Day 2H: Africa Addio, Day Two
The west subdivision gives us…
#1 The Mentors, “Sandwich of Love”
#9 Prick, “Communiqué”
I just got done writing up the Axone/Clutch matchup above, and this one feels like shallow water in comparison. The Mentors collapse under the weight of Eldon Hoke’s ridiculously off-key vocals and regular stretching well beyond the bounds of probability to find a decent rhyme, basically giving Prick a walk to Round Three.
Live in San Diego, 1991
#5 Machines of Loving Grace, “The Soft Collision”
#13 Muslimgauze, “Bhutto (Radio Rabbat Remix)”
Regretting having sex with someone can be a real downer. But it often makes for excellent (though sometimes unintentionally hilarious) art. Case in point: “The Soft Collision”. The lyrics avoid that usual “I’m going to write a song about being over you that makes it sound like I am still totally obsessed with you in every way” trap by focusing on, yes, sex, and applying demonic features to said ex-girlfriend. (I have never confirmed it to be the same person, but honest to Swedish fish, I think I ended up dating her in 1998. No, I am not joking. And the demonic aspects remained even then.) There are a few places where those lyrics get, well, a little overdramatic—but that can be forgiven when you’re talking about your ex, right? After all, your ex-lover is always the worst person in the entire world when you’re thinking about him/her, Stalin and Pol Pot and Robert Oppenheimer and Boris and Natasha all rolled into one. Bryn Jones avoided lyrical overdramatics entirely during his career, since all of Muslimaguze’s material was instrumental (at least the three dozen or so releases I have heard have been). I’ve never been all that big a fan of trance, but when I listen to Muslimgauze, I can at least understand the attraction. This is good stuff indeed, from a guy who understands that repetition is a tool that can be used, kind of in the same way salespeople understand it…and I think I just talked myself into reversing my initial decision on this battle and giving Machines of Loving Grace the key to the Sweet Sixteen. Oops.
#6 The Dream Academy, “The Love Parade”
#3 The Cure, “Shake Dog Shake”
This felt like it should have been a much more difficult battle than it was, and if you know me, the outcome might be something of a surprise—and I can’t actually reveal the reason this battle actually went the way it did for a few days (well, weeks in real-time). But when it came right down to it, The Dream Academy ended up having a very easy go of it here; there’s always been something about “Shake Dog Shake” that just feels slightly off. Most of The Top has that same feeling, and when I look at it in the greater view of the entire Cure canon, it ends up being the album’s major strength—this is different than anything The Cure did, before or since, which makes it distinctive. But when it’s put up against the smooth, slick instrumentation (which is always out of the ordinary where the Dream Academy are concerned) and top-notch production values of “The Love Parade”, it slips just enough to allow Nick Laird-Clowes and co. to slip through the gap and on to Round Three.
Live in Oxford, 1984.
#10 Del Amitri, “Food for Songs”
#2 The Scorpions, “Big City Nights”
Another one in this bracket that ended up being a lot easier than I expected; Del Amitri’s track feels more real, more deeply-felt, and with more passion behind it, than the Scorps entry, and thus Del Amitri gets an easy ride into the Sweet Sixteen.
Finally, the west subdivision kicks off with…
#1 Shora, “The Never-Ending Exhale”
#8 Pink Floyd, “When the Tigers Broke Free”
This is the final matchup in the bracket I am writing up, and as is increasingly the case, I still don’t know which way it’s going as I type this opening sentence. The easy choice would be to simply hand this to Pink Floyd; “When the Tigers Broke Free”, which was originally an outtake from The Wall (I have always assumed it and “What Shall We Do Now?”, both of which ended up in Alan Parker’s film, were cut from the album for length reasons more than anything), was the kind of Pink Floyd track you had to be a big fan to have gotten your hands on in the eighties; you had to have a copy of the movie, record the song from it, and then assemble the parts (it’s chopped in half in the film). At that point, the difference between being fan and fanatic was “When the Tigers Broke Free”. That changed later on (I don’t know exactly when), because the song began appearing on later editions of the CD version of The Final Cut; I’m pretty sure that didn’t happen until at least sometime in the nineties, as no version of The Final Cut I have ever owned had it, and I bought my most recent one in ’89 or ’90. Which shouldn’t have any effect on whether one likes the song or not (and empirically it doesn’t, obviously, as we’re still sitting here talking about it). But it does at least allow us the space to make a case for “The Never-Ending Exhale”, which is a corker of a song, driving and complex and very, very loud, pretty much the polar opposite of the low, mournful, bitter “When the Tigers Broke Free”. The latter is interesting in the scope of this competition because I keep talking about songs that it’s impossible to divorce from their larger albums. And here we have a song that is part of a very strong concept album, but yet manages to stand on its own very well despite that. Despite all of this, though, I keep finding myself leaning towards Shora; the raw, barely-controlled energy of “The Never-Ending Exhale” is exhilirating. Fifteen minutes later I’m still trying to decide, so I’m going with that gut feeling and handing Shora the upset win here, as Pink Floyd head for the sidelines.
The relevant pieces of Pink Floyd: The Wall stitched together.
#5 Albannach, “Claymores”
#4 Fugazi, “Shut the Door”
Albannach, meet eight-hundred-pound gorilla. “Shut the Door” is the kind of song that, if you get where you’re going while it’s still playing, you sit in the car and wait until it’s finished before shutting off the mp3 player and getting out of the car. “Claymores”, as fine a piece of work as it is, is not. Which makes this a very easy decision to send Fugazi on to Round Three and Albannach on to the sidelines.
#11 Aaron Martin, “Water Tongue”
#14 Hedningarna, “Räven”
“Water Tongue” is another of those long-low-reverbed-guitar-driving-along-the-open-plains tracks that’s showed up here on occasion (Tara Key’s “Bender”, Tanakh’s “Paharaoh’s Lonely Daughter”, etc.). I think Aaron Martin may do that sort of thing better than just about anyone, which is a pretty bold statement, but let’s face it, “Water Tongue” is, unless I am forgetting someone, the last song of its type standing in this competition. It is very good, and I believe the deciding factor in it being around here where all the rest have fallen is not in that long-low-etc., but in the choices Martin made in the backing instrumentation—which is very different than one normally finds in tracks like this, kinda tinkly and burbling and not at all driving-along-the-open-plains-windy-stuff. But the guitar is the central conceit in this track, and it’s up against the female vocals in the chorus of “Räven”. I’m not sure they were meant to be the central conceit in the song. For that matter, I’m not sure that someone else listening to “Räven” would see them as such. But they are front and center for me and always have been—and in a matchup between guitar and female vocals, with me at least, the latter is going to be the winner 99% of the time. And so it is here. The Heathens party their way to the Sweet Sixteen, while Martin heads for the sidelines.
#7 Kiyoshi Mizutani, “Yabusame at Morou Shrine in Rain”
#2 Nuclear Valdez, “Rising Sun”
And I keep talking about bad car listening tracks… here’s the first one that’s actually going to get eliminated for it since I brought it up. Kiyoshi Mizutani’s Scenery of the Border is a fantastic album, and a very strong contender to show up on the Best Albums of 2007 list when I do the next round of revisions…but it is an album that really requires you to listen to it in a dark, silent room, still preferably using a pair of headphones, in order to get the most out of it. If you are going to be stuck with eighty minutes of music for the rest of your life, limiting yourself to such conditions will take a decent-sized bite out of your listening everywhere else. And thus, Mizutani’s track heads for the bleachers, and Nuclear Valdez find themselves with a free pass to the Sweet Sixteen.
Another nasty day is behind us, and when Day 3H rolls around, you will find yourself confronted with the following matchups…
#16 Steel Hook Prostheses, “Burning Out Their Eyes” vs. #13 Poe, “Hey Pretty”
#6 Venom, “Possessed” vs. #7 Clan of Xymox, “Blind Hearts”
#16 Axone, “Casus Belli” vs. #12 Delain, “Babylon”
#11 Amaran, “As We Fly” vs. #10 Accept, “London Leatherboys”
#9 Prick, “Communiqué” vs. #5 Machines of Loving Grace, “The Soft Collision”
#6 The Dream Academy, “The Love Parade” vs. #10 Del Amitri, “Food for Songs”
#1 Shora, “The Never-Ending Exhale” vs. #4 Fugazi, “Shut the Door”
#14 Hedningarna, “Räven” vs. #2 Nuclear Valdez, “Rising Sun”
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