Monday, October 29, 2012

The First Sound You Hear...

A good first impression goes a long way. Sometimes it's that moment when you first get introduced to a band. That first song you hear leaves a lasting memory and soon becomes one of your favorite songs ever. For me, that's exactly what happened with the Pixies and the Sisters Of Mercy. Even stranger is how those introductions happened in the form of seeing music videos from each band ("Here Comes Your Man" and "Walk Away," respectively.) At the risk of hyperbole, my life was changed in each instance. But then there are also those special occasions where a song's intro sticks with you; those first few seconds where the right guitar effect or the right drum beat grabs as much attention as a catchy chorus. These are the songs that I've started over again (and again, and again, and again) just to hear those opening moments.


The First Sound You Hear...
1. Chapterhouse, "Pearl": I was introduced to this song (and this band) while DJ'ing. I was playing Siouxsie & The Banshees' "Kiss Them For Me" when my co-DJ that evening ran up to the booth and told me I should play "Pearl" because "Kiss Them For Me" samples the drums. But that's not what got to me. Hell, it wasn't even the shimmering guitars that open the song but rather its drum beat that comes in about 25 seconds into "Pearl" before disappearing 3 seconds later only to return. That little tease was enough to make me want to hear it repeatedly.

2. The Smiths, "How Soon Is Now?": What's there to say about the delay effect on that opening guitar? It's so simple that whenever a band turns on the delay pedals, I refer to it as the "'How Soon Is Now?'-trick."

3. The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart, "Belong": Just when I think that I can't be surprised by what guitars can do to a song this happens. Again, it's nothing special, just a rush of distorted guitars at just that right moment. It goes a long way.

4. The Posies, "Dream All Day": I was a metalhead during my first two years of high school. But then liking metal started to become passé and everyone started turning towards what was then alternative. It was an easy transition for me to like Ministry or Nine Inch Nails or even Alice In Chains. But The Posies were one of the first bands that I liked that wasn't heavy. Though the guitar intro to this song fooled me. It had one of those intangible qualities that hinted at something dark but then the song blossoms into some catchy power pop. "Dream All Day" has somehow managed to age very well, even though The Posies haven't really aged well themselves.

5. Wilco, "Heavy Metal Drummer": Listening to Wilco makes me feel like an adult. So whenever I get made fun of for liking them, I always namedrop this song. That opening drumbeat is barely 3 seconds long but every time I hear it, I start the song over just to hear it again. It helps that this song is also damn near perfect.

6. The National, "Mistaken For Strangers": Remember that guitar sound in Radiohead's "Creep"? The one that goes "Ch-CHK!" That was one of the greatest sounds I'd ever heard a guitar make. Well, the opening guitar lick on "Mistaken For Strangers" comes awfully close and what makes it such an earworm is that it's not a sound that's easy to describe without actually playing the song for someone.

7. Joy Division, "She's Lost Control": Admittedly, "Love Will Tear Us Apart" was my first taste of Joy Division but when it comes to the being completely owned by the first minute of any song, it doesn't get any better than "She's Lost Control." We get introduced to each instrument one at a time- Stephen Morris' icy beats, Hooky's supple bassline, Ian Curtis' unmistakable baritone, and then, almost right as the first minute comes up, Bernard Sumner's puncturing guitar. Still, it's the opening drums that make me come back for more each time.

8. Curve, "Fait Accompli": Perhaps the best example of perfect drum programming opens this song. Easily my favorite from this criminally underrated band. I recently saw Garbage live and the entire time I wondered if everyone knew what a huge debt they owed to Curve. Needless to say, I introduced a couple of friends (who are Garbage fans) to the awesomeness that is Toni Halliday and Dean Garcia with this very song.

9. Girls Against Boys, "Super-Fire": Oddly enough, my introduction to this New York-via-Washington D.C. band was through their cover of Joy Division's "She's Lost Control" (which, by the way, is excellent!) The other thing that grabbed me about Girls Against Boys was their (mostly) one guitar, two bassist, and drummer setup. Yet in spite of all that, it's that opening guitar lick on "Super-Fire" that serves as a gateway drug to the rest of the song; also a great opener to what was then their farewell to indie label, Touch & Go before an all-too-brief major label stint.

10. A Place To Bury Strangers, "To Fix The Gash In Your Head": This band had everything going for them before I even heard a single note. An awesome band name rivaled only by I Love You But I've Chosen Darkness, a song title that alludes to some downright baddasery, and comparisons to both the Jesus And Mary Chain AND Ministry. So much happens in the song's first 20 seconds that it's a lot to handle, from the acidic drum programming to the blast of feedback-drenched guitars. A Place To Bury Strangers is the reason God created earplugs.

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