Archive for November, 2006

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Meat Puppets – Meat Puppets II

November 28, 2006

Sorry there hasn’t been so much as a few words in the past two weeks or so. It has been kind of hectic around here. I’ve been playing with the tower for god knows how long by now. So long that my eyes are hurting. And I’ve had a lot of reports and projects due, so not much time has been alotted for here. But here I am, at least for now.

My backlog of music to review is enormous. It’s just so hard to chose what to review anymore. Often times, I need to really sit down and give an album a proper listen, as opposed to just kind of sitting and absorbing the music while I am doing homework or something like that. I do listen to a lot of music, but it’s not so often that an entire album gets the justice done to it that it should get. Problem is too, I review stuff too obscure for the typical music fan to know about, and yet too painfully well known for the typical “indie” rock fan. I know I have said it before, but I’ll say it again. If I ask you what your taste in music is and you say “indie rock,” I will likely punch you in the jaw. “Indie” is not a form of music. That doesn’t tell me anything, except that the artist is most likely not in the mainstream. Which honestly means nothing. Any good artist won’t feel restricted in the first place, and it’s not like major record labels warp any sense of art so much as adopt a certain kind sometimes. Just please, if you are the kind of person that determines their tastes by how many other people know about the artist, don’t hassle me for appeasing to the “most popular indie rock” just because you are an elitist prick.

That said, this is one of the more popular underground albums of the eighties and a popular choice for top albums lists if only because of it’s inviting nature. The truth is, it’s more folk/pop than anything, but what distinguishes this album is the sheer fun it is to listen to and how appealing it is to the liberal twenty-something, or even teenagers with open minds. Not that the music wouldn’t have been brilliant if it weren’t for the initially difficult vocals and traditional punk attitude. Because it is outwardly brilliant, that’s for sure. In the same way that Led Zeppelin could get away with following their band name with a roman numeral for their sophomore release, the Meat Puppets could do the same thing without feeling pretentious. The album is brilliantly crafted melodies of both the folk and pop genres, with quite a bit of punk frazzled throughout. This is an underground alternative classic, and it goes without saying that everyone should own a copy.

The listener will realize the nature of the music the second they turn the record on, which is scarcely true for any other music. Usually it takes a few tracks for the mood to sink in. But here, the style is encompassed very well with the first track, Split Myself in Two, with classic rugged guitar chords and a foot tapping blues beat. Another thing that the listener will recognize right off the bat are the distinctiveness of the vocals. No one will pretend that guitarist Curt Kirkwood doesn’t have a bad voice. Because it is very bad. And yet surprisingly abrasive for how much it cracks and how bad of a range he has. It sort of gives the music that much more of a laid back feeling and a distinguished apathy that the listener can relate to. In a word, for the disinfranchised rock fan, this is probably what their voice would sound close to in quality if they someday decided to scream out words outside of their shower stall. The lyrics are deffinitely good though. For how sophisticated they are, you could really never tell unless you saw them on paper. The first track works out respectably well, and brings the listener into the happy fun mood of the album.

Next up is one of the albums many fantastic instrumentals, Magic Toy Missing. Essentially, it’s a quick moving folk/pop tune distinguished mostly by it’s elaborate guitar strumming and soloing. The beat is fast and energetic, so the listener surely won’t get bored from the lack of lyrics. But to be honest, this is just a taste of what the rest of the album has in store. The other instrumentals are actually better, not to overshadow the goodness of the first one. But Aurora Borealis describes with only instrumentation the mysterious, rugged, serious, and yet completely relaxed mood of looking into the hypnotic shining night sky. But the truth is, the unpredictable chord progressions and extremely impressive guitarwork is what makes the song great. The best instrumental might damn well be I’m A Mindless Idiot though. It’s got a fantastic country tinge with a killer hook, and a mass appeal, to all those who have some nagging suspicion that they just might be a mindless idiot and are just coming to the grips with the fact that it’s possible to be proud of that fact. Unlike Aurora Borealis’ initially uninviting progression, Mindless Idiot is utterly loveable. Maybe being smart or intuitive really isn’t what living is about.

The track after Magic Toy Missing starts out with a strangely familiar little riff and evolves quickly. Lost sort of fleshes out the promises of Magic Toy Missing with a folky stomp-able beat and a charming melody to accompany it. This is the perfect example of how the Meat Puppets can relate to the listener, by speaking of some kind of confusion and aimlessness that isn’t unfamiliar to the young music fan, but by presenting it in a fun catchy context, sort of the kind of way the listener would want to hear it. It’s almost country in a way, but not in the sleazy conservative way.

It should be noted that The Meat Puppets were in a way discovered by more mainstream listeners after they were introduced by then grunge maestro Kurt Cobain of Nirvana at the bands Unplugged concert, when he introduced Curt and Cris Kirkwood onstage to accompany him for three of the bands songs from this album. The original versions of Plateau, Lake of Fire, and Oh Me might not be as serious and emotionally chilling and powerful as the cover versions, but that doesn’t overshadow the songwriting ability that was put into them. Plateau is a fun and mysterious mountain groove that once again hits the more serious and unobvious notes that the band is so good, especially when a pretty electric solo is used near the end of the song. The other original versions of the songs that Nirvana covered are just as well written and important sounding as this, without wrapping the listener up in any preaching and still keeping the laid back sound in tact. But it’s pretty obvious that the cover versions were better played. Lake Of Fire would be otherwise laughable if Kurt Cobain had not sort of dressed up the song and let the tune be performed live, because the electric guitars just don’t work as well as the acoustic ones do, and Curt’s voice is horribly strained and aggravating. Oh, Me is done with a tad too much simplicity, and is taken at an awfully slow pace. It’s not that the covers that were performed on Nirvana Unplugged were some kind of revelation or anything… All three songs were great in the first place, but sometimes it takes a cover version to help realize exactly what the original was trying to say. This is the utmost case with these songs.

The album scarcely hits any bad songs as far as songwriting goes though. The Whistling Song is absolute apathetic teenage bliss, and not in a snotty way either. It’s a fun loveable country anthem worthy of describing a whole sub-culture. The more sweet-hearted piece is We’re Here, almost a bit mystical in it’s polished and loving presentation. Two latter tracks, Climbing and New Gods, are both vintage Puppets. The former is a familiar country jangle and the latter is a punk release. But the fun doesn’t end with The Whistling Song if you have a copy of the album containing several bonus tracks. Some songs not on the original release are equally as interesting as the albums main body.

One of the albums strongest tunes (and incidentally an instrumental) is a bonus track. Sprawling with power and meaning, Teenager is one of the most true-to-its-title songs any band has ever produced, in a way painfully describing what a teenager actually is. The Whistling Song is a fine closer, but a lot of the albums meaning comes in the form of the bonus tracks as well. This song starts out with a loud, obnoxious, angry punk segment that is almost sounds like something the Ramones would have improvised if they were hopped up on some kind of hallucinogen. I suppose the song technically isn’t completely vocal-less, because you do get Curt screaming out incoherent phrases throughout the entire phase. But then, a steady beat straightens out the confusion and anger, and a mysterious pained melody is revealed, a dark and open venture into guitar improvisation and minor tonalities. My words cannot accurately describe this song, and you really need to hear it yourself. It’s not pop gold, but an ingenious map of exactly what teenagers are all about. Yes, they yell and scream and vandalize and act like punks, but when they go home, a pained, confused, and ultimately helpless interior is let out. And yet, they are still beautiful people. They are simply in a situation that they find themselves extremely hard pressed to help themselves in. Such is the misunderstood nature of the disenfranchised American liberal teenager, currently unable to find their place or aim simply because of their developmental age. Maybe I’m looking into this too much, but that is deffinitely what I got out of this song.

Anyway, the album is a great classic and a must have for rock fans. It takes some getting used to, but in the end it’s just a fantastic album. It really never gets old because it’s an unpredictable and varied venture. Make sure you pick up a copy with the bonus tracks though, as they are an overall enhancement to an already great album and are essential tracks for not only fans but casual listeners too.

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Got It, Bitches!

November 21, 2006

Yup, a shiny new Explosion Tower is mine. We branded it yesterday. It plays like a charm. I actually didn’t have to wait in line…Someone else was nice enough to do that for me. I can’t thank him enough.

“Explosion Fiesta” is really the most exciting aspect about the thing. It controls nice, it looks great, it’s epic. Nothing more to really say about that.

Sorry I can’t give too in-depth of a look at it right at the moment. I’ll be back with a full-scale review in a few weeks, and until then I’ll continue the music reviews.

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Cross Your Fingers

November 18, 2006

Because tonight, starting at 10, I’ll get in line outside of my local Target.

Or at least I should.  If it’s too crowded, I’ll go home with no regrets.  I won’t feel bad about not waiting outside for twelve hours or more when I really have no desire to.

I beat Super Mario 64 with all 120 stars within a matter of days.

To please the angels.  Or something.

Wish me luck.

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Smashing Pumpkins – Machina II

November 17, 2006

Considering the Pumpkins could have damn well just charged us for their last album, or even not have released anything, there is really no reason to complain about the bands final release, Machina II. It would be a bit inappropriate to call it an album though. As far as hard copies go, Machina II is actually a series of four vinyl albums released in extremely low number. Originally, the copies were given to only close personal friends of the band, but after a little thinking, the band simply decided to give all of the tracks away free on the internet, I believe at first on the website of the Metro, where the band played their final show (unless I’m hallucinating. If I am, let me know), and file-sharing was encouraged. The remnants of the band (really everyone except D’arcy) toured with the material on the vinyl, and I guess the rest was history. As far as style goes, the band has only changed so much since the Machina/The Machines of God era, but what modifications to style have been made are only good. The organization may be a little shakey, but hell, considering it didn’t cost fans a dime and the material is great, this was more than a proper send-off for the pumpkins.

First off, don’t even think about acquiring any of the original vinyl. Very few were made, and those that were made are now collectors items. If you are going to acquire this material, it will almost certainly be off of the internet. BUT DONT FRET! I’m not trying to encourage file sharing. But if the band was nice enough to let it circulate freely on the internet, there really isn’t much more that could be said against this kind of acquisition. The problem is, though, when there isn’t much of an official release to go off of, sound quality can get to be an issue. The first issue of the music on the internet was sped up a bit, which isn’t good, and then there are places where the sound quality isn’t as good, etc. I won’t refer you to anywhere, but do some research before you make a download. It will save you some grief.

At any rate, the music comprises of three EPs and one LP. Although most of the material is original, there are some alternate versions thrown in, bonuses or scraps, if you will, which are of course appreciated by the fact that they come from the band alone, and no less for free (and who doesn’t like free songs?). The remixes are mostly disposable though, and only the alternate version of Heres To The Atom Bomb that closes the LP is really great. It’s an interesting way to finish off the bands final release. In a way, it is an appropriately emotional and special track, but not sad by any means. More curious than anything, the track ends on more of a warm note, like there is still more to come. Like a coda, in a way, referring back to everything else. But beyond that, the other remixes and alternate versions of Machina/The Machines of God songs are tracks that even hardcore fans will only listen to a few times.

It could be said that the new material is a fair bit more raw. It’s pretty goddam obvious that Machina/The Machines of God was the bands worst album. It had a fair amount of great songs, but at the same time it faltered due to it’s gothic tinge and wave of self-importance. Machina II keeps the sophistication of the sound and changes the songwriting, keeping the tunes more warm and beautiful rather than tragic and stressed. You can now hear washes of electronic metallic guitar drenching the songs in beauty, but not in any pervasive way. Unless, of course, you don’t crank this at high volumes. If you don’t, the vocals seem a bit drowned. But when you are a band that isn’t under contract, production may be a bit of an issue. Which isn’t to say the production is even bad, but simply not up to par with the bands other work. It would be unfair to not note that most of these songs are almost built for nighttime, in an urban setting too, because it seems pretty stressed from some of the later tracks that this album is an embracement of urban culture.

There are some short rockers, which provide the steel edge needed to get the listeners adrenaline flowing. The strangely named Cash Car Star is the band simply making a punk/metal song with more attitude than morose detailing or anything that grasped The Everlasting Gaze. Glass Theme is almost fun. No, it IS fun. It’s totally got a punk rock attitude, and it completely sheds the pained attitude and lyrics for a more playful and hard hitting theme, as exemplified by the lyric “I’ll be by the pool,” and “Everybody knows I’m fast/I’m fast.” And then there is the explosive rendition of Jame’s Brown’s ‘Soul Power’ which damn well might knock listeners of their seats in order to make them rock out. These three tracks almost pose as landmarks on the album. They are all fast, fun, and completely drenched in adrenaline.

But all of the tracks on this album, like the album itself, are surprising treats. James Iha even has one of his numbers included, the sparkling and endlessly beautiful Go. It might just be the best thing that Iha has contributed to the bands body of work, which is truly saying something because The Boy is damn well a top ten track. Then there are other little bits and pieces like the interesting synth bit Le Deux Machina and alternate versions of Cash Car Star and Glass Theme. But the truth of the matter is, the album holds many of the bands finest moments in original material. Vanity could be easily considered one of the bands best, and Real Love, also included on the bands Greatest Hits compilation, is a true knockout, almost screaming single at the top of it’s lungs. Real Love would have been a perfect closing track, but that would just be too depressing and if there is one thing that the Pumpkins don’t want to do with this album, it’s depress the listener. The first Machina got all the sappy stuff out of the way; this is an ass kicker with a lot to say.

Most everything here is able to be appreciated. You just have to work at it sometimes. White Spyder is an example of taking production a tad too far… The melody and chords are completely drowned in a metallic fuzz, and this could have easily been toned down for a greater effect. Inossence is almost discouragingly simple, and needs to be given second and third chances to truly understand. But for every fault there are twice as many victories. The pretty Let Me Give My World To You is a true winner, as is Saturnine and Slow Dawn. The majority of the album is spent in lazy but appreciable soaring songs as opposed to the pained struggle of the collections predecessor.

I could really go on about this, but to be honest, it’s not necessary. Theres no reason to not have this ‘album,’ especially if you are a fan. But this isn’t something to introduce to a new listener, as it is very much the tail end of the bands career and not exactly an easy intro. But it keeps on growing on you. It’s damn well better than Machina/The Machines of God, and just as good as the likes of Gish or Pisces Iscariot (albeit in a completely different and almost uncomparable way). The songs say everything that the first Machina was sort of nudging at, but that album almost seemed like a task, and a bit forced into the direction of a ‘sendoff’ album. These songs, however, are fun and happy more often than not, and if you can look at this as ‘Machina II’ and not just ‘the Pumpkins last album,’ then suddenly the mood is much more to be heard. And as if this wasn’t enough, it’s free. What are you waiting for?

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Christmas Playlist

November 14, 2006

I make a lot of playlists on my iPod, but to be honest, the majority of them are total crap. Most of the time, I just kinda randomly put a bunch of songs that I am into at the moment onto a playlist and leave it extremely unbalanced and uneven, and nothing really connects the tracks at all. But every once and a while I end up with an arrangement of songs worth keeping. Not THAT often, but sometimes. I don’t know if this playlist is one of them, but I tried at least.

Really, the idea at first was to make it a playlist for Winter in general, but then it sort of escalated to a Christmas thing, just because really, the best part of Winter is when it starts in December through Christmas. Or rather, the holidays. I guess I want to be politically correct anyway (not that anyone should ever really care), but the gist of the album is to cover the time before the big holidays. Christmas just happens to be the religious holiday that I celebrate, albeit non-religiously, so that was the end result. I sort of had an image or an idea in my mind when I made this playlist, which is essentially the first step to making a great playlist anyway. You need to have a solid idea or at least a set of them, and a certain flow to the songs. And it needs to develop and progressively go somewhere. I’m not going to post the entire playlist here because I honestly don’t think it flows very well, but I’ll talk about some select tracks.

Baby It’s Cold Outside by Leon Redbone & Zooey Deschanel

Every good Christmas compilation needs a low key piano jazz holiday song like this. In fact, you could damn well make a CD full of stuff just like this. People do. But personally, the mood of these types of songs are something that I can easily get tired of. But this is a great song, no doubt. It was originally made in 1949 and is pretty much the perfect winter warm-up lazy duet. This particular version was on the soundtrack to the movie Elf, but there have been countless renditions since Frank Loesser wrote it so long ago. Througout the song, the female singer traditionally sings the main melody, while a typically deep voiced male accompaniment sort of passively comments on all of the womans standard lines of the Christmas tune with musings of his own. Truly a classic, and a great version of it at that. The perfect song for when you wake up to snow for the first time in November or December and think to yourself, “Aw shit, it’s the holiday season, isn’t it?”

Airbag by Radiohead

This was the first song I ever properly listened to by Radiohead, and I remember thinking to myself when I heard it, wow, this is really something special. I could rant for a while about how OK Computer is one of the greatest albums ever, but you all have surely had enough of that by now. Typically, this is the best song for me for getting up in the morning to a busy day. Not only is it a great and pretty underrated tune, but it’s Christmas-y. It even has the sleighbells, which are actually pretty hard to effectively work into a tune. The lyrics still always get me, especially when he says “An Airbag saved my life.” A really nice tune for any time of the year, but it is very fitting to winter in particular.

Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want To Fight Tonight) by Asobi Seksu

I think you could argue that the heroes of the indie rock scene in New York this year are Asobi Seksu. Not only did they release a dropdead gorgeous album, Citrus, but they are touring and have a lot of merchandise and treats for people directly from their website. The most interesting of these treats is what I have a reason to believe was the first officially released Asobi Seksu song ever, although I think they had another name before Asobi Seksu so I very well could be wrong. The release is a joint EP of two Christmas songs released only on transparent green vinyl. PAS/CAL did a song, and Asobi Seksu did this one. It’s really very cute, as you would not normally expect shoegaze to cover Christmas song territory, but this band does and it works out pretty well, in a power punk/pop sort of way. You can just hear the guitars taking over when Yuki’s voice yelling the title of the song fades into the pillow of sound below. Nice, very nice.

Goodbye by Kevin Shields

You all know I just can’t possibly make a playlist these days without including something by one of my new favorite bands. Well, this isn’t actually by MBV, but I did include Soon, so you can count that in (come on, the sleighbells are just way too delicious). But I decided to include this too, from the Lost In Translation soundtrack. Of the four 2003 Kevin Shields orchestrations, this one might just be the most pretty. It’s not straightforward pop like City Girl and not electronic beauty like Are You Awake, but it is just very relaxing synthesizer ear candy. Decidedly it is very remeniscent of Becalmed and Zawinul/Lava by Brian Eno, but that’s good. You can really say a lot without saying anything, especially when you aren’t even using traditional instruments, in music. The piece is very momentuous, a bit somber, and also wonderfully reminiscent of times that one doesn’t want to go away. Get the Lost In Translation soundtrack if you can, it’s great. Filled with lots of priceless gems like this.

Lorelei by Cocteau Twins

Cocteau Twins are one of those bands that are so beautiful that it is painful. I don’t even know much about them and I can say that with the utmost confidence. And not because you want more Cocteau… There is more than enough material by the band to go around. These guys can simply make your heart melt by being themselves, beautiful, ethereal, and completely priceless. That explains why a “CocteauFest” is held every year. Expect me to review these guys again soon. They just seem like the band that I will end up getting obsessed with soon enough. Which is, as you all know, not good for my continued recovery, so I’ll keep it to Library checkouts and Christmas gifts for now. Anyway, fantastic song. Very Christmas-y, and it even has wintery synthesizers in the backdrop and guitars that are wispy like a first snow. This is how vocals should really be treated in dreampop…not even real words, but the tongue of ones own mind and feelings, completely unintelligible to anyone else but undeniably full of feeling.

Christmas At The Zoo by The Flaming Lips

If you haven’t gone to your local zoo in the dead of winter, well, you really should. It’s great. First off, it gets you off your ass and away from the eggnog for a few hours, which has got to be good for you, and the entire experience is just a lot of fun. No one is there, or at least very few people are, because it’s just cold, so you can kind of not worry about crowds. Beyond that, the animals love it when people visit them during such an otherwise dull and unpopular time of year to go to the zoo. Maybe this song is a little too fun and jangley to adequately capture such a visit, but it’s a necessity for this playlist. Strangely enough, although the subject matter is just as silly and cute as any other Lips song, this is one of the more straightforward and conventional the band has ever made.

Lovelife by Lush

I always thought that this song would be great for the soundtrack to a romantic comedy or something, which is a shame, because I typically dislike romantic comedies. But I make almost all of my playlists with images of a movie that I imagine in mind. No sleighbells in here, but it almost seems like there are, and the lyrics are diaphanous and sweet. The lyrics are very thought provoking too, comparing love and it’s ups and downs to different aspects of nature and life.

Good Day Sunshine by Slowdive

No, it’s not a cover of the song by The Beatles. It’s an original Halstead instrumental offof the 5 EP, also on the release of Souvlaki with the bonus tracks. In my mind, the ‘movie’ that this playlist is for comes to a hard point right before the end, and the main character ends up having a really shitty Christmas eve. But they wake up really really early in the morning, maybe before sunrise, and for whatever reason, everything is beautiful. The streets are empty, the decorations are all up, and even though almost no one is anywhere but home, all of the Christmas lights and neon signs are still lit. And then they go into the shell of a shopping mall, where only a few scattered stores are open, and the sun starts to rise. And it goes through the glass windows perfectly. And this song is playing through the entire ending sequence. And that’s all I’ve got, I guess that’s how my daydream ends.

Well, I didn’t (and couldn’t possibly) cover each and every song on the playlist, but I hit some more interesting ones I guess. Maybe it is just a tad early to be worrying about Christmas and the holiday season, but soon enough I’ll be gift shopping, and I’ll play this in the car.

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Youtube Corner Pt. 4: 5 Great Music Videos

November 2, 2006

Hey folks. I’m going to sort of take a break here and do a youtube post. I might not update next monday, we’ll see. I think I may need to take a week off to concentrate on some stuff, we’ll see. But there are some great music videos out there that you may or may not know about, and I’d like to share them with you. They each have their own distinct personalities and great qualities. I promise you, all of these are timeless in some way, whether or not you like them. If it was “the five best music videos” than things would be far too obvious. I’d have to include Coffee And TV and Thriller and Fell In Love With A Girl and all that shit which I just don’t feel like doing right now.

But just so you know, I totally had in mind to include Reverence by The Jesus And Mary Chain, because in some kind of weird way, that is art. But youtube doesn’t have it, so I replaced it with something. I won’t say which. But look for the Reverence video, or at least the Far Gone And Out video, because JaMC videos are badass.

1979 by Smashing Pumpkins. Really, it’s almost hard to swallow how many fricking many videos the Pumpkins had. It’s more than you would think, really. Like, sort of a ridiculous amount for each album, save Gish maybe. To be honest, almost all of them are great, save some that are otherwise brilliant if you ignore the fact that Billy Corgan seems to love the camera lens a tad too much, not giving anyone else a chance. But this is probably the best one. If you ever forgot what the 90s were like, and what it meant to go out on a weekend and just screw around going to parties and being a total jackass, well, this is the perfect reminder. Believe it or not, this kind of stuff happened. And it was great.

Rabbit In Your Headlights by Unkle. Really, the fact that Thom Yorke does the vocals is pretty irrelevant, but worthy of note. The song itself is moody and atmospheric, but the video makes it really special. If you want thought provoking, this is the one to watch. Many times when this kind of short story type of art is put into video form, it just doesn’t work out. It seems too campy and poorly planned, because these videos by nature just are very hard to do and make meaningful. However, this one is good. It all really builds throughout the entire thing.

Dayvan Cowboy by Boards of Canada. What’s really cool about this one is that it’s real. Like, the first part. The second half is essentially cool ass shots of waves and surfers and such, but the first part…well, that is the biggest ever freefall. He was out in the exosphere or some shit, practically in space. Skydiving seems crazy enough to me, but this guy, wow. He survived too. Apparently if one little thing went wrong he would have essentially been burnt to a crisp in the atmosphere. Does the music good justice, and it really gets you thinking, which is kind of what music videos are supposed to do at their core. BoC have always been very dissonant, and this pushes that notion along.

Hoppipolla by Sigur Ros. I don’t know the band that well, but this is a fantastic video. What does it really mean to be a hooligan anyway? On an artistic level, this video does everything that a heartwarming song like this should evoke. Of course, the song is sort of a piece to imagine your own image up to, but I think this was a very powerful video with a very powerful but vague and open-ended set of themes.

Once In A Lifetime by The Talking Heads. A true classic of it’s age, for sure. The song is surely the Heads’ best, and the video is nothing short of hypnotic. It almost plays like a skewed 80s instructional video, on how to be effectively unpredictable. Perhaps it is a product of it’s times, but theres nothing like throwing this baby out on a dance floor and getting some cheers.