Category Archives: good music

I’ll lose some sales and my boss won’t be happy but I can’t stop listening to the sound…

by anti-folk hero

The Kings of Convenience are one of the most relaxed bands that have ever floated through my consciousness. Their music is breezy and laid back but still complex and interesting. Their songs are based on the harmonies of two guitars and two voices. The Norwegian duo consists of Erlend Øye and Eirik Glambek Bøe, a couple of dudes who used to jam together and finally decided to write some songs. They only have two albums out at the moment and Erlend is already in another band, but their second release transcends cultural barriers and resonates perfectly as an album without pretensions or self-consciousness.

Riot

“Riot on an Empty Street” plays like a lost Nick Drake album (if he’d been accompanied by John Denver) or an English language João Gilberto record. But the key here are the harmonies; the record is propelled to greatness by the intricacy of the singing and guitar playing. The two sing and play complicated arrangements as casually as if they’d been born to play them. The nylon string guitars are also a nice touch; having grown up playing both nylon and steel stringed acoustic guitars myself, I appreciate a record that makes use of the softer, more percussive sound of a nylon string guitar. Let’s take a look at Cayman Islands, a track from “Riot on an Empty Street.”

Here are the lyrics.

Kings of Convenience – Cayman Islands

Through the alleyways to cool off in the shadows
Then into the street following the water

  • This reminds me so much of Venice. We were there in late July and it was hot as all hell, and we literally walked through the alleyways to cool off in the shadows. This couplet is my experience of Venice, perfectly captured.

There’s a bearded man paddling in his canoe
Looks as if he has come all the way from the Cayman Islands

These canals, it seems, they all go in circles
Places look the same, and we’re the only difference
The wind is in your hair, it’s covering my view
I’m holding on to you, on a bike we’ve hired until tomorrow

  • Now this has me thinking of Amsterdam on a quiet street off of the main drag. The lyrics evoke the reflection of a person who is just visiting, though looking around passively on the back of a bike. The lines about the wind and the bike bring you out of your reflective state and back in the moment, a good moment I’d assume, to remember the beauty and happiness you’re feeling at that point in time.

If only they could see, if only they had been here
They would understand, how someone could have chosen
To go the length I’ve gone, to spend just one day riding
Holding on to you, I never thought it would be this clear

Kings of C

These lyrics are relaxing, refreshing and enjoyable. Having just backpacked my way through Europe last summer, the lines in this song bring back memories of walking around in Venice and Amsterdam. Its not often that modern music is used to relax, soothe, or alleviate the tensions in our lives. Most often, with music like punk or pop, what we get is something that emulates the tension we feel. While this can help us feel connected to a greater mass of stressed out people, the Kings of Convenience have used their songwriting skills to create something that allows you to sit back and dream. Who else can you say that about these days?

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X T C ** n o t h u g s i n o u r h o u s e

by anti-folk hero

For those of you out there who love rock music, especially British rock music, who haven’t heard of Andy Partridge or his group XTC, you’re missing out on one of the best pop groups of the post-punk era. Like a true songwriter, his music isn’t confined to a single sound or approach; rhythms can change without warning, as well as melodies. His lyrics as well as his song structures affirm his commitment to originality and pop sensibility.

Andy Partridge

I really shouldn’t be so hard on people who haven’t listened to XTC. It took me a long time to fully appreciate their songs. The erratic vocal rhythms and rhyme schemes make it especially difficult to pick up on the lyrics, which are important to the overall interpretation of the song. Take “No Thugs in Our House,” off of their album English Settlement. Forget the fact that the song is incredibly catchy; while that is hard enough for most bands to achieve, XTC manages to write a coherent set of lyrics that tell a story. Here’s my interpretation of the song (note – if you want to read along to the song, start the vid at the bottom of the page playing and then scroll back up and read the lyrics as the song plays);

No Thugs

n o t h u g s i n o u r h o u s e

The insect-headed worker-wife
will hang her waspies on the line;

  • Ok, so you’re thinking, “what?”

her husband burns his paper,
sucks his pipe while studying their cushion-floor;
his viscous poly-paste breath comes out,
their wall-paper world is shattered by his shout,

  • So far, you have no idea what’s going on. But when you think of the insect-headed worker wife hanging her waspies on the line (waspies being a play on a WASP’s white laundry) and their wall paper world being shattered by his shout, you get a pretty clear picture of a bland white family in working-class England (or America) with the typical, bossy, overbearing father and the good house-wife mother. So far, though, this is all set-up, like a good story.

a boy in blue is busy banging out a headache on the kitchen door.

  • This line is easy to skip over, but it’ll come to mean something later in the song. Amateur writers and lyricists take note; this is called foreshadowing. Its part of a greater writing style called subtlety, the meaning of which has been forgotten in the modern era but is believed by current experts to mean “writing while thinking.”

all the while graham slept on,
dreaming of a world where he could do just what he wanted to

  • The first time they sing the lines about Graham, you’re thinking, “oh Graham, sleeping away, dreaming of a world where he can do just what he wanted to. I can relate to that.” But this song isn’t about a kid in a boring middle class suburban family with nothing to do. That would be too easy. However, thus far, this is what you’re led to believe the song is about.

no thugs in our house,
are there dear?
we made that clear
we made little graham promise us he’d be a good boy.

  • This is the chorus. Right now this doesn’t mean much, but it will later on. I’d hate to spoil it for you.

no thugs in our house ,
are there dear?
we made that clear
we made little graham promise us he’d be a good boy.
the young policeman who just can’t grow a moustache will open
up his book,

  • Remember the man in blue knocking out a headache on the kitchen door? Voila.

and spoil their breakfast with reports of asians who have been so badly kicked, is this your son’s wallet I’ve got here?

  • The last two lines really give away the most about the actual meaning of the song. This explains the policeman’s visit and also gives us a hint that maybe Graham isn’t the nice little kid we all thought he was.

he must have dropped it after too much beer!
oh, officer,
we can’t believe our little angel is the one you’ve picked.

  • This is his parent’s most likely excuse for why the wallet was outside. Seems obvious, right? But the bigger idea here is what is going on. Graham is a some sort of neo-fascist, racist thug, and they’re so delusional that they refuse to accept it.

and all the while graham slept on,
dreaming of a world where he could do just what he wanted to.
no thugs in our house,
are there dear?
we made that clear
we made little graham promise us he’d be a good boy.

  • Now the chorus reads completely differently. Instead of Graham being some sort of rebellious kid being punished by his boring parents, Graham is a sinister little monster being protected by his parents. The chorus reads like a conversation between his parents where they are convincing themselves that he couldn’t possibly be the little shit that they know he is.

no thugs in our house,
are there dear?
we made that clear we made little
graham promise us he’d be a good boy.
they never read those pamphlets in his bottom drawer,
they never read that tattoo on his arm.
they thought that was just a boys club badge he wore,
they never thought he’d do folks any harm.
the insect-headed worker wife will hang her waspies on the line;

  • Right here you think the lyrics are about to repeat, but Andy changes it up and continues the story. The next part takes place after the cop leaves, after having not arrested Graham.

she’s singing something
stale and simple now this business has fizzled out;
her little tune is such a happy song
her son is innocent,
he can’t do wrong,
‘cos dads a judge and knows exactly what the job of judging’s all about.

  • I like the play on the word “judge” from the above line. Dad’s a judge who knows what judging’s all about; judging that his kid is innocent despite the plain facts and also filling his kids head with stereotypes and racist judgment of other groups of people.

and all the while graham slept on,
dreaming of a world where he could do just what he wanted to.
no thugs in our house,
are there dear?
we made that clear
we made little graham promise us he’d be a good boy.
no thugs in our house,
are there dear?
we made that clear
we made little graham promise us he’d be a good boy.

At the end of this song, you realize that instead of hearing a light-hearted song about a young teenager who needs to get out of the house and party, you’ve instead just heard a sharply written social critique of parents who condone their children’s behavior by ignoring reality and sticking to their delusions. Partridge’s lyrics are a mirror; by showing people their own phobias and sacred cows he is getting them to judge themselves.

I decided to write this song up because in my last article I thrashed Fall Out Boy’s lyrics while still admitting that they were a catchy band. I wanted to show that a song could be catchy without having to be devoid of any meaning, but also that when a song is written in such a way that it does have meaning, its much more satisfying to listen to. To those of you who haven’t heard this song yet, here’s a link below.

[Youtube=http://youtube.com/watch?v=WJ9ieVLaLo8]

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