Funeral Music Playlist

February 8, 2013

Maybe I’m weird but I worry about what music is going to be played at my funeral. I don’t want some really boring organ music playing in the background while I am being eulogized. This playlist is not my personal funeral playlist but it may give you something to think about when planning for the inevitable.

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Atmosphere/ Joy Division

“Atmosphere” is another one of those prime Joy Division songs, like “Transmission” or “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” where Martin Hannett’s production becomes so essential to the end result that it couldn’t have been heard otherwise. Bernard Sumner’s low keyboard start and Peter Hook’s minimal, calm bass make a perfect counterpoint to the sheer, sudden power of Stephen Morris’s sudden drum parts — if anything, percussion is the heart of the song, the echo and near-tribal roll of the beats suggesting a futuristic ritual. Ian Curtis’s performance is another one of his best — one of his most controlled and calm, his deep moan suggesting both a will to continue and a sheer mournfulness. The killer touch, without question, has to be the sudden, shimmering keyboard sparkle Sumner adds after each verse, produced to sound like rays of light from the heavens, a beautiful contrast of light against the heavy rhythmic doom down below. It’s little surprise John Peel chose this song as the one to play on the air after announcing Curtis’s death — there’s a feeling of a requiem here, an awesome musical farewell.-allmusic.com

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In my room/ Beach Boys

This sensitive pop gem was one of the first Beach Boys tracks to completely break out of the surf-and-drag mold. Indeed, the lyrics for “In My Room” tackle a subject that any teenager can relate to: the feelings of safety and comfort that can be found while relaxing in the sanctuary of one’s bedroom. The melody that supports these thoughts has a lullaby quality to it, building its verse on ascending note patterns that rise higher with each stanza before the melody resolves itself with the comforting descending notes of the chorus. The Beach Boys recording brings this sense of musical ebb and flow to life in a vivid fashion thanks to an inventive Brian Wilson vocal arrangement that starts with a solo vocal at the beginning of each verse and adds on voices with each line to create a grand harmony by the time each chorus arrives. The instrumental portion of the recording achieves a similarly hypnotic effect via a backing track that layers its circular guitar riffs with the gentle strum of a harp and a steady drum beat that anchors the song. -allmusic.com

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Into my arms/ Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds

“Into My Arms” is one of Nick Cave’s signature-style dark piano ballads, a love theme at the core of the lyrics, cloaked in spiritual and religious language and imagery. Accompanied only by himself on piano and Martyn P. Casey on bass, Cave plays a simple piano melody that stays rolling, barely shifting throughout except to build toward the refrain, “Into my arms, O Lord.” Questioning his own belief in God and the angels while respecting the object of his desire’s affection for them, the singer makes the sort of plaintive plea to the gods he doesn’t believe in that differences aside, love may conquer all and keep the pair together. Capturing in voice, melody, and lyric the doubts, faith, fears, and hopes that love can inspire among the faithless, he returns to the idea that truth, strength, and love are values worth striving for. This is Cave’s strength in song.-allmusic.com

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Soul meets body/ Death Cab for Cutie

For your consideration: a wildly successful indie rock band with a legion of followers on an equally successful, highly credible independent label makes the jump to major-label powerhouse Atlantic, leading to much chagrin and speculation among its fans as they awaited with bated breath for what would happen to the group. The album winds its way from one ballad to the next, with brief stopovers at moderately up-tempo numbers to help break things up a bit. And it’s this sense of resignation that either makes or breaks the album, depending on which Death Cab for Cutie is your favorite: the melancholic, hopeless romantic or the one who wears its heart on its sleeve with unbridled energy and passion.-allmusic.com

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So Long Goodbye/ Sum 41

Sporting a similar-sounding but not as politically potent title in Underclass Hero, Sum 41’s fifth studio album extends upon its predecessor Chuck’s deliberate attempt at getting serious and relevant, containing just enough garbled commentary and political platitudes to not only give the impression that the bandmembers are saying something beyond their beloved clichés, but to give the impression that they’re telling a story, creating an anthem for the “underclass hero,” the slacker who can’t be labeled as an underachiever because he never attempts to achieve. – allmusic.com

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At My Funeral/ Crash Test Dummies

Like an improbable kiddie cereal made with bran, this Canadian group gives you sprightly Irish jigs and earthy-crunchy folk music, all rolled into one addictively sweet confection—and it’s even good for you. Led by vocalist Brad Roberts’s laconic growl, this Dummies debut hops easily from the upbeat to the somber. The lyrics often sound as if they were written by the same people who see Elvis at fast-food joints. The ballad “Superman’s Songs,” for instance, is a wonderfully goofball discussion of why Superman makes a better superhero than Tarzan. While the Dummies’ mix of the silly and the sentimental, both musically and lyrically, may not suit everybody’s taste, The Ghosts That Haunt Me is one record that never gets soggy. (Arista)

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Hallelujah/ Leonard Cohen

Despite the over-saturation of “Hallelujah,” the song’s recent chart-topping success on both sides of the ocean has given Cohen some sweet revenge. “There were certain ironic and amusing sidebars, because the record that it came from which was called Various Positions — a record Sony wouldn’t put out,” Cohen told the Guardian. “They didn’t think it was good enough… So there was a mild sense of revenge that arose in my heart.” Cohen can’t complain about the extra royalties either, especially considering he was forced to tour after a lengthy hiatus because his former manager made off with most of his assets. Meanwhile, we’re still surprised that Leonard Cohen is sitting around reading reviews of the superhero flick Watchmen.- rollingstone.com

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Time to Say Goodbye/ Andrea Bocelli

Sarah Brightman, who enjoyed a European hit with “Time to Say Goodbye,” her duet with Andrea Bocelli,  constructed an album beginning with that recording and continuing in kind. The characteristics of the hit — a lush, melodramatic, mock-operatic arrangement complete with a crescendo out of Ravel’s “Bolero” and soaring voices singing in English and Italian — are repeated here, whether the material is drawn from Puccini, the Gipsy Kings, or Queen. Part of PBS’ long-running Great Performances program, Concerto: One Night in Central Park features legendary Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli’s 2011 free concert on Central Park’s Great Lawn. With Bocelli backed by the New York Philharmonic  conducted by longtime musical director Alan Gilbert, the 17-track collection is also being made available in a deluxe edition that includes a DVD of the evening.-allmusic.com

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All Things Must Pass/ George Harrison

“All Things Must Pass” was the title song of George Harrison’s 1970 number one debut album. Like several of the songs on that record, it has a slow, almost dirge-like air, though it is executed with a stateliness that avoids lugubriousness. And, like several songs on that record, it was actually written before the Beatles had broken up. A tentative, perhaps even feeble, pass through the song was attempted by the Beatles during their troubled Let It Be sessions in early 1969; one of those takes was issued on Anthology 3. Part of the problem the Beatles had in getting to grips with the song, perhaps, was that Harrison (and the other Beatles) were beginning to write compositions that were more well-suited for them as solo vehicles than as Beatles arrangements. When it was recorded for his solo album, the song benefited from Phil Spector’s orchestral productions, with subtle interjections of brass interacting with Harrison’s high slide guitar. “All Things Must Pass” has a pleasant, though not stunning, melody and a an air of calm resignation, as well as the kind of hymnal chorus that was found in numerous Harrison works of the period. The lyrics might be a reflection of Harrison’s Indian religious beliefs, but actually there is no specific mention or allusion to Indian religion. It is a simple but direct statement on the impermanence of both good and bad times, and, in fact, in tone is not far removed from the messages of faith and reassurance found in the Beatles’ “Let It Be.” “All Things Must Pass” is more passive and resigned than “Let It Be,” however. It’s the kind of song that fits the mood in November, when the trees are getting stripped bare of their leaves, the days are getting shorter and colder, and you have to resign yourself to knowing it’s going to be tougher and tougher in those regards for months, also knowing that those hardships will pass away come springtime.-allmusic.com

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True Faith/ New Order

A tremendous single for New Order – a brilliant standalone effort and the triumphant conclusion of the peerless singles collection Substance – “True Faith” deservedly hit the charts in America, the UK and elsewhere, a marvelous valediction for a band with a core that had stuck to its guns for ten straight years. “True Faith” resisted being conventional for all that it was poppy, catchy, a radio-friendly song with its own unexpected edge. Bernard Sumner’s lyric hints at a strange desperation at play, sung with an unsure, nervous emotion (“I guess there’s just no way of knowing…I used to think that the day would never come/That my life would depend on the morning sun”). It’s the dramatic electronic drum start (memorably if cryptically matched in the heavily-screen video by mimes), Peter Hook’s strong bass line over deeper synth bass, Gillian Gilbert’s strong but not bombastic orchestral swells and keyboard chimes and more that really make everything connect, each verse building into the strong chorus with a sense of sudden anticipation.-allmusic.com


The Joys and Annoyances of Being in Love-a DJ Kelsey Playlist

October 2, 2012

Into the Mystic/ Van Morrison

“Into the Mystic” was originally released as the last song on side one of Van Morrison’s third album, Moondance, in February 1970. Moondance, issued 15 months after its predecessor, Astral Weeks, was a very different record for Morrison. Astral Weeks had been dominated by meditations on his youth in Belfast, Northern Island, with an unusual musical mélange that combined elements of folk, blues, jazz, and classical music, played by session musicians. By the time of Astral Weeks, Morrison had moved from New York City to rural Woodstock, NY, and organized his own backup band, which played on Moondance. The new album was imbued with the bucolic pleasures he had recently enjoyed, as well as his domestic harmony with wife Janet Planet. The exception was the ethereal “Into the Mystic,” the only song on the album that might have fit on Astral Weeks. The song has an easy groove, beginning with acoustic guitar and including isolated horn and string charts, as Morrison evokes a sailor’s pledge to come home from the sea to his lover and “rock [her] gypsy soul.”- All Music Guide

Be Mine/ Alabama Shakes

Pitched somewhere between the retro-purist vibe of Sharon Jones and the nervy revivalism of Jack White, Alabama Shakes possesses a curious character: they’re rooted in the past but it’s clear they’ve learned their moves musicians removed some three or four generations from the source. Instead of playing like refractions from a hall of mirrors, Alabama Shakes’ 2012 debut Boys & Girls emphasizes how American roots music is now grounded in the ’60s notion of blues & soul, all filtered through the prism of ’70s classic rock. Unlike White or his Great Lakes cousins the Black Keys, Alabama Shakes aren’t entirely enamored with what they can re-create in the studio — they’re too attached to the power of a live performance, making them an ideal candidate for a T-Bone Burnett or Joe Henry production somewhere down the road — but they bear no special allegiance to the didactic needs of retro-rock.- All Music Guide

That’s What’s Up/ Edward Sharpe &The Magnetic Zeros

Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros wear the whole communal free-living throwback hippie jamboree persona to the point where they dip into goofy character sketches and threaten to detract completely from some pretty catchy songs. The album opens strongly, with the undeniably catchy pair of tunes “Man on Fire” and “That’s What’s Up,” both rising to hand-clapping summits of old-fashioned Southern revival and jug band jubilation. Lead vocalist Jade Castrinos reprises her role trading verses with Ebert on these songs and later takes center stage on the electrified “Fiya Wata.” Castrinos’ contributions feel spirited and from the gut, whether they’re put on or not. -All Music Guide

Hot Knife/ Fiona Apple

Much of the charm of Apple’s music isn’t decoding what it all means but learning its internal clockwork, letting the songs take root, so the love songs (“Jonathan”) seem sweeter, the braggadocio (“Hot Knife”) funnier, the pathos (“Valentine,” “Regret”) and paranoia (“Werewolf”) feeling fathomless. Once the startling Spartan surfaces of The Idler Wheel become familiar, similarities to her three previous albums are apparent — she takes certain jazzy strides that hark back to Tidal, there’s a rigorous dexterity reminiscent of  When the Pawn — but what’s new is an unwavering determination and cohesion. Nothing is wasted, either in the composition or arrangement, and this lean confidence binds The Idler Wheel. Stripped of all her carnivalesque accouterments, Fiona Apple remains as rich and compelling as she ever was, perhaps even more so.- All Music Guide

In the Colors/ Ben Harper & the Innocent Criminals

His lyrics are uplifting, full of determination and hope. This is underscored by the next number, “In the Colors,” which bleeds Southern soul and a killer reggae bass line bubbling underneath. The theme of hope is right there, propping the first track by underscoring in poetic terms the true, just, and beautiful. “Fool for a Lonesome Train,” a backwoods country-rock tune, is maybe the strongest cut on the set; its high lonesome sound is borne out not just in the grain of Harper’s vocal but by the band’s unobtrusive yet utterly engaging support. The lyrics are there; they have the wild and restless in them but it takes a group effort to make restraint an art, underscoring the blood and sinew in Harper’s words. That’s not to say there are no “rockers” on the set. “Needed You Tonight” comes right out of the shouting gospel and electric blues with electric guitars blazing; it alternates its dynamic between that vibe and sweet soul. “Having Wings” is a gorgeous follow-up, with acoustic piano and electric guitars flowing under Harper’s voice.-All Music Guide

Wedding Song/ Anais Mitchell, feat. Justin Vernon

Hadestown retells the Orpheus and Eurydice myth set in an America of hard times economically, socially, and politically. Hadestown’s narrative, like the myth, steeps itself in ambiguities more than dead certainties. It moves past dualities of good and evil, life and death, hope and despair, while examining how commonly held beliefs about class reinforce poverty, how our desire for security is complicit in giving away our freedoms, and what real generosity in love actually is. This 57-minute work goes by in a flash. Artfully conceived, articulated, and produced, Hadestown raises Mitchell’s creative bar exponentially: there isn’t anything else remotely like it.- All Music Guide

Northern Sky/ Nick Drake

Compiled by Nick Drake’s producer, Joe Boyd, Way to Blue features a selection of 16 tracks from all three Drake studio albums and the Time of No Reply collection. Of course the music is excellent, but Drake’s albums stand so well on their own that this collection of piecemeal offerings doesn’t quite work as the best way to experience his distinctively haunting brand of folk-rock. Though a good starting point, ultimately it will only whet your appetite for the highly recommended, four-disc Fruit Tree box, which contains his complete catalog.- All Music Guide

This Orient/ Foals

Total Life Forever is considerably more subdued than its predecessor, lacking much of the uptempo thump found on Antidotes. In its place is a mellower, more spacious sound. While this new sound is still danceable, it’s far more refined than the angular post-punk riffing that fans might be expecting. Right from the beginning, the album-opening, “Blue Blood” makes it clear that Foals are taking a different, more patient approach to songwriting, letting the song build and build on itself as it methodically works itself into a frenzy before leaving the way it came in. Because of the changes here, fans of the early, pre-Antidotes singles may find Total Life Forever to be too restrained, lacking the youthful vigor of their debut. Where some see restraint, others may very well see refinement, and those who appreciated Antidotes’ more spacy passages will find that Foals’ reinvention of their sound is a calculated risk that definitely pays off.- All Music Guide

More of This/ Vetiver

Tight Knit is Vetiver’s slickest, tightest record so far. From the opening ballad “Rolling Sea” onward, Andy Cabic and crew make music that can only be called easy listening. Not the kind you hear in a dentist’s office, but the kind of music that makes no demands on you as a listener and just wraps you in cottony coziness. Apart from the peppy, perfect for a soda pop commercial “Everyday” and the almost rocking in a lazy bar band way “More of This,” the record is perfectly constructed for lazy days and hazy nights. It takes skill to create a record filled with so little energy and drive, and again, that’s not a criticism though it probably sounds like it should be.- All Music Guide

One Match/ Sarah Harmer

Harmer’s winning blend of country, folk, and indie pop is propelled, in part, by her even, expressive tenor, which comes off as a well-maintained bridge between Suzanne Vega and Leslie Feist. Likable and accessible, it would be easy to write her off as just another capable singer/songwriter in an industry stuffed to the rafters with capable singer/songwriters, were it not for her ability to take a simple melody and turn it into something special. Oh Little Fire is filled with those moments, whether it’s the delayed “t” at the end of the word light on the driving single “Captive,” the damp, dirt-road pacing of “Washington,” or the way she and Case wrap their voices around “Silverado” like two sisters on the back of covered wagon. It’s a subtle record to be sure, but one that rewards those who are willing to take the time to let it enter the bloodstream.-All Music Guide

Hold You In My Arms/ Ray LaMontagne

The best songs on Trouble, the debut release from songwriter Ray LaMontagne, draw on deep wells of emotion, and with LaMontagne’s sandpapery voice, which recalls a gruffer, more sedate version of Tim Buckley or an American version of Van Morrison, they seem to belie his years. The title tune, “Trouble,” is an instant classic, sparse and maudlin (in the best sense), and songs like “Narrow Escape,” a ragged, episodic waltz, are equally impressive, with careful, cinematic lyrics that tell believable stories of wounded-hearted refugees on the hard road of life and love. Most of the tracks fall into a midtempo shuffle rhythm, so the words have to carry a lot in order to avert a sort of dull sameness, and when it works, it works big, and when it doesn’t, well, LaMontagne is so serious and sincere about his craft that you tend to forgive him instantly.- All Music Guide

Heartbeats/ José González

Don’t let the name fool you; singer/songwriter José González is a Swedish-born and -raised son of Argentine parents. His debut album, Veneer, is a striking collection of hushed and autumnal indie pop bedroom songs that reside on the hi-fi end of the lo-fi spectrum. González is definitely a member of the “quiet is the new loud” school as founded by Elliott Smith and the Kings of Convenience. Veneer is about as intimate as they come; it sounds like he is sitting right on the end of your bed singing just for you. At times, González is a little more forceful than most of his schoolmates, often working himself into a tightly spinning ball of emotion (as on the driving “Lovestain” and the bluesy “Hints”). At these moments his voice is reminiscent of Mark Kozelek, only without the wild flights of pretension. Mostly though, he is content to cruise along on mellow vocals double-tracked behind gently plucked and strummed acoustic guitars. The beautiful “Heartbeats,” “Deadweight on Velveteen,” and the gently rollicking “Stay in the Shade” are the high watermarks of a remarkably focused and promising debut. González is a welcome addition to the q-school of indie pop.- All Music Guide

I Will Follow You Into the Dark/ Death Cab for Cutie

Thematically, Plans is the Death Cab for Cutie suitable for graduate students, world-weary and wiser from their experiences, realizing they can no longer be love-starved 20-somethings without a clue yet hopelessly cursed to face the same issues. And there’s merit to be had in acknowledging that maturity, for even blink-182 figured out their age and released their “serious” album. The album winds its way from one ballad to the next, with brief stopovers at moderately up-tempo numbers to help break things up a bit. And it’s this sense of resignation that either makes or breaks the album, depending on which Death Cab for Cutie is your favorite: the melancholic, hopeless romantic or the one who wears its heart on its sleeve with unbridled energy and passion.- All Music Guide