- 1. Simon & Garfunkel – The Boxer
(Bridge Over Troubled Water)
Timeless. Classic. Unforgettable. Magical. Wonderful… If you were to search for reviews of Simon & Garfunkel, all of these words would come up. The duo’s powerful, yet subdued vocal harmonies are recognized to any listener in an instant. The simple chord structure, yet busy finger-picked guitar are complimented by some uncommon sounds in this style of folk music, such the really neat-sounding contrast of the bass harmonica, the eerie steel guitar solo, the definitive crash during the “Lie la lie” chorus, and the unexpected and incredible ending – featuring layered vocal harmonies, huge synthy symphonic sounds and immense power compared to the rest of the song. While the music has always been a strong factor in Simon & Garfukel’s work, the lyrics are really what puts them far above any nearly comparable acts. Paul Simon’s ability to tell a story gives this song a very personal quality – he has hinted in interviews that the boxer of whom he speaks could easily be he, himself, as he drifted into the music scene, relatively unknown (though, by the time this album was released, they were very well-known) and taking a proverbial beating from the music industry and the world, “I am leaving! I am leaving! But the fighter still remains.” I’m sure I’ve listened to this song a hundred times or more by now, and I could easily continue to repeat it for the rest of my life.
- 2. Goldfrapp – Human
Goldfrapp’s music has been intriguing to me since I first heard their eerie, melodic style of dance/pop. This is the third track on the first album, and if the first two tunes hadn’t sold me on their work already, this one put them way over the top in my books. One thing I love about music in general is hearing sounds that I’ve never heard before, and that was definitely the case with my first Goldfrapp experience. This is one of the creepiest pop-ish tunes I’ve ever heard. The string quartet plays an easily-whistled melody and lovely harmonies – the type that you might hear as you walk down a cold and empty city street, wet with recent rain, alone, but with that feeling that you’re being watched and faint sounds of someone else’s footsteps behind you, almost in rhythm with your own. This is intensified by the chorus, which asks, “Are you Human?” Alright, so it’s creepy. It’s also catchy as hell! There’s a Latin percussion groove going on (complete with güiro and cowbell) throughout the tune, a brass section and, of course, lots of synth! It’s not quite a Latin tune, though. The horns make it sound a little like a ’70s movie theme, while those strings keep it feeling like an early film noir. One way or another, it’s one hell of a piece of music for what most music stores would file under “Rock/Pop”!
- 3. Antony with Bryce Dessner – I Was Young When I Left Home
(Dark Was The Night [compilation])
Written by Bob Dylan, I Was Young When I Left Home is taken to another level by singer Antony. The master lyricist, Dylan created a song that invokes a sentiment known to anyone who has left the comfort of their parent’s home, but can only hold deeper meaning to those who, as Dylan writes, “never wrote a letter to my home”. The song’s message is clear and the original is as great as any of Dylan’s works, but in the hands of Antony and Bryce Dessner, new life and new fond sadness are breathed into it. There is nothing but a voice, guitar accompaniment, and a modest dose of string quartet that comes in when appropriate and vanishes before you even realize it was there. But with so little, the listener can be completely transported to a country road in Nowhere, USA or perhaps a stage in a small club, where the few patrons present are more wrapped up in their own sorrows to notice the beauty of the performance, the singer/guitarist pouring his heart out for no one while the smoke in the air makes his eyes water. There is incredible musical intention in this song, and Antony’s fragile, yet beautiful voice makes it just as memorable as the original.
- 4. Silverchair – Emotion Sickness
For a group of 19-year-olds influenced by Alice In Chains and Nirvana, this is an incredible piece of music! Silverchair’s first two albums were good, solid rock albums with the energy of youth and the overall value as any really good rock band. It’s with their third album, Neon Ballroom, though, that listeners realize that this isn’t some grunge band that will fade away as just another rock trio. The entire album is so full of musical intention – incredible vocal work, complicated harmonies, symphonic parts… all while still essentially being rock music. With Emotion Sickness, there is obviously an element of teen angst that’s still present with singer/songwriter Daniel Johns, but in the two years since the previous album, he had really come into his abilities and put together incredible music. If the layers of string parts, piano, and vocal harmonies (dubbed by Johns) were stripped away, you would be left with what might have sounded like something from Silverchair’s previous work. It’s still rock music, but it’s been made so intense and complex by the work of Johns and collaborators that you can’t help but think, “is this really the same band?” The song from Neon Ballroom that ended up being the biggest hit was Anthem for the Year 2000, and though I like that tune too, not to mention the whole album is packed with great music, but for my money, this epic song – the opening track is the one that absolutely floored me and even changed the way that I look at popular music!
- 5. Stan Getz – Crystal Silence
This is why I love Stan Getz! Crystal Silence may have been written by Chick Corea (as was the rest of the album, except one track), but in the hands of the great saxophonist and with the help of the composer, himself, Crystal Silence becomes something else. Getz is likely best known for his work as a samba player alongside João & Astrud Gilberto, as well as Antonio Carlos Jobim, but a look at his disturbingly impressive list of recordings and the roster of huge names in jazz with whom he’s worked, and you’ll realize you’re listening to a well-versed instrumentalist who is somehow able to take someone else’s music and make it personally emotional without taking away the least bit of its original credibility. While Getz is no slouch and can really show off his chops in any uptempo number, I’m a sucker for the ballads and slower, quieter work. It’s in a wonderful piece of music like this that Stan Getz and Chick Corea can work together to make every note count. Corea has always known just which melodies and harmonies to play and Stan gets plays in this recording like all of the notes are already layed out in front of him and he’s just picking precisely the correct ones at exactly the appropriate time. This is what music is all about.