I was sitting on the stone steps of the Boston Public Library, watching a partial eclipse with good friends on a warm day in May 1984. As the sky turned gauzy, “Don’t Change” by INXS blared from someone’s speakers, underscoring the moment, transient and perfect.
The sky above won’t fall down.
The song, two years old by then, was their first breakout. It’s ironic that “Don’t Change” in fact changed everything for the band, and Michael Hutchence’s vocals exude the joy of arrival on the cusp of the greatness that followed.
The song is epic, from the opening keyboard riff as the Prophet 5 calls out, its entreaty fattened by an additional layer of keyboards. The guitar jumps in, heroic, as confident as the drums are insistent in their gallop under Hutchence’s perfectly punctuated vocals.
But time has peeled away the cheerful top note.
In the film Mystify: Michael Hutchence, which debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival last year, model Helena Christensen tells of how Hutchence was punched by a cab driver, an altercation that caused a traumatic brain injury which resulted in him losing his sense of smell.
“He confessed to me that it changed everything for him,” U2’s Bono said in the film. “He kind of lost his way and forgot who he was.”
Hutchence plummeted into depression. He missed the sensory pleasure of enjoying food and wine, missed the smell of his girlfriend, of his beloved daughter. He committed suicide in 1997.
The lyrics now take on an undertone, the keyboards sound doppler-esque, a warning call of danger.
Two and a half years ago, I lost my sense of smell. The sweetness of the air before rain, the smell of weed wafting out the window of a passing car, the scent of my husband when he hugs me, the popcorn-y smell of my dog’s feet are all now eclipsed from my life. Anosmia has cast my world in perpetual shadow.
Still, the sky above won’t fall down.
“Don’t change,” the song implores. But everything does.
I’ve written about Tame Impala once before, and this recommendation will be very similar from a thematic standpoint.
I find myself returning to this band, and the Currents album in particular, at major inflection points in my life. Kevin Parker’s lyrics provide the reassurance I need when things are about to change in a major way, and remind me that I only have a certain amount of control over how everything will turn out in the end.
Acknowledging this limited control doesn’t mean I need to give up completely. I don’t know if I’ll ever be someone who can just go with the flow. But I am learning, slowly but surely, over the years, that confronting my anxiety and loosening my grip on life’s reins a bit is the best way to approach and eventually embrace the sea changes that are inevitable in this life.
I’m going through a lot of these changes at the moment:
I just got laid off for the second time in as many years.
And I’ve just dealt, for the first time, with the tragic loss of an important person in my life.
Oh, and I’m 27 weeks pregnant with my first child.
There are actionable steps I can take to address some of these things, to some extent. But, for the most part, getting through it is really just going to take time, continued forward motion, and the belief that I’ll be able to figure it out along the way.
And I really do believe that. It’s already happening.
Let it happen.
Let it happen.
It’s gonna feel so good.
In a city that lives while its bright stars die
And you start to get old when you turn 25
Where else can you go when you’ve got that drive?
When you move to a big city and end up staying many years, your attitude tends to go from enthusiasm to detachment to the kind of cynicism that drips off every word in Allie X’s “Not So Bad In LA”.
Don’t expect a linear progression: the constant overlapping of these moods will make you dizzy like a wild rollercoaster ride, as you try to reconcile the drag of routine with the joy and beauty you came seeking, or remind yourself there’s still plenty to be excited about in spite of everything you’ve become jaded with. But everything new, unexpected or strange is only new, unexpected or strange the first time; you’ll never look at the place through a newcomer’s eyes again, just like you can’t unsee, unhear or undo your life.
I’ve been in London almost ten years now. That’s most of my adult life. While there was a lot about growing up I didn’t know ten years ago, I was sure I’d learn most things as I went along; now, in true mid-thirties early-burnout fashion, I feel I know much less than I should, and struggle to keep my head above the water more than most (because everyone else has all their shit together, of course).
By the standards of anyone who thinks success and happiness require the brazenness of youth, I’m past my expiry date. By the standards of those who believe it’s never too late (to change career path, to write novels, to pack my bags and go live near the sea), I still have plenty of time. But I feel the city has aged me beyond recognition, and now, instead of convincing myself I’ve got a whole life to enjoy, I can’t help but wonder how close I am to the point where the opportunities I missed outnumber than the ones that lie ahead.
Living in London has made me smarter, more curious, and prouder than ever to be my own person. It has also driven me mad with exhaustion, flung me right into the rat race I swore I’d never run, and taught me lessons in contradiction, inequality and unfairness that could dishearten much stronger souls. This is who I am now. I may contain multitudes, but that doesn’t mean I’ve learnt how to get the best out of them yet.
If I look back ten years, I can’t tell whether I’ve changed for better or worse, and sometimes not knowing what to think or do feels plainly and simply paralysing. I want to stay and prove I can thrive. I want to leave and stop pretending everything’s fine. I have no idea where I’d go, or when, or how — or even whether I’d be able to make a living somewhere else. And let’s face it: there are a million sunk costs, big fears, and small but priceless pleasures that keep me here. That’s what Allie X means by angels all left but we’ll stay, I guess. Or, at least, that’s why this line makes me stop in my tracks every single time.
There is passion in everything that Rosalía does. She doesn’t miss an opportunity to show the world she is a unique act. Every performance is a must watch video, and even a simple invitation to her new Tik Tok account becomes viral. I can’t help it, passion is what I admire the most in an artist, and the fact she takes advantages of every public appearance makes me feel respect and admiration towards her persona. Her alternative flamenco pop art has shaken the world music scene, and her production has taken the Andalusian traditional folk music to the mainstream I would say for the first time in music history, at least in the Internet period. Critically acclaimed, millions of followers certify her success.
Juro que new single has a very traditional Spanish folk divadesign cover artwork. In fact, it reminds to all these folk Spanish and Latin American female divas CD covers: Lola Flores, Isabel Pantoja, Rocío Jurado or Rocío Durcal. It seems she may be trying to connect with the roots again. Rosalía has been accused of cultural appropiation, and if you think she does, you also have to agree with me that she does it pretty well.
Other pop icons have also adopt culture and traditions into their music, Madonna being the expert. Rosalía takes all the Southern Spanish and gypsy traditions and shows the skill to twist them with a modern touch. She is able to know what is going on out there in the mainstream, and finds the correct way to sell the Spanish brand with a cool and global taste. I wonder if Juro que and Apale would be or not included in her next album, probably her two best singles that she has released after her album El Mal Querer, they also match in its mood, sound and lyrics among them.
Juro que is a song about love, the punch of having the subtitles in the video in the English language has been a good direction because though millions of people listen to her music, many of her fans can’t speak Spanish so they miss her lyrics, stories, messages, words and hooks. Rosalía tells the story of a lover put in prison, she can’t stand being far from him in these circumstances, she is also sorry for no saying goodbye before he was taken there.
Now enjoy the video, but before I leave you my fave line in the song: “que si no sales tú entro yo, atraco un banco esta noche y que me lleven pa’ prisión” that means “if you don’t go out, I will get in, I will rob a bank tonight so I will be put in prison”. No need to explain the beauty of those words.
I will forever cherish all those albums we played when I worked in a Cincinnati record store that NEVER failed to enliven the entire staff. Inevitably, when it came to such releases, someone browsing the store would come up to the front and ask what was playing. “Free the Bees” by A Band of Bees (aka The Bees ) was one such piece of musical mastery.
This particular collection has a 60s garage sound with a psychedelic bent. The moment that opening chord is strung at the beginning of “Free the Bees,” I get both a cold and warm sensation that stuns my system and puts me on notice for the first track, “These Are the Ghosts.” The airy lyrics and echo, the knock of drums, the gnash of guitars and the low warbling of the organ culminate into a few minutes of mindful distraction. As my goosebumps and whole self travel the expanse laid out by the overall song, I brace myself for the journey to come as I start to experience this entire album… and I float on words that are here to guide me:
Think of a lesson as a weapon in love…
If only I could use my experiences, trial and error moments and all those times I lived and learned to move forward!
Stay positive and show stiff lip
Nothing you can do
But let time tick away
Enjoy the ride, K, and don’t take so much so seriously!
I need twice as much space
And half as many things
Ahhh… a reminder of the notion of impermanence and how I long to achieve peace in the now, not just fast-forwarding assuming everything will be better later!
There a lot of ghosts hanging around in my head. This song turns A Band of Bees into the shaggy, music-savvy paranormal investigators this girl needs to be at ease; always learning, always healing.
We can bury the memory
If we don’t want to go back
We’re forward wanting
Past the haunting
…and yes, being a bar regular comes with it’s perks but it says something about your lifestyle if when you stay home for a few nights, bartenders start texting to check up on you.
You tell them you’re fine, just saving money. You’ll be back soon.
“And everyone says to me… you’re so strong.
What if I don’t want to be?”
Mannequin Pussy’s song “Drunk II” is about drinking. It’s about the good nights you have out at bars with friends, new and old. It’s about the nights that started off as good ones but end with tears being shed in an alley, bathroom, dancefloor, bed. It’s about the nights that were destined to be bad because you already knew the alcohol wouldn’t make you feel better when you left the house.
But it is also about what it means to put on a brave face. I used to think that when putting on this face that my smile had to be accompanied with the words “Everything is okay.” That my words had to be a part of the lie. But now I think about the day I lost my restaurant job. I drank too much the night before and overslept one too many times. I think about walking into the bar that night and yelling, “I got fired!” I think about how my friends cheered in response as we ordered shots. I think about the laughs we shared, the games of pool we played, the cigs we smoked. I wonder if they thought I was strong.
It can be a weird thing to learn how to tell the truth with your words when your body still screams, “Everything is okay.”
I remember being at a party years ago, talking music with a friend. He said: “You’re either obsessed with Ween, or you don’t even know who they are.” Though I appreciated the hyperbole, I was actually somewhere in the middle at the time. I knew them. I liked a handful of songs. But I really didn’t like all the rest. There was a certain line drawn with Ween: I towed the line, mostly because I could never figure out if they were taking a piss on music, or if they were actual geniuses. Turns out both are certainly true.
It’s hard to describe Ween to someone who’s never heard them, or who’s only familiar with their early forays into the strange that happened to find the radio (such as their first big hit, “Push th’ Little Daisies” — a song featuring their signature voice-manipulation vocals, which is either annoying or very annoying). It’s impossible to say if they are a rock band, a prog band, a soul band, a country band, a pop band, a zydeco band, a psychedelic band, or a parody band. Because they weave in and out of genres so seamlessly, Ween is all of those, often on the same record.
Honestly, calling Ween an experimental band is the only way to make any sort of sense.
I’ve recently immersed myself in their catalog, which is vast. Their early work was home-recorded, bizarre, drug-fueled. I think it would be what Trey Parker and Matt Stone would create (incidentally, those two would direct the video for Ween’s “Even If You Don’t” from their poppiest record, White Pepper). Their second record on Elektra (and their first in an actual recording studio in lieu of the four-track recordings of their previous records), Chocolate and Cheese, garnered them more attention thanks in part to the funky masterpiece “Voodoo Lady.”
In 1996, they wrote and released a bonafide country record, 12 Golden Country Greats, which included performances from renowned Nashville session players such as Charlie McCoy and Buddy Spicher. They followed that with the aquatic-themed concept record, The Mollusk. Then came their most accessible record, the aforementioned White Pepper. 2003 saw the release of Quebec, which was their first post-Elektra record. That was followed by Shinola, Vol. 1, a collection of oddities, and their final record, 2007’s La Cucaracha.
Sorting through their discography is arduous. Between the strange and experimental songs, there are absolute gems of stunning design. So stunning, it makes one wonder why all of their songs couldn’t have been built around such structure. But as geniuses do, Ween planned their trajectory in their own form: eccentric, and gorgeous. And in the circle of their fans, they are indeed underground cult Gods, not unlike one of their biggest influences, Frank Zappa.
That all said, here’s a list of my Ween essentials. These are songs of which I’ve always been most fond. Click on the song titles for a listen.
Gabrielle (from Shinola, Vol. 1)
Ween has a long list of songs written in the vein of other artists. They could be construed as either parody or tribute, or maybe even both. “Gabrielle” is a song that out-Thin-Lizzys Thin Lizzy. The impression of Phil Lynott is impeccable, right down to the cadence of the delivery. Try to listen to this and not wanna jump around singing the chorus so loudly your neighbors weep.
Buckingham Green (from The Mollusk)
A grandiose psych-classic that would fit perfectly on Pink Floyd’s A Saucerful of Secrets. The guitar work is inspiring.
Flutes of Chi (from White Pepper)
A lovely pop song, pure and true. You can hear the Beatles influence during the backward solo midway through, as well as with the melodies and Indian-infused accompaniments.
Did You See Me? (from Shinola, Vol. 1)
Another gorgeous psych-ode to the early era of Pink Floyd. It’s trippy and almost perfect.
Cold Blows the Wind (from The Mollusk)
A variation of the traditional folk-ballad “The Unquiet Grave.” It soars with beautiful harmony vocals, and there’s a moog to give it a unique stylistic separation.
The Argus (from The Mollusk)
A mellow ode to the many-eyed beast, that harkens to 70s psych-folk with chorus-laden guitars and succinct melodies that might make Ian Anderson wistful.
Baby Bitch (from Chocolate and Cheese)
An acoustic love song gone wrong. There is an odd poignancy to the confessional lyrics that are contrasted by the venomous Fuck Offs.
Transdermal Celebration (from Quebec)
As infectious a song as you’ll hear anywhere, ever. It also features some of their eccentric lyrical-content prowess. Simply phenomenal and my favorite of theirs to blast loudly.
If You Could Save Yourself (You’d Save Us All) (from Quebec)
I’ve listened to this song around 30 times over the past week. There’s something about it, something hypnotic, to me. Something apocalyptic. And it’s Gene Ween’s greatest vocal accomplishment. During the second chorus, few songs achieve a more powerful crescendo, with his voice rising, the strings swelling higher, and that line: I was on my knees / when you knocked me down. Simply heart-wrenching.
This list is by no means exclusive. I love other Ween songs, and so should you. But these specific ones happen to hit me in a way that forced me to dedicate an article to them. There’s a certain mesmerism to what Ween does. Beyond being able to master myriad musical genres with their technical chops, beyond having a bit of fun with the art of crafting songs, they show that music can initiate a particular resonance to a listener. And I am over the moon for that.
On the first day of July in 2016, I was at the hair salon getting my blonde highlights refreshed. As I waited for the color to develop, I flipped through a magazine and half-listened to the music that was playing in the salon. A song with a distinct 80s vibe came on and sparked memories of the pop songs I’d loved as a teenager. Over the cacophony of hair dryers and gossip, I caught snatches of lines about James Dean and tight skirts and crashing. The refrain “we never go out of style” reverberated in my head. Later, I consulted Google and learned that the song that had been tantalizing me was one of Tay-Tay’s — I’d never really had an opinion about her one way or the other before that day.
That holiday weekend, I went on three dates. The first was a hollow hookup, the second was a coffee date with a needy guy whose divorce wasn’t even final yet, and the third was a casual dinner with an otherwise normal-seeming dude who let slip toward the end of our meal that his ex-girlfriend had a restraining order against him. Three up, three down. I returned home from that dinner, defeated yet somehow still hopeful, to find about 30 text messages from bachelor #2, which I deleted before blocking his number, and one from a guy I’d spent some time with the previous month but didn’t expect to hear from again. That message was just a photo: a shot of a deck overlooking a lake, with a can of Yuengling Lager sitting on the railing.
I laughed, and then tapped my reply: “Oh, you bitch.” How dare he tease me with tasty beer I couldn’t even get in Arizona?
I sat on the floor in my living room, played “Style,” and really listened to the lyrics. I thought of my beer-teasing friend and felt the first rush of… something.
I say “I’ve heard that you’ve been out and about with some other girl, some other girl.”
He says “What you’ve heard is true but I
Can’t stop thinking about you,” and I…
…I said “I’ve been there too, a few times.”
’Cause you got that James Dean daydream look in your eye
And I got that red lip, classic thing that you like
And when we go crashing down, we come back every time
’Cause we never go out of style, we never go out of style…
Danielle Balbuena is a proud New Jersey rapper with Dominican roots, and all this shows in her single “Morrow”. The pop alternative track goes further than a hip hop song usually does, and brings back the atmospheric dark melodies of Michael Jackson, The Weeknd or Lenny Kravitz (I belong to you). 070 Shake got this name because of “070” collective that she belonged to, and her playing ball skills: “shake weave”. Her guest appearances in Kanye West and Nas records helped her to attract attention, furthermore, she is also a known fashion model.
070 Shake album sounds fresh and determined. Though, it has received mixed reviews, but I think it will be part of the end of the year lists. 2020 has started quite strong in music: Destroyer has just released his new brilliant album, Sewerslvt has got the third position with a breakbeat hardcore in the web rateyourmusic, Halsey has shown she can compete with Lorde for the alternative queen of pop tittle, of Montreal has released their most commercial and fun album in years, and don’t forget Georgia, my last pop dance recommendation for Memoir Mixtapes.
Among all these acts, 070 Shake has something personal to say. The latin intro of “Morrow” gets the attention and the lyrics complete the hook:
An early mornin’, no clouds up in the sky
She’s paranoid, but still she don’t know why, yeah
But still she don’t know why, yeah
Danielle uses the female pronoun, she doesn’t hide she likes girls: “I don’t really identify myself as queer or gay or anything. I just like girls”. 070 Shake is here to shake the world.
Enjoy her melodic alternative R&B. This song is lush! And if you enjoy this one, don’t miss other great songs in this record: Guilty Conscience, Microdosing, Under the Moon and Daydreaming.
It’s that smile that wells in your face when you drop him off at the train station. You’re driving home, thinking of your next time together in two days. It’s that feeling when the song comes on again–you’ve been listening to the album on repeat–and you want to know where your other half is, if this song is a connection you’re sharing right now. It’s a feeling that’s too complex to comprehend in an instant, that leaves you chewing on it for days and days.
It’s winter break. We have weeks off after the first semester in our MFA program. By chance, my boyfriend is the only other Rhode Islander in our program, and we spend a lot of time in cars, visiting each other, meeting for coffee, yoga, movies in Providence on January nights, driving to state parks to enjoy rainy views and Norman Fucking Rockwell!
Lana Del Rey’s Norman Fucking Rockwell!dazzles from start to finish. Its titular track in particular stokes the sweetness of nostalgia and affection. She calls out the camp and cliché of American dreams, which, cast against the sugar of romance, seem to give the indulgence of these feelings an excuse. If we listen to her self-aware songs every day we spend together, maybe we’re self-aware too. It gives us a pass to profess such bald, proud affection. The dreamy piano contrasts with the lyrics–you’re just a man, that’s what you do, you make me blue. Listening, I feel my unabashed smiles turning up, the desire to kiss, hold hands, and swoon.
Because maybe Lana’s juxtapositions convey with full nuance how it feels to live in America this year. Because maybe we’re still two men dating in North Carolina and even have to remember that in Rhode Island, in New York too. Maybe that means that everything is two things at once–holding hands is political, is really only about us.