Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Tracks Of All Ages - Vol. I

"My Drag" by Squirrel Nut Zippers, from the album "Perennial Favorites" (1998) - The punk rockers of the mid-90's swing revival released their finest work to date in 1998: "Perennial Favorites." This bona fide masterpiece is chocked full of flavors from big band to blues, from gypsy jazz to klezmer, from dixie to tango, and a little acid-trip/dream-sequence circus serenade thrown in for texture. One of the shining stars in this stratospheric LP is track 7, "My Drag." When you put Katharine Whalen's smooth, seductive, Billie-Holiday-back-from-the-grave vocals together with a tango bridge full of bari sax beef and end it all with a double-time klezmer finale driven by the masterful violin chops of Andrew Bird, you've quite simply got one of the best songs of that decade, swing revival or otherwise.

Squirrel Nut Zippers - My Drag

"Dust In Her Eyes" by Fay Wray, from the album "Tug Love" (2008) - Although some may criticize this synthed-out, heart-pumping, hard-rocking dance number as being out of place on an album largely populated by piano-rock, jazz, and even R&B influences, my only criticism is that I can't get enough of it, and CD's tend to scratch over time when you play the same track over and over again. "Vicious! / Oh, my baby is an animal ? / Don't ya know she is a cannibal / And she's looking for a fix," screams singer Kevin Corcoran at the onset of this four-to-the-floor anthem to violence and horror. Brilliant! As far as cohesiveness goes, the track's ukulele intro and jazzy/funky interludes between verse/chorus sets is just enough to make it fit with the rest of "Tug Love."

Fay Wray - Dust In Her Eyes

"New York City Cops" by The Strokes, from the album "Is This It?" (UK Version, 2001) - Snagged from the U.S. version shortly before its release in October '01 because of certain lyrical insults to the intelligence of the NYPD seeming insensitive to the recent 9/11 attacks, this pure rock gem quickly became everyone's favorite underground hit and a standard encore at The Strokes' live shows. With its ominous tribal drum call/guitar feedback intro rolling right into a riff that won't leave your head for days, "Cops" squeezes all the rock it can out of its 3 1/2 minute life span. And the climax where the band explodes out of a 4-bar drum break and Julian wails "I'm leaving, 'cause this just won't work / They act like Romans, but they dress like Turks," is an especially powerful moment when you see it live.

The Strokes - New York City Cops

"Mansard Roof" by Vampire Weekend, from the album "Vampire Weekend" (2008) - As if enough hasn't already been written about this New York quartet, I still feel the need to explain why this songs makes me quite glad. The only reason "Mansard Roof" pulls ahead of "One (Blake's Got a New Face)" as best track on their self-titled album is because its a shining example of the perfect album opener. Within the first 30 seconds, you get bright and bubbly organ, percussive, Afro-cuban rhythms, Ezra Koenig's clean and crisp vocals floating through the scale with Mozart-esque grace, and the sublime string arrangements of keyboardist Rostam Batmanglij. And this is only the intro. By the time rhythm section Christopher Tomson and Chris Baio take over, you're already addicted. "Mansard Roof" successfully introduces you to every element you can expect from the rest of the album without giving away any of the surprises, and its "opener" personality is so predominant, that even on the best of mix CD's, there's no place for it but track 1.

Vampire Weekend - Mansard Roof

"Flash" by Queen, from the album "Flash Gordon" (1980) - So let's forget for a moment that this is a theme song to a science fiction adventure film and look at it under the microscope of "sampling genius." There are two versions of this tune: the album version, which is the version that is actually heard in the film with the first scene's dialog, and the single version which samples dialog from the entire film (and with impeccable timing and style, I might add). Considering the latter, this track can be viewed as a huge source of inspiration for the sampling habits of later artists like Fat Boy Slim, DJ Shadow, 808 State, and The Wiseguys. I won't go so far to make a controversial statement like, "best Queen song ever," but there's one thing I will say: "Flash, I love you, but we only have 14 hours to save the Earth!"

Queen - Flash

Buy Buy Buy:
"Perennial Favorites" by Squirrel Nut Zippers
"Is This It?" (UK Version) by The Strokes
"Vampire Weekend" by Vampire Weekend
"Flash Gordon" by Queen

Further Investigation: