Kristin Recommends: “Everlong/Christmas Medley” by Foo Fighters

This year I’m not visiting family for Christmas. I say visiting family and not going home very deliberately because I have had to build my own home far away from relatives, for a lot of reasons. Today I miss my nieces and nephews. I miss my family’s special cookies and a homemade meal and conspiring with my oldest niece — who is now almost four — to eat as much candy as possible before any of the adults in the room notice what we’ve snuck off to do.

I am a Grinch. Christmas gives me more anxiety than literally anything. Maybe moving or being in the hospital is on par with Christmas. But mostly Christmas makes me want to crawl in an ice cave and wait for death.

But as Grinchy as I am about Christmas, I love Dave Grohl that much and more. He is my north star in a one hundred percent unhealthy way and I hope he would appreciate this and not find as creepy as it probably is. And last year when Foo Fighters — my favorite band since like 1997 — played my favorite ever song (also since like 1997) on SNL and then smoothly transitioned into a Christmas medley? Well, my Grinchy heart grew three sizes that day.

I don’t really know what to say about this other than Dave Grohl is my rock ’n roll Jesus and Foo Fighters are my religion and this is one of very few Christmas things that warms my heart almost as much as getting an actual hug from my almost-teenage nephew or cuddling my siblings’ toddlers and reading them stories. So I’ll hold that with me today until I get a phone call from them this evening.

And I hope all y’all doing holiday things — or not doing holiday things — this December are taking care of yourselves. And I hope that you have something like this Foo Fighters “Everlong/Christmas Medley” to give you good goosebumps and make the corners of your eyes water. We all need some guitar magic in December. This is mine.

(Song recommendation by E. Kristin Anderson)

K Recommends: “Shine” by Slowdive (Splendiferous Locust Remix)

The original version of “Shine” from Slowdive’s “Holding Our Breath” EP is a treasure. Their entire catalog has its own place inside my bloodstream. There’s a lot of living that brought me to this remix.

I found shoegaze music in high school. I heard Slowdive on a UK compilation. Pre-Internet in the early 90s, I got curious about similar bands like Ride, Catherine Wheel, and My Bloody Valentine via magazines, record shops, and college radio. The dreamy echoing and fuzzy lyrics became inspiration.

I fell in deep, mutual love with someone 2 months into freshman year of college. We were on the same map of the same geography course. He liked punk and ska. I was into indie rock and local bands. We grew into each others’ collections.

We frequented a store off-campus that catered to wide-eyed/-eared music fans. We adventured through shoegaze, trip-hop, electronic and Britpop, unearthing life-changing music. Lush, Tricky, Echobelly, Cocteau Twins, UNKLE… ethereal resonance, drums bouncing off dorm walls, loud guitars… these bands offered sounds I didn’t know I needed.

He and I were together through college and married after graduation. One day he brought home a soundtrack to a movie we hadn’t seen (“Splendor”). It had Air, Blur, Chapterhouse, Chemical Brothers… a perfect mix of music we had explored in college. It also had a remix of a Slowdive song I didn’t think I could love more…

…Ugh. I can’t romanticize this further. We divorced amicably. He only left behind a Dead Milkmen cassette. My memories are songs and some photographs. 7 years together has been 16 years ago.

I’ll take the escape of this music any day. My ex-husband taught me unconditional care when I was falling apart. I initiated the letting go. I can barely write about my mindset then but I’m learning as I live. I love that music can comfort and recall better days. I love that I had someone to explore the beautiful, murky depths of this Slowdive track with me (and so many amazing bands) when I didn’t know I was drowning.

(Song recommendation by K Weber)

Sarah Recommends: “My Terracotta Heart” by Blur

“Is my terracotta heart breaking ?”

I didn’t discover how amazing Blur can be until twenty years after 1994’s Parklife. I watched Britpop explode from a distance; I didn’t think it was saying anything to me, and I held onto what I listened to in the 80s hard (and still do.) Parklife changed how I felt about Blur: it was playful, sneering/snarky, observant, and surprisingly (for me) beautiful. If you don’t believe me, listen to “This is a Low.” The band came back in 2015 with The Magic Whip, and this song, steeped in romantic melancholy and loss, with the sounds of the city running through it. Damon Albarn sounds almost exhausted: to sing this means opening up for the world, but to keep these feelings to himself might kill him.

While the song is specifically about Albarn’s relationship with Graham Coxson, it spreads itself out, and I embrace it: will my heart break again ? Will the people who are closest to me now remain so ? The song approaches an acceptance, if not a resolution, and I love it all the more for that.

(Song recommendation by Sarah Nichols)

Dan recommends: “Southwestern Territory” by The Mountain Goats

Let’s start here: this is a song about a wrestler, from an album about wrestlers. The lyrics point to turnbuckles, pinfalls, and nearly driving someone’s nose into their brain in the heat of a botched move. But “Southwestern Territory” is about as far removed from the aesthetics of professional wrestling as one can imagine, and in fact finds its heart in an emotion never portrayed on WWE: loneliness.

John Darnielle, singer and songwriter, pens literary lyrics, and “Southwestern Territory” contains some of his most vivid. It paints a mental portrait of an unnamed wrestler, as they navigate the toll their unconventional job takes on their psyche. While it contains brief descriptions of in-ring action, the heart of this narrative lies in the liminal spaces between matches: long flights, solitary cars on empty highways, the “cold, empty hall” backstage, as the wrestler waits for an announcer to call their name.

Musically, the song is calm, even atmospheric. The instrumentation — piano, clarinets, and brushed percussion — is so far removed from the world of suplexes and DDTs that we begin to float with the narrator, to see and feel the darkness of the highway, and can supplant their experience with our own.

Someone gifted me a copy of Beat the Champ for my birthday in 2015, and this opening song drew me in with its first chord. It grabbed me by the heart, reminding me of the days I spent traveling during college, visiting my family and going to jobs in various parts of the country. Though the narrator is a wrestler, the wrestler is a human being, and the emotions at play are hard to shrug off if you’ve spent any time in transient loneliness.

When it concludes, “Southwestern Territory” doesn’t offer an outcome. We are left to believe that the narrator will, as they prophesize, “die on the road someday.” In fact, the long instrumental stretch after the final chorus seems to suggest that there is yet more empty space to be filled, by more driving, waiting, and solitude.

(Song recommendation by D.R. Baker)

Josh Recommends: “ii/Wonderland” by CHVRCHES

Trump’s tweeting while his government burns. Britain is making its Brexit. James Gunn is still fired from Guardians of the Galaxy. North Korea is doing… whatever it is North Korea does these days.

We live in an uncertain age. And we need an anthem for that.

Enter CHVRCHES with ii/Wonderland.

A short burst of brooding piano gives way to dreamy synthesisers, soft and dour spoken words are soon eclipsed by Lauren Mayberry’s young and vital voice. ii/Wonderland is always at war with itself, pulling the listener toward the heavens and trying to ground them on the earth simultaneously. We can’t live a life eternally detached from what is happening around us, for that is not life at all, but nor can our human spirit survive in reality as is, our world has a way of braking even the strongest wills as is.

Where then do we find solace, when we cannot find the dream of peace we desire alone? ii is the written title of the first half of this track. It can be read as “eye-eye” or two. One reading suggests vengeance, the other cooperation. I suspect it is in the latter as ii/Wonderland itself is technically two tracks, not one. The first, ii, is barely a minute long, bubbling and brewing, never climaxing. The second, Wonderland, is all climax — booming, loud, and certain.

Certainly, we can have Wonderlandalone, we can find it alone. But alone it is not as satisfying. With iiit is complete. As two we complete. We place happiness in the solutions to problems that far exceed the capability of a single person.

“Tell it to the skyscrapers, tell it to the sky”, instructs CHVRCHES in ii. Surely a task too big for one person to attempt alone. Perhaps then the reach of a single person should always extend their grasp, otherwise what are people for?

(Song recommendation by Josh Sorensen)

Sam Recommends: “Mirage” by Toro y Moi

Take me far away…

The first line of this song perfectly describes why I love it: listening to it always transports me from whatever thoughts had been hamster wheeling in my brain to somewhere else.

Sometimes it is the melody that lifts me up and takes me to a calmer place. A room or a cave, someplace bathed in violet light. Maybe candles are burning, maybe stars are glittering in the periphery. Maybe I can smell the ocean or hear waves crashing nearby.

Other times it is the steady bass drum that my brain latches on to; it makes me feel like I have some control. Reminds me of the games I used to play with myself, when the ground was lava, or stepping on a crack could leave my mom with a broken back. The threat of danger that, if I was careful & vigilant enough, could be avoided. I just have to find a pattern in the chaos.

Sometimes, it takes me back in time. That synth soaring through the song like a boomerang reminds me of the new wave songs they used to play in the mall when my mom would take me shopping with her, which in turn reminds me of being four or five or six or seven. Before I had any responsibilities, insecurities, or traumas to fuel the anxiety that lay in wait, patiently biding its time because it knows it will have plenty.

But now it has less, because I’ve reclaimed another five minutes with the help of Toro y Moi.

(Song recommendation by Samantha Lamph/Len)

Oak Recommends: “Hope is Alive” by Ellie Holcomb

My Sisters & I – Photo by Lisa Ayling.

The Christmas season has begun, thusly I find myself writing to you all about my favourite Christmas song…

I don’t often include my personal stories when I make my recommendations here at Memoir Mixtapes, as often-times I am simply much too excited about the Artist whom I am introducing; their talent, passion, endurance and hardwork. Though it would seem that on this occassion, however, I am offering a little more of myself.

As a child I had a ‘Christmas heart’; it was my most favourite celebration; winter would set in, my mother would begin dressing me in snowsuits, fires would be lit in our provincial cottage and night time would arrive much more appropriately when I was sent to bed. I was, and naturally still am, in love with the season, whose very presence was enough to remind every living person I encountered during my early years of life, that there was a great abundance of hope, and of joy, and of caring, which outshone any darkness which may prowl through our days.

So besotted with Christmas was I, that I readily trotted out a child-size faux Christmas tree roughly once a month and dressed it in fine ornaments and trinkets; angels and lights, and at it’s feet I would stand my wooden doll’s crib, with a nominated baby doll lain soft inside taking up the role of the infant king Jesus.

As a five year old I would kneel before this splendid display and admire it, sing what words I knew of Christmas carols and decide with all certainty to leave it there for the rest of the year. Until, as would happen routinely after about four days, my mother would either encourage me to put it away or would do so herself.

It was many years after this beautiful period of my life before I would remember this again. I don’t know quite why such an innocent, snowglobe sort of memory might have been misplaced as I grew up. But, upon hearing a sweet woman by the name of Ellie Holcomb sing a new Christmas song a few years ago, the memory came fluttering back, with all the softness and quietness with which it had disappeared.

I was a child again, I was basking in the stary light of hope once more, I remembered my nativity, which I had set up without knowing how; we were not a church-going family, nor had we ever owned a traditional nativity scene, but I knew the story, it had been one of the first I had learned to read by myself. And never once did my faux fir ever stand barren of that little rocking cradle.

I didn’t become a believer until more than a decade had passed me by, until after a great multitude of troubles had befallen the girl I had been. And now, just as many years and troubles had passed again and I was watching Ellie’s golden face, her contageous joy filling the air with a song which was carefully, inexplicably marrying up the many versions of myself there had been along the way; singing ‘into our aching, into our breaking, into our longing to be made whole, your arms are reaching, your love is holding us close…’ untill all of the years concertinaed gently back to the little girl playing Christmas in June.

This song encapsulates the spirit of Christmas & expresses much more than most of my Christmas favourites, and not-so-favourites; it isn’t a pretty bow or sweet frosting, making the assumption that we the listeners are doubled over with bliss; that our families are carolling around the christmas tree in our perfect cookie-cutter gingerbread houses, that all our loved ones love us back and never disappoint us or break our hearts, that Christmas isn’t actually the peak suicide season. It is a song looking with loving eyes at the human heart and reminding us, that nevertheless, there is great light and hope. So much hope.

Please, take a moment with this song, I hope it blesses your heart. Merry Christmas to you my friends.

(Song recommendation by Oak Ayling)

Seigar Recommends: “Missing U” by Robyn

Robyn as Robyn.

Seigar, the photographer, is back.

Missing U is everything you would expect from Robyn. Some critics have said it seems she’s been into a bubble for eight years without listening to any sort of music, so she’s just loyal to her style and sound. It’s not completely true because in a way, she’s been active and she has released some music, like the hit “Do It Again”, but what is true is that “Missing U” is quite similar to her old pop hits: “Indestructible,” “Call your girlfriend,” or “Dancing on my own.” You can find a very familiar melody and her typical beats. This is the expectable catchy tune from this Swedish act.

Is it a bad thing? NO.

Her fans, and I include myself, are all happy about this! “Missing U” is an enjoyable Nu-Disco song that all electropop lovers may love. And it’s in this fact of being loyal to herself where we find “futurism”. It’s like being a rebel or like a “I do what I want” attitude. Furthermore, doing her best, she becomes original and innovative. Other songs from the same album: “Human Being” and “Between the lines” are two more examples of her creativity getting a high from being herself.

Her resistance is obvious, she doesn’t want to follow the trends or adapt herself to what she should sound like. Instead Robyn prefers to play her cards, the ones she knows well.

With respect to the lyrics, the words symbolize her relationship with the fans because of the long time they haven’t been together:

There’s this empty space you left behind
Now you’re not here with me
I keep digging through our waste of time
But the picture’s incomplete

’Cause I’m missing you
I miss you

Though it may also be analyzed plainly as a love relationship that is over:

Can’t make sense of all of the pieces
Of my own delusions
Can’t take all these memories
Don’t know how to use them

Before you click down bellow, just a quick note to tell you she has confessed the influence of Prince, Michael Jackson, and Janet Jackson in creating this record. After many listenings to the whole album, I have found that among these names, the Janet Jackson from the 90s is the clearest influence, the track “Because it’s in the music,” for example, has the same feeling.

Enjoy “Missing U” now.

(Song recommendation by Seigar)

Erin Recommends: “Chalk” by Buddy & Julie Miller

“I carried you with me everywhere I went. I carried everything ’til my back was bent…”

I’ve been trying to write about my dad. There’s one line and then another. No, scratch that. I mean it’s complicated. You know, the way fathers and daughters are.

What a hot mess he was, gregarious as hell. He taught high school English and Drama. Beloved. His students adored him. They still see me in town give me a big hug and say, “I loved your Dad.” I nod and assure them that he loved them too. He did.

Make no mistake; he was my hero and my first heartbreak. He moved away when I was eighteen. He left me standing in an airport. I was broken. I did not know how to be whole without him. It has taken me a lifetime to stitch together a life I can call my own.

After decades of estrangement he came back home two years ago. I didn’t meet him at the airport. I left homecoming banners and confetti to my siblings. I’d see him in a week or so. I needed time. I warmed to the idea of us watching the Seahawks together, slowly getting to know each other again. I could find my way to forgiveness. I took a deep breath as I convinced myself this was true.

But he died before I got to see him. He ate dinner, went to his room, turned on MSNBC, lied down on the bed and his heart gave way. I never got to say welcome back or goodbye.

I am his daughter through and through. There is so much I want to put into words about this man. He was beautiful and flawed. His ashes sit on the top of my bookshelf in a shrine. I haven’t been able to let them go.

I heard Buddy and Julie Miller’s song “Chalk” several years ago. He was still alive then. I was driving and had to pull to the side of the road, the tears waterfalled. In a few short verses the Millers articulated what I’d been trying to say for decades.

After an Irish ballad to raise a glass, “Chalk” was the second song played at his memorial right before I choked out how much I loved him.

(Song recommendation by Erin L. Cork)

Tyrel Recommends: “Sailing Ships” by Whitesnake

I present to you here, “Sailing Ships,” from Whitesnake’s 1990 album Slip Of The Tongue; an unrecognized milestone in the reviled arena of “hair” metal power ballads. Now, hear me out. Does the song have it’s moments of “cheese,” of “larger-than-life” songwriter’s egoistic hubris? Oh, assuredly. Yet it also, somehow, claims an earnest, down-to-earth appeal — despite the otherworldly use of Steve Vai’s opening neo-classical acoustic guitar wizardry that precedes his squealing shred guitar wizardry. There’s the medieval-lite sadness, the sense of airy longing and regretful rumination, the inevitable crescendo of driving sound. Ya know, stuff of all power ballads. The lyrics, as I’ve mentioned, consistently flirt with a high level of hoke but miraculously manage to maintain a decor of dignity within the context of the song.

At its simplest “Sailing Ships” is about dreaming big: bound for glory/on the seven seas of life. Losing hope but not giving up: you drift alone, if all your hope is gone/so find the strength and you will see.About facing down fears: On the horizon/dark clouds up ahead/for the storm has just begun. Hell, self-realization even: You control your destiny/after all is said and done.Normally, such platitudes disgust me but there’s just something about “Sailing Ships,” that sets it apart from almost any other “ballad” from the vast menagerie of 80s pop-metal bands. It’s one of the of few that sounds as if the writer, David Coverdale, truly feels what he’s singing. Admittedly, its tough to justify my defense or to explain clearly what I mean. It’s ephemeral, to say the least; a ghost shadow of something that’s hard to precisely grasp. If nothing else, it’s a chance to imagine what it would be like to finally embrace all those goofy, maddening bromides like “Life Is An Adventure” or “Reach For The Moon And You’ll Land Among The Stars.” Sure, “Sailing Ships” is, at its heart, another rehash of so many of banal sayings, but its possibly the only one that sets itself apart, just enough, so that it will have you wailing on the air guitar on a Monday, in your car, on the way to work to a job you’re not particularly fond of, as if you believe them wholesale.

(Song recommendation by Tyrel Kessinger)