Album of the Week: Born to Die – The Paradise Edition (by Claire)

Joshua and I were sitting at the birthplace of Charm City Jukebox, nursing a couple of whiskey laced cocktails so strong, we screwed our faces up and incanted the bar’s name after the first sip.

“I’ve got a rule now,” I said. “When it comes to alcohol, I do what I want.”

Joshua raised an eyebrow. When two people with a genetic history of alcoholism hang out at a dive bar, and one claims to have a new idealogy on drinking that allows for whatever, it doesn’t sound promising.

“It’s not what you think,” I said. “It’s not a free pass for debauchery—it’s the opposite. If I don’t want to drink, I don’t. If I want wine and everyone wants whiskey, I drink wine. I don’t take shots. I do what makes me comfortable. I do what I want.” There it was, a final screw you to peer pressure and other people’s nonsense. I’m 26 years old. We all stopped drinking Kahlua in someone’s basement a decade ago. The after school special is over. And me? I do what I want.

Why does this feel so revolutionary? Because I can’t think of another time in my life where I’ve so clearly stood up for myself. I wish I had a really engaging story for you about the time I became a vegan, or the time I got a mohawk, or any other number of alternately cool and virtuous things I could’ve done to get a handle on my personal agency. I’ve stood up for myself in the past, sure, but it’s always accompanied with a burning streak of anxiety, the bone shaking worry that I will be unliked or in danger or, worst of all, wrong. This time I have a clear grasp on what I need, and I’m going to get it. I’m going to look out for myself. I’m not going to worry too much about what that means for anyone else. It’s an idea that started with passing up refills or picking white over red, but sometimes ideas borne out of trivial circumstances and decisions are powerful. I’d like to be this way all the time, not just when I’m saying “no thanks” to an IPA.

If I were to apply this novel way of thinking to my music collection, I know where I would start: With a public declaration of how much I like Lana Del Rey.

I like Lana Del Rey. A lot.

I know there’s something patent leather polished about that image of hers, a little plastic and certainly affected, but I’ve never been able to figure out why that matters. It’s not like she’s unaware of what she’s doing, and don’t most artists cultivate an image? And why are we so hyper focused on accuracy and authenticity from musicians*? These aren’t our friends or loved ones. For all we know, Elvis Costello goes home and wears nothing but sweats and rimless glasses. Maybe he ditches the nervy, hyper literate British songwriter the second he steps off stage and spends half his week quoting nothing but football stats and jokes from late night Comedy Central movies. Maybe Lana Del Rey goes home and is a tee-totaling health nut lesbian, with zero interest in bad men and late nights. Or maybe she’s just Lizzy Grant. Who knows? And really, who cares?

Lana Del Rey’s albums feature one ear weavil after another, and they’re rife with silly bits and baubles that are, well, fun. Really fun, like the musical equivalent of sneaking out your bedroom window to go to the kind of party you only see in movies. There’s the breathy sex kitten delivery and the world weariness and the kitschy Americana (“Elvis is my daddy, Marilyn’s my mother” is certainly the title of one of those terrible old movie star hybrid paintings that are always in diners, where Buddy Holly and James Dean split a strawberry shake). There’s a closet full of references to party dresses and bad men galore, there’s wild adventures and the thrill of escape. It’s catchy, ridiculous, and sometimes raunchy. Is some of it cringe-worthy? Sure. The opening lines of “Cola” are pretty unfortunate. The constant references to calling older beaus “daddy” gets a little weird.

But I like it. I like all of it. I like the Walt Whitman inspired chorus in “Body Electric” and the fast car freedom of “Ride.” I think “Blue Jeans” and “Video Games” are powerful, evocative pop songs that will get better with age. And I can’t stop listening to “National Anthem” and her “Blue Velvet” cover no matter how hard I try.

Lana Del Rey is easy to make fun of and ignore; but, I find her music just as easy to like, and that’s what’s most important to me. All you get out of music snobbery in the end is stop signs and road blocks holding you back from listening to something you might really enjoy. Every critic who I like dislikes Del Rey and can’t get enough of Beach House. I still like them and respect their opinions, but I disagree on both counts. You could say that this is an example of my poor taste in music, you could say I’m not trying hard enough or I don’t get it, you could even say I don’t have the right to write about music after this kind of declaration. I would argue that I’m someone who likes pop music and finds Beach House boring, and that there isn’t much more to it.

The new year is around the corner, and if you want to embrace your own tastes and ignore the crowd, here’s my advice: Skip the music snobbery and embrace music gluttony. Listen to whatever you want, whenever you want, and as much of it as you possibly can. Like what you like, dislike what you dislike, and be open to changing your mind (There’s a Beach House song on my December So Hot Right Now).  And if you’ve been avoiding Ms. Del Rey because you saw her on SNL last year, or because you were encouraged not to like her, give her a try.

* There’s actually a great book about the roots of our obsession with authenticity in art, specifically in music: Check out Hey! Nietzsche! Leave Them Kids Alone! by Craig Schuftan.

Top 5 Dream Covers (by Claire)

I’ve been thinking about dream covers ever since this post, in which I requested that Joshua get a band together and start doing filthy funk interpretations of saccharine James Taylor jams. I stand by the fact that “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” could be downright dirty, if given the appropriate timing and musical accoutrements.

Until that cover gets made (oh please? someone? I can’t really sing, but I’ll play the hell out of a triangle if it means making this cover happen), here are five more dream covers. Leave yours in the comments!

“Birdhouse in Your Soul,” by They Might be Giants, covered by Alison Krauss and Emmylou Harris

Only the honeyed voices of Emmylou Harris and Alison Krauss will do when it comes to a reimagining of “Flood.” Picture the quiet loveliness of Emmylou’s voice on “Road Movie to Berlin” or Krauss crooning “Sapphire Bullets of Pure Love.” And what sweet magic would they lend to quirky classics like “Whistling in the Dark” and “Particle Man”? Ralph Stanley could sit in on “They Might Be Giants,” and I want Lucinda Williams in the studio getting rowdy on “Twisting.” “Birdhouse in Your Soul” would be stripped down to just short of a capella, their voices paired with a lone fiddle, and a banjo making brief, rapidly plucked cameos.

“Radio,” by Lana Del Rey, covered by Andrew Luttrell and Rosie Thomas

Lana Del Rey got caught in a mean spirited game of SEO one upmanship several months ago. Music bloggers battled it out to see who could make her sound the most like a harbinger of the apocalypse. This SNL skit really sums up my feelings on this.

Del Rey is no Carol King, but she makes decent, sometimes interesting pop music and I don’t think she’s a sign of the end times for humanity or modern music (and if you think that, you haven’t been paying attention to pop music. You have so many other things to be horrified about)  “Radio” is one of those sometimes interesting songs. The lyrics and tune are kind of fun, and the whole song could be more interesting if it was divided into a duet and outfitted with different singers.

The duet concept? A couple is tested by the newfound musical fame of one partner. They banter and flirt, but the whole dialogue is edged in genuine worry that all this radio fame will have an impact on the relationship.

A: Now my life is sweet like cinnamon/ Like a fucking dream I’m living in/Baby love me cause I’m playing on the radio/How do you like me now?

B: Pick me up and take me like a vitamin/ Cause my body’s sweet like sugar venom oh yeah

A: Baby love me cause I’m playing on the radio

B: How do you like me now?

The singers: Andrew Luttrell, who has the guitar chops and straightforward, slightly gruff delivery one half of this duet requires.  His musical sparring partner is Rosie Thomas, who sounds like honey and rosewater and is adept at revealing layered, complicated forms of sadness through her voice.

“She’s Got You,” by Patsy Cline, covered by Lauryn Hill

Lauryn Hill and Patsy Cline share an aptness for keeping slow, slightly mournful numbers entertaining. They also don’t require much in the way of backup: A stripped down Lauryn Hill track is riveting, and Patsy Cline’s voice fills and carries each song. When I think about Hill covering this song, I can hear her cover of “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You,” or her song “Selah.” I know this would be equally haunting and beautiful. Much like my “Allison Krauss and Emmylou Harris Take on They Might Be Giants” scheme, I would be a happy girl if I found a whole album of Patsy Cline covers by Lauryn Hill (Although I would be a happy girl if I found a whole album of just about anything by Lauryn Hill.)

“Marionette,” by the 5 Chinese Brothers, covered by Warren Haynes

I became so obsessed with this cover idea about six or seven years ago that I briefly considered pitching it in a letter to Warren Haynes. I had Let’s Kill Saturday Night on heavy repeat around the time I saw Warren Haynes do a solo show in Philadelphia. It was one of the best shows I’d ever seen. Warren was charming, the acoustics were insane, and his versions of well known songs made you feel like you hadn’t known those songs very well after all. I rarely walk out of a show starry eyed and thoroughly pleased, ready to pledge allegiance and endless fan-ship to the artist. This was one of those shows.

I heard “Marionette” for probably the 100th time a few days later and could hear how Warren Haynes voice would sound on it. He would amplify the sadness and anger. He would lend some gravel voiced magic to it. “Marionette” is already great, and his version could be sublime.

“You’ve Got Her in Your Pocket,” by The White Stripes, covered by Mavis Staples

More Mavis Staples, guys. The world needs more Mavis Staples. Her album with Jeff Tweedy was great. Her 2011 version of “The Weight” with Wilco and Nick Lowe  haunts my dreams. “You’ve Got Her in Your Pocket” would sound amazing with her voice, and could be such a different song without Jack White’s high pitched musical stylings. Ideal situation: Jack White produces the cover, maybe even plays guitar on the track. They strike up a friendship and make an album together. And we get a great cover, another great album, and most importantly, more Mavis Staples.


So Hot Right Now: March 2012

Claire: As always, your monthly mixtapes, this time for March. For a full description of the So Hot Right Now rules, check out this post by Joshua.  My favorite line is “We all tend to have these songs that are stuck, like peanut butter to the roof of your mouth, in our brains for what seems like a month.” These are our peanut butter songs, and they’re soon to be yours. Enjoy!

Claire’s List

1. “White Winter Hymnal,” Fleet Foxes

2. “California Stars,” Billy Bragg and Wilco

3. “Gone for Good,” The Shins

4. “I Know There’s an Answer,” The Beach Boys

5. “Damaged,” The Vivian Girls

6. “Riding in Cars with Boys,” Lana Del Rey

7. “Chain of Fools,” Aretha Franklin

8. “Comin Home Baby,” Mel Torme

9. “Get Up Offa That Thing,” James Brown

10. “Spooky,” Dusty Springfield

11. “Pumped Up Kicks,” Foster the People

12. “I Wanna Be Where You Are,” Jackson Five

13. “Somethings Got a Hold on Me,” Etta James

14. “Hard to Handle,” Otis Redding

15. “Daydreaming,” Aretha Franklin


Joshua’s List:

1. “Testify” by Rage Against the Machine

2. “Ophelia” by The Band

3. “You Part the Waters” by Cake

4. “For No One” by The Beatles

5. “Life, In A Nutshell” by Barenaked Ladies

6. “California One/Youth and Beauty Brigade” by The Decemberists

7. “Sprawl II  (Mountains Beyond Mountains) by Arcade Fire

8. “High and Dry” by Jamie Cullum

9. “Love on a Two Way Street” by The Moments

10. “Almost” by Sarah Harmer

11. “Lover, You Should’ve Come Over” by Jeff Buckley

12. “Cage in a Cave” by Rasputina

13. “Tenderness on the Block” by Warren Zevon

14. “How a Resurrection Really Feels” by The Hold Steady

15. “When It Rains” by Brad Mehldau

So Hot Right Now, January 2012 (first draft)–Joshua

You may be asking yourself, So Hot Right Now? Is that exactly what it sounds like? Yes, it is. We all tend to have these songs that are stuck, like peanut butter to the roof of your mouth, in our brains for what seems like a month. I just happen to make them into a playlist with a catchy name (which I totally stole from from an ex). The spin I came up with was to create the list with the limitation that it must be able to fit within a standard length of a burned cd, making it essentially a So Hot Right Now mixtape. I also arrange the songs with some fleeting adherence to the rules of making a mixtape, which are many and more, according to Rob Gordon, so they aren’t exactly perfect. And in that vein, I also tend to revise the lists halfway through the month with what plays and doesn’t play. So without any further ado, here are our first So Hot Right Now lists of the New Year!

Joshua’s So Hot Right Now:

1. Gogol Bordello – Immigraniada (We Comin’ Rougher)
2. Alien Ant Farm – Smooth Criminal
3. Barenaked Ladies – What A Good Boy
4. They Might Be Giants – Birdhouse In Your Soul
5. All Mighty Senators – Booty Fresh
6. Paul Simon – Graceland
7. Cake – Short Skirt/Long Jacket
8. Laughing Colors – Sunrise Highway (live, unplugged)
9. Hall & Oates – You Make My Dreams
10. The White Stripes – You Don’t Know What Love Is (You Just Do As You’re Told)
11. The Decemberists – O Valencia!
12. Faces – Stay With Me
13. Florence + The Machine – Dog Days Are Over
14. Arcade Fire – Wake Up
15. Cake – End of the Movie

Claire’s So Hot Right Now:

1) Violent Femmes – Good Feeling
2) Barenaked Ladies (cover of Bruce Cockburn) – Lovers in a Dangerous Time
3) They Might Be Giants – We Want a Rock
4) The Strokes – I’ll Try Anything Once
5) Lana Del Rey – You Can Be the Boss
6) Rolling Stones – Loving Cup
7) Richard Thompson – Cooksferry Queen
8) Teenage Fanclub – The Concept
9) Regina Spektor – Eet
10) Taj Mahal – Lovin’ In My Baby’s Eyes
11) Florence + the Machine – Shake It Out
12) Drake – Marvin’s Room
13) Cake – Italian Leather Sofa
14) Etta James – Spoonful
15) Bootsy Collins – Munchies for Your Love

What is a musical hangover, you ask?—Claire

No dears, it’s not what it sounds like. Tuxedo clad singers won’t appear bedside after a night made out of a bottle of wine and some alcoholic spare change, both firmly lodged and aching somewhere behind your eyeballs. This is not the macaroni-and-cheese, peanut-butter-out-of-a-jar, kiddie-pool-full-of-coffee, musical hair of the dog. (Though that would be a good list, huh? Joshua, take note. I’m thinking a next morning cocktail of the Jayhawks and Zappa, with Katy Perry sprinkled on top…it could work.)

A musical hangover is more than a song that’s stuck in your head. It’s a song that’s lodged in your week. It’s a song you wake up singing, that you listen to on repeat for days without tiring of it, and still listen to (albeit with less fervor and repetition) on and off forever. You don’t wear it out—you just wear it, to the point that you convince yourself it means something, it’s part of the elusive soundtrack of your life, someone in a studio is pressing play as you walk through the doors and see that person, or do that thing, or gaze moonily out a window (moony moon-gazing is a serious side effect of musical hangovers). Enjoy your musical hangover while it lasts. Too soon, you’ll hear some awful jingle or bit of Top 40 fluff that will run through your head like an unpleasant musical flu.

Now that our Charm City Jukebox vocabulary lesson is over, here are three of my most recent musical hangovers: