Fine-Grained Music Appreciation, Part I

This is a subject I have been rolling around in my noodle for many years. What do I mean by fine-grained music appreciation? I want to try and relate to you, on some level, the intense passion I have not only for music, not only for certain artists, not only for certain songs by those artists, but for specific moments in those songs. Whether it’s an instrumental passage or a particularly meaningful lyric, there are a few songs that, for me, possess a defining moment of release, tension, intense mood, or skillful instrumentation. Some of these tracks are well known, and when you read the title, you’ll probably know the very moment I’m talking about without even listening to it. Others are not so well known, and most of them will hold a deep meaning for me alone. That’s the problem with this sort of post: I want very much for the reader to listen to these songs and understand and interpret the same thing that I feel, at the precise moment I describe. But I have to admit that may not happen. Nevertheless, this is an important topic for me, and I want to make the attempt anyway. Listen to these songs and pay particular attention to the time I have marked. If you fast forward to it, you’re not likely to get the full effect, so listen to all of the track. And if you can’t relate, that’s okay.

In no particular order:

Strange Apparition - Beck. This would be a fine song even without the unexpected drum fill at 1:23. Leading up to that point, Beck sings “When the Lord rings my front door/And asks me what I’ve got to show,” but before he continues the verse, the drums spill into this fluid and driving roll that works ingeniously. Beck resumes with “Besides the dust in my pockets/ And the things that just eat away my soul,” while doing his best falsetto on “soul.” It’s a powerful but fleeting moment, and not likely to raise eyebrows, but for me it’s perfect.

Once in a LifetimeTalking Heads. This is the live version from Jonathan Demme’s Stop Making Sense, one of the most important and seminal concert films ever made. Byrne is repeating emphatically “same as it ever was” about four minutes in, then at the 4:18 mark, the keyboards come in with an ominous three chord repeat. Byrne resumes with “time isn’t holding us…” and we see this arresting image of him and his two backup singers, who are slowly rising from a choreographed back-bend. In my opinion,  this one of the most iconic and defining moments in rock and roll.

Boy (Go) - The Golden Palominos. This one is subtle and maybe too esoteric to include here, but it’s powerful stuff. Michael Stipe is the guest vocalist on this haunting tune, which also features Richard Thompson on guitar. There’s a rich and brooding organ track throughout, and at roughly three minutes in, the song goes into a bridge that features a soulful bass solo, but it’s the moment that follows at 3:19 that knocks my socks off. As the bass solo ends, the keyboards swell to a crescendo, then Thompson takes over with a desperate and plaintive guitar passage. Fucking beautiful.

IndusDead Can Dance. I bought the DCD album Spiritchaser sometime around 1999 or 2000 when I was single and living in Fort Worth, Texas. I picked up a used copy at a CD Warehouse one warm but overcast Saturday in spring. I was to meet later with my brother Pete and his ex-wife Robin at the Kimbell Art Museum in Ft. Worth’s cultural district. I remember I had the blue Volvo wagon at the time. What a great car. Since I arrived at the museum a little early, I continued listening to Spiritchaser, and was immediately entranced by the mood of the album. Indus in particular was mesmerizing, with its nonsense lyrics and spare instrumentation. But nonsense or not, Gerrard and Perry sounded like they meant what they were singing. At 6:02, there begins a passage that features what sounds like a baritone guitar overlaying Gerrard’s gentle ululations, some ancient percussive sounds, and a low synth drone. Then at 6:44, it launches into a climbing guitar motif that’s as heavy as the world. And above it all are these swelling strings that make the hair on the back of my neck stand up. You gotta hear it.

This will be the first post of several. Look for part two in the next few days.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>