Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Speaking in Tongues

Spent much of this evening editing a transcript of an interview for work; as part of the necessary distraction process, I found myself at the download section of Sigur Rós's website, which contains a pretty remarkable and rather large collection of mp3s by the band and their various side projects. I'd lost my copy of their wonderful album Ágætis Byrjun for a while and found it again just a few days ago, which sparked a whole new wave of listening. (I never picked up its followup, (), though the site has a few sample tracks that tempt me to hear more.)

As if that weren't distraction enough, the goldmine at SR's online headquarters made me wonder if My Morning Jacket's site might contain a comparable treasure trove. It doesn't, though there are a few songs here and there from most of their albums, and the site has plenty of other features to keep you ... distracted. SR and MMJ, while they're pretty different from each other, also have a lot in common, starting with their generally dreamy, reverb-y sound--which I find enormously appealing. Both groups' lyrics are often difficult or impossible to make out, which bothers me not one bit.

But thinking about the legibility of musical language inspired me to also start assembling candidates for a compilation CD I've long pledged to make for a friend who's intrigued by this whole Brazilian obsession of mine and wants to get his feet wet but can't get past the desire to understand the lyrics. My disc will be called "Brazenglish" and will consist entirely of songs by Brazilian artists (and like-minded offshoots) singing in English. I'll try to remember to post the final songlist here when I'm done. It's sort of a frustrating project, though, because the songs generally don't represent an artist's best work (one notable exception being Marisa Monte's cover of "Pale Blue Eyes," which just might be my favorite of her recordings I've heard so far).

I don't really share my friend's need for complete comprehension. I used to be a big Lyrics Guy in my tormented adolescence many many years ago, when it really seemed like Simon & Garfunkel (for instance) really had something to tell me, but after a certain point that wore off. Might have happened around the time I started seeing friends of mine in bands that were musically really great but lacked a strong lead singer; I kinda wished they'd just go in a purely instrumental direction. (This was a good ten years or so before Tortoise and similar outfits did exactly that.)

These days I guess I feel like vocals are a nice thing for a song to have, but lyrics that I can plainly understand, let alone relate to, don't seem quite so important anymore. (No offense to Iris Dement or Richard Rodgers or anyone else--I still love you all, promise.) The 6 or 7 years I spent working for a singer/songwriter's record label were really what made me turn to wordless music--mostly electronic stuff. I don't mean that as a diss to the artist, more a reflection of my desire to have suitable music to work to--and since my work generally involves language, I have plenty of words in my head already. What I'm looking for is the texture and sheer presence of music.

Which explains why I just spent an evening downloading songs sung either in Icelandic or a madeup variation thereof. Svefn-g-englar, y'all. Everybody join in on the chorus!

No comments: