So Hot Right Now, April 2014 (by Joshua)

 

springFucking hell, it’s about time.

Spring is finally here in Baltimore, after what has seemed to be the most annoyingly long winter in recent memory. There wasn’t as much snow as, say, the winter of 2009-2010 (The Snowpocaplyse, as it were), but it was frighteningly cold the entire time. Winter is always an ordeal in the Delmarva area, but I don’t know of another winter I quite hated as much as this one. I literally wept two days ago when baseball season started – I got out of an especially grueling day of work to come outside to bright sun and 64 degrees and I couldn’t help a tear coming to my eye when I got home, opened up all the windows, opened up a beer, and watch the Orioles beat the reigning World Series champs, the Red Sox. (I fucking hate the Red Sox…more than the Yankees, less than the Steelers, about as much as I hate Jeffery Maier.)

So I figured my April list, which is usually bright, had to be especially upbeat this year. I had a lot of help this month from NPR’s lists of SXSW artists, which are…extensive. I’ve been pouring over them at work, much to the chagrin of my co-workers, who seem to prefer 80′s arena rock and Trampled by Turtles. (I know, it’s an odd combo. But it’s still better than Katy Perry and Eminem on forever repeat.) The song “Jardin Du Luxembourg” by The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger is a good example of a song that I discovered from these lists, my co-workers are baffled by, and I’m enamored with. It’s got this great groove to it, but the ethereal lead singer and the droning, parallel fifths harmonies have proved to be just too weird for most. I guess I get it? But come on, get on board.

Really short story: You know how I often say I either write off or immediately dislike music when I first hear it, then once I either re-discover it or actually listen to it I find I love it? I had to live with the unfortunate result of my quirk this month when I super excitedly sent Claire the track “Oh Man” by Born Ruffians. The message was all like (as they often are), “Oh fucking fuck hell balls shizzbot, Claire, you gotta peep this with your earballs right this very second!” Of course, nearly immediately she sent back, “Uh, yeah, I know. I have. Born Ruffians were on my wonderful February SHRN list, which you follow.” Nice job, Joshua.

Some quick hits:

  • Holy balls, I cannot get the synth line from “Peaches” by In the Valley Below out of my head. They need more stuff on Spotify, pronto.
  • Also, according to this list, I’m apparently super into synth pop/rock now. Who knew that was gonna happen. Claire, I guess? She did turn me on to CRHVCHES. (Who are doing two shows at the 9:30 Club which are already both fucking sold out.)
  • Sold out too? Fucking Alabama Shakes. Why in the world didn’t I buy tickets when they first went on sale? I’m totally slacking on concerts recently, and I’m angry about this.
  • Not sold out? King Kahn and the Shrines, playing at the Ottobar in June. I’ll buy tickets to that, uh, tomorrow. Yeah.
  • I’ve always written off ELO as kinda lame (“Evil Woman” is, in fact, totally lame.), but holy hell is “Long Black Road” fucking funky as hell, and “Mr. Blue Sky” is perhaps the happiest song ever.
  • Most of these artists I’ve heard the one song on this list, so I’ve got some albums to listen to this month. I did already listen to the Summer Camp album, and it was really fun. I’d check it out, if I were you.
  • Yes, “April Come She Will” is a lazy, easy way to end a list for April. Also, fuck you.

So Hot Right Now, March 2014 (By Joshua)

Jackie-Chan-WTF-meme-face-70958233396

I cannot figure out what I’m into this month.

When I first was putting this list together a couple weeks ago, it was like two-thirds 90′s rap. I had gotten into a discussion late last month with my brother about the best rap albums of the 90′s and my list quickly became a who’s-who of that genre: 2Pac, Biggie, Nas, Wu-Tang Clan…all the best were there. But after about a week I realized that I just couldn’t listen to them anymore. I don’t know why I’ve changed, but 90′s rap is really boring me recently. It shouldn’t; I really believe some of the best rap ever came out in the early nineties. I mean, it’s just hard to find a rap album better than A Tribe Called Quest’s The Low End Theory, but I still can’t listen to it right now.

Having said that, this list is not devoid of rap or hip-hop….or whatever the hell you call OutKast. There might not be a better hip-hop album released in the Aughts (2000-2009) than Speakerboxxx/The Love Below. It’s so much fun, and it’s so fucking weird. Also in this list is perhaps my favorite song from 1990, “Fight the Power.” It’s weird to think about how much Chuck D and Flava Flav hated white people, and the latter had two different shows on VH1.

Still, this list all over the place. I go from a band that sounds exactly like the Alabama Shakes would if they had a male singer (St. Paul & The Broken Bones [it's freaky how much they sound like AS. Still great, obviously.]) to St. Vincent (how fucking awesome is their [her?] new album, guys?) to a whole section of 90′s songs I never thought I liked, but nonetheless have been stuck in my head. (90′s posts are coming, people. We just have to get up off our lazy asses. Well, I’m lazy; Claire has a wedding to plan.)

A couple quick hits:

  • “The Sign” is fucking poetry, y’all.
  • I really would like to hear a funk or soul version of “Come On Eileen.” Make it so, soul bands.
  • I could listen to “Counting Blue Cars (Tell Me Your Thoughts On God)” on repeat for days. It’s also probably responsible for the band Live, so, there’s that.
  • The series finale of Dollhouse is freaking awesome, and the it’s mostly the song they use at the end of the episode (“Everywhere I Go”) that makes it so heart wrenching.

So Hot Right Now, March 2014: The All Hits Scrapbook (by Claire)

One time everyone was at the apartment carving pumpkins and, having exhausted everything new that I had in rotation, I played my Happy Songs mixtape. Every time a new song played Amy looked up, happy and alarmed, and announced “All of the hits!” It was my all time favorite mix tape compliment.

Usually I want to offer this bouquet of musical discoveries. I want you to hear exactly what I’ve been listening to for the past month (or, more often, week). And then I forget, in the rush of so much new, all the old things I love listening to most of all. It’s comfort food, something good and warm for the soul.

I felt kind of overwhelmed by the present and the future these part few weeks, so I bopped around in the past and pulled together something that me at any age would call “All of the hits!” I’ve been time traveling a little with this playlist. Here’s where I’ve been going:

1. The first time I remember hearing “I’m Waiting for the Man,” I was 21 years old and it was the favorite song of the four-year-old girl I was babysitting. I was sitting in that house with the girl’s mom, taking a break from painting in the garage, paint smears on her loose clothes, her charming light eyes and short short hair. The house smelled like baby shampoo and sliced bread gone stale and some sweet arid food smell that lingered no matter what I cooked for dinner. “Sure, you can listen to it one more time,” the mom said, so we listened to it three times in a row and the girl danced around and the grownups grinned. For some reason, everything about this moment was great. Baby’s first Lou Reed jam.

2. It was very dark grey all the time and most mornings my car valiantly tried to start but wasn’t up to it. I was 19, living in Baltimore, and working at the music memorabilia shop a couple days a week. The staff smoked cigarettes in the rain and ate steamy plastic vats of glossy Chinese food from the same awful carry out place every day. I scrawled the names of records and reorganized knick knacks, wrote copy, but mostly I walked around the musty mini warehouse, sifting through the comforting chaos of musical oddities. I played Get Behind Me Satan nonstop for at least two months.

3. It was the middle of the night and I had just tracked down the High Fidelity soundtrack. Like a guardian angel, that movie kept appearing on TV the second I plopped down on that tremendous couch in that tremendous house, two sweet dogs with little old man faces illegally crawling onto the leather to curl up in a ball by my side. Outside was Australia, but I was always inside, sleeping or working or having no money to do much of anything. But it was nice sometimes, those long dark hours in the middle of the night, when I wrote and drank espresso and listened to what I wanted to listen to. Sometimes Joshua and Noura were up and I’d have maybe my second conversation of the day. “Jesus Wants Me For a Sunbeam” is sitting in the dark, content and caffeinated, finally putting a name and a band to a song I’d been wanting to track down for years.

*************************

“Honey Love” is dazzlingly sweet, from images to title to sound, upbeat and cheerful. “Cussin’ Cryin’ and Carryin’ On” will guarantee that you never forget the awesomeness of Tina Turner again. “Let’s Go” sounds like the start of a big adventure.

And you’ve heard the rest of these, right? It feels a little bizarre to lay out the basics of “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard” to you.

What are you listening to this month? Have you been doing any musical time traveling? Let me know in the comments.

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Listen To This, Not That (by Joshua)

eat this

I’d like to introduce a new series on this blog. Are you familiar with the popular books and web series, Eat This, Not That? (Sorry for the link to fucking Men’s Health.) I read Yahoo! Sports a bunch and there are always of ads for this diet, and I’ve clicked on them a few times because I’ve always been curious about what you skinny people actually eat, and if it’s any good. (No, it isn’t.)

So while I obviously don’t care about what I eat, I care immensely about what I listen to, and perhaps making me a bit insufferable, what other people listen to as well. It pains me when I know people I like listen to crap music. Yes, I know that sentence makes me a complete asshole, but it’s the truth. When I get into someone’s car or go over their house for a party or something and they’re rocking out to Sublime, I cringe, and silently weep for them.

I have to wonder, though – is it that they really like Sublime, or have they just never been exposed to something that is better than Sublime? I’m willing to bet it’s the second. Well, that’s what I’m here for.

DON’T LISTEN TO….

“Santeria” by Sublime

I’ve gone on record with my distaste for Sublime, and all of those reasons are immediately present in this song. It begins with a boring guitar sound (looks like someone found the reverb pedal!) and punches into an equally boring beat. Even Meg White could handle that drumbeat. Brad Nowell’s voice isn’t bad, but like all parts of this band, it’s bland and uninspired. The lyrics are pretty heinous – most of it is gibberish, and the rest is about killing Sancho. And I get that lyrics aren’t supposed to be the focus of reggae music, but this is barely reggae, and the lyrics sound like they were just filler sung over the music while they were recording the track, as if they showed up to the studio with the music written and Nowell was too stoned to put pen to paper and just said, “Fuck it, I got this.”

LISTEN TO THIS INSTEAD:

“You Can Get It If You Really Want” by Jimmy Cliff

If you want a nice musical pick-me-up, put this song on. It also works in literally any place you would’ve played “Santeria,” from the car to the party. It has a wonderful slide-in-guitar, trumpet opener,  and Jimmy Cliff’s silky smooth voice keeps you in, and the wonderful backup vocals are complementary without being overbearing.  The lyrics, while not winning any awards, are at least pleasant and uplifting. The trumpet really gives it an extra punchiness, too, especially in the short bridge section. This is reggae – none of this SoCal lo-dub bullshit. It also begins one of the most wildly influential reggae albums (at least one of the most successful) of all-time, The Harder They Come, the soundtrack to the movie of the same name, put together and mostly written by Mr. Cliff, with a few great standouts by other artists (such as the always enjoyable “007 (Shanty Town)” by Desmond Dekker). If you like Sublime’s fake ass reggae, try on the real thing. I’m willing to bet you’re gonna like it.

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Mixtape Tuesday: Blizzards, Amiright? (by Claire)

Happy Mixtape Tuesday! Why is it always snowing in Maryland? Always. Every time I talk to any of my lovely Baltimore folks—snow, blizzard, more snow, rinse repeat.

In honor of the endless snow, and because I promised Joshua some jams, I made him (and you!) this blizzard mixtape. Knowing Maryland, it’s probably Spring again now. Or another blizzard. Or 100 degrees.

Some notes on the actual mixtape:

  • My vision was 80’s pop and modern garage rock sandwich.
  • But then I walked down the street listening to Talking Heads 77 and decided that “Pulled Up” is the musical equivalent of drinking a pot of coffee and blizzards are made for getting too hyped up while trapped in your house.
  • CLAIRE sounds like if Florence Welch or Hannah Reid from London Grammar decided to make pop music instead. Which Florence Welch did briefly last year, and I really enjoyed the results.
  • Every mixtape I’ve ever made for Joshua contains an out of nowhere funk/ soul interlude.
  • I cannot stop playing “Cussin’ Cryin’ and Carryin’ On.” This entire compilation of women in funk is pretty great.

Important discoveries I made while making this mixtape:

  • “Sex Dwarf” by Soft Cell—it’s not only in their top 10 songs, it’s number five! How? Who is listening to this? Are they listening to it for an 80s pop version of Spinal Tap?! Can I write for that? Call me.
  • “Now That We Found Love” by Heavy D and the Boyz heavily samples this delightful classic O’Jays song “Now That We Found Love.” Of course I didn’t find that while Googling “Pretty versions of Now That We Found Love” for my wedding ceremony…of course not….
  • Nashville Skyline has always been my favorite Bob Dylan album and I did not realize that until I actually sat down and listened to it as a palate cleanser after epic mixtape making
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Songs About Andreas (by Claire)

andrea mixtape
 

Well friends, I asked if you wanted name mixtapes, and you delivered! First up: Andrea.

Unlike Josie, my life has been full of a consistent stream of Andreas. Who, like most people who share the same name, have almost nothing in common.

But Andrea songs paint a clear picture about Andreas! According to this playlist:

  • Andrea is at a 90’s nightclub somewhere in Europe, listening to techno.
  • Andrea is breaking the hearts of pop punk boys.
  • Andrea is charming the occasional indie folk type.
  • Andrea is friends with a series of European pop stars.
  • Andrea just got some bitchin’ clothes.

People have a lot to say about Andrea. People want to scream about Andrea. People sometimes want to combine the two and scream on and off about Andrea for five minutes or more. She seems to be having an excellent time though, except for that run-in at the nail salon.

Based on these songs, I would say Andrea is a fun loving, adventurous sometimes-party girl.

What are the Andreas in your life like? Does this sound right? And how much do you want to bring back “Gag me with a spoon” after listening to “Valley Girl” (So much, guys. Lets bring it back stat.)? Let me know in the comments.

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Anatomy of a Mixtape: Sussing You Out (by Joshua)

spin

I have a seriously problem when it comes to mixtapes. I’ll make them for any and all occasions. Birthday? You bet. Kwanzaa? Sure. Arbor Day? That was one hell of a party. Don’t knock partying on Arbor Day until you’ve tried it. But the mix I make most often is, without a doubt, one for a current or potential love interest.

Obviously these lists are always different, and those differences aren’t just based on the lady involved. If it was just about making a mix for a potential special lady friend, I might make the same mix every time, simply because if I found something that worked, I’d keep doing it. (It’s a combination of the idea of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” and sheer laziness. To quote Dave Chappelle, “If a guy could get laid in a cardboard box, he wouldn’t buy a house.”)

So I have a treat for you. I normally don’t talk about this on this blog, but I have had a crush on a girl, a friend of a friend, and unsurprisingly, I made a mixtape for her. (Correction: She has already shot me down in the process of writing this post, but I like the idea enough that I’m gonna keep writing about it.) I was going over to my friend’s house under a thin pretense of playing drinking games, but really I was just going over there to try and see where she stood. So, before I left, I quickly slapped together a list. I called this mix, “Sussing You Out.”

And that’s what it was designed to do, musically. I had recently played a song for the friend that she was convinced the girl in question would like (that song was “What We Gained In The Fire” by The Mynabirds) so I built a mix around it, designed to figure out what kind of music she was into. But obviously I couldn’t put the Mynabirds’ song at the beginning, for two reasons: 1. You have to bury the lead when it comes to mixtapes for potential special lady friends, or else they may not listen past the song you said you’d play for them. 2. The song is really kind of an ending song, despite it being the opener on its respective album. No, I decided to open with “The Suburbs” by Arcade Fire, a great opening track, and one designed to slip into whatever situation the night had presented when I decided to start the playlist. It’s a chameleon song, you see.

But it has a flaw as an opening song – it’s not punchy at all, so I had to kick it up quick. Hence “Maps” by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. When I put this song on the list, it immediately synthesized my secondary goal with the playlist – subtly hint at the fact that I had a crush on the girl. If you look at the mix song to song, you’ll notice almost all of them are some kind of love song. Maybe not all of them are happy love songs (“Use Me” is a particularly fucked up version of love), but some of them are almost sappy (here’s looking at you, “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes”).

Now, the sequencing isn’t great. I did slap this together in about 15 minutes, and it’s not a super great representation of things that I like, just a bunch of songs that don’t sound out of place at a party, songs that I’d like to know if she liked, and songs that say, “Hey, I’m digging what you’re throwing down.” These goals are certainly achieved, but it can be done better, and despite getting shot down, I am gonna take another crack at it soon.

And to be clear: by taking another crack at it, I mean do a second draft of the playlist, not keep trying to woo a girl I know is not interested.

So Hot Right Now, February 2014: Spring Songs for Bright Rebels (by Claire)

cherry blossoms

I don’t know what it is about February. The month is short, it’s not quite Spring. The pressure of January with its capital letter NEW YEAR IS NOW theme and all the seriousness of resolutions and behaving has passed. The sun isn’t setting quite as early. Everyone has stopped talking about diets and the holidays are way in the rearview window.

This is the second year I’ve noticed the energy that fills me up at the beginning of this month—wide awake creative energy, young and lively, the kind I remember from my teens. I’m writing a lot. I’m reading a lot of Diane Di Prima. I’m seeing friends and walking in the fresh air and drinking too much coffee. And I’m craving a very specific kind of music: Spring music.

My Spring music essentials are simple. If there are cherry blossoms on the trees, I’m probably listening to:

  • Clapping and tambourines and surf guitar.
  • All-girl bands, specifically DIY 90’s girl groups where the lead singers’ vocals are described as “bratty” and modern bands with an old school Motown girl group sound.
  • Indiepop.
  • A splash of punk.
  • Cover art that charms, that makes you want to give the band a shot (An experience that’s become nearly impossible based on how I consume music now, but I force it for fun a couple times a year because I miss the thrill).
  • Lo-fi vocals.
  • Bands with teenager in the name.
  • Songs about starting a band, waiting for summer to come, and being a redhead.

These are songs that make you feel young and alive, like you might go on a big adventure and the whole thing might take place just down the street. And for dessert, fragile lugubrious songs for a restless mope. My So Hot Right Now for February is a soundtrack for tending to your bright rebellious spirit.

What are you listening to? Is your February mixtape approach completely different from mine? Is it a bad idea to get a tattoo of “We all love you, shifty disco girl”? Let me know in the comments.

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Top 5 Songs for English Majors Who Are Really Into Grammar (by Nate Logan)

Contrary to popular belief, English majors don’t just read books, talk books, and say, “The book was better than the movie.” Speaking as a member of this illustrious group of party animals, I can say without a doubt that we love good tunes almost, if not as much, as hardback first editions. Here are some songs that speak to our MLA ears.


“Oxford Comma” by Vampire Weekend

[Oxford comma: a comma between the final items in a list, often preceding the word `and' or `or', such as the final comma in the list newspapers, magazines, and books]

“Who gives a fuck about an Oxford comma?” Ezra Koenig sings in the first line of this song. Well, some of your professors care about it. And while it may seem a small thing at first, as you take more and more English classes, you latch onto it. Grammatical things will start to bother you, you will become entrenched in a position on the Oxford comma, among other things. Personally, I think two spaces after a period is pretty irksome.


“Parentheses” by The Blow

[parentheses: either or both of a pair of signs () used in writing to mark off an interjected explanatory or qualifying remark, to indicate separate groupings of symbols in mathematics and symbolic logic, etc.]

This is the love song for the English major into indie pop. This track from Paper Television is cute and danceable—a must for the mix you plan to give the alluring man or woman in class who always brings up punctuation when talking about poetry. “When you’re holding me / we make a pair of parentheses” makes even the most Norton-hardened heart flutter. I can’t think of a set of cozier set of grammatical marks.


“I Palindrome I” by They Might Be Giants

[palindrome: a word, line, verse, number, sentence, etc., reading the same backward as forward, as Madam, I'm Adam  or Poor Dan is in a droop.]

This is a classic older TMBG song and demonstrates, maybe more than any other TMBG song, the band’s penchant for wordplay. John Flansburgh’s sings “Man o nam / Man o nam” while John Linnell sings the song title during the choruses. The song’s numerical length is a palindrome (2:22). The most impressive palindroming comes at a lyrical bridge, where Linnell sings:

“Son I am able,” she said. “Though you scare me.”

“Watch,” said I.

“Beloved,” I said, “watch me scare you though.”

Said she, “Able am I, Son.”

Of course, this isn’t the only TMBG song that has literary references (see: “I Should Be Allowed To Think,” “Lie Still, Little Bottle,” and “Rhythm Section Want Ad” among others).

“When I Write My Master’s Thesis” by John K. Samson

You’ve graduated! Congratulations! Oh, you wanted to do something with your English degree? Time to go to graduate school and sit back as it consumes your life. John K. Samson, lead singer of The Weakerthans and a literary fellow in his own right, penned this song that is maybe too relatable for the graduate student in English. Even after completing a thesis that you’ve worked tireless on, there’s no guarantee of a stable job. But it’s not all bad news. When it’s over, the English major’s heart can rest easy. In a life outside of the Academy, there’s “No more marking first year papers / No more citing sources.”


“My Baby Loves a Bunch of Authors” by Moxy Früvous

I dare you to find a song with more literary name-dropping. I can’t help singing along to this fun, a’cappela-infused song. There are books everywhere in this song which creates a lighthearted tension that escalates through the choruses: “My heart’s so broke and bleedin’ / Baby’s just sittin’ there / doin’ some readin’,”; “We’ve been livin’ in hovels / spendin’ all our money on / brand new novels.” Even though these lyrics sound a little dire, the music and harmonized vocals assure that the couple’s story ends well, and it does:

I like to go out dancing,

my baby loves a bunch of authors.

We’ll be together for ages

eatin’ and sleepin’ and (x3)…turnin’ pages.

Check out the version of this song on Live Noise for a faster, hand-clapping good time.

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So Hot Right Now, February 2014: Musical Regression (By Joshua)

slap

Have you ever found yourself reliving your past? I seem to be doing that this month. All I want to listen to is my old So Hot Right Now lists. And the funny thing is I have very little desire to listen to the ones from 2013, just the ones from 2012. I hit those lists out of the goddamn park. The March list of 2012 is perhaps my favorite So Hot Right Now list I’ve ever made, and it’s a seriously weird one. I mean, on one list exists Warren Zevon, Rasputina, The Band, Rage Against the Machine, The Beatles, and The Moments. The weird part is that I know how I sequence these lists, which is to say I barely do any sequencing, and somehow each song flows perfectly into the next one.

I’m struggling to find a reason for why this list is so good. Maybe I was having a good month that month…but my list doesn’t seem especially happy. I think that was the month I moved into my place in Charles Village, but I honestly remember that as totally stressful and not at all happy. Maybe it doesn’t have to be happy to be good. Maybe it’s good because it’s unhappy. Either way, it’s good, and there are like 8 songs from that list on this one.

Also prominently featured on this list is my list from November of 2012.  And looking back at our posts from those months, I think I found a parallel: March was our month on the structure of an album, and November was our month on the structure of a song. Maybe I was just in better musical mindspaces in those months. I had to’ve been, these lists are hot as hell.

Included as well is a smattering of songs from both of my birthday mixtapes Claire made for me. They are both truly excellent, though for some reason I am drawn over and over again to the one from 2013. I love the inclusion of They Might Be Giants right next to the bird and bee’s cover of “I Can’t Go For That.” Also, I had to throw in the excellent Mavis Staples’ cover of “Can You Get To That” off of this year’s birthday list.

Now, you might notice that this list has 14 songs rather than my customary 15. The reason for this is simple: there’s a song on this list Spotify doesn’t have that I do. If you want to listen to it, it’s called “Gardening” by Spoke Ensemble. Good luck finding a good version – Youtube has a crappy video of a live performance in someone’s backyard, but that’s about it.

Oh! I would be totally remiss if I didn’t mention why Nick Drake’s “Pink Moon” is on this list, and the reason is simple: Because of my amazing acumen with music, I have won a slap bet with this song and therefore I get to slap my brother Matthew across his face. Hard.

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