Monday, August 11, 2014

Horses & Japan

When you listen to albums really closely, you sometimes start spotting patterns. Perhaps you'll hear the same line in two different songs; perhaps you'll notice some sort of loose running theme; perhaps you'll even come across a nice, juicy ROPSWED. 'Easter Eggs' like this are fairly common at the movies - if you spend enough time on the internet, you'll already be familiar with Pixar's insane mass of ongoing in-jokes, or Martin Scorsese's use of the letter X to signal that  somebody's about to die in The Departed.

The difference, though, is that Scorsese almost certainly planted those Xs on purpose. The patterns we hear in songs and albums tend to be far more subtle, and so they are far less likely to be intentional - Pixar didn't accidentally give the Pizza Planet truck a cameo in every single movie, but it's entirely conceivable that a songwriter may re-use an old line without realising it.

For this reason, I always experience a moment of uncertainty ('Ooh...did they do that on purpose?") whenever I spot something like this on my favourite albums. Here are two prime examples of AAEES (Ambiguous Album Easter Egg Syndrome):

#1 - Sparkle's Horses
EPs, compilations, and Danger Mouse collaborations aside, Mark Linkous released a total of 4 albums under the Sparklehorse banner before committing suicide in 2010. I own three of them: Vivadixiesubmarinetransmissionplot, Good Morning Spider, and It's a Wonderful Life.

A while ago, I noticed that Linkous mentioned horses in the opening track of all three albums. There's Homecoming Queen from Vivadixiesubmarinetransmissionplot:

"A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse, rattling on magnetic fields."

...then there's Pig from Good Morning Spider:

"I wanna be a horse full of fire that'll never tame"

...and finally, there's the title track from It's a Wonderful Life:

"I am the only one, can ride that horse th'yonder"

So that's cool - Linkous always opened his albums with horse references! Except, uh, he apparently forgot this trend on his final album, Dreamt for Light Years in the Belly of a Mountain. I don't have that CD, but I've been on and I can confirm that opening track Don't Take My Sunshine Away contains zero horses.

So what gives? Did Linkous not consider Dreamt... to be part of his 'horse' trilogy? Did his little in-joke just fall by the wayside in the five years that separated It's a Wonderful Life from its follow-up? Or were those three horses just a coincidence in the first place?

We may never know.

#2 - Are Cake Japanophiles?
Sacramento rockers Cake have released six albums in their twenty-year history, and I only own two: Comfort Eagle (2001) and Pressure Chief (2004). Admittedly, my cursory familiarity with their back catalogue isn't really enough to build theories upon, but heck! Let's give it a try anyhow.

I'm going to refer to the opening tracks once again, but this time it's Japan instead of horses. Both Opera Singer (which opens Comfort Eagle) and Wheels (the first song on Pressure Chief) mention the Land of the Rising Sun:

"I am an opera singer, I sing in foreign lands. I've sung for kings in Europe and emperors in Japan."
- Opera Singer

"In a seedy karaoke bar by the banks of the mighty Bosphorus, there's a Japanese man in a business suit singing 'Smoke Gets in Your Eyes'."
- Wheels

This is probably a coincidence, but quite frankly I don't want to do any research that might prove it. I haven't heard the opening tracks from Cake's other four albums, but based on my limited experience, I'm choosing to assume that they all  mention Japan as well and that Cake are so besotted with Japan that they simply have to mention it on everything they release.

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