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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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Sam Recommends: “In My Life” by The Beatles

My sister is getting married tomorrow, and she has honored me with the title of Maid of Honor.

This means that I’ll be giving a speech tomorrow evening.

I’ve been thinking (panicking) about this speech for a full year now. More recently, I’ve been having nightmares that it’s the night before (or the night of) her wedding, and I still haven’t finished it!

The pressure is on, and the anxiety is real. Especially because she totally crushed her own M.O.H. speech at my wedding two years ago, and I want to hers to be just as special. Another very real concern is that I’ll break into ugly sobs before I can get through the first paragraph.

When I look back on my life, most of my happiest memories have been shared with her. Even more importantly, though, when I think back on the worst moments of my life, she’s been there too.

When I confided in her during the darkest time of my life, she was there to listen and support me. And then she sent me this song. Since then, I’ve never been able to listen to it without thinking of her, or without crying.

This one is for you, Emmers! Love you so much <3

(Song recommendation by Samantha Lamph/Len)

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Prewitt Recommends: “Wichita” by Scrunchies

Fast and loud and grungy, and punk af, “Wichita,” the lead single off Scrunchies’ debut LP Stunner, flashed across my Twitter timeline recently and I haven’t looked back.

With “Wichita,” the Minneapolis quartet manages to weave a sturdy yet manic web of Punk ’n’ Roll catharsis. The rasping distortion-laden guitars lay over thunderous timely drumming and driving basslines as the dynamic staccato vocal hook ensnares you, leaving one with no choice but to flail about, helplessly rockin’ out like a fly clinging to life.

Everything but the bass guitar drops at the 1:09 mark in the music video, impelling my forearm goosebumps to rise.

The ensuing build’s crescendo hits at the 1:42 mark, signaling the hounds of vocal harmony to release and gnaw at the core of your being.

While “Wichita” summons elements of D.C.’s finest post-punkers Priests, my elderliness brings me all the way back to 1993 and That Dog’s eponymous debut LP. Namely, it makes me think of my two favorite cuts off that record, “Old Timer” and “Zodiac.” I mean, c’mon, my mind’s eye can absolutely envision the Haden triplets approving of this fresh sound.

Recently released by Forged Artifacts Records on June 1st, this album has room to grow on me yet still!

And so it stands, now you too can be entombed alongside me on this silvery coarse weave known as Scrunchies.

(Song recommendation by Prewitt Scott-Jackson)

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Kristin Recommends: “17 Days” by Prince and the Revolution

It’s really hard for me to imagine Prince smoking a cigarette.

Maybe that’s just me putting Prince on a pedestal, but I cannot imagine Prince having two cigarettes on his person. Which he claims to in “17 Days.” I cannot imagine Prince having any cigarettes, but maybe, like me, he just likes the word cigarette, and how that word rolls off of his teeth, rather than tasting the nicotine on his tongue.

I have given this a lot of thought, clearly.

This song is the B-side to “When Doves Cry.” Perhaps it’s worth noting that B-sides used to be like Easter eggs for the truest of fans, the extra songs we cherish as if they could disappear. These days, iTunes is coming for all of our secrets. I see you, iTunes.

This song refuses to be lost. And given its maudlin A-side companion, it’s only right that “17 Days” be one of the saddest songs you’ll ever hear. Yes, he has two cigarettes, and he also has “this broken heart.” He calls his girl over and over, knowing that she’s not answering because she’s with another lover. The days of dialing bae’s phone number only to hear a stagnant dial tone are long past, but doesn’t that just add to the heavy-hearted vibe? This is an affair existing in a kind of lover’s limbo that could only be provided by a sort of Shroedinger’s voice-mailbox in 2018.

I digress.

What breaks my heart most about “17 Days” is that it has a beat. Like, a danceable beat. A struttable beat. A beat that says “I’m walking away from your bullshit and having a badass life without you.” Except the beat lies. The beat is hiding pain and heartache and a lack of additional cigarettes and you can imagine Prince lying in bed (purple sheets and pillows, obviously) reaching for a rotary phone on the nightstand, ready to dial again, steeped in melancholy.

Perhaps it’s worth noting that the first time I really, truly noticed this song, I was dancing my heart out. At a giant fucking party. Lonely and anxious as fuck. “17 Days” hurts so good, y’all. And years later, I still can’t imagine Prince smoking a cigarette. I have decided not to Google it. Nobody tell me if you remember a time Prince smoked a cigarette that I have willfully forgotten. He is too pure. Just go listen to this song. Unlike B-sides of yore, this one is available on iTunes. Download, turn out the lights, let the rain come down, and dance.

(Song recommendation by E. Kristin Anderson)

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Lucas Recommends: “Horsin’ Around” by Prefab Sprout

My usual pitch for “Horsin’ Around” to someone new to Prefab Sprout is something like: What if you could listen to a song that was part bossa nova, part Mario Kart soundtrack, part Twin Peaks, and part bombastic self-deprecation?

Now, I can’t say how many people actually get interested by such a description, but I know I’ll do an exaggerated and silly voice during the bridge while also belting out the chorus whenever it comes on if you decide to join.

“Horsin’ Around” is one of those special songs that exists in multitudes, that makes sonic reaches that sound strange on paper but excel in execution, that goes from the inherent silliness of a lyric like “Horsin’ around’s a serious business” to the guilt expressed over sudden horns in “I deserve to be kicked so badly.”

What is often inherent in the greatness of Prefab Sprout is their ability to strike such a balance — to somewhat paraphrase Lyn Hejinian in The Language of Inquiry — in appearing simultaneously wildly improvisational but also setting out with a clear intentionality. For a band to so smoothly transition between seemingly incongruent sections in a way that doesn’t distance the listener, Prefab Sprout here exemplify their genre label “sophisti-pop” in its best form: not exclusionary and elitist, but rather something that takes subtle risks while still being an absolute jam.

(Song recommendation by Lucas Bailor)

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Teo Recommends: “Latched” by Disclosure ft. Sam Smith

CW: recreational drug use, sexual coercion

I’ve been dating Jeff for three weeks now. In two weeks I won’t be.

It’s Spring in Chicago. The snow is almost gone, packed to ice on the berm of the sidewalks, dirty, but transparent. It seemed like any day in those five weeks that I was free — no work and no classes — I was in Jeff’s apartment. Most often we were naked.

I’d helped him pin sheets to his windows with pushpins to block out the growing light, sun moving toward solstice. Jeff is smoking. He smoked anything, but his favorite was Tina, crystal meth. I know now that had our relationship continued, it wouldn’t be long until I became addicted to meth in the same way I was addicted to him. I was already in love with the sensation of GHB, swirling, like a gelatinous fishbowl was around your head. It made sex fun, made orgies more fun, and Jeff loved drugged orgies more than anything else I could name. I thought that if I he included me in this, he loved me.

Jeff offers me a hit from the bowl, but I am still too afraid to try it. I figure I should only try one drug at a time. Instead, I get up from the couch, cross over to the suitcase of Jeff’s “toys” and pull out a wrestling singlet. I knew this was Jeff’s favorite, that seeing me in it would act as contrition for refusing his sacrament. During those weeks, Jeff was something of a saint, if not a god. Singlets and jockstraps became our vestments. Too often, I lay prostrate. The problem with love is that it lies so close to devotion. I was devoted and I was desperate for love and it was confusing.

Jeff points to his lap. I obey. He tells me I am a good boy. I feel the center of my mind shift from adult to something younger. Shame is easiest to ignore in the face of pleasure and intoxication. I know other men will soon join us here. These are other men that want to smoke meth and call me boy. These are men Jeff approves of and I have no say in. This is the pattern of my life now. I’m latched to him.

(Song recommendation by Teo Mungaray)

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