I'm going to try and have mixes like this available every once and awhile. I think the best thing to do is download the zip file and listen to it as a complete mix, but you can also listen to and download the individual tracks below. I should warn you that the song choices do not necessarily reflect the tastes of the rest of The Denouement.
Click here to download the entire mix!
1. The Microphones – Sand (Eric's Trip)
From It Was Hot We, Stayed In The Water, 2000
Phil Elvrum, the man behind The Microphones and Mt. Eerie, is one of my favorite musicians. Elvrum turns what are often weaknesses for other bands (the timid waver of his voice, the hesitant and fumbling timing, the muddy instrumentation) and melds them together to create something very beautiful and very hard to describe. His music often feels almost prehistoric and sometimes mystical in the best way possible. To those who are not familiar, I recommend starting with his album The Glow Part 2.
2. Harry Nilsson – The Beehive State
From Nilsson Sings Newman, 1970
As one might infer from the name of the album, this song comes from an entire collection of Randy Newman covers, all sung by Nilsson, who I think has one of the best voices in pop music. Nilsson stripped the arrangement down to essentially piano and tambourine, and I think the result exceeds the original.
3. The Sorrows – You've Got What I Want
From Take A Heart, 1965
The Sorrows are an underappreciated part of the British invasion and never managed to have a lot of success. Their course guitar tone and aggressive vocals may have been unappealing to people at the time, but in retrospect it almost seems like a precursor to punk much like the more popular American band The Sonics.
4. Timber Timbre – I Get Low
From Timber Timbre, 2009
“I Get Low” comes from one of my favorite albums of the year, and certainly the most overlooked. The album maintains a consistently haunting tone over the course of its eight songs. Taylor Kirk, the sole member of Timber Timbre, manages to arrange a sparse but perfect choice of instruments for each song. Nothing is wasted, and the album created from this minimal approach deserves a much bigger audience.
5. Moondog – Symphonique #6 (Good For Goodie)
From Moondog, 1969
Moondog has a pretty interesting story: To most he was a homeless blind man living in New York, referred to by locals as “The Viking of 53rd” because of his strange attire. But during this time he was writing and recording amazing music and spent time with the likes of Charlie Parker and Bennie Goodman. The quality of music matches the peculiarity of the story. His music mixes classical, Native American percussion, and jazz to wonderful effect.
6. Bill Withers – Harlem
From Just As I Am, 1971
R&B doesn’t get much better than Bill Withers, as far as I’m concerned, and Bill Withers doesn’t get much better than “Harlem”. I’m probably exaggerating, but Withers is a recent musical love of mine, so my enthusiasm is nice and fresh. If the studio recording doesn’t convince you, check out this amazing live performance of the same song.
7. Cryptacize – Peg
From Unusual Animals Vol. 4, 2008
This cover of Steely Dan’s first Aja (1977) single is successful in the repurposing of melody from the jazz infused rock of the original for strange autoharp driven pop without ever feeling unnatural. Cryptacize’s newest album, Mythomania, (2009) is filled to the brim with songs as good or better than this, so add it to your list if you like Peg.
8. Brian Eno and John Cale – Lay My Love
From Wrong Way Up, 1990
Listening to their separate projects, it's easy to tell Cale and Eno have the ability to craft catchy, pop friendly songs when they want to. On this collaboration the two dive head first into a mainstream electronic pop sound. If anyone is averse to late eighties/early nineties synthesizers this might not be for them. Also, I can't mention this album without pointing out the appalling album artwork.
9. Margo Guryan – Timothy Gone
From Take A Picture, 1968
"Timothy Gone" is actually a song that was cut from Guryan's only released album. Though to a lesser degree, the song reflects the Beach Boys influenced sunshine pop that pervades the record. It's surprising that most of her musical career preceding the album was spent in the jazz world, with the likes of Ornette Coleman, Bill Evans and Max Roach. Her music never caught on, largely due to her aversion to performing, and she spent the rest of her career producing and teaching music.
10. Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy – Easy Does It
From Lie Down In The Light, 2008
Will Oldham puts out consistently good albums, but I think Lie Down In The Light is a standout of his post I See A Darkness releases. This opening track sets the bar pretty high for the rest of the album, and for the most part, he follows through.
11. Roy Orbison – Candy Man
From The Very Best of Roy Orbison, 1966
Candy Man is the b-side to one of Roy Orbison's biggest hits, Crying. I would imagine it provided some much needed levity after listening to the first side of the record. Orbison doesn't have too many rock n' roll songs in his catalog, but that doesn't mean he wasn't good at making them. I'd put him on the list with Harry Nilsson for amazing vocalists.
12. The Black Keys – Heavy Soul
From The Big Come Up, 2002
I love The Black Keys gritty and simple approach to the blues and rock traditions. They tap into that blues energy better than almost any contemporary band. Like much blues, I can sometimes grow tired after listening to the whole album, (There are some exceptions, like Muddy Waters and Junior Wells) but taking each song on it's own merit reveals the quality of each.
13. Bill Callahan – Honeymoon Child
From Woke On A Whaleheart, 2007
I first heard Emiliani Torrini's excellent version of this song, which was recorded and released before Callahan's (even though he wrote it). I'm not sure what the circumstances are surrounding that... maybe Callahan wrote it for Torrini? Whatever the explanation is, both versions are fantastic. Woke On A Whaleheart is another album I highly recommend.
14. Justin Vollmar – Do You Have Hope In Your Eyes?
From Every Place Is Home, 2002
Justin Vollmar is another musician who has very little exposure in the music world. If he hadn’t opened for Half Handed Cloud at a tiny show in Pasadena, I wouldn’t know of him either. All three Vollmar albums display fragile, beautiful lo-fi acoustic music with narrative lyrics. It doesn’t hurt that he has an ear for melodies that stick with the listener.
15. Elbow – One Day Like This
From Seldom Seen Kid, 2008
Elbow’s sweeping romantic lyrics and instrumentation would probably be cheesy in anyone else's hands, but they bring a level of sincerity and musical skill that can’t help but penetrate the most cynical of ears. Elbow has been releasing music for nearly a decade, and they keep getting better.
Cover artwork taken from Al Ouchtomsky.