Ain’t No Sunshine by Bill Withers is the song that makes the rest of the world fade, and all the bad things in the world seem beautiful and romantic.
I first heard this song in the movie, Notting Hill, in the scene where Hugh Grant’s character is walking into a plethora of seasons, heartbroken, after seemingly losing the woman (Julia Roberts) he loves. It’s an uncomplicated song, where most songs today are preachy or too confusing (where the guy is singing about wanting and loving the girl, but instead he gets drunk and tries to get her off his mind). “Ain’t No Sunshine” is simple: Bill Withers is basically saying “my love has gone, and she has taken the sun and all it’s radiance with her”.
Having spent most of the Noughties obsessed with Stereolab and Broadcast after hearing the late John Peel play them on late night Radio 1, I never really got over the sudden deaths of Broadcast’s Trish Keenan and Stereolab’s Mary Hansen. Soundalike bands may have ebbed and flowed, but not until Vanishing Twin arrived has any band excited me as much as the ‘lab and the ‘cast. Sad events often lead to questions about what might have been. In this case, what would each of the band’s respective outputs have been like in 2018? Awesome, no doubt. Different, certainly. Vanishing Twin, for me at least, are the perfect amalgamation of everything that was great about Stereolab and Broadcast.
The London outfit released their debut LP (‘Choose Your Own Adventure’) in 2016, having formed the year before as the band ‘Orlando’. From it, a single and opener on that LP ‘Vanishing Twin Syndrome’ has a ‘lost soundtrack’ feel to it. You know, something from an underground 60’s film that has been found in the archives. Cathy’s lovely vocal not only instantly recalls Mary Hansen’s 60’s pop loveliness, but also the otherworldliness of Keenan’s voice.
‘Vanishing Twin Syndrome’ sucks you in. ‘Oh yes, a beautiful melodic number this one..’ will quickly become ‘Oh my word: distorted stuff, twangy stuff and THOSE DRIVING DRUMS! Who IS this band?!’. 8 minutes and 10 seconds of psychedelic, jazzy, unholy racket. And, just when you think it’s all over after 4 minutes and 20 seconds — what’s this? Why has this tune segued into a crazy Italian library music track. Vibraphone, spacey SFX, some jazzy drumming that wouldn’t sound out of place on a 60’s Blue Note record, urgent violins, pops, groans…
And then there’s the band name. Vanishing Twin. Echoes of the disappearance of two fine singers from this world: Trish and Mary. Coincidence?
Somewhere in the desert east of L.A., “‘39” found me.
My friend Russell and I were halfway through a cross-country road trip planned in desperation — I was 26, and in the midst of a multi-year crisis, tumbling through a personal and professional void, flailing wildly and finding nothing on which to catch myself, let alone drag myself back to stability.
I created various structures for our 35-state odyssey, hoping that the more external order I imposed the greater my chance of finding internal order. For one, I decided we would listen to an album from every year in the history of recorded music. We were skirting the edges of California’s Death Valley when we hit 1975 and put on A Night at the Opera.
The few Queen songs I knew left me cold, but as “‘39” began, I was galvanized. The eerie opening, all wailing choir and synth, transformed the wasteland around me into a distant planet — weeks from home and years from a true connection with myself, this felt entirely appropriate — and then, with a relief that seemed to alter my very chemistry, that eeriness melted into an achingly beautiful 12-string folk melody.
But it was the chorus that truly found me: “Don’t you hear my call?” the band cried in four-part harmony. “Don’t you hear me calling you?”
In that yearning howl, I discovered what I’d set out on this journey for: a totem to guide me to solid ground. Those words gave voice to my own call from the void, and my hope that someone might hear me and bring me home.
As we crossed the desert, I wanted to hear “‘39” so often that Russell lost patience. I took to playing it during his shift in gas station restrooms, desperate for hits of that opening shift from otherworldliness to peace. Eventually, I understood that “‘39” is about astronauts experiencing time dilation, but the song has never stopped being about me. I may have to squint to make lyrics about Einstein’s special theory of relativity apply to my own inner journey, but that’s the magic of song. More than any other art form, you’re allowed to ignore the trees and find yourself in the forest.
So I fell down a Wikipedia rabbit hole recently while fact-checking another piece on Foo Fighters or maybe just Googling .gifs of Dave Grohl, as one does, and came across a quote from a review of an early Foo Fighters album in which the reviewer declared that Grohl was super punk rock and “allergic to strings.” Immediately I was like…okay what planet are you on because 1. Nirvana definitely wasn’t allergic to the cello and 2. “A320” from the Godzilla soundtrack is rock violin heaven.
“A320” was written and recorded early in 1998, specifically for Godzilla, which surprised me when I went to the Internet for some facts. My personal fan theory has always been that this song laid some of the lyrical groundwork for “Learn to Fly” from 1999’s There Is Nothing Left To Lose. Both songs make multiple references to aviophobia — the fear of flying — and “A320” even has the line “I dream about the day I learn to fly.” So, you know, this fan theory still holds water. Regardless, I’m glad the movie people asked Foo Fighters to make this song because it’s an absolute gem.
“A320” is a very much guided both by violin (provided by Petra Haden of that dog. and The Rentals, and who has accompanied The Decemberists, Green Day, Everclear, and again Foo Fighters on In Your Honor) and a strong bass line. The vibe is cinematic and eerie — it’s this strange, desperate deep breath of a song that is both incredibly anxious and incredibly narcotic. The tempo feels relaxed, the vocals are reserved, the sense of peaceful resignation has a strong presence, but then there’s this epic release as the song builds into a Zepplin-esque crescendo and finishes with Taylor Hawkins’ drums and Grohl’s guitar working seamlessly alongside the strings he’s purportedly allergic to. The last three-ish minutes of the song are entirely instrumental. And perfect.
I remember writing about “A320” when I was in high school. And I remember that my seventeen-year-old interpretation of the song was bleak — a sort of alt-rock “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.” My thirty-five-year-old-self sees something else: a reflective pause. A pursuit of hope. A simple beauty hidden in the fear. And this is the beauty that I live with, that I look for in songs like this, that I find in the familiar voice of Dave Grohl which, after all these years, is kind of like an old friend.
 I would cite the source here but, you know, Wikipedia rabbit holes. Easy to fall down, difficult to trace back.
 I actually long thought that these were Grohl drums, but this recording actually marks the first time Hawkins played with Foo Fighters in a studio session.
I’ve been obsessed with Yacht Rock lately, ever since SiriusXM brought back the Yacht Rock (channel 70!) channel. I’ve been unable to change the station, no matter how many times they play “How Much I Feel” by Ambrosia. I reach my hand up to switch over to Ozzy’s Boneyard or Rock the Bells and it’s like there’s some magnetic current flinging my arm back to the steering wheel.
And when I’m at home or at work, I find myself lost in a YouTube vortex, having subscribed to four different channels featuring the softest rock hits of the 70s and 80s. And that is how I found (refound) this 1980 music video gem.
I can’t say I remember Benny Mardones, but I do remember this song, which is getting a rebirth, at least in my car, via satellite radio. Part of me (a large part) wishes I didn’t find this video, as it changes my associations with it, forever. But at the same time….
….Holy sheep-dung is this video creepy! It’s not enough that Benny, who looks like the long-lost twin of Aldo Nova (bonus points for those who get this reference without the internet), starts the song off with the line: “She’s just 16 years old…leave her alone, they say.” Then the video shows Benny approaching the titular girl’s father, trying to convince him to let him take his daughter out “as friends,” before slinking around the back of the house and spying on his young obsession through the bedroom window.
Finally, after sneaking into her room, he rolls out a magic carpet and proceeds to fly this strangely expressionless girl “into the night” never mind a jacket or a seat belt. Especially, since, via some horribly amateurish early 80s green-screen work, the two lovebirds are getting quite close to the pointy tip of the Statue of Liberty. And then… they make out — right above freeway traffic (he’s so romantic!) — not to mention that it seems to be a pretty windy night based on how shaky the camera is.
But clearly there’s no denying the power of Benny’s striped black and white, sleeveless shirt and almost sculpted muscles. The exact qualities all teenage girls found hard to resist, back in the early 80s. I mean, it’s a proven fact that bringing a girl a dirty brown carpet instead of flowers is impossible to resist!
As for the song, it’s mostly forgettable, though Benny’s enthusiastic, if not borderline histrionic, vocals keep the intensity at a nice smooth boil. A worthy entree in the Yacht Rock canon.
I wish more people knew about how amazing Talk Talk is. There’s “It’s My Life,” of course, but do you know about Spirit of Eden or Laughing Stock, albums that reach for the ethereal and almost always get it. But those came later. “Life’s What You Make It” was released in 1985, and I remember seeing the video on some Saturday afternoon show, and being haunted by the images: the night, alive with music and light in the trees; animals and insects, hunting or inching along on the ground, and then morning, bird song and rabbits.
The lyrics are simple, repetitive. But that one line (beauty’s naked) lingers. Things we might overlook or take for granted, the trees, or a centipede, reveal themselves. Where do we fit into this, or do we fit into it at all ? I love how this song is at once minimalistic, but also grandiose, a thumping piano and the repeated phrase, “life’s what you make it,” challenging the listener to step into that other-worldly night. The song makes no promises; it doesn’t claim to change you. It asks that you see your own beauty, and embrace it.
When my flat got broken into, I was on a canal boat. You get on the boat, sober with a bag of booze. The boat goes up the water and back, then you get off at the exact same spot, hammered. In my case, also robbed. Maybe it’s some metaphor for life.
They stole my phone charger, some other small items, and my laptop. A disappointing haul, I’m sure. Especially if they opened the discarded writing folder on my desktop. I’ve since been expecting print-outs to be anonymously stuffed through my post box, covered in red pen.
The police advised I try not to touch anything until the fingerprint people could come the next day. I asked them if that meant I should leave the window, the one they came in through, open overnight while I slept in a crime scene.
“Is it just you here?” they said. “Do you need victim support counselling?”
There’s something visceral about returning to your place after it’s been burgled, like being awake inside a nightmare.
With sleep off the agenda, my phone battery flat, me too drunk and shaken to read, all that was left to keep me company was my CD player and CDs, which they hadn’t taken because 2018.
The carnage gave the place the look of my bedroom when I was fifteen. Maybe that’s what made me reach for one of my favorite teenage-angst-pacifying albums, PJ Harvey’s ‘Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea’.
I sat in the only untouched corner of my living room, put ‘Horses in my Dreams’ on, scanned the chaos to the backdrop of hypnotic piano.
As the slow crescendo kicked in to the words, ‘I’ve pulled myself clear’, I thought about how you sit in your messy room alone, scared, anxious. Get offered counseling, listen to PJ instead. Grow up, move out, think things are looking up, get drunk. End up sitting in your messy room alone, scared, anxious, hammered, robbed. Get offered counseling, listen to PJ instead.
I’ve loved Ryan Pollie (the man behind Los Angeles Police Department) since he auditioned for my college a cappella group twelve years ago.
We asked recruits to demonstrate a hidden talent, and Ryan announced that he could convince anyone to go to any restaurant at any time. Then he launched into a passionate endorsement of Quiznos that left me equal parts hungry and bewildered by such impromptu absurdism. Before he’d sung a note, I knew — as Paul Thomas Anderson once said of first seeing Philip Seymour Hoffman act —he’s for me and I’m for him.
Ryan sent me the demo for “If I Lied” as he prepared his second LP, his first for Anti- Records. I fell head over heels for the song, even performed with just acoustic guitar and synth drum. I thought he could have released it as-is, but Ryan wasn’t content. When he played me the final mix a year later, I was overwhelmed. He’d let the song bloom with unique flourishes — what sounds like a horde of kettle drums, his trademark one-man choral breaks — that left me scrambling to reconcile what I’d loved then with what I loved even more now.
There’s a feeling I call emotional vertigo — when the full arc of the past slams into you so suddenly that your head swims. That’s how I feel when I hear this song, and recognize the voice performing it as the one that hypnotized me into craving Quiznos. I’ll never be able to quite pass you that significance, but those pockets of emotional vertigo are everywhere; I feel it when I look at my wife and recognize her as the bookstore clerk I had a hopeless crush on eleven years ago. I feel it when I look at our daughter and remember her screaming into the world two years ago. So if this song can never give you quite the same vertigo it does me, then I hope I can at least pass you a reminder to look for emotional vertigo in your life. Trust me, it’s a hell of a rush.
For more than a quarter-century Grandaddy produced a catalog in which it felt like every track had *something* for you. They simply failed to produce many stinkers, if any at all. “Nature Anthem,” with its anthemic refrain and Raffi-esque music stylings, certainly has “it.”
Need help finding happiness? I don’t have all the answers, but this music video does the trick despite its pixelated antiquity. In fact, it was one of the first music videos I shared with my newborn son.
PROUD PAPA UPDATE ALERT: The kid is nearly 6 years old now and can recite all the lyrics from Granddady’s Sumday LP!
You know what? I’m delaying you from this grace.
Go ahead, push play.
Treat yourself to a daydream of your mountain, your river.
I love The X-Files. Like, a lot. But there’s no denying that quite a few episodes have not aged well. To start, Mulder mansplains literally everything until he disappears periodically in the later seasons to make shitty movies. There’s also at least one stereotypical Gypsy curse, ableist portrayals of folks on the autism spectrum, and the fact that most of the POC characters are either cast as bad guys or quick to get dead. For good measure, there’s a nice handful of unaddressed sexual assault; somehow, one of the most charmingly irreverent episodes is also rapey as fuck. “The Post-Modern Prometheus” is about a lonely mutant — created by his evil scientist daddy — who drugs women and throws one-person Cher parties in their houses before impregnating them with mutant babies because he’s wicked, wicked lonely.
Mulder also menaces a bunch of chickens in a barn with his firearm in this episode. Just so you know. But the Cher part is more important, probably. And there’s a lot of Cher in this episode. But the crucial Cher moment is the last scene where Mulder and Scully take “The Great Mutato” to a Cher concert because, other than his jolly assaults on the local women, this gentle creature has never left the basement where he eats peanut butter and watches Cher things on VHS.
Cher — disappointingly not dressed in the low-low-cut, ass-baring fishnet thing from the “If I Could Turn Back Time” video that had every decent mother clutching her pearls in 1989 — appears on stage performing her new single “Walking in Memphis” (originally recorded by Marc Cohn). And it’s powerful. Powerful enough to get Mulder and Scully to dance for a perfect shipper moment and a sweet ending to this still horrendously gross but somehow feel-good episode of The X-Files from 1997.
Cher’s “Walking In Memphis” is one of the most perfect examples of her vocal prowess — the proof that she can sing gospel or disco or folk or rock and it will be next-level excellence. “Walking Memphis” is about a spiritual experience. Yes, the original version will make you tingle. Cher, though, will give you full-body goosebumps. You believe her magical, smoky contralto. You feel it in your bones. That’s a kind of magic we need right now, and I don’t know about you, but sometimes it’s good to know that Cher lives. That Cher sings. Maybe it will help you get out of bed tomorrow. (Or today, if you’re reading this in bed on your phone in a blanket fort or cocoon.) Let a few good things in. Start in Memphis.