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.

So Hot Right Now: January 2014 (by Claire)

San Francisco is playing that game where it swirls autumn and spring into something evocative, laced with warm breezes and crisp days. I walk around feeling awake and reminded—of elementary school autumns, of the first Spring on campus, of a million standout memories framed in cold fresh air and ruddy cheeks.

In proper Autumn, I crave the classics. In proper Spring, something sweet and rough around the edges. In January’s SpringAutumn? New songs by bands I just discovered, ones I’m rapidly falling in love with. Big rough 60’s sounding guitar hooks. Rich velvety voices. Dizzying blends of classic and brand new sounds.

Mynabirds fit the bill. So do Those Darlins, who I first listened to based solely on the description of them sounding like a blend of Shonen Knife and The Carter Family. “Let Her Go” by Jagwar Ma is less than a year old, but belongs on a classic alt 90’s soundtrack. King Tuff’s “Sun Medallion” is lo-fi garage heaven with traces of a classic 60’s sound. The fact that “Josie” by Go Violets isn’t by a 90’s all girl indie-pop band is absurd. And, awesome.

Is it okay to have a musical discovery of the year when they year is two days old? I’ve had Lady Lamb the Beekeeper’s Ripely Pine on repeat all day, especially “Aubergine” which took a few listens before it became an obsession. I’ve had Haim’s flawless freshman album Days Are Gone on heavy rotation since it debuted. Every month I fall in love with a new song from them. For January, it’s sweet “Honey and I,” the track where the constant Haim/Fleetwood Mac comparison makes the most sense.

“Wings” by Haert was the runner-up on nearly every #HolidaySurvival list. This song belongs in the cannon of new songs with a bright infectious 80’s pop beat. Throw it on your own January playlist alongside “You’re in Love” by Betty Who and “Is This How You Feel” by The Preatures. Second constant runner-up: soulful worldly “Don’t Wait” by Mapei.

The perfect mix of classic and fresh is the warm, crackling “Well You Better” by Yo La Tengo, one of a million 90’s comeback kids in 2013. Pure classic? Late 60’s folk singer Vashti Bunyan’s Mick Jagger/ Keith Richards’ penned single “Some Things Just Stick In Your Mind.”

Happy new year, to all you crazy kids! And a belated happy birthday to this blog, which recently turned two. If you’re in the market for a birthday present, more music suggestions would be perfect, thanks. Meet me in the comments and let me know what’s on your January playlist.

 **Artwork by Ashley Jones. Check out more of her work at The Vainglory or catch her on Twitter @theRealAshleyJ

2013: 5 Songs My Kids Forced Into My Head/ 5 Songs With Meaning (by Anita Jackson)


Charm City Jukebox is doing their annual review of the year in songs and I’m totally honored to contribute a post for it. Claire, one of the editors, literally grew up in a house made of vinyl records. Nope, not figuratively– literally. (Ok, not literally, figuratively, but I’m working to build up her legend.) She really knows music and has great taste in it.

So she’s going to be thoroughly sorry she asked me to write this because most of the songs I associate with 2013 come from my kids, who one way or another hear –and sing — a ton of pop.

To alleviate the pain, then, I’m going to make two lists: One of songs I can’t shake out of my head due to sheer exposure, and one of songs I love for their artistic merit. Some may argue that something has artistic merit if the listener can’t get it out of her head, but I leave that for the comments…

TOP 5 SONGS MY KIDS FORCED INTO MY HEAD


“I Knew You Were Trouble,” by Taylor Swift. 

My older daughter P performed to this as part of her acrobatic gymnastics work. So it has sentimental value. Also, she doesn’t know many of the lyrics so she makes them up, which is always hilarious.


“Home,” by Phillip Phillips

I think P liked this because she knows it was associated with 2012’s Fierce Five. Billboard says it peaked in January of 2013, so there we go.


“Roar,” by Katy Perry

Their school mascot is a large wild mammal, so P’s school principal made them learn and sing this at the grand opening of their new school library. What has public education come to? Please, could they sing a song about Common Core? I would like to hear that song.


“The Fox,” by Ylvis

Well, now you’ve done it. There’s no going back, Norway.


“Palladio (Diamond music)” by Karl Jenkins (aka That Diamond Commercial, aka the Russian acro pair with the guy with the ponytail)

As new acrobatic gymnasts, one of my kids’ favorite things to do is watch acro videos. They’ve learned to love dramatic music, which I’m thinking is my gateway to playing for them other kinds of music to which they’ve been woefully underexposed, like Western classical and jazz.

If you’ve seen the diamond commercials with the fake Vivaldi, you’ll recognize the music from the acro video they refer to as “that Russian guy with the ponytail.” I recommend giving it a watch; acro is amazing!

TOP 5 SONGS THAT HAD ACTUAL MEANING FOR ME


“Heart of Gold” by Neil Young

I’m sure I’ve heard this song at various times in my life. But the other day during a rare and wonderful moment in which I was writing alone at a cafe, I heard this song come on. All I needed to be enchanted was the key line, “I’m a miner for a heart of gold.” There’s enough visually and emotionally inspiring there to prompt me to write a story. But I didn’t write about longing or love or mining; I dashed out a couple of pages about a woman and her sister opening a cafe and what the woman thought about the people who came there. But it was that song that nudged a story out of me. A song that can nudge (or coax or provoke) stories out of me belongs on this list.


“Girl on Fire” by Alicia Keys

Starting the new year at the inauguration and hearing Alicia Keys sing this song was a highlight of the year, no doubt. Besides the fact I was at the inauguration and hearing Alicia Keys live, I was grateful to just be at a live performance. I love all kinds of live performance and haven’t had a chance to go for some years now. But now I’m starting to make time for it again–just at the point when my kids are about at the age where they’re able to absorb, enjoy and even analyze live performances. We’ve made it to another milestone, at which there’s a higher potential for fun than disaster in going to some performances together. So even though they enjoy mangling “Girl on Fire”–loudly–, this song reminds me how many good times we have in store.


“Abraham’s Daughter” by Arcade Fire

This selection is less about keeping with the fire theme (though I love themes) and more about the lyrics, which I couldn’t get out of my head. The line that stays with me is where the song’s protagonist, when asked what her name is, says she has none. Among the many nightmarish ways of dehumanizing someone, stripping away their name is one of the most profound and effective. It’s standard practice for dictators around the world to strip away a person’s name before kidnapping, illegally imprisoning or executing them. Names can signify nationality, religion, personality and more. The way your boss, teacher, or judge says your name may feel different from how your partner, friend, or mother says it. Names are part of our humanity in this sense, and “Abraham’s Daughter” expresses this powerfully.


“Where Did You Sleep Last Night” by Leadbelly, covered by Nirvana  

Another highlight of the inauguration was meeting Krist Novoselic, bassist for Nirvana. It was the beginning of a year in which Nirvana happened to figure prominently for me, from the spotlight of 20th anniversary of In Utero to my rediscovery of the band’s poetic, aching longing and betrayal conveyed in their cover of “Where Did You Sleep Last Night.” Grunge was so good to me the first time around, and it was good to come home to it again.


“Fast Car” by Tracy Chapman

To really purge the dead-to-me lyrics of the Disney pop stars my kids expose me to, I need a good dose of Tracy Chapman. Nothing clears away the debris of bubblegum glitter pop like Chapman’s lovely voice telling the story of Fast Car. Nothing quite breaks me every time like:

I know things will get better

You’ll find work and I’ll get promoted

We’ll move out of the shelter

Buy a bigger house and live in the suburbs

I remembering hearing that right after the Beatles’ “Blackbird,” and all right after one school shooting sometime in the past year, and it probably would have been a good idea to pull the car over and just cry and cry and cry.

There’s a song to wrap up this list, a song and a video I come back to when I grieve as well as when I seek beauty. There’s a video of super slow motion ballet set to Radiohead’s “Everything in Its Right Place (gigasmesh discoteque remix).” I saw this a couple years ago and marveled at the precision and softness, the strength and ease. But the song comes back to haunt me. Remember when those children were murdered by their nanny in New York City? “Everything In Its Right Place” sounded like a prayer that could not be answered.

Perhaps if there’s a thread running through these songs, it’s a thread of humanity–what it is to be human, what it is to share a life. There are many ways to remember and celebrate that, and maybe these are the songs that will help me do it.

#HolidaySurvival: How to Make a New Year’s Eve Playlist

This holiday season, consider me your mixtape therapist. Every week throughout December, I’ll be posting five songs to help you soundtrack various holiday season scenarios. And while you get your mixtapes ready, you can catch up on the insane abundance of quality music from this year, since all featured songs are from 2013.    –Claire

We did it! The holiday season is over, 2013 is over—-lets send them off properly with a big fun party playlist worth toasting.

New Year’s Eve has ample potential to be weird. You’re on the cusp of a new year, expectations are high, and everyone is doing that thing where they make impossible demands of themselves that they’ll abandon in three weeks.

This New Year’s Eve, lets pass on stress and expectations that guarantee letdowns. Lets just throw on something sparkly, dance our feet off, and eat something awesome. And for all of those occasions, extremely fun splashy music is required. Mix these 2013 gems into a batter made of your favorite classic hits, guilty pleasures, and tried-and-true floor fillers.

“Is This How You Feel?” by The Preatures

“Is This How You Feel?” is pure bliss. It’s a bolt of energy with a tight rhythm, the kind of song that makes you feel like you’re in the upbeat sequence in a movie, the part where you dance and sparkle and love. If you take my advice and get ready while blasting “You’re In Love” by Betty Who, this is the ideal playlist chaser for when the party starts. Aussies are the 2013 masters of joyful 80’s inspired pop.

“Summer Skin” by Teen Girl Scientist Monthly

It’s always wise to have a rowdy song on hand. It can set the mood if that’s what you’re going for, or reset the tempo if things have gotten to mellow (i.e. Once you spot, or contract, the dreaded “I might not be that fun anymore” post-midnight yawns). Wake everyone up with “Summer Skin,” the sonic equivalent of a tray of espresso shots. Every New Year’s party could use a jolt of smash ‘em up, jump around, thrash and dance rock delivered at an insane speed.

“My Number” by Foals

What if disco was awesome? What if you stripped out the 70’s cheese and reduced it to it’s potential floor-filling, shimmying, absurdly catchy essence? What if it was released in 2013? You would have “My Number” by Foals, an obscenely fun song that’s easy to love and hard to stop replaying. It’s disco and Britpop in a blender, full of explosive hopeful moments and adrenaline rushes.

“We Were Rock And Roll” by Janelle Monae

It’s a big night made for big songs, and sound-wise it doesn’t get much bigger than Janelle Monae. Layer upon layer of sound builds into something that sounds like a funk orchestra. The results are  exhilarating breathless funk with a sick beat, call and response chorus, and Monae’s luscious vocals.

“Hold On (We’re Going Home)” by Drake

Nothing Was The Same sounds better on second listen but, like most Drake albums, makes you wonder how he so frequently comes out with hits since he’s kind of morose and full of feelings, infrequently in a “lets dance and forget the lyrics!” way. But! In the theme of delicious 80’s sounding tracks, “Hold On (We’re Going Home)” is one of my favorite songs this year. It is an ideal pop song: playful, a little retro, instantly recognizable, and it’s got that twinkle. It seems like everyone has covered “Hold On” in 2013; my favorite is this version by The Arctic Monkeys.

 **Artwork by Ashley Jones. Check out more of her work at The Vainglory or catch her on Twitter @theRealAshleyJ

2013 in Song (by Noura Hemady)

Much as I am loathe to admit to being one of the sheeple for look for Pitchfork’s end of year best-of lists, I do. I’m always curious to see if my perception of the year’s best  music corresponds to “expert opinion.” There are usually a handful of songs I picked up throughout the year on there (Courtney Barnett represents that category for 2013). Mostly I read Pitchfork’s year-end list and I think a) someone bought you out, these albums are boring; b) why so much rap?; and c) EDM is awful, bring back britpop. Now I didn’t listen to the Beyonce album and likely won’t, ever, but I’m going to make a bold statement here. 2013 was not a good year for music. It was disappointing, in some cases, overly ambitious, and over hyped. Arcade Fire, I’m looking at you. Innovation is one thing, but making good songs is another.

With that said, my top five listen is not made up exclusively of songs released in 2013, though a few were. It’s a list of songs that meant something to me this year.

“Hail Bop” by Django Django

Don’t listen to Alt-J. Listen to Django Django. Put on “Hail Bop” while you’re walking somewhere. You’ll feel purposeful and you’ll get there faster.

Hail Bop is the second song on Django Django’s eponymous album. It comes after an “Introduction,” two minutes of weird techo feedback that you don’t really need to listen to. With “Hail Bop,” you’re immediately into the meat of the album. It starts with ominous synths in minor key, drums build into a crescendo, and then guitars lift the song into a purposeful, march. A few drafts ago, I described the song as an “inter-gallactic space march,” felt stupid about that then deleted it. But in reviewing the lyrics of “Hail Bop,” I’m fairly certain the song is about a meteor, so I’ll let that description stand.

But don’t just listen to “Hail Bop.” Listen to the entire album.

“Never Seen Such Good Things” by Devendra Banhart 

Devendra Banhart: classic hippie weirdo who makes: some strange motherfucking music (see: Megapuss, “Duck People Duck Man); some invigorating but still weird music (also see: Megapuss, “Theme From Hollywood”); and some music that is incredibly beautiful and melancholy. See: “Never Seen Such Good Things” from his 2013 release, Mala.

I’m not one to analyze lyrics too deeply. I think the melody typically provides the bulk of the narrative of the song, while the vocal are often just another instrument. “Never Seen Such Good Things” is an exception (as is Courtney Barnett’s “Avant Gardener,” below). The verses are witty, evocative, and haunting. I’m particularly fond of the line “Should have known someone so much like me/would give me heaven send me to my knees,” an acknowledgement – and one with which I fully agree – that the greatest pleasure can only be accompanied by the deepest of pain.  After three minutes, the song bows out in a refrain of “Sad Lady, you win, Sad Lady, you win” accompanied by a twangy guitar, softer each verse until the next song rises.

“Right Action” by Franz Ferdinand

While this is not one of my favorite songs of the year, I feel obliged to mention it in some way since Franz Ferdinand is one of my favorite bands.

Franz Ferdinand put out a new album this summer. It isn’t their best and it isn’t their worst. “Right Action” is a stand-out on the album: danceable (very important), kind of obnoxious, and irreverent. Some critics panned the song for recalling the “classic” Franz Ferdinand sound, but to me, that is its best quality.

Now, Franz Ferdinand does not tour often. I’ve only seen them once in nearly 10 years of fandom. So, when they toured the U.S. this fall, I went to New York to see them. I arrived on a Friday night. Franz Ferdinand played the following Tuesday. I almost didn’t make it to the show due to a last-minute collapse in civility between me and my show-going partner. Between tears and hugs and complaints and stress and lashing personal criticisms, we made it to the M train, conducted a thorough analysis of our argument, and arrived, 15 minutes late, at the Hammerstein Ballroom. I hadn’t cried like that in ages and forgot how utterly exhausting it is to sob. I wanted to jump, bop, shake to the songs that I love. But when Alex and Co. played “Right Action,” I could barely muster a two step.

“Avant Gardener” by Courtney Barnett

“Avant Gardener” is a story of depression told in deadpan. More so than most songwriters, Barnett’s verses, woven together, tell a coherent story. In this case, she’s out in the morning for a bit of gardening, has an anxiety attack, and ends up in an ambulance and rushed to the hospital. But she’s not panicked. She’s not even particularly worried about anything except the hospital bill. Ambivalence is the ultimate defense mechanism here. Even the guitars sound lazy and uninterested, muted and punctured by feedback.

Make no mistake, “Avant Gardener” is still catchy as hell.

“Brand New Start” by Little Joy

The first time I heard Little Joy in Prospect Park was on the most perfect summer evening last August. Earlier in the day, we’d been to Coney Island. We were sunburned, hungry, tired, and waiting for Beck to go on. I say I heard Little Joy because I did not see them. We laid in the lawn and watched the clouds pass into dusk instead of the stage. But the songs, joyous and melancholy all at once, caught my attention.

In “Brand New Start” Fabrizio Moretti, moonlighting as the singer of Little Joy while on hiatus from The Strokes, sings of “taking advantage of the season to take off your overcoat.” In the context of the song, it’s an obvious metaphor: shedding the superficial constraints that burden and doom relationships. The lyrics mirror the melody: “Brand New Start” is sweet, soothing, and optimistic: a song for dozing on the lawn on a warm night.

Honorable Mentions:

“Modern Love” by David Bowie: Did you watch Frances Ha five times in one week this year? Because I did. And next time I go to New York, I’ll queue “Modern Love” on my iphone, plug in my head phones, and pirouette through crosswalks all over the city.

MCII  by Mikal Cronin (Yes, the entire album): Because it’s 40 minutes of fuzzy, singable, catchy rock music. And every year needs an album like that.

Five Songs From Whenever That I Enjoyed In 2013 (by Amy Berkowitz)

Confession: I don’t really keep up with new music. So much of it is just lousy, you know? “Moves Like Jagger” alone is enough to make a person build a fort with her Fleetwood Mac LPs and never come out.

Thankfully, Claire knows my backwards listening habits, and said that I was welcome to include songs from any year in my year-end top-five list, so here it is:

5. “To Be of Use” by Smog (1996)

One of the worst things about depression is anhedonia: the inability to experience pleasure from activities usually found enjoyable. When I’m super depressed, I stop liking music, which is a very strange experience. Sometimes, I’ll find one or two artists that can penetrate the anhedonia, and the ones who win that prize in 2013 are Smog and Karen Dalton.

While Karen Dalton’s 1966 is a beautiful album, songs like “Mole in The Ground” and “Misery Blues” simply reinforce one’s depressive mood. Smog songs are more dynamic. Bill Callahan’s lyrics are written from the perspective of a clever and deadpan and somewhat depraved ex-con who’s into violent sex and is probably not a safe person to be alone with. But he sounds like he could be a fun person to be alone with. That’s partially due to his baritone voice, and partially due to songs like Dress Sexy at My Funeral (“Tell them about the time we did it / On the beach with fireworks above us / On the railroad tracks / With the gravel in your back”) and, depending on what you’re into, Cold Discovery (“I can hold a woman / Down on a hardwood floor”).

So in the depths of my depression, I’m making out with a friend, and I want to put some music on. “Hm,” I say, “all I’ve been listening to is Smog. You okay with Smog?” I put my Smog playlist on shuffle, and we pick up where we’d left off, put a condom on, and the first song that plays is To Be of Use. Now, if you know this song, you’re already laughing or shaking your head. If not, really all you have to know is that it’s a very spare, somber, five-minute song, and it starts, “Most of my fantasies are of / Making someone else come / Most of my fantasies are of / To be of use.”

It’s actually a really beautiful song, and it’s certainly sexy, but not in the sly or flirty way many of his other songs are sexy. It’s sexy in such a direct, sincere way that it demands all of your attention.

Anyway, my friend and I laughed and met the challenge of having sex to the Smog song that was too sexy to have sex to, and if I’m remembering correctly, my depression faded in the weeks that followed.

4. “Seattle” by Jeffrey Lewis (2001)

While loads of musicians write songs about New York City (Frank Sinatra and Jay-Z come to mind), few write songs about the markedly less romantic experience of being from New York City.

I was born and raised in Manhattan, as was Lewis, and Seattle is a song about the conundrum of wanting to start a new chapter in life when you’ve got no little-town blues to lose: “I’d leave home for New York / But New York is where I’m from / I’m just looking for a way / To feel my life has begun.” I’ve never heard that particular sentiment in a song before, and Lewis says it well.

Really, I could’ve picked any Jeffrey Lewis song to put on here; I’ve been listening to him a ton this year. Start anywhere; all his stuff is good.

3. “Call Me in The Day” by La Luz (2012)

There is a really nice vintage surf rock / girl group sound going on here. The song describes a troubled relationship: “Well you see me only on the need / In the evening, when you’re feeling mean.” Yet despite the dysfunction and the melancholy organ and tremolo that illustrate it, there is a moment in the song when the lyrics attempt to assert a healthy boundary: “Call me in the day / Before the sun goes down / If it’s getting late / I won’t pick up the call.”

More often than not, pop music gives horrible relationship advice. And especially when you’re considering songs in the ‘60s girl group tradition—which includes classics like “He Hit Me (And It Felt Like a Kiss)”—it’s refreshing to hear lyrics that at least gesture toward more functional relationships.

Which is not to say her “Call me in the day” mandate will do her any good. The situation is hopeless: The man is an unfortunate force of nature, “a boulder slowly gaining speed on down a hill.”

The good thing about the singer’s situation being so dramatically hopeless is that sad surf guitar is the best surf guitar and listening to this makes me feel like I’m floating in a jar of molasses.

La Luz’s full-length was released this year, but I prefer the version from their self-released 2012 EP, Damp Face. According to their Bandcamp page, the EP was recorded “in a Bothell, WA trailer park on a hot day.” The new recording sounds less muddy, more perfect. Too clean for my taste. I guess it’s just missing that “trailer park on a hot day” sound.

2. “Flowers for Julie ” by Shellshag (2010)

It seems like this song has been stuck in my head for the past six months, and maybe it has.

I first heard it on an unlabeled mix tape I picked up from a take-one leave-one mix tape cubby at the Luggage Store Gallery. I didn’t know what the song was called or who it was by, and that gave me a uniquely intimate relationship with it. The tape was full of good punk songs, but this one had the best hooks.

I like this song so much that I’m having a hard time trying to explain why. Here is a list of reasons, in no particular order:

1. I like it when he says “Shove me / Up against a wall.”

2. I like thinking about who “Julie” is and why he feels obligated to buy her flowers.

3. Shellshag is just two people, yet they play their instruments with the might and passion of many.

4. They are also a couple, and I really like it when punk couples make great art together.

5. The song ends with the same riff that begins it, only played slower, as if it’s threatening to start again.

6. I would not mind if it started again.

1. “Street Hassle” by Lou Reed (1978)

I was having a Lou Reed Thing all summer and fall, so hearing about his death in October had an especially heavy impact on me. Long before he died, I’d developed a special fondness for this 11-minute song: a three-part opera composed of scenes from gritty New York life. It feels like a privilege to eavesdrop on these darkly sexy, debased, and ultimately tragic characters.

In part one, a woman pays for sex and the experience transcends its unglamorous context. Part two is a monologue by a host tactfully explaining to a guest that he’s responsible for dealing with the body of a dead companion who OD’d at the party: “Why don’t you grab your old lady by the feet / And just lay her out in the darkest street / And by morning, she’s just another hit and run.” Part three is a dirge about death and desire (with an incongruous and uncredited Springsteen cameo).

Something that adds to the eavesdropping sensation and mystery of the song is that the three parts don’t add up to a whole. The woman in the first part could be the woman who ODs in the second part, but that’s not particularly implied. And the male voice singing at the very end of the song says, “Oh how I miss him,” not “her.” And no “him” has gone away, unless he’s singing from the first woman’s perspective and she’s talking about the john. It’s more haunting as a collage of sorrows. Just letting all the characters’ pain bleed all over and into each other.

Amy Berkowitz lives in San Francisco, where she writes and reads poetry, runs Mondo Bummer Books, and abhors the cultural strip-mining of this once-vibrant city.

#HolidaySurvival: How To Make a Dinner Party Playlist

This holiday season, consider me your mixtape therapist. Every week throughout December, I’ll be posting five songs to help you soundtrack various holiday season scenarios. And while you get your mixtapes ready, you can catch up on the insane abundance of quality music from this year, since all featured songs are from 2013.    –Claire

I have a very clear dinner party music strategy: Boys and Girls by Alabama Shakes and Van Morrison (often Astral Weeks), on shuffle, with a smattering of delicious add-ins. Van Morrison guarantees at least one “Oh, I love this song” moment, hopefully simultaneously between possibly shy guests who just found happy musical common ground. Alabama Shakes always deliver the right amount of energy; Boys and Girls  dips and expands perfectly, it’s great all the way through but doesn’t need to be listened to in order.

The add-ons? You have to trust them. They need to be a little timeless, even if they’re recent. Something that will either pleasantly fade into the background (not in a Muzak way, but in a “Everyone is having a good time and the soundtrack is perfect and the cheese plate is being scavenged in a delightful, friendship affirming way”… way) or will make someone say “Ooh, what is this?” and you can praise them for their excellent taste and start a little conversation and give them the lovely parting gift of some good music recommendations (and pie. Send people home with pie. I have few rules, but these two are ones to live by.)

Lucky for you, 2013 offered up some excellent new add-ons for your holiday dinner soundtrack. Here are my top five—meet me in the comments and let me know what’s on your holiday dinner playlist.

“You Put the Flame On It” by Charles Bradley 

“This is from this year?” —universal reaction when I play this for people and call it one of my favorite songs from 2013.

Charles Bradley spent decades playing small gigs, periodically impersonating James Brown, and is now making sharp soul albums that sound like they’re fresh out of another time. “You Put The Flame On It” is a joyous insta-classic. Bradley’s gravelly voice and smooth backup singers, the Menahan Band’s sunny rush of horns followed by upbeat percussion, all come together in one great big love song.

“Stranger to My Happiness” by Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings

Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings are back which is worth a holiday-level celebration on it’s own. Post-Christmas, pre-New Years, it’s Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings day and we should all celebrate by seeing them play with Valerie June somewhere next year (seriously, I think this will be an absurdly good show). Again, classic, but so fresh. Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings have consistently produced bright, fresh soul that sounds brand new and timeless, a rare feat.

“Green Garden” by Laura Mvula

“Green Garden” is luscious and playful. Laura Mvula’s tremendous voice is carefully restrained, her delivery is reminiscent of Nina Simone. The playful childhood imagery and natural imagery is haunting and lovely: dancing in gardens, taking your shoes off, flying on the wings of a butterfly. There’s something simultaneously wistful and joyful about this track, and what’s a more spot-on note for the holidays than that combination?

“When I Knew” by Eleanor Friedberger

Eleanor Friedberger has the songwriting chops and voice of a classic 70’s singer songwriter. She was born in the late 70’s, but based on her excellent solo album Personal Record , she was meant to be the fourth singer in Girls Like Us. The chorus is peppy, borderline girl group cheer, and pairs well with the bouncy beat and vivid storytelling about falling in love. Sweet teenage images stand out: wearing overalls and playing records together, telling mean jokes and feeling bad, wearing bright white socks and antique roller skates. It’s teenage love with an old school beat. You need a few high energy tracks in the mix to keep everyone buzzing on holiday spirit and happily mingling. This is perfect for that.

“Seeds of Love” by Brianna Lea Pruett

It’s hard not to love Brianna Lea Pruett’s rich voice and delicious, expertly crafted folk. “Seeds of Love” sounds like an adventure with the windows rolled down. The rolling tempo and slide guitar, the insistent repetition of the lyrics—this is a perfect first song for your playlist. The sound opens and invites, promises something exciting around the bend, and introduces your guests to their new favorite folk singer, all at once.