This is Past Sounds. Every Friday Ghettoblaster Magazine is looking back and finding great music from various eras. Below are songs that sound great no matter what decade they’re played in. So strap in as we take a musical journey, back in time.
Sparks – Sherlock Holmes (Angst In My Pants, Atlantic)
The LA-based duo Sparks, made up of oddball brothers Ron and Russell Mael, made some of the most interesting music of the 70’s, 80’s, and continue to make great music to this day. Lead by, but not oversaturated with, Ron Mael’s signature synths in association with electronic music pioneer Giorgio Moroder, their sound was way ahead of it’s time. The song begins with Russell describing Sherlock Holmes’ intelligence and playfully taking on the role of Sherlock to entice his lover. As the song progresses he pleads with his partner to stay the night if he pretends to be the much superior Sherlock. Building to an upbeat, power-pop bridge where Russell frustratedly declares, “I can’t be Sherlock Holmes.” This song is a quirky, little heart-breaking tale and a prime example of Sparks’ significant influence on modern synth-rock.
The Grateful Dead – Ripple (American Beauty, Warner Bros.)
The National’s Aaron & Bryce Dessner recently released the Grateful Dead tribute album Day of the Dead, featuring The Walkmen doing a great cover of Ripple, however nothing is better than the original. Seemingly a jaunty folk tune, this song has some of the deepest and most enlightened lyrics, contemplating the purpose of music itself and encouraging the listener to forge their own path in life. While the song is rooted in reality it hints towards unseen forces, “Ripple in still water when there is no pebble tossed or wind to blow.” There are gorgeous 3-part harmonies throughout, ending with a glorious vocal chorus, in which the band was backed by a choir of friends and family members. There are mixed views of The Grateful Dead, some are die hard fans and others subscribe to the “jam band” stereotype and write them off, but if you listen to this song the music speaks for itself.
Dirty Projectors feat. David Byrne – Knotty Pine (Dark Was The Night, 4AD)
2008’s Dark Was The Night is another Dessner Bros. produced complitation album, made to raise money and awareness for HIV and AIDS. The album is a who’s who of indie-rock stars, including this brilliant collaboration of Talking Head’s David Byrne and Dirty Projectors. The marriage of Amber Coffman and David Byrne’s vocals is bold and majestic, trading off verses then joining in the chorus. A driving bass drum and perky acoustic guitar riffs build to a boisterous staccato-piano hook. This is a fun track and an unexpected, yet ingenious pairing of indie-rock greats.
The Mountain Goats – San Bernardino (Heretic Pride, 4AD)
Last year, Rolling Stone dubbed The Mountain Goats frontman John Darnielle “Rock’s Best Storyteller,” as his songs tell intricate stories with complex characters that embody relatable truths and emotions. This song tells the tale of an indigent young couple who stop at a roadside hotel for the birth of their child. John often speaks for people who are dismissed and underestimated, and demonstrates how they have unseen potential and value. He does that on this song as he describes the love between the couple and their newborn, “we will never be alone in this world, no matter what they say.” This track consists of Darnielle singing over lovely strings arrangements, a departure from the folk rock style the band is known for. John said these are some of his favorite characters that he’s ever created, “their feeling for one another inspires me.” He is now a father of two, but 3 years before the birth of his first son, he tapped into a parent’s love with this beautiful ballad.
Frightened Rabbit – Holy (Pedestrian Verse, Atlantic)
On Holy Scott Hutchison demonstrates his ability to take a theme and run with it, the verses are packed with biblical imagery as he faces off against a self-righteous pier. The chorus repeats, “you’re acting all holy, me I’m just full of holes.” This line varies and mutates as the song builds until finally Hutchinson proclaims, “I won’t ever be holy. Thank God I’m full of holes.” This song is about not just accepting your imperfections, but loving them as they are a part of you. Frightened Rabbit pioneered the folk rock sound popularized by bands like Mumford & Sons and Of Monsters & Men, but that sound evolved over time into the polished, poppy indie-rock you hear on this track.
Chance The Rapper – Prom Night (10 Day, Self Released)
The second to last song on Chance’s first mixtape, 10 Day, recorded during a 10 day suspension from his high school, shows how much he has grown and reminds us why we loved him in the first place. As always Chance uses childish buffoonery to convey much deeper truths. Comparing himself to teen movie troublemakers Charlie Bartlett, John Bender, and Ferris Bueller, he establishes himself as a rebellious youth and talks about how he missed his graduation and prom to pursue his passion of making music. There is a coming-of-age/high school nostalgia vibe to this song, but ultimately this is Chance first tapping into his signature style of epic compositions about his successes and the great things that he sees in his future. Throughout his career he has consistently preached a message of positivity. No matter if he’s speaking to his fans, his newborn daughter, or a person who threw a beer bottle at him on stage, he takes a line from this song and says, “It’s all love.” This song is done in the style of classic 90’s rap, with a bright, orchestral beat and it’s an interesting look back at the high school hip hop prodigy before he transformed into the young father who is running the rap game and making history.