Day 01. Your favorite song: Max Tundra, 6161
Day 02. Your least favorite song
Day 03. A song that makes you happy
Day 04. A song that makes you sad
Day 05. A song that reminds you of someone
Day 06. A song that reminds you of somewhere
Day 07. A song that reminds you of a certain event
Day 08. A song that you know all the words to
Day 09. A song that you can dance to
Day 10. A song that makes you fall asleep
Day 11. A song from your favorite band
Day 12. A song from a band you hate
Day 13. A song that is a guilty pleasure
Day 14. A song that no one would expect you to love
Day 15. A song that describes you
Day 16. A song that you used to love but now hate
Day 17. A song that you hear often on the radio
Day 18. A song that you wish you heard on the radio
Day 19. A song from your favorite album
Day 20. A song that you listen to when you’re angry
Day 21. A song that you listen to when you’re happy
Day 22. A song that you listen to when you’re sad
Day 23. A song that you want to play at your wedding
Day 24. A song that you want to play at your funeral
Day 25. A song that makes you laugh
Day 26. A song that you can play on an instrument
Day 27. A song that you wish you could play
Day 28. A song that makes you feel guilty
Day 29. A song from your childhood
Day 30. Your favorite song at this time last year
Originally released on Some Best Friend You Turned Out To Be, this is as good as any other of my favorite songs to talk about for a bit here. If you haven't heard the track, here are four versions of it; I'm talking about the first, canonical version of it, but the Peel Session version of it is downloadable for free if you'd like to hear an approximation of what the original version sounds like.
Original version from 2000
61over, a related track from his follow-up LP Mastered by Guy at the Exchange, released in 2002
Peel Session from 2004
Cover version from 2008, as released on Best Friends, an all-covers version of Some Best Friend You Turned Out To Be
Here's my "How I came to find out about Max Tundra" story: In the late 1990s, I would often buy stuff at Amoeba in Berkeley that had covers designed by TheDesignersRepublic™ unheard, just because I thought there stuff was cool (and yeah, I still do, even if it's very Nineties at this point). This is how I came to own a copy of a Max Tundra 12" called Children At Play, which I promptly listened to about one time and set aside. It sounded a little primitive, probably recorded on a budget; it was over ten minutes long, and it wasn't immediately apparent that it was anything I thought I liked. OK, no problem.
A year or two later, I found myself in Cologne browsing through CDs at Saturn, a then-huge record shop. When exactly, well, I'm not sure about that. It must have been before 2002, couldn't have been any earlier than 2000. I hemmed and hawed about buying this single - it cost DM 11.75 at the time - and eventually decided what the hell, I'd buy it. Why? First and foremost, the cover art. I mean, I'd heard the guy already and thought, hrm, not really my kind of thing, but this single? Cool. Nice typeface. Strangely compelling generically British semi-depressing picture. Apparently random clip art insertion. Unnecessary quotation marks. More than anything, though, it just had the look of being very personal and very intentional, a far cry from the generic TDR cover on his first release. And the song titles? Oh, the song titles. "Cakes." What would that sound like? "Song for Alan R. Splet." Apparently he's a David Lynch fan? And finally: "The Gradual Disappearance From Food Packaging Of The Lettres Ornees Typeface Since The Nineteen Sixties." Yup, a song title worthy of Lina Wertmüller. Nice. And typeface geekery! Yay! But again: what would it sound like?
Turns out Cakes was absolutely breathtakingly beautiful. Just as a song like Richard D. James's Girl/Boy Song is beautiful, or Tom Waits's Johnsburg, Illinois is beautiful, so was this song. But of course I chose not to write about that song, but another song that's a lot quieter, more subtle, and my favorite for different reasons. Anyhow: You go and listen to it, the original version. This is what I hear:
First off, we have what sounds like guitar. Actual, played by hand guitar. In theory, this shouldn't be on what is supposed to be an "electronic" album, right? Better yet, it almost sounds like aggressive, older, 1960s, pre-studio technoloyg guitar, something from early Zappa perhaps, hard to say. Clean, simple, direct, crunchy, unmediated. The playing is straightforward: it sounds like two simple chords at first, but of course if you listen carefully and repeatedly, it's not that at all: instead, it sounds more like two separate parts (guitar and bass? two guitars? and if that's a bass, it's certainly too high isn't it?), but combined in a lovely way so that the first two parts are played on the bass, the second two on the guitar, but the bass takes over the line of the guitar part in the second part, creating an odd through line; it's (I suppose) a way of continuing a melody across two instruments which although simple seems to be not very much in vogue at all.
Then: handclaps. Not Linn drum, not programmed (apparently), but actual human hands clapping. Nice. Surprising, really, to hear handclaps that are actual handclaps. The rhythm, cadence, whatever it's called is pleasingly loose, human, real. Then comes in a third guitar part of sorts, but this time that sort of tapped, harmonics effect that's almost reminiscent of steel guitar. (I should point out at this point that there's lots of breathing room between the parts; it almost reminds me of Purcell in the clarity of the arrangement, allowing you to appreciate the detail here.) And then suddenly, what sounds like a Fender Rhodes piano comes in shortly, closing the first part of the song, setting aside the next. Again: this is electronic music? Really?
And suddenly, it just might be. In a sort of Reichian effect, we get staccato bursts, syncopated, in a lovely Morse pattern, a little dirty, probably some kind of keyboard, can't tell what it is exactly, not as throaty as the Rhodes, but still damn near the kind of thing you'd expect to hear in a Beat club in the early 1960s... almost. I suppose the overall effect is something akin to hearing modern electronic music done in period instruments... no, that's not it. Just as the impact of Girl/Boy Song is in part due to its use of "classical" stringed instruments, the impact of 6161 is (I think) in large part due to the very old-school ness of its sound. Yes, it seems to be saying, there's a reason people played these instruments for so long: just because we can buy an 808 or whatever and make The In Sound right now doesn't mean we have to. After all: what's music if it merely sounds current and is emotionally void?
44 seconds into the track, we finally do hear a proper bass line, previously missing, that is simple, rich, and layers perfectly into all of the activity already going. It's got that same instant rightness that you sometimes hear in a Daft Punk or KLF song: it kicks in and of course, of course, it had to be that bass line, how could it not have been? It's again wonderfully played, straightforward, and the reason it works is because it's a counterpoint to everything you've heard so far. Sweet.
Once through the bass line and now we add a straightforward melodic line, higher up the scale, at first a single note held, then five notes that return to the same first note. The sound of that note is thin, more fragile, more delicate than all of the rest of the music; it has an emotional effect that draws strength from its delicacy. And as soon as it completes: there's more: a measure of very, very busy notes that sound like an instrument I can't quite place, not steel drums but something else, again a very organic, physical sound that although I suspect is programmed, well, I really have no idea.
At this point you're hearing many, many different things going on, but all tastefully separated, all providing a way to show off every other facet of the music. This is why this song is so interesting, so worth listening to many times over a decade and counting: there's the simple beauty of the melody, the interesting textures of the instruments, the complex arrangement, and above all the business of it all; you can't listen to it all at once, so every listen has the potential to sound slightly different.
And then it all changes again, into what I suppose is a bridge (you'll excuse me, but I don't know a lot about music and am probably not naming things at all correctly). Suddenly the music is bigger, fatter, more electric, and there are two distinct components almost at odds with each other, sound almost (but not quite) off, very tense, with a keyboard part that sounds tricky to play, eventually taking over before being joined by the same light, staccato guitar (?) from earlier on in the track... and then, dammit, it all comes together, all of the parts in one gloriously rich, fat, hugely satisfying final couple of measures before it stops quickly in a segue to the final track on the album.
Yeah, it's good. The Peel Session version is twice as long and suffers a bit in that it seems to vamp a bit towards the end, but you'll get a very good idea of it. What's even more interesting, though, is that it gets a really curious treatment on MBGATE - that'd be his next album, Mastered by Guy at The Exchange. One of the conceits of that album is that every track has six letters in its title; as a result, you get 61over, implying that that version is a reprise from the earlier album, but that time with different instrumentation and at half the length - and in the context of that album, well, it could be even better than the first.
Finally, his third album also came in a limited edition soup can version (only 250 copies, folks!) that included a bonus LP of cover versions of songs from his first album - and if there were ever proof that a good song sounds good regardless of the details of the instantiation of it, well, there you. It's great too.