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Nine New Songs for Old Number Seven

Nine New Songs for Old Number Seven

September 22, 2009

in Musical Musings

Knowledge, as they say, is power. (Well, by “they” I mean Sir Francis Bacon and everyone who came along after him and used or, likely, misused, his concise little phrase.) Sometimes, though, I think having just a little bit of knowledge can generate too much power — can be overpowering, even — especially when what you know makes you realize you have to know more.

Take the month of September, for instance. The other day, my youngest daughter asked me, “why is September called ‘September’?” Well, like any handy-dandy father with at least 16 years of formal education under his belt, I figured I could hazard a guess. For one thing, I know just enough etymology (which is the study of word origins, by the way, and not to be confused with “entomology,” which is the study of wasp origins) to understand that the root of the word is septem or septimus, which mean “seven” and “seventh,” respectively, in Latin.

And, as I recalled from years of studying that dead language and its equally deceased speakers, September is the word any resident of ancient Rome would have uttered in response to the question, “what is your seventh month called?” Supporting at least two major week-long (often wild and bloody) festivals, it was one of the most popular periods of the year. Which may explain why later, when it was adopted by early English-speaking people, the word “September” was barely altered a syllable.

“So why,” my wise daughter asked after I delivered this dim illumination, “is September the ninth month on the calendar?” (Uh-oh, knowledge power-outage.) What’s a Dad to do when faced with such a conundrum? Look it up, of course.

As it turns out (and this is backed by several sources, as I was sure to check) September was designated the seventh month on the old Roman calendar, which began on March 1, until the adoption of the Julian calendar in 46 BC, which shifted the new year back two months, to January 1.

Although that answer did appease my daughter, it doesn’t really help explain things very well. Why some emperor (conceivably someone with the word “nine” in his name) didn’t rename the month “Ninthember,” or something, escapes me. Maybe because in doing so he would have had to deal with the fact that the eighth month (October) had instantly become the tenth month, and the ninth month (November) had become the eleventh month, and so on.

See what I mean about being overwhelmed by knowledge? To make matters worse, September often marks the start, not the midpoint, of many important events: For instance, the first day of school traditionally occurs in this month, as does the first day of fall (or spring, depending on which Hemisphere you reside in), etc. Even more confounding is the mis-nomination of certain seasonal festivities, such as Munich’s beloved behemoth, Oktoberfest, which runs for two weeks and this year begins on September 19 — wie geht’s wit dat?

So, in light of all this historical hysteria and calendric confusion, we at Scribbleskiff decided it would be helpful, distracting, and calming to frazzled nerves to offer a little music. It soothes the savage beast, right? Or (beg pardon, dear reader) at least, savaged sensibilities.

Here, then, are nine new songs from 2009 chosen to honor the old seventh month in some way. Perhaps these tuneful testimonials will cheer you and allow you to forget, for the moment, what month it is (or what you think it ought to be).

Be sure to click on each of the links below to sample the songs (open each as a new tab or window), and then follow the threads to find out where you can download them. Or you can listen to the playlist in its entirety, though in a randomized order, at the Scribbleskiff page on the 8tracks Web site. Just click here, open as a new tab or window, and let it play as you read along. Enjoy!

“Dominos,” The Big Pink, A Brief History of Love. For a debut, this London duo’s concoction of song styles and influences feels surprisingly mature: you hear everything from industrial dance and hip-hop beats to shoegazer drone and distortion to layers of electronics and New Wave synths (and a few clever allusions, like the nod to “sugar kisses”). And if that’s your game, then also try the lush, slightly more subdued “Velvet.”

“Fun That We Have,” Julian Plenti, Julian Plenti Is … Skyscraper. Julian Plenti is actually the alter ego of Paul Banks, frontman for New York-based Interpol (a band I adore but frustratingly hasn’t released a new record since 2007). The good part is there are enough familiar tricks (archly menacing vocals and edgy, angular guitar lines) and new twists (like upbeat electro-pop flourishes) to appeal to fans both old and new. The bad part is that, with all the fun Banks seems to be having on his own, it might be awhile before the next Interpol LP. I also recommend the slow-burner “Only If We Run.”

“In the NA,” The Hidden Cameras, Origin:Orphan. As this Toronto-based band’s name might imply, there’s often more going on here than meets the, uh, eye. For instance the simple, jaunty pop melody belies a more “symphonic” mantle that’s hard to detect on the first listen or so: choral arrangements, acoustic and electronic instruments, rhythm and tempo changes, goofy lyrics — all are woven together seamlessly into a grand patchwork of sound. Look closely and you’ll see traces of R.E.M., The Flaming Lips, The Moody Blues, and more.

“We Sing in Time,” The Lonely Forest, We Sing the Body Electric. With its driving backbeat, jangly guitars, and soaring harmonies, this song sounds like it could be an outtake from a session by any number of ’80s stalwarts (and where-are-they-nows), such as Guadalcanal Diary, The Connells, or Dumptruck. I just hope this young, energetic Washington-based four-piece has greater sustain than its sonic ancestors.

“One Night Stand,” The Scotland Yard Gospel Choir, … And the Horse You Rode In On.  Here’s another (relatively) new band with a flair for ’80s nostalgia. The mix of rousing, strumming, folk-pop overtones, plaintive vocals, and occasional garage-punk guitar riffs make this catchy song sound like the offspring of a liaison (one-time, I imagine) between The Ramones and New Order.

“Wicked Blood,” Sea Wolf, White Water, White Bloom. Alex Church, the man behind the curtain of Sea Wolf, has a knack for making big, orchestral pop songs that sound warm and intimate. Here, the cello, guitars (acoustic and electric), and piano envelop the keyboards and drums in a soft, lo-fi melody (in the that way Elliott Smith, Iron & Wine, and Bright Eyes do), but not without a swish of Echo & the Bunnymen grandiloquence to remind you it’s still rock-and-roll.

“Beautiful Amnesia,” Visqueen, Message to Garcia. If you think the singer of this Seattle-based troupe sounds like a rocked-out incarnation of Neko Case, you’d be half right (since the indie chanteuse serves as co-vocalist here). More than that, Case’s country-punk influence is obvious in the crafty embellishments, like the soaring pedal-steel guitar licks, that push this song (and presumably the whole gang) beyond its girl-band ethos. Be sure to pick up the driving “Ward,” too.

“Even If It Breaks Your Heart,” Will Hoge, Even If It Breaks Your Heart (Single). The first (and second) time I heard this single, I said, “Oh good, a new old Tom Petty song,” even when I knew it wasn’t signaling a Heartbreakers comeback. Luckily, the Southern roots-rock comparison is favorable (maybe even a relief) to Hoge, who adds enough spry, gritty inspiration to claim the formula for his own.

“Psychic City (Voodoo City),” YACHT, See Mystery Lights. Here’s a case where a “serious musician” (namely multimedia multi-instrumentalist, artist, and blogger, Jona Bechtolt) can create something that’s both sincere and silly at the same time. In fact, I dare you to listen to this playful, groovy little ditty (which sounds like a mash-up between The B-52’s, The Talking Heads and The Muppets) — then try to get it out of your psyche.

So, there you have it, a rattlebag of new tunes to help you remember when you’ve reached September (none of which is your father’s “September Song,” that’s for sure).

As always, let us know what you think. Is there a new band that you’d like to know more about (and, thus, feel more empowered)? What’s your favorite September song? Let us know by leaving a comment below.

And be sure to visit (and join) the Scribbleskiff page on Facebook (find it here), where you can partake in wall-to-wall conversations, find additional information and suggestions from readers, and more.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Diane October 30, 2009 at 8:27 am

So, laughing out loud as I was at the sure knowledge — long before I read it in the blog, and as soon as I read that MC asked about the seventh month — that you would be looking up the origins of September and renaming it, I have a suggestion.

Experiencing the current delirium of the pink flu (which is what I have chosen to call it, after all T announced at dinner — in a statement that was relevant to nothing — that pigs are in fact pink), I request a entry for those of us suffering from the pink. And, if you already blogged about it somewhere else in the dense undergrowth of the blog, do not chastise me–rather, ask what the &^% I am doing on the computer with a fever of 102.

Henry Mortimer October 30, 2009 at 10:46 am

Funny. No plans as of yet to blog about the delirium pinks, but I will be sure to let you know. Now, get some rest.

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