Neil Recommends: “Horses In My Dreams” by PJ Harvey

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.

Consider how maybe it’s some metaphor for life.

Hit repeat.

‘Like waves, like the sea.’

(Song recommendation by Neil Clark)

Ethan Recommends: “If I Lied” by Los Angeles Police Department

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.

Would I lie?

(Song recommendation by Ethan Warren)

Prewitt Recommends: “Nature Anthem” by Grandaddy

Looking for a reprieve from this hellscape of a turning ball???

No worries! Grandaddy’s “Nature Anthem” got you.

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.

Lie in the sun.

(Song recommendation by Prewitt Scott-Jackson)

Kristin Recommends: “Walking in Memphis” by Cher

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.

(Song recommendation by E. Kristin Anderson)

Kevin Recommends: “Summertime Magic” by Childish Gambino

Look, recommending a dancy hot bop like “Summertime Magic” feels weird to me right now, given the way things are rapidly accelerating into a regressed hellscape of backwards-ass hate-fueled thinking. It almost feels irresponsible to listen to lighter, poppier fare, and, as such, I’ve been skewing more toward angry, searing, political music. Doing so has made me even more grim than usual, though, (and I’m typically like Jon-Snow-staring-out-at-the-harsh-wilds-north-of-The-Wall levels of grim, so like, pretty fucking grim) and I think it’s starting to take its toll.

It’s important, for mental health reasons, to take breaks from the unending onslaught of 1984-esque insanity assailing us on a daily basis. You can’t fight forever without breaks, otherwise you got nothing left in the tank for the battles to come.

I’m pretty sure, after he put out the vital and important “This is America,” that this was exactly what Childish Gambino was going for when he dropped “Summertime Magic.” Music can rejuvenate us, and remind us of the good times. This is a vacation track—a quick breath of fresh air before facing the shitshow again.

No one can run at a sprint forever. Treat yourself to a break. You’ve earned it. Get back into the shit another day—for now, relax and recharge yourself.

(Song recommendation by Kevin D. Woodall)

Sarah Recommends: “Kingdom of Rain” by The The

“There’s no more blood
and no more pain
in our kingdom of rain”

The The’s Mindbomb has “Gravitate to Me” on it (which is one of the greatest erotic songs of the late twentieth century), but it also has “Kingdom of Rain,” which is one of the most devastating songs to chronicle the end of a relationship, like Elvis Costello’s “I Want You,” but with more. Matt Johnson and Sinead O’Connor are perfect together on this, each singing out their pain and their suspicions and the knowing that whatever there was is gone now.

I went through a particularly nasty break-up eight years ago. I holed up in my bedroom, staring at the wall above my desk, listening to songs on repeat until lyrics congealed and became background noise, and I wondered what I had done, but at the same time knowing that there was no point to that question. This was not going to be fixed. I reeled under the weight of being told “I love you” for almost five months, and then to have it mean so little. For a long time, I couldn’t see that we probably shouldn’t have been anywhere near each other to start with, and that an active alcoholic (him) and an active addict (me, in denial) together are a continuous chemical fire. He got sober about a month before he left, and I continued to look for things that would numb me to the world. I thought I wanted this all-consuming love, one with the possibility to destroy. Johnson’s and O’Connor’s voices strip down this myth: “And I would lie awake and wonder/’is it just me ? Or is this the way that love is supposed to be ?’”

I listened to this song once during that time. It was too real. It still is.

(Song recommendation by Sarah Nichols)

Ethan Recommends: “To the Dogs or Whoever” by Josh Ritter

In the first 45 seconds of “To the Dogs or Whoever,” Josh Ritter sings 162 words.

It’s an expressive flurry that’s wholly out of step with most folk rock— Josh counts the relaxed John Prine as one of his primary influences, but if anything, “To the Dogs or Whoever” reminds me more of a literate version of the free-associative nerd-spitting in Barenaked Ladies’ “One Week.”

It reminds me, too, of Bob Dylan’s “Ballad of a Thin Man,” another dense and freewheeling eruption of imagery, and you can pore over any Josh Ritter song with the same analytical eye. There’s less sense of frustration in that dissection, though, as you can sense a proper organizing structure, even if keeping up makes your head spin. In the space of three minutes, this song touches on Biblical tales from Jonah to Jesus, warriors from George Patton to Joan of Arc, and legends of bravado from Casey at the bat to daredevils pitching themselves over Niagara Falls, with all of it serving the tangled narrative of the singer’s pursuit of an abstract her.

It’s dizzying, and that’s not even to mention that this song is a stone-cold banger. I’ve seen Josh in concert so many times I’ve lost count (and he’s the type of performer who conveys such connection to his audience that it makes you want to call him by first name), and the band always plays this one with a hurtling recklessness that makes you think the house might literally collapse as players abandon their usual posts to rush to the drum kit and bash wildly on the cymbals.

Over the course of his career so far, Josh has assembled a singular vision of the American ur-narrative, a sprawling canon of imagery that includes silent film, the occult, water towers and Wurlitzers, the Mississippi steamboat trade, early 20th century Egyptomania, and, running through it all, the traumatic legacy of American military interventionism. That’s more ambition than most artists bother with in a lifetime, but across nine albums that have come along at a steady clip for the past two decades, Josh has always made it look easy. And he’s done it all before even reaching middle age, so with any luck, we’re only just beginning to learn the story of the world according to Josh Ritter.

(Song recommendation by Ethan Warren)

Kevin Recommends: “Only Shallow” by My Bloody Valentine

DUT-DUT-DUT-DUT VURRREEEEEEEEEEE WREEEEEEEWWWW VURRREEEEEEEEEEE WREEEEEEEWWWW 
SLEEEEEEEEEEEEP LIIIIIKE A PILLOOOOWWWW

When I was in high school there was a really cool, super smart, indie music-loving girl that I was crushing on in a bad way. I wanted nothing more than to take her out on a sweet date to Starbucks (lol), but there was a problem: she was wayyyy cooler than me. She had a downright intimidating knowledge of music. I needed to get up to her level. I needed to impress her by showing her that we liked the same bands. Doing so would surely demonstrate that I was cool enough to secure a date with her (lol us guys are so fucking dumb like why didn’t I just try talking to her like a normal human fucking being lol).

So one day, when I saw her wearing a My Bloody Valentine shirt she’d worn to school a few times, I decided that MBV would be my way in. I’d heard of them before, but I hadn’t listened to them. I’d have to check them out if I was going to impress her. With this plan in mind I went home and setup a download of what the internet told me was the best of their (at that point) two albums: Loveless. A few hours later, I sat down with my freshly burned “digitally acquired and free”* CD of Loveless, and settled in to begin cooling myself the fuck up.

I was not prepared for what awaited me.

All thoughts of said really cool, super smart, indie music-loving girl were evicted right out by the new sound that filled every available space in my brain. “Only Shallow” left me reeling, and elated, and confused. It was like I’d been kicked in the head. How could music sound so heavy and discordant and chaotic and anguished, but soft and dreamy and heartfelt and warm, all at the same time? I’m still not sure, but I think that’s why I keep coming back all these years later. I love how rich and complex Loveless is, and I often linger on the opener for at least three plays before moving on.

Come. Give yourself the aural equivalent of having the wind knocked out of you and get cool with “Only Shallow.”

*I have since purchased Loveless legitimately in at least two different formats so for the love of fuck don’t arrest me.

(Song recommendation by Kevin D. Woodall)

Kristin Recommends: “Like A River” by Kasey Chambers

I first heard Kasey Chambers in maybe 2000 when my boss at the record store I worked at popped a promo copy of her first album, projecting the singer’s signature nasal drawl through the store. I spent a lot of my teenage years on a steady diet of alternative rock sprinkled with a little this or that. And while I’d occasionally enjoyed a country song, I’d never heard anything like this. My boss told me that she was alternative country. We shelved Kasey in our new little bluegrass section, for lack of fit anywhere else. And this unfittingness excited me.

The thing about Kasey Chambers is that everyone I’ve ever played her for has either been instantly enchanted or instantly repelled. I remember sneaking one of her later albums into the CD player at a Borders where I worked in college and having a man approach me to 1. ask me who this was and 2. tell me to turn it off because it was hurting his ears. Other customers on that same day demanded that I sell them a copy immediately.

Her voice is quirky-sweet and her lyrics lean toward the kind of poetic vibe that is often attributed to Bob Dylan. Unlike the more conservative country singers of popular radio, Kasey Chambers — who hails not from Appalachia but South Australia — does not shy away from taboos, making her righteous anthems extra perfect for bad breakups (a friend once advised me to stop listening to her for a while because “I know [redacted] is being a dick but this album is just going to drive you crazy.”), or shouting a “fuck you” into the vast hellscape of the patriarchy.

But she has range. She has joy.

“Like A River” from Kasey’s third album Wayward Angel is nothing but goosebump-y-beautiful elation. It’s charm and wonder. It’s the perfect comfort of love, of deep belonging, of the rich excitement of being alive. It falls a little toward more traditional country, but not far enough to lose the hardened edge I fell for — that weird, tough, hungry voice.

This is the voice I dare everyone to love. “Like A River” is the song that might hook you if Allison Krauss has ever tickled your stereo, if you live for Kesha’s most country moments (like “Hunt You Down” from Rainbow), if you loved Jewel in 1995 and but got bored when her second album came out. Kasey Chambers knows how to breathe fire while holding you close. And I dare you — go discover this treasure of a woman and listen to her heart as it opens for you like the rarest of flowers.

(Song Recommendation by E. Kristin Anderson)

Tom Recommends: “Gangs in the Garden” by Black Moth Super Rainbow

My last four internet searches were: Clayton Plaza Hotel, Baby Jessica, antiquated intercom systems, and etymology of bae. If this information was plumbed and then sculpted into a sonic portrait, I am confident a Black Moth Super Rainbow song would result.

Stay with me here…

We live in a world that treats information like it is knowledge. And we wrap that information in code and blast it through the massive pipes of the internet so we can all grab whatever pieces of it we seek. So we are an intensely informed people, but this doesn’t mean we actually know anything. In fact, it remains incumbent upon the individual to put these infinite pieces of information together, to think through what they actually mean, what is truthful and what is not, what is real and what is false, what is relevant to our existence and what is just fodder, filler, and amusement.

The journey to make meaning out of information is what Black Moth Super Rainbow’s music sounds like to me. Like they took my entire internet search history and spliced it together, mining deeper connections than I can see and translating these sympathies into layers of sound, mixing the whole thing together into shockingly catchy songs.

“Gangs in the Garden” from the 2012 album Cobra Juicy layers an over-processed, distorted bass groove with partially intelligible lyrics, a drum machine, synths, slide guitars, heavy breathing, and God only knows what else to make something gorgeous and fun and — most salient to my point — cohesively pop-ish. I don’t know what the song means and I don’t care because it is an exercise in finding the beauty that comes from sonically mining modern surfaces for deeper relevance, unearthing unexpected connections that exist even when information is tidal, building a grammar out of these digital junkyard scraps to craft something articulate. “Gangs in the Garden” is a demonstration of how to think in a world of digital glitches and over-processed everything. And this is a good space for people to spend some time in, especially if you cannot remember an internet-less world. Like a cleanse of sorts, so when you open up your browser again, maybe you’ll see things more clearly, like you did the first time you realized you live in an infinite urban sprawl of information. In this way, Black Moth Super Rainbow’s music sets us on a quest to know… And it just sounds really good, too.

(Song recommendation by Tom Stern)