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.

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.

Songs About Josies (by Claire)

Uh oh, I forgot about Mixtape Tuesday. Happy Mixtape Wednesday?

Lets talk about names. Specifically, the name Josie.

  • I’ve never met anyone named Josie. I’ve been very informally polling people about this name all week. No one I know has ever met a Josie (which is too bad, it’s a pretty name).
  • Songwriters agree with me on that last point—Josie reigns supreme when it comes to being featured in song titles. This is a small sample of “Josie” themed songs.
  • Everyone and their mother has covered “Josie” by Steely Dan.
  •  “Josie and the Pussycats” is the only other Josie I can think of, and that’s in line with the whole musical Josie theme.
  • What was that other Hanna Barbera cartoon that was identical to Josie and the Pussycats? The lead singer was identical to Josie and they played music and solved mysteries, but they all wore bell bottoms.

Things we learn about Josie from this mixtape:

  • She wants to be in a punk rock band
  • She’s feeling mean
  • She loves fake fur
  • When she comes back to town, people rev up their motor scooters and sleep on the beach
  •  She’ll bring you Mexican food, just because
  • She is loved by 90’s bands that sound deeply 90’s, and classic country-flecked singer songwriters

Based on these songs, I would sum up Josie as a name for a beloved, delicate rebel.

For years (very specifically when I was waiting tables), I would introduce myself and people would say “You look like a Claire.” They seemed to be saying it as a compliment, though the Breakfast Club would disagree. I still have no idea what this means.

…do you know what it means? Do people associate bizarre stuff with your name?  Would you like a mixtape of songs featuring your name and a summary of your personality based on those songs? Let me know in the comments.

What To Listen To After Haim’s “Days Are Gone” (by Claire)

Life After "Days Are Gone"

How great is Days Are Gone? It’s the toast of 2013! And maybe 2014! It’s delicious Fleetwood Mac and 80’s pop in a blender! Haters to the left.

…but what’s next? Not for Haim; that’s clearly world domination (and an upcoming album inspired by Kanye West). What’s next for your listening habits?

Every new band that you like provides you with an opportunity to expand your musical palate. Those moments where your ear is open to new music are magical, and (for me at least), inconsistent. When they happen, capitalize them: Find out why you like what you like, and what else you might want to try out in the process. Add new bands to your music rotation. It’s fun and exciting and adds some verve to your life soundtrack—which, as we all know, adds some verve to your life.

Fellow Haim lovers, try these next steps for your listening life.  And well-connected Haim lovers, I also very genuinely wish all of these bands would join forces and have a festival. Maybe one that doesn’t sell out in two hours? Can anyone out there make this happens? We’ll just call it “Claire’s Dream Festival.”

Heartthrob by Tegan and Sara

Fellow sister act Tegan and Sara produced sleek pop gem Hearthrob last year to similarly buzzy rave reviews. Like the ladies of Haim, they’re sharp songwriters, slipping vivid haunting imagery into infectious pop jams. Pre-Heartthrob, Tegan and Sara made heavenly folk-punk that sometimes showed it’s pop roots; with Heartthrob, it’s pure pop, perfect for breakups and dance parties and falling in love.  The layered, echoey, vaguely electronic sounds, the gleam and gloss, is reminiscent of 80’s pop foremothers like Cyndi Lauper and early Madonna.

Journal of Ardency by Class Actress

Wikipedia points to Fleetwood Mac as the band Haim is most often compared to—it seems like reviews, good or bad, can’t help but throw some Stevie Nicks love in every time. I get it, I want to talk about Stevie Nicks all the time too. But you hear the 80’s pop mixed in with that Fleetwood-Mac-goodness, right? That’s what makes Class Actress’ Journal of Ardency an obvious next step. Class Actress lead singer Elizabeth Harper has the songwriting chops and clear, folky voice from her coffeeshop singer songwriter days. Like Haim, she pairs that with some serious 80’s pop influences. For Class Actress, unlike Haim, the results are less 70’s folk rock and more ethereal synthpop.

The Movement by Betty Who

Betty Who is creating great big glorious modern 80’s music. Who’s songs contain elements of pop anthems in old school teen movies, paired with 80’s mainstays like drum machines and loads of synth.  These are energetic songs: blissful, loud, huge, with Betty’s impressive pipes blaring on each track, framed in delicious pop-happy noise. Who is already huge in her native Australia and is due for some serious fame in the US.

Ride Your Heart by Bleached

Bleached is another sister act producing polished tracks with clear punk and indiepop sensibilities. Bleached’s sound is more guitar forward and aggressive than what you’ll hear on Days Are Gone. But the bands share a similar affinity towards tightly crafted, absurdly catchy songs featuring ear weevil choruses, clear narratives, and clean three to four minute time frames.

Hemiplegia by Haerts

Bring in the fellow indie darlings! Haerts’ features Nini Fabi’s haunting voice, spacious tracks, and absurdly catchy choruses, especially on “Hemiplegia” and “Wings.” You’ll find yourself walking around for days singing “I will never ever let you go/ I melt away into your afterglow.” Both tracks start slow then build into something glorious. That emotional manipulation is a trick that Haim pulls off well too, especially in “The Wire” and “If I Could Change Your Mind.”

Mixtape Tuesday: Modern 80’s Babies (by Claire)

modern 80's babies
 

We are constantly time traveling. If you, like me, are too often in the throes of some content consumption bender—books, movies, music—you are hurtling through time a million times a day, waking up with a jolt at your desk— intact, inexplicably the same age you woke up as this morning, not seven or nineteen, not a day younger or twenty years older. I was listening to a Laura Dern interview where she talked about anticipatory nostalgia. Her friend Winona Ryder was diagnosed with it when they were eighteen (Time traveling side note: how much fun would it be to hang out with those two in the early 90’s? Or right now? I’ll take either.) Winona calls her, crestfallen, and says “I was lying in bed sobbing because one day my son will leave for college and he’ll never live in this house again.” A son who didn’t exist yet. Laura Dern and I were on the same page—I get it. Me too.

I walk and read and listen and am transported. Sometimes I’m transported into other people’s memories. My mom told me stories about briefly having purple hair, stir frying tofu in her parents house in Minnesota, listening to “Clubland” by Elvis Costello while she got ready to go out. This is how I imagine the 80’s. I’m one of those late 80’s babies with no memories of the decade everyone would go on to idolize as I got older. There was nearly a decade of theme parties; there were several years after college when I would avoid the same Journey tracks at bars that I’m sure my parents had to avoid.

I love the brilliant 80’s pop though. Time traveling, twice over: I’m eighteen and I’m jumping up and down on a bed with friends, all three of us in Halloween costumes, with “Take On Me” on a continuous loop. Screaming the lyrics, falling down a hundred times but it doesn’t matter when there’s nothing but soft mattress under your feet, your friends’ soft limbs collapsing beside you. 80’s soundtrack, 00’s memories.

The big 80’s trends, thankfully, subsided, but the synthy delicious pop keeps growing. This is a mixtape you could pass to a confused time traveler whose landed here and needs to assimilate. The songs are by modern 80’s babies making music that sounds decades old, but still fresh. A little time traveling apology—the first track is fourteen years old, hardly modern, but I couldn’t help it; I fell in love with how it segued into that infectious Voxtrot song. Have a tiny freakout as you do basic math and remember that songs from 2000 are 14 years old.

Happy Birfday Joshua!

Happy Birfday, old friend! Your birfday mixtape is one of my favorite traditions. So here’s some stuff I think you’ll like— I see it as a good several-pots-of-coffee-mixtape with tiny dance party breaks. You’re awesome. Hope today is the funnest.

Christine McVie Reunites with Fleetwood Mac: Lets Celebrate! (by Claire)

Christine McVie is the slow-jams-songwriting, sweet-voiced backbone of the original Fleetwood Mac lineup. (And a key player in the Rumours-creating Fleetwood Mac 70’s love triangle drama.) She’s also been a missing piece of the band for the past  fifteen years. Though Fleetwood Mac has had a series of breakups and makeups, and a revolving cast of main players, the band has been reunited since the late 90’s with McVie being the sole notable absence. Sometimes TV witch, all-the-time cape role model Stevie Nicks said, as recently as 2013, that it was “unlikely” that McVie would return to the band.

But she’s back! The band is back together and fingers crossed, this means more Fleetwood Mac touring. Because Fleetwood Mac live is the whole shebang—weird sexual chemistry between ex lovers! Classic hits played so crisply, with such fresh energy you wonder if you’ve time traveled! Stevie Nicks rocking her Nicksian wardrobe of capes and hats! And while this is all unbelievably amazing (seriously, best show I’ve ever been to in my life), wouldn’t it be even more amazing with the whole gang back together?

So welcome back, Christine McVie, and happy Christine McVie day everyone! It’s a new holiday here at Charm City Jukebox. Celebrate by watching the brief Fleetwood Mac reunion above, listening to this playlist of Christine McVie jams, or reading this really charming article about McVie and Nicks’ lifelong friendship.