Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The End of the World (Musically)

Hot on the heels of my Best of 2006 mix CD, I've got another thematic mix that I want to share. This one is called "Not A Single Lonesome Sound: Songs About the End of the World." It's available for download here.

In my 2005 review of Andrew Bird's masterpiece The Mysterious Production of Eggs, I spoke briefly about the musical genre of the "false apocalypse" -- songs that treat the end of the world not as total Revelationary disaster, but as something slightly more mundane and everyday but still altogether strange. I've always liked this concept/motif, and it seems to me that a pop song is a perfect medium for exploring it. A novel is almost necessarily too long and ponderous -- it has to descend into either allegory or an excess of explanation. And an explicit theological treatment would be even worse. Only a song, or perhaps a poem or short story, can capture the right mood, the right amount of wonder in the discovery. Yes, indeed, the world has ended, and its end is nothing like you believed it would be.

My friend Brandon described these songs about the end of the world as having the right balance of sadness and hope. I think Mirah puts it best in "Mount St. Helens" when she sings, "We were alone there... there was still hope there." At the same time, songs like Talking Heads's "Life During Wartime" share the dystopic mood of films like Cuaron's stunning Children of Men. Like Clive Owen's Theo in that film, David Byrne's narrator is matter-of-fact in the face of disaster: "Heard about Houston... heard about Detroit... heard about Pittsburgh, PA." But in a different context in "(Nothing But) Flowers," Byrne is disappointed in paradise: "I miss the honky tonks, Dairy Queens, and 7-Elevens... Don't leave me stranded here, I can't get used to this lifestyle."

All of these songs are imaginative, all of them are musically excellent, and some of them are deeply moving or funny -- sometimes both at the same time. It's odd, too -- listening to them together always manages to cheer me up.


1. The Microphones - I Want Wind To Blow
2. Built To Spill -- Randy Described Eternity
3. Modest Mouse -- 3rd Planet
4. David Bowie -- The Man Who Sold The World
5. Galaxie 500 -- Leave The Planet
6. Talking Heads -- Life During Wartime [Live]
7. Bob Dylan -- Talking World War III Blues
8. Johnny Cash -- Down There By The Train
9. The Shins -- We Will Become Silhouettes
10. Television -- Marquee Moon
11. Jim O'Rourke -- Get A Room
12. Mirah -- Mount St. Helens
13. Andrew Bird -- Tables and Chairs
14. Talking Heads -- (Nothing But) Flowers
15. The Flaming Lips -- Evil Will Prevail


Brandon said...

This is an excellent mix. The lyrics of each song play flawlessly into the theme, as does the music. David Byrne describes Heaven as "a place where nothing ever happens." At least here on Earth we have our dystopia to keep us occupied. And it sounds beautiful. Glaring ommission: Europe's "The Final Countdown."

Tim said...

I thought about "The Final Countdown," I truly did. But it just brings back too many memories of the Rick Mahorn-era Pistons.