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January 26, 2009 |

By TK Burton | Music | January 26, 2009 |

This post’s predecessor, which focused on opening tracks in a CD collection, ended up sparking some delicious brouhaha over the digital age of intangible music ownership by The Eloquents. In the context of leadoff songs, I’ll concede that whether kick starting a headphone session old school style with the whir of a CD player sucking in a new purchase or new school style with a glowing computer screen displaying a freshly downloaded release, you are beginning your listening experience and the power of an opening track can be felt. But as we bookend this discourse with a spotlight on the tracks that close out our favorite discs/MP3 subfolders, we have to consider the denouement of our album intake in both technological circumstances.

First of all, while I’m not a vinyl guy, the times I’ve listened to a record and heard the crackle of the needle as a closing track fades out certainly trumps both CDs and MP3s hands down. But let’s be honest, if you read Pajiba, you probably didn’t grow up buying records. And if you did, you’re cooler and luckier than the rest of us — congratulations. What vinyl and CDs have in common though is that when the album ends, it ends. There’s silence. Either that or the player automatically starts it over. In either case, you’re left with at least moments to reflect on whether to a) soak in the respite of quiet, b) let it play through again, or c) put on something new. And while I understand all of these options are still possible in the modern age of music collections on a single magic device, they are less common, no? That’s for you to work out in the comments. Regardless, the closing track has a longstanding tradition of leaving that final taste in your ear buds, and these are the ones from my CD collection that have done this most successfully. Of course sharing is encouraged, so let loose on your faves below as well.

clarity.jpg“Goodbye Sky Harbor” from Clarity by Jimmy Eat World
[Capitol, 1999]

Wuss rock, priss pop, emo, whatever you want to call it, before the devastatingly mediocre Futures, and sure, even the Top 40 oversaturation of the bland “The Middle” from their self-titled 2001 release (though most of that album still holds up), I genuinely hearted this Arizonian outfit. I understand the hatred of what’s now called emo music (while I still enjoy some here and there), because so much of it sounds sterile and trite, but this album in particular is astoundingly eclectic in its fusion of electronic euphoria and pop rock punch, despite its overly emotive execution. The final track should melt even the darkest and coldest heart not because singer Jim Adkins sounds like he’s eternally going through puberty (if you can get over it, it actually becomes endearing instead of annoying), but rather because it sprawls like an epic love story that’s only half told, leaving the rest a mystery sinking into an abyss of overlapping harmonies, windswept keyboard effects and melodies that are the perfection combination of angsty and celestial. Yes, it goes on forever, but it has to. It ends the album with a spectrum of emotions spraying all over in elegant formation, capturing the listener with its hypnotic swirl of sound. Why they dropped the space pop aesthetic after their two-year hiatus is unbeknownst to me, but I think they now realize the gold they struck with Clarity because they will soon be going on tour playing the album in its entirety to celebrate its 10th anniversary. And just like every time this album ends, I’m going to want to let it all play through one more time as this one comes to a close live on stage.

terrified.jpg“Respect Is Due” from Is Terrified by The Dismemberment Plan
[De Soto, 1997]

Full disclosure: I first heard this track via a certain touchstone downloading service that sounds kinda like “hamster” and thus my initial experience with it comes not from its placement as a closing track. It was equally haunting, stormy, and unforgettable as a stray MP3 played on a friend’s basement stereo as it was when I eventually purchased my copy of the full masterpiece from which it was derived, but the one thing that it is when heard after listening to ten bombastic tracks of post-punkish nerd rock is more rewarding. Every song on this breakthrough release before their critically acclaimed Emergency & I is cathartic, refreshing, and unbelievably raw, but when it finally reaches its concluding song, it finally feels like it all means something. The creeping bass line fades in and the signature smarm of vocalist Travis Morrisson makes the listener cheer on his slow-burning fuck you to an unnamed party and simultaneously feel slightly concerned for his well-being. It’s incredibly sad, yearning, and confused, and elongated and repeated for ultimate effect, letting the distortion and screeches bleed into the mix at a steady pace until it’s unwittingly pulled out from under the listener in the blink of an eye. After a while, the D.C. quartet stopped playing the song live, presumably because its naked brutality is embarrassing in retrospect, but damn if it isn’t still unbelievably heart-wrenching hundreds of plays, dozens of months later.

terrortwilight.jpg“…And Carrot Rope” from Terror Twilight by Pavement
[Matador, 1999]

Speaking of nerd rock, during the dry spell between the landmark Pinkerton and the shouldn’t-have-waited-for-it Green Album, I needed a new Weezer. Serendipity was on my side, apparently, because I randomly put on the No Alternative compilation (did any mid-90s rock fan not own this?) for the first time in a long time after many many repeat plays of Cuomo and co.’s too brief two records and realized that Pavement was what I had been looking for. Appreciating the awesome that was “The Unseen Power Of The Picket Fence” from the aforementioned various artists collection opened my world to four albums of brilliant geek guitar noodling and dorky nonsense lyrics, leaving me with wide-eyed anticipation of what I would sadly learn to be their last album, Terror Twilight. Listening to every second of the slacker legends’ swan song was wondrous in so many ways: bittersweet and goofy, contemplative and bouncy, it felt like that which I had just discovered and became enamored with was saying goodbye all too soon, but at least giving one final lasting smacker on the proverbial lips with this album. The best part is the overall downbeat and morose undertones that pervade the disc’s first ten tracks because when “Carrot Rope” plunges in with its wah pedal smirking and playful duet between the almighty Stephen Malkmus and underused voice of guitarist Spiral Stairs, the band finally celebrates its sound fully and completely. It’s the perfect example of a band ensuring that the last taste it leaves for the listener (not just for an album, but for the band as a whole) doesn’t necessarily need to be tragic, climactic, or even lengthy. It’s a short sweet pop song without bravado or melodrama and it’s still spellbindingly beautiful. Here’s hoping the Coachella reunion rumor becomes true.

colddeadplace.jpg“Your Hand In Mine” from The Earth Is Not A Cold Dead Place by Explosions In The Sky
[Temporary Residence, 2003]

Okay, so you might have to throw everything I just said out the window. Sometimes bravado and melodrama is exactly what a closing track needs to succeed. The difference here is that Austin’s Explosions in the Sky do this expertly in every one of their songs, so the song that they choose to have close out their album has to swell with so much gusto and heartstring pulling that it feels like a fireball of emotion might just burst out of your chest (who’s emo now, Jimmy?). The additional challenge for the band is, obviously, to do this without a single lyric communicating the meaning of the song. The only language to give any indication as to what this song is about is its title, and its concurrently oblique and poetic connotation gives more than enough to make it thrive on every level. Like so many people, they’re the band that began my never ending fascination with guitar-led instrumental music, and as this song summed up their best album during my first listen (yes, I still remember this), I couldn’t help but get goosebumps ever so subtly before I pressed play again…and again and again. It’s not only gorgeous, moving, and driving, it’s also monumentally life-affirming — quite possibly a closing track’s most valuable asset.

When an album ends and its last tune not only leaves you with a smile, a tear, or a state of nebulous nirvana, but really makes you think about how truly fucking sweet life is, it may be corny upon reflection (i.e. right now as I’m typing this), but it’s also transcendent. I swear the more triumphant an album feels on its final note, no matter how small or what instrument, the more powerful the concept of the closing track is.

Chris Polley teaches high school English, often with his hair disheveled and a glint of crazy in his eye, in the Midwest’s greatest city, Minneapolis. He rambles on and conducts discourse with friends and strangers about the horrific beast that is pop culture over at The Blogulator.

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I Am But One Small Instrument

Closing Tracks in a CD Collection / Chris Polley

Music | January 26, 2009 |

TK Burton is the Editorial Director. You may email him here or follow him on Twitter.

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