In the spirit of the blog "Living With Music," which my friend tuned me into, here's a playlist for the end of the first month of summer. Pour yourself a frosty beverage and listen to:
1. "Hope There's Someone," Antony and the Johnsons. I heard Antony sing for the first time in the documentary about Leonard Cohen, I'm Your Man. Ethereal, trembling, intimate in a troubling way. This song really gets into you: " Oh I'm scared of the middle place/Between light and nowhere / I don't want to be the one /Left in there, left in there." The pace is deliberate, the instrumentation simple, but the trembling voice vibrates inside you.
2. "Don't Talk," Beach Boys. I'm pretty sure there's been a lot written about the incredibly gorgeous song structure of this composition, as great a piece of popular music as has ever been written, in my opinion. But I just can't ever get over the stillness and sweetness of Brian Wilson's vocal. One of the essences of summer.
3. "Martha My Dear," Brad Mehldau. The White Album is one of my favorite recordings, ever, but this cover (from that album) by Brad Mehldau showcases the playfulness of the piece, but without words, because it's an instrumental. He plays it dry, without much pedal, so he gets a lot of space in the sound. It sounds like math, but with fizz.
4. "Romeo & Juliet," Dire Straits. It doesn't get much better than this, for little soap operas in song: "Juliet, when we made love you used to cry./ You said 'I love you like the stars above, I'll love you 'til I die'./There's a place for us, in all the movie songs./ When you gonna realize it was just that the time was wrong, Juliet?"
5. "Blue," Cat Power. "Blue" is one of the songs I worked out for myself on the piano when I was, what, 16? And it still retains its power to enthrall. I like to hear a cover that shows me something new about a song--for one thing, that shows me that the song is a song and not just a performance. Cat Power's dry voice, without the throatiness of Joni Mitchell's original (not that I would have said her voice was so throaty, but in comparison), shows the weariness of the song, powerfully and in a different way than Mitchell voiced it. So gorgeous, thrilling.
6. "Katmandu," Cat Stevens. Why, oh why does the Cat still have it for me? But he does. This song feels like a secret the singer is allowing only himself to hear. It's the very definition of lyric poetry--song that is overheard. The dark quiet of the song makes you understand why the singer needs to leave, to retreat to a high, isolated place.
7. "Sean Flynn," The Clash. I love the way this song makes a whole landscape in sound. Spooky, otherworldly.
8. "Everybody I Love You," CSNY. I dare you not to want to sing the harmony.
9. "The Last High," The Dandy Warhols. World weary, narcissistic, melancholy, I love this song.
10. "Suffragette City," David Bowie. The first Bowie song that made me understand what Bowie was all about.
11. "Human Nature," Michael Jackson. No matter what craziness MJ embodies, this song's longing still speaks. I love the spaciousness of the arrangement--its lushness isn't overdone, even for the 80s.
12. "Shake the Disease," Depeche Mode.
Here is a plea
From my heart to you
Nobody knows me
As well as you do
You know how hard it is for me
To shake the disease
That takes hold of my tongue
In situations like these
Yeah. Just like that.