Top 5 Underappreciated Summer Songs

nate summer jam collage

By Nate Logan 

Consider adding some of these songs to your rotation this summer for added poppy vibes. Honestly, how many times can you listen to Best Coast and “Boys of Summer” without getting a little bored?

“It Must Be Summer” by Fountains of Wayne

Though probably more well-known these days for their song “Stacy’s Mom” and it’s very summer-centric music video, “It Must Be Summer” is a cut off Utopia Parkway that shouldn’t be looked over. This song is about having the summer blues. The song’s protagonist is trying to get in touch with a romantic prospect, but she’s nowhere to be found. The protagonist calls his prospect’s mother, sister, and the prospect herself, “but [she’s] just not there.” Simple, catchy, relatable, and better than “Stacy’s Mom.”


“One Summer Night” by that dog.

This song by Los Angeles’ that dog. (featuring two of the three famous Haden triplets, Rachel and Petra) recalls a female protagonist telling the tale of a crush on an older boy (“I asked him if he’d write me when he went away to school, and he said, ‘maybe’”). Propelled by Rachel Haden’s bass, this song is split into four parts: two verses, a slow bridge, second two verses, and a slow ending bridge. What strikes me most about the song is the ending—it’s drawn out much longer than it has to be and features some gorgeous, melancholy violin from Petra Haden.


“A Sweet Summer’s Night on Hammer Hill” by Jens Lekman

Handclaps! Trumpet! A chorus of voices singing, “Bomp-a-bomp-a-bomp-a-bomp-a-bomp-a-bomp-a-bomp!” There’s a lot to love about this song. Not to be confused with “Another Sweet Summer’s Night on Hammer Hill,” this song is a fun, dance-inducing number by Lekman that’s infectious in the best possible way. The “Oh, no!” breakdown in the middle of the song begs to be dissected and sung aloud by a group of you and your friends as you head out for adventure this summer.


“Summer Babe (Winter Version)” by Pavement

I don’t know if this exactly qualifies as an underappreciated summer song, but Pavement should appear somewhere on any mix of summer songs. Listening to Stephen Malkmus eek out “tourtuuuuure” in the third verse is reason along to seek out this song, though I imagine this song qualifies as “required familiarity” for many Pavement fans. Check out the Luxe & Reduxe version of Slanted and Enchanted for a high-energy live version.


“I Hate Summer” by Fucked Up

You can’t escape the heat of summer, but that doesn’t mean you can’t rail against it. There’s actually a sweet sentiment woven through this song (“One day let’s set up a home / Where it’s winter all year long / Boots, hats and winter mitts / Summer nights I will not miss”). But also it’s an appreciation song for fall, which everyone knows is the best season. You’ll probably be singing this song sometime in July or August when summer is at its worst, though maybe not with the same intense, guttural vocal delivery. This song will probably work best at the end of your summer mix.

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.

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.

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.

2013 in 5 Songs: Getting Back to What Matters (by Nick Burka)

I Keep On Rising Up

I Keep On Rising Up

This year I realized that I didn’t relate to music like I used to. It’s not that I’d become less interested in music, quite the contrary (if anything I’d become more obsessed than ever: playing it, listening to it, finding friends with whom to collaborate or compare new obsessions, and, of course, writing about it). It’s just that this year I noticed the level of personal introspection that usually accompanies my musical experiences to be surprisingly low. Almost nonexistent.

((No one likes a person whose only thought is always “this song is totally about me!!” but a dose of healthy introspection never hurt nobody.))

In fact, it wasn’t until after I selected these 5 songs and began looking for common themes within them that I realized how little I’d really been paying attention to the music I was finding myself most connected to in the first place. As it turns out, each song speaks of frustration in one form or another. Frustration with love. Frustration with unrequited love. Frustration with the state of the world in general. Frustration with being frustrated.

Was my year really that sort of mess? Well no. In fact there was a lot to be happy about: new job with new experiences, new heights reached in a loving, intimate relationship, new (or renewed) appreciation and fervor for old pastimes and hobbies— a satisfying resume to be sure. But frustrations could be seen creeping in around at the edges, sometimes overshadowing those highlights: the stress of acclimating to a new job, the anxiety and uncertainty of moving a relationship to the next step, the difficulty in trying to keep it all together while still having time for one’s self.

Maybe that’s not exactly what these songs are about, but they’re not far off either, and these songs teach us a lot more than just how to express the trouble we feel. They also teaches us how to grieve, how to get by, how to overcome, and how to thrive once more. Not all at once, but gradually, eventually. Line by line, and verse by verse.


“How to See the Sun Rise” by Ben Sollee

Yes, O Lord, yes. Let’s set the mood and get in the groove. I first heard this charming, amiable Kentuckian during the summer of 2012 as an opening act. With just a cello, a high tenor warble, and a healthy dose of southern charm he managed to blow the headliner clear out of the water, and with waltzy little numbers like this one it’s easy to see why.

It’s a classic story of unrequited love told with greater poise and levity than I could have ever hoped to muster in a similar situation. The pain, the crestfallen looks, the misguided hope for returned affection— it’s all there, beautifully laid out in a jaunty, expertly paced 6/8 time signature that makes you want to howl at the moon and hear it all over again.

“Pretty Girl from Michigan” by The Avett Brothers

This band became something of an obsession with me from about February through May and this song fast became the symbol of that mania. We’re talking the kind of obsession that makes you disregard friends, family, work, and other obligations for days at a time. I went from not having listened to a lick of their music to coveting every EP and B-side I could find.

This story of a man who has lost interest in his partner— if ever there was interest to begin with— is told in a way that speaks volumes about the band’s versatility in song craft and ability to just plain crank it up and have a damn good time doing it. When being kind and being polite has failed to express your displeasure, why not just rock it out this way. Heck, by the sound of things she may even be so dense that she won’t even know this song is about her.


“Unaware” by Allen Stone

Of all the new acts to hit the scene in the last 18 months, this is the one you must look up. Like right this instant. His ability to channel 50 years of soul music tradition is unbelievable, and his sheer sonic range is incredible.

This is the wonder of Allen Stone. Endlessly talented, with a brand new album due out sometime next year, and yes, Ms. Springfield, you guessed it—son of a preacher man.

This song stays with you long after the final fadeout. The lyrics ache with raw and honest emotion, and the musical horse on which they ride pairs so perfectly: a resonant guitar line weaving in and out of the coordinated cacophony of electric organ, bass, and drums. A lone poet against the rush of midday city traffic.

“Push, pull, tear… can’t stretch any farther.” Preach it kid, preach it.


“You Never Need Nobody” by The Lone Bellow

If Allen Stone is the artist you should listen to from the comfort of your favorite armchair, then The Lone Bellow is the group you should see front row center when they come to your town in 2014. How they are able to move so deftly from plaintive and reflective soliloquies to romping and rollicking swells of sonic desperation and back again all within the same song is astounding. And that they do so without collapsing under the weight of sheer adrenaline and sweat — beyond me.

This song breathes, shudders, and shakes with the best of them of their debut album. Such expressive quality. Such honesty in songwriting. Such a masterful swell of sound and emotion. Yet even as frenzied and as stratospheric as the song climbs in intensity, somehow the trio is still able to give it a meditative, resolved quality. There is a light at the end of tunnel, even if the light comes from a place of acceptance.


“(I Keep On) Rising Up” by Mike Doughty

Sometimes, when the going gets tough and the music gets heavy, you just need to tell yourself that it’s going to be okay, whatever the cost, and this song was that sort of refuge this year. The job gets crazy, the relationship gets heavy, life does that “moving too fast” thing, and you’re contemplating the “what’s it all mean” thing for the        x-tieth time today.

Hang on. Give it a moment. Pour yourself a glass of lemonade and sip on the fact that, eventually, it all gets worked out. Even if it does take a lot of work to get there and a good dose of ingenuity. Of getting back up when the world gets you down. Of going your own way when all others seem silly or fraught with worry. Or even of just being impulsive and hoping for the best: “I ripped the rules up / Said I loved you on day three…”

This song recognizes the cynics and the skeptics, thanks them for their opinions, and says I respect your opinion, but right now I’m going to go about my business my way. Maybe it sounds too optimistic or even idealistic— but it feels right. And that’s a good way to get thinking about the new year ahead.

Nick Burka (@nickburkaotm) writes about music at NickBurkaOnTheMusic, keeping track of recent releases, local concerts, and the art of crafting the perfect top-five playlist.

If You Want to Destroy My First Love’s Sweater (by Nate Logan)

It seemed too complicated to find out the band behind the song “Buddy Holly.” X103, Indy’s “alternative” station, was pretty loose on giving the names of bands they played, often cutting songs short or talking over their final seconds. A DJ must have said “Weezer” at some point though, that’s the only way I could find the album. The minimalist cover, the band standing in front of a blue screen, gave no hint as to what the music would sound like. All I had to go off of was “Buddy Holly” and its music video.

Directed by Spike Jonze, the music video for “Buddy Holly” is a classic and marvel to watch. Jonze places the band in an episode of Happy Days where they play “Buddy Holly” and get adoring glances from girls, a stern look from Richie Cunningham before he runs into a bathroom, and The Fonz busts out in a jumping jack-like dance. I didn’t know about The Velvet Underground then. Weezer made me want to start a band.

This want solidified upon listening to the album in full. I was surprised that I could listen to it all the way through. Almost. My only hang-up was the closing track, “Only in Dreams,” because it was just so sad for a lovelorn boy from the Midwest like me. Matt Sharp’s bass trudges along as more and more instruments come in and Rivers Cuomo’s singing changes from wispy to desperate as the band hits the chorus:

Only in dreams

We see what it means

Reach out our hands

Hold on to hers

But when we wake

It’s all been erased

And so it seems

Only in dreams

As lame as it sounds, this chorus is how I felt in junior high. Cuomo’s predicament made me feel better about myself—I felt like I wasn’t the only loser in the world. Still, I could really never listen to this song. I always popped the CD player after the penultimate song, “Holiday,” or I skipped back to the beginning. And as I did this, I’d often be standing in my room by my bed, imitating Cuomo’s moves from the “Buddy Holly” or “Undone—The Sweater Song” music videos and singing along.

Of all the songs, it’s “Undone—The Sweater Song” that I love most. This song’s video, also directed by Jonze, has the band performing in front of the same blue screen as on the album’s cover. It’s a seemingly simple performance video, with elements of humor (Patrick Wilson running around his drum set) and oddness thrown in (a wide angle shot shows a small pack of dogs galloping past the band). I like this video and the song more than “Buddy Holly” because the song seems more intricate (the speaking intro, multiple voices in the chorus) and, as a teenager, was more in line with my general feelings. The song’s elements are delivered in a cheery package though—the song doesn’t sad. Devoid of music, the chorus is bleak:

                        If you want to destroy my sweater (Woah-ah-woah-ah-woah)

Hold this thread as I walk away (As I walk away)

Watch me unravel, I’ll soon be naked.

Lying on the floor, (lying on the floor)

I’ve come undone.

Despite this, I loved the song. I sorted out Cuomo’s vocals from guitarist Brian Bell’s and Sharp’s in the chorus and would eventually only sing his vocal when I sang by myself in my room or in the car. I scoured the Internet at dial-up speed to find lyrics to the song (I needed to know what Cuomo was singing at the end) as well as to try to find any and all other information on Weezer that I could.

I found the “rebel weezer alliance.” I found more than one Cuomo fan page made in Geocities. I found the Weezer symbol: =w= and learned to make it with my hands. I saw all sorts of Weezer paraphernalia on eBay that I wanted to buy because Weezer would never come to play in Indianapolis—bands only came through my town to get to Chicago or Detroit or Cincinnati or Louisville. Never Indianapolis. I wanted to be as close to the band as I could.

Though Weezer was the only band I could think about for a long time, soon there were more bands. And soon the CDs were stacking up in my room. After the release of Pinkerton, Weezer disappeared. And when they came back in 2001 with “The Green Album,” neither of us were the same. I was a sophomore in high school and slightly less melodramatic. Weezer had a new bass player and their new album didn’t echo anything found in the dark tone of Pinkerton, nor was it quite like the sad lyrics and hook-laden music combo of their first album. I could tell something was off and not just because my mom said she liked the song “Hash Pipe.”

Weezer had taken T.S. Eliot’s words in his famous essay “Tradition and the Individual Talent” and made them reality: “[the] progress of an artist is a continual self-sacrifice, a continual extinction of personality.” This new album seemed empty, formulated, too much like science and not enough like rock ‘n’ roll. Further Internet research revealed that Cuomo possessed a binder of extensive information that would give him formulas to create perfect pop songs. One only has to look at the Billboard charts since Weezer’s comeback to see if that binder was useful or not.

That said—I did go to see Weezer when they came to play an outdoor show in Noblesville, Indiana in 2002. It was a childhood dream, after all. My LiveJournal entry from that show indicates that I really had a good time and they played songs that I liked, “Undone—The Sweater Song” among them. But my memory of that show has been tarnished by the albums Weezer released since “The Green Album.” At the time I saw them, Weezer only had three albums to play songs from—two great and one that was crappy. Now, the odds are not in my favor or anyone else’s who grew up loving Weezer’s twentieth century output. They’ve released six subpar albums since 2001, none of them even approaching the quality of their first and second albums.

In the end though, it comes back to love. “The Blue Album” was my first love—the album that pushed me into the music collector and snob that I am today. And for that I’ll always be glad. I was in the right place at the right time. But like most first loves, both of us have moved on and that’s OK. Weezer can make the music it wants and I can listen to other bands. There’s a new legion of fans who love Weezer for different reasons than I loved them and that’s OK, too. I’ll always remember “The Blue Album” fondly and still spin it. I still have my original CD from 1994. I’ve never replaced it and I don’t think I ever will.

Nate Logan is the Chief Editor of Spooky Girlfriend Press. He is a Ph.D. candidate in Creative Writing at the University of North Texas. He doesn’t want you to destroy his sweater.