Friday, September 30, 2016

September 30th 1947 Marc Bolan

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 835 Jack Scott

Twee # 43 Loop

An odd selection this one. Nothing I've ever heard by Loop sounds particularly Twee to me. Certainly not this!

Song of the Day # 985 Syd Arthur

Surprised to see and hear this today and very much impressed. A band from Canterbury, where I've got a lot of personal history from as my parents retired there more than twenty years ago and I've spent a lot of time in ever since without ever having much time for or personal identification with the place. 

But Syd Arthur are really good. Hailing from that town and calling themselves after a mishearing of the Herman Hesse novel Siddharta which they've cleverly adapted to a conflation of Syd Barrett and Arthur Lee's first names.

Their sound is very Canterbury. Jazz and Folk inflected, with a definite taste of Caravan and Soft Machine, those first bands that formed the core of the original Canterbury Scene while at the same time updating it and not seeming like a pointless retread.

They have a new album out soon from which this is a taster and sounds really great. They'll be playing locally to me too at the end of October and I'll be there to report further.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Things Found on my Local's Jukebox # 155 Echo & the Bunnymen

A long and hugely enjoyable session at Rosie's tonight. I put this on from the Bunnymen and Ocean Rain, which I think is a slightly overrated record for a number of reasons. Certainly in the mind of leader Ian McCulloch. Nevertheless, this is still a good example of their prevailing songwriting art!

Songs About People # 233 Cleopatra

This old girl of course has had no end of songs devoted to her. It seems apt though that tribute should be made here by the recently departed Prince Buster.

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 836 The Rascals

'Holland-Dozier-Holland deserve royalties for the intro, but after Felix's organ comes in, the Rascals are on their own with one of the most distinctive performances in blue-eyed soul. The highlight, though, is Dino Valenti's drumming, which merges Benny Benjamin funk with Keith Moon power.'

Twee # 42 The Beach Boys

One that's forever coloured by memory for me. An ex-girlfriend playing a mixtape made by her new boyfriend  as we broke apart where this featured. Such is life's rich and colourful pageant. Not one of my favourites. Though it is plenty of others!

September 29th 1958 Mick Harvey

Song of the Day # 984 Omni

It's very difficult to discuss Atlanta, Georgia's Omni and their new album Deluxe without mentioning the term Post Punk as a basic description. Because it's all here; Gang of Four; Pylon, Wire; New Order; Mission of Burma; and Magazine, all leap and collide at various points from the mix. That's a concoction which meets with my own taste and though the band, led by former Deerhunter and Balkans guitarist and singer Philip Frobos, don't tick any of originality's boxes they do keep things bubbling to a sufficient melodic and frictional degree to keep you entertained and diverted during the record's half hour course. Just what you want for a lively support for the time being, while the headliners prepare themselves backstage, and one to go to plump for you wish it was 1980, which is still one of the better go to places in living musical history.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Songs Heard on the Radio # 153 Aretha Franklin

This could slot into the cover series on here but it's just come out of my radio, so it goes here instead. Certainly one of the better Beatles covers recorded. A total reinvention.

Songs About People # 232 Michael Rockefeller

Michael Rockefeller, the fifth son of Nelson disappeared on an expedition in the Asmat region of Southwestern Netherlands New Guinea. His body was never found and despite numerous investigations and rumours of murder and cannibalism no satisfactory account of what happened to him has ever been made. Here Guadalcanal Diary, one of the mass wave of American alternative bands of the early eighties and one whose sound seems more rooted in its time and place than many, pay tribute.

Ramones & Talking Heads

Twee # 41 The Moldy Peaches

September 28th 1938 Ben E. King

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 837 Klymaxx

Song(s) of the Day # 983 Josefin Ohrn & the Liberation

Swedish Psych. The trailer(s) from their forthcoming album and highly promising too. Not something you haven't heard before but they're very good at it! 

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 838 Buffalo Springfield

Songs Heard on the Radio # 152 Jethro Tull

A case of hearing a song on the radio that you really like by an artist that you generally don't. From Tull's second album, 1969's Stand Up. This has something of the wistful quality of Family's My Friend the Sun, Fairport's Who Knows Where the Time Goes, and that feeling that is so peculiar to British Rock and Folk Music as the sixties turned to the seventies.

Twee # 40 The Feelies

Crazy Rhythms, the 1980 debut album by The Feelies, is perhaps the greatest record ever made about suburban emotional blankness. Here's its stellar opening track.

September 27th 1953 Robbie Shakespeare

Songs About People # 231 Annie Oakley

And here's another, from the same record, for Annie Oakley. Though there's no clear evidence within the song itself as to why that's the case.

Songs About People # 230 Piotr Tchaikovsky

As a band, they seem to have a fondness for naming songs after people, so here are two of those to further bolster this particular series from their fine debut album, 2008's Tell it to the Volcano. This one's to Piotr and solitude. 

'I bury my head in a book. Learn how the knight captures rook.'

Song of the Day # 982 Miniature Tigers

After discovering Brooklyn's Miniature Tigers yesterday through Spotify's browsing system, namely Rufus Wainwright's playlist recommendation and their own song for David Hockney posted below, I spent the rest of the morning enjoying more of their work. Here's a taster for their new album which is coming next month.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Songs About People # 229 David Hockney

This series rattles on with a virtual, nervous energy all of its own. Here are Miniature Tigers with a love song to one of the great modern artistic figures from the perspective of one of his supportive circle.

Things Found on my Local's Jukebox # 154 Del the Funky Homosapien

A wonderful thing to find this on the jukebox at Rosie's. This transports me personally back in time to Dortmund, Germany and 1993-94. Nostalgia will always be what it used to be!

September 26th 1945 Bryan Ferry

Twee # 39 Orange Juice

A group with a chapter all their own in the annals of Twee.

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 839 The Manhattans

Song of the Day # 981 The Lambrettas

A rare highpoint of the second wave of Mod, which took place in the late seventies and early 
eighties, as with so many revivals informed by the onset of British punk.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Twee # 38 Steve Martin & Bernadette Peters

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 840 The Manhattans

September 25th 1946 Bryan MacLean

Song of the Day # 980 Dave Berry

Sixties English Pop Star, known for various things; the original version of The Crying Game; Don't Gimme No Lip; later covered by the Sex Pistol's; and this, which was a Number One in Belgium and Holland where he still has celebrity status. This is a Ray Davies song, a fact that is immediately recognisable, and was also covered by The Kinks. It seems unmistakeably a sixties artifact, a product when this stuff, these emotions and the instrumentation and presentation all seemed so fresh and new. 

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Nick Cave Meets Johnny Cash

Songs About People # 228 Che Guevara

From the first United States of America album. One of the core psychedelic texts. To one of the core sixties icons.

September 24th 1931 Anthony Newley

One of the most interesting things about listening to Newley is how easy it is to trace his influence on Bowie's vocal style. Listen here. So may of his inflections are all readily there.

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 841 Del Vikings

Twee # 37 Vince Guaraldi Trio

Not quite. Although of course, it generally gets earlier every year.

Song of the Day # 979 Wayne Newton

(That's Danke Schoen. Apologies for the misspelling above)

Wayne Newton, a Las Vegas mainstay throughout the sixties and seventies. This is his signature tune, much beloved of John Cooper Clarke, who regularly uses it as the signing off track on his radio shows, Newton, whose mother is half Cherokee and father half Patawomeck, although he also has English, Scottish, Irish and Welsh stock. An immaculately delivered song that brings to mind Chet Baker's suave, metropolitan, asexuality, transposed to showbiz.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Twee # 36 Big Star

One of the great heartbreaking songs, covered on one of the great heartbreak albums. Big Star's Third. Also known as Sister Lovers.

September 23rd 1930 Ray Charles

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 842 Wilbert Harrison

Song(s) of the Day # 978 The Space Lady

Generally associated with the sub-genre of Outsider Music, The Space Lady, (Susan Dietrich Schneider), is a real find for anyone on a constant search for the new, not in this case just for its 'odd factor' but for the sheer quality of the music itself. Conceived in 1947 in Roswell, New Mexico at the time of the reputed Flying Saucer crash, a factor that surely impacts deeply on the other-worldly nature of the music she went on to make, in the 1980s and '90s Schneider achieved a small local profile as a street musician in Boston and San Francisco.  Wearing a plastic silver winged hat topped with a flashing light and initially accompanying herself with accordion, she upgraded in 1983 to the Casiotone MT-40 battery operated keyboard which is when she really found her sound.

Playing a few original numbers, supplemented by some highly inventive and haunting covers, this stuff sounds utterly pioneering thirty years on. Thankfully The Space Lady has advanced considerably in terms of profile over the intervening years, largely due to the inclusion of her cover of The Electric Prunes, I Had Too Much To Dream Last Night on the fabulous 2000 compilation Songs in the Key of Z, which set off a gratifying rediscovery of her music which has continued ever sinceShe's now touring the world playing to enthusiastic and appreciative audiences.

The Space Lady's music is truly all about space. The compilation Space Lady's Greatest Hits. released three years back and still readily available. makes a compelling case for her virtues. Suicide, the legendary CBGB's duo, is probably the most apt comparison point in terms of what this all draws on and the ghostly effect of the songs. Silver Apples, an important inspiration for Suicide and Laurie Anderson are also worth mentioning. Whether she actually took on the influence of the three of these is frankly by the by. She's certainly operating in a similar space.

The Space Lady's approach to covers is particularly worthy of comment. Among their number are the aforementioned Electric Prunes song, Steppenwolf's Born to be Wild, Peter Schilling's Major Tom, The Doors 20th Century Fox, Sweet's Ballroom Blitz, Golden Earring's Radar Love, Steve Miller's Fly Like an Eagle and the Irving Berlin standard, Puttin' on the Ritz. What's great about all of these is that she doesn't choose to enter the original's universe, instead dragging them triumphantly into her own, thereby shedding new light on the songs she's covering each and every time.

Also featured on Space Lady's Greatest Hits are a clutch of originals penned by Schneider's former husband Joel L Dunsany. These slot perfectly in with the covers and make a claim as small classics in their own right.

So, The Space Lady, my own small personal discovery of yesterday and an artist I'll surely keep coming back to time and time again for her incredibly personalised sound and vision. For more on this artist click here.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Songs Heard on the Radio # 151 Bobby Gentry

From a late night themed show where the DJ, the wonderful Gideon Coe is performing a show from his North London shed in honour of his 49th birthday where every song is themed around houses and their various facets. Here's a window song and a great one!

Songs About People # 227 Harry Nilsson

Twenty one year old York resident Luke Saxton whose debut album, 2014's Sunny Sadness is highly reminiscent of the lived in, melodic melancholy of Harry Nilsson. Appropriate then that he should pen a tribute to his guiding inspiration on its third track.

September 22nd 1957 Nick Cave

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 843 Gloria Gaynor

Twee # 35 The New Seekers

Song(s) of the Day # 977 Lawrence Arabia

The record sleeve of Lawrence Arabia's recently released album Absolute Truth is a small Twee masterpiece. An animated approximation of the artist's face with mountain contours (Mount Schnozz), lakes and a beard forest it's a wonderfully realised piece of whimsical art that would look great at the front of any pile of records, clearly its intention. As a collector, I'm beginning to covet it myself.

'You made a splash. It was concentric. As you'd expected.'

Fortunately, the record itself more than does it all justice. Arabia's is a gentle, understated muse that would perhaps pass you by if you merely heard a solitary track on evening radio. It makes much more sense if you take the time out to listen to the whole album at which point his talent becomes a beguiling, greatly diverting one. It's another favourite album in a year which has reaped a rich harvest of them for me.

'In urban parks, the burnt pink limbs of lovers entangled. Acting like mayflies these sunkissed loves. So doomed and so fragile'

What makes it even more attractive is that Arabia, (James Milne) is a New Zealander putting out records on the Flying Nun label, one of the truly legendary independent labels in pop history. Milne does the label's legacy proud, even though it sounds nothing like The Clean, The Chills or any other of those early landmark bands.Watch the promo videos posted here for a more complete idea of his sensibility.

I recommend the album highly, it's a thoughtful alluring meditation on the sweeter, domesticated aspects of life. It's surely a grower!

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Carson McCullers

So while we're with Carson, here she is again in a re-post of one of the best fictional passages ever written about the power of music over the human heart.

Veering into Literature. But the best passage in fiction that I know about music and the impact it can have. From McCullers' first novel which was published in 1940 when she was just 23. Mick, a fourteen year old girl,  in many ways the novel's central character and certainly the one with the largest portion of McCullers DNA in her, is sat outside a neighbouring house in a small town in the Deep South because she wants to hear some music. Beethoven's Symphony No. 3 (Eroica) is the piece of music she listens to.

'When Mick came to the house she waited to be sure no person could see. Then she went through the side yard.
The radio was on as usual. For a second she stood by the window and watched the people inside. The bald-headed man and the gray-haired lady were playing cards at a table. Mick sat on the ground. This was a very fine and secret place. Close around were thick cedars so that she was completely hidden by herself. The radio was no good tonight --- somebody sang popular songs that all ended in the same way. It was like she was empty. She reached in her pockets and felt around with her fingers. There were raisins and a buckeye and a string of beads --- one cigarette with matches. She lighted the cigarette and put her arms around her knees. It was like she was so empty there wasn't even a feeling or thought in her.

One program came on after another, and all of them were punk. She didn't especially care. She smoked and picked a little bunch of grass blades. After a while a new announcer started talking. He mentioned Beethoven. She had read in the library about that musician --- his name was pronounced with an a and spelled with double e. He was a German fellow like Mozart. When he was living he spoke in a foreign language and lived in a foreign place --- like she wanted to do. The announcer said they were going to play his third symphony. She only halfway listened because she wanted to walk some more and she didn't care much what they played. Then the music started. Mick raised her head and her fist went up to her throat.

How did it come? For a minute the opening balanced from one side to the other. Like a walk or march. Like God strutting in the night. The outside of her was suddenly froze and only that first part of the music was hot inside her heart. She could not even hear what sounded after, but she sat there waiting and froze, with her fists tight. After a while the music came again, harder and loud. It didn't have anything to do with God. This was her, Mick Kelly, walking in the daytime and by herself at night. In the hot sun and in the dark with all the plans and feelings. This music was her --- the real plain her.
She could not listen good enough to hear it all. The music boiled inside her. Which? To hang on to certain wonderful parts and think them over so that later she would not forget --- or should she let go and listen to each part that came without thinking or trying to remember? Golly! The whole world was this music and she could not listen hard enough. Then at last the opening music came again, with all the different instruments bunched together for each note like a hard, tight fist that socked at her heart. And the first part was over.
This music did not take a long time or a short time. It did not have anything to do with time going by at all. She sat with her arms held tight around her legs, biting her salty knee very hard. It might have been five minutes she listened or half the night. The second part was black-colored --- a slow march. Not sad, but like the whole world was dead and black and there was no use thinking back how it was before. One of those horn kind of instruments played a sad and silver tune. Then the music rose up angry and with excitement underneath. And finally the black march again.
But maybe the last part of the symphony was the music she loved the best --- glad and like the greatest people in the world running and springing up in a hard, free way. Wonderful music like this was the worst hurt there could be. The whole world was this symphony, and there was not enough of her to listen.
It was over, and she sat very stiff with her arms around her knees. Another program came on the radio and she put her fingers in her ears. The music left only this bad hurt in her, and a blankness. She could not remember any of the symphony, not even the last few notes. She tried to remember, but no sound at all came to her. Now that it was over there was only her heart like a rabbit and this terrible hurt.
The radio and the lights in the house were turned off. The night was very dark. Suddenly Mick began hitting her thigh with her fists. She pounded the same muscle with all her strength until the tears came down her face. But she could not feel this hard enough. The rocks under the bush were sharp. She grabbed a handful of them and began scraping them up and down on the same spot until her hand was bloody. Then she fell back to the ground and lay looking up at the night. With the fiery hurt in her leg she felt better. She was limp on the wet grass, and after a while her breath came slow and easy again.
Why hadn't the explorers known by looking at the sky that the world was round? The sky was curved, like the inside of a huge glass ball, very dark blue with the sprinkles of bright stars. The night was quiet. There was the smell of warm cedars. She was not trying to think of the music at all when it came back to her. The first part happened in her mind just as it had been played. She listened in a quiet, slow way and thought the notes out like a problem in geometry so she would remember. She could see the shape of the sounds very clear and she would not forget them. Now she felt good. She whispered some words out loud: Lord forgiveth me, for I knoweth not what I do. Why did she think of that? Everybody in the past few years knew there wasn't any real God. When she thought of what she used to imagine was God she could only see Mister Singer with a long, white sheet around him. God was silent --- maybe that was why she was reminded. She said the words again, just as she would speak them to Mister Singer:
Lord forgiveth me, for I knoweth not what I do.
This part of the music was beautiful and clear. She could sing it now whenever she wanted to. Maybe later on, when she had just waked up some morning, more of the music would come back to her. If ever she heard the symphony again there would be other parts to add to what was already in her mind. And maybe if she could hear it four more times, just four more times, she would know it all. Maybe.
Once again she listened to this opening part of the music. Then the notes grew slower and soft and it was like she was sinking down slowly into the dark ground.

Mick awoke with a jerk. The air had turned chilly, and as she was coming up out of the sleep she dreamed old Etta Kelly was taking all the cover. Gimme some blanket --- she tried to say. Then she opened her eyes. The sky was very black and all the stars were gone. The grass was wet. She got up in a hurry because her Dad would be worried. Then she remembered the music. She couldn't tell whether the time was midnight or three in the morning, so she started beating it for home in a rush. The air had a smell in it like autumn. The music was loud and quick in her mind, and she ran faster and faster on the sidewalks leading to the home block.'

--- From The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter
©1940, Carson McCullers

Songs About People # 226 Harper Lee

Suzanne Vega's forthcoming album sounds like an interesting project. Entitled Lover, Beloved: Songs From an Evening with Carson McCullers, an adaptation of her own stageplay, it promises to be exactly that. A suite of songs from the perspective of one of the most intriguing novelists of all, and one of my own personal favourites.

Here, in a pre-released track from that, we find Vega, as Carson, musing on her place in the scheme of  things, apropos her literary contemporaries and in her eyes very much rivals. Most anxiety ultimately is invested towards Harper Lee who would eventually effectively steal McCullers thunder with the publication of To Kill a Mockingbird, which would essentially capitalise on so much of the groundwork McCullers had herself established, in terms of Southern Fiction.

Twee # 33 David Bowie

Hunky Dory is probably Bowie at his Twee-est! Fill Your Heart beats out Kooks in a shoot off as its emblem in this respect though there are definite elements of the sensibility in Oh You Pretty Things, Andy Warhol, Life on Mars, Bewlay Brothers and elsewhere too!

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 845 Timex Social Club

Song(s) of the Day # 975 Pablo Moses

Pablo Moses was responsible for some wonderful, 'out there' roots music. from his album debut, 1976's Revolutionary Dream, (produced by Geoffrey Ghung and Joe Gibbs at Lee Perry's Black Ark studios), onwards, Moses' voice has a ghostly, otherworldly quality. Here are two potent offerings, seven years apart.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Songs Heard on the Radio # 153 The Replacements


Oh that's good to hear! One of the very best Replacements songs of all and one of the few times they truly cut through all the surface bravado to the core of what they were really all about. Also clearly in the Top 10 of songs ever written about drinking culture. I can't think of the other nine off the top of my head though there would definitely be a Pogues song in there somewhere. Quite an Autumnal song, as the DJ quite rightly commented afterwards.

Instrumentals # 59 Gabor Szabo

The quite brilliant Gabor Szabo. A Hungarian, (as his name inescapably suggests), folk and jazz musician who relocated to the States and produced some wonderful interpretations of pop standards in the sixties and seventies. Atmospheric beyond belief!

Audrey Hepburn - Moon River

And here's Audrey's key contribution to Twee. The song has already been posted on that series, with Andy Williams version of it but supreme though that is, this is neck and neck as the definitive version.

Songs About People # 225 Audrey Hepburn

Audrey Hepburn, a Twee icon of course but much more than that too, an absolute twentieth century western ideal of beauty. This song, an appropriately lovelorn, down at heel offering from low key Sheffield outfit Little Man Tate pays proper tribute to that ideal.

Twee # 32 Velocity Girl

September 19th 1945 Freda Payne

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 846 Redbone

Song of the Day # 974 Nubiyan Twist

Afro-best, ska, funk, dub, whatever you want to call it. It's fun anyway and the video to this, a recent single shows them having plenty of it.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Songs Heard on the Radio # 149 France Gall

Sunday morning. Always among the best of times.

The Clash & The Undertones

Songs About People # 224 Brian Jones

'To any of the countless prolific dreamers of my generation - those of us who were adolescents in the sixties - Brian Jones meant something, and from the moment we made contact with his perfect blond impudence it was weird love at first sight. When I first saw him live with the Rolling Stones it was early 1964, I was twelve, they were only weeks away from being the biggest thing to hit England since the bubonic plague - and oh, I will never forget it. They looked simply out of this world, like a new delinquent aristocracy, and they played music of a stunning arrogance and unbridled potency. And they had Brian Jones, who really appeared like their leader that night, with his china-cat smile of contagious evil assurance. He looked to me like a young man who had everything - charm, beauty, grace, success, infamy - every wondrous virtue this world could hope to offer, and for a long time afterwards his vision epitomized everything I in turn could hope to aspire to.'

Nick Kent, The Dark Stuff

Twee # 31 Felt

'You're trying much too hard to make your life seem like a dream..'

Felt are a very special concern for those that care about these things. Lawrence, their leader and visionary is the pop star that never was, with Morrissey, Jarvis Cocker and Stuart Murdoch successively stealing his thunder over the years and making it to where he so much wanted to be, the bedroom dreamer who is still dreaming the best part of forty years on. This song stands for the whole as well as any Felt record, a put down of a hipper than thou type sounds like an indie Dylan update to the English midlands in the eighties. It's certainly all delivered with that Dylan drawl.'You're reading from A Season in Hell' (Rimbaud), became 'You're reading from The Book of the Dead' in successive versions but whatever. He still doesn't know what it's about.

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 847 Chuck Berry

September 18th 1962 Joanne Catherall

Song(s) of the Day # 973 La Femme

French indie clothes horses, and their new record Mystere. It's a highly eclectic record, like rifling round a hipsters music connection. So may of those things you've painfully assembled through years of record collecting are here joyfully cherry picked on one handy collection.

There's so much here. In the words of the recent Guardian review, 'delivered in blank affectless voices by male and female voices - is an alluring grab-bag of styles from synthpop to surf-rock to Stereolabish indie motorik, to near-baroque guitar playing, to faux-Morricone western soundtracks, to almost pastoral psychedelia.' Great fun and a hugely rewarding record.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

September 17th 1969 Adam Devlin

Twee # 30 The Orchids

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 848 Santana

'Probably the funkiest hit single ever to come out of the San Francisco rock scene (at least if you don't count Sly and the Family Stone as part of that scene which the Haight-Ashbury bunch definitely didn't). It's a complete racial / musical collision too: a Mexican-American guitar player steeped in the salsa of the Eastern Carribean playing a black blues song written by a British / Jewish guitarist turned fundamental Christian. What's amazing is how well the smouldering power of Santana's guitar and the husky yearning of the vocal have held up - a lot better than anything the other members of San Francisco's psychedelic squadron can claim.'

Song of the Day # 972 Eggs

'OK Rob. Play guitar now brother...'

From Washington DC and 1993.

Friday, September 16, 2016

American States # 33 Montana

From an incredibly evocative lo-fi album, Youth Lagoon's 2011 record The Year of Hibernation.

Songs About People # 223 Clark Gable

Imagining your life as a movie with Postal Service.

Twee # 29 The Shins

I very much like The Shins. They're melodic and quirky and original too somehow, though it's clear they fit quite neatly within a certain line of music. They're obviously the vehicle of lead singer James Mercer. He made the point himself by dismantling the original incarnation a few years back and reassembling with a new set of musicians but under the same name to show once and for all who was the auteur of this particular project.

They've done a lot of good to great tracks but surely regardless of what they do from now on they'll be chiefly remembered in association with the song that made their name first. New Slang from their first album Oh Inverted World.

The song broke big largely because it was featured in Garden State, a turn of the century stab at a state of the generation movie written and directed by Zach Braff, starring Braff himself and Natalie Portman. It's a good film, made me laugh quite a bit, has a good feeling for colour and mood and set the marker for hip soundtracks taken up by Juno and other vaguely indie American films. It's also very precious and self-regarding but perhaps that's also quite appropriate given the pretty privileged set of people it's set around and made by.

New Slang is at the very heart of the film acting as the catalyst to set up the emotional relationship between Portman and Brach's characters which eventually becomes romantic.  She hands him a set of headphones and plays him the song telling him it will change his life. Of course it does.  It's an immediately affecting song for people with certain record collections. It has that feel of some of Simon and Garfunkel's great sixties records, a sense of gears, direction, lives, and perspectives changing within the course of the four minutes it ducks just under.

The Shins emerged from Albuquerque, New Mexico in 1996 at a strange turning point in American Alternative Music history. Husker Du, The Replacements, R.E.M., Sonic Youth, The Pixies and Nirvana had all made their big statements. Pavement's records probably more than others were painting the way ahead. Towards ghettoisation. An 'indie-world' best exemplified by the ATP festivals which started shortly afterwards and which The Shins became regular players at. A lot of these bands really didn't belong on Lollopalooza which attracted its fair share of redneck muscle-heads. Pavement themselves had been pelted with mud on more than one occasion. ATP partly served to seal out these kind of people. It's the politest music festival I've ever been to.

The Shins music was completely devoid of the fire and anger of the American Independent trailblazing bands of the eighties detailed in Michael Azerad's wonderful book Our Band Could Be Your Life . Their's was a kind of resigned, neutered contentment which suited the generation it was playing to. But there was unease flowing beneath its melodic skin.

Mercer was well aware of the lineage he was working in. During the video for the song the band recreate the sleeves of Husker Du's Zen Arcade and New Day Rising, The Replacements Let It Be, Slint's Spiderland, Cat Power's Moon Pix, Sonic Youth's Sister, Double Nickels on the Dime by The Minutemen and Squirrel Bait's first EP.

It's a pretty cheeky gesture because though clearly intended as tribute it also implicitly places The Shins as next in line. This is not lacking in confidence. However, the quality of the song means this hubris is not entirely misplaced. It also came out on Sub Pop after all.

New Slang and Garden State made The Shins rich and famous. Wincing the Night Away, the next album completed after the film came out went to #2 in the Billboard chart. This is a remarkable achievement for a band making their kind of delicate, sensitive music. But at the same time they had to deal with the implicit accusation of selling out. New Slang after all featured in a McDonald's ad in addition to the Garden State soundtrack. Here's an excellent description of how things changed for Mercer and The Shins by someone who is clearly no fan of the film.

"Nobody has ever had Garden State and what it did to/for The Shins more on his mind than Mercer, who in interviews promoting Wincing The Night Away appeared to be alternately elated and terrified by the rapidly expanding audience the film had afforded him. He told The Stranger that while he was making the record he “felt there were now more people who might be as interested as I was in... expanding the territory I dwell in.” But he later confessed to the L.A. Times that he had trouble sleeping after Garden State—which is referenced explicitly in the record’s title, though wrapped in a jokey Sam Cooke reference—because he felt "my whole world was moving around.” Mercer’s discomfort was even more apparent on the record itself; Wincing was drenched in flopsweat, the product of a man who had spent too much time in the studio trying to create music that once seemed breezy and effortless. It was as if Mercer could no longer pretend that he was making music just for himself, and was obsessed with living up to the ridiculously lofty claims of an imaginary nitwit invented by the guy from Scrubs. Wincing The Night Away ended up sounding simultaneously over-thought and inconsequential, “a lovely and well-executed album and—for the first time in the band's career—nothing more,” in the words of Pitchfork’s Matt LeMay. (Probably not coincidentally, Wincing The Night Away was easily the worst-rated Shins album by the web’s pre-imminent music taste-maker, ranking far below Oh! Inverted World’s 8.0 and Chutes Too Narrow’s 8.9.)

But the strain put on Mercer and The Shins by Garden State can be measured by more than arbitrary record scores. By 2009 The Shins were a band in name only; Mercer had sacked drummer Jesse Sandoval and keyboardist (and unfairly accused America’s Next Top Model abuser) Marty Crandall and replaced them with hired guns. He was also collaborating with Danger Mouse on the just-released Broken Bells album and acting in movies with the foxy ex-guitar player from Sleater-Kinney. "I started to have production ideas that I wanted to do that basically required some other people," Mercer explained to Pitchfork. "It's mainly about that. It's an aesthetic decision. It's kind of hard to talk about stuff like that, isn't it? Because I don't want to bum anybody out. I'm on good terms with those guys, I hope to maintain that."

Several months later Sandoval granted a truly bizarre interview to the Portland Mercury where he 1) candidly dispelled the notion that Mercer was on good terms with his ex-bandmates and 2) promoted his awesome new food cart. While Sandoval took pains to point out that Mercer wasn’t “a malicious person,” he paradoxically discussed the gory details of his unceremonious firing, which apparently was done over e-mail and with a minimum amount of tact by his clearly uncomfortable friend/soon-to-be-ex boss. “When I think about this, probably if James really had complete say in it, he would have killed the Shins,” Sandoval told the Mercury’s Ezra Ace Careaff. “I definitely believe management's like, ‘You know, you can't start over, you built a name, people recognize you—why would you want to start all over?’ And so, the only thing he had left to do was to really make a drastic change, and I know working in Los Angeles with a bunch of studio people, he was able to find himself in a position where he didn't have to do 15 takes. Even himself, he could have someone play his parts, and that's a romantic idea. I don't blame him for that.

“It definitely got more complicated,” Sandoval said, reflecting on how fame impacted the band. “That's the hard thing. A complex web of relationships form when you start working with your closest friends. We are all terrible communicators with each other. It's hard when your boss is one of your best friends. I'm pretty sure it's even harder to be the boss of your best friends.”

Reading Sandoval’s interview, I actually feel more sympathy for Mercer, who had obviously reached a point in his life where he either had to move on with his career or be a good friend. It was an impossible decision, because either way Mercer was going to lose. Where he is headed now seems all too clear—he’ll continue to work with “better” musicians and write “better” songs, but he’ll never again make records as beloved as the first two Shins albums. He’s well on his way to becoming just another dude who wrote that song from that movie people used to like. That’s the downside of a song changing your life—everything that comes afterward is sort of an anticlimax."

This is all very sad if true. However, the song itself seems to be about breaking away. Mercer has said that it was written about wanting to get out from the relationship and the place he was in. It's a beautiful statement. As I said I very much like a lot of The Shins songs but this is the one I love.

The Shins 'New Slang'. A song about mortality, slightly about sadness, but going with the flow like we all do.

'Gold teeth and a curse for this town were all in my mouth.
Only, i don't know how they got out, dear.
Turn me back into the pet I was when we met.
I was happier then with no mind-set.
And if you'd 'a took to me like
A gull takes to the wind.
Well, I'd 'a jumped from my tree
And I'd a danced like the king of the eyesores
And the rest of our lives would 'a fared well.
New slang when you notice the stripes, the dirt in your fries.
Hope it's right when you die, old and boney.
Dawn breaks like a bull through the hall,
I wish you did call
But my head's to the wall and I'm lonely.
And if you'd 'a took to me like
A gull takes to the wind.
Well, I'd 'a jumped from my tree
And I'd a danced like the king of the eyesores
And the rest of our lives would 'a fared well.
God speed all the bakers at dawn may they all cut their thumbs,
And bleed into their buns 'till they melt away.
I'm looking in on the good life I might be doomed never to find.
Without a trust or flaming fields am I too dumb to refine?
And if you'd 'a took to me like
Well I'd a danced like the queen of the eyesores
And the rest of our lives would 'a fared well.'