Speaking of ice cream…

3 06 2007

Songs for Ice Cream Trucks
I want to make a music recommendation, but you may think it’s a little nuts. But remember that I’m still the same guy who’s a fan of Lucinda Williams, the Decemberists, Arctic Monkeys, the Kronos Quartet, etc. Quality is Job 1, right? I’m not a crackpot (when it comes to music, anyway). Promise to remember, ok?

So…I’ve fallen hard for a CD called Songs for Ice Cream Trucks by Michael Hearst. It’s just what it sounds like, too. Hearst has written an album of songs to replace the creepy, monotonous stuff that’s coming out of the ice cream truck on your street and mine. The album features instruments appropriate to the, um, genre: glockenspiel, claviola, theremin, melodica, space crickets, and, hey, even a guitar or two. And yet it’s very, very musical.

Some of the songs on Ice Cream Trucks feature vocals, and I guess that’d be a little unusual for an actual ice cream vendor, but the result is pretty stunning. At first, I kept thinking I was listening to children’s music written for adults—if that makes any sense. The instruments evoke images of childhood, but the music itself is sophisticated, beautiful, and involving. In fact, two of the songs with vocals, “Ice Cream!” and “Before I Drive Away,” are among my favorites on the album. “Before I Drive Away,” in particular, is one of those songs that I just can’t get out of my head. In a good way. It makes me smile, and I sing along, over and over again. (Hey, stop looking at me like that!)

The instrumentals are gorgeous, too. “Where Do Ice Cream Trucks Go in the Winter?” is slower-paced, at least at first, and seems to answer the question in a wistful way. “Tones for Cones” is rhythmic and catchy. “Ice Cream Yo!,” one of my absolute favorites on the album, is jazz—played on some unusual instruments, to be sure, but still jazz. “The Moose Track Shake” is just a perfect song, an up-tempo ballad about that tasty combination of ice cream and malted milk balls.

There really aren’t any bad tracks on the album. “One for Doran” is a little too music box-y for my taste, and “What’s Your Favorite Flavor?” had me thinking of a carousel, but those are minor quibbles. This is an album committed to, and playing brilliantly off of, a surprising aesthetic. I won’t be at all shocked to find it on my list of 2007’s best. Really. It’s that good.

By the way, I heard about Songs for Ice Cream Trucks on Soundcheck, WNYC’s excellent talk show about music. You can listen to the episode here and get a taste (ha!) of Hearst’s project. The episode, which features more than one serious discussion about the music used to sell ice cream, is worth your time. I mean it.

Remember that you promised not to think I was nuts.

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