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iPod Chicanery, Part Three

I feel like I should have a notebook with me in the car so I can jot down notes on songs as I commute back and forth, since that would make the process of remembering a week or two of listening significantly easier. I’ve now listened to 412 of 1162 tracks, leaving me more than a third of the way through the project/ordeal. I would be much further along if I counted the times when I’ve left the iPod running in the car for a few hours, but I wouldn’t have much to report on with those runs.

Damning Double Shot: I’ve been particularly wary of songs from Accelera Deck’s Pop Polling after sitting through “As Always” on a drive home, but I was actually excited when “Ferric,” perhaps the best song from the record, came on during a morning commute. This excitement did not last, however, as “Lips,” one of the other two dreaded tracks from the LP, immediately followed it. Whereas “Ferric” mixes pointillist guitar pinpricks and compelling swells of fuzz, “Lips” wavers in and out of its largely aimless guitar feedback, waiting until the eighth of twelve minutes to gain even the slightest shape. Worse still: “Sunskull” and its blaring feedback assault still wait for me.

A Friendly Reminder: I never fell in love with The Moon and Antarctica and only liked half of Good News for People Who Like Bad News, but hearing “Doin’ the Cockroach” from Modest Mouse’s Lonesome Crowded West was a nice punch to the jaw. It’s hard to reconcile the rougher edges of this era of the band with the fact that Johnny Marr of the Smiths is now their guitar player, but I definitely prefer the looser, unhinged version of the band. Right after this song ended I had to fight a serious impulse to put on “Trucker’s Atlas” or “Cowboy Dan.”

Please Not Again: I picked a handful of the mid-80s R.E.M. LPs last year and played at least a side of Murmur a few times, especially enjoying “Pilgrimage.” I don’t know if I’d lose my focus by the end of side B, but hearing “We Walk” on a drive into campus one morning was brutal. I just can’t listen to certain songs—Enon’s “Get the Letter Out” immediately comes to mind—that have such dominant sing-song hooks without fearing a parasitic invasion of my memory. R.E.M.’s “We Walk” is now on that list.

Theory Jam: We read “What Is an Author?” in my Foucault seminar and the professor brought up the topic of mash-ups with regard to how recent shifts in technology have changed the notion of a static author in contemporary music. I remember bringing up how the democratization of the production of music via the dismantling of the label system could ultimately limit the budgets of artists and thereby change the conditions for cultural production, but after class ended I kept thinking about how different periods in the ’90s—the lo-fi revolution, the full exploration of the DJ, and the rise of electronica—affected notions of the author far more than the more recent mash-up trend. DJ Shadow’s “High Noon” is a particularly interesting case study, because it follows a more typical rock build-up and the synthesis of the various parts could be considered a makeshift band in a postmodern sense. (It’s impossible not to mention how well Juno brought the “actual band” aspect of the song to life on their cover of the song.) I’ve never been fond of mash-ups and “High Noon” illustrates why; whereas DJ Shadow extracts disparate pieces of music and combines them under a new structure and new aims, mash-ups only merge two existing aims, typically maintaining the structure of at least one of the songs. There’s no question as to whether DJ Shadow is truly the author of “High Noon,” whereas I’ve never felt comfortable calling any person concocting a mash-up much more than a remixer.

Realization: Kool Keith is my favorite MC, but after hearing a handful of tracks from Black Elvis/Lost in Space, it’s impossible not to note how weak his choruses are. He excels in verses, but almost every chorus from that record is a tremendous let-down, with the notable exception of “I Don’t Play” (which hasn’t come up during the shuffle). “Keith Turbo,” “I’m Seeing Robots,” and “The Girls Don’t Like the Job” would all be notably improved if the choruses were instrumental.

Best Timing: After listening to most of Slint’s “Washer” to start an early morning commute (it’s strange hearing anything from Spiderland in bright day time, especially “Washer” and “Don, Aman”), I need a boost and Mock Orange’s “Birds” was the best conceivable option. Still the most played song on my Last.FM account, “Birds” manages to be upbeat and enthusiastic without approaching being cheesy or grating, a rare accomplishment in my collection. It highlighted most of my commutes last semester, so I couldn’t imagine much better timing for the song.

Poor Record Choice: I put on Tortoise’s self-titled debut instead of my favorite release of theirs, Millions Now Living Will Never Die, thinking that I might finally appreciate it on the same level. No, not this time. Too many of the songs from Tortoise linger on their quiet beginnings for too long and leave the eventual groove before its logical time is up. I’m not giving up on the album, but it may need the confines of my living room to truly excel.

Best Transition: I actually saw this one coming when I looked back on the recently played tracks to write the above paragraphs, but hearing Juno’s “The Young Influentials” dissolve into Pinebender’s “There’s a Bag of Weights in the Back of My Car” improved my ride back from a Friday night get-together. Whereas Juno opted to follow up the emotional crest of “Young Influentials” with the bile-spewing “All Your Friends Are Comedians” on This Is the Way It Goes and Goes and Goes, the quiet introspection of Pinebender’s glacial epic made for a smoother transition.

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