Reading too deeply into these things since 1981
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The Pac-Man Christmas Album

Happy Xmas, everyone! I hope you don’t mind that I’m giving you your gift early…

Yes, this was real. No, this is not a hilarious joke. (Though, truth be told, it is pretty hilarious.)

In 1980, the Pac-Man Christmas Album was released, and thanks to friend of the website Ed Adams, I’ve got a digital version of the original, long out of print LP for your downloading and listening pleasure.

Grab The Pac-Man Christmas Album here.

The interesting thing about this, to me, is that Pac-Man — while undoubtedly iconic — doesn’t really have a distinct personality, or roster of rich characters. An in-character album of new Christmas tunes and covers of old classics seems crazy to me, since Pac-Man can sound like anything and say anything because we have no idea who Pac-Man is.

It’s not like a Super Mario Christmas album or something…which I’m sure would be just as awful, but would at least have had some vaguely-defined characters upon which to base its conceit. Here it’s just a yellow circle singing about Jesus with his family of yellow circles. That’s distilled insanity right there.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy. Actually, no I don’t. “Under the Tree” is a masterpiece, though. Who would have thought Pac-Baby would have such potential as a lyricist? And it’s worth listening to simply because it climaxes with the ghosts feeling the Christmas spirit for the first time, and apparently orgasming loudly.

God bless us, every one.

The Pac-Man Christmas Album
1) The Magic of Christmas
2) Snowflakes and Frozen Lakes
3) Under the Tree
4) Dialogue 1
5) Deck the Halls
6) An Old Fashioned Christmas
7) Dialogue 2
8) Some Days Are More Important
9) Dialogue 3
10) Friends Again
11) We Wish You a Merry Christmas
(Download)

Never before has 25 minutes felt like such a long, lonely lifetime.

Music For Air Hostesses

August 28th, 2013 | Posted by Philip J Reed in books | music | writing - (2 Comments)

Music For Air Hostesses

Just a little something in celebration of my completing Detective Fiction. It’s currently in the hands of a small army of very capable proofreaders / critics / curmudgeons, and if all goes well I’ll be soliciting agents before very long.

Download Music For Air Hostesses.

It’s as good as reading the book. Or maybe better.

…but hopefully not too much better.

Anyway, grab it now. It might be gone when you wish you had it.

DISC ONE:
1) I’ll Come Running — Brian Eno
2) I Can Help — Billy Swan
3) Reminiscing — Little River Band
4) Hold On, I’m Comin’ — Sam & Dave
5) Tighter, Tighter — Alive ‘N Kickin’
6) Lemon Tree — Herb Alpert’s Tijuana Brass
7) I Second That Emotion — Smokey Robinson & The Miracles
8) The Same Love That Made Me Laugh — Bill Withers
9) Expressway to Your Heart — Soul Survivors
10) Tusk — Fleetwood Mac
11) Save It For Later — The Beat
12) Rubberband Man — The Spinners
13) Fire — The Pointer Sisters
14) Time Passes Slowly — Bob Dylan
15) Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me) — The Temptations

DISC TWO:
16) San Franciscan Nights — Eric Burden & The Animals
17) Tempted — Squeeze
18) Drive-In Saturday — David Bowie
19) A Million Miles Away — David Byrne
20) Bring It On Home to Me — Billy Preston
21) Sloop John B — The Beach Boys
22) No No Song — Ringo Starr
23) The Moonbeam Song — Harry Nilsson
24) It Just Might Be a One-Shot Deal — Frank Zappa
25) When the Night — Paul McCartney & Wings
26) Moonlight Mile — The Rolling Stones
27) Someday We’ll Be Together — Diana Ross & The Supremes
28) Someday Never Comes — Creedence Clearwater Revival
29) Everything Merges With the Night — Brian Eno
30) The Only Living Boy in New York — Simon and Garfunkel

Paul Simon

I’ve written about this before (on a different blog; don’t bother looking for it…it’s not there anymore) but I’m still kind of intrigued by the question: is there any other individual musician who has had as large an impact on the way we speak and express ourselves verbally as Paul Simon?

It sounds hyperbolic, I know, but what I’m referring to are the specific turns of phrase he’s injected into our every day speech…little verbal flourishes that meant little or absolutely nothing before he gave them meaning, and gave them to us.

Just look at this list of song titles (just the titles, mind you) and ask yourself how many times you’ve seen exactly these, or some very close variation somewhere, used in a headline, a caption, an anecdote, or anything else:

50 Ways to Leave Your Lover
Feelin’ Groovy
Bridge Over Troubled Water
The Sound of Silence
Loves Me Like a Rock
Homeward Bound
Something So Right
Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes
Slip Slidin’ Away
A Hazy Shade of Winter
I Am a Rock
Mother and Child Reunion
Me and Julio Down By the Schoolyard
Still Crazy After All These Years
You Can Call Me Al
Somewhere They Can’t Find Me
The Only Living Boy in New York

That’s a lot. And I’m not sure any other single musician or lyricist can chalk up that much influence on the cultural vernacular. I’ll even let you combine all four Beatles…I still don’t think we get a list of anywhere near that length.

No deep, probing observations here…just something I thought was interesting. And by all means, please do give me other examples in the comments of musicians I’m obviously overlooking.

Gravity's Rainbow

So this is what I was originally planning for Valentine’s Day…only I planned for it around five months in advance and then forgot to do it. It’s a collection of love songs from Thomas Pynchon’s novels. I’m a huge Pynchon fan (DID YOU KNOW THAT??) and the little original ditties he embeds in his text are like charming, reliable life-rafts amid the glorious, chaotic sprawl. And I’ll be honest…every time I’ve picked up a new Pynchon book I’ve looked forward to the songs the most. They range from silly to clever to genius, and, in some way, I love them all.

When I used to run a different (much more personal) blog, I posted The Love Songs of Thomas Pynchon for Valentine’s Day, and it very surprisingly became the most popular post on my site. I have no idea why, but it was certainly a great feeling, and with that site long gone I thought I’d post it again. This time I’m including a few songs I left out of the first post — no real reason, I just wasn’t as big a fan of them — and I’m including the love songs from the two novels that have come out in the meantime. So this is much more complete.

Pynchon deliberately blurs lines between love, lust, friendship and fondness, so there are a few arguable love songs that were left out, and maybe a few that leaned in another direction that might have crept in instead. But here you go. In some cases Pynchon assigns his own song titles, but he usually does not. Any song titles that I’ve taken the liberty of assigning are in brackets, so blame me if you don’t think they’re appropriate. I’ve also left in a few textual moments if I felt they contributed to the “feel” or understanding of the song. Otherwise they were trimmed out for the sake of easier reading.

I hope you enjoy. Reading Pynchon is a blast, and his songs are a huge part of that. Some of them are silly, some of them are genuinely moving, and some of them are just absurdly fun. I threw in a gorgeous interpretation of “The Eyes of a New York Woman” at the end, just because it’s wonderful…and it’s always fun to get a glimpse into how these songs sound to somebody else. I can only ever hear my own versions, in my own head. And I hope you enjoy the ones you hear, too. Happy late Valentine’s Day.

“Serenade” The Crying of Lot 49, p27

As I lie and watch the moon
On the lonely sea,
Watch it tug the lonely tide
Like a comforter over me,
The still and faceless moon
Fills the beach tonight
With only a ghost of day,
All shadow gray, and moonbeam white.
And you lie alone tonight,
As alone as I;
Lonely girl in your lonely flat, well, that’s where it’s at,
So hush your lonely cry.
How can I come to you, put out the moon, send back the tide?
The night has gone so gray, I’d lose the way, and it’s dark inside.
No, I must lie alone,
Till it comes for me;
Till it takes the sky, the sand, the moon, and the lonely sea.
And the lonely sea…etc. [FADE OUT.]

[“Little Grass Skirt”] Vineland, p63

Whoa! Come ‘n’ let me roll that
Little grass skirt,
In the Zig Zag, of my em-
Brace!

Light on up, With th’
Flame of love, take
The frown right, off o’ your face!

Put it in a roach clip,
Pass it to and fro,
In between your lips and let th’
Good smoke flow, oh

It won’t cost much, and
It ain’t gonna hurt, just
C’mere with that uh little, grass skirt!

[“Esther’s Nose Job”] V., p111

Have I told you, fella
She’s got the sweetest columella
And a septum that’s swept ’em all on their ass;
Each casual chondrectomy
Meant only a big fat check to me
Till I sawed this osteoclastible lass:

[Refrain]:
Till you’ve cut into Esther
You’ve cut nothing at all;
She’s one of the best, Thir,
To her nose I’m in thrall.

She never acts nasty
But lies still as a rock;
She loves my rhinoplasty
But the others are schlock.

Esther is passive,
Her aplomb is massive,
How could any poor ass’ve
Ever passed her by?

And let me to you say
She puts Ireland to shame;
For her nose is retroussé
And Esther’s her name….

For the last eight bars she chanted “No” on one and three.

“The Englishman’s Very Shy (Fox-Trot)” Gravity’s Rainbow, p184

(Bloat):
The Englishman’s very shy,
He’s none of your Ca-sa-no-va,
At bowling ladies o-ver,
A-mericans lead the pack–

(Tantivy):
–You see, your Englishman tends to lack
That recklessness transatlantic,
That women find so romantic
Though frankly I can’t see why…

(Bloat):
The polygamous Yank with his girls galore
Give your Brit-ish rake or carouser fits,

(Tantivy):
Though he’s secretly held in re-ve-rent awe
As a sort of e-rot-ic Clausewitz….

(Together):
If only one could al-ly
A-merican bedroom know-how
With British good looks, then oh how
These lovelies would swoon and sigh,
Though you and I know the Englishman’s very shy.

[“For Susannah”] Mason & Dixon, p143

I was only sixteen, upon your wedding day,
I stood outside the churchyard, and cried.
And now I’m working for the man, who carried you away,
And ev’ry day I see you by his side.

Sometimes you’re smiling,– sometimes you ain’t,
Most times you never look my way,–
I’m still as a Mill-Pond, I’m as patient as a Saint,
Wond’ring if there’s things you’d like to say.

Oh, are you day-dreaming of me,
Do you tuck me in at Night,
When he’s fast asleep beside you,
Are those Fingers doing right?
How can Love conquer all,
When Love can be so blind? and you’ve got
Bradley on your Name,
And Mason on your Mind….

[“Cheap Romance”] Vineland, p281

Whoo! is this the start of a
Cheap ro-mance,
Nothin’ much to do with
High fi-nance,
Is it th’ start of,
Another cheap ro-mance?

(Here Scott Oof, as he had for thousands of identical renditions, filled with a phrase stolen from Mickey Baker on “Love Is Strage” [1956].)

This hot tomato’s lookin’
Mighty sweet,
Uh just th’ thing to git me,
Off my feet,
Oboy, the start of,
Another cheap ro-ho-mance!

Yep — looks like the start of
Another cheap ro-ho-
Ma-a-a-a-ance…
Gits ya thinkin’, is it
Me, or is it mah
Pa-a-a-a-hants?

Well cheap romance is my
Kind of thing,
Uh just in case you were
Wondering,
“Is it the start of,
Another cheap ro-wo-mance?”

[“Be My Hottentot Bondsman Tonight”] V., p252

Love’s a lash,
Kisses gall the tongue, harrow the heart;
Caresses tease
Cankered tissue apart.

Liebchen, come
Be my Hottenton bondsman tonight,
The sjambok’s kiss
Is unending delight.

Love, my little slave,
Is color-blind;
For white and black
Are only states of mind.

So at my feet
Nod and genuflect, whimper for me:
Though tears are dried
Their pain is yet to be.

“Pavlovia (Beguine)” Gravity’s Rainbow, p232

It was spring in Pavlovia-a-a,
I was lost, in a maze…
Lysol breezes perfumed the air,
I’d been searching for days.
I found you, in a cul-de-sac,
As bewildered as I–
We touched noses, and suddenly
My heart learned how to fly!

So together, we found our way,
Shared a pellet, or two…
Like an evening in some café,
Wanting nothing, but you…

Autumn’s come, to Pavlovia-a-a,
Once again, I’m alone–
Finding sorrow by millivolts,
Back to neurons and bone.
And I think of our moments then,
Never knowing your name–
Nothing’s left in Pavlovia,
But the maze, and the game….

[“The Austo-Hungarian Blues”] Against the Day, p915

No need for feel-ing so down,
Just spend a night-on-the-town,
The-Dan-ube won’t, look-so blue–
not if you do, like I do–
Just get on out-to-the ucca,
Take a stroll up–the a-ve-nue,
You’ll find that ci-ty beat puts-a
–Synco-pation in-your shoe,
Find-one-of-those
Austro-Hun-gar-i-an ladies,
So super-ficially deep,
Down where the gi-golos creep,
Too full of rhyth-m to sleep,
All-you-need’s-a
Good-time girl from the K and K,
Who can’t tell you if it’s night or day,
And slip away on a cruise, from
Those Austro-Hungarian blues!

[“Love Never Goes Away”] Gravity’s Rainbow, p294

Love never goes away,
Never completely dies,
Always some souvenir
Takes us by sad surprise.

You went away from me,
One rose was left behind–
Pressed in my Book of Hours,
That is the rose I find….

Though it’s another year,
Though it’s another me,
Under the rose is a drying tear,
Under my linden tree….

Love never goes away,
Not if it’s really true,
It can return, by night, by day,
Tender and green and new
As the leaves from a linden tree, love,
that I left with you.

[“Cutie in a GTO”] Inherent Vice, p78

Thought I musta been hallu-cinating,
Waiting at the light she called to me, “Let’s go!”
How am I supposed to refuse an 18-
Year-old cutie in a GTO?

We took off north, from the light at Topanga,
Tires smokin in a long hot scream,
Under the hood of my Ford Mustang, a
427 cammer runnin just like a dream–
[Bridge]
Grille to grille, by the time we hit
Leo Carrillo [Horn section fill],
And it still, wasn’t over by Point Mugu–
Just a Ford Mustang and a sweet GTee-O,
In motion by the ocean,
Doin what the motorheads do.

Shoulda filled-up when I got-off, the San Diego, it’s
Been pinned on empty for the last ten miles,
Next thing I know she’s wavin hasta lu-ego, flashin
One of those big California smiles–

Bummed out on the shoulder, couldn’t feel bluer,
Here comes that familiar Ram Air blast,
What’s that on the front seat, right next to her,
It’s a shiny red can full of high-test gas–

So we grooved, back on down, past
Leo Carrillo [Same horn fill],
Grille to grille all the way down to Malibu,
Just a Ford Mustang and that sweet GTee-O,
In motion by the ocean
Doin what the motorheads do….

[“P’s and Q’s”] V., p307

It is something less than heaven
To be quoted Thesis 1.7
Every time I make an advance;
If the world is all that the case is
That’s a pretty discouraging basis
On which to pursue
Any sort of romance.
I’ve got a proposition for you;
Logical, positive and brief.
And at least it could serve as a kind of comic relief:

[Refrain]
Let P equal me,
With my heart in command;
Let Q equal you
With Tractatus in hand;
And R could stand for a lifetime of love,
Filled with music to fondle and purr to.
We’ll define love as anything lovely you’d care to infer to.
On the right, put that bright,
Hypothetical case;
On the left, our uncleft,
Parenthetical chase.
And that horseshoe there in the middle
Could be lucky; we’ve nothing to lose,
If in these parentheses
We just mind our little P’s
And Q’s.

If P [Mafia sang in reply] thinks of me
As a girl hard to make,
Then Q wishes you
Would go jump in the lake.
For R is a meaningless concept,
Having nothing to do with pleasure:
I prefer the hard and tangible things I can measure.
Man, you chase in the face
Of impossible odds;
I’m a lass in the class
Of unbossable broads.
If you’ll promise no more sticky phrases,
Half a mo while I kick off my shoes.
There are birds, there are bees,
And to hell with all your P’s
And Q’s.

[“On Yashmeen”] Against the Day, p598

Her idea of banter
Likely isn’t Cantor,
Nor is she apt to murmur low
Axioms of Zermelo,
She’s been kissed by geniuses,
Amateur Frobeniuses,
One by one in swank array,
Bright as any Poincaré,
And…though she
May not care for Cauchy,
Any more than Riemann,
We’ll just have to dream on…
Let
it occur in spots in
Whittaker and Watson–
Unforeseen converging,
Miracles emerging,
Epsilonic dances,
Small but finite chances,
For love…

“Julia (Fox-Trot)” Gravity’s Rainbow, p248

Ju-lia,
Would you think me pe-cul-iar,
If I should fool ya,
In-to givin’ me–just-a-little-kiss?

Jool-yaaahh,
No one else could love you tru-lier,
How I’d worship and bejewel ya,
If you’d on-ly give-me just-a-little-kiss!

Ahh Jool-yaaahhhh–
My poor heart grows un-ru-lier,
No one oolier or droolier,
Could I be longing for–
What’s more–

Ju-lia,
I would should hallelujah,
To have my Jool-yaaahh,
In-my-arms forevermore.

[“Constables in Love”] Against the Day, p679

You know, it’s…
Only copper propa-
gaaaan-da, that
Policemen never woo, woo, woo!
–You
Know I’d be just as cud-dly as a
Paaaan-da,
If only-I-knew,
You wan-ted-to-cud-dle-me too! E-
-ven in Ken-ya, Tangan-yi-ka and U-
gaaaan-da,
It’s not that unheard of…
Coz it’s a
Proper crop o’propa-
gaaaanda, that
A flat-tie can’t fall in love!

“Just Like a William Powell” Vineland, p162

Oh it’s like layin’ bricks, without a trowel,
Like havin’ a luau, with no fish ‘n’ poi,
When you’re just like, a William Powell,
Lookin’ for some, Myrna Loy!

Well, Lassie’s got Roddy McDowall,
Trigger’s got, Dale and Roy,
Asta’s got William Powell, goin’
“Where th’ heck’s that, Myrna Loy?”

And just think of how Tarzan, would start to how-l,
If he only was hangin’ out, with Cheetah and Boy —
I feel like th’ alphabet, without a vowel,
Like Flatfoot Floogie, with only one Floy —

Guess I’ll just, throw in the towel,
Aw I’ll never find the, real McCoy,
Just another William Powell,
Lookin’ for that Myrna Loy….

“Too Soon to Know (Fox-Trot)” Gravity’s Rainbow, p198

It’s still too soon,
It’s not as if we’d kissed and kindled,
Or chased the moon
Through midnight’s hush, as dancing dwindled
Into quiet dawns,
Over secret lawns…

Too soon to know
If all that breathless conversation
A sigh ago
Was more than casual flirtation
Doomed to drift away
Into misty gray…

How can we tell,
What can we see?
Love works its spells in hiding,
Quite past our own deciding…

So who’s to say
If joyful love is just beginning,
Or if its day
Just turned to night, as Earth went spinning?
Darling, maybe so–
It’s TOO SOON TO KNOW.

[“A Deutschesüdwestafrikaner in Love”] V., p282

I know what you want,
Princess of coquettes:
Deviations, fantasies and secret amulets.

Only try to go
Further than you’ve gone
If you never want to live to see another dawn.

Seventeen is cruel,
Yet at forty-two,
Purgatory fires burn no livelier than you.

So, come away from him,
Take my hand instead,
Let the dead get to the task of burying their dead;
Through that hidden door again,
Bravo for ’04 again; I’m a
Deutschesüdwestafrikaner in love…

[“Mister Farenheit”] Mason & Dixon, p552

Say, Mister Farenheit,
She doesn’t treat me right,
Wish you could warm up that Lady of mine,–
Look at you, on the wall,
Don’t have a, care at all,–
Even tho’ our love has plung’d,
To minus nintey-nine,– now, Doctor
Celsius, and ev’ryone else, yes,
Say, you’ve plenty to spare,–
Don’t let us freeze, can’t you
Send some Degrees, from where-
-Ever you are, out there,–
Damme,
Mister Farenheit,–
Here comes another night,
I shall once again be shiv’ring through,
With no help from your Scale,
‘Tis all Ice and Hail, and
I’ll turn-into a Snow-man, too.

[“Dance it Away”] Gravity’s Rainbow, p558

And all the world’s busy, this twi-light!
Who knows what morning-streets, our shoes have known?
Who knows, how many friends, we’ve left, to cry alone?
We have a moment together,
We’ll hum this tune for a day…
Ev’ryone’s dancing, in twi-light,
Dancing the bad dream a-way….

[“Durango Dove”] Against the Day, p202

Out on the wind…
Durango dove,
Ride the sky,
Dare the storm….
We never once
Did speak of love,
Or I’d be free,
And a long time gone….
When the lamplight
Comes on in town,
Rings and rouge,
Satin gown…
Oh, but my
Lost…
Durango dove,
Do they believe it all,
The way I do?
Would they fall
Into your sky,
Even die,
Dove, for you….

[“A Girl in Cuxhaven”] Gravity’s Rainbow, p639

I dream that I have found us both again,
With spring so many strangers’ lives away,
And we, so free,
Out walking by the sea,
With someone else’s paper words to say….

They took us at the gates of green return,
Too lost by then to stop, and ask them why–
Do children meet again?
Does any trace remain,
Along the superhighways of July?

[“Teenage Romeo”] V., p387

Little teen-age goddess
Don’t tell me no,
Into the park tonight
We’re going to go,
Let me be
Your teen-age Romeo….

“Serge’s Song” The Crying of Lot 49, p120

What chance has a lonely surfer boy
For the love of a surfer chick,
With all these Humbert Humbert cats
Coming on so big and sick?
For me, my baby was a woman,
For him she’s just another nymphet;
Why did they run around, why did she put me down,
And get me so upset?
Well, as long as she’s gone away-yay,
I’ve had to find somebody new,
And the older generation
Has taught me what to do–
I had a date last night with an eight-year-old,
And she’s a swinger just like me,
So you can find us any night up on the football field,
In back of P.S. 33 (oh, yeah),
And it’s as groovy as it can be.

[“A Loser at the Game of Love”] Gravity’s Rainbow, p684

Just a fool-who-never-wins, at love,
Though-he-plays, most-ev’, ry night…
A loser-to-the-Ones, Above,
Who stack-the-cards, of wrong, and right….
Oh, the loser never bets-it-all, and-he never-plays, to win,
He knows if-once, you don’t-succeed, you can al-ways lose-again!
Just a loser at-the-game, of love…
Spending night after night a-lo-o-o-one!

[“Cape Girl”] Mason & Dixon, p80

Oh,
Cape Girrl,
In the Ocean Wind,
Fairer than the full Moon,
Secret as a Sin,–
You’re a,
Light Lass,
So the Lads all say,
Sitting on your Stoep, hop-
-Ing Love will pass today…
You keep your Slaves about,
As don’t we all,
Yet no one in love is brave,
And even a Slave may fall…
In love with,–
Cape Girl,
When South-Easters blow,
Thro’ my Dreams, I know,
To your Arms I’ll go,
Cape Girl, don’t say no.

[“My Singing Bird of Spitalfields”] Against the Day, p684

Oh, Sing-
-ing Bird,
Of Spital-fields–
How lonely i’-all-feels,
Wiv-out your mel-
o-dee! When shall my
Brick Lane bunt-ing
Chirp-again,
To my throbbing-brain,
Her dear refrain,
Soft-leee? Al-
though it’s spring
In Stepney, so-we’re-told,
Here in my
Heart-it’s-cold
As any-win-
try sea–until my
Singing Bird of
Spit-alfields,
Perched on her lit-tle heels,
Comes trip-ping back,
To meee!
–(My dar-ling),
[D.C.]

[“Es Posible“] Vineland, p343

Mention…[rattle of bongos] to me, [picking up slow tropical beat]
“Es posible,”
And I won’t need a replay,
My evening, is yours….

Yes that’s all, it takes,
Incre-íble,
Would it be so…ter-reeb-lay,
To dare hope for more?

¿Es posible?
Could you at last be, the one?
Increíble,
Out of so many mil-lyun,
What fun,

If you [bongo rattle, as above] would say,
“Es po-ho-seeb-lay,”
While that old Mar Carib’ lay
‘Neath the moonlight above,
Es posible,
Increíble,

It’s love…[fill phrase such as B-C-E-C-B flat]
It’s love…[etc., board-fading]

[“Skyful of Hearts”] Inherent Vice, p337

There’s a skyful of hearts,
Broken in two,
Some flyin full fare,
Some non-revenue,
All us bit actors
Me him and you,
Playin our parts,
In a skyful of hearts…

Up there in first class,
Ten-dollar wine,
Playing canasta,
Doin so fine,
Suddenly, uh-oh,
Here’s ‘at No Smokin sign
That’s how it starts,
In a skyful of hearts…

[Bridge]
To the roar of the fanjet…
You went on your way…
I’ll sure miss you, and yet…
There ain’t much to say…

Now I’m flyin alone
In economy class,
Drinkin the cheap stuff,
Till I’m flat on my ass,
Watchin my torch song
Fall off the charts,
But that’s how it goes
In a skyful of hearts…

[“The Eyes of a New York Woman”] V., p145

The eyes of a New York woman [he started to sing]
Are the twilit side of the moon,
Nobody knows what goes on back there
Where it’s always late afternoon.

Under the lights of Broadway,
Far from the lights of home,
With a smile as sweet as a candy cane
And a heart all plated with chrome.

Do they ever see the wandering bums
And the boys with no place to go,
And the drifter who cried for an ugly girl
That he left in Buffalo?

Dead as the leaves in Union Square,
Dead as the graveyard sea,
The eyes of a New York woman
Are never going to cry for me.
Are never going to cry for me.

Flicker, How Much Are You Willing to Forget?FTC Disclosure: I received a copy of this CD in exchange for review. No money changed hands and all opinions presented here are my own.

Every so often I get the opportunity to review releases by smaller, independent or lesser known artists. This is something I’d love to do a lot more of on this blog, moving forward. To that end I was contacted early this year by the band Flicker, who wanted me to review their new album, How Much Are You Willing to Forget?

In the meantime I read and reviewed Scott Bishop’s A Soul’s Calling first. Not because I hadn’t listened to this…but because I was finding it genuinely difficult to stop listening to this long enough to write about it. Doing reviews of unknowns on this blog led me to fear that I’d be flooding my reading and listening time with…well, stuff I’d rather not flood that time with. Here, however, Flicker has fenced me into the opposite problem: enjoying something to the point that writing about it feels intimidating.

Nevertheless, I shall attempt it.

There’s a definite Pink Floyd vibe to this collection of 9 songs, but I feel as though carrying the comparison too far does this band a disservice. After all, part of the enduring appeal of Pink Floyd has to do with their overt challenging of musical preconceptions. (The same can of course be said of Frank Zappa.) It gives them a pretty timeless shelf-life, but it also means that it’s easy to find examples of that approach backfiring, where they overreach just enough that the weirdness and experimentalism starts to feel silly and reductive. When it comes naturally the listener feels as though he’s being granted access to an entirely new and exciting universe, bursting with possibility. When it doesn’t come naturally it feels completely artificial, and somehow even embarrassing.

Here the experimentalism comes naturally, and the stranger passages — of which there are many — feel like integral parts of the journey. This is a good thing, because the songs are relatively long (five of the nine songs break the six-minute mark, and one falls just short) and if the experiment doesn’t pay off, you’re stuck with it for the long haul.

Fortunately, the experiments pay off, and there’s not a disappointing moment on the disc. Flicker shifts from brash to spacey to heartfelt in the space of a single chord change and it feels right. In fact, for an album of only fifty minutes or so, it sure covers a lot of ground.

What it does lack, I would say, is a stronger sense of cohesion…a symptom of its own ambitiousness. It feels as though the band is more interested in crafting a series of strong singular experiences than one grander, album-spanning one. Not a problem in itself, of course, but it does make How Much Are You Willing to Forget? feel more like a collection of impressive splinters than like one single work of art.

It’s a small criticism at best, and honestly not much of one at all, especially when the individual tracks are this good.

My personal pick for standout track is “Counting Time,” a cathartic series of smaller build-ups and releases that swirl about in an atmosphere of uneasiness. It’s a rare song that uses well-chosen moments of silence to make itself feel massive and eternal, and it’s easily the one I’ve returned to most. There’s also a brilliant, improvised-sounding vocal outtro by an uncredited female that adds a lot of personality to an already excellent tune.

As far as accessibility goes, both “Go” and “Everywhere Face” sound tailor-made for the radio…and, not coincidentally I’m sure, are recorded to radio-friendly lengths. The former is an absolutely Floyd-inspired ramp-up promising big things that the album fortunately delivers, and the latter is a much darker, pounding dirge that nevertheless carries the sense of immediate familiarity every single needs.

Some great and rewarding experimentation rounds out the experience in other tracks, such as “My Empty Head” which fills more than half of its space with a lengthy, airy jam that works brilliantly here and promises so much more if the band is willing to play around with it in concert. It’s passages like this that tend to resonate with me most, and in the case of Flicker it’s the moment that absolutely had me hooked. It takes more than talent to record a piece of music like this…it takes heart. And judging by this track alone, Flicker has a lot of both.

“Is This Real Life?” closes the album with a long, plaintive piano-driven ebb into nothingness, and it’s exactly the kind of gorgeous simplicity that only a band with this much confidence in itself can pull off well. It’s an excellent way to punctuate a debut, bringing both closure to the listening experience and leaving a lot of room to anticipate an impressive followup. It’s also a welcome breath of simple reassurance after an album’s worth of restless complexity, and a great way to bring the experience back down to earth.

It’s always nice to discover a new band, especially one so versatile and restlessly impressive. I look forward to hearing a lot more from them, so be sure to check them out on iTunes or at their Bandcamp page. And no rush on the follow-up, guys…I’ll have this one in rotation for a long time.

FTC Disclosure: I received a copy of this CD in exchange for review. No money changed hands and all opinions presented here are my own.

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