Koty Recommends: “It’s A Wonderful Life” by Sparklehorse

It’s that time of summer where the warmth of the season is still here but you know it’s not going to last much longer. The days have already begun to get shorter, the nighttime air has become a little sharper, and something about it has you a bit wistful about it all.

I always know summer’s hit a turning point when I’m listening to Sparklehorse and feeling sad yet hopeful at the same time. Sweet melancholy in full bloom.

“It’s A Wonderful Life” is full embodiment of that exact feeling. It’s the kind of song I want to listen to on a warm day while lying on a blanket in the grass underneath an oak tree noticing the way the sunlight is filtering through the leaves of the trees.

What is it about noticing the complexities of life and the world around us that can make us feel so whole yet lonely at the same time? The only thing better than these small experiences of reflection that come and go is finding someone who understands exactly what these moments are like.

Songwriter Mark Linkous was famous for capturing them in the dreamlike, fragile, lo-fi/high-fi landscape of sounds of Sparklehorse.

Here’s to the dark and beautiful shades of life and all the potential this season still has to bring.

(Song recommendation by Koty Neelis)

Kristin Recommends: “Guttermouth” by Bree Sharp

When you hear the name Bree Sharp, you might remember her catchy 1999 ode to David Duchovny, replete with references to Area 51 and a promise to remove Scully from the equation, so to speak. Of course I love this song — and her whole debut album — but the quintessential Bree Sharp song has to be “Guttermouth.”

This song speaks to my own lady rage — it’s a way-too relevant anthem for those of us here in 2018 using, let’s say, a strong vocabulary to address our audiences. I don’t know how I became the poet who throws around the C-word and fights for more F-bombs in her essays, but here I am. It seems I’ve become increasingly impolite in my dealings with the world — which seems appropriate considering that impolite hardly describes the trash fire burning outside my window. And, as is illustrated in “Guttermouth,” it’s especially hot out there for women and femmes. I can’t help but love a song that, in the face of violence and oppression, celebrates shirking politeness in favor of beautiful, girlish profanity.

Every line in “Guttermouth” is strengthened by poetic ingenuity and tongue-twisters — the sort of lyrics that reveal a new cleverness every time you listen. The song is both sugar rush and bitter, spitting truth with hooky guitar and a voice shivering halfway into a sneer. Bree Sharp is the singer-songwriter you’d find somewhere between the sweetness of Lisa Loeb and the righteousness of Tracy Bonham with a mouth “full of asterisks” that won’t be fixed as she lays down her cultural critiques. And I am 100% here for it.

While I’m consistently surprised that Bree Sharp doesn’t have twice as many albums as she does, and that she didn’t quite achieve that household name status that we saw for other 90s alternative girls like PJ Harvey and Fiona Apple, what we do have from Ms. Sharp is 1. a fun reminder that not much has, in fact, changed since 1999 and 2. continued permission to keep our mouths perfectly dirty. Most of all, she leaves me with this sentiment: Anyone uncomfortable with a girl making that hairpin turn out of the ladylike lane and into the demolition derby needs to get the fuck out of her way immediately.

Lisa Recommends: “The Funeral” by Band of Horses

If you ever watch ghost hunting shows like I do, you know the hunters will often place a recorder in a room and try to coax whatever is haunting the place to make some noise. Sometimes, they’ll even ask questions like “is anyone here?” Later, they’ll replay the tape and there will be some sinister sounding voice whispering “yeeeessssssss,” or a door slamming in the distance. I always wondered why they never tried to capture a ghost singing. And I wondered what that would sound like.

I think it would sound a lot like “The Funeral” by Band of Horses. It’s not all about the title, either. This song is truly haunting. Ben Bridwell’s beautiful, melancholy voice is like a startling, unexplained chill in the room. And the music will raise every hair on the back of your neck, like the whisper of someone, or something unseen. I have the song on my favorite Pandora station, and every time I hear those first few notes, I stop whatever I’m doing and sit down because a sudden heaviness comes over me.

And what would ghosts sing about?

I’m coming up only to show you down, for
I’m coming up only to show you wrong
To the outside the dead leaves, they’re on the lawn
Before they died, they had trees to hang their hope

It’s a mournful poem.

I read an article which said the song really isn’t as deep as it seems. That it’s actually about Ben Bridwell’s social anxiety. But I think he hit on something there. The irony that as humans, and maybe even as ghosts, we are social creatures by nature. We need other people. We need to reach out and we need others to reach out to us. We need to be held, heard, loved, remembered. At the same time, people can hurt us. Being around people can hurt us. Especially on so called “special occasions” when the pressure and expectations can be overwhelming. Those occasions when we just want to die, become ghosts, and fade into the dark corners.

At every occasion, I’ll be ready for the funeral

(Song recommendation by Lisa L. Weber)

Ethan Recommends: “Curious Hands” by Kuinka

The first time I heard “Curious Hands,” I had no idea how to process it.

I had first fallen for Kuinka in their earlier branding as Rabbit Wilde, the name under which they’d released two LPs of infectious bluegrass-inflected folk very much in the mold of Mumford & Sons and The Lumineers. I quickly wore out those albums, and so when the band announced a new EP, I could not have been readier for more of the same.

Instead, I got something completely different. From the opening moments that blend strings with eerie percussive synths, the band now known as Kuinka charted themselves a brand-new path, shaking off comparisons to the Lumineers in favor of being comparable to nobody but themselves.

Wait, I thought, I liked what they were doing before! What is THIS? But as the song took root in me and demanded I listen to it again, and then again, and then non-stop for days, it quickly fell into a pantheon with so many of my favorite works of art, the ones that had to teach me how to experience them because they were playing by rules I’d never encountered.

Sometime within the past five years or so, the general public seemed to lose their taste for pop-folk, a precipitous market shift that left Mumford & Sons scrambling to change their sound so thoroughly (and unsuccessfully) that they inadvertently made it seem like they might have never had a particularly strong aesthetic core.

What Kuinka did with “Curious Hands,” and the rest of the Stay Up Late EP, is not so much change as evolve. Though the sonic palette is new, this is unmistakably the same band expanding their horizons. It’s a song that continues to unfold and reveal itself with every spin, a soaring and complex anthem that ends with a sudden shift into a refrain you can’t help but shout along to. There’s something so infectious about the moment that both band and audience realize what they’re capable of and take that leap. With “Curious Hands,” and their first national tour (I will never forgive myself for missing their recent stop in Boston), Kuinka has decisively announced themselves as one of the most exciting bands of their generation.

(Song recommendation by Ethan Warren)

Kristin Recommends: “Anything, Anything” by Dramarama

I’m still trying to figure out how I made it to 2006 without hearing “Anything, Anything” by Dramarama.

I first heard this song on a dead and buried TV singing competition performed not by Dramarama but by Storm Large. She’s wonderful and I’d love to possess a full-length recording of her version. Alas, it does not exist.

However, the original does. It wasn’t long before I found it, downloaded it, and fell in lust. It is everything (everything) I expected from the eighties post-punk I signed up for. In my twenties. In the early oughts. You know, right on time.

This song is a raging fever. Like a 103˚ and you’d better get thee to an ER kind of fever. A past ten on the arbitrary pain scale fever. Maybe this fever is the reason John Easdale offers his beloved pills in his song. But I’m guessing it’s not. I mean, the eighties.

“Anything, Anything” is a frightened promise. A promise of candy, diamonds, the aforementioned pills, and benjamins. A promise of devotion that can only come out of your mouth once your partner has told you they’re kind of bored with you. Or kind of mad at you. Or maybe they’re doing that whole “I cheated and you don’t deserve me anyway you’re better off” thing and you still want them because you’re completely codependent. You know that thing I hate that thing.

Not that that’s ever happened to me.

This song is distortion and rhythm and begging and fear and weird romance. It’s a little bit of The Replacements and a little bit of Berlin and a little bit of Sonic Youth. There’s a wild simplicity to this panicked ode. And I’m not gonna lie — if someone sang me “Anything, Anything,” I’d probably stick around. Maybe. Easdale says he doesn’t play. I believe him.

(Song recommendation by E. Kristin Anderson)

Sarah Recommends: “Loving the Alien” by David Bowie

“And your prayers, they break the sky in two…”

I think of all of the things that I did the day after he died. I didn’t want to believe the text that was sent to me in the middle of the night, saying “David Bowie died;” I wanted it to be a mistake. But it wasn’t, and that restless urge or need to create carried him until the end.

I played this song two or three times that day, crying at one point (or maybe crying when I played “Absolute Beginners,” one of his most beautiful songs.) I remembered how I had first seen him in the video for “Let’s Dance;” I had no idea who he was, only that he was there, cool, unflappable, creating a new way for me to escape.

In March, I had the opportunity to see David Bowie Is…in its last stop at the Brooklyn Museum, and it was there that I finally understood, amidst the costumes and shifting identities and his voice coming to me through earphones that were provided for the museum, that he was not a myth. He saved fan art that people sent him. He didn’t achieve instant fame with his earliest efforts. He was his own art project, always pushing forward.

I can listen to him at any time now; that voice is a finger tap away on my phone or my laptop. I could do that before he died, too, but knowing that he was still alive comforted me somehow. It isn’t the same, now that he’s gone.

But I console myself, saying that his art was the prayer that ripped the sky open. I have to believe that.

(Song recommendation by Sarah Nichols)

Cory Recommends: “Can’t Stay With You Baby” by Jimi Tenor

I used to dance.

Was a regular on the floor.

Had signature moves.

Even a song the DJ used to play when I walked in.

Yeah, it’s hard even for me to believe it anymore.

***

You say it’s sad how my hips and shoulders demure even at weddings when the floor is open to any fool or lover. You’ll swear you saw a head nod, some sympathetic emotional resonance with the woofers, in the corner of your eye to a certain beat. But maybe it was just the lights and the open bar.

***

You never ask why I stopped. I never plan to explain.

We wash the dishes in peace and quiet, a split level in the suburbs, cats, kids.

***

Sometimes on the commute, a waking dream takes the wheel…

A warm evening.

The sun soon to tumble into setting and the city lights waiting for their chance to shine.

Car windows down but without the traffic noise.

Bassline thump thumping in the back seat.

I find a cab to drive me downtown.

(Song recommendation by Cory Funk)

Hawa Recommends: “Light Years” by Jamiroquai 

By definition, a light year is about 5.9 trillion miles away — an unfathomable unit of length to anyone who is not an astronomer or a physicist. We mere mortals who use the term colloquially tend to think of a “light year” as a unit of time. Like, it would take light years for X, Y, or Z to actually happen—that is, a very, very, very, very long time. I don’t have a dog in this fight, but want to add yet another dimension to this space-time confusion: given the speed of light, is a light year really that far away, or that long?

Everything being relative, if you travel at the speed of light — going very, very, very, very fast to get very, very, very, very far — then distance and duration aren’t so daunting. Yet, everything being relative, we mere mortals — as compared to light —are so very, very, very, very slow, slothful and itinerant as we plod toward each of our ultimate destinations. Perhaps this is why a “light year” is often used to refer to how long it would take to reach some long-desired goal, or to how far away some hope of a glimmer seems as we tunnel through life.

The song “Light Years,” by Jamiroquai, captures this human dilemma.

It can take a life time to be
How you wanna be.

The song is from The Return of the Space Cowboy, whose album cover features the group’s signature logo — a silhouette of a lean, bellbottomed figure with a large buffalo lodge hat on its tilted head — against a cratered moonscape. The acid jazz band is led by Jay Kay, (a Stevie-Wonder sounding British dude who sings soul/funk jams accompanied by the occasional didgeridoo).

You can be light years
Away from serious intention

And I thought I knew it all . . . 

Someday
I’d get to turn mankind
This way

And Jay Kay sings these lyrics above a funky yet plodding background; you can hear the labor of the piano, the bass, the beat. But then, as if the sun suddenly comes out, we hit the smoother, more melodic hook.

Now I got that sunshine in my life

Hell yeah, light years away from
Where I wanted to be . . . but

Now I got that sunshine in my life 

It’s like Jay kind of jumps, at the speed of light, from one state of being to another — from frustration and drudgery and complaint into lightness, freedom and joy. I listen to this song in all moods, amid all of life’s vicissitudes. A reminder of how lightening quick things can change. For better and for worse.

(Song recommendation by Hawa Allan)

Ethan Recommends: “This Is the End” by the Ghost of Paul Revere

Can we agree the summer of 2018 has been a rough one for America?

As of this writing, the past few weeks have been dominated by horrors including, but in no way limited to, stories of the US government caging children, and dire speculation on the future of the Supreme Court. Once you start contemplating the implications, it can be hard to keep despair at bay. I was having a lot of trouble keeping it at bay recently when I decided to let Jesus Christ take over.

That’s how a college friend used to refer to hitting “shuffle” on your music app, and when I let Jesus Christ take over that day, the first thing that shuffled up was “This Is the End” by the Ghost of Paul Revere.

The band bills themselves as “holler folk,” and the power of this apocalyptic anthem lies in that first word. This is a song about things being as bad as they’ve ever been, and on the verge of getting worse; when the group howls, “This ship is sinking, pass the whiskey,” there’s no room for hope beyond the brief pleasure of a good buzz. But by the time I finished my third compulsive and awestruck re-listen, I felt a welcome feeling overtake me — if not hope, then at least a moment’s serenity.

A good song can salve an emotional wound like no other art form can. A powerful work of prose can give you something to contemplate, but a good song gives you space to channel all your sorrow into aesthetic catharsis. For almost a week now, any time I feel the creeping despair, I crank “This Is the End” on my home speakers so that when the group collectively roars, “I’M NOT OK!” I can stand in the middle of the kitchen, scream it so loud my throat burns, and feel solidarity long enough to keep from reaching for the whiskey myself.

As it happens, Paul Revere was my great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather, and while I constantly see my ancestor’s name held up as a symbol, it’s virtually always in the service of something I find revolting — say, Rush Limbaugh’s ‘Rush Revere’ novels and accompanying (I shudder just typing this) ‘Two if By Tea’ beverage line. But if that self-described “bunch of hooligans” from Maine happen to read this: your exquisitely hopeless song gets my personal seal of approval for appropriating my founding great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather’s name.

(Song recommendation by Ethan Warren)

Memoir Mixtapes Vol.5, B-Sides – Track 05

Miss World, 2003  by Federica Silvi

Read this piece by clicking on the album cover below.

About the author:

Federica Silvi grew up all over the place, but mostly in Italy; she now lives in London, where she works a 9-5 and scribbles eternally unfinished drafts on the Central Line at peak times. She has collaborated with an Italian online literary magazine as writer and editor, received a Pushcart nomination for one of her stories in English, and published work on SaloméA Catalogue of Failure, Dear Damsels and more. Find her on Twitter as @edgwareviabank (reading suggestions, cat pictures and cake recipes always welcome).