Monthly Mixtape: May 2015

Monthly Mixtape: May 2015

Songs about Mythological Creatures

1. In Search of Orchestra – “In Search of Theme”

Laurin Rinder and W. Michael Lewis were a prolific disco production team in the late ‘70s. So why not enlist them to provide the soundtrack to a television series dedicated to hunting down the likes of Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster? Spectrum Culture launches this month’s mixtape with music that may trigger a certain visceral response to anyone who grew up with Leonard Nimoy’s pageant of the unknown.

2. Metallica – “Orion”

The eight-and-a-half-minute “Orion” doesn’t contain a single word, but that doesn’t make it any less mythical or a beast of a creature in its own right. Between a pulverizing first half and a heavy, thrashing finale, “Orion” briefly settles into silence before a hazy, space-like sequence unfolds sounding like the Allman Brothers Band crawling out from hell. With solos from James Hetfield, Kirk Hammett and, most notably, the late Cliff Burton, it contains some of the band’s most proggy, other-world moments without uttering a syllable.

3. Don Jones – “Bigfoot”

The legend of Sasquatch has inspired hours and hours of bad movies, but only a handful of musicians have dared proclaim its mystery in song form. Featuring “authentic Bigfoot screams,” recorded by noted hoaxer Ray Wallace, Don Jones recorded a whole album dedicated to the hairy beast, but even he could only come up with one side of actual Bigfoot themed music. So for his album’s B-side, he sang standards, including a deadpan “Unchained Melody” that’s guaranteed to make the hairy one stay in hiding forever.

4. The Police- “Wrapped Around Your Finger”

Fans of the Police even felt trapped between the Scylla and Charybdis. For all of the band’s excellent songs, there are just as many duds, sonic failures and throwaway tunes that are doubly frustrating considering that Sting, Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland were capable of writing things such as “So Lonely” and “Walking on the Moon.” “Wrapped Around Your Finger,” from the band’s 1983 swan song Synchronicity, is one of the band’s best, beguiling and haunting, two adjectives Sting tried to perpetrate often in his solo work, but could never rarely scale the heights of songs such as this one.

5. Andrew Bird – “Scythian Empires”

Andrew Bird songs are typically built from the ground up, and though 2007’s “Scythian Empires” is no different, it comes across as one of his most complete, straightforward moments. Above acoustic arpeggios, the plucked chirp of his violin and delicate keyboard and piano, Bird finds his voice while whistling melodically like a fluttering a bird and singing of crumbling empires, both modern (“Their Halliburton attaché cases are useless/ While scotchgard Macintoshes shall be carbonized”) and ancient (the Thracians aren’t frequent enough song subjects). Few people can paint such a bleak picture and make it sound so beautiful.

6. Earl Sweatshirt- “Grief”

With that horrendously huge snake slithering around Mr. Sweatshirt’s video, “Grief” could be the slippery incarnation of the King of Snakes: the Naga. But between Sweatshirt reaching for the Xanax and falling into darker spirals of insanity over the fractured beat, “Grief” is a sonic reading of a Wraith. Not the type that screeches at Hobbits, but the ghostly mummer that ripples in the wake of a suicide.

7. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds- “Fable of the Brown Ape”

Leave it to Nick Cave to write a song about an odd topic and make it sound like mythology. On the same double album, he incorporates Eurydice and poor Orpheus in a song that rhymes his name with the word “orifice.” But on “Fable of the Brown Ape,” the song that closes out Abattoir Blues, Cave imagines a nightmare scenario of serpents suckling on cows and a brown ape that flees into mountains, rattling its chains for all the townsfolk to hear.

8. The Decemberists – “Mariner’s Revenge Song”

The Decemberists’ “Mariner’s Revenge Song” is a mini Odyssey unto itself, a tale revolving around a narrator seeking to avenge the romantic and financial mistreatment of his mother at the hands of a whaler captain. “Find him, bind him, tie him to a pole and break his fingers to splinters,” the boy is instructed from his mom’s death bed, and years later he finally hunts the whaler down at sea. Before punishment is inflicted, by “divine intelligence” the narrator and the accused find themselves in the belly of a whale, the sole survivors of an attack from the ocean animal, where the captain is promised that the narrator’s voice will be “the last words you’ll hear.”

9. Rex North – “Oh Please Mr. Bigfoot”

It is perhaps understandable that Bigfoot captured the imagination of would-be country music singers. History has not seen it fit to document what became of Mr. North or what drove him to release this novelty 45 about a horrifying and terribly smelling kidnap artist. But his name lives on among connoisseurs of cryptozoology as the auteur of one more terrible novelty record that capitalized on a short-lived Bigfoot craze.

10. R.E.M.- “Sing for the Submarine”

Buried among the explosive songs on Accelerate, “Sing for the Submarine” is a dark, minor-key miracle that simmers and glowers, an anomaly in much of the catalog of late-era R.E.M. On top of Peter Buck’s urgent guitar work, Michael Stipe appears to be taking stock of the band’s career, citing songs from oeuvre heavyweights like “So. Central Rain (I’m Sorry)” to minor tunes such as “Electron Blue.” However, Stipe drops some obscure references, but is he talking about Clash of the Titans or Blade Runner? Both films run deep in the mythology of those who grew up in the ‘80s.

11. Suede- “So Young”

For some reason, I don’t think the dragon Brett Anderson is chasing here is the mythological one. The opening salvo from Suede’s self-titled debut, “So Young” features the best of the band: Anderson’s keening, emotional vocals and Bernard Butler’s soaring guitar work. It is a masterwork in sentiment and suspense, music from a band that deserved the accolades heaped upon Blur and Oasis, but never quite received.

12. Chelsea Wolfe- “Demons”

Wolfe’s original recording of “Demons” (then titled “Bounce House Demons”) was a buzzing, lo-fi horror, but when she re-recorded it for Apokalypsis, it grew some muscles. A thrashing drum kit joined Wolfe’s alto howls as she proclaimed “love is pain,” and the titular creatures seeped into every note. It wasn’t Wolfe at her darkest, but it was her most ferocious, as she furiously spewed hellfire.

13. Queens of the Stone Age- “Someone’s in the Wolf”

QOTSA usually coat menace in seduction, but there’s no pretense here. Turns out that the Big Bad Wolf is a big fan of slicing guitars and Josh Homme’s creepy croon. The song closes with a chilling smile as Homme sings “so glad you could stay forever…” a terrifying hint from the band: stay on the path–or else.

14. Killer Mik- “Ric Flair”

What? Ric Flair is totally a mythical creature: look at that majestic white hair, the steroid ravaged body, the ego that could rival Zeus. Mike uses Flair as the primo example of confidence and excess, the sort of swaggering ideology needed to survive the streets of Atlanta. As brilliant rant after brilliant rant tumbles down from recordings of Flair in his prime, it’s clear that Mike and the King of WrestleMania are crafting their own myths as we speak.

15. Rick Dees – “Bigfoot”

Radio personality Rick Dees launched a minor empire of novelty records with the 1976 “Disco Duck,” which hit number one on the Billboard charts. Apparently, the tall and hirsute creature was a less popular subject for discofication, despite the bass baritone (aka slowed down vocal track) cast in the leading role. It reached a mere 100 on the bubbling under charts, perhaps in deference to the mythical creature’s storied camera shyness.

16. Led Zeppelin – “Achilles Last Stand”

Any musical conversation about the mythical or mystical pretty much has to start with Led Zeppelin, something they reference clearly with their late-career gem, “Achilles Last Stand.” Though named for an injury Robert Plant sustained in a car crash, lyrics like, “The mighty arms of Atlas hold the heavens from the Earth” are quintessential Zeppelin. And by combining the driving intensity of “The Immigrant Song” but with layers upon layers of machine-gun riffs thanks to Jimmy Page’s multiple guitar tracks, it’s one of the songs that earned the band its mighty name.

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