#96 – “Mammal” (1992)

Apollo 18

L.K.: You know, continuing yesterday’s brief discussions about words we hate to see used when describing music…I really hate when people call a song “cute” or something similar. Having said that…there is something about this song that actually is honest-to-god cute. It might just be the mental image of a bunch of mammals raising their paws. It might be the instrumentation. It might be the simple little melody. I’m still not sure what it is.

A.S.: Well, most likely the combination of all of those things.  And in most cases regarding cuteness in music, the correct word would probably be “twee”.  I’m not sure if that applies here, since “Mammal” doesn’t bear much resemblance to Tullycraft or Heavenly or such, but it might be as close as TMBG comes. At the same time, I know Leia of Afternoon Naps is a big TMBG fan, so who knows.

L.K.: It’s a lightly educational song about mammals of all shapes and sizes; is it weird that I feel like this makes a better children’s song than most of their actual children’s music?

A.S.: No.

L.K.: The red blood cells lacking nuclei. Large four-chambered heart. That shit was still helping me in college, man!

A.S.: Yeah, Monotreme and Allotheria. Certainly loaded with more factoids than say, “Cells”, which also tackles biology but doesn’t get much farther than the fact that DNA is shaped like a spiral staircase. Also, this song ends on just the saddest note. The most minor inflection ever placed upon the word “Caribou”. Even more so than that Pixies song.

L.K.: It’s such a weird ending, but I can’t envision it ending any other way.

A.S.: A masterful deceptive cadence!

L.K.: It’s like the opposite of a Picardy third.

A.S.: Functionally, yes.

L.K.: I know nothing about music so I’m just going to stay out of this.

A.S.: I’m pretty happy that this one finds its way into live rotation every now and again.

L.K.: I believe we both saw it live in 2007, although I had managed to forget that somehow.

A.S.: We did, which I’m just discovering is one of the last times they’ve played it outside of special Apollo 18 themed shows. Totaling only three performances since we saw it.  I wonder if it’s a coincidence they decided to play it at a major research university. Hopefully it’ll return to setlists again soon.  It’s about due for a revival.

L.K.: It makes a cute (there’s that word again) duo song in particular. Oh look, another performance at a major research university. I don’t think you have to be a biology major to enjoy “Mammal” though.

A.S.: Yep, I studied music and here I am ranting about how great this song is. It’s almost a little strange how much I wish to see this song live again, since it’s not a particularly energetic song.  I guess I’m just always happy to hear album tracks or songs that usually aren’t that common.

L.K.: I was a bit disappointed that more stuff from Apollo 18 didn’t make it into the permanent setlist beyond the shows they were doing in 2008. There’s way more to that album than “Fingertips”.

A.S.: And “The Guitar”.

L.K.: Yeah. Also can I just say that for as strange as the first line of this song is, it really does sum up mammals in a nutshell. “Glass of milk standing in between extinction in the cold and explosive radiating growth”. Who on earth starts a song like that? (outside of John Linnell)

A.S.: Yeah, I guess I’ve just gotten so used to hearing it that looking at it now, it really is a weird line. I guess it’s just the calmness of the musical backing and the flowing melody that neutralizes the weirdness of the line.

“Mammal” at TMBW.

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