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In Search of a Perfect Song, The Astell & Kern Edition

01-28-2020 | By Carol Clark | Issue 107

By now, readers of this series have realized that it's a means for me to discuss songs I really like. In previous articles, these are songs that send a shiver down my spine, and I have outlined many times what I mean by that. I've also discussed the fact that these songs aren't "favorite" songs, they are songs that cause a reaction. The songs in this installment are a hodge podge, in this case it was the experience that caused the aforementioned shiver down my spine.

Astell & Kern

Every once in a while, I have the opportunity to sit for an hour and listen to my Astell & Kern AK70. I've written about the player before (HERE), extolling the virtues of how easy it was to figure out. Of special interest was the playlist feature, and I've made playlists called, "Songs I Like," and "Must Hear." Recently though, I've become enamored of just putting the player on random shuffle, letting it play things I have loaded on to it that I haven't heard for a long time. I am rediscovering music I used to really love at one point or another.

In early January, Dave and I finally had the opportunity to take a short trip up to our beloved Paso Robles wine country. While there we visited Linne Calodo, one of our favorite wineries. The tasting experience there is exceptional, and very personalized. We had a great time talking to the young lady, Ivy, about the wine, and eventually music. Usually, when people ask me about the music I like, I try to mention an artist I think they have heard of in favor of rattling off the more obscure artists I like. When Ivy asked, I said, "Oh, I like the Cure. But I also like The Notwist, The Soft Moon, New Order, and Joy Division." It turned out she likes The Jesus Lizard, so we ended up having a rather rousing, and interesting discussion about music that is off the beaten path.

That brings me to my recent experience listening to my AK70, and the series of songs it gave me. I'm fond of saying I think it can read my mind, and clearly in this case it did. Before I get into that though, let me first say a few words about my choice of headphones. I have a pair of Sennheiser HD280 Pro headphones wired with Zu cables (HERE). These are no longer available, but I got my pair wired with pink cables. They sound really good, and even better they come with a mini plug, so no adapter to use them with the AK70.

When I have the opportunity for these listening sessions, sometimes the AK70 serves up the same artists, over and over. I think this has something to do with the amount of songs I have loaded by said artist. For example, I have a lot of music by The Dambuilders and The Notwist, so every session is guaranteed to have at least one song by each. This time, in addition to the random things it usually spits out, it included one song by each of the favorite artists I mentioned during my awesome Linne Calodo wine tasting experience, adding to my suspicion that it reads my mind. I did not keep track of the order these songs came up, but here is my list of perfect songs from this Astell & Kern listening experience. Also, in keeping with my Qobuz connection from the previous article, I will mention that all but two of these songs are available on Qobuz, and have been added to my playlist (HERE).

killing joke

Killing Joke "Absent Friends" Democracy

Back in 1981 Dave and I experienced a month of awesome concerts, including Killing Joke at the Whisky A Go-Go. Ever since then I've been a fan. This is a fairly typical Killing Joke song, with a heavy beat and gritty vocals. I suppose it's not my favorite of their songs, but I do like it. Sadly, this song is not available on Qobuz, but you can find some of their other music there if you're curious about it.

jules and the polar bears

Jules and the Polar Bears "Convict" Got No Breeding

I was obsessed with Jules and the Polar Bears in the late 70s. In those days, before the internet, there was no easy way to research artists, and I'm not even really sure how I discovered them in the first place. After hearing Got No Breeding for the first time, I was drawn in by Jules Shear's quirky lyrics. I liked the album so much I ended up writing letters to his management company, and his manager would actually write back. In one letter he said, "Jules reads your letters, he thinks they're funny." Twenty-year-old me geeked out hard for that! When the band finally broke up, they sent me a cassette tape of studio outtakes, because I was such a good fan. These songs are nostalgic to me now, and building on the Killing Joke reference, I also saw Jules and the Polar Bears at the Whisky. This album is on Qobuz.


Kruder & Dofrmeister "Boogie Woogie" K&D Sessions

I love the K&D Sessions album, it's the perfect thing to put on for chill background music. There are many songs on it that are favorites, but when "Boogie Woogie" popped up on the A&K I didn't immediately recognize it. Having said that though, in this instance it truly fit the criteria of "perfect song," as it sent the requisite shiver down my spine. On Qobuz, this song is only available as a 30 second sample, but highly recommended.


The Dambuilers "Seek and Destroy" Against the Stars

The Dambuilders was an indie rock band that started in Hawaii back in 1989. I liked them because they were different, and they included a violinist! I'd have to say that this particular song is not at all one of my favorites from them, but as I mentioned above, nearly every time I listen to the AK70, I get at least one of their songs, and this was the song this time.  I highly recommend their album Encendedor.  Most of the Dambuilders catalog is available on Qobuz.


Fartbarf "Warp Whistle" Dirty Power

Believe it or not, I almost put Fartbarf on my last Perfect Song list, their music is that good. I discovered them two years ago at a Melvins' concert here in Long Beach. They are a trio featuring vintage analog synthesizers, vocoders, drum machines, analog modular systems, and live drums. Oh, and also, they wear outlandish masks that they have created themselves. They currently have one album available, Dirty Power. You can purchase it at their website (HERE). Every time I listen to the AK70, I wish for a Fartbarf song, they are on my "Must Hear" playlist. This time, adding to the magic of this particular listening session, this song popped up. And, it was perfect. Sadly, Fartbarf does not appear on Qobuz.

This brings me to the four artists I mentioned to Ivy at Linne Calodo, and magically, all of them turned up during this session, making me very happy indeed.

the cure

The Cure "Untitled" Disintegration

I have included The Cure on my Perfect Songs lists before, I guess if I could only have one favorite band, they would be it. Disintegration was released in 1989, during the time when I was listening to music on a Sony Walkman. I never got tired of listening to it, over and over. This is the last track on the album, and truly captures the melancholy spirit that attracts me to this band. It's a glorious song, and a highly recommended album. During the month of great concerts I mentioned above, we also saw The Cure at the Whisky A Go-Go. This album is available on Qobuz.

soft moon

The Soft Moon "Sewer Sickness" The Soft Moon

This is another artist I've devoted an entire Perfect Songs article too, Part Five. You can check the list at the end of this article if you want to know how I discovered the magic of The Soft Moon. Sure, 2018's Criminal is probably my favorite Soft Moon release, but during this listening session this was the song that popped up. Fortunately, this song does appear on Qobuz, so you should just check it out for yourself. It's one of those songs that just, well, drives. I very much love the sound.


New Order "Run" Technique

I didn't remember until just now, as I was researching this song and listening to it again, that this is that New Order song, the one with the controversy. Last year I read autobiographies of the 3 remaining members of Joy Division: Peter Hook, Bernard Sumner, and Stephen Morris. They went on, of course, to form New Order. In Peter Hook's book is mention of the fact that they were sued by John Denver's publishing company because this song too closely resembles "Leaving on a Jet Plane." I admit, John Denver was really my first musical obsession, and the first real concert I ever saw. I am hard-pressed to catch the resemblance in these two songs, but after the case settled out of court, this song is now credited to the members of New Order, and John Denver. It's a dreamy song, in my opinion, and you can look it up on Qobuz to form your own opinion. During this session, it was perfect, and it is one of their tracks that I really like.

new order

New Order "Ceremony" Substance

Granted, I told Ivy that Joy Division was one of my favorite bands, so why am I including another New Order song? "Ceremony" is one of the last songs Joy Division ever wrote, with lyrics written by Ian Curtis. This version was released as a single, sung by Bernard Sumner, and recorded by New Order. It appears on Substance, the collection of New Order singles released in 1989. As I listened to it in this session, I felt a moment of confusion, thinking, "Isn't this Joy Division?" Research showed, yeah, it really is Joy Division, minus Ian Curtis and plus Gillian Gilbert. It's haunting. It is also available on Qobuz.


The Notwist "Day 7" Shrink

Addendum February 1, 2020: Have you ever had a midnight epiphany? It occurred to me in the middle of the night that I'd left my Notwist song out of this article. Savvy readers may have wondered, because I mentioned them as a favorite band when talking to Ivy at Linne Calodo. So, yes, this song did come up in that perfect Astell & Kern listening session. Shrink is the Notwist album I tend to play when trying to convince people how great the band is. This song is great! And, it is available on Qobuz.

If you are curious, or have never seen them, here are links to all my previous Perfect Songs:

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Part Four

Part Five

Part Six