It’s 100% her.”
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2) Chelsea Wolfe – “Moses”
“I’ve heard three versions of ‘Moses’ but this is the first one she recorded. There is something off-putting and intense about it but extremely vulnerable at the same time- this girl asking for help. Then the song splits open and swallows you whole.”
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3) Crystal Castles – “Mother Knows Best”
“There’s a quote from Marilyn Monroe: ‘Everyone has violence in themselves. I’m violent.’ No one sums this up better than Crystal Castles. On ‘Mother Knows Best’ it’s like they knocked all the switches to 11. The results sound like a soundboard going haywire.”
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4) The White Stripes – “Cash Grab Complications On The Matter”
“Jack White records everything to tape and I’ve watched him being labeled as a ‘technophobe’ or ‘eccentric’ because of it. What I like is that it enables him to actually construct something, making tangible choices you can actually hear. Near the end of this song there’s the crescendo of a piano and he keeps throwing him and Meg’s guitar/drumming over it. Then he takes it away, throws it in again, takes it away, throws it in- sometimes hitting these unexpected progressions. It’s exhilarating every time I listen to it. Then he just cuts off the tape and the song is over, like, ‘I’m done.'”
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5) Tom Waits – “Shake It”
“With a Tom Waits song you almost never know what’s going on. He records in unusual places with various (somewhat secret) methods, like doing his vocal takes through a megaphone. With ‘Shake It’ the results are so raw you always feel like you’re there, that it’s taking place all around you. That doesn’t happen often, and while it might be uncomfortable for some, I love it.”
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6) CocoRosie – “By Your Side”
“Out of everything in my iTunes library I’ve listened to ‘By Your Side’ more than any other track. It’s one of the oddest, most haunting things I’ve ever heard, like a bastardized field recording no one was meant to hear. Its lyrics take on the post-feminist ‘house slave/housewife’ myth, something Orson Welles once called ‘a very privileged slavery,’ but the song sounds like it’s already existed for over 100 years. Not bad considering it was written by two sisters who had no plans for it (no gigs, no record deal) and recorded it in a bathroom in Paris.”
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7) Sleigh Bells – “Holly”
“Sleigh Bells’ first album was recorded in such a clever way. It was like, ‘We already blew your speakers. Sorry.’ I think that’s so funny. I can see how it would drive audiophiles nuts, but I don’t care.”
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8) White Horse – “Hypnotize”
“Ben Chisholm only works with the voices of the dead, from Lomax recordings to the late Whitney Houston, turning them into experimental nightmares. The first time I heard him take on The Notorious B.I.G.’s ‘Hypnotize’ it scared the shit out of me, then I couldn’t stop listening to it. He turned a hip-hop standard into a fucking haunted house.”
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9) Michael Hurley – “Wildegeeses”
“This recording sounds so old, so off the cuff that it’s like a sketch of something, a rough draft only a few were meant to hear. I’ve been in love with it for over ten years, like a favorite t-shirt with tons of holes in it.”
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10) Sparklehorse – “Dog Door”
“I love ‘Dog Door.’ They collaborated with Tom Waits through correspondence and Waits claimed he messed up the tapes, but whatever happened- it’s good. It sounds like hot ashes flying off of a steam engine before crashing. Something is going very, very wrong and it has never sounded more right.”
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11) Stina Nordenstam – “Purple Rain”
“Nordenstam’s People Are Strange is my favorite album of all time. It’s more of a sound collage than a set of songs, with recordings done in the studio, at home or wherever she happened to have a microphone. There are so many layers, and over them she deconstructs familiar pop songs to the point of being nearly unrecognizable. ‘Purple Rain’ is my favorite although it’s a little less experimental.”
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12) James Blake – “Half Heat Full (Old Circular)”
“I’m not a fan of James Blake but when I heard this I thought, ‘What the hell is this? Where is this guy singing, exactly? What is he saying?’ I can imagine most people giving up on it, but I just kept pushing ‘repeat’ over and over again. Finally I gave up and was like, ‘This is my favorite song of the week. I have no idea what’s going on here.’ So here it is.”
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13) Beethoven – “Symphony No. 7 In A Major Op. 92”
“I’ve listened to this recording so many times I hear what’s going on in the room as well as what’s being played. It never gets old and it’s the best version of this symphony I’ve heard.”
All songs are available for download here.
And if they’re too much for you just remember this: there’s nothing a good Enya song can’t wash away.