Saturday, July 26, 2008

Week 9: "Absinthe Party at the Fly Honey Warehouse" by Minus the Bear

There are all sorts of features that can make a song stand out: lyrical beauty, raw vocal emotion, a captivating rhythm, a perfectly placed solo, or any number of other factors.

In Minus the Bear's "Absinthe Party at the Fly Honey Warehouse" the distinctive feature is the lead guitar part. Played in an unorthodox, finger-picking style, the guitar part is enthralling.

These two videos show amateur musicians playing the guitar part of "Absinthe Party." In the first video, the musician plays the entire song. It seems repetitive towards the beginning because you don't hear all of the other instruments come in as the song develops. The video is also funny as this guy's dog tries to interrupt the video. The second video shows a close up breaking down the technique of the main guitar part.

But, let me back up just a bit. Minus the Bear is a 5-piece alternative rock-band from Seattle. Their style tends to favor jerky rhythms and a quirky style (the finger picking guitar style, for example.) At the same as the sound can tend towards jerkiness, there is often, paradoxically, an expansive and relaxing ambient feeling in many of their songs. Many of their songs conjure up a feeling of drifting on smooth water. One other thing I should mention is that, especially in their earlier records, Minus the Bear enjoyed giving their songs and albums absurd, non-sensical titles. (See the bottom of this post for my top 10 song titles.)

"Absinthe Party at the Fly Honey Warehouse" is the most-popular song by Minus the Bear. When I saw them perform live at The Granada in Lawrence they played it to close out their encore. The song begins with the repetitive finger picking guitar riff that I described above. As the riff develops, varies, and grows faster the other instruments are added in. Finally, the lyrics begin.

Lyrically, "Absinthe Party" manages to be both poignant and cynical. The lyrics describe teenage American tourists taking a trip to Paris. The lyrics begin towards the cynical side:
Hey, let's cross the sea
And get some culture
Red wine with every meal
And absinthe after dinner.
We look good side by side
Walking back to the hotel.

We've got to get something
To eat and to drink
And find a place to stay
That's not far off the main way
We've got to plan our day
Rodin at the Orsay
And find a way to cram it in
Before we drink again.
However, the lyrics soon become sweeter and almost romantic:
This light looks good on you.
Morning came early.
Sitting on a park bench
That's older than our country
Two star hotel, near St. Germain.
Two star hotel, where stars don't mean anything.
Somehow, all together the song just works, capturing these disparate moods of quirkiness and calm, cynicism and sweetness, engagement and detachment. You can watch to Minus the Bear playing a version of "Absinthe Party" here.

By the way, here are my top 10 favorite Minus the Bear song titles:

10) This Ain't a Surfin' Movie
9) Booyah Achieved
8) We Are Not a Football Team
7) Spritz!!! Spritz!!!
6) The Game Needed Me
5) Let's Play Clowns
4) I Lost All My Money at the Cockfights
3) I'm Totally Not Down With Rob's Alien
2) Hey! Is That a Ninja Up There?
1) Monkey!!! Knife!!! Fight!!!

Other songs by Minus the Bear that I enjoy include "Thanks for the Killer Game of Crisco Twister" and "Get Me Naked 2: Electric Boogaloo" off the album Highly Refined Pirates, "Pachuca Sunrise" and "This Ain't a Surfin' Movie" off Menos El Oso, and "I'm Totally Not Down With Rob's Alien" and "Hey! Is that a Ninja Up There" off the They Make Beer Commercials Like This EP. To be frank, I've had a harder time getting into their newest album Planet of Ice.