Today on the MP3 Shuffle, we celebrate the birthday of Mark Lanegan. Lanegan fronted a band out of the Pacific Northwest called Screaming Trees from 1985 to 2000, one of many acts that got unfairly lumped into the “grunge” sound. As is usually the case, reality was much more complicated-- the quartet captured an eerie, dark psychedelia through a buzz factory of guitars and Lanegan’s dusty, whiskey-soaked croak of a baritone.
But having seen the band play live and Lanegan perform solo, I much prefer the latter. He’s a well-known collaborator (he’ll share the stage with The Afghan Whigs within the next few weeks at benefits for guitarist Dave Rosser, recently diagnosed with inoperable colon cancer) and has recorded a few records of reinterpretations, but he’s at his best when sharing his own nightmarish dreams and waking nightmares. What better day than Black Friday to commemorate a man whose dark worldview should make him a worthwhile inheritor to the man in black himself?
To mark this day and celebrate Lanegan’s music, let’s play the shuffle. Grab your MP3 player or electronic device of your choice, press the shuffle button, and share the first 10 songs that play:
1. Balmorhea – Masollan (Stranger): The best instrumental rock group of whom you’ve never heard, they’re named after a tiny town in west Texas and successfully capture the visual poetry of wide open places and their hidden beauty. This track is more new agey than I’d prefer, but they don’t record bad compositions, and this one is a good example of their multilayered, orchestral approach.
2. John Till – Sunday Morning Sunshine (John Till): A soulful, bluesy paean to the Lord and his or her ability to bathe the singer in the solar rays and their healing power.
3. Ry Cooder – Quick Sand (Pull Up Some Dust and Sit Down): “I heard it’s an unfriendly time,” national treasure Cooder intones on one verse of this track from his fourteenth studio album, going on to sing “now we’re losing ground” and “nobody want to help us” on the chorus of this track that captures the tragedy of the American immigration crisis. How could he have known how unfriendly a time it would be today, when this album came out in 2011?
4. BROOKZILL! – Macumba 3000 (Throwback to the Future): Crazy Tropicalia-infused number with smooth vocals from a record that’s a collaboration between Gorila Urbano, Prince Paul, Don Newkirk and Ladybug Mecca.
5. Joan As Police Woman - The Magic (The Deep Field): Joan Wasser’s soulful, retro vocals channel Curtis Mayfield on this slinky, bluesy number-- hard to believe she first made her name as violinist for The Dambuilders.
6. Black Moth Super Rainbow – Windshield Smasher (Cobra Juicy): Given that the BMSR playbook was well known by the time this album came out (psychedelic electronica with surreal, nightmarish themes), I feel like the record got short shrift, and this gem is a prime example of their talent at making dancey, groovy, deeply troubling music.
7. Uncle Tupelo – Life Worth Living(1989 Demo) (No Depression(Legacy Edition)): I recently discovered a deficit in my alt-country musical library, so I’m glad to hear this one pop up in the shuffle, capturing both rocking and rootsy moments that made this group out of Belleville Illinois so galvanizing. The source material for Wilco, Son Volt and oh so many other groups inspired by No Depression and everything that followed.
8. Mychael Danna and Rob Simonsen – A Story of Boy Meets Girl ((500) Days of Summer): “Early exposure to sad British pop music and a total misreading of The Graduate,” to be sure. Zooey Deschanel. Sigh.
9. Black Tusk – Carved In Stone (Set The Dial): Pummeling metal, almost like a black tusk carving a dial set at eleven into a monumental stone, crashing into a sun-- “there’ll be nowhere to run,” indeed.
10. The I Don’t Cares – Kissing Break (Wild Stab): A collaboration between former Replacement Paul Westerberg and former Blake Baby Juliana Hatfield, this track is an acoustic ditty that nicely utilizes the boy-girl dynamic of this project, punctuated with a leisurely electric slide guitar solo and crescendoing into a lovely string-backed conclusion.