This is Past Sounds. Every Friday Ghettoblaster Magazine is looking back and finding great music from various eras. We dug up some gems that sound great no matter what decade they’re played in. So strap in as we take a musical journey, back in time.
Daniel Johnston – Psycho Nightmare (Fun, Atlantic Records) 1994
Daniel Johnston is a complex guy, but I would sum him up as a schizophrenic, prolific folk-rock savant and master songwriter. The majority of his catalog consists of tapes that he recorded and passed out himself, gaining a following in the Austin Music scene in the 80’s, and the attention of Kurt Cobain in the 90s. Fun was Daniel’s major label debut, and his first (and last) album for Atlantic, who signed him while he was committed to a mental health facility following a schizophrenic episode. This song talks about one of these episodes, his “psycho nightmare,” showing how it is both wondrous and terrifying at the same time. Though he suffers from a specific affliction, Daniel is a master of making his music honest and relatable as he talks about, “The lonely looney one inside of us all.” This song is the most punk Daniel gets, yet it is very upbeat and hopeful, “Every single thing you dream up could happen to you.” Daniel had one of the roughest roads to walk, but his passion for art and life carried him through and he is still making music to this day. I encourage everyone to explore his entire catalog, he is one of the greatest songwriters of our time, and I highly recommend the documentary The Devil and Daniel Johnston, his story is truly remarkable and inspiring.
Holy Fuck – Lovely Allen (LP, Young Turks) 2007
Recently, I was Stalkifying one of my friends (that’s a term I coined for when you stalk people on Spotify) and he recommended this song to me. I only knew Holy Fuck from their newest album which is very distorted and fracture electronic music, so I was surprised to hear this bright, orchestral piece from them. This song starts with the strings repeating a phrase, they add layers until it builds to a glorious crescendo. This is a beautiful instrumental, which made me discover a whole new side to this band.
Mother Mother – Polynesia (Touch Up, Last Gang Records) 2007
When I was in High School one of the nearby high school radio stations introduced me to some amazing music, like MGMT and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. On that station I heard this song and fell in love with the Canadian indie-rock oddballs, Mother Mother. This song is essentially, “I’m on a boat,” but it is really about taking action rather than wishing for things to happen. They rejoice about the fact that they’re on the sea and taunt a landlocked sucker saying, “We’ll think of you and your stock white hands, building you model ships, wishing you were sailing around.” Touch Up is the band’s first and finest album, and it is anchored (get it?) by this fun little folk tune.
Cornelius – Chapter 8 “Seashore and Horizon” (Fantasma, POLYSTAR) 1997
Another catchy, nautical-themed folk tune, this one is from Multi-instrumentalist genre-hopper Keigo Oyamada a.k.a. Cornelius. His third album, Fantasma, was an amalgam of musical styles, jumping from electronic to rock to folk. This song is done in the “cut and paste” style, basically playing DJ with his own song, adding samples and cuts in interesting ways. Before the chorus, we hear a button being pressed and it sounds like the start of another song. Then, once the chorus finishes we hear the tape rewind and return to the bouncy folk sound that we started with. Cornelius’ unique style is shown on this song, created 20 years ago, that is still considered innovative by today’s standards.
Graham Nash – Simple Man (Songs For Beginners, Atlantic Records) 1971
This heartbreaking piano ballad is, as the title implies, simple yet powerful. This comes from the Crosby, Stills, and Nash member’s debut solo album. On it, he longs for the early days of a romance and serenades his former lover, “I just want to hold you I don’t want to hold you down.” Nash carried over the flawless harmonies of his previous band in this song, topped off with a gorgeous frontier-style fiddle that harmonizes perfectly with the piano. This song was in the film Reign Over Me in 2006 and it stuck with me all these years. It reinforces my belief that any band could have an incredible solo artist in their ranks.
Red Pill – Look What This World Did To Us (Look What This World Did To Us, Mello Music Group) 2015
We featured Detroit rapper Red Pill’s group, Ugly Heroes, on The Monday Rewind this week and I stumbled upon this song in the process. On this track, he makes the shift from political to personal. It is essentially a break up song, “let me drink this beer alone, because you left me here alone.” However, the message of this song is not to look externally and blame “the world” for your problems, but to look at what you could do differently to make things better. Red Pill produced this song himself and it samples Daniel Johnston’s Some Things Last a Long Time, using Johnston’s most beautiful ballad to create a catchy hip hop groove with a melancholy undertone.