On songs for rainy nights

Last week Paperhouse offered one take on rainy day songs, a take that based on fighting the downtrodden mood of the city in the rain. Today, I’m going to flip that around: These are rainy night songs — songs that embrace the loneliness of a black wet night and intensify it. Songs that sound better with rain and cars going by on top of them. Songs for crime.

Now, let’s say you’re robbing a bank. When you’re preparing, getting all the tools you’ll need (welding torch, pliers, possibly explosives, black stockings, guns, etc.), you should be listening to Coil’s “Are You Shivering?” It even has watery sounds built in, and after you come away with all the money, the opening lyrics (“Are you shivering?/Are you cold?/Are you bathed in silver/or drowned in gold?”) will be prophetic.

Once you get to the bank, it’s time to sneak around, right? So you need some sneaking music — try Nurse With Wound’s “A Silhouette and a Thumbtack (Dance In Hyperspace).” Its slightly off-kilter beat is perfect for winding your way around dark hallways in search of the vault, and its tiny, tiny metallic percussion will subliminally remind you to be quiet and skittish like a mouse.

Finally, once you’re at your destination, breaking out the welding torch or the explosives or whatever, you need tense music. Pan Sonic’s “Keskeisvoima/Centralforce” has got you covered. It’s nearly silent for the first half, mostly faint bells and that noise you hear in physics when you rub resin on metal poles. Halfway through, the song explodes in shredding noise, sounding exactly like your metal saw cutting through the door of the safe.

Maybe this is too serious for you — you’re thinking more like a ’20s-style caper, a half-joking escapade where the coppers might be after you. I can’t think of a better artist to put behind some bumbling robbery attempts than Amon Tobin.

With him, you’re not sneaking through the cool financial world — you’re breaking into something lit by incandescent bulbs and with stucco walls, and the safe still has a wheel on the front. I think one of the most perfect tracks for this is “Proper Hoodidge;” it even includes little sections composed of what sounds like guys smacking their lips in perfect imitation of slapstick comedy, alternating with huge bass thuds that’ll make you feel cooler than you really are.

And, finally, if you want some combination of these scenarios — not totally ridiculous but not totally serious either — try the utterly-’90s “Black Milk” by Massive Attack. For this one, though, you have to wear a cat suit, and there have to be a lot of laser beams for you to dodge in a slow, utterly effortless series of maneuvers.


On rainy day songs

We are knee-deep in springtime here in the ‘Burgh. If optimists and newcomers to the area thought that the transition of seasons would be a steady one, they must be rethinking that assumption now. But just because the sun cannot be depended on just yet, there is no reason to feel that the drizzly days are mucked up.

To help you stay impervious to the changeable weather, here is my advice: Get your galoshes on and your iPod loaded. On top of anything jazz or blues, check out the following songs to keep you jiving during these rainy times:

Thom Yorke — “And It Rained All Night.” The song is brilliant in its frenzy of electronica sounds, funky beats, and clever lyrics. The rim shots mimic the sound of falling rain while the searing synth exudes a paradoxical type of mellow aural lightening. The overall effect is a Radiohead vibe with the exact “indefatigable” motion needed to carry anyone through the grayest of days.

Anne Peebles — “I Can’t Stand the Rain.” The sound is simple: percussion, plucked stringed instruments, very light keyboards, great female soul vocals. Not a huge hit outside of Europe when it was first released, “I Can’t Stand the Rain” gradually arrived at the position of acclaim it deserves. Peebles sings moving lyrics for when it is really pouring.

Tracy Chapman — Let it Rain. I cannot select just one song from the 2002 release; the entire album is just such a solid art piece. Chapman’s voice is strong and genuine. I recommend the title track and “Almost” in particular, but if you have time, sit with your favorite hot drink and relish the entire thing.

Josh Ritter — “Rainslicker.” Ritter’s whole album Hello Starling is worthwhile and alt-country and folk in persuasion. “Rainslicker” is a definite personal favorite because of its poetic lyrics and acoustic style. The song is calming and charming with its feeling of reverie — I catch myself singing to it every time.

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah — “Sunshine and Clouds (And Everything Proud).” I cannot explain why I love this song — all 1:02 of it. Instrumental, it is like a defunct music box. It starts, builds, and finishes with its manic funkiness before you realize what hit you.

Beirut — “Elephant Gun.” I just saw on my play count that I have succumbed to “Elephant Gun” a whopping 76 times, and I just got the album Lon Gisland EP a couple of weeks ago. It is smooth, clashing, moody, and layered with trumpet and accordion, and somehow Bavarian in sound. As the band advises, “Let the seasons begin.”


On vocals and character

Last week, Alexander Smith discussed preference of vocals, suggesting that “listeners prefer vocalists of the gender they want to sleep with.” Perhaps this has merit — I do, in fact, own many more songs sung by highly emotional men, from Joy Division’s Ian Curtis to TV on the Radio’s Tunde Adebumpe, than I do from women.

But really, like Smith hopes, it is more than just a vocalist’s gender that makes or breaks a song for me — soul, realism, authenticity, sincerity, and passion are all key factors, to name a few. Whatever you’d like to call it, it’s that X-factor that puts the human back into the song. It’s not the gender, race, or age of vocalists that turns me on; it’s the personalities they manage to convey through their singing styles and the tones of their voices.

As Smith mentioned, there are many “love it or hate it” vocalists out there. I hate Kate Bush, for one. Her shrill, warbly vocals, to me, are not only aurally displeasing, but emotionally irritating, too. Through her songs, I get the sense that her character is far too dramatic, pretentiously artsy, and overall just too much for me. On the other hand, Björk’s vocals are just as dramatic (if not more so) and yet seem stronger, sturdier, and more confident than Bush’s. Björk is a woman who knows what she wants and says what she means — even if it is in broken English. I appreciate those qualities in a vocalist as I do in a friend, and I am thus a fan of her vocals. I don’t particularly want to sleep with either one of these women, but I can see why their vocals might appeal to people.

Perhaps the personality in vocals is the problem I, and many others, have with a lot of pop music. The singer, in these cases, is not a part of the heart of the song, but instead another glossy pitch-perfect instrument. Much of the time, I don’t get the impression that, upon meeting these pop singers, I would be at all inclined to get to know them. I’ll admit, though, that I’ve fallen prey to such great pop songs like Rihanna’s “Umbrella,” Cassie’s “Me & U,” and the entirety of Justin Timberlake’s album FutureSex/LoveSounds. To me, all of these singers manage to elevate the mechanized beats with some sort of genuine emotion in their voices. In “LoveStoned,” Justin just sounds so damn serious that he truly lives up to the song’s name, although perhaps that’s just because I wouldn’t mind sleeping with him.

How can one sense an authentic personality through vocal delivery, though? Beats me. How do you know if you’re in love? You could probably break it down scientifically into the speed of your heart or dilation of your pupils, but that dissection of something so human takes the joy out of it.