Category Archives: C. Shaw

Results: Commercials

Rich Bunnell

The Brave Little Toaster Soundtrack – Cutting Edge

The retail realm is a harsh mistress to the products it peddles, with one-time technological marvels subject to sudden replacement whenever the Next Big Awesome Thing hits store shelves. That reality forms the core of the 1987 animated film The Brave Little Toaster, in which five old-timey appliances set out into a world that, they soon discover, long ago decided it was no longer in need of its services. Who needs a clunky upright vacuum cleaner when you can just pick up a DustBuster? The hell is the use of an electric blanket when you’ve got central heating? Why toaster, when toaster oven?

The film’s musical numbers repeatedly underline this bleak reality, ranging from a B-movie vamp crooned by pawn-shop Frankensteins to a Don Henley-esque plea for help sung by junked cars on their way to being crushed into cubes. Toward the film’s end, our heroes encounter their technological successors, who employ the language and aesthetic of commercials to rap to them about how much more suited for the modern world the next generation truly is. The comforting part is, beyond all of the endless references to the “edge,” to a 21st-century audience, the phrase “I’m micro-solid state, and that’s no static!” is fifty times more dated than a toaster could ever fear to be.

C. Shaw

Modest Mouse – Gravity Rides Everything

To my mind, the appearance of this song in a Honda Odyssey commercial early in this decade was really the beginning of a massive movement within advertising to recruit indie (meaning “cheap”) song licensing for their commercials. The benefit to this gamble is obvious: they come cheap, and if a band makes it big, the car company or whoever can claim some of the credit for breaking out the artist and use this as a recruiting tool for future song rights. And if the band doesn’t make it big, who cares, no one will remember that ad in a month anyway.

From a music perspective, this is not quite so positive – thenceforth comes the indie backlash. For Modest Mouse after 2002, it went:

1. Be an awesome band with a devoted cult following
2. Have your song in a Honda commercial
3. Appear on the OC
4. Release a new album (Good News for People Who Love Bad News) to chart success (!)
5. Get modest (pun intended) reviews, and be seen as rich asshole sellouts
6. Release another album (We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank); collaborate with other NPR-whore sellouts (James Mercer of The Shins); get kind of bad reviews but sell lots of copies
7. And now you’re basically Metallica. Good luck getting a positive review in Pitchfork ever again.

This all misses the point – the song and the album it came from are incredible. In particular, Gravity Rides Everything sounds like nothing else in the Modest Mouse catalogue. The singing is reserved – it almost sounds laid back, as much as Isaac Brock’s wacky lisp and general craziness can possibly resemble relaxation. But when the sliding atmospheric merges with the acoustic foreground, it really sounds like everything will “fall right into place,” as the optomistic lyrics suggest.

Of course on the surface, it seems ridiculous to begrudge an artist a few dollars for an ad placement, and I used to argue about this with people all the time. But after “This is Our Country,” I would like to, ahem, begrudge the shit out of John Cougar Mellencamp. With a hammer and sickle. It’s just too bad that the indie backlash had to hit such a great band.

Vishal Trivedi

Regina Spektor – Music Box

If you’re an Iron Clef reader, you probably know that I don’t mind watching an artfully done commercial. But I admit that I had decidedly mixed feelings when I first recognized the strains of Modest Mouse’s “Gravity Rides Everything” in a commercial for the Nissan Quest minivan… Auctioning off your song for a TV commercial is pretty much the apotheosis of sellout behavior. Do you really want your bitchin’ tune to be forever associated with some product or brand you have absolutely no relation to and care nothing about? On the other hand, I understand the motivation. If you’re lucky enough that your art can pay the bills, why not let it? It’s not like Modest Mouse wrote the song with Nissan in mind. And even if they had, writing a good jingle is an art form in and of itself. Who hasn’t had a cleverly annoying jingle stuck in your head at one point or another? [I’d link you one of Vonage’s pernicious “Woo-hoo, woo-hoo-hoo” ads, but I think just this mere mention might be sufficient to ruin your afternoon] But I like Nissan all right and it wasn’t a bad commercial so it didn’t really bug me. Still, I was somewhat more disappointed to hear one of my favorite bands, Hum, get chosen as the soundtrack for a Cadillac commercial. Come on, I wanted to implore the band, Cadillac is for old people. And besides, the ad kinda sucks. I suppose this is something we’re going to have to get used to though, as people of our generation begin to grow up and inflict their tastes and aesthetics upon the marketing world. Already I’ve heard Lush, Minus the Bear, and Explosions in the Sky play as outro music for NPR programming. I guess I’d rather hear Hum abused than have to listen to the bloody Eagles or Rolling Stones everywhere I turn. Is it hypocritical to say that it only bothers me when the actual ad or product doesn’t live up to the song? Maybe.

However, this one totally does:

Yes, I believe they’re wearing items from the JC Penney catalog.

This vote is for sale.

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Results: Nonsense

C. Shaw

Faith No More – Ugly in the Morning

This song is a perfect illustration of the brilliant psychotic circus that made Faith No More such a great band, and impossible to classify. A soaring echoed vocal starts this song, with an unremarkable melody. This is Anysong, USA for the the first 35 seconds, until the aliens invade:

“And the stomach turns…

Say nothing without wasting a word
I know exactly what you meant…
Chawaajkhfh khsljkhf kjhj!!!
Glhakjnksn fjknedhu!!!”

Just listening to this song, there is no way you will figure out those words, and while there is a lyric sheet somewhere, it sounds like utter nonsense. In general, of course, after breaching a certain level of hardcore-ness, (Isis, Mastodon, Dillinger Escape Plan) the words stop mattering all that much, and it’s cliche to say that the voice becomes another instrument in the band. In particular, no small amount of prose has been spent in trying to sum up the percussive impact of Mike Patton’s finely tuned throat. But the real reason that I think he’s so incredible, in all of his forms – Faith No More, Mr. Bungle, Tomahawk, guesting for the DEP – is that his blistering unintelligible screams sound so accessible. In 1995 when this album came out and I had it on repeat in my car, I had no idea what the fuck I was yelling, but that didn’t stop me from singing along to every second of this song. And frankly, it’s just a whole lot easier when you don’t have any words to memorize.


David Boyk

Jhoome Re Jhoome

Kishore Kumar, one of the great Bollywood singers, starred in Jhumroo, the classic story of a small-town boy who comes to the city and makes it big as a yodeler (sadly not in this song). The singing parts of the song make sense, but as far as I can tell, the crazy shouting is just nonsense. Apparently there’s some sort of racist Chinese caricature in the movie, too, which is probably what you’re hearing there.

If that’s not enough Bollywood nonsense, here’s another Kishore song for you. MTV India isn’t that great, but what is great is their self-promotions. They’ve got some sorts of ad geniuses working for them, making spots like this one:

“Mooch Nahin To Kooch Nahin” means, more or less, “If you don’t have a moustache, then you’re worthless.”

Also, despite what Alex wrote in my description, I’m not a connoisseur of anything, except maybe water fountains.

Rich Bunnell

The Fall – Mountain Energy

“So I went fishing / A note from a fish said / ‘Dear dope, if you
wanna catch us / You need a rod and a line / Signed, The Fish'”

For close to 32 years, The Fall have served as a rotating mouthpiece for the ramblings of Manchester mumbler Mark E. Smith. After 25 full-length studio albums and Jeebus knows how many EPs, live albums and archival releases, Smith’s lyrics still have yet to be adequately transcribed by the techniques of modern science, with no potential breakthroughs in sight. “Mountain Energy,” the second track from the band’s 2004 release “The Real New Fall LP,” stands as the man’s closest brush with the thought processes normally associated with human beings – and it still doesn’t make any goddamn sense. As far as I can tell, the lyrics serve as a depiction of Smith’s frustration with the casual interactions and activities that make up everyday life – renting a car, fishing, applying for a mortgage – but exactly what Dolly Parton and Lord Byron have to do with any of this still has yet to be determined. Whatever Smith has been trying to say for the last three decades, the United Kingdom must be in on the joke, or else there would be no explanation whatsoever for the following BBC broadcast:

Believe the hype, now you can…

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Results: Baseball

James Boo


M. Ward – O’Brien/O’Brien’s Nocturne

Is America defined more by its time honored traditions, or by its bold pursuit of the unwarranted? Until civilization makes good on the promise of Blernsball, we will be forced to choose. This week, I side with tradition, and my captain is M. Ward, Americana virtuoso of the twenty-first century.

Before he was a Merge Records superstar with dual drummers, Ward was a fledgling singer-songwriter with sophomore record named “End of Amnesia.” It was here that he first struck the balance between roots, folk, lo-fi pop, and classical guitar, filtered through a 1930s phonograph in a dead man’s parlor, to create the sound that would define his career.

“O’Brien,” the album’s closer, is living proof. Or dead proof- it’s not easy to tell. In a sparse arrangement, Ward’s warm, wilted voice recalls a meeting on the mound. The deserted baseball diamond is little more than a backdrop for Ward’s memory: a ghost of friendship, old cars, and a girlfriend, who, in the grand scheme of things, is less notable than the brand name of the guitar winding these images together and bearing them into the world with each buzzing note. We’re reminded that the game played is ultimately meaningless; what matters is that he was there, and until “O’Brien’s Nocturne” recedes into silence, so are we. The record stops. Amnesia returns to mankind. And that’s the story of how O’Brien blew my mind.

Dave Morrison

In general, I detest professional team sports. But I will watch baseball when I’m sick. Drifting in and out of consciousness, rolled up in my blankie, I can forget about the money machine, the performance enhancing drugs, the cutthroat competition for corporate sponsorships, and allow myself to be tugged along by the rhythm of the game, with its slowly shifting states of tension. It’s like dreaming of geologic time.

The perfect soundtrack for this activity is the 1969 instrumental “Albatross”, by Fleetwood Mac. You can feel the world dissolving into a dream as the gently thrumming rhythms push and pull like the tide, buoying the swooping and gliding slide guitars.

The object of baseball, as George Carlin famously pointed out, is just to go home. Home, the ocean, sleep. The ball seems to hang forever in the bright blue sky. The crowd fades away and the announcer holds his breath. The magic is in forgetting.

C. Shaw

Contextual note: unfortunately, every word I write here is a wasted opportunity to accomplish what is possibly a much larger and more important purpose; for everyone reading this who has watched any sporting event on television in the last year secretly knows that the official song for every American sport, including baseball, is “This is Our Country” by John [Cougar] [Mellencamp]. He sings it on the field, it’s in the commercials, it’s in all of our heads (although it’s curiously not on the radio–maybe he publicly insulted Clear Channel?) And it’s the worst song ever. So by not writing about “This is Our Country” right now I am avoiding service to the greater good, i.e. talking about how that is the worst song ever.

Then, barring The Coog from the discussion, let me pretend that the song I actually hear when I think of baseball is the song I wish I still heard:


The Mountain Goats – “Cubs in Five”


I was never much of a Mountain Goats fan. John Darnielle’s voice is kind of nasal, sometimes he strings together some really odd phrases with awkward timing, and apart from the lyrics, there’s usually not much else to listen to. Then last summer at a festival, I found myself, on a 105 degree Chicago afternoon, confronted with a big stage that said Mountain Goats, and surrounded by a thick pile of the nerdiest fans you can imagine, their bodies tightly packed in a writhing nonsexual orgy of thick geeky glasses and ironic T-shirts, and there was no way I was getting out. So I stayed. And John Darnielle came out to a rocking ovation, and played every song from The Sunset Tree, and finished up with “Cubs in Five,” a song about a lost love that is not coming back (until the Cubs win it all–so it’s NOT COMING BACK.) And it’s nerdy, and it’s nasal, and it’s awkward, and at the time, it’s the best song I’ve ever heard. The couple standing in front of me lost their shit every time a new song started, and this one was the worst; she jumped into his arms and sloppy-drunk-kissed him and they both danced like idiots and collapsed into a pile on the floor when it was done.
And this is a song about “And the Chicago Cubs will beat every team in the league… and I will love you again… like I used to.” Not a love song. But the whole time all I could think about was how I wished my own girl-from-Chicago was with me so she could get that excited and I could experience it in the same way as those idiots in front of me. 16 months later, I have every major MG release, see them when they come to town, put that song on every mixtape I make, and have John Darnielle’s blog on my RSS feed. Maybe JD has a nasal voice. So do I! And sure, there are some awkward phrases, but a certain greatest lyricist ever named Robert Zimmerman is also known to throw in the occasional awkward phrase (try to write down the lyrics to “Ballad of a Thin Man” without laughing). Finally, who needs drums? Radiohead doesn’t. It’s a great song, and maybe the “studio” version from the cassette-to-CD release Nine Black Poppies sounds tinny and lo-fi, but listen to it yourself, and decide if maybe it isn’t the best song ever.

So. Thanks, John Fucking Mellencamp, for replacing my memories of “Cubs in Five” with “This is Our Country.” Asshole.

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