Sean Recommends: “Tu Canción” by Amaia y Alfred

I don’t speak Spanish very well, in fact I have probably learnt more from listening along to this song with a dictionary than I did in three years of Spanish classes during secondary school. So, naturally, the first time that I heard this song, I didn’t understand much — or anything at all — of what was being said. However, despite this, I don’t feel my disadvantage caused me to miss out at all.

This song was Spain’s entry for the 2018 Eurovision Song Contest and was the second performance of the night. I recall very few of the other acts that participated, but this song, visually and aurally, has remained rooted in my memories.

The staging wasn’t the over-the-top affair that can often be the case during Eurovision, it was actually rather understated. Just two people, Amaia Romero and Alfred García, stood before thousands of eyes in a Portuguese arena and before millions behind television screens from all around the world. To my unknowing ears, they could have been singing about anything, but the love in their voices, their eyes, hovering between them like some almost tangible entity, all contributed to the electricity and heart-melting tenderness of the song and their performance. It brought me to the edge of tears on that night, and has brought me fully to tears on a number of occasions since.

This song is unmistakably a love ballad — a true art form for which I have a huge and unironic soft spot — and is what some might call ‘cheesy’. So, in the spirit of Eurovision — that is, all that is loving and ‘cheesy’ — allow me to leave you with an equally ‘cheesy’ closing line on this recommendation:

If, like myself, you aren’t particularly fluent in Spanish, don’t worry, just press play — because love is a universal language and something the universe needs more of, especially as of late.

(Song recommendation by Sean Cunningham)

James Recommends: “Green and Blue” By Lucie Thorne

Tajette O’Halloran

You’re at your wits end, you’ve hit a wall, you’ve fallen hard and you don’t know how you’re possibly going to survive this one. It’s bad, it’s real bad. Then you hear a song that’s like the hand of a friend placed on your shoulder at your darkest hour, “get up off the floor”, it says, “you’ve got work to do, miles yet to go.”

I’m talking soul repair work. Thirty days and nights in the wilderness. Thirst of the heart tangled up in burning barns and wrong turns. There are certain singers who lay into us like no other. Their power lies in the fact that they’ve lived it too, been there, done that, you can hear it in the crackling wood of their voice.

“I’ve got this ache that’s hard to place, I’ve got these little sparks hidden in the dark…I’ve got this feeling in my blood, I’ve got the shifting sands and reshaped lands of a valley after flood,” Lucie Thorne rumble/sings in Green and Blue, like a dark storm rising and laying you low, it’s the mark hit twice. Her sound is her story. If you’re gonna sing it, sing it true. Sing it right off the bone. The best ones are always the one’s we don’t see coming. They swoop in out of the dark and illuminate our hard fall for what it must be transformed into, surviving.

There isn’t a hint of falsity or contrivance in Thorne’s song. While performing Green and Blue live there is the sleight ghost of presence of Malcolm Holcombe, the only other singer I can think of that embodies the aching soul of the song like Thorne. In her body movements and facial strains, one feels a kind of fire being stoked, the heat from the flame is palpable. Her face; choregraphed like freight train hoppers dashing into milkweed. It’s where the song leads and you can’t deny where it wants to take you, you fall into a fall, you don’t fight it.

Landing on our ass or our hands, but never on our feet. A good song tells you what you need to hear (not what you want to hear) to make it through the next hour. Maybe you’re detoxing and everything’s coming back to you all at once, all the shit you’ve been trying to keep out for years, and you don’t know where to put it. Lucie Thorne does. Listen, this is the song, and it has so much to tell you, that hand of a friend on your shoulder in your darkest hour.

(Song recommendation by James Diaz)

Sam recommends “It All Feels Right” by Washed Out

Every once in a while, life does us a solid.

Maybe it comes in the form of meeting someone special, nailing that job interview, or a perfect day off spent with a friend.

Maybe some worry or anxiety that was bringing you down is somehow suddenly solved, and it feels like you can finally take a deep breath after struggling underwater for a long time.

This song sounds like what that deep breath feels like — a rush of vivid colors filling in the shades of gray you were starting to get used to.

Life did me a solid recently, and even though the high I’m feeling from it probably won’t last forever, I want to acknowledge and savor the fact that, right now, it all feels right.

(Song recommendation by Samantha Lamph/Len)

Ethan Recommends: “Cubs in Five” by the Mountain Goats

When the Chicago Cubs won the World Series in 2016, I got the most unsettled feeling in the pit of my stomach.

This was the last bastion of impossibility. If this was possible, then what wasn’t? At the end of October 2016, we lived in a world perched precariously between comfortable certainties and impossible alternatives, and any reminder that we were just a light push from tumbling over the edge was too much to bear.

On first blush, “Cubs in Five” sounds like an anthem of hope, like John Darnielle is listing outcomes that, however unlikely, he will make damn sure come to pass: the Cubs will easily win the series, and he will be reunited with the nameless you. Mountains might stand in the way, but he will bulldoze them to get back to his love. That’s how it sounds at first.

When you really listen, though, the song—nothing but a litany of absurd outcomes punctuated periodically by “and I will love you again” — is revealed as a bitter laugh in the face of that nameless you. You think he’ll love you again? That’s about as likely as Bill Gates spearheading a revival of defunct New Wave band Heaven 17 (one of the great pleasures of the song, apparently written as a stream-of-consciousness improv, is how it reveals Darnielle’s personal fascinations, like his hatred of Phillips for inventing CD technology that put vinyl at risk).

The soaring, shout-along worthy chorus is a deft head fake around the darker message, just as the lo-fi production of these early Mountain Goats tracks can easily distract from the infectious ear candy of a Darnielle composition — it all calls to mind the interview subject in The Devil and Daniel Johnston who said of Johnston’s homegrown recordings, “You start off hearing this noise, and eventually…you hear the whole symphony.”

A few months after the Cubs won the Series, the Patriots overcame an unbelievable deficit to win the Super Bowl — an impossibility just one quarter earlier. In the span of a few short months of breathtaking games and horrifying politics, the idea of impossibility had been obliterated. Sometimes that means our world seems to have no recognizable rules anymore, but hey, it could be worse. At least someone out there finally has a chance at being loved again by John Darnielle.

(Song recommendation by Ethan Warren)

Lisa Recommends: “Symphony of Destruction” by Megadeth

I may be a tame, cubicle dwelling, 38-year-old mother now, but there was once a time when you could find me losing my shoes in a mosh pit. I loved me some punk, hard rock, and metal.

Of course, my mother wasn’t crazy about my choice in music. Like a lot of parents, she thought such music was made by long-haired hooligans running wild around the stage while screaming nonsense. Now, I don’t deny some bands fit the bill. But there were some that actually sang about political and social issues.

One such band was Megadeth. Their album, Countdown to Extinction, featured songs which addressed societal concerns such as war, and economic and social inequality. One song has been stuck in my mind for weeks. It will pop into my head when I’m trying to enter data at work or trying to go to sleep at night. That song is “Symphony of Destruction.”

I wondered why this song was on replay in my brain. It was released in 1992, and I haven’t heard it on the radio in who knows how long. I don’t even have the CD anymore.

Then, I thought about the lyrics.

You take a mortal man

And put him in control

Watch him become a god

Watch people’s heads a’roll

Just like the Pied Piper

Led rats through the streets

We dance like marionettes

Swaying to the symphony

of destruction

So, it doesn’t take a huge stretch of the imagination to make the connection. Yah, shit is crazy in this country right now. And yah, I’m scared and worried and angry and heartbroken.

The thing is, I’m very much a Libra. I avoid confrontation at all costs. I’m also idealistic and optimistic to a fault. I believe everyone is good at their core. And I believe that somehow, someway, people can find a rational, peaceful way to solve problems.

Thing is, not everyone is good at their core. And not everyone is rational and peaceful.

And I’m beginning to think that just sitting here hoping for a resolution to all this madness makes me another rat following the Pied Piper. Maybe if I don’t do something meaningful, I’m just another marionette. And is that what I want? No, I want to jump into that fucking mosh pit and make something happen.

What about you?

 

(Song recommendation by Lisa Weber)

Jon Recommends: “Formidable” by Stromae

Sometimes the lesson comes after you fall on your face the tenth time. You’re lucky.

I’m hard-headed AND I learn through experience. It’s close to insanity.

It also means that for me, the lesson only comes 6 years after I fell on my face. While I’m in the shower. Singing the Mulan soundtrack.

“Really Li Shang, will you make a man out of me?”

Flashback to some fucked up thing I said to an ex who would not even recognize my face at this point.

Oh cool thanks I’ll just melt through the bathtub drain now.

Later that day, or years later or something who’s counting, I’d lay in bed and it’d hit me…oh EYE was the problematic one there. Wow. Who fuckin’ knew? Obviously everyone who ever told me that before but like I said WHO knew.

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t chase that phantom. “Aah, what could have been if I had only gotten my act together a bit sooner”. And to really wallow in it, I’d put on something like “Formidable”.

Now I know better, obviously. I have much healthier habits. I take all that regret and self-loathing and instead of learning from it and growing, I just do this thing where I push it all down. Just way way down in there. I just ball it up and hide it and don’t talk about it with anyone and make sure that no one finds out I’m a bit of a joke.

Works every time.

So take that, Li Shang. Go make a man out of your damn self.

(Song recommendation by Jon Johnson)

Metaxia recommends “Ain’t No Sunshine” by Bill Withers

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”.

Heart!

(Song recommendation by Metaxia Tzimouli)

Lee Recommends: “Vanishing Twin Syndrome” by Vanishing Twin

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?

(Song recommendation by Lee D. Thompson)

Ethan Recommends: “‘39″ by Queen

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.

Or the desert.

(Song recommendation by Ethan Warren)

Kristin Recommends “A320” by Foo Fighters

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.”[1] 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[2] 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.

[1] I would cite the source here but, you know, Wikipedia rabbit holes. Easy to fall down, difficult to trace back.

[2] 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.

(Song recommendation by E. Kristin Anderson)