Sunday, July 31, 2016

Slithy Toves I

"Here to Eat Your Apple to the Core"

[This is one post in a series about my music mixes.  The series list has links to all posts in the series and also definitions of many of the terms I use.  You may wish to read the introduction for more background.

Like all my series, it is not necessarily contiguous—that is, I don’t guarantee that the next post in the series will be next week.  Just that I will eventually finish it, someday.  Unless I get hit by a bus.]

We’ve talked about Cherry Poppin’ Daddies in this series before.  We talked about their ability to crank out retro-swing, lounge, and the as-yet-unnamed hardcore-yet-retro 50’s-early-rock style.  But the first time I heard “Here Comes the Snake,” I knew it was something different.  Ostensibly, it’s a lounge soung, but there’s just something ... slinky about it.  Which of course is entirely appropriate (and I’m sure intentional) given the title and subject matter.  It’s really hard to define—I suppose it’s something in the beat that makes the song just slither along—but I know it when I hear it.  And of course the words to this particular track reinforce the theme:

Yes, I believe, but I’d rather not pray;
What I believe in I’d rather not say, baby.
Did your God show you the door?
Well, I’m here to eat your apple to the core ...

Here comes the snake indeed.  The idea of music that slithers its way into your brain somehow put me in mind of the slithy toves from “Jabberwocky” ... you know, those little creatures1 who did gyre and gimble in the wabe.  And thus this mix was born.

A long time ago.  Newer mixes have bubbled into existence, struggled along, and even had several volumes completed before I managed to put the finishing touches on volume I of this mix.  The reason is simple: for most of my mixes, I know where to go looking for new songs to add to the collection.  But this particular theme is unusual ... there’s no genre or subgenre of music which is more likely to churn out this type of song than any other.  There are not even too many bands that we can count on going back to again and again: in a certain sense, nearly every track in this particular mix is unexpected.  So, while building the mix, I’ve just had to rely on discovery—just waiting until I happened to stumble on a song which would be perfect rather than being able to go looking for them.  So it’s just grown very slowly, very gradually, and only recently did I feel like I had enough to put things in some semblance of order.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that I didn’t have some immediate ideas.  Our opening track here, “Jane’s Getting Serious” by the lesser-known of the Astleys,2 was probably the very first thing to pop into my head when I thought of songs that slink along into your brain.  Very shortly followed by “Smooth” by Santana, featuring Rob Thomas from Matchbox 20.  Supernatural is an uneven album, in my opninon, but “Smooth” is the standout: really amazing guitar work from Santana (as always), and some sexy vocals from Thomas.  Both these songs were no-brainers.

But perhaps the strongest contender for this mix (after the mix-starter itself) is “Why Do We Call It Love,” which is what really caused me to fall in love with the Swing soundtrack in the first place.  We’ve seen Lisa Stansfield’s tracks from that movie show up on Salsatic Vibrato II3 and Georgie Fame’s tracks on Moonside by Riverlight, and those are good tracks.  Nothing wrong with those tracks.  But this song ... this song is just incredible.  Smoky vocals from Stansfield, that slinky beat that drives it to this mix, clever lyrics—“Why Do We Call It Love” has it all, and in spades.

Now, as I said up above, in general bands don’t immediately spring to mind when you’re looking for slinky, slithery songs.  However, if there’s an exception to that, Shriekback must be it.  Primarily centered around the keyboards and vocals of Barry Andrews, keyboardist with XTC for their first two albums, Shriekback can do big, bold party songs, such as most of Oil and Gold and much of Go Bang!, or it can do quieter, reflective songs such as most of Big Night Music and a few scattered other songs.  So throughout this series we’re going to see Shriekback on such vastly different mixes as Funkadelic Bonethumper, Wisty Mysteria, Rose-Coloured Brainpan, Bleeding Salvador, Smokelit Flashback, Moonside by Riverlight, Shadowfall Equinox, and Numeric Driftwood.  They’re versatile, is what I’m saying.  But we’ll probably see them here more than anywhere else, starting with two tracks on this very volume.  “The Reptiles and I” is a slinky but quiet little song of lists from Big Night Music, whereas Shark Walk is one my favorites from Go Bang!, a more upbeat but still quite sinuous tune that focuses more on the selachian than the serpentine.

Other early choices include Joe Jackson’s cover of Louis Jordan’s 1944 hit “Is You Is or Is You Ain’t My Baby” and Cat Empire’s interesting song about a gypsy woman haunting their dreams, “The Night That Never End.”  In the former case, it’s a swing standard—I think Jackson’s version adds a bit more flair and maybe more brass, but the slinky undertones are present even in Jordan’s original.  In the latter case, it’s whatever style you want to accuse of Cat Empire of being—probably something latin-ish—and it carries the sneaky, sinuous theme through into the lyrics, in which a “gypsy lady” sneaks into your sleeping head carrying a bottle of schnapps.  The end of the song, where the trumpet-drenched bridge gets faster and faster until it peaks in a crescendo of frenetic energy, is one of the most amazing pieces of musical craftmanship I’ve ever heard.

I also remembered “Caramel” by Suzanne Vega off Nine Objects of Desire, an album which in general I like less than the magnificent 99.9 F°.  But “Caramel” is probably my favorite off NOoD, and has a perfect sinuous beat to fit in here.  Similarly, relistening to Into the Labyrinth by Dead Can Dance, I was instantly struck by how perfectly the feel of “The Ubiquitous Mr. Lovegrove” slots in here.  The song has an Arabian vibe that’s reminiscent of a snake charmer’s tune which is perfect for this mix.

Less likely (and more of a stretch for theme here, if I’m honest) is “Take Me Dancing” by Meaghan Smith.  Last time we saw Smith was on Sirenexiv Cola, where she had a poppy electronica/orchestral tune from her excellent album The Cricket’s Orchestra.  Here we have another track from that album, which has a bit of the slinky feel we’re going for here, concentrated mainly in what I feel sure is a Hammond organ.  But what it lacks in strict adherence to the theme it makes up for in sheer joy.  It shows that, while Slithy Toves is mostly a collection of slower songs, there can be upbeat tunes that fit the mix as well.

Another thing we talked about last week was my discovery of KT Tunstall, and how I’ve not been as excited about any other artist in the past few decades or so.  I threw out a couple of candidates for next runner-up,4 but I should have mentioned Iron & Wine.  His album The Shepherd’s Dog is a revelation: part folk music, part alterna-pop, with a tinge of electronica and surreal lyrics reminiscent of Michael Stipe or Robyn Hitchcock.  Several of his songs slither about with an ambience that makes them well-suited for this mix.  The one I chose for volume I is “Wolves,” which is sort of the title track to The Shepherd’s Dog.5  It’s a slinky, slithery track that flows beautifully into “The Ubiquitous Mr. Lovegrove.”

Slithy Toves I
    [Here to Eat Your Apple to the Core]

        “Jane's Getting Serious” by Jon Astley [Single]6
        “Why Do We Call It Love” by Lisa Stansfield, off Swing [Soundtrack]
        “Take Me Dancing” by Meaghan Smith, off The Cricket's Orchestra
        “Is You Is or Is You Ain't My Baby” by Joe Jackson, off Jumpin' Jive
        “The Reptiles and I” by Shriekback, off Big Night Music
        “The Night That Never End” by The Cat Empire, off Two Shoes
        “Borneo” by Firewater, off The Golden Hour
        “Smooth” by Santana, off Supernatural
        “Here Comes the Snake” by Cherry Poppin' Daddies, off Zoot Suit Riot [Compilation]
        “Wolves (Song of the Shepherd's Dog)” by Iron & Wine, off The Shepherd's Dog
        “The Ubiquitous Mr. Lovegrove” by Dead Can Dance, off Into the Labyrinth
        “Shadow” by The Primitives, off Lovely
        “Shark Walk” by Shriekback, off Go Bang!
        “Caramel” by Suzanne Vega, off Nine Objects of Desire
        “Ghost Highway” by Mazzy Star, off She Hangs Brightly
        “Sarah” by Bat for Lashes, off Fur and Gold
        “I Close My Eyes” by Shivaree, off Who's Got Trouble?
Total:  17 tracks,  72:20

The rest of the tunes I more or less stumbled upon by accident.  Firewater’s “Borneo” is, like the Meaghan Smith tune, a bit of a stretch here, but it’s a rollicking fun track that upholds the upbeat portion of the festivities nicely.  Plus it flows into “Smooth” really nicely.  “Shadow” by the Primitives is another Middle-Eastern-sounding song that rolls along coming off the back-end of “Lovegrove,” and provides a nice change-of-pace from their usual alterna-pop.

Which just leaves us with our 3 closing tunes.  “Ghost Highway” is in some ways a typical Mazzy Star song, but in others it’s quite distinctive, including a serpentine beat that underscores the duo’s typical echoing, buzzing style.  That flows into Bat for Lashes’ “Sarah,” a slow, sinuous track that shows off her distinctive voice.  And we polish it all off with “I Close My Eyes” by Shivaree.  We first discussed Shivaree’s eclectic style back on Smokelit Flashback III.  “I Close My Eyes” contains quite a bit of torchy Moonside by Riverlight overtones, but it still retains enough of the undulating quality that we’re looking for here to provide a solid closer.

Next time, we’ll go back to the beginning for another installment of the mix that started it all.


1 According to Humpty Dumpty, toves are “something like badgers—they’re something like lizards—and they’re something like corkscrews.”

2 Weirdly, Jon Astley is not related to Rick Astley, despite them both being Astleys, both being British, and looking remarkably similar to each other.  Shame: I’d never have minded so much getting jonrolled.

3 And we’ll see them again on future volumes of that mix.

4 Specifically, Devics and Firewater, the latter of whom we’ll hear from in just a minute.

5 By which I mean that the title of the album appears in the song’s lyrics, even though it’s not the song title.

6 I try not to link to YouTube for music, and in fact I’ve never had to do so before.  But this track is stupidly hard to get hold of—I don’t believe there’s any place you can purchase it digitally at all.  Since desperate times call for desperate measures, I’ll let you know that it is possible to turn a YouTube video into an MP3 file, using any number of sites that will do the conversion for you.  My current favorite is

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