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Category: perfect

30 Days in April: Day 16 / Perfect: “Sycamore,” Bill Callahan

Bill Callahan’s “Sycamore” exemplifies the kind of song that completely derails your intention to listen to a full album. I swear, I still fully believe that Woke On A Whaleheart is a brilliant album, but when you put “Sycamore” fourth (right after the stellar “Diamond Dancer,” too) on it, you’re basically asking a listener raised on CD’s to listen to the first four songs on the album over and over.

The song starts out with the looping, swirling, complicated-but-not guitar lick that Callahan comes back to again and again, and then straight into the lyrics:

There’s sap in the trees if you tap ’em
There’s blood on the seas–if you map ’em
Christian, if you see your papa–tell ‘im I love ‘im

And he goes from there, short pithy sayings that make you feel so much like he owns his lyrics, like he can pull them off and make them amazing and no one else could. He’s like a one man mythos every time out, and “Sycamore” is no exception.

Other than that, you’ve got the basic drumbeat, understated gospel backing vocals (how often can someone say that?), and lyrics that just continue to somehow be killer and yet not wordy at all. Callahan doing “basic” equals simple that defies you to write something so great. He’s also got the guitar solo that fits somewhere between caffeinated country and the cherry music from Mr. Do!, a man playing guitar that sounds like 8-bit video games…and also, aw hell. Eff the critic-speak.

You know what?  It’s just a damn good song.  A great song.  The one song that I remembered from the time I saw him open for Joanna Newsom to the time the album came out.

Simple, complex, catchy, twangy, clean.

It’s perfect.

[audio:sycamore.mp3]

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I’ve got about 10000 songs in iTunes, and about ten of them have made the “Perfect” playlist. This is one of them.

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Perfect: “Dry Your Eyes,” The Streets

I’m not so great with memorizing things, but somehow music makes such an impression on me that I’ve got a nearly savant-like ability to remember the dates when albums were released. It makes sense I suppose: I’m a musical learner after all, and so it checks that I could remember that that STP album was 1993 and that Soul Asylum one was 1992 and that Flaming Lips album was 2002.

This carries over to mean that I have to filter through what music was playing at the time in order to remember personal dates. So, I know that we were living in the house we built in Marengo because of the fact that I can remember listening to “Black Gold” while cleaning the garage. I know that 8th grade was 1991 because, hello Nirvana (plus Nate listening to Nine Inch Nails from the year before).

So, that means that songs get tied to relationships, of course, of course. There are albums or songs that just naturally end up solidly meaning that person at that time in that place, and there’s nothing I can do about that (nor would I want to, even). I remember how appalled I was when a friend said to me, “you can’t do that you know.” I can’t not do that — I can’t fathom memories not filtered in this way. Maybe that’s another reason why music just means so much.

I’m a veteran of a few long-distance relationships, too, and those songs mailed off to each other, postage to other countries or continents? Even more weight.

This also means, as you might imagine, when a relationship goes south, and stays there, whole albums or songs have to get deleted from the hard drive, figuratively and literally. This doesn’t happen often, though it can be pretty significant.

The Streets’ “Dry Your Eyes” loosely fits in this category.

[audio:Dry_Your_Eyes.mp3]

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Perfect: “If I Can’t Change Your Mind,” by Sugar

How can I explain away
Something that I haven’t done
And if you can’t trust me now
You’ll never trust in anyone

–Sugar, “If I Can’t Change Your Mind”

Typical review: witty summary, narrow it down, pick out a few songs, wrap it up in a nice bow.

Not this time. This time, the lyrics first. The above lyrics occur at a point in the song when you’d guess maybe Mould will drop the chorus another time, maybe repeat a verse or some other time-honored/slightly lazy trick, it’ll end, and it’ll be pretty good. But then! A curve ball near-ending–a verse that comes in at a time when you’re like, “man, how could any song be this great?”–and we’re off.

“How can I explain away/Something that I haven’t done?” Chills.

“And if you can’t trust me now/You’ll never trust in anyone.”

Does he have you yet?

There’s a point in every (failed?) relationship when things have been said that you didn’t want to say, or things have been done you’ve moved beyond regretting–things you wish you wouldn’t have had the capacity to do. So often in rock songwriting, we get the perspective of the jilted whatever, or the angry ex, or the “take me back/please come back” plea.

But how often is there complication? How often do we see “With all the crazy doubts you’ve got/I love you even still?” This song is chilling partly because it’s unique. It takes the specificity of “you will find a different person if you change your mind,” throws that awesome 90’s Moüld guitar sound behind it, and builds the perfect three minute pop song.

If I can’t change your mind then no one will.

The Video, on Youtube
Bob Mould
Sugar, on Wikipedia
Sugar – If I Can’t Change Your Mind

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I’ve got about 9000 songs in iTunes, and about ten of them have made the “Perfect” playlist.

This is one of them.