Welcome to Jukebox Breakdown, a column where we write about songs we love. Less about overarching themes or through-lines, Jukebox Breakdown is simply a space for our thoughts on perfect tracks.
Jukebox Breakdown: The Microphones – “I Want Wind To Blow”
by Chad Jewett
Usually, when a record is dubbed a “headphone album”, what’s being described is a thing of high-fidelity and studio science. Abbey Road is a headphone album. Low is headphone album. Kid A is a headphone album. These LPs sound expensive, and were. The Glow Pt. 2, the essential 2001 release from The Microphones, is a headphone album for almost the exact opposite reason. You can hear every creak, every accidental noise and incidental hum. Sometimes the microphone rubs against an instrument. Sometimes the tempo wanders and warps. But the magic trick at the heart of the album, and especially its revelatory opening track, “I Want Wind To Blow”, is the fact that this homemade, taped-together project is so often sublime.
Heard through headphones, the song’s twin guitars, pushed hard left and hard right, reveal their fine grain; the fuzz around Phil Elvrum’s voice is distinct, as is the dry, scraping rattle of the song’s austere percussion. Eventually the song widens – a tambourine here, some shakers there, a bed of imperfect harmonies. When the song’s late-arriving kick drum shows up, you can hear it like stomps in a hallway, and regardless of where they really recorded it, you can imagine the oaken walls and the hardwood floor. You can hear the thing grow in real time, as something Elvrum and company did in a room. Studio production is often designed to make you forget that. The Glow Pt. 2 seems designed to remind you.
The second half of “I Want Wind To Blow” is dedicated to a lovely 9-note guitar riff that sparkles above the wheeze of an accordion (or is it a harmonium? or an organ?) before exploding into something symphonic and triumphant in the song’s final minute. In that way “I Want Wind To Blow” seems to predict the festive parade atmosphere of early Arcade Fire, who would similarly find a tune and build atop it till the thing was a bustling carnival. The riff is almost archetypally catchy, the kind of tune you’d whistle for hours or rush to write down. You can hear the band build around the melody, digging into the idea and developing it for all that it’s worth. The melody eventually turns into a brawny scrap of whirling hardcore as “I Want The Wind To Blow” pivots into the album’s title track, underlining the quiet, stitched-together brilliance at work on The Glow Pt. 2, a masterpiece that never feels too much need to announce itself as such.