tylus Magazine's Seconds column examines those magic moments that arise when listening to a piece of music that strikes that special chord inside. That pounding drum intro; a clanging guitar built-up to an anthemic chorus; that strange glitchy noise you've never quite been able to figure out; that first kiss or heartbreak; a well-turned rhyme that reminds you of something in your own past so much, it seems like it was written for you—all of those little things that make people love music. Every music lover has a collection of these Seconds in his or her head; these are some of ours.
The Flirtations - Nothing But a Heartache
Events that shook the world: Paris underpass, burning towers, Stylus closure. How does one cope? Why, with the aid of bright red bell-bottoms, Coventry Cathedral and some splendid pedestal dancing of course. Even KFC couldn't soil such a juicy burst of unrequited yearning. Alas, that target of desire is never coming back (to your place, or any other). And neither are we.
Morphine – I’m Free Now
It’s the way both singer and saxophonist bend the word “pain” at the end of the chorus. Every time Mark Sandman sings the word it sounds as if his heart is breaking; the irony being that one night in Rome it did, onstage. But this is not about death or even pain or anaesthetizing that pain; it’s about the verve and energy and swing around it, frenetically moshing the pain away, obliterating it rather than ameliorating it.
Kirk Franklin - Look at Me Now
Nostalgia won't fit here—most of us will keep writing, all of us will keep listening—so I picked the song that played as I read our editor's post calling for blurbs. In a happy coincidence, it's about soldiering on, features ominously hoarse yelling about Jesus, and, in the words of a friend, "could soundtrack the opening credits of The Opera Winfrey Show." Onward.
The Books – The Lemon of Pink
My flight snowed down, driving 19 hours—8 through Nebraska—to see my family for Christmas; just me, chemicals, and a strangely visceral pill of a song. It goes piano, piano, "The lem-on of pink," bumblebee, strings, banjo, piano. My father plays the banjo. This woman, she thinks she can sing words and then inhale them back in: “We will through hell / All’s well that / Ends well / well well whell whaellwellwell.” Heh—she can. I am charmed and, crucially, awake.
The Get Up Kids – Stay Gold, Ponyboy
It’s about farewelling a friend, but Matt Pryor’s thin, wobbling wail excises the specifics and becomes an overwhelmed, nebulous howl. He wrenches out, “I’ll cry til I can’t see the whites of your eyes,” and it sounds like the entire world is splitting in two. The rest of the band shoots for hardcore punk and lands in scrabbly, blissful indie-pop, anxious riffs diffusing into an irresistible melodic bounce.
Hüsker Dü – Standing in the Rain
When Bob Mould belts the line, “You left me standing in the rain,” it’s not directed at a specific person. At least, I would assume it isn’t. For me, it’s every time I hear, “I just want to be friends,” or, “You’re just not my type.” But I feel great every time I sing along, and Mould sounds like he feels great too, because they don’t know what they’re missing.
Massive Attack - Unfinished Sympathy
This song aches like the beginning or end of a relationship. More likely, it's the latter, but it could be the bittersweet former. Ghostly vocals swirl over Bob James beats, as Shara Nelson pours out yearning: "You're the book that I have opened / And now I've got to know much more." Spent, she yields to strings. Their bursting heart swells, loving, grief-stricken, piano percolating lost embraces. The song overflows and fades, an unfinished symphony.
Velvet Underground - After Hours
Close the door. Shun the sun. Tucker takes the lyric sheet from Lou. "The night could last for-ever," she says. Her voice is young. Her eyes are wide. "Say hell-oh to never." People dance, glasses clink, wine spills. There is laughter. Lips are bitten at chances missed. "Cause if you close / the door / I'd never hafta see the day ah-ginn / Once more…"
The Who - Who Are You
It's everything I need: a shot of violence stemming from deep yearning, a drunken, angry catharsis working its way to the bottom before a final vindication. In the penultimate pit, I have to know that "I spit out like a sewer hole, yet still receive your kiss." Wretched and pissed or firm and sober, we need that touch of grace—to be ourselves at our most awful, and know that love awaits us.
Prince - Joy in Repetition
Buried at the end of one of his few truly ignominious albums, "Joy in Repetition" represents the best example of the woozy, just-a-bit-behind-the-beat, quasi-ballad he introduced on 1986's Parade (think "I Wonder U"). With guitars mixed as strings, synthesizers mixed like guitars, and Prince hovering between incorporeality and double-tracking himself out of bed, there's no way in hell that this sounds like mere repetition. Regard this as a Prince valedictory: a farewell to the innovations of the ‘80s and hello to (brief) commercial re-ascendance.
Spiritualized - I Think I'm in Love
"Think," not "know." We're too stoned to know. The first half—heroin bliss buttered atop hazy harmonicas—gives way to second-guessing as exhilarating as the groove beneath it, every hopeful call crushed with a response. When the voices join to roar the title it's like it's all they can agree on, and when the dope's cleared and the girl's gone it'll be all they can remember. But that groove's here now. Maybe for a while.
Elliott Smith - The Biggest Lie
This song gives me body shivers and completely punctures whatever intellectual reservations I have about glamorizing death. Musically and lyrically, it is a leave-taking, a sighed goodbye. Smith never sounded more spent, more finished with the physical world than here. The simple, finger-picked guitar line, a gently ticking fifth, has a weary, nodding purposefulness; every note is suffused with resignation. I don’t know a more artful way to put it: this song makes me weep.
Spandau Ballet – To Cut a Long Story Short
I know this much is true: two years ago at a indie club, I requested Spandau Ballet and danced my leg off. Thanks to moves that can accurately be described as spasmic ballet, my leg disconnected at the hip, leading to osteonecrosis (Greek: “bone death”), major surgery, and six weeks on crutches. Was it worth the request? Of course not. To cut a long story short I broke my siiiiiide!
Paris Hilton – Fightin’ Over Me
I’ll remember my Stylus tenure as the time in which I learned to stop worrying and love the pop, and hopefully developed a thicker skin for being criticized as well. Paris Hilton’s “Fightin’ Over Me” is a perfect send-off then, because it represents the crass pop I came to love while thematically evoking the battles I had with readers who rejected my dismissals of indie albums because I liked that Kelly Osbourne record. You’re welcome.
Brian Eno - Another Green World
Life is short, but we spend most of it in preparation. The rigorous syntax of maturation, experience and reproduction often leaves out the semantics: the point of it all. We use signifiers—self, beauty, love—but only the most serenely aware/ignorant recognize visceral happiness. Maybe beauty is "desert-guitar" over two little chords. Maybe love lasts only ninety seconds, buoyed by a generous fade-in and fade-out. Point is: the self isn't linear. It's all all texture.
Arab Strap - There Is No Ending
Miserable groping, sulk-fuelled trips to Amsterdam, Trisha and attempts to squeeze two people into a bath that's not big enough for one lead to a bullet-biting unmatched since the days of Don't Stand Me Down. Trumpets go off at will as Moffat tells doubt where to go: "They're fighting in the streets, they could steal your name and I DON'T CARE!" Shit yourself later—right now, heartbreak's not for you.
[William B. Swygart]
Clem Snide - End of Love
Not a happy ending. Just as the titular de-amorized era suggests, this tune signals no hope for a future of carbon-copied dreams, even calling out killers as trite devotees of Catcher in the Rye. Communal cynicism’s weirdly fun; the big, horn-assisted coda is almost vaudevillian. Call it an alt-country New Orleans funeral.
Chris Whitley - Long Way Around
There is something on the horizon, outlines obscured by the sun’s halo and a haze that refuses to settle. Whitley is getting no younger, stubbornly strung out on expectation: “All last fall I waited for the summer.” But arrival is not the goal; what matters is the blinding winter sun in the eyes, the gravel treacheries of the praying grounds underfoot, and taking the measure, in sleep, blood, and years, of each step.
Busted – You Said No
It’s the knowledge of resounding failure that makes it sweeter. Sure, the world is watching and laughing as you crash and burn, and it stings, it hurts like hell, but it only makes the reprieve sweeter. Yeah, you can’t always get what you want, but what you want and what you need can be very different things. It’s the euphoria of triumph in the moment of defeat; it’s the moral victory of the righteous runner up.
The Mountain Goats - Slow West Vultures
"We do what we do / All for you." Why is the song that best sums up my feelings about Stylus, my four years here and our readers the doom-laden intro to a cycle about tweakers self-destructing? The performance metaphors? No, it's the fierce joy Darnielle puts into singing about our collective stubbornness in the face of entropy and fate: "We are what we are / Get in the god-damn car." Bon voyage.
By: Stylus Staff
Published on: 2007-10-29