My iPod #551: Carpark North – Human

Carpark North is an alternative/electronic rock band from Denmark comprising of members Lau Højen, Søren Balsner, and Morten Thorhauge. Six years after their initial formation in 1999 came the second album All Things to All People, on which “Human” can be found as the second track. “Human” was a hit in Denmark and became the band’s first top ten single. It was to gain wider recognition when it was on the soundtrack of FIFA 08. That’s where I heard it the first and many more times as I continually played the game whenever I got the chance.

Like the other FIFAs that came before it, 08 had its share of highlights that I would always sing along to when playing Manager Mode and duds that I would skip and eventually disable them from playing because they weren’t any good. “Human”, clearly, was one of those highlights for me. A break up song of some kind, it depicts a narrator annoyed with this self-centred and arrogant being who cannot admit when they are in the wrong. It’s all there in the lyrics. With a hard-hitting beat that mimics that of “My Sharona” by The Knack and a melody that has something ever so sly about it, “Human” is a good listen. I will probably never listen to the rest of the band’s discography though; it will always only be a FIFA song to me.

Being a game that’s rated PEGI 3+, EA censored the part where the phrase ‘damn right’ is sung in the chorus. Can’t have the kids cursing so badly.

My iPod #550: Mercury Rev – Hudson Line

There are three figures that normally come to my mind when Mercury Rev is in discussion. The first being Jonathan Donahue, original member who turned frontman after the band’s original singer left. Next is Dave Fridmann, the band’s bassist and main producer – a man who has looked over album recordings by The Flaming Lips, Spoon, and Sleater-Kinney. Last but not least comes Sean Thomas Mackiowack, commonly referred to as “Grasshopper”, the band’s shades-wearing lead guitarist and multi-instrumentalist. Today’s song “Hudson Line” was written by him, and it is the sixth track on the band’s 1999 album Deserter’s Songs.

Here, Grasshopper sings about having to leave a beautiful city where silver clouds are chased away by satellites and children play with kites and balloons. In contrast to Donahue’s high-pitched and nasally vocals, Grasshopper sings his lyrics with a wistful low whisper, repeating the simple lullaby-like melody in the verses and chorus. Deserter’s Songs is an album of grandiose instrumentation; “Hudson Line” doesn’t stray from that concept, and really adds to it with raspy saxophones and groovy keyboard licks. The vocals end after the second repetition of the chorus. That comes just past the song’s midway point, leaving another minute and a half of beautiful string arrangements and synths.

My iPod #549: John Lennon – How?

“How?” is a track from John Lennon’s second album Imagine. Coming after the scathing attack of Paul McCartney on “How Do You Sleep?”, “How?” brings the negativity down a peg and instead replaces that mood with a feeling of worrying uncertainty. Set to a sweet instrumental of piano, keyboard, smooth drums and various strings Lennon wonders how he can be expected to live, feel, and love when he doesn’t know the future holds for him.

Inspired by the primal therapy sessions he went through with Yoko Ono, “How?” is a contemplative and introspective track containing lyrics of a sentiment that make it indistinguishable from the tracks on John’s Plastic Ono Band album. Though with the aforementioned instrumentation the track exudes a warm and calming feeling that comforts the listener, even if Lennon sings of this anxiety that we can go through some time in our lives.

Placed between “How Do You Sleep?” and fan favourite “Oh Yoko!“, “How?” tends to be an overlooked gem on the album and in Lennon’s discography as a whole. Don’t know why that is. There is something very special about it.

My iPod #548: …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead – How Near, How Far

Source Tags & Codes, the third album by post-hardcore band …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead, once received a perfect 10 from notable music critics Pitchfork upon its initial release in 2002. Many to this day discuss whether it deserved the score. Thinking about it a year from when I first heard it, I’m still not so sure myself. Though I can confirm that it is a glorious one. I like it quite a bit. Well worth fifty minutes of your time. You may have some preconceived ideas about the music just from the band’s name (I know I did) but you will be pleasantly surprised by the album’s quality.

The track, stemming from an idea that singer Conrad Keely had written three years before, depicts a narrator who wishes to know more about history. Entranced by ‘oil painted eyes of muses left behind’ he wants to learn about the subjects of these paintings but is ‘left dry’ that he will never be able to know the full truth, learning only what he can read in books and stories. The track contains only three verses with no distinct chorus, though the highlight for me is the instrumental break. It begins with alternating violins and guitars, before slowly building in intensity as the song’s captivating introductory riff plays and plays with Keely repeatedly singing “How near, how far/How lost they are” before seamlessly transitioning into the song’s final verse.

“How Near, How Far” quickly grew to become one of my favourites from it. It was maybe a week after listening to the full album when I was in visiting my friend in Manchester last year. I stepped outside after having partied for many hours at the university’s student union building to a sky of pink and red made by the rising of the sun. Everything from the leaves on the trees to the cars on the road had a vibrant glow. It was a sight to behold, too much to take in. I suddenly found myself humming “How Near” to myself, it just seemed like the perfect song at that moment.

My iPod #547: The Who – How Many Friends

Afraid of turning thirty and becoming irrelevant in the music business, Pete Townshend expressed the personal issues he was going through in his songwriting. The material written resulted in The Who by Numbers, The Who’s seventh album released in 1975, which marked a return to the straightforward studio album format after their second rock opera of Quadrophenia in 1973.

“How Many Friends” is the penultimate track, and is arguably the one in which Townshend’s insecurities are laid bare. It is something of a biography, with Townshend recalling moments of being hit on by a guy, falling in a love with a lady at the cinema, and signing a contract for the first time. However, all of these times bring up the issue on whether he is just being used, leaving him questioning who he can really trust and whether he has true friends he can really depend on and will take him for the person he is. Its message struck a chord with Keith Moon, who is said to have cried and hugged Townshend after hearing the song’s demo for the first time.

Once again the band provide a brilliant performance, but what really gives the song its delicate touch is the lush piano courtesy of the late Nick Hopkins, who fills the slot as the ‘rhythm guitar’ while Townshend delivers what is essentially a four-minute solo in the left channel. It is maybe one of the songs by The Who where the rhythm section aren’t the musical highlights. Of course you can’t disregard the playing of John Entwistle and Keith Moon completely, they very much do their job greatly, but Daltrey’s majestic vocals with Hopkins’ piano and Townshend’s intense guitar work reinforce the track’s sad energy. A tear will be shed.

My iPod #546: They Might Be Giants – Hovering Sombrero

“Hovering Sombrero” is a song about the saddening reminder that time flies; before you know it, the things you had grown accustomed to when growing up will all be replaced and you will only have the memories to remember them by. John Linnell sings of a sombrero that continues to ‘hover on’ as the seconds, years, and minutes roll by. Obviously it’s not a literal wide-brimmed hat of Mexico; that would have to float back down to the ground some time. I do have the idea that the ‘hovering sombrero’ is actually the Solar System. It looks a bit like a sombrero if you really think about it, and in line of the song I think it makes a bit of sense.

The seventh offering on the band’s eighth album contains standard rock instrumentation consisting of acoustic and electric guitars, the rhythm section, and a keyboard that makes an appearance here and there. Linnell’s single-tracked vocal guides you through the track; he also provides an overlapping ‘no/don’t’ backing vocal that stretches throughout various lines. It is quite beautiful in its simplicity, but you think things are just about to get started it is already the end of the song. Another great gem within their discography.

My iPod #545: John Linnell – House of Mayors

“House of Mayors” is the title track from the second solo EP of They Might Be Giants’ John Linnell. Consisting of ten tracks it is something of an experimental piece of work; the majority of tracks are instrumentals named after former mayors of New York City. “House of Mayors” is very much the musical centrepiece –  spread throughout the EP are three short instrumentals that borrow some of the melody from the song – and the full thing is saved until the very last track.

Unlike his full solo debut album that would be released three years later in ’99, “House of Mayors” is very much a DIY project. All instruments present on the song are played by Linnell and the weird thing is I think, apart from the guitar, everything else is played on the keyboard. There’s a very heartwarming and earnest feel exuded by the minimal production and twinkling keyboard lines as John Linnell describes the scene at a fictional house of mayors where various political things are occurring. The subject matter doesn’t sound all that special, but the songwriter’s knack for great melodies and music make it one of the most comfortable listens in the vast catalogue of They Might Be Giants related material.