Mixtape Tuesday: Blizzards, Amiright? (by Claire)

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

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

Some notes on the actual mixtape:

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

Important discoveries I made while making this mixtape:

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

How to Fall Apart in Melbourne: An Edible, Musical Breakdown (by Claire)

Pan fried celeriac and rocket

I found out I wasn’t a superhero in Melbourne, Australia. It only took me 20 odd years, and one terrible trip. 

I was in Melbourne for six weeks. The set up was simple: Work all night. Sleep all day. Flip the schedule on the weekends. Go out and have fun and live off espresso. Move to a different apartment every two weeks.    

The plan was to run on empty; this was always my plan, in all situations. I treated plants and pets with more care and attention than my body. I lived off of all-nighters, I drank gallons of coffee, I didn’t care about myself much. It usually worked until it didn’t, and when it didn’t, I was on the other side of the world.

I hadn’t factored in how overwhelming it would be to spend 95% of my time alone. My body had no interest in flipping back and forth between a variety of sleeping schedules. It never wanted to sleep during the day,  until it was exhausted by weeks of hunger and sleeplessness. Then I wanted to sleep all day, every day. I hadn’t considered the effect of never being awake or outside during daylight hours.  Our budget was tight, food was scarce. I barely saw my boyfriend.

Stress, isolation, hunger, and intense sleep deprivation: That’s a recipe. Combine swiftly and you will fall apart. You will wonder if you’re having a heart attack. You will become forgetful and blurry. You will wake up afraid and go to bed depressed and waver between the two for the several hours in between. 

I came home. I got better. I got busy. I never thought about Melbourne. Until now, a few weeks away from another long trip abroad, the first since my last harrowing adventure. I’ve traveled a little before, and I always came home with a head full of pictures, conversations, experiences. In Melbourne, the world got smaller, not larger, and my memories revolve exclusively around meals I cooked, songs I listened to. So here it is, a year later: a soundtrack and tasting menu for a breakdown in Melbourne, Australia. 


Pan Fried Kangaroo/ “Uh-Oh Love Comes to Town” by Talking Heads 

Butcher the celeriac with bare bones directions from a supermarket magazine. Peel and hack until the crisp flesh emerges.  Open a package of cling-wrapped raw kangaroo meat dripping with blood and red wine marinade, smashed garlic smeared across the burgundy steak.

Pan fry everything. Fry it in rich yellow butter and handfuls of cumin, in jagged flakes of salt and faded paprika.

Work until 4:00 am. Walk fast fast, everywhere. Miss cigarettes. Miss them like you quit yesterday, not five years ago. Be alone all day. Talk to yourself, and when that gets old, talk to David Byrne.  Play Talking Heads 77 two ways: Loudly, constantly.  Scrape and butcher and scavenge in your rented kitchen, light stoves with a match and fry meats and drink ten shots of espresso before you eat. Make it to dinner exhausted, drink clear skin wine while David Byrne sings, and kangaroo is okay, really. Better than they said it would be.


Truffle Butter Toast/ “Calling It Quits” by Aimee Mann 

Move into the second apartment. Start crying all the time. This is what happens when you sleep a handful of hours in a handful of weeks, when you eat all of your meals with your Kindle, when your boyfriend works all hours and your roommates don’t want you there and you’ve run out of money. Stop leaving the house. Figure out how to create lunch out of two dollars and some instant coffee left over from your flight. Find a stale hunk of bread in the kitchen and slather it in truffle butter the owner stashed in the fridge. Eat it slowly, the smokey salt crystals dissolving on your tongue. Play Aimee Mann (so often that her voice starts narrating your thoughts) on the kitchen island, play “Calling It Quits” because it’s dark so early and you never got outside today and what day is it anyway? When you don’t have a friend or a lunch, you have Aimee Mann.


Lemon Bread/ “Feed the Tree” by Belly 

Grate and juice the found lemons. The owners of the house, the final one, left a map scribbled on a napkin of where to scavenge. The yard two houses down for herbs, half a mile down the road, past the pub with the Tuesday chicken parma night (a slab of pounded and deep fried chicken as big as a door, topped with parma ham, tomato sauce, and cheese. The only not outrageously expensive meal in town, unless you want to brave the lamb wrap at McD’s), there’s a lemon tree drooping with fruit. The owners of the house left a sack of their found lemons with leaves on and stems. Bake lemon bread with bittersweet chocolate chips and a sharp lemon glaze. It’s a Saturday morning, ten or so of Melbourne’s native loud chubby birds perform doo-wop on the patio. Drink a long black from the espresso shop down the street and bake and listen to 90’s music you haven’t heard since elementary school. This is a recipe, not the ingredients in the bowl, but Belly and warm lemon bread and quiet morning. This is a recipe to feel better, and for an hour or two, it works.


Pretend Canned Spaghetti/ “Faron Young (Acoustic)” by PreFab Sprout 

There’s a two pound jar of arugula pesto in the fridge when you get there. “Eat anything, everything!” the owner says in his good natured way, before disappearing on his own trek to Asia. Bone-weary and flat broke, a fridge full of food is a blessing, the energy to cook it feels like a lost cause.

When you moved to San Francisco, you barely knew a soul, and sometimes for a week would only chat with your boyfriend and barista. When the coffee shop closed, when he had to work late, you would make a dish called Pretend Canned Spaghetti because the noodles were soft and the sauce was thin. It tasted like forbidden childhood junk food, scaled up. Cook penne in a giant pot and rest your head on the counter, the cold marble untangling a headache lodged between your eyes. PreFab Sprout sings gently about paper plates and bubblegum and other grains. The song is like bundling up in the biggest, warmest blanket while someone strokes your forehead. Stir a scoop of pesto and half a can of tomatoes into the pasta. Cover it in a grated heel of hard cheese. Eat it at the counter, wearing two sweaters and two pairs of socks, never sure where the heater is or how to work it. Eat slowly and fall asleep with The Simpsons on and feel warm and full and so homesick you could die.


Yakitori/ “Long Walk” by Jill Scott 

You eat every kind of Tim Tam—plain and double dipped and mint and Rum Raisin and caramel, dipped in coffee and tea and eaten raw, five at a time. You eat every kind of dip, at which this city excels—yogurt dips dotted with cubed beets and chunky pumpkin dips and oily, minced lemongrass chili cashew dips that will make your eyes glaze over.  You go to brunch and puncture poached eggs poised dangerously on top of avocado toasts. You chop up asparagus and onions, marinate torn up raw chicken in soy sauce and hoisin, grill it all on bamboo sticks in a cheap yakitori grill pan in the kitchen. Repeat this every night for the last week, because every hour you are closer to home and you’re allowed to enjoy what you’ve enjoyed here. Not people or trips or restaurants or any of the things you usually love abroad. But meals at home and rambling nostalgic playlists, intertwined and prepared nightly. Play the neosoul of your high school years, Jill Scott and Musiq Soulchild and Floetry. Eat and drink and be merry, because it’s nearly over.

Transcendant Joy and Other Dances: David Byrne and St. Vincent at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall (by Claire)

 

“I discovered the Talking Heads through a classic movie,” St. Vincent says with a wink. “Great film. See it if you haven’t. It’s called Revenge of the Nerds.” Next to her, David Byrne smiles and saunters a bit. He is perpetually in movement—the man in Stop Making Sense is here, albeit with ice-white hair and sans giant suit. But dancing David Byrne remains the same—he still jangles and sways, seesaws his arms and walks in tight, jagged circles, a jolting choreography, pleasurable and odd, like the man himself.

“It’s so nice being in Bawlmore,” Byrne says with a smile, his native tongue thick with the local vernacular.  A homegrown legend, he grew up in Arbutus, dropped out of MICA. (“Someone once told me that David Byrne used to show up at the Talking Head club downtown in a plastic mustache-glasses-nose combo and I’ve been spreading that lie ever since,” I tell my dad. That someone was Kenny Liner, and five minutes later the host for the night points to Liner, sitting across from me, and introduces him to the crowd. Baltimore is a city, sure, but the locals know it’s the smallest town). Bryne calls Druid Hill Park “Droodel Park” and I wish I was one of the people in that park who got to look up hours earlier and say “Did David Byrne just ride by on a bicycle?”

St. Vincent is mesmerizing—her rich voice bounces through the Meyerhoff, she traverses the stage in tiny flitting footsteps as electric green and crisp white lights wax and wane, create shadows, leave the crowd alternately blinded and hypnotized. Her songs shine in a brilliant shining night, standing beside a merry legend, in a sea of unbelievable Talking Heads covers, she shines. She makes me want to listen to her albums, she makes me want to see her live and solo, and on this night, that’s no small feat.

Love This Giant continues to be good weird fun, weirder and funner live, but listen, I learned something important: Transcendent joy can be acquired in 60 seconds. All you need are the opening bars of “This Must Be the Place (Naïve Melody)” and a crowd. Play it loud, play it louder with a grin if you’re David Byrne, and listen closely to the faint “pop-pop-pop” of a hundred hearts expanding, exploding, a hundred seats clattering as a hundred thrilled bodies leap up to dance. The transcendent joy of strangers can be witnessed and enjoyed too, like when the entire band, one by one, moved in a circle and each sang a piece of “Wild Wild Life,” each with smiles a mile long. David Byrne and St. Vincent not only introduced each band member, but gave a quick plug for the band’s various solo projects with a plea to “support working musicians.” They looked like a happy, slightly starstruck family—they made the audience feel like a mass of momentary cousins, part of the gang for one night only.

The crowd danced, the crowd screamed, the crowd knew: David Byrne happily playing Talking Heads classics is the stuff of dreams. The crowd applauded until they came out and did it twice more.

Check out the full setlist here. And if you ever see David Byrne ride by on a bike, you call me. Call me right away.

A Mixtape for Fireflies and Summer Storms

The East Coast is alive and well in San Francisco. At a birthday party Saturday night, I compared notes with my side of a long table and three of us went to high schools so close together we could’ve run into each other at the same McDonalds. It’s New York, it’s Boston, it’s the suburbs of DC—and for a couple months of the year, it’s the same conversation: Isn’t it so nice to be done with winter?

Disliking winter is simple: Who wants to slip on ice or endure those long months when it’s bitterly cold without the chance of snow? Who enjoys those days when it’s just never-enough layers and cutting wind, and one sad grey face after another?

Summer is it’s own strange beast though, my first love/hate relationship. I was not built for summer in Baltimore. I’m hilariously pale, perpetually dehydrated, and fairly certain that my blood is just sugar and perfume, since having upwards of 20 mosquito bites at a time is very normal for me.

I loathed the long summer months—but I loved the surreal, magic tinged bits.  Pale  green fireflies outside my bedroom window, crackling thunderstorms in June, the warm scent of honeysuckles in the heat, an olfactory memory that sums up the word “luscious.” Driving at dusk to the snowball stand, slurping crunchy ice and cherry chocolate syrup from a Styrofoam cup, bare feet perched on the dashboard. The sweet, heady boredom of suburban adolescence in the summer, all tied up in movie theatre air conditioning and cheap sunscreen, drinking Evan Williams in a field or backyard and wondering what to do next.

Are these memories a little far-fetched? Do they ignore relentless sticky days where the outdoors seem sweaty and downright hostile?  Yes. But I recommend embracing the idyllic and silly side of things—I recommend embracing that side whenever you get the chance.

So this is a soundtrack for staying out late with nothing to do, for driving barefoot while a storm gathers, for navigating leafy side roads as the sun sets and the day’s sweat cools on your bare arms and legs.

Top 5 “WTF?” Covers (by Claire)

It is really bizarre to be in the opposing team’s town—why is no one celebrating? Where’s all the purple? Why are you glaring at me? Should I not have shown up to this Super Bowl party dressed up as a tin of Old Bay? So many questions.

Though it was weird to temporarily be in enemy territory, it was nowhere near as weird as these covers. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll tell Tom Jones he’s grounded. Get excited, and please share your “WTF?” covers in the comments—tracking down these songs was way too fun, and I need lots and lots more.

(Oh, and if the intro didn’t spell it out enough, RAVENS! YAY! Come on SF readers. You know the title of this blog.)

“Shock the Monkey” covered by Don Ho

Don Ho’s cover of “Shock the Monkey” is from an album dedicated to “WTF?” covers called When Pigs Fly: Songs You Never Thought You’d Hear, featuring notable tracks like a duet of that old standard “Unforgettable” done by Ani Difranco and Jackie Chan (yes, that Jackie Chan), and a legitimately unforgettable cover of  “Ohio” by Devo.

This Don Ho cover of “Shock the Monkey” is pretty straight forward, but stringing all those words together in a sentence is enough to warrant a hearty “…huh?”


“Burning Down the House” by Tom Jones and The Cardigans

This cover brings out the latent preschool teacher in me. “No!” I want to say as a slightly shamefaced Tom Jones looks up from his microphone. “No Tom Jones! Leave the Talking Heads alone! And Cardigans, you should know better!” I’d say as I unplugged their amp and sent them to the timeout corner. “We’re sorry…we won’t try to cover songs anymore Ms. Claire,” they’d say, staring at their feet as they toed the carpet. “Alright kids. Go think about what you did. And don’t let me catch you watching Stop Making Sense.” (In this preschool fantasy, a Muppet-babies-style David Byrne is sitting at the snack table, smugly eating a graham cracker and writing the lyrics to “This Must Be The Place” on construction paper.)


“Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright” cover by Ke$ha

So weird. Not necessarily bad weird, just weird…weird. Ke$ha clearly gets the song and really hones in on the especially stinging, deeply sad parts. Her version is raspy and a capella, delivered like she just came off of a significant crying jag, complete with those slurping, breathless gasps that come after genuine tears. All of the humor and sarcasm of the original is lost, but it’s a solid interpretation that feels fairly true to the original while sounding very different.

I hated this the first time I heard it, but only because I wanted to hate it—it’s one of my favorite Dylan songs and the combination seemed so ridiculous, and Ke$ha isn’t one of those pop stars who I think is brimming with undercover talent (of which I have many, as you may know from reading this blog). But maybe I was wrong? I think this cover is pretty strong, even though I wouldn’t have bet on it. (This album also has a cover of “You’re Going to Make Me Lonesome” by Miley Cyrus that’s really lovely. I don’t know what’s happening to me. I’m having a Dylan cover induced existential crisis.)


“Sittin’ On the Dock of the Bay” cover by Sergio Mendes and Brasil 66

Sergio Mendes & Brasil 66 covers are the jam—-imagine that all classic songs were composed instead in an alternate universe populated by Muppets, drinking rum under a cartoon sky full of heart shaped clouds and a sun wearing sunglasses. Otis Redding’s mournful classic now sounds more fitting for a cheerful dance party on a beach. The sunny delivery of “…cause I had nothing to live for/Nothing gonna go my way” is my favorite part.


“Cream” cover by Rockabye Baby!

As an adult person who routinely comes across fairly grownup songs from the late 80s and thinks “Why does this make me want to dance around with a teddy bear?,” I can’t even tell you how weird it’s going to be when your kid hears the real version of “Cream” for the first time. The lyrics! The meaning! The Prince induced narcolepsy! I love this so much. I may never stop laughing.

Non-parents-of-small-children, there’s a whole album of lullaby versions of Prince songs! Parents of small children, I’m sure you already know about this and all of the Rockabye! albums. I hope we’re on the same page that “I Would Die 4 U” is the best track here, and that the lack of “Gett Off” is a lullaby travesty.

What I Listened to in 2012: Part 3 (by Claire)

The Replacements: A rediscovered love

Here it is: the final page from my musical scrapbook this year. These are the songs I was obsessed with as the seasons changed, as I flew across the world and back, and as I criss crossed the country for the holidays. For the full lists for each month, click on the month/song title below.

September: “First Week/Last Week…Carefree” by Talking Heads

We rented an apartment in Melbourne, from a man who left his dirty t-shirts in the hamper and a scummy bar of soap on the shower ledge. My boyfriend worked all day and I worked all night; we met somewhere in the middle to cook kangaroo steaks and drink bottles of clear skin wine for an hour. The rented apartment was mine—I spent my days there, alone, I stayed up all night working at it’s dining room table, sipping endless espressos and battling the WiFi. I shared it, but not really with my boyfriend, who only came home to sleep and make steaks. And I ignored the owner’s visual claims on the place; his half empty chutneys in the fridge and unopened mail only meant it wouldn’t be mine later, which I knew.

I shared it with Talking Heads 77. I played “First Week/Last Week…Carefree” at 2:00am to wake myself up, sharpen my focus. I played it when I got out of bed, usually far too early, and I played it when I got ready to go out. It was a friend when I was alone, a fun and thoughtful companion for long walks and long nights and a trip that felt….well, long in every way it could. When I listen to it now, I feel like I’m in that little living room in Melbourne, and everything is going to be okay, even if it isn’t.

*Featured in “Top 5 Intros”

October: “Violet” by Hole

I returned from a six week “trip” to Melbourne on October 1st. Very few things went right when I was there; the exciting adventure I embarked on in August soured almost immediately. I arrived in San Francisco with the feeling that I wasted a lot of time and money and health that I couldn’t get back.  I was jet lagged, I was exhausted, but more than anything, I was angry.

I’ve always had a hard time with anger. Anxiety, depression, general nervousness—that whole host of unpleasant emotions I can deal with and accept. But anger is terrifying, strange and unacceptable. It morphs into a million things and it’s rare that I just sit down and deal with it.  “Violet” helped me get in touch with my anger—-it helped me stomp and cry and get it out. Most importantly, it helped me feel better, and not so poisoned by the cloud of frustration that I brought home as a souvenir. Courtney Love became my anger coach and spirit animal. If you ever want to have a beer and a weirdly long talk about her music and food habits, call me.

*Featured in “Album of the Week: Live Through This”

November: “Swingin Party” by The Replacements

Every time I listen to this song, I wonder how I would have interacted with it if I were still in high school.  “Bring your own lampshade/Somewhere there’s a party” would’ve surely been scribbled on the white trim of my knock-off Converses.  “If being strong’s your kind/ then I need help here with this feather/ If being afraid is a crime/ We hang side by side” would’ve appeared in margin doodles, or maybe I would’ve written it in exaggerated script and hung it on my door. And what heartbreak or angst couldn’t have been summer up in an away message with a quick “At the swingin’ party down the line”?

Rediscovering Tim gave me such a visceral, adolescent pleasure that I missed those ways of obsessing over music. There’s a cut off where it stops making sense to pull out a Sharpie and scrawl the lyrics that make up your burgeoning personality on every surface you can find. I passed that cut-off long ago, so I did the grown up thing: I listened to this album a million times. I let the lyrics run through my head. I wondered if I could pull off a lampshade tattoo, and doodled it in the margins of my very polished, grownup person notes.

*Featured in “Album of the Week: Tim”

December:  “Don’t Save Me” by Haim

“You know how people want pop in the summer and dark slow stuff in the winter? I’m the opposite. I’m already happy in the summer—and who wants to be sadder in the winter?” – Zoe M., my wise sister

Here’s a sentiment that made no sense to me until this year.  It was winter in Melbourne when I was there. I came home exhausted and slid straight into working on the election. By the time November 2nd rolled around, there were new huge projects at work and two trips to the East Coast to plan. San Francisco decided it wanted to dress up as Seattle for a few months, so every day was grey and wet with looming rain. I didn’t want to huddle up and listen to something dark or thoughtful. When my serotonin dropped this year, my need for fluffy pop music grew. Enter Haim: a bright burst of straight-forward pop, complete with catchy choruses and a quasi 80s sound. “Don’t Save Me” is particularly great because of the video, which features adorable synchronized dance moments and some very 90s stylings (little twisty buns right on top of the head, come back to me).

When are girl groups going to be a thing again? Boy bands had a renaissance this year; fingers crossed that 2013 brings back the finger snapping, synchronized dancing, matching outfits awesomeness of girl groups.

Honorary Mention: “Young and Cold” by The Raveonettes

Do you disagree completely with everything I said about light-hearted poppy winter music? Then this is the song for you. “Young and Cold” is a classic, dark and foggy song for walking around in cold weather and watching the sun nod off at the crack of 4:00pm. And the chorus is particularly applicable to the winter—“I don’t want to be young and cold.” Agreed, dears.

Click here for “What I Listened to in 2012: Part 1″

Click here for “What I Listened to in 2012: Part 2″

Top 5 Songs About Places (by Claire)

Do you keep running lists of songs? It’s a theme here…well, always, but especially with me this week since a recovered running list was the inspiration for my So Hot Right Now post. I’ve been keeping a running list of songs about places—first it was cities, then states, then it was Talking Heads and dirty old towns and a hodgepodge of all of the above. This was my long winded way of not starting this with a cheesy line about music taking you places, and being about places (because we know it does, and we know sometimes it is).

“This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody),” by the Talking Heads

It’s hard not to fall in love with this song. Granted David Byrne could make me fall in love with most things, but “This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)” is on an even higher level of infectious charm. The consistency of the guitar and bass, juxtaposed with the jaunty stylings of the keyboard, is playful and comforting. It’s the musical equivalent of being small and running through a sprinkler, knowing you could run too fast in the slippery mud because some watchful adult was on the sidelines, ready to make everything better if you fell on your face. At times in my life when I very much required an elusive figure to pat my head and tell me everything would be just fine, David Byrne became my makeshift parent through sheer overplaying of this song. If you’re feeling all at sea, or if you want to reimagine a life where David Byrne is your musical guardian angel, I recommend drinking black coffee late at night and listening to this on repeat. Say hi to David Byrne from me.

“Minneapolis,” by That Dog

I love straight forward story songs. You can’t listen to them all day—it’s a little hard to daydream to “Punk Rock Girl” or “Tom’s Diner,” and once you hear about Anna and Ollie roasting a Tofu Pup, you want to stick around for the end of “Oh Anna” by The Microphones (and if you do, you’ll find it’s not really one of these songs at all, only for a minute at the beginning.)

“Minneapolis” is a brief story about a girl who has a crush on a guy she sees at the Jabberjaw. She finds out he lives in Minneapolis. They strike up a friendship/maybe romance, which is cut short when she has to go on tour. The chorus is “Minneapolis,” repeated a few times over. Every time I listen to it, I want to go to this mythical place where cool boys at shows and the rockstar girls who love them live. They should use this song as tourist bait in ads aimed at the easily influenced. I’ve been to Minneapolis probably 20 times and none of my memories of the city matter. That Dog has performed a musical magic trick, and now I’m convinced that the city is full of little clubs and power pop and flannel. Is it?

“Dirty Old Town,” by David Byrne

“Dirty Old Town” sounds so splashy and upbeat that if you don’t listen to the lyrics and get your ear caught on the line “Remember the days of rent control/Grandpa remembers rock and roll” (and you can, easily, it’s a great line), you could confuse this for a starry-eyed daydream about urban living. Really, the song is much darker—it’s a lyrics vs. music game that Byrne plays throughout Rei Momo, and one that a lifetime love of funny woeful folk types (oh hello Loudon Wainwright) has primed me to enjoy. You come to the dirty old town because it’s a “…World of Opportunities, a Land of Possibilities” and soon enough you’re building it up, it’s tearing you down. You could turn this up loud and roll the windows down, you could drive fast with this in the background, you could dance and be in love. You would walk away from those experiences thinking the Dirty Old Town is where you want to be. Sit down and listen to this in a quiet room. Remember that it’s not.

File:Hole-album-celebrityskin.jpg

“Malibu,” by Hole

Courtney Love jokes write themselves (actually, she writes them herself, go read her tweets), but remember Hole? How awesome was Hole? And if your first reaction is Kurt Cobain conspiracy theory nonsense, or a turned up nose and a jab at her antics, go listen to the first couple Hole albums and get back to me. People can be deeply messed up and enormously talented (See: Amy Winehouse). I wonder what the emotional algorithm is that makes us accept that in certain musicians and not others. If you made a list for each and compared, I bet gender would pop up as the main difference.

Malibu is another story song, this time about Kurt Cobain’s stay at a rehab center in Malibu, shortly before he committed suicide. It’s a dreamy, crashing song—angry and pretty, brimming with a complicated tangle of hurt that makes sense, given the context and Love’s relationship with Cobain. Simple, lovely images pop here: “Oceans of angels/oceans of stars,” “And the sun goes down/ I watch you slip away/And the sun goes down/I walk into the waves.”

“Phoenix,” by Aimee Mann

Aimee Mann hits the road, abandoning Phoenix and a lover who loves her like a dollar bill, rolls her up and trades her in. A few months ago we did a post on songs for the different stages of a breakup, based on the stages of grief. I think the creating physical distance part of a breakup might be the mysterious sixth stage, so crucial but usually impossible, especially as we get older and there aren’t colleges to go to or new post graduation cities to run to. I dated someone in college for two years and had the good fortune to already live 45 minutes away. I haven’t seen him since, and in those early days of soft sad hearts and too much wine, the distance was a great balm, one that made the moving on process faster, cleaner. I did have to drive back to my town after we broke up in his, and the image of Mann driving with Kleenex was spot on. “Driving with Kleenex” might be the right name for that stage. For another take on this, listen to “Jackson” by Lucinda Williams.

Top 5 One Hit Wonders (by Claire)


My music collection wouldn’t be complete without these one hit wonders, and over years of listening they’ve become bands I claim to like, even though I really only like their one song. I’ve almost ended up at Tom Tom Club Shows hundreds of times before remembering that I only know “Genius of Love,” and that going to a band’s show for one song is a choice that rarely works in my favor (although when it does, it really does. Be risky about shows, kids! Just maybe try to listen to two or three songs first.)

Lessons for if you don’t want to be a one hit wonder, based solely on this list: Don’t put punctuation in your band name. And don’t be in the 80’s.


“Genius of Love,” by the Tom Tom Club

I get a weird kick out of music that references other music (recent Ke$ha and Maroon 5 odes to Mick Jagger excluded). When done by an artist I like, it’s like getting a quick peek at their record collection, and sharing a fan moment with someone usually relegated to the other side of that equation. “Genius of Love” references quite a few musicians, even repeating James Brown’s name enough times that the “James BROOOWN, JAMES Brooown” line always gets stuck in my head. If one hit wonders are the one-offs that I can’t imagine my music collection missing, than “Genius of Love” is the music industry’s ultimate one hit wonder. It’s sampled in a hilarious number of (mostly rap) songs, including two of my 90s favorites: “Return of the Mack” by Mark Morrison, and (obviously) “Fantasy” by Mariah Carey. Fun trivia fact: This song was only included in “Stop Making Sense” so that David Byrne could slip away to change into his giant suit.


“Groove is in the Heart,” by Deee-Lite

“Groove is in the Heart” is a magical collage of music. First, there’s Dee-Lite, a dance band that put out what would become the original house music, featuring the notoriously slinky vocals of Lady Miss Kier. Bootsy Collins plays bass guitar, a very young Q-Tip raps, Tina Turner plays the tambourine, funk legends Maceo Parker and Fred Wesley join in, and the whole song revolves around a Herbie Hancock riff. The song features more than 9 samples, one of which is the theme song to Green Acres. Throw in some funny fake French dialogue, an acid trip of a music video, and a ludicrously catchy chorus, and you have one of the world’s most perfect dance songs, prominently featured on many top dance song lists. If you’re looking for something to do, I highly recommend wasting an hour on Wikipedia tracing the various bizarre musical roots of this song, while watching the video on repeat.


“Take on Me,” by A-ha

The three of us were the kind of silly drunk that only budget booze and being eighteen years old can conjure. We were made sillier by our Halloween costumes. Rahnia and I had paced the local discount store for hot glue guns and clothing we could tear and glue into something festive. She was a librarian maybe, or something that required a perfect slash of red lipstick and glasses perched seductively at the end of her nose. I was a fairy, covered in plastic blooms from a beheaded bouquet and yards of gauzy fabric, with big maribou wings stuck to my back. I don’t remember what the third girl wore. In a move that seemed genius, we ditched the last in a series of parties to blast this song and jump on Rahnia’s bed. The song played again and again as we soared through the air, laughing and tumbling, acquiring bruises we would only find hungover the next morning. I was very sure that the world would be a sorry place without the musical stylings of A-ha. Though I have long since retired vodka housed in plastic jugs and homemade fairy wings, I stand by that statement. Life is more fun with A-ha playing, a bed to jump on, and laughing friends to break your fall.


“Voices Carry,” by ‘Til Tuesday

Aimee Mann rocks a platinum, Flock-of-Seagulls ‘do, and her menacing yuppie boyfriend doesn’t like it one bit. He also doesn’t like her rat tail, her cool cuff earrings, her band full of po’faced, long haired guys who look like they’ve forgone the trendy 80s fashions and gone straight for the trendy 80s downer pharmaceuticals. Menacing yuppie boyfriend wants her to be quiet yuppie arm candy. Don’t speak up! Don’t play in your band! Hey, wear these ugly earrings I bought you.

I’ve listened to a lot of Aimee Mann breakup songs. A lot. Almost daily. Mann has a cannon of musical heartbreak.  “Voices Carry” stands out though because it’s so raw. Even in a sea of new wave musical stylings, there’s no polish, no clever images and wordplay. That’s not to say it’s not a well written song, it is—it’s just not hiding anything. And Mann seems so incredibly vulnerable: the warble in her voice as she sings “When I tell him that I’m falling in love/ why does he say” as she launches into “Hush hush/keep it down now/voices carry.” The resoluteness when she sings “I try so hard not to get upset/ Because I know all the trouble I’ll get.” In the video, menacing yuppie goes from cartoonish villain in an 80s movie to truly violent, shoving Mann on two separate occasions. It’s hard to watch.

80s Aimee Mann, you’re too cool for all this nonsense. Stay away from scary yuppies. Sing your heart out while you’re sitting in the audience at Carnegie Hall. Don’t pay attention to the shocked old lady or mean boyfriend knudging you. Sing on, Aimee Mann. Keep that cool cuff earring. I’m even warming up to the rat tail.


“What’s Up?” by 4 Non Blondes

How weird is it that this song is called “What’s Up?” when Linda Perry screams (from the tops of her lungs, no less) “What’s Going On?” over and over again? According to Wikipedia, the title was to stop people from confusing this with Marvin Gaye’s classic “What’s Going On?” I would like to meet the person who would confuse Linda Perry and Marvin Gaye. I have a lot of questions for them, like did they also confuse Taylor Swift and The Cure (Love Song) or when they heard the Counting Crows version of Uncle John’s Band, did they think that guy with the dreadlock filled Bam-Bam ponytail was Jerry Garcia?

When I first heard this, I remember thinking it was really cool that the singer was so angry, and blunt about it, and how I’d never really heard a woman be that aggressive in a song. I thought that was a good thing, and it was something I would go on to seek out in other (better) songs. Now this song sounds pretty dated, and Linda Perry’s vocals are kind of grating. But I dig her combat boots and socks, and the band’s overall early 90s anti establishment look and message. (Fun 90s trivia: Linda Perry is now dating the woman who played Darlene on Roseanne.)

So Hot Right Now: April 2012

Claire’s List:

1. “Wagon Wheel,” by Old Crow Medicine Show

2. “In the Basement,” by Etta James

3. “Payback,” by James Brown

4. “Pusherman,” by Curtis Mayfield

5. “Sugar On My Tongue,” by the Talking Heads

6. “Love Lost,” by Temper Trap

7. “Thought I Knew You,” by Matthew Sweet

8. “Bad Reputation,” by Freedy Johnston

9. “Happy Birthday to Me,” by Cracker

10. “Timebomb,” by the Old 97s

11. “Girlfriend,” by Matthew Sweet

12. “Anna Ng,” by They Might Be Giants

13. “That’s Just What You Are,” by Aimee Mann

14. “Red Right Ankle,” by The Decemberists

15. “Big Country,” by the Talking Heads

Joshua’s List:

1. “Welcome to the Working Week” by Elvis Costello

2. “Sympathy For The Devil (Neptunes Redux)” by The Rolling Stones and The Neptunes

3. “Rising Sun” by The Bridge

4. “She’ll Come Back to Me”  by Cake

5. “Holocaust of Giants” by Rasputina

6. “Gardening” by Spoke Ensemble

7. “People II: The Reckoning” by Andrew Jackson Jihad

8. “Summer Breeze” by The Isley Brothers

9. “A Cautionary Song” by The Decemberists

10. “Frontin'” by Jamie Cullum

11. “Dear Maggie” by Kelly Bell Band

12. “The Infanta” by The Decemberists

13. “We Used to Wait” by Arcade Fire

14. “Ain’t No Thang” by Katzenjammer

15. “I Believe (When I Fall In Love It Will Be Forever)” by Stevie Wonder

Top 5 Album Closers

Claire: We’re closing out our month long amble down record collection lane with album closers. Joshua and I had a long discussion about this post after I admitted that post by post, it’s come to my attention that I skip out on the end of most albums. Even some of my favorite albums contain mysterious final tracks that I’ve never reached. Why? Boredom sometimes, but more often it feels like the rhythm and narrative of the album got lost in the last few tracks, and after the penultimate and pre-penultimate, I can’t sit through another assault on my mini musical experience. Leave your favorite album closers, and closer criteria, in the comments! Maybe this post and your suggestions can end my stint as an album closer novice.

“The Big Country,” by the Talking Heads on Talking Heads 77

The Big Country is the epitomy of a proper album send-off. After a musical smorgasbord, this track winds you down, but not too much, not too fast. Perfectly paced, and still in pace with the album as a whole, with a solid last track length. If I’ve learned anything from our month of album posts, it’s that you never really want to leave a Talking Heads album. Once it’s on, once it gets going, it’s hard to give it up, hard to let it end. The Big Country is so satisfying it’s downright quenching.  And when Talking Heads 77 is done, you’ll probably replay the album (I know, you can’t help it) but if for some reason you couldn’t listen through again—if there was a tornado or some kind of martian landing— you could walk away and be okay. Until you remember Stop Making Sense, and then wipe out your schedule and cozy up to David Byrne, cause you’re a goner.

 “Jackson,” by Lucinda Williams on Car Wheels on a Gravel Road

Around the time I turned 16, my family spent a week in St. Cloud Minnesota, the town where I was born. We stayed with my parents’ friend Julie’s house, where we shucked corn in the backyard, ate mole off of plates perched on our laps, and flailed our open, stinging palms through the air, swatting mosquitos. It’s strange to say three cities later,  but everyone seemed so much more alive in Minnasota. My dad was on the radio, bonfires sprung up and filled with my parents’ college friends, and my sister and I ran free. I tasted my first beer that week (and developed a lifelong hatred of Leinenkugels), got my ears pierced, and spent the morning of my 16th birthday walking right down the center of an endless, empty road. I picked up this album at a record store called The Electric Fetus and listened to it relentlessly.

There’s a great line in Tina Fey’s book, Bossypants, about listening to “I Will Always Love You” over and over again, and crying because she had never experienced that kind of love. During that week in St. Cloud, I felt ready to grow up and be tumultous, adventurous, and achingly heartbroken, as soon as I could, and “Car Wheels on a Gravel Road” was my window into a life I didn’t have yet, but could reach out and almost touch.

“Save Me,” by Aimee Mann on Bachelor No. 2 or the Last Remains of the Dodo

I was in the throes of a bad breakup, and bingeing on sad girl music (…like Fergie) and a newly reacquired cigarette habit, when I got introduced to Bachelor No. 2. I remember that summer as being rainy and constantly dark, though looking back it was so sunny that I came home daily with a pink, scabby sunburn. And I also remember this album being a pitch-perfect ode to heartbreak, so personalized Mann may as well have laced my name through the choruses. But it’s not, not really. It’s heartbreak and growing up and being so strange inside that new love, someday, feels unlikely. I think this is where I ended up five years after I had exhausted Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, when I really was heartbroken and a little more grown up, and it was a lot less delicious than I had imagined.

“One Man Guy,” by Loudon Wainwright on BBC Sessions

Loudon Wainwright III is the world’s saddest man. If there were a “Sad, old guy singing sad songs” version of the Hunger Games, he would win in a heartbeat. He would get a walloping score from the Gamemakers, based on a freestyle ode to his lost loves and distant children. He would pull out a guitar and beat Leonard Cohen death, then melt everyone into a depressive heap with his pretty, lowkey songs, rife with death and loss and major life mistakes. (Oh my glob I want to cast the Sad Old Guy Hunger Games. What are we thinking, guys? Neil Young, Richard Thompson, Nick Lowe, wild card from District Experimental, Brian Eno…) (I’m reading the Hunger Games and they’re actually haunting my dreams. And this post, apparently.)

“One Man Guy” is an apt ending to a live-ish album: Loudon in concert is a carnival of kooky facial expressions, quips, and goofy smiles, all working together to cleverly mask some of the wrenching sadness in his songs. This song is an exploration of his lodged-in-his-bones-loneliness, and a quick peek behind his live performance mask.

“Murder of One,” by the Counting Crows on August and Everything After

Murder of One is a great big “things are going to change” song. It’s also solid internal montage music: If you need to imagine that things will change, for the better, in a quick, several scene cuts kind of way (instead of in the usual slow, up and down, un-soundtracked way that life works) this is your song. A nice, almost upbeat ending to a brooding, emotional rollercoaster of an album.

Honorable Mentions

“Rock Me to Sleep,” by Jill Sobule on Pink Pearl: Pink Pearl is the worst kind of album: Heartbreakingly sad, and equally catchy. It’s a lovely hummable type of torture, full of failed heroes and cruel lovers and Mary Kay Latourneau. “Rock Me to Sleep” is a pitch-perfect send off—a song about unbearable loneliness masquerading as a lullabye.

“Stumbling Through the Dark,” by The Jayhawks on Rainy Day Music: Another con—the opening sounds lighthearted and playful, but listen to the lyrics for a second and it’s another lovely ramble on sadness and confusion.

“Montana,” by Frank Zappa on Over-Nite SensationWeird and fun, like this whole album. Makes me miss the “I might be moving to Montana soon/ To raise me up a crop of dental floss” pin I made in high school. It had a green field on it with tiny boxes of dental floss growing out of the ground.

Joshua’s List:

“Lawyers, Guns, and Money” by Warren Zevon, on Excitable Boy

The first line is so good: “I went home with a waitress…the way I always do.” It begins with a count-off. It’s loud, crass, and mean. It’s the perfect way to end Excitable Boy. Oh, and the music is pretty damn cool too. I love big guitars, both as a wall of sound and actual physically big guitars. And I can only assume this song has both.

“Sad Songs and Waltzes” by Cake, on Fashion Nugget

I may have mentioned this song before, but as Cake is one of my favorite bands they’re going to get a lot of mentions. And they actually don’t have very many good album closers, at least none I’d be willing to put on this list. Except for this song, of course. It’s a great cover of a Willie Nelson song, and it fits in perfectly with the whole jilted lover theme they have running through the album. Plus, it’s a nice slow way to end the album, which is my favorite way to end an album. And it’s a ¾ waltz! Who doesn’t like a waltz?

“Wagon Wheel” by Old Crow Medicine Show, on O.C.M.S

Let me preface this song with telling you that I am not a big fan of this band. The album this is on is not very good and the only other standout on the album is a song called “Big Time in the Jungle.” But this is quite possibly the best campfire sing-along song of all time. When I was at St. Mary’s College, it seemed like every single person knew the lyrics to this song and everyone who played guitar knew the key changes. So yeah, it wraps up a bad album, but it does it in one of the happiest ways ever.

“Sons & Daughters” by The Decemberists, on The Crane Wife

I’ve seen The Decemberists three times now, and twice they’ve ended their encores with this song. It’s big, it’s happy, and it’s a sing-along! (Ok, so sing-alongs are a running theme this week.) Every time I hear this song it puts a big smile on my face. It’s the perfect way to end The Crane Wife, which I feel is ostensibly a “winter” album, with the spring peeking out of its hidey hole and giving us hope after a long, dark winter.

“All Around the World or The Myth of Fingerprints” by Paul Simon, on Graceland

So yeah, I love this album. It’s on three of the four lists we have about albums. But goddamn, this is an amazingly fun song. It’s singy, it’s danceable, it’s balling. Also, props to the many mentions of watermelon. I totally want some after listening to this song.

Honorable Mentions:

“The Hazards of Love 4: The Drowned” by The Decemberists, on The Hazards of Love: Only bumped because of previous mentions and a Decemberists song already on the main list. Otherwise, one of my favorite album closers.

“Bang, Bang, Bang, Bang” by John Lee Hooker, on Live at Café Au-Go-Go: His signature song, and one of the best versions available.

“I Believe (When I Fall in Love It Will Be Forever)” by Stevie Wonder, on Talking Book: Gets a big positive for closing out the movie version of High Fidelity. But it’s also a crazy good song. Also, the outro is really, really, really funky.