Sunday, January 04, 2009

Shuffleathon 2008 - The Review

When I decided it was about time I put myself forward to have a go at Swiss Toni’s Shuffleathon instead of just watching from the sidelines I thought the hardest part would be deciding what to leave off the CD I would be creating. How foolish, how naive! It’s weeks since the CD carefully prepared by Randomalan (we'd never met before) dropped through the letterbox and I, over-excitedly, slipped it into the CD player for a first run through while I was cooking the tea...Still, here we go at last:

I was grateful for the track list being out of temptations way in a sealed envelope as I was determined to listen ‘blind’ …which proved to be quite embarrassing really, from the start…

Pasties and a G String - Tom Waits : I mean, it’s obvious now ... now, with the envelope open ... who else could this be but Tom Waits? Listen to the lyrics! Hear the voice! Ahem... Anyway, I think this is a brave opening track, no concessions are being made here, it makes me think Alan is a 'what you see is what you get, take it or leave it' kind of chap. Even now, many several plays later, I'm thinking I'm not quite ready for Tom Waits songs which haven't been filtered through other performers first. I'll keep at it though.

Let Robeson Sing - Manic Street Preachers : At least I recognise the artist this time. From the intro my head is expecting the track to turn into ‘Wishin’ & Hopin’... It doesn't. I'm not a big fan of the Manics (which translates to 'know nothing apart from the singles, aren't they a bit over earnest?') but this is … listenable... I can see what they're going for, but it feels a bit 'by numbers'. They do mean well though don’t they?

This Mess We’re In - PJ Harvey with Thom Yorke: NOW we’re talking. Because I’m not keen on PJ Harvey I’ve never heard this before, but the voices are instantly recognisable. I love this. It’s desperate and terrifying, essential ingredients for a great Thom Yorke vocal. I 'rewind' and play it again. I really, really love this one. [This is still my favourite.Thank you Randomalan!]

Chase the Devil - Eagles of Death Metal : I don't recognise this. During the first listen I wrote down: 'Hmm. Spoils the mood for me. Is it supposed to be funny? It’s a bit like listening to Mitch Benn. You think it’s finished - but it comes back! you wish it had finished. WAY too long'.
This is one I haven’t changed my mind about, even after giving it ample opportunity and learning that it was put on as a deliberate attempt to provide a bit of light relief.

Ne Me Quitte Pas - Regina Spektor : Phew. I can tell from the start that this is going to be getting things back on the rails. I really like this one. I don’t recognise the voice. I scribbled down ‘Quirky. Sounds a bit Fiesty.’ All I’ve heard of Regina Spektor until now is ‘You Don’t Know Me’ with Ben Folds. She’s probably got one of those ‘marmite’ voices, but I like it and it’s growing on me with every listen. Will need to check out more.

Navajo - Black Lips : First chord sounds like Cinerama, then it breaks into The Coral - Dreaming of You. It’s similar in mood to the (what I know know to be) EoDM track, but I enjoy this one - not sure why yet. More fun? More tune? More pithy?
I’d never heard of Black Lips, so naturally I Wikipedia’d them… don’t feel the need to get to know more, but wouldn’t avoid them. Except in real life, obviously.

Always Crashing in the Same Car - David Bowie: I will own up. On the first run through I didn’t recognise David Bowie*. I’m not a huge admirer, but even so….It’s embarrassing isn’t it? Especially as I now know that, to Randomalan, Bowie is God. I had scrawled ‘retro Jarvis? quiet & a bit muffled - old technology?’ on my bit of paper. I keep trying to give it a proper listen, but find myself tuning out half way through.

Last Stop: This Town - Eels : Ah, now, here's one I get to recognise instantly! Even people who don’t like Eels can like this. Electro-Shock Blues is probably my favourite Eels album, I know it has some dark songs on it, but I’ve never found it miserable or depressing. Trouble is, it’s quite hard to listen to something familiar and have an objective opinion on it…it’s ‘Last Stop This Town’ - what more can I say!

Werewolves of London - Warren Zevon: A-hoooo !!! Another favourite…"littleoldladygot mutilatedlatelastnight…" "his hair was perfect" etc. I think it's actually illegal to dislike this song.

Intervention - Arcade Fire: Three in a row for the tunes that I know! There are people who don’t ‘get’ Arcade Fire, but it’s more surprising to me that so many people do. I couldn’t believe they were selling out Arenas last year. I think they stay the right side of self indulgent and carry off the bombast. This is probably the 'biggest'
song on the CD and comes in at just about the perfect point.

This Side of the Blue - Joanna Newsom: Now, here’s where the blind testing comes into it’s own - I had scribbled down ‘American Stina Nordenstam?’ and enjoyed this track - even though my previous attempt at listening to Joanna Newsom ended badly, I really couldn't bear her voice, 'cats in a sack' and all that…maybe I need to go back and try again, because this isn‘t half bad. Still haven't worked out what's going on in it lyrically, so am not likely to get bored with it any time soon.

John Allyn Smith Sails - Okkervil River: Ah, this is a surprise, it's ‘the one that turns into Sloop John B’. Which is probably better than thinking of it as ‘the suicide song’, because it doesn't sound like a suicide song. Are Okkervil River an 'if you liked Eels you may also enjoy...' band?

I Wish I Never Saw The Sunshine - Beth Orton: [I didn't recognise this during the blind test, but we were sitting down and eating the tea by now, and Tim identified it for me] Beth Orton is someone else I don’t know that much about but feel I should - although not as a result of this song, the only one on the compilation that has paled with repeated listening. 'Plaintive', if I’m being kind, 'dreary' if I’m not and, in this company, it sounds very ordinary.

Disturbance at the Heron House - REM: Well, it’s REM and no mistake, but I don’t know the track and it doesn’t especially grab me. When I investigate I’m surprised to discover it’s such an early one (it's from 'Document') I can hear the lyrics apart from anything else. I don't dislike it at all, but it hasn’t grown on me since the first listen. Maybe I’m over-familiar with too much REM?

Tunic (Song for Karen) - Sonic Youth: The ’blind’ reaction: 'sounds like Stereolab? Scary!!!'.
Sonic Youth are yet another band I know nothing about, other than to assume I wouldn't much like them…but, but, but, I do like the sound of this. It's very lulling. Simultaneously cheesy & creepy especially the spoken vocal - or is that the point? It’s about Karen Carpenter you know. More death. Put me off my tea a bit. But in a good way.

Talk Show Host - Radiohead: Great transition between the last two tracks and back in the comfort zone. I know it’s from Romeo&Juliet, but I don’t know it and - how predictable I am - this is my second favourite track on the CD…“You want me? Fucking come on and break the door down!” Is it wrong to find Thom Yorke’s voice sooooooo …..... Anyway, the final track is:

They’re Red Hot - Robert Johnson: In case I was on the point of putting my head in the oven perhaps? I didn’t know what this was, but it’s a good closer and does, lead comfortably right back into Tom Waits …

So there it is, I seem to have reviewed my Shuffleathon CD without managing to describe what any of the tracks actually sound like. Maybe I'll try again tomorrow? Maybe I'll do better next year - if I'm allowed the chance. Thank you very much Randomalan - only one total shocker and four (previously unknown) runaway successes - not a bad return!

[* OK there were slight extenuating circumstances, I was making the tea (remember?) and I’d just dropped a glass pan lid onto a tiled floor, so was busy sweeping up tiny shards of broken glass at the time…yeah, weak, I know...]


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