Hannah Recommends: “Out of Order” by Highasakite

The winding road that leads to my parents’ house is lined with trees, so to me, going home has always meant going to the forest. As much as I might enjoy the fantasy of living in a big city, I don’t think I could ever do it — so I try to take advantage of the benefits of living in a less urban area. For me, that means looking behind my house at the thick stretch of forest. I’m a morning person, and on the weekends I like to get up as early as I can, enjoying every last moment of my free days. I walk outside and the air is crisp and cool, and the sunlight is a pale, pale gold and the world around me is soft and still and calm.

I take a breath and something fills my lungs along with the morning air. These moments of early calm feel special, thick with some unnameable importance. I don’t know why it matters, but I can feel that it does.

And that’s the best way to describe why I love “Out of Order”so much. I get that same punch of feeling — it’s serene but at the same time it’s almost momentous, full of something like promise. The song is beautiful — I can listen to it on repeat and still want to hear it again, just one last time, just to stick the chord and cadence of it in my memory. It’s warm and haunting in a delightful, shivery way, and it gives me the same feeling that those early mornings do. Like a long night’s fog slowly dissipating. Like the first curling steam, rich and fragrant, from a cup of coffee. Like a soft-knit sweater wrapped loose and cozy across my shoulders. I listen to it and I’m filled with a heady thrum: the soft, percussive pulse of the drums, and the tender ache of Ingrid Håvik’s voice.

I hope it will give you some of that same feeling.

(Song recommendation by Hannah Madonna)

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Lindsy Recommends “All I Want Is You” By Miguel (Featuring J. Cole)

The first time I experienced heartbreak, I leaned on music for immediate comfort. I was unbearably sad, and could not fathom feeling anything else. Turning to gut-wrenching songs about heartbreak was the only thing I knew how to do for months. Until, one day, an upbeat breakup song on the radio made me feel like I had taken a shot of pure serotonin.

I told myself: “This is it! My sadness is over!”

If you have ever had your heart broken, you know that is simply a lie.

Breakup songs tend to fall on opposite ends of a spectrum of emotional extremes: the solemn heartbreak ballad that you cry along to on one end (ex: Julien Baker’s “Something”) , and the empowered single-hood anthem on the other (ex: Lizzo’s “Truth Hurts”). While deep in the throes of heartbreak, it is well within the realm of possibility that we can simultaneously identify with both. Songs that exist somewhere in the middle and reach beyond the binary of happy vs. sad are harder to come by.

It takes a little more effort to explore some of the more complex emotions that fall in the middle. Desperation, regret and lust are not quite as easy to identify. It is easier to have a clear cut understanding of how we feel. The more nebulous and complicated feelings, though? That is harder to navigate.

Miguel and J. Cole may have put this track out nearly a decade ago, but it remains evergreen because it does fall somewhere in the middle. The track openly admits to and names regret, lust, desperation, uncertainty, and the myriad ways in which one attempts and fails to move past heartbreak. This exploration and openness creates a uniquely vulnerable space for a listener to sit with discomfort.

This track exists just beneath the surface of anything that immediately sticks out to us as something worth exploring. It is not the rallying cry of your new best life or a companion to your wallowing, but it shines as an authentic exploration of something realistic, human, and complicated.

“All I Want Is You” is authentic without spectacle. It is not polarizing or demanding; it sits comfortably in its declarations of emotional vulnerability. It swims in the unknown and invites you to float along. Sometimes, we all need the reminder that you can only run so far, so fast, and away from so many things.

Take a listen, and try your hand at letting yourself feel. This is what it means to be human.

(Song recommendation by Lindsy Goldberg)

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K Recommends: “Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll” by Ian Dury

You can take any one of my eccentricities and I will find a way to connect it to “Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll” by Ian Dury. The album came out in the year I was born: 1977. It is the first LP I remember hearing. I committed those saucy punk-funk tunes to my memory.

This song is a strut, an anthem to things I had no idea about, and a testament to how well the young mind absorbs. Hearing it at age 6 and seeking out the “New Boots and Panties!!” full-length every time I visited my dad’s record collection felt like it was okay to enjoy something weird. My friends and their parents weren’t listening to this!

The redness of my anxious face was usually my indicator as to whether or not I felt like something was appropriate. Sex scene in a movie I watched with my mom? No need for her to cover my eyes as I would run from the couch and return to the age-appropriate solace of my bedroom with its Slinky and Rainbow Brite doll. I always felt cool having young parents who offered an “in” for me musically. Circa 1983 I was filling my ears with King Crimson, Diana Ross, Bowie, Pink Floyd, Harry Belafonte, Cat Stevens, and Genesis. I loved radio and early MTV.

To this day I have no idea how my dad got into Ian Dury. When I’d work in a record store years later, I’d covet much of anything on the Stiff label. I consider it an honor to have encountered this song and the entire record early on. When I started collecting vinyl in the early 2000s, this album was one of the first I included in my crates.

There are many fun songs on this release; clearly over my head lyrically when I discovered it. This track is a favorite and reminds me of innocent times when I’d catch a hint of something taboo.

This song is very good, indeed.

(Song recommendation by K Weber)

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Andrew Recommends: “Chapter & Verse (Ione’s Song)” by Hiss Golden Messenger

Photo by Graham Tolbert.

My daughter observes that I don’t laugh enough. Sometimes she poses it as a question: “Why don’t you laugh?” Sometimes, as a wish: “I wish you would laugh more.” I recognize now that she uses this phrase to remind me I’m edging toward too quiet, too distant. But it haunts me as part of her definition of who I am.

When Hiss Golden Messenger released Lateness of Dancers in 2014, the album cemented my devotion as fan. I returned to the earlier Hiss albums and imbibed the music. I thought I had gone deep with my listening in the years since, but as is often the case, place and time and circumstance possess a powerful alchemy that can alter one’s connection to a song.

* * *

Mid-January. Early afternoon. I’m alone in my university office. Snow covers the grass on the quad below. Heavy, gray clouds darken the sky and ice encases the bare tree branches scratching at my office window. I’m listless and longing for some between-semester direction, and I’ve had too much time to get in my own head. Staring at the frozen world outside is all I can manage to do.

The second side of Lateness of Dancers spins on my bookshelf turntable. Quiet and meditative, driven by acoustic guitar and piano, “Chapter & Verse (Ione’s Song)” begins to play. M.C. Taylor’s voice comes through a bit worn, reaching, and burdened. I’ve listened to the song dozens of times, so it requires no effort to mumble out the words, my breath laying the lightest fog over the window pane before me.

Part hymn, part lament — the song pulls me along in its slow drift and lyrical contradictions. But my gaze is unchanged, expressionless, until nearly halfway through the track when Taylor sings, “Oh, Ione, yeah your daddy’s just as dark as can be….” I feel gutted, feel sucked out into the frigid, dark air. And the extended pause in the lyrical line leaves me hanging, exposed, until Taylor comes back, tenderly, with, “But I can be your little rainbow too.” In the window, my half-reflection gazes back and I recognize myself.

The guitar strumming grows harder, and the song plays out its final minutes of recorded life repeating, “It’s a long time.” I lift the needle and slip on my winter gear, lock up my office. I’ll be at the top of the school steps when my daughter comes out of her 4th-grade class. I’ll find a way to laugh in this dark season as we walk home because I’ve got that capability inside me, even if I sometimes forget.

***

In the right moment, a couple of lines in a song can save us from ourselves for even part of a day. There’s a revelatory effect in encountering your own image set apart and illuminated in a work of art. We’re not always good at seeing and acknowledging our dichotomous nature. Sometimes we need a darker song to bring us to a lighter place, to remind us who we can be again.

(Song recommendation by Andrew Jones)

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Koty Recommends: “Don’t Bother They’re Here” by Stars of the Lid

Have you ever found a song that’s an auditory encapsulation of an exact moment? Something so moving that when you put it on you’re immediately immersed in an experience, a mood, a feeling from not so long ago.

This summer I moved to Los Angeles where I lived by the beach for the first month. But it wasn’t one of those happy, sunny California beaches you see in the movies. The beach was moody. It was morose. It was listening to Fiona Apple and drinking red wine from a cheap liquor store while writing bad poetry. Large cumulus clouds lingered in the sky until mid-day then broke apart to let a few rays of sunlight through, but by then I was already feeling very ‘other’, pensive, and unsure. The problem was that I couldn’t remember the last time I saw the stars. Maybe back in Texas.

Living by the beach that month I swore I could hear the waves crashing in my sleep. The casual hauntings of a somber ocean and a lonely tide. I began learning about the cyclic rise and fall of seawater. If they were going to linger in the background of my dreams every night I wanted to know every wave by its name.

I woke up at 5 a.m. the morning of the lunar eclipse to find the ocean more aggressive than usual — a beach completely encompassed by fog and mist. The day before I had learned the company I moved all the way to California to work for wasn’t quite as it appeared and now their future seemed uncertain.

I walked along the surreal landscape quietly that morning wondering what this meant for my own future until I realized the fog was so thick I could no longer see in front of me. I could only stand there and let the sounds of the ocean and an otherworldly atmosphere wash over me dissolving into soft focus.

“Don’t Bother They’re Here” by ambient legends Stars of the Lid is that one strange moment compressed into a 10 minute song. It’s the experience of being awake in a dream-like state, being neither here nor there, questioning it all, feeling a mix of hope, wonder, and angst as though all that you want is just within reach—you’re so close, you’re almost there, yet you still can’t quite learn how to get what you want. But you realize somewhere along the way that’s what the journey is all about. It was always meant to happen that way. You just never see it at the time. And that’s what makes it all so beautiful.

Here’s to all the strange and otherworldly journeys we’re on right now and the soundtracks that accompany them.

(Song recommendation by Koty Neelis)

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Noah Recommends: “The Saint of Lost Causes” by Justin Townes Earle

Legendary agitator and union singer Utah Phillips said, “It’s a long way from ‘Dump the bosses off your back’ to ‘How many seas must the white dove sail’” comparing the folk poetry of Bob Dylan to the call-to-action proselytising of the IWW. With “The Saint of Lost Causes,” Justin Townes Earle expands the folk cannon by forging a path right through the center of it.

While there is certainly no shortage of anguish in the current musical landscape, Earle cuts decisively through the droning mass of regurgitated social commentary by assuming the role of both poet and protestor.

The story goes that Saint Jude earned his title as the Patron Saint of Lost Causes thanks to the unfortunate coincidence of being named Judas. Fearing that any prayer aimed at Saint Jude could accidentally land in the hands of Judus Iscariot, parishioners avoided the saint. As the years rolled by, Saint Jude faded into the background, earning him both the title of The Forgotten Apostle and the responsibility of tending to everyone’s lost causes.

Heaving lament at the forgotten Saint of Lost Causes, Earle has little concern with who gets their hands on this prayer. God, man, politician and priest, Earle warns of wool skinned wolves, sharp-toothed sheep and shepherds who have blood on their hands and something up their sleeves.

“Just pray to the Saint of Lost Causes” Earle sings.

In the flicker of candlelight, in every drop of poisoned holy water, “The Saint of Lost Causes” stretches liturgy and elegy in the crumbling infrastructure of the American class system. Like Earle’s 1930’s and 1960’s folk counter parts, he questions power and privilege through an inherently disenfranchised and distinctly American lens. Hope is allowed its due season. Prayer its piety. But Earle’s poetry finds solace in the blunt and absolute, forcing action or acceptance or at the very least, acknowledgment.

In the parabolic cannon of folk music, the art of wrapping a moral imperative in a poetic narrative is the height of accomplishment. With, “Throughout time, between a wolf and a shepherd, who do you think has killed more sheep” Earle does just that.

According to Woody Guthrie, “It’s a Folk Singers job to comfort the disturbed people and to disturb the comfortable people.” Justin Towne Earle is such a folk singer. “The Saint of Lost Causes” sits squarely between Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changing” and Utah Phillips’ We Have Fed You All For A Thousand Years as one of the great albums and songs in the folk cannon.


Noah C Lekas is a poet, music journalist and the author of Saturday Night Sage. Join him on Twitter, Instagram for more information.

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K Recommends: “Odyssey” by Dream Koala

Image from BBC

I recently asked friends to send me song suggestions for a mix. About to face some pretty heavy life stuff, I requested songs that motivate, invigorate, make you dance, feel like comfort food. Mostly I wanted distraction to emanate from the hug of my headphones.

I was rewarded with many genres and a listen to what many of my favorite online friends put in their ears. Among these tracks were comedic tunes, seriously sad jams, danceable gems, wistful acoustics, mesmerizing electronics, classic soul and indie pop for the head-nodding set. I love them all. I also said I would pick one song of the 100+ to recommend here. There were several very infectious and/or wildly emotional songs that gave me pause and lingered around my headspace awhile.

My friend Dan E. sent me a few stand-out selections. Of these, Dream Koala’s “Odyssey” filled my ears and probably my entire aura with rich sound. I could only process the first listen’s description as Lenny Kravitz’s singing style on the mellow, cool, and painfully calm “It Ain’t Over Til It’s Over” colliding with a generous swell of instrumentation like that of Cigarettes After Sex or really any goosebump-inducing rise and fall. Add a hint of Arab Strap’s pacing and the feeling of someone performing in a room with echoes filling floor to cathedral ceiling. This just barely attempts to describe all the haunting, fulfilling musicality in this “Odyssey.”

The lyrics are sparse but have depth of detail. It must have been a hell of an odyssey the artist embarked upon to come to these questions and realizations! The sensitivity and observations are so human. Put into the context of the dark, breezy feel of this song, the weight of the words is delicate but empowered. It seems as though the strengths and hesitations in the lyrics and music mimic life; the truest odyssey possible.

The slow ticking sound at the start of the song emphasizes time passage to me. By the end, the ticking has become more frenzied, the presentation wild, free and chaotic; lost and found.

(Song recommendation by K Weber)

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Venus Recommends: “Cherry Picking” by Girlpool

I was cherry picking

I was cherry picking dreams

I was cherry picking, did you ever think of me

You were hot and heavy

You were hesitant it seemed

When I’m cherry picking

I always know you’re gonna leave

When I was sixteen, I discovered Before The World Was Big by Girlpool. I was really really deep into indie music at the time and I was just obsessed with that album. I taped pictures of my favorite indie artists to the walls of my college dorm — Girlpool being one of the groups pictured. The previous summer, I had started to play my original songs and a few covers at a local coffee shop. It made me feel brave and strong so I carried that hobby into college as well. Throughout my freshman year, I played my guitar and ukulele nonstop. I had a few songs that were a part of my sets and “Cherry Picking” was one of the first that I had learned to play. I remember playing the song until I thought I came up with my own version since guitartabs didn’t have the chords listed and still doesn’t. (I swear, I’m not bitter about that at all! Just kidding, I totally am. )

At the time, I had recently been diagnosed with BPD and I was also in my first big relationship. This song felt like an admission of my feelings and a summary of some of my fears. I was critical without realizing it and I cared so much about pleasing my partner. I felt like I was “Cherry Picking” which fights were important and which should just slip below the surface and become something we didn’t discuss. I didn’t want to lose her but I always knew she was going to leave. So, whenever I played “Cherry Picking,” I was the most vulnerable I could be.

Now, every time I listen to the song, I’m transported to a calm spot of ignorance and acceptance. My dull memory is ignorant to the negatives of the past but my recovery mind has moved forward emotionally from that time. So, “Cherry Picking” is a fond memory and I just think of the times I played it for friends in common areas and at open mic nights. I think of the adrenaline of stage fright, the rush of joy that came with letting people hear my shaky voice, and the feeling of being absolutely terrified but wildly and irrationally in love.

If this spoke to you, please give “Cherry Picking” a listen and make your own memories with the song. Love it irrationally.

(Song recommendation by Venus Davis)

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Ottavia Recommends: “The Ghost of You” by My Chemical Romance

At the height of my tweens, my friends introduced me to some band from New Jersey called My Chemical Romance. All these years later, there are still teenagers like me who never got the chance to see them live because of their 2013 breakup but would give up a limb to see them reunited.

This is due to emo masterpieces like “The Ghost of You,” found about halfway through arguably their best record, 2004 Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge. Which is not to say that the other three albums in their discography — their 2002 debut, I Brought You My Bullets, You Brought Me Your Love; 2006’s TheBlack Parade; and Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys in 2010 — suck. Those contain a lot of perfect songs. It’s just that nothing comes as close to touching Three Cheers, a realized concept album with real punch, so clean and tight that it broke the band into the mainstream.

So, about that song: “The Ghost of You” sounds like grief fed into a guitar amp — relentless and intense and emotional. It’s everything a 2000s rock song could possibly want, everything a My Chemical Romance song could possibly want.

Just listen to that opening guitar figure and how melancholic it is. How Gerard Way and his devilishly handsome New Jersey accent gets emo hearts to flutter right away with “I neeeeevvvvvvvvver! SAID I’d lieeee and wait forehhhhhvvverrrrrrr!” The intensity of the choruses. How you can hear Gerard’s lips quivering as he whispers, “If I fall…down…” The single second of quiet that follows. Then BOOM, just sheer power for the next minute or so.

This is MCR, everybody. Take note, youthful rock bands desperate for Spotify streams. This is how you do it.

The video is also awesome. Few MCR videos (except maybe “Helena,” also off Three Cheers) is more iconic. The band’s acting in it is so sincere. It’s like Saving Private Ryan but…better. Who knew that accuracy and effort could be found in music videos? See for yourself.

(Song recommendation by Ottavia Paluch)

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Jeanne Recommends: “Beast of Burden” by The Rolling Stones

Spring 1999: I was almost 23, beer-buzzed, and canoodling with a guy who was all wrong for me on an ancient couch in the living room of a worn out rental house in a tiny college town. His housemates were smoking weed and listening to music. After a few random songs, one of the guys put on Some Girls, the 1978 Rolling Stones album.

At the time, I was just a burgeoning Stones acolyte — but something about Some Girls, and in particular, “Beast of Burden,” went straight for my soul. Maybe it was Keith Richards’ and Ronnie Wood’s unforgettable guitar work or the ache behind Mick Jagger’s vocals that got to me, but that song made me forget where I was and I couldn’t concentrate on anything but the next note.

I’ll never be your beast of burden
So let’s go home and draw the curtains
Put some music on the radio
Come on baby make sweet love to me

Another gal who was there — an art major — took a photo of me and the wrong guy on that decrepit couch. She shot us from above. I looked cute. He looked wrecked, his first relapse into alcoholism beginning to show all over him. His left arm was slung across my chest and his hand gripped my shoulder, so even if I cropped him out I could never use that damn photo for anything without having to explain the phantom arm bifurcating my upper body.

Am I hard enough?
Am I rough enough?
Am I rich enough?
I’m not too blind to see…

A few weeks later, my 23rd birthday arrived and my aunt Marie mailed me a card with a $20 bill in it. I took that money down to the local music store and bought my own copy of Some Girls. I listened to almost nothing else for the next few months. “Beast of Burden” became my go-to on karaoke nights at the now long-gone Golden Horse Lounge, too.

I tried to forget about the wrong guy. I almost succeeded, until he resurfaced — sober — a decade later. I was wrapping up a divorce, so he proposed, I said yes, and then he shitcanned me five weeks later in a fit of paranoia. Sobriety suited him, but getting there had left some ugly scars. “Beast of Burden” saw me through the worst of the heartbreak.

There’s one thing baby
I don’t understand
You keep on telling me
I ain’t your kind of man

Years later, I came to associate “Beast of Burden” with another man, a man I know I will love for the rest of my life. We spent a desert afternoon together naked, sharing a cigar and drinking kölsch while listening to Some Girls from beginning to end. Later, he said of that day and that music, “I love that. I want that to be a forever memory between us.”

He has nothing to worry about.

I was browsing in a random record store during a trip out of town last fall and I found a first press of Some Girls. I bought it without a second thought. It has some scratches, one so deep that the record skips during “Lies,” but “Beast of Burden” sounds even better with a little hiss and pop.

Those wrong guys will come and go, but the Stones will never leave me.

(Song recommendation by Jeanne Sharp)

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