Through The Earhole

[From Room Thirteen, March 1, 2008]

In this installment of “Through the Earhole,” writer Andrew M. Reilly sends us a musical postcard from across the pond and answers the question: what would Bowie do?

Current Five Favourites

Rilo Kiley – “Close Call”

With 2006″s outstanding “Rabbit Fur Coat”, lead singer Jenny Lewis seemingly made her bid for solo stardom by way of gospel-informed country blues, but 2007″s full-band “Under the Blacklight” saw Rilo Kiley making a full-on pop assault with Lewis leading the charge. One of the major strengths of the album was its stylistic schizophrenia, by turns classic rock, blue-eyed soul, disco and 70s porno funk. On this track in particular – one of the most muscular rock tracks on the band”s catalog – the sound and spirit of the album shine at their brightest with Lewis front-and-center, singing at once as the scolding mother, cool older sister, all-knowing friend and super sexy girl next door.

Nick Cave and Warren Ellis – “Song for Bob”

The Bad Seeds’ output is so uniformly weird, which may be a big part of what makes the minimalist beauty of the soundtrack to last winter”s “The Assassination of Jesse James” by the Coward Robert Ford that much eerier. This particular track is played over the final scene and ending credits as the narrator informs us that Bob never finds the right words. Cave and Ellis couldn”t find any words for the Jesse James score but, with melodies like these, they never needed them.

Porcupine Tree – “Cheating the Polygraph”

Porcupine Tree really took a strange tack by releasing the outtakes from last year”s outstanding “Fear of a Blank Planet”, but with the proper resequencing the contents of the “Nil Recurring” EP strengthen the original album to the point it becomes almost impossible to split the two apart. This track in particular creates a bridge from the heaviness of the opening title track and the spaciness of “My Ashes” to the album”s initially indigestible “Anesthetize” and the EP as a whole creates a smoother and more logical finale than the abrupt and overly-dramatic outro the original carried with “Sleep Together”. Concept albums are still about as pretentious as it gets, but Porcupine Tree may be onto something by turning theirs into a two-part mini-series that gets better as it unfolds.

Pagan’s Mind – “Hallo Spaceboy”

It”s usually incredibly lame for any band to do a cover of a song by a famous artist, but these Norwegian prog-metalheads get a pass for doing a (relatively) lesser-known David Bowie single, and for totally indulging themselves in Thin White Duke freakiness while doing so. Here we have a metal band embracing the music they love and putting their own stamp on it, all without reducing it to cartoonish over-riffing the way other acts might while performing similar feats. Unfortunately, the band loses points for not actually recording the track in outer space the way Bowie probably would have were he in a prog-metal band covering one of his own songs.

Rihanna – “Don”t Stop the Music”

Truth be told, this is an awful, awful song and I hate it immensely. When people drive by blasting this kind of thing out of car stereos, I want to throw things at their vehicles. When clothing stores play this as background music, I must forcibly restrain myself from giving the nearest clerk an Ozzy tattoo they never wanted.

However, at a certain time (say, just after midnight) in a certain place (say, any of the more well-heeled nightclubs of Chicago) there is no other piece of music that makes any more sense whatsoever than this girl – whose age should theoretically bar her from entry into the very clubs she”s singing for and about – pouting on over a Michael Jackson sample about some man-whore she just met. It’s horrible. It’s beautiful. Thank you, dear girl, for trashing up my Friday and Saturday nights.

The Album Pick

The Wire – “…And All The Pieces Matter”

More than any other television series – or most books and movie s, for that matter – HBO”s “The Wire” perfectly captured the ebb and flow of urban life in America. To coincide with its soon-to-conclude fifth and final season, series music director Blake Leyh was given the opportunity to assemble the musical companion to the full run of the show. Through a mixtape of character dialogue and some of the diegetic music from the course of the series, Leyh paints an extremely vivid and compelling portrait. More literally, Leyh’s signature closing theme “The Fall” finally makes its way to home speakers everywhere, its echoing drums and descending bass line telling us once and for all that it”s over. At one end, street corner rappers extol the rules of The Game while road house blues bands on the other sing about getting a day older and deeper in debt. Meanwhile, four artists’ take on the gospel blues of Tom Waits’ “Way Down in the Hole” drive the point home in their own fine fashions: the sounds may change, but in the end we are all singing the same sad song.