Tuesday, July 21, 2009

2002 : 17 "Harlem '99" by Brer Brian

2002 is one of those years that marked something of a pendulum swing in my listening habits: immediately prior, there had been a couple of years where I'd been delving deep into instrumental music—post-rock stuff out of Chicago, experimental electronic ambient music out of Europe, etcetera. What had gotten kicked to the back burner were actual songs: you know, the things with actual people singing? With, like, verses and stuff?

So, in 2002, I tried to rectify this, buying a lot of material from indie songwriters. I'll confess that romance was a factor: I was beginning to get entangled with a songwriter, and I wanted badly to impress her with my mixtape skills. The relationship didn't survive, but I picked up some good music in the process, including the Rough Trade Antifolk compilation, which introduced me to a bunch of rough-edged talents whose music has been among some of the best I've discovered this decade (Kimya Dawson, Jeffrey Lewis).

A representative track from this compilation might be Brer Brian's "Harlem 99," an ode to being young, broke, and drunk in a big city.

We play Atari, we never play Doom
Last night we just caught a big mouse in my room
The fun never ends here, have you seen the broom?
I think I sold it.

The song is kind of jokey, but it has a sadness at its core that's hard to shake off once you're tuned in to it. I shared this song with the songwriter I was about to get involved with, and at the very end of our relationship she played me a cover version she'd made of it. I was quite literally floored. I like post-rock and experimental electronica as much as the next guy (if not way more), but only an actual song can knock a man down to the carpet and leave him there, aching.

Jeremy Bushnell

Listen: Brer Brian >> "Harlem '99"

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