Sufjan Stevens – The Lord God Bird

godbird

Attack of the Killer Track! is a series that explores tracks from artists from a variety of genres. Some of the tracks were singles, some of them were obscure b-sides or long forgotten album tracks. One thing is certain – all of them are killer tracks.

2005 found Sufjan Stevens releasing his 2nd state themed record, Illinois. Stylistically similar to 2003’s Michigan, it added a depth to the indie orchestral musical stylings. Amidst all the critical acclaim and recordings, Sufjan found time to visit independent radio producers Dan Collison and Elizabeth Meister to reveal his writing process. Carrying on with his location-based songwriting, Stevens was introduced to the town of Brinkley, Arkansas. The ivory-billed woodpecker had recently been rediscovered after a period in which it was thought to be extinct. The bird is dubbed the lord god bird due to its stunning appearance – one of the largest woodpeckers in the world with distinctive coloring around the head. Sufjan released his song The Lord God Bird as a free download on the NPR website in July of 2005. The song is an exercise in beauty – conveying hope and spiritual longing in equal measures. Acoustic in nature, the song would have fit in perfectly with Sufjan’s mid 00’s records. It’s almost hard to believe that this song was given away for free – its one of my favorite Sufjan Stevens songs. It hooks you right from the opening line: “In the delta sun, down in Arkansas / It’s the great god bird with its altar call”. You can still find the free (and legal) download of the song here. You can also view a video that perfectly fits the song below. Enjoy.

The Jimi Hendrix Experience – Hey Joe

Hey Joe

Attack of the Killer Track! is a series that explores tracks from artists from a variety of genres. Some of the tracks were singles, some of them were obscure b-sides or long forgotten album tracks. One thing is certain – all of them are killer tracks.

Born and raised in Seattle, WA. A guitar hero. Died tragically early at the age of 27. You might be thinking Kurt Cobain, but I am referring to the late, great Jimi Hendrix. The mid 60’s had found Hendrix playing with The Isley Brothers and Little Richard, while also providing session work to various artists. It was during a session with Rosa Lee Brooks that Jimi met Arthur Lee, who would go on to form the influential band Love. Frustrated with his inability to break through in the US, Jim relocated to London, England in late 1966 and put together The Jimi Hendrix Experience. Featuring Noel Redding on bass, Mitch Mitchell on drums, and Jimi on guitar & vox, the band was met enthusiastically almost immediately. The debut single was a cover of the Billy Roberts classic Hey Joe. Jimi’s friend Arthur Lee had covered the tune on Love’s January 1966 debut album in the traditional faster tempo. The Jimi Hendrix Experience covered tune in a much slower manner, perhaps based off of the versions Tim Rose and The Creation were playing around the same time period. Jimi’s vocals are emotionally resonant, weaving a tale of tragedy and heartache. Musically, Mitch Mitchell, Noel Redding, and Jimi are perfectly in sync, allowing the explosive guitar solo to hit hard when it finally lets loose. The song was a top 10 hit in the UK for The Jimi Hendrix Experience in January 1967 (released December ’66) and did not chart in the United States when it was released there in May 1967. Each version came with a different b-side – Stone Free for the UK and 51st Anniversary for the US. As an added bonus, the video of this song embedded below features Jimi playing the guitar solo with his teeth. Seattle’s original guitar hero.

Soup – Album

Soup - Album

Anyone who absorbs an ungodly amount of music will tell you – sometimes the bands and records become lifetime companions and sometimes….well, sometimes you struggle to remember what they sound like. Those initial impressions are important – don’t get me wrong – but those records that stay lodged in your brain forever, those are hard to come by. Manchester, England’s Soup have released a debut album that I am sure will stick with me forever. It’s one of my favorite records of 2014.

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Wilco – Jesus, Etc

Jesus Etc

Attack of the Killer Track! is a series that explores tracks from artists from a variety of genres. Some of the tracks were singles, some of them were obscure b-sides or long forgotten album tracks. One thing is certain – all of them are killer tracks.

It is a rarity for a song to capture the zeitgeist in a meaningful manner. On the patriotic side, the songs can sound forced and full of propaganda jingles. On the rebel alliance side, the sounds can also sound forced and full of propaganda jingles. It takes a perfect storm of outside forces to produce a song that captures an era or event. Jesus, Etc by Wilco was recorded in early 2001, released in early 2002. Written by Jeff Tweedy and Jay Bennett, it uses evocative lyrical imagery married to country-ish musical backing. It is one of the more straightforward songs from the experimental tour de force, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Tweedy’s opening world-weary sigh “Jesus, don’t cry / You can rely on me honey” comes straight out of conversations couples have each and every day. The melodic string laden hook pulsates throughout the song, making it instantly memorable. Veering on the “glass is half empty” world view, Tweedy continues “You were right about the stars / Each one is a setting sun”. A pessimist’s way of imploring the listener to embrace the now? Possibly. The post 9/11 world was full of misguided nationalism, but it also left an overwhelming feeling of uncertainty. Sadness permeated the air. Considering this song was written PRE 9/11 but released POST 9/11, the next verses are just a bit eerie “Tall buildings shake / Voices escape singing sad sad songs / Voices whine / Skyscrapers are scraping together”. Metaphors for conflict in a relationship and the sadness that ensues. Tweedy resolves everything with a bit of a non resolution “Our love is all of God’s money / Everyone is a burning sun”. Another brilliant way of imploring us to embrace the now. The ancient Epicureans famously believed in the philosophy of  “Eat, drink, be merry – for tomorrow we may die”. In the post 9/11 world, Wilco captured that essence in a way that made the world take notice. I believe that is a philosophy worth embracing no matter what our religious beliefs are. Make each moment count.

The Cornelius Crane – Soul in the Lightning

Soul in the Lightning

The Cornelius Crane – Manchester, England’s answer to American alt-country – have released over an album’s worth of quality material over the last 2 years or so. Instead of delivering 12 songs on the traditional long player, the band have delivered 3 songs here, 4 songs there. I think this approach has worked out well for the band – quality song after quality song, with a 6 to 9 month wait for a new batch instead of the traditional 18 months to 2 years wait between full length albums. Steve, Dan, Mark, & friends have never even delivered a mediocre song, so it is no surprise that the new EP Soul in the Lightning is a bona fide masterpiece.

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Live – The Turn

TheTurn

The summer of 1995 represented my 1st taste of adult freedom. High school in the rear view mirror and higher education still in the future, it truly felt like there were endless possibilities. My best friend and I ventured out to Hershey, PA to catch what was being billed as a homecoming concert for one of the biggest bands in the world at that time – Live. An unlikely success story, Live rode the perfect wave of talent, hard work, and timing in the early to mid 90’s. The band’s 1991 debut Mental Jewelry is still one of my favorite records of all time – bass heavy indie rock drenched in mystic lyricism that sought answers to the meaning of life. Throwing Copper arrived 3 years later and took about a year to become a #1 hit, eventually selling over 10 million copies. The music had a more aggressive slant, perfectly timed to revel in the post Grunge rock revolution. The concert I saw in mid 1995 seemed to be the pinnacle of the band’s success – yet, they still managed to throw a Guided By Voices cover into their set list – a nod to their indie roots. 1997’s Secret Samadhi and 1999’s The Distance to Here continued the classic Live sound before the band essentially became a vehicle for the aspirations of lead singer Ed Kowalczyk.

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James Brown – Down and Out in New York City

JBdownandoutinNYC

Attack of the Killer Track! is a series that explores tracks from artists from a variety of genres. Some of the tracks were singles, some of them were obscure b-sides or long forgotten album tracks. One thing is certain – all of them are killer tracks.

In 1973 James Brown provided the score for the blaxploitation film Black Caesar. The single released from this soundtrack was Down and Out In New York City - my favorite James Brown song of all time. What I love about the song is that it has a deep soul foundation, but also displays the hardcore funk that Brown was enamored with in the early 70’s. The melody is positively infectious and the grooves make you want to get up and dance. Vocally, this is one of the best performances that Jams Brown ever delivered. The verses delivered right around the 1 minute mark bleed with passion “So you try hard or you die hard / No one really gives a good damn / You try hard and you die hard / Nobody gives a damn”. Around this time period is when James Brown started calling himself “The Godfather of Soul”. The single charted at #13 on the R&B charts and #50 on the Pop charts. The 7″ included the stunning soul lament, Mama’s Dead. Truly, an extraordinary release from James Brown at what can arguably be considered the peak of his creative powers.

The Sound – I Can’t Escape Myself

The Sound

Attack of the Killer Track! is a series that explores tracks from artists from a variety of genres. Some of the tracks were singles, some of them were obscure b-sides or long forgotten album tracks. One thing is certain – all of them are killer tracks.

The Sound are another one of those bands that should have become a household name alongside the likes of U2, Joy Division, and Echo & the Bunnymen. Formed from the ashes of The Outsiders, The Sound veered towards a somewhat darker trajectory. Adrian Borland’s vocals still bore traces of the punk delivery he’d laid down over the 2 LP’s with The Outsiders, but there was a heaviness that hadn’t been present on those earlier records. At this juncture, the band featured Graham Bailey on bass (also in The Outsiders and Second Layer), Mike Dudley on drums, and Benita Marshall on keyboard. Leaving punk behind for much darker pastures, the band delivered a masterpiece with the 1st full length. It has to be said – there is a sadness lingering whilst listening to many of the songs that Adrian Borland wrote – he would commit suicide in April of 1999. I Can’t Escape Myself is the opening track on 1980’s Jeopardy and is a perfect distillation of everything that made The Sound one of the best groups of all time. Emotive vocals, eerie synths, a propulsive bass line, slightly raw drums – this is a perfect song. The lyrics can only be described as unsettling – “so many feelings / pent-up in here / left alone, I’m with / the one i most fear…./ I, I can’t / escape myself”. Chilling, haunting, beautiful. Not everything Adrian Borland recorded was as bleak, so if you like this song I’d collect everything by The Sound, work back to The Outsiders, add the electronic based side project Second Layer, then move on to his solo records and the White Rose Transmission project. Adrian Borland was truly a musical genius, and the world needs more people like him.