Thursday, November 29, 2007

Come On Out

From the yet-to-be-released Instant Nostalgia

While most dismiss this song as their least favorite in current Fluid Ounces live sets, (a “go to pee” song is another name), as well as on the new record, “Come On Out” has remained among my favorites since Seth Timbs debuted it in 2004 at The Whole Shebang Release Show. First off, it’s a romantic invitation, a call out to a special someone to leave with the speaker, conjuring images of moonlit summer nights, running and dancing through open fields.

Structurally, this song is very unique. The rhythm is set up by three chords, each played for one beat in three-quarter time, creating a waltz without being an all-out waltz like “To Cure the Lonely.” On top of the chords, the guitar and piano play dreamy leads, with delicate chord voicings and sometimes Seth uses more of a vibraphone sound on the keyboard. The chords provide the rhythm structure so soundly that it gives Kyle Walsh a chance to add color to the song like a guitar or piano usually do. They even gave him a drum solo—think more Elvin Jones on Coltrane’s Crescent than John Bonham on “Moby Dick.” Seth described the solo as making “your heart swell up and burst.” I only wish there would have been more of a drum solo for the final recorded version.

December 9, 2005, was my favorite performance of this particular song. Seth had just acquired a new keyboard for playing live, and he was experimenting with different voices for several songs, and Kyle Walsh was really starting to get comfortable and push on the drum solo, as you'll hear. I also make a rare appearance in one of my live recordings by yelling "Woo-hoo!" as soon as they start playing this one.

Download Live mp3

Monday, November 26, 2007

Bigger Than the Both of Us

From In the New Old-Fashioned Way

Human beings are the most complex living things alive on our planet. When two of them come together, especially in a loving, physical relationship, the result can only be more complex. And so that relationship becomes bigger than the sum of its parts, as this song discusses in its title and very straightforward lyrics about the bitter end of a relationship.

Even though this is far from my favorite Fluid Ounces song, it illustrates very well how the words and music of Fluid Ounces have impacted me. When I found this body of music, it seemed to express the way I was feeling thematically with words I hadn’t yet imagined and to massage thoughts I’d been thinking on my own (like the previous paragraph--whether I just filled in some blanks and interpreted it a certain way to suit me, I don’t know).

This is one of two tracks from In the New Old-Fashioned Way that I have never heard performed live, and so there is no recording to pass along.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Back to Two

Having exhausted most of the pool of songs I have pre-written, I'm going to slow down this blog a little here around the half-way mark to only two posts per week: Monday and Thursday. I'll probably pick it up again in the new year.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Tokyo Expressway

From The Whole Shebang

The funny thing about “Tokyo Expressway” is that it’s probably the most singularly autobiographical song that Seth Timbs has written, and even though few people can relate to its storyline of traveling to Japan and being dragged from performance to party on a rigorous schedule while completely unable to sleep, many people see this as one of the most affective songs on The Whole Shebang. I think the reason is that here we see a side of Seth that is a different kind of insecure from what we’ve heard him before. Yes, we’ve heard about the toils of his love life, and we’ve sympathized with him, but here he sings about his own career and his own fears, including his insecurities regarding a love relationship that he is already involved in (whereas he usually sings about relationships in their sad demises), and I think that resonates with most people who hear things in this song presented in a new way we hadn’t heard before.

I try to subtly praise this song when I communicate with the band in a one-man effort to keep it alive at the band’s live shows. I wondered if its mentioning of Seth’s ex-wife by name has anything to do with it, though I thought it was interesting that in a few performances he sang, “Thoughts of Malin and mother and father,” instead, heralding his new love interest that would become his wife. And even more strangely, after a few times, he went back to singing the original lyric.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Expect the Worst

From Foreign Legion

When I feel my absolute worst, when something is really really bothering me, I usually pop in Foreign Legion before too long. I may even skip the first two tracks. The first I’ll hear is “Metaphor,” and then I’ll hear “Expect the Worst.” Why? “Expect the Worst” sounds like it was written and recorded in the pits of hell itself, and when I’m feeling my worst, it feels like I’m in good company to listen to this song.

Here I will add that the story line featured in Foreign Legion that I mentioned in the “Sugar Mama” entry shares a lot in common with Weezer’s sophomore album Pinkerton in that both follow very similar storylines of terrible feelings of loneliness to meeting someone with whom the two protagonists can find love and understanding. I’ve come to realize this as I tend to listen to both of these recordings when I’m feeling my worst, and like “Expect the Worst,” there are a couple of songs on Pinkerton, occurring at about the same place on that record, that sound as if they too were written in the pits of hell as well. But I digress…

I work with lots of pessimists, and I’ve noticed a small point that this song makes. It is one thing for a pessimist to expect the worst because he or she will always assume he or she is right. But anyone who can expect the worst because he or she knows other people will know he or she is right, that’s really saying something.

Monday, November 19, 2007


From Awkward Middle Phase: Seth Timbs' Home Demos, Volume One

Ushuaia is the southern-most city in the world, and Seth Timbs had a very vivid dream about living there, strangely, before he even knew anything about the city itself. He did a little research after the initial dream and used it to concoct a story about the city. Seth then added delightfully clever little zingers throughout, particularly “the bastard sons of dead explorers” and, “fell into the crease of their maps.”

Crossing the finish-line at just over six minutes, this longest Fluid Ounces song has an epic feel to it that reminds me of Smashing Pumpkins, primarily because of the long outro that ends the song and adds at least another minute to its running time. I think its length takes away from my enjoyment of it, along with its falsetto chorus whose words I don’t entirely understand to this day. This song only had a brief stint of being played live in early 2001, debuting the same night as “Paperweight Machine” in December, 2000, before it was retired when Jason Dietz left the band, taking his unmistakable lead bass with him.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

One Tough Customer

Unreleased Track

One of the two known Fluid Ounces songs to be written in Los Angeles about Los Angeles, “One Tough Customer” is about a young biker covered with tattoos, trying at a young age to show the world how tough he is despite his young age.

I somehow doubt that he’s earned his Red Wings though.

The song was debuted in 2004 at The Whole Shebang record release party during Seth Timbs’ solo set, and it was given the full-band treatment in early 2006, though only for a couple of shows. It is debated by all of us who know about both versions as to which is better, but I always thought Tha B’s guitar intro that drives the song throughout was more appropriate to the song’s subject matter than the piano. I’ll allow everyone to decide now by providing both versions here for download, with number one being solo from July 3, 2004, and the second being the full band from January 19, 2006, at the Basement in Nashville.

Download Live mp3 (solo)

Download Live mp3 (full band)

Ultimately, I was glad that it was retired and, more importantly, not given a slot on the valuable real estate that is Instant Nostalgia, which is the first record to be released since I’ve been a fan that has all the songs I wanted on it and none of the songs I hoped would be omitted.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

How to Be Happy

From Instant Nostalgia

“This one’s for Malin,” says Seth Timbs before playing this song, referring to his wife, whom he met while playing with the Secret Commonwealth.

As one of the last Fluid Ounces songs written, we get a snapshot of a very different Seth Timbs from the one we’ve gotten to know through the years listening to all the records. We’ve gotten to know him through his largely autobiographical songs about the ills of love and relationships as a fun, sensitive guy with his heart on his sleeve. Suddenly though, erased like sand castles on the beach are “Bigger Than the Both of Us” and “The Last Thing.” All the “Record Stack”s, “Private Hell”s, and other songs are still with us to enjoy, but Seth has moved on to a new phase in his life.

I’m not sure if happiness is the supreme state of human emotions as so many advertise it and still others strive for it with such great desperation, but I do know that truly and deeply experiencing happiness is indeed something to treasure. As I have listened to this song, it has occurred to me that it is truly an amazing thing to find someone who can teach one how to be happy, and that it is a wonderful compliment to pay someone to acknowledge that they he or she provided a person with such a rare and wonderful gift. Its bedroom setting makes it the most intimate Fluid Ounces song (even though others, like “Burning Daylight,” may have a more romantic feel), especially in its beautiful second verse, which is my favorite part of the song.

It reaches its crux, and perhaps the denouement of all things Fluid Ounces as the lesson of all the years rings out when he says at the end of this song,
"We should know by now
it's enough, just to love and be loved
Ev'rything else is gonna slip through your fingers."

“H2BH” also features dual guitar solos, the first being Seth’s, probably his best lead guitar work ever, followed by Tha B’s, which is played to close out the song. The recorded version of the solo closely resembles the one on the live mp3 presented here from December 9, 2005, with the primary difference being that we can actually hear Brian tear his guitar a new one as he beats out a three-peated chord in the middle of the solo as the band pauses to bow down to him in perfect time.

Download Live mp3

Monday, November 12, 2007

Liquorish Vampires

From Big Notebook for Easy Piano and Remember Cassettes, Vol. 1

In Murfreesboro, Tennessee, a college town full of aspiring musicians and recording industry majors, it always seems like a good idea: a local, independently-owned coffee shop that caters to local hipsters, giving them a place to study, socialize, or just hang out and look cool. To make the place even cooler, have live music. Sounds like money in the bank, right? Then why have so many sprung up in Murfreesboro, only to close their doors after a short time, while simple beer holes like the Boro and Gentleman Jim’s can stay in business forever? I don’t think there is an answer.

But one such place was called Java, and it was open in the early to mid-nineties. There, the Features would play their first show. Seth Timbs and the Mad Hatters would play their first few shows there as well. Seth Timbs was employed there around that time. In fact, one night, apparently while he was working, his friends Matt Mahaffey and Richard Williams met there and the three of them discussed starting an independent label based in Murfreesboro to showcase the local talent, especially Matt’s new band Self and Seth’s new band, Fl. Oz. Without deliberation, Seth suggested that it be called Spongebath Records, and a local legend was born. So the story goes, at least.

“Liquorish Vampires” was written about Seth’s experiences working there, with people coming in at all hours of the night and the strange hours they would keep to study.

Beyond that, I don’t really know what this song is actually about. Being schooled in lyrics by R.E.M., I too easily accept the lyrics as lines completely independent of each other that only work together to create a feeling in its listener (I know, I know, then why am I of all people writing a blog about interpreting the lyrics of others?). With this song and “Daddy Scruff,” I simply enjoy them and interpret them based on the feelings they convey rather than their intended themes. Sorry to cop out on you like that.

The live mp3 is the last one that surfaced from the 2005 radio performance.

Download Live mp3

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Downscope, the Boat Captain

From In the New Old-Fashioned Way

In an epic tale reminiscent of Colonel Kurtz, Emperor Palpatine, or George W. Bush, a military leader, drunk with power and sure that his twisted and insane vision is the only way to achieve true world peace (and in this case, probably more than a little bit bitter that he’s “the last sea dog to sail under water”), runs his submarine aground, causing a fire (“with oil from the engine and bits of propeller”) that burns away the ocean, leaving the sea bottom “as dry as the desert/ and the last pools of water were baked by the sun.”

Live, this song is among the shortest songs in the Fluid Ounces catalog, finishing up at two and a half minutes. In the New Old-Fashioned Way would not have been complete without this song, but the only place where it could work was sort of separate from the rest. So it was tacked on the end. In order to become the kind of epic closer the CD needed, an additional two-minute instrumental was added to give the dramatic ending a haunting coda, featuring Brian Rogers’ quirky guitar and Seth on accordion with Sam Baker playing with the dial on a short-wave radio. The sounds you hear as the frequencies shift were just what happened to be broadcast as Sam was doing so, including the “I tell you something, I’ve never felt so much love in my life,” which he serendipitously stumbled upon.

The live mp3 presented here is from the In the New Old-Fashioned Way CD release party from 1999 and features a wonderfully quiet first chorus to contrast the epic second chorus (whereas they’re both equally epic on the studio version).

Download Live mp3

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Encyclopedia Brown

From Foreign Legion

When you’re a kid with an older brother, it’s almost assured that the music that he likes is the music that you like. In the late eighties and very early nineties, my brother was into monster ballads a la “November Rain,” and “Every Rose Has Its Thorn,” and so was I. I was always the one listening to music: I always had a record player and a tape deck while he usually didn’t. Even though we didn’t own copies of these songs that he liked so much, it was still our favorite. When I actually started listening to rock radio in 1993 and started to begin to form my own opinions, my older brother steered me in the direction of R.E.M., U2, and Smashing Pumpkins. These bands would be my favorites throughout most of high school, and the opinions of bands I’d later encounter were all ultimately based on how they compared with these three acts. By the time I went to college, my musical tastes had shifted dramatically. Although I still loved the bands that then formed the center of my listening (though U2 was faltering, driving their last nail in the coffin when they released Pop), I had branched out into the Beatles, Sonic Youth, Self, and many others that my brother didn’t get into, no matter how much I played them for him.

When I went to my first Fluid Ounces show in January of 2000, I was fairly new to the scene of hearing live music in local bars, but it was starting to feel like old hat. I was loving it immediately, and when they played “Encyclopedia Brown,” a song about a book character whom my brother had read about when he was in middle school, early in the set, I thought he might enjoy hearing this band. I saw them again when they played their next show the following month, and this time I had my brother in tow. I was worried that he would be uncomfortable in the setting of a smoky dive-like bar like the Boro. His love for the music over-shadowed the setting, and I then had someone to attend shows with me, which I’d never had before. And what’s more, I finally recommended a band to him that he liked! Through this, I’d introduce him to other bands he’d like, such as the Features and De Novo Dahl, but Fluid Ounces’ prominent place in his listening repertoire was a crowning achievement in giving back to him what he’d given to me when I was younger (and thus saving my impressionable mind from liking Aerosmith and Meat Loaf).

Like my brother, Seth Timbs was a fan of the Encyclopedia Brown book series when he was younger, and this song pays homage to the prepubescent detective by crossing the mystery of a teacher’s stolen grade book with that of a young temptress who charms our hero as a ruse so that she can commit her terrible crime. Hit by a BB gun, our hero is hurt and realizes that he has been out-smarted by this middle-school femme fatale. Ultimately, he manages to solve the case and recover the grade book from a secret place, making the neighborhood safe for middle America once again.

The live version presented here, with a solo every bit as magnificent as the one on the recording, is from February 2, 2002, at Seth Timbs’ last Tennessee show before he shipped of to L.A.

Download Live mp3

And for those of us who teach nowadays, we have police officers posted in our schools to drag grade book thieves downtown to juvi if they don’t come quietly or fess up to their crime in a timely fashion.

Monday, November 5, 2007

What the Hell?

From Awkward Middle Phase: Seth Timbs' Home Demos, Volume One

Many songs have proven that Seth Timbs is a romantic at heart, but this song stands out to me as it is the only Fluid Ounces song that takes that romanticism to the level of being—get ready for it—conservative. Normally we find Fluid Ounces songs to feature a moral ambiguity to them, but here is a song taking the moral high road.

This is one of many Fluid Ounces songs in which we are shown scenes from a party for college-aged people. This “army of Katies and Heathers” is wowed by any cute boy who can play a few guitar chords (a little bit wrong) as they,
cling to the wall like Helen Keller,
wondering which lucky boy’s gonna be their
Anne Bancroft
And teach them all that they know.
(in a delicious double reference to both The Miracle Worker and The Graduate, though the second may have been unintentional). The song laments their laissez-faire attitude toward new-found college freedom in a sexually-charged world they may not be ready for. It even takes a step further in mentioning their haste to dismiss church as a time for luring boys (“Sunday go to meet in dresses/ open button for playfulness”). The closing lines best sum up the whole song as a girl asks a frat boy/douche bag,
“Play me a song that makes a girl into a lady
I know the image won’t portray me well
It’s nice to think it’s true
There’s nothing to lose
So what the hell?”

The song was written as Seth Timbs was pulling double duty in both Fluid Ounces and Spike and Mallets, and I always thought this one sounded more like a Spike and Mallets song. I don’t know what factor made it a Fluid Ounces song. It was played during Sam Baker’s second stint with the band and retired when Seth left for Los Angeles. The live video is from the porch of the Red Rose Coffee House on August 24, 2001, and it features one of the most hilarious examples of classic Fluid Ounces stage banter afterward as Seth discusses on of his first trips to Japan.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Burning Daylight

Unreleased Track

Situated at the Eastern edge of the Central Time Zone, Middle Tennessee, for all of its richness with autumn colors, becomes a dark place to live after switching to Standard Time from Daylight Savings Time, with dusk occurring around 5 o’clock at first and 4:30 by the time we get to the shortest day of the year on December 21st. Although “Burning Daylight” does not specifically reference either of these events, its delicate sound always conjures images of the yellow, orange and gold of both the warm October sunlight and changing autumn leaves as they quietly whisk us away to a quiet place where two lovers can spend a day alone together, away from all that distracts them, where they can simply enjoy each other and do absolutely nothing else. And in those perfect and unending moments, where nothing is happening except the passing of time, the sparse percussion reminds us of the sound of color-changing forests as the “ooh la la”s mimic the birds just before they migrate to warmer climates. The words themselves are a romantic invitation to a lover to leave and come away with the speaker that echoes the more recent “Come On Out,” and the sheer beauty of the sound makes it hard to believe that anyone could resist, especially since the music alone draws so many of us in so quickly and thoroughly.

Download mp3

Thursday, November 1, 2007

To Cure the Lonely

From the yet-to-be-released Instant Nostalgia

When Fluid Ounces began performing live again in 2004 with what is probably its final line-up, they mostly played songs that showcased the fantastic The Whole Shebang. They played two songs that had been played a couple of months before at the record release party, “Come On Out” and “Millionaire Meets Millionaire,” both of which made it onto the yet-to-be-released Instant Nostalgia. The third song that made its true debut during this time was “To Cure the Lonely.”

Seth Timbs had just moved back to Tennessee in the wake of his first marriage, and the songs that he wrote during the time that followed were often a dramatic return to songs of heartbreak and despair. “Private Hell” and “Oh, Tatiana” are two of the bigger “hits” to come out of that time. This downbeat waltz asks as its central question, “If truth is stranger than fiction, then why can’t we all have someone with us to cure the lonely affliction?” I went through my own divorce in 2005, and I found a soothing sense of familiarity in hearing these songs during that time, that someone else had gone through something similar and had felt the way that I was feeling.

Seth had played this song with Brian Pitts on the radio on Steve Cross’s show that summer before, and when I downloaded the song, it quickly became the most-played song in my iTunes collection. The full-band version from Instant Nostalgia is very good as well, but I haven’t had quite the love for the song since the wake of my divorce, and therefore haven’t listened to it as much. The live version is currently sitting at #2 in my total number of plays, and it has still been played over 80 times on my iPod. I'm presenting the live acoustic version here.

Download Live mp3

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