September 2014 SHRN: Lets Get Classic, Lets Get Weird

September 2014 SHRN

Lets get classic because yeah, we need to nearly kick off the playlist with “September Gurls.” Is it a little pat? Sure. But the day before my birthday Big Star finally clicked for me—like when your little kid taste buds flip over and suddenly some always loathed foodstuff tastes inexplicably delicious. I am old enough to appreciate Big Star now I guess, a delicious treat on foggy days when Alex Chilton in my ears feels like heaven.

Lets get weird—just imagine this collection of artists at a dinner party. It’s a fun game.

I love Fall. The air feels so fresh and all the holidays are just around the corner, close enough that they’re pure fun without the fretting. And no matter how many years I’m out of school, the start of September always feels like the beginning. The beginning of a new year, the beginning of an adventure, the crisp leafy end to lazy summer days. It doesn’t matter how much that doesn’t cue up with reality—it some ways its been a lazy summer, but hardly the kind where you lie on the beach and snooze. This is Northern California after all, leave your bathing suits and concepts of summer weather at home.

It is the start of something, that’s for sure. In less than two months, I’m getting married to the delightfully tall human who stole my heart long ago. I put this list together after dumplings, in a giant coffee shop where we drank too much caffeine at night and grinned at each other between long stretches of typing.

Quick Hits:

  • Don’t stop at “Blah Blah Blah,” the entire Girlpool album is delicious lo-fi gold. I found out about them through this Maria Sherman interview in Wondering Sound. (And of course they’re putting out awesome freshman albums in their late teens, because didn’t you know that Generation Z is taking over the world and putting us all to shame? To shame kids, to shame.)
  • More gold? The Chef soundtrack. I’ve had this on repeat since July—see the movie too if you like feel good food-porn.
  • Come on Alabama Shakes, you’re the band for all seasons, ESPECIALLY Fall, but you gotta put out a new album. Please?
  • Sometimes I think everything I know about music stems from having accidentally read I’m With The Band: Confessions of a Groupie at least five times. A little random, sure, but also a plug for rediscovering The Flying Burrito Brothers a few times a year.
  • Every autumn playlist requires a dash of Talking Heads and Pavement.

What are you listening to? Let me know in the comments.

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″