Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Guest Post: The Best(?) Songs Sung By Robots by Mason Johnson

Glorified Love Letters always approves of making playlists, so let's have us a guest post, then:



Despite having written Sad Robot Stories, I am not an expert on robots (or anything else, for that matter). Still, I'm fairly confident I could come up with a decent Side One to a robot-themed mix tape. Not the kind you give to a guy or gal in the hopes they'll sleep with you. This is more of an "I better sit in my room alone and listen to it mix tape."

It will not include the song "Mr. Roboto."


The Best(?) Songs Sung By Robots


Imogen Heap - "Hide And Seek"



To her credit, Heap is a more talented robot than most.

Her voice wasn't changed solely through the work of a computer, it was going through her keyboard which was turned into a vocoder. So at least she has to make sure to kind of hit the same notes as she both sings and plays.

I'm glad the "Hide and Seek" meme, first started by the O.C., has returned thanks to Game of Thrones.

I'm sad that my friends refused my requests to keep this song on repeat as we drove around the summer of '06. Haters gonna hate.

Lastly, it was difficult not to make every song on this list "Hide and Seek," examining it from a different angle several times, as some sort of cruel joke.

The Postal Service - "Against All Odds"



Phil Collins once wrote an amazing song called "Against All Odds" for an amazing film by the same name. It starred a young, bearded Jeff Bridges. He was so hot in it.

So hot.

Years later, a government sponsored robot made to woo 20-somethings with electro-light indie songs that can make hit movie trailers out of awful movies was unleashed by the United States Postal Service. It created an entire album, but it's worst crime was to cover "Against All Odds."

Thanks, Obama.

Kanye West - "Coldest Winter"




For 808s and Heartbreak, Kanye abandoned his signature sampling style for a drum machine and autotune. While I'm sure T-Pain would like to take the credit for this style, it's the popularity of Kanye that created an autotune apocalypse.

Anyway, the use of a drum machine in 808s makes the album sound like a cacophony of robots. Not so much in the tribal "Love Lockdown," but it's definitely apparent in (surprise surprise) "RoboCop."

Then there's "Coldest Winter," the drum machines sounding like a mix of "Love Lockdown" and "RoboCop." There's the almost TV-like static sound interspersed between a driven drum beat. At times, the song sounds like grinding gears and kids beating buckets in the subway station simultaneously. The autotune on "Coldest Winter" finds a similar balance. Clearly Kanye is singing (or trying, at least) with a tinge of pain in his voice, but the autotune is still clearly present (though not as heavy as some of the other songs). Kanye's a lot of things, but he's no singer -- and he knows this. Autotune wasn't only an attempt to hide this fact (if it ever was at all), but is a tool that sets the mood/tone of the album. It offers a needed detachment to a series of heartbreak songs from the point of view of a guy who's not exactly into sharing his feelings.

If there were a "Coldest Winter" in Sad Robot Stories, it was probably when Robot dragged himself to the middle of Lake Michigan. It wasn't technically winter (if seasons still exist, post-apocalypse), but Kanye isn't talking about literal seasons when he raps about the coldest winter or a cruel summer.

Jonathan Coulton - Portal's "Still Alive"



Still lol.

If you're one of the few who haven't played Portal, you're missing out on some of the best dark humor in the past ten years.


Weakerthans - "Virtue The Cat Explains Her Departure"





I have 69 Weakerthans songs on my computer. Coincidence?

Those of you who've read my damn book (sorry) will understand the connection between the book and this sad cat story, however tangential.

Though this song was in no way an inspiration for any part of the book, it's the only song about a cat to ever bring me to tears. For a long time I spaced out during this song on the Reunion Tour album. At some point the words hit me, I obsessed over them and the stupid cat's journey in them, and after that would always be overcome with an immense pain of loneliness. Not like I was out of breath, but like something was physically in my chest holding the breath down against its will in the pit of my stomach, refusing to let it escape.

Seems sorta embarrassing. 

Anyway, I didn't listen to the song for a long time. It was too sad. Eventually I started listening to it again, especially when I was writing something sad and needed to call up some genuine sad feelings (that weren't too sad).

I'm certain I did this while writing Sad Robot Stories. Though, again, it has no real bearing on the plot.



My mother always said that you should never end on a sad note. I disagree.


Mason Johnson is a writer from Chicago who currently works full time writing and editing articles for CBS. You can find his fiction at themasonjohnson.com. His novel, Sad Robot Stories, was published by CClaP in August 2013. Also, he pets all the cats.

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