Group Hug 2004

It's been a shitty year on a number of levels. Here's a mix CD to cheer you up.

"Just tell me that everything's going to be all right."

So said a co-worker of mine last week, bursting into my office, exasperated as usual, seemingly in need of a hug. A hug was issued.

It's been that kind of a month, that kind of a year. How many of you have completely unplugged yourselves from politics lately, still unable to comprehend that Spurious George has a "mandate," as if such a thing were a toy and now George ain't sharing?

If it were just politics, though, perhaps we could slough it off, but among my friends, co-workers, and family members, this year was further sullied by death, illness, and heartbreak, by a lack of money, a lack of prospects, a lack of hope. Plus the Oakland A's once again botched their World Series shot.

"Just tell me that everything's going to be all right," everyone seems to be saying in unison. Well, I can't do that. What I can do -- what I want to do, cynicism be damned -- is give everyone who wants one a big earnest hug. In lieu of actual physical contact, though, I've compiled a mix CD for you, readers, Group Hug 2004: Anyone who wants one can e-mail me, and I will then mail one to you. I'm not joking. (Actually, I'm not sure of the legality of this, the sharing of music and all, so if this is illegal, then, well, it isa joke! A silly, silly joke.)

As with all good mixes, I cheerfully obsessed over this one, going through all my CDs with one simple goal in mind: Cheer up. For don't be mistaken, this is as much for me as it is for you, and as the first test subject, I think this sequence is not bad, good enough perhaps to get me/you through the rest of the holidays without going batshit crazy. See you on the other side.

1) "Ice Dance," Danny Elfman, Edward Scissorhands soundtrack. I put this song at the beginning of pretty much every mix I make. Full of bells and harps and choral voices, it evokes fantasy and wonder and happy endings, the perfect overture in this case.

2) "Check Fraud," Fog, Fog. Over a jittery acoustic guitar and a distant thump, Fog, aka Andrew Broder, applies a sustain pedal to his turntable, transforming his scratches into curiously drawn out notes, rather than the usual whiky-whiky. Those notes flit and float like fireflies, and the willing listener becomes a barefoot kid with a little glass jelly jar, trying to catch each one.

3) "This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)," the Arcade Fire. This is a shoddy bootleg recording, but it captures the spirit of the Arcade Fire's rendition of this genius Talking Heads song. It's an earnest yet naive (duh) tune about blossoming love. When David Byrne sings it, you can hear the doubt and cynicism in his voice, whereas AF's Win Butler sounds lost in ardor. Plus this one features steel drums.

4) "Gold Soundz," Pavement, Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain. This album was rereleased a month ago with dozens of extra goodies. Unless you're a Pavement fanatic, you don't need it, but you should own the original. Like a lot of Pavement tunes, "Gold Soundz" mixes ferociously catchy melodies with traipsing, frayed rhythms, and I have no idea what it's about. The first line, though -- "Go back/ To those gold soundz" -- gets at what I think we're all struggling through.

5) "New Slang," the Shins, Oh, Inverted World. "God speed all the bakers at dawn/ May they all cut their thumbs/ And bleed into their buns till they melt away." He's sad/mad/lonely because his girl won't take him back, so it's kind of a sad song, but I didn't figure that out in the months that I listened to it nonstop because it's so effortlessly catchy you assume he's singing about something pretty and nice, like whipped cream or baseball or some shit.

6) "I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight," Richard & Linda Thompson, I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight. As its title suggests, this song is about partying; not hedonistic Keith Richards-style partying, but that desperate, messy, cathartic kind of partying, the kind you feel like doing after a year such as this one. Those who've visited that certain party are better for having gone, and should be thankful for making it back in one piece.

7) "If I Ever Feel Better," Phoenix, United. This is a good-vibe-mix-tape staple that I've always been conflicted over: On the one hand, it's kind of gay in that cheesy-pop way and tends to turn off the uptight. On the other, it's a deeply soulful song that has the potential to sweep you straight to the dance floor. And the simple chorus is apt: "If I ever feel better/ Remind me to spend some good time with you."

8) "Birthday," the Sugarcubes, Life's Too Good. Just thinking about Björk puts me in a good mood, but thinking about her interesting but less accessible experimentations of late makes me yearn for the days of the Sugarcubes, when the girl would just scream her guts out over music that didn't feature a single sample. This song is as far from cerebral as Björk gets.

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