The Clientele — Impossible (Strange Geometry, 2005)
The last minute-and-a-half or so of this song is up there in my all-time favorite last minute-and-a-halfs. That snare drum, so insistent and tense in its polyrhythm; the pathos in Alasdair MacLean’s crying out “impossible” over a twisted-up and frantic guitar solo.
‘Impossible’ feels particularly dramatic and literary, even for a Clientele song. The structure is at once basic—roughly two verses, two choruses, and an outro—and quite ‘composed’—a string section opens the song, and each verse and chorus is separated by lengthy instrumental bridges between that only begin to resemble one another on repeated listens.
Lyrically it’s standard Clientele: romance, loneliness, surrealism. The Clientele’s is an acknowledged surrealism—here with the titular refrain—as though the narrator can’t help but acknowledge and disbelieve the absurdity of his own visions, imagined or not. It balances against what otherwise might seem unrelatable—for every “streetlamps fuse the rising night,” there’s a “I feel so far away.”
Strange Geometry was the first Clientele album I heard, and sountracked much of my junior year of college abroad. During those nine months I often felt isolated and lonely and separated, and The Clientele’s brand of self-aware, surreal melancholy was perfect for both sides of loneliness—hearing my sadness made poetry in reverb one day, reveling in the romance and freedom of solitude the next.
Last week Lauren picked out a 50¢ used surf rock compilation at the record store called Golden Summer. You’d recognize about half of it—plenty of Beach Boys, ‘Hawaii Five-O’ and ‘Wipe Out’ and ‘Surfin Bird’—and the whole thing is good fun.
This instrumental came on near the end of side four and struck me immediately. I thought the production sounded familiar, and it turns out Jack Nitzsche was Phil Spector’s right-hand man and a prolific arranger and orchestrator of rock, pop, and film music.
This is a good track, and I’m fascinated as much by why I like it as by the song itself. I tried listening to a collection of Nitzsche’s work on Spotify and couldn’t get more than three or four songs in—it was too much in a row of a style I’ve only ever really heard one at a time, mostly in films. Do I really like the song, or do I just like the feeling of the atmosphere it means to evoke? A nostalgia for a place and time I only know from media? (Is that sehnsucht or saudade?) Would I like it as much if Tarantino and Anderson hadn’t coached me along, given me images and themes to associate with music like this?
Often, when I find myself liking something, I try to explain it: this is Aspirational, or this is Reflective of My Thoughts and Feelings, or this is What the World Sounds Like, or this is Meditational. I don’t know where ‘The Lonely Surfer’ fits.
Thought I felt your heartbeat It was just my counting
This is such a perfect line (and such a perfect album). It struck me the first time I heard it and I’ve been meaning to write about it ever since.
The opening run of disappointments in ‘Dance Slow Decades’ is inspired, a beautiful and palpable take on the typically simplistic day-night-happy-sad-angel-devil trope. Angel’s list of mundane mistakes—forgetting her watch, or a dream—is so effective because of the way it matches ordinary error with the cognitive distortions of worst-case-scenario fear, how stupid little failures reinforce the perception of bigger ones, how the obsessive worry keeps itself alive—it was just my counting.
Not to mention the delivery; the plainspoken admissions of misunderstanding alongside the cry of “it took me down” is… well, you have to hear it.
Thought I had a clue It was passing by
Thought I had an answer It was just a sigh
Thought I had a dream once Don’t remember what
Thought I had some time here Left my watch at home
Thought I had ideas once They were all on loan
Thought I conquered something And it took me down
What I thought I heard clearly It wasn’t sound
Thought I felt your heartbeat It was just my counting
Friday, March 14th was the last day of my job. I took a week off to tie up loose ends and relax, and now I’ve begun freelancing. (So, hey, if you’re in need of top-notch frontend web development, I’m on LinkedIn and you can email me.)
Last week I booked an hour and a half in a float tank. A float tank is a sensory deprivation chamber; a tub of water completely saturated with salt in a sound- and light-proof room. (I’d heard about it from watching a Portlandia video on YouTube.)
Float On (‘the largest float tank center on the West Coast’) happens to be a five minute drive away, so I reserved a tank for 9am on Tuesday morning. I walked in, was shown to my room, told how it all worked, and wished a great float.
I rinsed off, climbed into the tub, turned the lights off, lay back, and immediately got ‘The Piña Colada Song’ stuck in my head.
(I have a memory of then getting ‘Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer’ stuck in my head, but that sounds so unbelievably ridiculous that it can’t possibly be true and must be a false memory.)
As I tried to breathe more slowly and empty my head, the bridge of my nose began to itch. I tried to ignore it, but eventually had to scratch. I got a drop of water in my eye, which stung like hell. I stumbled around in the dark for the right edge of the tub, turned the lights on, and climbed out to wash my face and head.
I got back in and tried to relax. I couldn’t. The room was 97º and extremely humid. My head would bump the edge of the tank as I floated, and I could hear every strand of hair crinkling against the edge of the tank from inside my head. I felt itches on my back, on my shoulder, on my scalp, on my face. As much as I tried to ignore it, as gingerly as I attempted to scratch an itch, I would inevitably get salt water in my eye or my skin would be begin to crawl to the point where I would have to get out and shower off again.
After having to shower off my head and face for a fourth time, I gave up. About forty minutes had passed, less than half of my allotted ninety. I explained to the guy at the front desk that I had a really hard time, that I guess my skin is just too sensitive, that I guess I run a little too hot for this. He told me not to worry, that “it’s far from over” and that I would reap the relaxing benefits for the rest of the day.
Back to the ‘SOS in Bel Air’ remix. The descending piano riff that first appears at 0:42 reminds me of the “Sail away, sail away, sail away” refrain in Enya’s ‘Orinoco Flow’.
Which reminds me of the time that I was getting two huge steroid shots in my thighs for my spondylolysis and the music in the doctor’s operating room was ‘Orinoco Flow.’
Which also, unfortunately, reminds me of ‘Orinoco Dick’, a cover of that song where the singer substitutes the word ‘dick’ for as many lyrics as possible. I’m not proud to say that it’s funnier than it sounds, and there are 22 more tracks just like it.
Above is the sped-up vocal sample from Evian Christ’s ‘Salt Carousel’ (from his new EP Waterfall) slowed down to what I think is close to the original speed.It sounds to me like cut-up grime vocals. I don’t recognize it at all.
In 2012, Evian Christ put out his debut mixtape Kings and Them. Some of the samples therein are relatively Google-able (e.g., Baby Bash’s ‘Go Girl’ on the track of the same name) or familiar (e.g., Grouper’s ‘Wind and Snow’ on ‘Thrown Like Jacks’), but the first time I heard the second track, 'MYD', I recognized the sample immediately. It’s ‘Traum Gmbh’ from Black to Comm’s Alphabet 1968, which is one my favorite ambient albums from the last few years and absolutely worth a listen.
The Waterfall EP is too heavy on the chainsaw-n-drops for my tastes, but it reminds me:
Lukid is great. ‘Makes’, the closing track on 2010’s excellent Chord, is a marvel. His latest LP Lonely at the Top is also very good.
The Fiery Furnaces - Benton Harbor Blues Again (2006)
Few things better exemplify the Furnaces’ active hostility to attracting listeners than this song. (Not that that’s a good thing; it’s just a thing.) It’s one of their best, incredibly evocative and perfectly constructed. But a) it’s technically the remix, not the original version; b) the “original version” is an 8 minute long mess of noise; and c) it’s the last track on a generally hostile album, meaning almost no one got to it without a pretty strong existing interest in the band. Give it a listen anyway. It’ll win you over. (Though it’ll make you sad, too.)
I was just listening to this album while making dinner an hour ago!
This is such an excellent song. Bitter Tea is full of sweet sad things like this. I’d argue that ‘Waiting to Know You’ is the best of the bunch, but it’s track six—not quite the hidden gem that this song is.
‘Benton Harbor Blues’ is so fascinating in spite of its simplicity—a dozen little keyboard loops that shuffle in and out at just the right time.
In the morning, after Lauren has left for work or just before, between 7:30 and 8:00am. I walk east, uphill, into an area of increasingly large homes. I walk about two miles, which takes about forty minutes. It’s a quiet walk; families have left for work and school. In this warming weather, birds are getting more talkative. I usually listen to something ambient and spacious. I find this ritual, now four weeks in, incredibly enjoyable.
In the afternoon, around 2:30pm, to give the dog a bathroom break and both of us some fresh air. We walk in squares, no more than a few blocks. I usually skip the headphones, both to give my ears a break from the music I listen to constantly while working and to take in the sounds of the neighborhood. Today it was pouring so I put on my raincoat and put Birdie’s on her.
In the evening, around 6:00pm, after Lauren gets home from work. We walk about a mile. We talk, and I don’t listen to music. There was a beautiful sunset last night, and Lauren took this photo.