Happy Sunday, bibliophiles! I hope this week has treated you well. 🏻
This is gonna be a fun one. By coincidence, the fault lines of Palehound Panic™️ and my recently reawakened Blur Breakdown™️ have collided in the span of a week. Let’s hope the results won’t be cataclysmic.
Enjoy this week’s songs!
SUNDAY SONGS: 5/28/23
I’ve finally finished my quest to catch up on Palehound (the albums, at least) before Eye on the Bat. Over the past week or so, Black Friday has been in heavy rotation—it feels like El Kempner’s most cohesive and lyrically strong album, and it might just be my favorite of theirs so far. It was a feat to pick just one song from this album—“Worthy,” “Aaron,” and “Killer” were all strong contenders (GO LISTEN THEY’RE ALL SO GOOD)—but the title track, “Black Friday,” stuck out to me in so many ways.
Palehound often leaves the introspection for a handful of songs at the end of each album, but the personal threads run deep throughout the entirety of Black Friday. This song in particular hits a particularly emotional note—it’s a continued story of catching up with old friends, all the while having a nagging feeling that they don’t care about you now, and that they never cared much about you before, either. Yet somehow, you still feel tied to them by some kind of desperate obligation, a lingering thought that maybe things can change, but knowing they won’t; Kempner sings that “I’ll take being the last one that you call/You’re Black Friday and I’m going to the mall.” The chorus of “Before you said we’d keep in touch/I don’t hear from you too much/If you need to call me, I’m too weak to hold a grudge,” with Kempner’s layered harmonies, glitter like the edges of stars and ring out like a faint sound of a jet flying overhead. It was a song that felt like a punch in the stomach, all while I was just trying to give myself a nice manicure. Afterwards, I had to sit back for a minute…there will always be those songs that hit a little too close to home for comfort, and they always come when you least expect them to. But songs like “Black Friday” give a voice to the feelings that we think, in our darkest moments, are isolated only to only us. So thank you for that, El Kempner. Here’s to making friends with people who really do care, and not chasing after people who don’t.
All is right in the universe. Nature is healing. We’ve got a new Blur album out in July…everything’s okay again…
…and this song is testing my ability to spell the word “narcissist.” I could’ve sworn that there was another ‘c’ in there somewhere…
I’ve got to hand it to Damon Albarn at this point—he’s having not one, but two of his projects (this and Gorillaz) releasing albums this year, and even if Cracker Island was a bit of a disappointment, the sheer creativity and talent is all there regardless. Knowing that the forthcoming The Ballad of Darren was a spur-of-the-moment kind of reunion makes it all the more impressive—they didn’t plan on making another album in the first place, and then they come out with this?
That being said…I’m not sure if it’s Blur’s best, but it’s still a great song. I didn’t listen to it on repeat while cleaning out my closet last week for no reason. It’s such a catchy tune—the instrumentals are a little understated, but it’s clean, it’s smooth, and it’s proof that Blur have mastered the art of a polished Britpop tune. My only problem, as much as I’ll sing praises for Damon Albarn, is that there’s too much Damon Albarn. It’s not something that I’d ever picture myself saying, but we live in strange times. “The Narcissist,” delightful earworm that it is, feels more like a solo Damon Albarn effort than a Blur song. Even though we do get Graham Coxon’s backing vocals, I find myself missing his captivating, intricate riffs. You can hardly hear the presence of Alex James’ iconic basslines. And Dave Rowntree’s precise drumming is still there, but again: understated. I just want more Blur, less Damon Albarn.
All that is to say that, for once, the fact that we’re getting a whole new Blur album overshadows most of the nitpicks I have about “The Narcissist.” I have a feeling that I’m gonna enjoy Hot Blur Summer.
“I Need Some Fine Wine and You, You Need to Be Nicer” – The Cardigans
If I didn’t know any better, I would’ve thought this was a Giant Drag song—it’s got a very similar kind of bite. I’ve only listened to First Band on the Moon, but this song has me wondering what happened between that and their final record, Super Extra Gravity. I wouldn’t call it a sea change—it’s still got the pop sensibility that Nina Persson perfected to a science, but there’s an undeniable roughness to the song that pushes it more towards the edges. Persson’s voice, although it retains her signature, dainty tone, curls into a rasp as the song begins with half-spoken dog commands—”Sit/good dog/stay/bad dog/down/roll over.” The rest of that song is as bitter as the intro suggests, singing of a relationship gone sour, dulled by alcohol and fleeting visions of lost love. The Cardigans have toyed with these kinds of songs, but this one really makes the feel come through—it’s still a pop song through and through, but the sharpening of the guitars on this one make the image really come to life. “I Need Some Fine Wine” is, in short, Nina Persson’s hairdo in most of the video—it coexists as the neatly braided crown and the spiky hairs coming out all at once.
Full disclosure: I hoard reaction images. Too many. But even a refined reaction image connoisseur such as myself knows that some images are only suited for very specific, sacred times. You can’t go about wasting them willy-nilly, even if they are just…well, sitting on your phone. It’s not every day that something can evoke the feeling contained in this image, for instance:
But that’s how “Sinnerman” feels. All the way through.
Every TV show and film that this song has been featured in has cut it tragically short; and no, I don’t mean to call Gerard Way and Taika Waititi cowards, because they clearly aren’t, but also…if you’re going to include this song in anything, you have to go the whole mile—the 10:19 mile, to be exact. And if there’s any song that commands the listener to sprint through its entire length, it’s this one.
I can take longer songs, but there’s a specific art to crafting them: for me, if a song goes past the 6 or 7 minute mark, there has to be something that keeps me listening—that applies to any song, technically, but if you have that long of a song that mostly consists of repetition, you’ve started to lose me (lookin’ at you, LCD Soundsystem…you can pull it off sometimes…). Oingo Boingo’s sprawling, nearly 16 minute long swan song “Change,” for instance, has plenty of recurring musical motifs, but it keeps you on your toes, whether that be with artfully-placed oddball instrumentation or bizarre samples. But there’s a way that long song repetition can be done—my favorite song of all time, in fact, does just that; Blur’s “Tender” has a somewhat tidier format, but they bypass the LCD Soundsystem syndrome not just with breaks for Graham Coxon’s bluesy riffs and choir, but by fueling it with nothing but Emotion with a capital E—”love’s the greatest thing,” after all.
“Sinnerman,” however, does both of those things—it’s essentially the mother of every epic, extensively long song that you can think of. Even knowing the years that Nina Simone was active, it still amazes me that this was released in 1965. I could almost understand it if it had been the late sixties, when everybody started to realized how freeing musical experimentation was. Simone’s musical career was defined by pushing against so many barriers, from her protest music to her incredible piano skills, but this song pushed the envelope in such a wildly different way. Through all 10+ minutes, there’s an energy that seems to live and breathe and never stop—even when the music begins to die down in favor of Simone’s piano and a chorus of clapping. It’s a song on a desperate mission, one that takes no prisoners and never stops to catch its breath. Even though the song is an amalgamation of scattered 50’s songs, gospel, African spirituals, and remnants from her own religious upbringing, it can be easily reduced to a single word, one that Simone famously belts out near the song’s climactic ending—”power.” I can’t think of many other songs that grab you by the shirt collar and keep you hanging there quite like this—nothing comes close to how propulsive Simone is, with how purely propulsive both her voice and her piano playing are. Again—take my word with a grain of salt, but this really is a masterpiece. And knowing that she used to end her live shows with this song…WHEW. What a song.
Whether or not it was intentional, it’s fitting that this song shares space with a song called “YMCA Pool.” Two dubious bodies of liquid on one single.
With some songs that end up as singles after the released of an album, you’re left wanting—what could’ve changed if that track was on the album, as originally intended? (see: “Bicycle”) But some songs were made to be tiny, standalone packages, never leftovers for works past or teasers for what’s to come. “Sea of Blood” works exactly this way—it’s got the sprightly beats and guitar work of something circa Dry Food or even Bent Nail – EP, but there’s something about the short, snappy atmosphere of it that doesn’t confine it to any of Kempner’s previous works. It might fight the catchier, brighter side of Dry Food, but it doesn’t quite match the introspection. It’s got the experience that Bent Nail hadn’t fully achieved yet. And yet it still sounds like a home demo, but so fully realized—a neat drum machine accompanies Kempner’s signature rasp, sharp lyrics, and climbing guitar fingerings all come together in what has the sound quality just above an iPhone voice memo, but the polish that comes from nurturing a tune like this for a long time. And leave it to Palehound to name a song something like “Sea of Blood,” a title you’d expect to come with throat-burning, heavy metal screaming, but start off the song with a line as innocuous as “I’m every bit as fragile as a baby bird.” You sly dog, you…hound?
Since this post consists entirely of songs, consider all of them to be today’s song.
That’s it for this week’s Sunday Songs! Have a wonderful rest of your day, and take care of yourselves!