Thursday, May 27, 2004

iTunes insomnia

Okay, with each passing year, I feel a little bit more creepy whenever I become enthusiastic about a musician of standard undergraduate age. And, given my estrangement from all non-online forms of mass culture, there's also the extra awkward element of knowing there is likely already a well-formed judgment about the artist out there, which may run parallel or orthogonal to my own enthusiasm. Even still, it's hard for me to see on iTunes that Nellie McKay's album has been out since Feburary, and I only heard of her for the first time when I read an article on her in a recent New Yorker. Why has no one alerted me to her existence earlier? If the established pop critics are dissing Nellie McKay, the established critics are wrong.

The New Yorker article made her sound absolutely insane (which, if you don't know how my tastes on these things run, is generally a preferable thing). In the same way that Dennis Kucinich proposed his Department of Peace and other things to make sure no other candidate was going to outflank him for being the crunchy antiwar candidate, Nellie McKay (all of 19 years old) has said various things in interviews and pulled various stunts with her record company to make sure no one was going to outflank her for being flamboyantly-crazy-enfant-terrible-diva #1.

This alone was good each to get me to pay the dollar to download one of her songs. She's got these incredible keyboard skills and this marvelous sultry swing voice, which she then takes in all of these madcap and often twisted directions that is carried forth with the confident-fearless-gusto of someone who is young and well aware that are massively gifted. The first song, "David," is a paean to stalking an older man who lives in her building and who really wishes Nellie would just leave him alone. My first reactions to it were (a) this was not quite like anything I've ever heard before and (b) this was really wonderfully and cleverly constructed. And, even so, it has this unsettling groove to it, where you feel like a sensible person would never break up with Nellie without changing their locks, phone number, passwords, and credit card numbers, if not also their addresses and maybe even their names. Rarely does someone with a marvelous swing-style voice also give you a sense that they would have no problem taking a chainsaw to your home furnishings if you messed with her.

Suffice it to say that this charmed me into downloading another song. And then another. And then another. And then another.

Anyway, this is good stuff. I'm smitten. I would recommending downloading "David" first, and then maybe "The Dog Song"* A bad thing about iTunes is that I can't make clips to upload. You should check out her music now, as I'm sure she will probably have had a complete psychological meltdown by her third or fourth album.

*If there are still people out there who have not yet--at long last--grasped the fundamental and ultimate limitations of Ani DiFranco as a musician/songwriter (as opposed to admirable political indie touring force), download McKay's "Sari" and compare its cleverness and complexity to whatever is your favorite of Ani DiFranco's various quasi-poem-quasi-rant-quasi-songs.

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