soundtracking with Jordan Zivitz January 2010: Okkervil River, Blue Rodeo, Cat Stevens

January 11, 2010

This month: songs for these dead-of-winter days when the sun sets at 2
in the afternoon…

Okkervil River: Black

Will Sheff isn’t usually what you’d call a subtle singer. But he’s one
of my favourites, because I just adore the sound of a guy yelping in
agony when a car door slams shut on his fingers. Sheff’s fiery,
voraciously literate songs are less polarizing than his panic-attack
vocals. A lot of bands make music that works on multiple levels, but
Okkervil River’s is downright kaleidoscopic, shifting in tone
depending on how you view it. Black works as a revenge song, a love
song or a vengeful love song, and three years after discovering its
parent album, Black Sheep Boy (and wondering how on Earth the band had
escaped my ears for so long), I’m still riveted every time I hear it.

Blue Rodeo: Dark Angel

Greg Keelor once told me in an interview that you can trace the
history of Blue Rodeo through his hair. Judging by his bleached
ponytail, this performance comes from the Lost Together period (1992);
I distinctly remember a radio broadcast from that time in which Keelor
debuted Dark Angel and left me with a new favourite Blue Rodeo song.
By the time it surfaced on the album Five Days in July (1993), it had
morphed into a piano-based prayer with heaven-sent harmony vocals from
Sarah McLachlan. Here, it’s less solemn but just as meditative – the
sound of Keelor serenading the stars. One of those songs whose magic
works best in complete silence.

Cat Stevens: Moonshadow

Teaser and the Firecat was one of the first albums I can recall owning
outside of the Raffi/Fred Penner teething-music ghetto. So naturally,
as a young kid, I felt pretty cool listening to it. Looking back, I’m
amazed I didn’t have nightmares about a moonshadow stalking me and my
mouth falling off. Because, seriously – what the hell, Cat? (Sorry –
what the hell, Yusuf?) I’m sure Moonshadow has soothed a lot of people
struggling with misfortune, but whenever I hear it now, I’m drawn more
to the sinister “if I ever lose my hands/eyes/legs” hypotheticals than
to the “I won’t have to work/cry/walk” reassurances. I kind of like
being able to work and walk. But if the moonshadow wants to take my
nose, he’s welcome to it – I have some clementines that are going bad.

Jordan Zivitz is a friend of mine.


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