Thursday, June 4, 2020

Monthly Mix: May 2020

(1) Simmy - "Ngihamba Nawe" (f/ Sino Msolo)

Three minutes and thirty-eight seconds of perfect, weightless calm, always there when you need it. I wouldn't be surprised if this ends up as my most played song of the year on Spotify solely based on the number of times I've played it this month.

(2) Phoebe Bridgers - "I See You"

The best musical moment of 2018 was Phoebe screaming "I WANNA BE EMACIATED" at the end of boygenius' "Me & My Dog." The best musical moment of 2020 may well be Phoebe screaming "I'LL CLIMB THROUGH THE WINDOW AGAIN" at the end of "I See You," while the background effects make her voice sound like a table saw cutting through metal. (If you disagree, please listen to it louder.) The fact that these are almost exactly the same moment does not bother me in the slightest.

(3) Jeff Rosenstock - "The Beauty of Breathing"

I have no idea how songwriters deal with the pace of world events. Rosenstock wrote this song well before the world fell into the grip of COVID-19, and it's pretty clearly about battling personal demons ("I'm tired of knowing what about myself is wrong / But never mustering up the control / To really try and change it"), but it's also called "The Beauty of Breathing" at a time when thousands are dying from a respiratory virus, and it includes lyrics like:

I walk outside and people say, "Hey!"
And sometimes I just wanna say
"Hey! Go away! Go away!"
So I guess I better stay inside

So it's hard not to view it as an anthem for our bizarre, socially-distanced lives, and ...

Or, wait:

I have no idea how songwriters deal with the pace of world events. Rosenstock wrote this song well before the United States succumbed to a historic wave of police brutality, and it's pretty clearly about battling personal demons ("I'm tired of knowing what about myself is wrong / But never mustering up the control / To really try and change it"), but it's also called "The Beauty of Breathing" at a time when the singular image seared into our collective brain is a man with a knee on his neck, fighting for air, and it includes lyrics like:

Maybe some day I'll wanna breathe
And maybe the people that I meet
Won't lead to a certain future where
I'm betrayed

So it's hard not to view it as an indictment of our senseless, terrifying police state, and ...

Or, you know what:

I have no idea how songwriters deal with the pace of world events, but ending your song by yelling "And that's why I'm so fucking sad!" has a pretty good chance of keeping you eternally relevant.

(4) Bad Moves - "Cape Henlopen"

Hyper-catchy punk song about (a) trying to escape the gender binary and (b) going to a beach in Delaware. I love this band so much.

(5) Carly Rae Jepsen - "Window"

Now this is exactly what a b-side should be. I get why this didn't make the cut for Dedicated. It doesn't fit. It's a very un-CRJ instrumental, and it's "risky" to the extent that a catchy, three-minute pop song could ever be. It was written with two musicians who (according to my very brief googling) have never worked with her before. It sounds "live" in a way her music doesn't usually sound. 

But, at the same time, it's great. So yeah, release it as a b-side. And hopefully people with more influence than me will say, "yes, we want more like this!"

(6) Lady Gaga - "Rain On Me" (f/ Ariana Grande)

I wrote something about this song, but I'm not sure it made sense, and maybe I shouldn't be writing about this song at all, especially when others are doing so in a much more personal way. There are some beautiful reviews of this song over at The Singles Jukebox, but it's the first one that really got to me. 
Wayne Weizhen Zhang: When was the last time you felt queer joy? a friend recently messaged me. It’s not the only message that I’ve gotten like it, coming from someone reflecting on how hard it is to find love in our queer identities when the spaces and support networks we’ve spent our adult lives creating are no longer easily accessible. Lockdown is hard for everyone, but queer people have it especially rough. I have friends who chose to stay alone rather than return to uncomfortable family situations; friends who chose to find shelter in other countries rather than go home; friends in nominally progressive, loving environments who still feel constantly micro-aggressed against. Due to COVID, I’ve been forced to live with my parents for four months now, during which time we’ve managed to avoid a huge confrontation about my sexuality–but I still feel so lonely and unseen. “Rain on Me,” however, sees me. This song is big and dumb and flawed, and probably designed as fan-service, but it is so, so gay. The more-is-more sound, the delightful camp aesthetic of the promos, the millions of memes, the outrageous Chromatica merchandise are all as extra as I wish I could be. For God’s sake, at one point, Ariana literally sings the words, “Gotta live my truth, not keep it bottled in.” Two of the biggest gay icons in the world coming together to sing about their traumas in the pouring rain would have been cathartic pop under any circumstances, but under these, it feels like nothing short of triumphant, torrential queer joy. 
(7) I'm Glad It's You - "Every Sun, Every Moon"

For me, May was the month of long-awaited albums that I couldn't wait to hear and, now that they are finally here ... I haven't really processed any of them. I think this is the best non-single from this album, but who knows? You should go listen to it and then tell me.

(8) Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit - "It Gets Easier"

Jason Isbell. Katie Crutchfield (Waxahatchee). Michael Hadreas (Perfume Genius). Matty Healy (The 1975). If there is one positive trend in this otherwise horrible year, it is artists getting sober and proceeding to make some of the best work of their careers (in Waxahatchee's case, I would say the very best). In the past, I know I've fallen victim to the dangerous lie that, when it comes to art, sober = boring, and I hope this year puts that to bed for good.

(9) Dixie Chicks - "Julianna Calm Down"

Takes awhile to get going, but absolutely gets there in the end.

(10) The 1975 - "Roadkill"

The uncomfortable but important question is: Does Matty Healy have the right to say "f**" in this context? That's not my call to make, and I get why he thinks he's in the right here, but I kinda wish he hadn't.

The perfectly comfortable and utterly meaningless question is: Why do I have such a soft spot for British acts who try to make country music? Because, seriously, dating back to "Wild Horses," it's always good.

(11) 2nd Grade - "Boys In Heat"
(12) 2nd Grade - "Summer Of Your Dreams"

Hit to Hit, 2nd Grade's new album, has twenty-four songs and clocks in at forty-one minutes. These aren't even traditional songs as much as sketches, but they're such good sketches. "Boys in Heat" is a perfect Big Star song in a minute and sixteen seconds. Do I wish it were longer? Sure, but why should it be?

(13) HAIM - "Don't Wanna"

I guess I would also choose to push back the release of my album if I had an endless supply of killer singles I could release one at a time in the interim.

(14) Gorillaz - "How Far?" (f/ Tony Allen and Skepta)

There's a dark but accurate joke that if you see a random man's name trend on Twitter, it either means he died or has been accused of sexual violence. Tony Allen died, like so many other musicians have recently, though not from Covid-19, as if it matters. Allen's wasn't a name I knew, though it turns out I was already a fan of his work as Fela Kuti's drummer. Brian Eno called him "perhaps the greatest drummer who has ever lived." I thoroughly enjoyed going back through Allen's work with a renewed focus (just like I did with John Prine, and Adam Schlesinger ...) and it makes me wish we could conduct these retrospectives while the artists are still alive, though I'm not sure how we would do that. Maybe we schedule them on an artist's fiftieth birthday, or seventy-fifth. Maybe we ask modern artists to write about their lesser-known influences. Something.

(15) Run The Jewels - "JU$T" (f/ Pharrell Williams and Zack De La Rocha)

The fun comment here is that I'm definitely going back to grad school so I can write an MFA thesis on the line "Got a Vonnegut punch for ya Atlas Shrug."

The more accurate comment is that I've just been sitting here staring at this:
Beep beep, Richie, this is New York City
The x on the map where the pain keep hitting
Just us ducks here sitting
Where murderous chokehold cops still earnin' a livin'
Funny how some say money don't matter
That's rich now, isn't it, get it? Comedy
Try to sell a pack of smokes to get food
Get killed and it's not an anomaly
But hey, it's just money

(16) Dagny - "Come Over"

She has to pay CRJ royalties for those background "HEY!"s, but she pays them with Katy Perry's money, so it's cool.

(17) Celeste - "Stop This Flame"
(18) Pussycat Dolls - "React"

Both of these songs have been out for a few months already. Both have received glowing reviews elsewhere ("Stop This Flame" / "React"). Of the several dozen people who read this blog, I know for a fact that most of you already know and love them. But I can't shake the fear that, somewhere out there, exists a person who only hears about new music through this blog, and therefore is not aware of these songs. Well, to that one hypothetical, likely apocryphal person: these songs are good, you should check them out.

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