Monday, September 03, 2007

(09.03.07) Recommends:

Andrew Bird, "Scythian Empires," live on WNYC Soundcheck.

Andrew Bird's Armchair Apocrypha must be on everybody's short list for best record of 2007. If it's not on yours, then please throw your list away and start again. I've been listening to it pretty consistently since it came out in March (and blogged about it here, here, and here) although I've particularly had Bird on the brain as of late. The two things that I love most about this record are as follows.

First, it is a record, not just a oddly compiled collection of songs. You put this thing on, and you listen to the whole thing, in order, and every song is perfectly placed, and the thing just flows.

Second, even though the true genius of the record is not fully unleashed unless you listen to it as set forth more fully above, it also has a bunch of killer individual songs that call for careful, individual dissection.

To properly dissect a song, as you must know by now, you first listen to the song on repeat for anywhere between one hour and four weeks, until you have gotten underneath both the words and the music. Second, if the liner notes are provided, of course they must be devoured. Third, if you are in middle school, and are required to do that weird thing where you cover your text books in grocery bag like so then you must scrawl the song lyrics on said cover. Finally, you must find alternative versions of the song to see how the artist interprets the song away from the friendly confines of the record proper.

This all might seem like a quaint exercise in a post-Napster world, but if you, little you, are to understand and fully grasp the brilliance set forth before you, you must follow these instructions with unwavering precision.

Andrew Bird, Scythian Empires, An Applied Case Study.
1. Know the song, love the song: Usually I can only listen to this song a few times a week because as I had yet to tame its brilliance listening to it once inevitably turned into listening to it for four straight hours, which killed the chance of completing whatever task it was that I was procrastinating over by putting on Andrew Bird in the first place. Luckily, I had some time on my hands recently when I made a drive of roughly 350 miles that due to pre-holiday traffic took roughly seven hours to complete. Lesser men might have gone insane. I resolved to get to the bottom of Scythian Empires. And by this I mean, I listened to Scythian Empires. Non-stop. For 350 straight miles. For seven straight hours. I shall know Scythian Empires; Scythian Empires shall know my devotion.

2. Hard copy of the album secured, I got underneath the words. This was actually done while driving. But don't worry, the excess of cars on the road made it very safe for me to attempt the simultaneous reading/driving exercise.

3. I am not in Middle School, so this step does not apply to me, unfortunately. And what a shame. Because to be a middle-schooler, in 2007, stuck amidst war and chaos and corruption and the suburbs, and to walk into Social Studies class with eyes sad, heavy, and knowing, and having the following handwritten on your textbook: "Five day forecast brings black tar rain and hellfire/while handpicked handler's kid gloves tear at the inseams/their Halliburton attache cases are useless/while Scotch-Guard Macintoshes shall be carbonized/now they're offering views of exiting empires/such breathtaking views of Scythian empires..." would be so profound that you'd probably get a scholarship to Sarah Lawrence on the spot.

4. The alternative version. I present you with this below. It's actually an entire in-studio interview and performance, but if you are running short on time, then scroll ahead to 16:16 and listen to the performance of Scythian Empires. This song is so grand and ambitious as it appears on the record, but this version just totally conquers. People! You do not hear songs like this every day. So it is imperative that you listen to this, and support this, and soak it all in; the fate of our culture as one that is generous and fertile and creative may very well rest on your decision.

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