Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Night Sky: Unfunky UFO

Parliament: Unfunky UFO


“Objects, natural or artificial, real or imagined…” When I posted this week’s theme, I implied that songs about UFOs were fine, but nobody took the bait. Instead, we stuck to natural celestial objects. It made for a great week, but here’s a little taste of what might have been.

When Parliament went out on their 1976 tour for the album Mothership Connection, they created a spectacle. Each show opened with a spaceship landing on stage. A hatch opened, and the band in their outrageous costumes emerge from a cloud of dry ice. I never saw any of these shows, but I heard about them later, and I have seen some pictures. Unfunky UFO could have been their theme song. In the lyric, grooveless aliens from a planet that is dying of unfunkiness come to earth in search of a life-saving groove. Judging from the sound, I would say that they found what they were seeking.

The Night Sky: J-Rock version

Hideto Matsumoto, wearing heat-trapping vinyl

hide: Rocket Dive


Buck-Tick: Jupiter


Kiyoharu: Venus (Shocking Blue cover)


It's the space-age J-Rock entry you've all been dreading anticipating!

I've posted all these Visual Kei artists before, and I know you remember them all really well, right? The first is by guitarist nonpareil (and romanticized dead rock icon) hide (say it "hee-day"). It's a full-out speed metal tune best enjoyed at full volume while roaring down the highway. The second is a more ethereal song by long-time rockers Buck-Tick. The third is one you'll actually recognize – it's the Shocking Blue song. Like Antony Hegarty, who I posted earlier this week, Kiyoharu has an unusual voice: kinda strangled and with lots of vibrato. His Engrish admittedly doesn't add much to his appeal, either. Nothing anyone can say, though, will dim my love for him.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Night Sky: Jupiter Rising

Emmylou Harris: Jupiter Rising


Emmylou Harris is still probably best known as the woman who sang back-up for Graham Parsons, and then went on her own, helping to establish the sound we now call alt-country. But, especially in her later years, Harris has refused to be tied to any single musical genre. Jupiter Rising is a playful and flirty pop song, and its beat almost qualifies it as ska. It’s not the most profound thing Harris has ever done, but it may be the most fun.

The Night Sky: Galaxies

Laura Veirs: Galaxies


I too feel like I have so much more to share now that we've expanded the year range to include up through 2005. This song appears on Laura Veirs 2005 album "Year of Meteors".

Laura Veirs is an American singer-songwriter, but beyond that I have a hard time catagorizing her music. Depending on the song and album she's somewhere between folk, indie rock and even the occasional ambient sound. She's an artist I was never able to get into as much as I thought I would, but like with many artists, their whole catalog might not grab you, but sometimes there's a song or two which wow you. "Galaxies" is one of those songs.

When you sing, when you sing
The stars fill up my eyes
Galaxies pour down my cheeks
Galaxies, they flood the street

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Night Sky: Soft Black Stars

Antony and the Johnsons: Soft Black Stars


We've ticked up the latest year that we search for songs to bring you to 2005-ish, which makes me very happy because I can share one of my favorite newer vocalists. Let me state straight up that he's pretty much an acquired taste. I think I've mentioned, though, that I love high-pitched male voices. I also have a bit of a thing for androgyny. So we've got a sure-fire Geoviki kink in Antony Hegarty, an award-winning yet little-known British transsexual artist. (I believe that 'he' is his preferred pronoun; if not, I'll modify it).

Antony usually pens his own music but this ballad/lullaby is a cover of a Current 93 song that he released on an EP in 2001. The piano and violin accompaniment melds beautifully with Antony's intense, intimate vocals, and the delicate lyrics sooth us into contemplating the children and the night sky he sings about.

I'd love to know if you like it too.

The Night Sky: The Comet, The Course, The Tail

"While the comet spreads its tail across the sky, it nowhere near defines the course it flies, nor does it find its own direction..." In the old days, a comet was usually seen as a bad omen, a phenomenon heralding coming catastrophes. Progrocker and erstwhile Van Der Graaf Generator frontman Peter Hammill was well aware of this of course when he wrote this impressive existentialist song back in '74. "There is a time set in the calendar when all reason seems barely enough to sustain all the shooting stars: times are rough..."

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Night Sky: Black Star

Gillian Welch: Black Star (Radiohead cover)

[live & unavailable]

Blame it on the black star
Blame it on the falling sky
Blame it on the satellite
That beams me home...

In Radiohead's universe, it seems perfectly natural for a couple's growing distance to be projected into the night sky. After all, Thom Yorke is well known for his tendency towards pensive and disconnected first-person narrators struggling with ways to make sense of a topsy-turvy world, their alienation couched in skewed, cryptic lyrics.

But where the sonic build of spit and static crashes through the original recording [purchase], thickening it with angst, bass and drumbash, in Gillian Welch's universe, intimacy brings the sky close. Gentle guitar lines stream out like cosmic rays of acoustic goodness. Voices shimmer and soar as they intertwine. The world is right. The combination is exquisite. It is, without question, one of my top ten favorite covers, ever.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Night Sky: Southern Cross

Ozark Mountain Daredevils: Southern Cross


Please join me in welcoming our newest poster here on Star Maker Machine, 1001 Songs.

Last week Aimee Mann tweeted " I think it's time I started really listening to some Ozark Mountain Daredevils." Some of us couldn't agree with her more. The original OMD were a fun loving country pop outfit made up of talented songwriters who wore their hair a bit too long for hometown Springfield, Missouri. That, apparently, was what made them daredevils. They scored a worldwide Top 5 hit in 1975 with "Jackie Blue" but instead of making the expected move to LA, the Daredevils stayed home to record the follow-up, The Car Over The Lake Album. "Southern Cross" is the story of a delirious road/air/sea trip taken by a lost soul who finds "the secret of navigation and the mystery of the Milky Way" on Easter Island. Yes, the Southern Cross is a big deal down under. The stars making up the constellation are represented on the flags of Australia, New Zealand, Brazil and Papua New Guinea.

Guest post by 1001 Songs

The Night Sky: Planet Claire

The B-52s: Planet Claire


From 1967, we now jump ahead 11 years to 1978. But, in a sense, we also jump back to the 1950s, at the drive-in. Planet Claire opens the B-52s debut album, and the sound is all fifties science fiction movie organ, played on top of the Peter Gunn Theme. Half way through the song, Fred Schneider enters with a profoundly silly lyric about a visitor from another planet. And somehow, this was all cool. The B-52s wanted you to know that you should not take their songs very seriously, and that reminded the listener to lighten up. Maybe there were other things they were taking too seriously as well. So much of the more portentous music from the 80s sounds dated today, but Planet Claire sounds as good to me now as it did then.