K Recommends: “The Enchanter” by Budos Band

Instrumentals are not my most favorite thing, or so I said before really listening to jazz and hearing more recent artists like Dirty Three, The Olympians, a lot of post-rock groups and surf rockers, and Budos Band. What used to feel like an occasional novelty on a popular artist’s album — that one quirky instrumental song tucked inside, at the end or as a hidden track on CDs — has evolved and allowed my appreciation for instrumental music to take a turn for the better once I was introduced to bands who were fascinating in instrumental form. No longer resembling Muzak or meditation background, modern artists specializing in instrumentals gave me a huge appreciation of drums, guitars, bass, brass, synthesizers, and so many more noisemakers!

I got into Budos Band when a coworker recommended their first, self-titled album, back in 2005. That lively and spirited debut felt fresh and transcendent; a most fulfilling introduction into instrumental music for me that wasn’t in the indie or post-rock sections. Their sound was indescribable in few words but stretched across lots of genre territory.

Several albums and nearly 15 years later, their 2019 album, “V,” has a darker bent to the music. “The Enchanter” is just one of the tracks that doles out a bit of snarl. The drums get increasingly louder and almost match their signature horn stylings! There is a brooding rock feel with wicked organ and guitar break-outs! They still know how to roll with added funk grooves and danceable shakedowns! But there’s a sly 60s and 70s psychedelic element permeating this song and album a bit more.

Budos Band go deep and moody on guitars here and the horns seem to have grown horns to get to the fiery, growling niches in this song. Every album expands on their unique, core funky sound and just grows bolder in time! Listen to anything they’ve done!!!

(Song recommendation by K Weber)

Seigar recommends “About Work The Dancefloor” by Georgia

Green Georgia ready for success

Georgia released her debut album in 2015, and she made some noise, but maybe not as much she expected and deserved. If all the tracks on that record had been as good as the first four songs, perhaps everybody would know her by now. However, the daughter of Leftfield cofounder Neil Barnes has this second chance to gain that notoriety. Every list of the best songs of 2019 included the song I’m bringing you today. “About Work The Dancefloor is a disco party anthem with retro 80s synthesizers and hedonistic lyrics.

’Cause I don’t have much in terms of money now
I don’t have material gifts for you
You want me to stay a while, stay a while
To be in a moment with you
I was just thinking about work the dancefloor
I was just thinking about work the dancefloor
I was just thinking about work the dancefloor
I was just thinking about work the dancefloor

This singer, songwriter, composer, and drummer has focused on the nostalgia for the dancefloor in her new album Seeking Thrills, the first one to watch this year! In fact, Georgia told an interviewer: “I made this song after a weekend in Berlin entirely dancing in a few clubs and I realised how important the dancefloor is to people to give them a certain relief from their everyday activities.”

The video is a stunning production, visually connecting to the 80s and early 90s aesthetics and imagery. Her crazy fairy tale matches the visuals of Stranger Things, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and her catchy tunes and way of singing remind us of Robyn. The Swedish singer may be a strong influence in the sound of Georgia’s new album.

Enjoy the song and the video, and do yourself a favour: listen to Seeking Thrills first. This is one to include in the best of 2020 for sure.

(Song recommendation by Seigar)

Sam Recommends: a medley of my top 10 Drake tracks of the 2010s 

If you’re anything like me, then you spend each November eagerly anticipating Spotify’s custom Wrapped playlists that conveniently compile your top-listened tracks from the year. This year, Spotify users got an additional surprise in their end-of-the-year roundup: their artist of the decade. While this feature might not be as fully-baked for newer Spotify users, I’ve been using the service since 2011, so they have PLENTY of data on my listening habits. Still, I was a bit surprised to learn that my artist of the decade was Drake. But with just a moments worth of reflection, I could admit it was true. I listened to a lot of Drake over the past 8 years, and while he’s definitely exhibited some problematic behavior in more recent years (texting young actresses, collaborating with Chris Brown), I can’t say I haven’t enjoyed many of his songs immensely.

That said, I definitely vibed with certain albums much more than others. Without further ado, here are my top 10 Drake songs of the decade:

10. “Shot For Me” (from 2011’s Take Care)

I still remember listening to this track on repeat in my first apartment. This song is a ruthless revenge track aimed at an ex. Whether or not it’s based on a real breakup, I’m not sure. But the message is clear. “Fuck you. You fucked up when you let me go, and I know you know it. LOL!” The assumption is that this ex is struggling with this realization, and using excessive amounts of alcohol to get through the pain (like you do…). Which makes the refrain & title, “take a shot for me,” so very savage. And if you relate more to Drake than to the ex in this story, then it is also so very satisfying.

9. “Childs Play” (from 2016’s Views)

This track is about Drake’s ambivalence toward a somewhat tumultuous romantic relationship. On one hand, this chick has assets, and knows what to do with them in bed. On the other hand, she doesn’t know how to act. Driving to CVS to buy kotex in his Bugatti…asking about past flings…acting up at the family-friendly Cheesecake Factory (even though she knows he loves to go there!) For now, it sounds like he’s willing to keep treating her better than she deserves (thanks to the impeccable child-rearing of Drake’s mama), especially since the only real effort required on Drake’s part is to take her to the mall and buy her a new outfit. It’s almost too easy…

8. “Hotline Bling” (from 2016’s Views)

My journey with “Hotline Bling” was full of twists and turns. My first experience with it was watching the music video when it started trending on Twitter. It was hilarious. Drake’s wholesome sweaters. Colorful yet minimalist set. That now-iconic dancing. I loved it right away, but in an ironic way. The love wasn’t really aimed at the song, but all of the memes it produced. But, with each listen, I grew to love the song and the lyrics. It’s another example of Drake’s talents in storytelling. I always seem to get lost in my thoughts when listening to this song, thinking about past relationships, and how radically people we thought we knew so well can change with just a little bit of time and distance.

7. “Hold On, We’re Going Home” (from 2013’s Nothing Was The Same)

From an objective standpoint, this might be Drake’s best song ever. It’s got everything you expect from a Drake track: a strong backbeat, an addictive rhythm, emotionally-honest lyrics, and a sticky, repetitive hook that’s fun to sing along to. But it also has a certain X factor that makes it stand out — at least to me — as a more sophisticated version of a standard Drake confessional track. It’s got a meditative quality to it; I find it beautiful and calming, especially on a long drive.

6. “Crew Love” (from 2011’s Take Care)

One of the main reasons I love this song so much is because it is the track that introduced me to The Weeknd. And while I don’t think any of The Weeknd’s later releases have ever met the bar set by Trilogy, I will always love that album, and will always be grateful to have found it when I did. That said, I do love “Crew Love,” and not just because it is a fun song to listen to when inebriated and want to pretend you are at a fun club with flashing lights.

5. “Feel No Ways” (from 2016’s Views)

If you’ve ever had a relationship or friendship go wrong, then you know that such an experience is painful enough on its own. But if you’ve ever had things go south with someone particularly toxic, then you know that the pain can be amplified times infinity when that person goes out of their way to be petty and twist that knife. This song provides a bit of catharsis for anyone whose had to cut toxic people out of their life in favor of their own growth, happiness, and/or sanity.

4. “Passionfruit” (from 2017’s More Life)

Ah, another track about a toxic relationship. However, in this case, the toxicity isn’t coming from either of the parties involved as much as it can be attributed to the circumstances surrounding the relationship. Neither person is to blame for the failure of this love story. There’s still plenty of love and passion here, but that doesn’t change the fact that the relationship is failing, and it’s probably time to call it. Or at least time to press pause to prevent any further tension and animosity. Maybe they’ll have better luck when the situation is more amenable to their connection. I haven’t personally experienced a love story like this, but I have a feeling it’s a pretty common one, which is probably why this song resonates with so many people. In fact, both Haley Williams (of Paramore) and Benny Sings have covered this track.

3. “Blem” (from 2017’s More Life)

When I first heard this track, I had no idea what “blem” meant, but I used context clues to figure it out. A quick Google search confirmed my assessment: blem = wasted. In this track, Drake’s letting the addressee (potential love interest) know that he’s so fucked up that, for once, he might just tell her how he really feels. Similar to “Shot for Me,” I’m impressed by how Drake can build a song on top of such a simple concept (alcohol = truth serum), but find a way to twist it on its head to bring more nuance and emotion to the story.

2. “Cameras” (from 2011’s Take Care)

So, technically, this song appears as one half of a track, “Cameras/ Good Ones Go”. And while I don’t have anything against the second half, “Cameras” is the song that turned me into a Drake fan. This song serves as a love letter reassuring the addressee that, despite what she’s reading and seeing in the tabloids, she can trust him. And while he’s being photographed with other high profile celebrities, she has his heart. Whether or not Drake is to be taken at his word is hard to say, but he sounds genuine, and I’ve always found the song romantic and sexy. The music has a dark seductive quality, and the background vocals are utterly delicious. 😋

1. “Controlla” (from 2016’s Views)

I always have been and always will be a sucker for a sexy track. And in my personal opinion, this is Drake’s sexiest song. The innuendo/metaphor at the center of the lyrics isn’t anything we haven’t heard before. I’m often reminded of “I’m Your Puppet” by James & Bobby Purify when I listen to “Controlla”, for example. Though I will admit that this track is 100% raunchier and 100% less wholesome. Regardless, who doesn’t want to hear their lover say “I’m here to do whatever you want, exactly the way you want it”? Obviously, it’s a sentiment that withstands the test of time.

And here’s the playlist:

(Song recommendation by Samantha Lamph/Len)

K Recommends: “Happy New Year” by Lightnin’ Hopkins

This is my kind of song as the new year rushes in and spins us extra-fast into a new decade. Bluesy, a bit moody, but with just a little bop and bounce, this song’s not focused on resolutions or a hurry to reinvent one’s self.

This track has that laidback feel I wish I could carry with me more often. Lyrics like “Happy New Year. It ain’t gonna worry me to death!” feel so good. Years blow by with so much excitement but also dread and drama… why not just live each day without piling on overwhelming and fantastical goals? This is a call to return to ease and living in the moment.

“Happy New Year” throws in a clever reference to the end of the previous year: “Don’t think about Christmas ‘cos Christmas just done left.” It’s a light-hearted nod that personifies the holiday as though it was a lover who jilted us. A true blues ode to a fresh new year!

The instrumental breakdown at the end is free and fun with a real boogie-down dance beat. But, true to classic blues form, Hopkins ends the song with a wolf’s howl of “OHHHH NEW YEAR” and the mention of having no one special in his life.

Ah, my kinda note to begin 2020… welcoming each day as it comes but carrying just enough heartache and good music to remind me I’m real.

HAPPY NEW YEAR, FRIENDS! It ain’t gonna worry me to death!

(Song recommendation by K Weber)

Nels Recommends: “Sun Don’t Shine” by Klangkarussell feat. Jaymes Young

Cover Art for Klangkarussell’s “Sun Don’t Shine” featuring Jaymes Young

You have love in places I can’t describe. I need you.

Every widow has a visceral metaphor to describe the psychological traumas of our loss. Perhaps it’s as simple as our hearts being ripped from our chests or good, solid punches in the gut. For me, it was like every bit of skin had been burned off my body in an instant, the entire remaining surface just nerves and blood vessels, nothing but pulsations and a constant wail of sensations that never wavered and became its own numbness. I spent more than a few months on the couch, smoking pot, watching Bravo, and eating one organic chicken pot pie per day just so I could tell anyone who asked I was eating.

And I listened to this song on repeat. Spotify reminded me when they released my end-of-decade statistics. This was my top song of 2016. Gary, my husband, was alive for the first half of the year. For the other half, he was not.

I just want to let you know I love you. Don’t ever let go.

I don’t remember finding the song. This is actually the third version of it, the first having been released by Austrian EDM duo Klangkarussel on Soundcloud in 2011. The second, released in 2013, featured vocals by British singer Will Heard, a livelier, funkier version that feels like watching a breaking sunrise after an all-night rave in the 1990s. The version that vibrates most in my mind is this third one, released in 2015 with vocals by American Jaymes Young.

It’s icy. It’s harder. It throbs just like the exposed sinews of what remained of my body, my mind an insensate scream mirroring the song’s synthetic undulations. I welcomed the song not for making me feel better but for encasing me in its echoes, helping to shield me from a world that continued to rush even though Gary, and I, had been stilled.

The sun don’t shine without you. No, no, no.

(Song recommendation by Nels P. Highberg)

 

Ditty Recommends: “The Next Right Thing” by Kristen Bell, from Frozen 2

Like every other parent with a young daughter, I went to see Frozen 2 at the end of last year. Perhaps not like every other parent, I also went to an opening night showing with my fellow adult sister, sans kids. We grew up on Disney, and we both have a special love for the Frozen franchise.

What we didn’t know then was how Anna’s lament, and the way she talks herself into taking one little bit of action at a time to move forward in the face of great devastation, would take us through the first through days and weeks of 2020.

My dad passed away very suddenly on the morning of Jan. 1. There were no signposts, there were no clues, there were no hints whatsoever for any of us that this was coming. As soon as I ended the call from my mom, delivering the news, I dropped to the floor and screamed, as if someone had physically gutted me. So if you’ve ever wondered if people really do that sort of thing like they do in the movies or on TV, apparently they do.

So when Anna sings, “I’ve seen dark before, but not like this. This is cold, this is empty, this is numb. The life I knew is over, the lights are out…” I get it.

My family started visiting the Disney parks when I was barely more than a toddler. I have film-strip memories of meeting Prince Charming and Snow White when I was barely old enough to remember. I’m sure seeing the magic in my eyes then was a big part of the reason why my parents took us repeatedly over the years, enough times that I long ago lost count. It’s why we were planning another trip together later this year. I grew up on Disney magic, and a big part of that was my dad.

But my dad didn’t just deliver grand gestures like Disney trips either. He was a constant presence, not just for me, but for dozens of girls over the years, thanks to his devotion to coaching youth soccer. He was at every practice, every game, despite working a corporate job at a high level. When he retired in 2013, it was as a vice president, and I remember person after person after person getting up at his retirement party, talking about what a wonderful manager he’d been, how he’d taught them so much, how he’d mentored them, how he’d cared and encouraged and been a light in so many lives. How they’d been made better because of him. So it wasn’t just us, I’d thought.

So again, when Anna sings, “I follow you around, I always have, but you’ve gone to a place I cannot find. This grief has a gravity, it pulls me down…” Again, I get it.

Eventually you run out of air and energy and have to stop screaming, it turns out. And that’s the moment when you have to decide what the hell it is you’re supposed to do next. What is you can do next. So maybe it’s silly, at the age of 37, to admit, but I heard Anna’s voice then too, the same way she convinced herself to rise from the floor.

“Just do the next right thing. Take a step, step again. It’s all that I can do. The next right thing.”

It’s her refrain that I hear when I get to a moment and don’t know what or how to move forward. I find the next thing that seems right, and I do it. I grab a note pad. I make a list. I cry. I find account numbers. I make a spreadsheet. I cry. I cancel things. I erase plans. I undo intentions. I cry. Because nothing feels right, not the way it used to. But then again…

“…A tiny voice whispers in my mind, ‘You are lost, hope is gone, but you must go on and do the next right thing.’”

So I get it. I can’t do this, but I do it anyway. For my mom. For my sisters. (And them for me too.) And for my dad, because he always did. And because it’s the next right thing.

(Song recommendation by Elizabeth Ditty)

Monique Recommends: “Make It Real” by The Jets

Via MCA Records

In the stories I’ve written this winter, I’ve been writing the kind of men I want to exist in real life, the kind that don’t exist in my memory.

My earliest memories take place in 1987, the year that “Make It Real” was recorded by The Jets, a family of brown sisters and brothers with rich low voices like honey. I was four years old then. The song makes me gauge what love has become for me, from the time I was a tiny girl until now. I grew up in a brick house, raised by the women in my family: my mother and my aunt and my grandmother. While they hung sheets out to dry on the clothesline, a radio played from the kitchen window. “Make it Real” was my favorite song to hear. That is how I grew up — on radio and fairy tales and Aqua Net, on wishing for a Prince Charming that would never make it on time for me.

“Make it Real” is about the dreamscape of yearning. It talks about love that’s not reciprocated, about separation and loss. It’s about playing pretend.

 When I’m separated from someone I cared about, dead or living, they begin to fall away from my memory. I stop trying to remember what they look like and I forget the sound of their voice. This is how I know that I’m healing, that I’m putting myself back together from love. I can only remember them when I dream about them.

When I was a girl, I dared dream of reciprocal love, when my mind and my body had a greater capacity for forgiving. The men I love will always fall short of reciprocity. They will never be real to me. There is only the hushed part of them, the hoping for the return of the good parts of them. The parts that are transient like synthetic beats.

 Only the women I love are real to me. Every time I hear “Make it Real”, I think of my grandmother tugging a rat-tail comb through my tangled hair and the glow of my aunt’s cherry rollerball lip gloss, and always, my mother’s perfume, powdery, sweet, alive and not ghostlike.

(Song recommendation by Monique Quintana)

Iris Recommends: “Entitlement Crew” by The Hold Steady

More often than not, Katie Darby Mullins’s recommendations on Twitter lead me to new songs that feel like old friends I’ve had at my side since the beginning of time. Case in point: an appreciation thread for The Hold Steady’s Thrashing Thru the Passion, which brought me to “Entitlement Crew” a couple of months ago. No prizes for guessing why someone who’s always felt like a square peg in a round hole would be drawn towards that title.

“Entitlement Crew” reads like a perfectly formed flash fiction piece, set in the four-walled universe of a house party. In the living room are the people who sing, dance, brag and bray their way to a good time; in the kitchen are the drunks and the losers and the one-night conspirators, hanging out among empty bottles and torn bags of chips, exchanging secrets they’ll have all but forgotten the next day. There’s the hint of a possibility, a connection, a spark that fades too quickly: two systems in the dark and people dancing, just like two parallel lines never ever meet, and two intersecting lines only cross once, usually too briefly to move past the awkwardness of an unflattering first impression. And there’s the Entitlement Crew, fabulous and fashionably late, to remind you that whatever you’re hoping might happen is never going to come your way (or if it does, it will never be the grand, fateful moment you made up in your head).

I’ve known my share of Entitlement Crews. I’ve met them at lectures, outside of bars where I was the only one not smoking, at the clubs my friends talked me into dressing up for (whatever the “little money and no dress sense” version of it was in the mid-2000s). I used to know who was a handshake person, who was a hug person, and who would insist to kiss everyone on both cheeks. I accepted their sugar-coated and back-handed compliments with smiles that felt stuck to my face with Sellotape, but never learnt to laugh at jokes that weren’t funny, not even then.

A decade later, it’s no surprise that very few of the friends I downed tequila shots with at parties are people I’d still call to go out for a coffee. The Entitlement Crews of my youth revelled in their pack mentality, their safety in numbers, the confidence they seemed to have acquired as a birthright. I, on the other hand, only hoped to cut through the noise and find someone like me: another person who was never taught how to keep up the act; who spent every waking hour in the company of a sinking feeling; who knew deep down that everything is brittle and is breaking apart but wasn’t quite sure who else they could tell.

Every verse in “Entitlement Crew” holds a tiny truth, and some of them break my heart on behalf of the person I used to be. The strongest feeling I get when I Iisten to it, though, is gratitude. Here’s a song that captures what it’s like to cut your path through life on your own and at an unsteady pace, with better words than I could ever hope to find.

(Song recommendation by Federica S.)

Andrew Recommends: “Me and Your Mama” by Childish Gambino

Flashback to November 10th, 2016.

When “Me and Your Mama” was first released as a single, I was still in shock from what had happened two days earlier, but I wanted to keep moving forward. I was looking for things to listen to, and a new Childish Gambino single seemed like the best option.

The keys in the opening of the song calmed me down, and the whole intro lulled me into a false sense of security. The transition into the first “chorus” hit me like a ton of bricks, and I didn’t believe that it was Childish Gambino singing until the very end of this middle section. At the ending, I was at a loss. I had chills. For something so calming to switch to something so aggressive to give way to something so peaceful that quickly and that smoothly, there was no other response.

Bring it back to the present. This song still has the same effect on me. Despite hundreds of life changes, despite the passage of time, despite a slight shift in music taste, this song still hits me the same. I know what to expect from the intro, sure, but the ending still gives me chills. There’s something in the music that gets me every time.

Maybe it’s the tone shift. Maybe it’s the bass line. Maybe it’s the guitar and the keys. Maybe it’s the effects on the drums. Maybe it’s the synth line towards the very end. Maybe it’s a lot of things.

Or maybe it’s because, despite all the life changes, I’m still a very similar person inside to when this song was released. I’m not saying people can’t, or don’t, change. I’m not saying a culture can’t shift. I’m just saying some things will always stay the same.

(Song recommendation by Andrew Gardner)

Andrew Recommends: “Jettin’” by Digable Planets

Sometimes it’s best to ignore the negativity and just groove.

That is much easier said than done in today’s climate, I am well aware. Cities are burning across the world, the earth is slowly dying, and the leaders of the “free world” want to strip away whatever rights they can to make sure we live subservient to them. There isn’t a free moment away from any of this information. Social media is constantly throwing new forms of propaganda in our faces, and it’s hard to differentiate fact from fiction.

Yet even with all of this going on, it’s important to remember to take time for ourselves and remember what makes us unique. It’s important to lay back and realize that while we have hit a point where a revolution is justified, taking care of our individual health is paramount. It took me a long time to realize this, since I’m so used to worrying about everyone before myself.

It might seem selfish to worry about yourself before others when all of this garbage is happening in the world. It might seem misguided of me to suggest that ignoring the rampant negativity and grooving is the way to keep sane in all of this madness. However, Digable Planets would agree with me here, it seems.

Towards the beginning of Blowout Comb, a far more “conscious” album than their first, there is “Jettin’.” It serves as a reminder, much like “Pacifics” on Reachin’, that sometimes it’s best to just cruise around your city and listen to some music, taking in the scenery and appreciating what life has put in front of you. Whether that cruising is in a car, on a train, on foot, on a bike, it doesn’t matter. Just get out and see what is going on in your city.

This song has cleared my head in ways no song has before, and I’m certain that when you hear the bass line, the vibes/keys, and the drums, it will clear your head, too. There’s nothing wrong with jettin’ around when life is getting you down. Digable Planets are here for you, too.

(Song recommendation by Andrew Gardner)