Off to See the Castles of America

I haven’t written that much about new music recently. Comes of getting old, and sometimes just not knowing what to say. There are a few relatively new albums that I picked up during the quarantine, however, so here are some thoughts on them:

The Puppini Sisters, Dance Dance Dance – The group’s newest record is typical for them in that it’s a combination of old swing standards, adapted versions of newer songs, and some original content. While pretty much all of their music is suitable for dancing, however, the conceit here is that each track is in the style of a particular dance, with only two repeats (Charleston and Lindy Hop). There’s a Charleston of Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5,” a Lindy Hop of Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance with Somebody,” Lady Gaga’s “Shallow” as a foxtrot, ABBA’s “Dancing Queen” as a cha-cha, and Dee-Lite’s “Groove Is in the Heart” as boogie-woogie. Their version of Louis Prima’s “Sing Sing Sing,” which still makes me think of the Chips Ahoy commercial, includes the lyrics. Other older songs include “Mack the Knife,” “Puttin’ on the Ritz,” and, as a bonus track, Cole Porter’s “Don’t Fence Me In.” The Sisters apparently have the talent to turn any song into a swing or dance number.

The Magnetic Fields, Quickies – The latest album from Stephin Merritt’s band features twenty-eight short songs, the longest clocking in at only two minutes and thirty-five seconds. They largely show the humorous side of the group, often joking about rather disturbing or risque topics. “The Biggest Tits in History” is a bit of cheeky wordplay, sort of along the lines of “Fido, Your Leash Is Too Long.” “Kill a Man a Week” is a cheerful song about organized mass murder. “You’ve Got a Friend in Beelzebub” takes it title literally; it’s about someone being friends with a devil, with the lines like “Belphegor and Baphomet have come ’round for tea.” And I guess “I’ve Got a Date with Jesus” kind of balances that one out. “The Best Cup of Coffee in Tennessee” is a country song about the narrator’s love for a mean, tough waitress. Daniel Handler contributes accordion to “Evil Rhythm.” I appreciate how many rhymes are packed into the really short “Bathroom Quickie,” and “Song of the Ant” is another brief-even-for-this-album track that I quite like.

The Corner Laughers,Temescal Telegraph – This band has members I connected with online back in the LiveJournal days, so I hope my recommending it doesn’t come across as biased. These are some very well-crafted pop songs, with pleasantly appealing vocals and arrangements. There are also a lot of somewhat obscure references in the lyrics, something I tend to enjoy. Some of them are local to the band members’ home in the San Francisco Bay Area, like Loma Alta and Lord Richard, the latter being a turkey vulture living at the Lindsay Wildlife Experience in Walnut Creek. There’s also an English folk-pop sensibility and some references to that country. The Lilac Line is a bus service in Nottingham, and the catchy song about it is a more filled-out version of the one that appeared on King’s Daughters Home for Incurables. “Skylarks of Britain,” probably the song that sticks with me the most, references English musician Rosie Abbott and artist Lorna Morris, who has done photography for the band. This song has some clever semi-rhymes like “sing ’em” and “Bingham.” To mention a few other tracks, “The Calculating Boy” references George Parker Bidder and the Salem Witch Trials, “The Accepted Time” gives a sense of the epic to the everyday, and “Sisters of the Pollen” makes use of multi-tracked vocals for harmony.

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