A Storytelling Mix


13 Oct 2006, 0:06

Matt's mix cd of this week carries a storytelling theme. Download Link: http://www.megaupload.com/?d=O6DUTNN3

1. Of Montreal- Nickee Coco and the Invisible Tree. This song is amazing and makes me incredibly happy. It's uniquely structured- telling the story through a mix of spoken word narration, sung narrative and character dialogue. The tale itself is great; about a young girl who gets lost in an invisible tree and a frantic town searching for her. The images it evokes remind me of the great Miyazaki film My Neighbor Totoro. I particularly enjoy the part about the owl translator. Adorable.

2. Johnny Cash- A Boy Named Sue. This is certainly a classic. However it was not written by Johnny Cash, yet Shel Silverstein. I used to be quite a fan of his poetry. Well in the song the protagonist's name is of course Sue, and he sets off on a mission to find his deadbeat runaway father and kill him for all the turmoil that the name he bestowed upon him caused. Apart from a gritty bar fight the song however isn't particularly dark in nature, with a heart-warming ending and a witty final line.

3. Bob Dylan- The Hurricane. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hurricane_%28song%29 That says it all better than I can.

4. Velvet Underground- The Gift. Oh the glorious dark comedy. This involves an obsessive man who is away from his girlfriend for several months and cannot stand to be one more moment away from her. As he didn't have enough money to travel he decided he'd mail himself to her. I'll note that the mixing on this version of the song is my own doing. Initially the spoken word parts are in the left channel and music in the right, however I remixed the song and made the entire song in stereo.

5. The Decemberists- The Mariner's Revenge Song. This is the most recent affair in epic storytelling on this mix. This is a great one. It follows a similar revenge plot as to A Boy Named Sue, but the approach here is much more poetic in nature and without the humorous aspects (yet there are a couple of good puns). To grant his mother's dying wish the narrator seeks to kill the man who seduced his mother, gambled away her money and then left her...ruining her life and leaving her and the narrator (3 at the time) homeless. After grieving for 15 years he and the wretched man meet again. I love the Decemberists...Colin Meloy is an amazing lyricist.

6. The Dismemberment Plan- You are Invited. A story about a man and his adventure involving an unmarked letter he receives in the mail one day. The song's a basic reaffirmation to the infinite possibilities of life-the letter being a reminder that we don't always take advantage of life for all it's worth and that you have to take the initiative. I really enjoy how this song can both be read literally and metaphorically.

7. The Postal Service- Nothing Better. Here's a dialogue song involving both sides in a recent break-up. The guy (Ben Gibbard) is really taking it badly, as he felt they as a couple had a future. The girl (Jen Wood) while also upset yet not by means of self-loathing has specific examples from the past that relate to why she feels the relationship needs to end. She feels that his thoughts on marriage are tacky and lean more towards satisfying the tradition itself rather than truly longing for the bond out of love. I love the switching off between vocals.

8. Bright Eyes- Bowl of Oranges. Here's another one of those songs that can be read both literally and metaphorically. The lyrics in this song are among some of my favorites ever. It's very bittersweet. Literally the plot isn’t linear and it might be a little bit of a stretch on a “storytelling” mix, but for how wonderful this song is it definitely makes the cut. The main meaning I get out of it is trying to see the positives in all situations, specifically in those where there is seemingly little to no hope, as if can look at those in the right way you'll find some magic. This portion of the lyrics says it best.

"But if the world could remain within a frame
Like a painting on a wall
Then I think we'd see the beauty then
And stand staring in awe
At our still lives posed
Like a bowl of oranges
Like a story told
By the fault lines and the soil"


9. Belle & Sebastian- The State I Was In. This song is presented through a bunch of memories that all relate to the common theme of not being appreciated and being taken advantage of. The man here wants to be a good person and tries, too hard even sometimes, but things just don't work out for him. It's a sad theme..something you won't pick up on if you only listen to the music.

10. Sufjan Stevens- Casimir Pulaski Day. Incredible song, and one that if you don’t pay that close attention like “The State I Was In” you'll overlook how sad a song it is. However this song goes beyond sadness to tragedy. The story revolves around a young girl who gets a fatal form of cancer and the boy who is in love with her. The girl and boy have however unwillingly gone their separate ways after the girl's father found out about a night where the two were together. However despite the separation, the girl's family still send him a card notifying him of her illness. The boy who is very religious prays and prays for improvement of her health, but the results are futile. He finally receives a call one day from the girl’s father in news of her death. The father tells the boy he severely regrets how he treated him after finding out about “the night” and is overcome with grief. The boy then finds himself angry at God, feeling betrayed and abandoned. However all these events are presented through memories that resurface when the boy finds the notification card when cleaning, resulting in a spiral of despair. This song is absolutely phenomenal... there’s a lot more levels to it as well than what I presented here.

11. The Microphones- The Moon (acoustic). Here's another song where the story is presented through a retelling of memories. He’s revisiting the places and situations that are attached to memories of his past relationship in an attempt to undo the association. Rather Eternal Sunshiney. The verses describe the past memories and the choruses are him in his current revisiting state. The ending lines are so perfect...

“I went out last night to forget that
I went out and stared it down
But the moon stared back at me
And in it's light I saw my two feet on the ground”

Apparently Phil Elvum, the man behind the Microphones rarely plays this song live as it's so incredibly personal to him he breaks down in tears.

12. Jenny Lewis- Rabbit Fur Coat. This song is also very personal in nature, detailing Jenny's child actress past. The song specifics deal with a metaphorical rabbit fur coat that was stolen from her mother and thus she was pushed by her mother to pursue acting for the mother's selfish needs...to reclaim her rabbit fur coat. It deals with how some people feel the need to project themselves as more than what truly are, especially with affluence.

13. Cat Power- Names. This song paints a very grim portrait of lost youth through various vignettes. Abuse, prostitution, incest, and drugs are covered. The 11 year old school bus pleasure part is maybe a tad dramatic, yet regardless this song is incredibly haunting and depressing.

14. The Violent Femmes- Country Death Song. I felt that the best song to follow Names would be one that's so dark in nature that it becomes a glorious black comedy. This one’s about a bored country man who one day decided to throw all of his daughters down a well. What fun.

Oh and my download links tend to get a lot of hits but comments seem to come my way far less frequently. I'd appreciate hearing your opinion or recommendations you have on the topic.

of MontrealJohnny CashBob DylanVelvet UndergroundDecemberistsDismemberment PlanPostal ServiceBright EyesBelle and SebastianSufjan StevensMicrophonesJenny LewisCat PowerViolent FemmesNickee Coco and the Invisible TreeA Boy Named SueThe HurricaneThe GiftThe Mariner's Revenge SongYou Are InvitedNothing BetterBowl of OrangesThe State I Was InCasimir Pulaski DayThe MoonRabbit Fur CoatNamesCountry Death Song


  • jrtibbetts

    Matt, I've heard only songs #2-4 before, but your comments on the others make me want to download your entire mix. I have just a few comments: 2. Johnny Cash covered at least one other Shel Silverstein poem: 25 Minutes to Go (on At Folsom Prison). It's a hilarious song--think of Shel's I'm Being Eaten by a Boa Constrictor and put it in a prison setting. I didn't know that he wrote A Boy Named Sue. 3. Thanks for that Wikipedia article about Hurricane. I knew what the song was about, but not to that level of detail. 4. The Gift is so awesome that it's hard to put it in words. Any college student who graduates without having heard that song stoned at least once needs to go back and complete their education.

    13 Oct 2006, 2:52
  • catie04

    It's not Jenny Lewis singing on Nothing Better, it's Jen Wood. (unfortunately... ha)

    13 Oct 2006, 6:29
  • matt0009

    jen wood...really? wow, i guess i lot of people are misinformed then.

    13 Oct 2006, 15:47
  • tastyanagram

    I adore this post. Thank you so much for taking the time to put this together and share with us. I've only recently started paying any real attention to lyrics. Although I do love a lot of folk singers/singer-songwriters and paid attention to what they're singing, it's amazing how different a pop song becomes when you pay attention to what they're singing. I also really enjoyed reading about the songs you selected - some of them I know well, some of them are by artists I know well, and some I haven't explored yet. Thanks for that.

    15 Oct 2006, 16:52
  • vivouk

    That is all for now.

    5 Mar 2007, 1:44
  • elzk

    i always loved songs that tell stories partly cos i don't fell it's pointless singing along to them, guess the human nature needs and enjoys complete parts of narrative (the fact that most songs aren't such just underlines how far has music gone away from storytelling, where -guess- it rooted from) :> if you'd ever compile another one i suggest Stephens' Malkmus' 'The Hook' and Beck's 'Satan gave me a taco'

    2 Ene 2008, 10:13
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