Tag Archives: Listening Lab

Listening Lab: Bob Mould

My age. Kicking ass.

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Listening Lab: EMA

I’m writing a moody rock song about the mall. It’s pretty dark and sort of pretty and there isn’t much of a rhyme scheme but I’m enjoying the literalness of it. I like a lyric that looks you in the eye. There’s something mesmerizingly literal about EMA’s “California.” It’s also mesmerizingly stream-of-consciousness. That’s a neat trick. I can’t look away. Here’s to pointing fingers and naming names and my home state.

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Listening Lab: Joni Mitchell

I’m trying something new: starting a song with words. So far I’ve got a concept and one sheet in a yellow pad covered with images and rhymes and anecdotes and vignettes. It’s pretty damn interesting thinking exclusively about lyrics, and what’s possible, and what’s important, which I suppose, whether it ends up being a rock song or a synth tune or a waltz, is truth and beauty. Which brings us to the master, Joni Mitchell. The title track on her 1972 album For the Roses is about show business and fame, broadly, and more specifically her former lover, James Taylor. The way it works as intimate missive and complicated confessional and harsh commentary all at once never fails to astonish me. Sorry about the crappy sound but this is the best I could find. Here’s to words and music. Here’s to truth and beauty.

I heard it in the wind last night
It sounded like applause
Did you get a round resounding for you
Way up here
It seems like many dim years ago
Since I heard that face to face
Or seen you face to face
Though tonight I can feel you here
I get these notes
On butterflies and lilac sprays
From girls who just have to tell me
They saw you somewhere

In some office sits a poet
And he trembles as he sings
And he asks some guy
To circulate his soul around
On your mark red ribbon runner
The caressing rev of motors
Finely tuned like fancy women
In thirties evening gowns
Up the charts
Off to the airport-
Your name’s in the news
Everything’s first class-
The lights go down-
And it’s just you up there
Getting them to feel like that

Remember the days when you used to sit
And make up your tunes for love
And pour your simple sorrow
To the soundhole and your knee
And now you’re seen
On giant screens
And at parties for the press
And for people who have slices of you
From the company
They toss around your latest golden egg
Speculation-well, who’s to know
If the next one in the nest
Will glitter for them so

I guess I seem ungrateful
With my teeth sunk in the hand
That brings me things
I really can’t give up just yet
Now I sit up here
The critic!
And they introduce some band
But they seem so much confetti
Looking at them on my TV set
Oh the power and the glory
Just when you’re getting a taste for worship
They start bringing out the hammers
And the boards
And the nails

I heard it in the wind last night
It sounded like applause
Chilly now
End of summer
No more shiny hot nights
It was just the arbutus rustling
And the bumping of the logs
And the moon swept down black water
Like an empty spotlight

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Listening Lab: St. Vincent

Everything about writing “My Cake” has been hard and thrilling. I’ve got a melody now, thanks to Gary, who pointed me to “Actor Out Of Work.” The song had fallen off my radar, as songs will do. If you’re trying to wrap your brain around how to write a melody for a groove insteading a string of chords, it’s a real education. Plus, she wrote the whole Actor album using GarageBand. Here’s to code-cracking and inspiration and keeping going.

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Listening Lab: Thurston Moore

Maybe everything exists at once: past and present, youth and adulthood, consonance and dissonance, secrets and confessions, punk and art. Thurston Moore makes me believe it.

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