Steve Recommends: “Hey Banana” by BNQT

another band name with no vowels — but this one is good!

Most supergroup projects are disappointing and uninspired. That’s just a strange statistical reality. But thankfully there are exceptions and BNQT is one of them. BNQT (pronounced: Banquet — I know the whole leaving out the vowels band title thing is so over baked at this point) is essentially the band Midlake, with guest vocalists getting a chance to co-write and sing on two songs each. Jason Lytle of Granddaddy, Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferndinand, Ben Bridwell of Band of Horses, and Fran Healy of Travis.

It’s the sort of musical experiment that could go horribly wrong, but I think what keeps it all unified while still stretching to fit the talents of the various singer-songwriters, is the loose but rock steady foundation that the musicians of Midlake provide. They’re like the funk-brothers of the alternative aughts circuit.

It would be so easy to pick a Jason Lytle song here. His two contributions, “Failing at Feeling” and “100 Million Miles” are gorgeous, sweeping, and epic— either would be highlights on any Granddaddy album. But the song that stands out for me on an album loaded with standouts, is the Alex Kapranos-led, “Hey Banana.”

It’s silly, a bit creepy, and exudes just the right amount of late 60s psychedelic menace. Kapranos gives the song his best Jim Morrison impression, and the strings and horns that build and round out the choruses elevate an entertaining goof into something more complex, more fully formed. It somehow comes of as both disturbing and oddly sweet.

The prerecorded voices near the end — a child and a woman both whispering, “Hi Banana. How you doing banana? I love you banana!” is perfectly odd and so fitting for a song this catchy and lyrically inappropriate. I mean they are saying the same thing Kapranos croons in the song’s first verse, but from the kid and woman it sounds less pervy.

And the chorus is downright threatening, especially in the context of so many needy bananas.

So stop what you’re doing
You gotta stop what you’re doing
If you don’t get down
I’m gonna knock you down
I don’t wanna have to do that
But I’ll knock you down

No need for psychoanalysis on this one. Just enjoy it and dance along in your PJ and slippers. The perfect song for a cold winter evening.

(Song recommendation by Steve Goldberg)

Nick Recommends: “Eye Know” by De La Soul

I have a confession. There was a time when I snubbed hip hop. My excuse? I’m from the suburbs. Unfortunately, I can’t claim that I was never exposed. The first beats I heard came booming out of customized, lowered mini pickup trucks driven by mulleted, Oakley Blade-wearing white teenagers. This was my Northern California ‘burb scene in the 1980s.

For me and my pack of junior skater kids, this was not cool yet. These were early days. Alternative radio had not yet caught on to the sounds from NYC’s outer boroughs. We took our tips from Thrasher Magazine and bought into the notion we should only listen to punk rock. Though I considered myself open minded, I was far from it.

Luckily, De La Soul found me. I may have to credit my early diet of classic rock radio for opening my door to hip hop. “Eye Know” first caught my ear because of the Steely Dan “Peg” sample. The guitar chime was a familiar, soothing and safe space where hip hop and myself found common ground. As soon as I heard the drums kick in over the Steely Dan sample, I was hooked.

“Eye Know” was different than any other hip hop track I heard before. Though it contains a couple juvenile innuendos, it is very much a love song. It is thoughtful, emotionally intelligent and a sharp contrast to the confrontational, crotch grabbing, bitch jockin’ tracks that came booming from those ridiculous mini pickup trucks. To me, it was bold statement. It was punk. My skater kid sensibilities approved of this.

“Eye Know” opened my ears to the entire Three Feet High and Rising album, which turned me on to A Tribe Called Quest. Eventually, I learned to step out of my suburban shell and embrace hip hop in all its bombastic boasting and bragging glory. My appreciation of hip hop has allowed me to find common ground with people from all around the world, many of which I have learned some my most valuable cultural lessons and shared my fondest experiences. Though, I have never warmed up to mullets, Oakley Blades or lowered mini pickup trucks, maybe I should? There could be a whole world that I am failing to experience.

(Song recommendation by Nick Ito)

Seigar Recommends: “Away Away” by Ibeyi

Seigar, the photographer, is back.

Memoir Mixtapes gives me the chance to bring you “the twins;” which is what “Ibeyi” means in the Yoruba Language. These two girls from Cuba and France bring you lots of music genres in their latest album, in which they have opened their rhythms to a wider audience. Their music still sounds like “world music,” but they’ve added some elegant and complex music arrangements, which allows them to reach the Pitchfork audience. They have now been accepted by “the bible of current music.” Their new polished image is also part of this marketing campaign to make them look and sound “cool.”

Now that this has been said, I can just praise the album. It is one of the year’s surprises. Its form is intricate electronic music and its content is extraordinarily global. You can even find Frida Kahlo’s famous lines in their lyrics (“Transmission”). They tried everything to make this work, from gospel to spoken verses. Their voices are (have always been) delicious, but with the richness of this production, temptation is impossible to resist.

Listen to the album and also enjoy their guests, from Kamasi Washington, Meshell Ndegeocello, Chili Gonzales or even La Mala Rodríguez. Yes! They also call for attention to the Latin audience. The messages are feminist, similar to Beyoncé’s last record, for example: “No Man is Big Enough for my Arms”.

They feel stronger than ever, and they sound stronger than ever. They have the voices of angels like Syd or Lauryn Hill, and the sophistication of D’Angelo or Erykah Badu, all they need to be here and there.

If you like what you hear you can find the album on Spotify.

(Song recommendation by Seigar)

 

Kevin Recommends: “O Tannenbaum” performed by the Vince Guaraldi Trio

this mustache is what dreams are made of

Today is Christmas for those in the Christian world/not-Christian-but-observe-anyway-to-get-food-and-presents world.

For lots of us this means elevated levels of every kind of emotion. Maybe you got that present you were hoping for and now you’re jumping around like the Nintendo 64 kid. It could be that you’re stressing about the family dinner you’re responsible for because the turkey should have gone in the oven an hour ago and now dinner is going to be late. Or perhaps you have no one to share the day with because you’re on your own for the first time this year and you’re anxious and lonely. Whatever it is you’re feeling, chances are it’s amplified tenfold today.

If you’re here reading the last of this year’s holiday recommendations on Memoir Mixtapes, chances are you’re looking for a quick break from all that. You’re hoping for a little something to ease the pressure of so much feeling.

Please, allow us to help in our own way.

A big part of today is the giving and receiving of presents, so how’s about you give yourself a little present? Take five, ten minutes for yourself. Let all those intense feelings go and be still for a moment. Let the Vince Guaraldi Trio bring your vibe down to something a bit more manageable.

This rendition of “O Tannenbaum” (or “O Christmas Tree,” if for some reason you hate the original German title) from the Charlie Brown Christmas special really is remarkable. It manages to accomplish so very much while being deceptively simple. It’s jazzy and cool and it makes you want to get up and dance, but it’s smooth and soft and compels you to relax and sip a cocktail, yet it’s also quiet and reflective and sends your mind wandering far back into the halls of memory through years long gone. For this reason it’s one of my very favorite Christmas songs, and it should be one of yours too.

From us here at Memoir Mixtapes I’d like to wish you all a Merry Christmas/Feliz Navidad/Joyeux Noël/happy Sir Isaac Newton’s birthday/happy holidays/glorious-regular-day-that-isn’t-a-holiday/fantastic-whatever-else-you-got-going-on. Thank you guys very much for reading.

(Song recommendation by Kevin D. Woodall)

Elise Recommends: “Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas” as sung by Judy Garland

🙁

I love Christmas. A season dedicated to decorating, sweaters, stuffing, presents, and being nice to one another!!?! YES! CHRISTMAS 4 PRESIDENT!!!

Although I am all for the holly-jolly merry-making that accompanies the season, I can’t help but feel a little sad during the holidays. If you’ve lost a loved one I’m sure you’ll agree that a person’s absence is often most acutely felt at Christmas. That’s why, in the midst of everything, I personally like to take a few minutes to feel a little sorry for myself. I do so by listening to ‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas’ as sung by my holiday pity-party pal, Judy Garland.

HYMLC is heartbreaking and bittersweet, and no one gets it like Judy. The song has been covered by many other artists over the years, but most are simply not as devastating as the OG. For example, when Frank Sinatra covered the song he reportedly asked the songwriter to “jolly” the lyrics up a bit. The line “until then we’ll have to muddle through somehow” was changed to “hang a shining star upon the highest bough.” Oh Frank, you handsome fool. When it comes to HYMLC, you’ve got to go with Judy. Sad but hopeful, Judy’s version acknowledges that, although things are currently garbage, next year will surely be better.

Whether you’re feeling major nostalgia for Christmases past, missing the happy golden days of yore (the Obama presidency?), or dealing with the absence of family members/loved ones that are no longer at the Christmas table, Judy’s got you.

So take 2 minutes and 24 seconds to feel feelings with Judy Garland. And, yeah, have yourself a merry little Christmas.

(Song recommendation by Elise W.)

Kevin (reluctantly) Recommends: “Merry Christmas Baby” performed by Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band

ugh

I don’t care for Bruce Springsteen one bit. Not one damn bit. But my mom and my aunt love him.

This meant that I had to listen to him multiple times a fucking week for the majority of my childhood. And when we went over to my aunt’s house we’d have to listen to The god damned Boss all day then too. Ugh.

I’m told that, when I was very small, I enjoyed his music, but I was a dumb fucking baby who had no opinions of my own so I don’t really count that.

I will never ever get the love that so many hold for him; however, I understand that for those who do get it, listening to him is something akin to religious epiphany.

So out of love for my mom and aunt, here’s this shit.

(Song recommendation by Kevin D. Woodall)

Thomas Recommends: “Player’s Ball” by OutKast

I like my Christmases engulfed in powdery snow, but growing up in Canada’s freezer it’s the odd green December that appears most vividly in my memory. For some people, their first experience with OutKast has nothing to do with shaking Polaroids and everything to do with Christmas—“Player’s Ball,” for my money one of hip hop’s finest holiday tunes ever committed to record —  was André “3000” Benjamin and Big Boi’s formal introduction to the masses. And it was a bold one at that; instead of rhyming about prancing elves, they hit listeners upside the head with dynamic flows and refreshingly subversive lyrics (Dré suggests reactionary purists “shut up that nonsense about some silent night” because he “gots it crunk, if it ain’t real, ain’t right”).

The two emcees from Atlanta’s East Point brought hip hop to Christmas … or rather seized Christmas by the balls and decked its halls with rattling Cadillac Seville trunks and crude liberation. Dark-emerald woodland, dusty roads, asymmetrical housing, beautiful women, crumbled ‘erb, filthy rum and soulful music — all things “Player’s Ball” might evoke. About the only traditionally “Christmas” aspect of the song is the sleigh bell that sets the tone for what ultimately becomes a celebratory ode to the hustler’s lifestyle.

A silk-smooth, debonair chorus sung by Sleepy Brown of Organized Noize helped propel the tune to certified Gold status, and OutKast proved that blacks in the South had something important to say, a multiplex audio-visual story worth following. Their voice would only grow louder, and it still reverberates far and wide today amidst the grating screech of Donald Trump & His Gutless Thugs. OutKast offered the uninformed public a peripheral awareness of XMAS — shedding light on the vapid institution of annual mad-dash consumerism. Moreover, if Santa had witnessed first-hand what then-teenage Dré and Big Boi were conjuring up in their Dungeon, he would have returned to the North Pole with a hell of a lot more funk in his hair and some fresh boom for his pockets.

Below is the music video for the 1993 single, directed by none other than Sean “Puffy” Combs…

(Song recommendation by Thomas L. Winters)

Steven Recommends: “Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis” by Tom Waits

Peppermint bark is the worst part of Christmas. I hate the stuff. Put any noun modifier next to “bark” and it sounds disgusting. “Potato bark.” “Beef bark.” “Yogurt bark.” Peppermint bark grows on trees in the candy forest of an evil witch, and its sole purpose is to render its consumer senseless so that the witch can stuff the unsuspecting victim into a 220-degree oven for a slow roast. And it would serve the person right for thinking peppermint bark is an acceptable treat.

But some people love peppermint bark. This divisiveness is probably how people feel about Tom Waits. His voice is unlistenable to most, and his phrasings are exaggerated. The people who love Tom Waits really love him. If somebody tells me that Tom Waits is the best living songwriter, then I will think a certain way about him (because the person is always a dude); not bad, but I become a little suspect about what he is trying to signal to me about his tastes in music.

That said, “Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis” is one of my favorite Christmas songs. Most holiday songs fall into three categories: praise songs for the birth of Christ (“Joy to the World”), songs that are really winter songs but are played only at Christmas (“Winter Wonderland), and bland love songs with a thin veneer of candy cane painted on top (“All I Want for Christmas is You”). “Christmas Card” is only nominally a love song. It fits into a very small category of Christmas songs (along with “Fairytale of New York” by the Pogues and John Prine’s “Christmas in Prison”) that deal with painful loneliness during the holidays. I don’t think I have ever heard it played over the speakers at the mall or Old Navy. But it is a song that ends with hope, which is the main theme of Christmas, once all the tinsel is stripped away. This performance includes the bonus of him singing “Silent Night” as an intro and outro:

(Song recommendation by Steven W. McCarty)

Kevin Recommends: “Peace on Earth/The Little Drummer Boy” performed by Bing Crosby and David Bowie

                  a marvelous duet simply marvelous

Guys guys guys

This is duet good.

It’s so good!

…okay, so maybe the setup isn’t “good” so much as it is “ham-fisted and weird,” but come on — how else are you going to get these two together? Personally, I enjoy that it feels like a drunken, surreal fever-dream. It’s exactly what I want a collaboration between these two to feel like. It’s simply marvelous.

Click the video below to watch/listen to our boys bring peace on earth to the beat of a little drummer boy.

Bonus: check out this nearly beat-for-beat version with John C. Reilly and Will Ferrell because it’s marvelous:

(Song recommendation by Kevin D. Woodall)