I first heard this on The Meters “Jam” and was captivated by the opening riff but never had the album and spent the next twenty years trying to track it down. Here it is, long after that ancient heartbreak has healed, the track still hits.
No Ideas But In Songs
Friday, May 12, 2023
Let’s Begin Again
Life’s too short not to share our favorite songs with one another. Let’s continue, and let the turntable spin again, shall we?
Monday, April 26, 2021
April 2021 / Dear friends,
Who knew posting a Joy Division song would bring a month-long curse and quiet frost over this blogscape. That and mobile versions of this site have been all kaputt-isch. I'm too old to be fresh and too young to overly reminisce. In truth of course there have been all kinds of tunes carried in car trips and Saturday late morning living room jams while I clean up my own spilled coffee and fail to rearrange bookshelves. But none of it matters because the sun is shining through the windows, which are open, and there aren't any bugs yet. Tracks to be posted on the spotify playlist, and maybe scribbled about here, but no longer by date, and not on shitty unsupported Google platforms. Let's hang out this summer. Looking forward to hearing what you have been enjoying as well.
Thursday, March 25, 2021
Day 81: Isolation
For the first few weeks of lockdown I would start every morning listening to Joy Division's "Isolation" as I started the work-from-home day. It's a catchy song, and at the time I thought it was funny. It's maybe a little less funny now.
Day 80: Fixture Picture
One of the last shows I went to before lockdown was a concert by Aldous Harding. At one point she broke a microphone and stood there staring at us while her bandmate screwed a new one back into place with the frantic help of the local sound guy. It was a very uncomfortable five minutes. When they started up again, they picked up on the exact chord they'd left off. Somehow I doubt she'll be back here anytime soon.
Day 79: A Calf Born In Winter
Who woulda thought a Thai funk-influenced trio from Texas named Khruangbin would become a near household name? I certainly didn't back in 2014 when I first heard this song on a Late Night Tales comp and immediately fell in love. I'm a sucker for that Hendrix major ninth chord stuff, and this band seemed to be playing from such warm soulful depths that it gave me chills. I thought of it again recently while talking with my uncle about a recent night he spent at the ranch in negative 16 degree weather keeping an eye on the calves that wouldn't survive unless they were tended to within minutes of being born. If you like this song, definitely watch the video and read the description for their song Friday Morning. It's an incredibly powerful concept at a time when we're all struggling to stay connected.
Day 78: Boiling Water
Shy Boys are the dreamiest, stoniest band to ever come out of Kansas City, at least in my era, and I fondly remember those early shows at Harling's or at house parties, the relatively hushed silence in the crowd as the super echoey guitars and vocals rang out live and on our record players. "Talk Loud" came out in 2020 and maybe got a bit lost in the shuffle, or else it just felt that way since we weren't able to get together at parties, concerts, or late- night hangs. Things will never be the way they were before, Colin sings, and there's no denying it. So excuse me while I put on this record along with a pot of tea.
Day 77: Goin' to Acapulco
(Video not available, listen on Spotify here)
It's foolish to try and plan things in advance right now, but this week I've been looking at flights to Greece, where I'd love to revisit the town of Napflion, a seaport town with an old Venetian castle where I spent a few blurry days in 2005. I had felt a fever coming on the night before in Thessaloniki, but decided to drink it away with retsina wine, which backfired completely. In Napflion I booked a bed in a massive hostel room that was completely empty except for me. Once I did start feeling better I remember walking lightheaded through the streets and listening to this song from Dylan's Basement Tapes. Since then the Jim James version has become much more famous. And it's good. But (no surprise) I like this one better.
Day 76: Six Feet Apart
Day 75: Lucky
Mercy, I fell asleep again, slumped against the jukebox here in an otherwise empty dive bar. No worries, though! We've got a lot of records left to play. Let's start with "Lucky" by Dehd, a song that often pops up on my Spotify once it's gone off the rails. It's a cotton candy musical pleasure, and watching the video for the first time it feels right that they smash jello cake and other delicacies against each other's faces. Spring is coming, vaccines are here, life is still difficult and the world is a mess, so let's accept a little lightness and fun where we can. Is 2020/21 the end of the road? I hope not!
Monday, March 15, 2021
Day 74: Babylon
Oneohtrix Point Never has been following me around for weeks on my wanderings through the hanging gardens of a place I can't quite put my finger on, not on any recent map, at least, and certainly not tonight, tracing the patterns of the cyclones forming over Loch Lloyd just east of State Line. No sirens around these parts, though, just a few brilliant sunshowers and a near certain chance of this song sneaking on to the old headphones if I stay up late enough.
Sunday, March 14, 2021
Day 73: I Like The Things About Me
I wound up listening to this album last night while going through old documents and drafts, and quickly found myself smiling at the lyrics. It's been a while since I heard in a song something I really needed to hear, and this little message of personal acceptance was much-needed on a low point in the nearly-post-pandemic. At this point in life, we sort of are who we are. No? So I agree with Mavis. Why be surprised at your appearance in the mirror? Why not embrace yourself instead?
Day 72: Karolina
Ariel Pink may be persona non grata, but not to be thrown out with the Haunted Graffiti bathwater are talented, non-toxic musical collaborators like Chris Cohen, or my more recent favorite, Jack Name. His 2020 album "Magic Touch" is pleasantly melodic and mysterious throughout. Opening song "Karolina" is a blast of helium and sunshine, but listen all the way to the closer and you'll be rewarded.
Day 71: Stormy
On the night ahead of the one-year anniversary of U.S. society at large shutting down indefinitely, I rented a cabin at Pomona Lake and stayed up looking out over the lake until my vision failed and my scintillating scotoma kicked in, waves of red and blue strobes flashing before my closed eyelids. It was supposed to be rainy the whole next day, and you could feel it. The smoke that had been rising from distant pasture fires was now eclipsed by clouds, and as if by magic "Stormy" by The Meters appeared on my playlist. It's the rare melancholy Meters song, not a lovesick blues, either, but something a bit more serious and soulful. Portending stormy days ahead and a stormy year behind.
Day 70: Crumblin' Erb
My favorite Outkast song is 13th Floor/Growing Old, but that's strictly a November jam for me, and I couldn't wait until fall to post something by Outkast, so instead here's another old favorite I enjoyed throughout 2020. It's a great jam and also speaks to the act of crumbling herb as a means of passing time, waiting until this situation passes, until you can get out and enjoy life and see your boys again. At least that's part of what's contained in the chorus. The rest of the song I can nod my head to but the situations it describes are far beyond my understanding. But some things, a la weed and beats, are universal.
Saturday, March 13, 2021
Day 69: Human
Do you have a signature song of the pandemic? I'm not sure I do exactly, but if so it might be "Human" by Molly Sarle. The song itself precedes the current crisis by about a year, but her emotive stretch of the word "Human" makes me think about how vulnerable and interconnected we all are, and have been this past year. It's been a year that for many of us is incredibly insular and limited socially. But also a year in which we reached out to other people, including some we didn't previously know all that well, and found a genuine connection. I'd much rather that take place for me on a glitter-covered floor of a dive bar, too, but my own "high hopes for the future" instead led to solo headphone dances in the garage. If nothing else, listen for that high-pitched backup vocal on the chorus. I guarantee that when I hear it 10 or 20 years from now, I will either laugh or cry.
Day 68: Gwendolyn
I haven't been to a Wilco show or bought a Wilco album in almost 20 years, but Jeff Tweedy's newest release is pretty dang good. I really love this song, too. Weird video. Great creative take on the strangeness of faces in 2020, using the masked area of Tweedster's visage as a community green screen. Like so many catchy songs I first hear outside Kyle's garage while drinking far too many beers, I can listen to this one again and again.
Day 67: Can You Get To That
Hearing this song for the first time was such a revelation, one of those moments when you can hear so many genres of music all at once and see how perfectly they overlap and fit together. I loved both Parliament and Funkadelic so much and still play their albums frequently. In maybe 2010 or so a group called Sleigh Bells sampled this song and added some vocals on top. It was a minor indie hit and I remember being pissed about it, like here was this already perfect song from a group of black psychedelic soul pioneers from Ohio and now it's been reworked by this hip lil duo from Brooklyn. That was before "cultural appropriation" was a household term, but that's what it felt like, at least to this frequent offender. Though I admit, while it's hardly Mavis Stapes, the Sleigh Bells' spinoff was pretty catchy, too.
Day 66: Deep Marsh
5ive Style, the best guitar-based band you never heard, unless you hovered around the mid-'90s Chicago scene and caught them live by accident or happened to be friends with someone who had. This song made me fall in love with the Danelectro before I even knew what that was. I guess it's nothing that special, riff-wise, but it's so cheerful and uplifting and fun, especially if you play the guitar. If you don't, just look for Bill Dolan's videos showing you exactly how to play it, find a $250 Danelectro on Craiglist, and the dream of the post-rock/bluesy '90s can be yours forever.
Day 65: Running Away
Readers have been calling and emailing me, asking: How will you ever make up this deficit in daily song blog posts? Never fear. I have enlisted the help of my brother David, who made a special mix for my 40th birthday including the songs he remembers most from our morning drives to high school together when I was a senior and he was a freshman. It was an almost entirely jazz-funk playlist back then, including this Sly & The Family Stone cover by Funk, Inc. This will be the first in a run in that vein. Fire up the humble V-6 engines of your mid-'90s Jeep Cherokees and let's go for a funky ride.
Day 64: I Get Lonesome
"There ain't nobody left to impress, and everyone's kissin' their own ass." Beck says it all right there, on his very first album. It rings truer and truer every day.
Day 63: The Glass
I discovered Michael Nau by accident, combing through $1 cutout CDs at Love Garden and seeing a pretty digipak and buying it on a whim. I like to think I would have heard him eventually anyway, but who knows. It stayed in my car for weeks that winter and when my sister borrowed my car for a few days she turned into a fan as well. I flew up to Chicago (those were the days) the next November to join Lois for a Michael Nau concert. It was lovely.
Day 62: West Palm Beach
Speaking of surreal moments on the beach, there's nothing quite like dipping your toes in the sand of this 1994 Palace Music classic. The lyrics are so goofy you almost expect him to start laughing, except he sounds dead serious. "The Earth has swallowed him up, he's a memory now." BPB remains an enduring, endearing mystery.
Friday, March 12, 2021
Day 61: Inspector Norse
Mercy. No posts since March 1. I have fudged a couple days before but nothing like this. We have some ground to make up. So? Less writing, more music. Although I have to introduce this one by saying it's one of my favorite videos, both this one and the 15-minute short film version, "Whateverest." I first heard this while camping out at Clinton Lake with a group of friends for my brother's bachelor party. Andrew put it on and when those cool synths kicked in I though they were coming out of the woods. Such a perfect mix of electronic music and nature. The Norwegians are really on to something.
Monday, March 1, 2021
Day 60: Sea, Swallow Me
Earlier tonight, while watching the last indoor fire of the season die down, I put on this record, which in the dim light I mistook for Harold Budd's A Pavilion of Dreams. But instead of those extended, meditative cuts, I was hit with the compact fury and cosmic wonder of The Moon and The Melodies, the recently departed composer's collaboration with Cocteau Twins. The sudden turn in Elizabeth Fraser's vocals just after the first minute of the album is a reminder to not give up, that there is still wonder in the world, friends we will someday surely see, new places we will one day visit, and so so much else beyond our mortal understanding.
Day 59: On My Way Home
My mom gave me "After The Gold Rush" as a Christmas gift when I was 20 and my family came to visit me in Bad Godesberg. She told me how in college she used to sneak down to the lobby of her dorm at night and play the title track on the piano. I've listened to Neil quite a bit ever since, and even worn the grooves out on a few tracks, like "Cripple Creek Fairy," which for some reason I played twice in a row last week on the way to the glass recycling station. And more than once this month I've found myself singing "Bad Fog of Loneliness." But this Massey Hall performance of "On Our Way Home" is the perfect mix of classic and slightly less familiar. A year into the pandemic, this song about missing friends rings especially bittersweet and true.
Sunday, February 28, 2021
Day 58: Corner Of My Sky
Kelly Lee Owens' "Corner Of My Sky" is a truly cosmic slice of bouncing electronica, and this video is wonderful, too. At first I wasn't sure about John Cale's vocal appearance. He sounded so old at first, almost too familiar. But as the song kicked in, the years fell away from his voice. When I listened to this song earlier today it wasn't raining, but now it's nighttime, and it is. The rain, the rain, the rain. Thank God, the rain.
Friday, February 26, 2021
Day 57: I Know How It Feels
Since it's Friday night and Chez Charlies is closed (or maybe isn't, but might as well be) and I no longer live a short bike ride away and couldn't smoke inside if I wanted to, which is essential if you go to the bar by yourself to hear the wasted DJ play soul 45s like this on into the night, I'm going to have to bring that energy to this virtual space, a couple minutes until midnight on this final Friday of my thirties. And if you think this is an exercise in self or group pity, please don't misunderstand me, just listen to that lovely little trumpet intro one more time and I promise everything will be OK.
Day 56: The Turning Point
Time for a slow dance number. Whether you have a partner or not.
Wednesday, February 24, 2021
Day 55: I'm Not Ashamed
Putting on this album and hearing those first three guitar notes, the splash of crowd noise, and Baby Neal's vocals is like going to church, if church was a 1960s nightclub/restaurant in Wichita, Kansas, run by a family and hosting some of the most theatrical, outrageous soul groups the Midwest ever saw. That's the story of the impeccably researched "Smart's Palace" release in the Eccentric Soul series from Numero Group. It's a beautiful compilation, 2x pink vinyl with one of the most striking cover photos of all time. If I had to choose a "desert island record label," Numero Group wins every time.
Day 54: Diamond Meadows
The day after praising Ty's T. Rex covers as potentially stronger than some of the originals, a flood of Marc Bolan's recordings began rattling around in my head as a reminder not to take him for granted. I originally shared "Chateau in Virginia Waters," which is misty and enchanting, but if this mix is really more of a legacy than a passing playlist, I've got to amend that to "Diamond Meadows," one of the most sweetest songs he ever wrote. It's also the first T. Rex song I ever heard, courtesy of the "Velvet Goldmine" soundtrack, and I found it a bit creepy and strangely wonderful, lisping and orchestral, a ballad of love and friendship and refusing to see those two things as at all separate from each other.
Monday, February 22, 2021
Day 53: Fist Heart Mighty Dawn Dart
Marc Bolan was the self-proclaimed Dandy of the Underworld and even though I think he died in a car wreck decades ago I'm not sure he really died. If you want evidence of this consider how convincingly he's been brought to life by tireless Bay Area garage rocker Ty Segall, who, instead of being content with just a T. Rex cover or two, decided to record a whole album's worth. Ty's a great songwriter in his own right, but I appreciate the study he undertook here, and some of these tracks he re-engineers so that they hit even harder than the originals. If you listen to these and then the covers for comparison, you can hear Ty doing some interesting things with the timing, stripping out the shambolic folk swagger and putting them on a more straightforward rhythm track, while also stretching out words and emphasizing different beats to create something new. Two outstanding musicians, but in some way their fate is one.
Sunday, February 21, 2021
Day 52: Send It On
From the "Kool Jazz" sample to the wave of vocal harmony, the opening of "Send It On" washes over you like joy and sunshine. I think the SZA song is what put this back in my head again after a long time of not listening to Voodoo, one of those albums you should probably break out at least once a year. A joyful song, but you can feel the hurt behind it. Like anything D does, it's conflicted. Though if you really want to get into that you're going to have to pour at least one more gin.
Saturday, February 20, 2021
Day 51: Get Thy Bearings
Remember watching "Don't Look Back" and laughing at how quaint and unhip Donovan and his fawning coterie seemed in comparison with the impossibly cool Dylan? Well only one of them wrote this song, a highlight of '60s breakbeat compilations, and it wasn't Dylan. Donovan's catalog in general is so unabashedly cheesy that it almost seems like he wrote this cool of a song by accident. That's being a bit unfair, of course, and in the end it doesn't matter. All the world knows what he's saying.
Friday, February 19, 2021
Day 50: Territory
Speaking of music videos with 56 million views: Have you seen "Territory" by The Blaze? The intensity of this video is incredible, the choreography of smoking and shadowboxing on the beat, the overall Algerian masculinity. You see it the first time and can't help but wonder what the guy's story is, the details of his troubled past, his family reunion after an implied exile or estrangement. "Moonlight" director Barry Jenkins said he watched it over 100 times. I'm not anywhere close to that number, but I highly recommend watching it at least once.
Thursday, February 18, 2021
Day 49: Hit Different
I always love "discovering" a music video that already has 50 million+ views. Better late than never, I guess, at least in the case of SZA's "Hit Different," which I saw on a top videos of 2020 list and has since taken root in our household, where the clean version got no less than four plays yesterday between living room and car stereos. This video includes the opening verse of "Good Days" as well. It all makes me want to dance on top of hay bales and truck beds, even more so than usual. I challenge you to sing the song's title/chorus and not move in rhythm. Well maybe you can do it but it won't feel right.
Wednesday, February 17, 2021
Day 48: I Don't Think I'll Ever Love Another
I just bought this 45 recently—not an original pressing, which run about $700, but one of the reissues that costs a mere $10. It arrived just in time for an extended Valentine's hangover, the sweet heartache shining through in the four-part harmonies and hard-hitting percussion. I don't know why I've been so stuck on this song, as it's certainly not out of any romantic disappointment. Instead I think what resonates is the pain of breaking up with the past, specifically letting go of the life that we might have all led had the pandemic not thrown everything off course. Individually we're each finding our ways to deal, but collectively it can be overwhelming to think about what might have been. But once spring comes, I'll flip the record, turn it up, and—if past experience holds—an entirely new mood will set in.
Monday, February 15, 2021
Day 47: Midnight Morning
Day 46: Faded
Last night Jenn and I watched the last 20 laps of the Daytona 500 with her dad. It was almost midnight, the race having been delayed due to crashes and bad weather. It was mesmerizing, the roaring engines and cars going around and around and around. This reminds me of shoegaze music, I thought, the noise a kind of crushing comfort, the repetition of the chords/laps creating an underlying sense of calm. The race itself was kind of boring, just a line of Fords holding off would-be Chevy/Toyota challengers, but Dan urged us to wait until the end. Sure enough, in the final lap, several cars attempted to break out and were rebuffed, a few spinning out of control and going up in flames. I was impressed. And today, in lieu of the reassuring roar of car engines, I opted to listen to this album, my favorite in the genre of "bands that sound like MBV when you don't actually want to listen to Loveless." Faded, ephemeral, forever nineteen ninety something.
Sunday, February 14, 2021
Day 45: When The Springtime Comes Again
Saturday, February 13, 2021
Day 44: Evil
When it's deathly cold outside it makes sense to listen to music made by people who live in very cold places, like the 2014 album "Shrink Dust" by Calgary native Chad vanGaalen. "Frozen Paradise" is probably the most apt track to cue up on a day like this, -2 degrees outside as I sip my coffee and listen to records. But I'm going to go with the trudging, glorious "Evil." One bleak workday in December 2019 I went to Messenger Coffee and sat at the spot at the bar facing the baking operation and heard this song come on. I was eating biscuits and gravy washed down with some fancy natural Ethiopean coffee and a thimble of their artisanal hot sauce and maybe even a Topo Chico, and all of that combined with the song gave me an extraordinary sensation of life in spite of the low temps and long workday. I've heard people say this past year that they didn't realize how good they had it. I think in that moment I did know exactly how good I had it, and I also knew on some much deeper level that there's no way it could last.
Friday, February 12, 2021
Hi! Now that I'm finally letting some people know about this site, I wanted to also share a link to the accompanying Spotify playlist. So far only a couple songs aren't available (Days 5 and 12). If you're new here, which would be almost everyone, you can scroll all the way down to the intro to get a sense of the theme. Or just browse at will. Either way you will have to zoom in since this ancient Blogspot theme looks terrible on mobile. And though you probably already made the connection, the blog title comes from William Carlos Williams' famous statement, "No ideas but in things." Please feel free to comment on any songs you like or have your own stories about. There's just one spammy fellow commenting so far and he could use some company.
Thursday, February 11, 2021
Day 43: Yağmur
I was so obsessed with Turkish folk/psych music for a while that I had ambitions of learning the language and music, and eventually making some kind of musical pilgrimage. I got as close as befriending one of the Kurdish students in the English class I taught in Berlin, who was impressed at my recognition of his musical heroes, Edip Akbayram, Cem Karaca, Erkin Koray, and others. We made plans to play music together, using the his uncle's insurance company office in Neukölln as our studio (after hours, of course). After jamming we would go eat Köfte at Gel Gör Inegöl, a legendary Imbiss where I spent many nights hanging out, drinking Uludag, and waiting for grub. We failed to take the music scene by storm, but our guitar/Baglama rendition of "Yağmur" did not sound half bad.
Day 42: Aeroplane
Wednesday, February 10, 2021
Day 41: Winter Dawn
I've been bundling up and taking walks the last few nights. It's so cold that hardly anyone is out. Fewer cars are on the road, sounds are muffled, the air is still. It's the perfect conditions for meditative music like French cellist/sound artist Colleen's 2017 album "A Flame My Love, A Frequency." Even though the actual sounds were confined to my headphones, the layered, looped synths seemed to bounce off the snow and echo from the naked branches of the trees. Walking back from Loose Park, I found the secret swing someone had hung in a large sycamore tree in the field near Brush Creek. There's no outrunning this polar pandemic vortex, so I just sat still, breathed through my mask, and listened.
Tuesday, February 9, 2021
Day 40: It's Not Always Funny
Devendra Banhart is about my age. Some friends of mine have played music with him, and I've heard rumors about how much money he spends on healing crystals. I don't know if that's true, but if so he is a product of his time. His 2002 album "oh me oh My..." was a staple in the old apartment, the warbly vocals and ragged finger-picking either spooky or warm depending on whether it's a minor or major key. When I first heard this song last year, I didn't realize it was him at first, but the catchy groove and "last call in hell" lyric won me over instantly. This song blog is mostly my own musings, but it's only fair to quote his statement here: "I was thinking about the touch of your eyes ... and now that eyes have become our faces, I find going to the supermarket the most intimate experience ... since the lockdown we have been hyper developing the language of looking into each others' eyes ... "I was thinking about how they say it’s important to laugh, especially when there's nothing to laugh about, I'm not sure if that’s true but it stuck with me."
Day 39: No Aloha
Day 38: My Sweet Baby (Instrumental)
Sunday, February 7, 2021
Day 37: Song To Pass The Time
Day 36: Here's Where The Story Ends
"A little souvenir of a terrible year" seems like the perfect description for anything positive that's happened in this time of uncertainty and sorrow. I first heard this song at YJ's, the legendary 24-hour cafe/coffeeshop in Kansas City's Crossroads neighborhood run by artist David Ford and a loyal contingent of bohemian baristas and line cooks. That day they had the stereo up so loud it's like they were trying to prove something, but I was eating dirty rice by myself in the window counter and pouring on the hot sauce without a care in the world. Still, I found it a bit odd that, of all songs they could have turned up to uncomfortable volume, they chose this one. Listening to it now, two years after YJ's has closed, I realize that might be the only way to listen to it.
Thursday, February 4, 2021
Day 35: Search For LIfe
This post originally talked about how I used to listen to Dave Longstreth's "Lay Down Your Restless Bones" by candlelight and feel sad and alone, but the song itself was painful to listen to after so many years, and it felt like I was venturing too deep into the personal jukebox. Instead I found this new track, "Search For Life," specifically this live acoustic version in which Dave and the current Dirty Projectors vocal trio perform live in a park sometime in April 2020. It's a very COVID-era performance, specifically those early days of lockdown that felt so reflective it was almost spiritual. It's a beautiful song. The search continues.
Day 34: I Hear You Calling
Monday, February 1, 2021
Day 33: Fingertips
Now that the recent ambient suite is complete let's gently reintroduce the presence of vocals via the compellingly hypnotic "Fingertips" by Brian Jonestown Massacre. The riff arrives fully formed, like a distant comet just coming into view and quickly setting everything ablaze in its path, including any tension or cares that might have been piling up. You can listen to "Fingertips" in English or the French version, "Boit des doigts," or play them back to back and marvel at how the ecstatic guitar pattern never gets old. When we moved to Berlin in 2010, my wife's sister told us excitedly that Anton Newcombe was living there, too, as if we were going to run into each other routinely. It never happened, but hearing the music he's still making with his friends today, I wish it had.
Day 32: Don't Mind Me
I'd love to say I spent the first hours of February sober and alert and ready to run several miles and write many pages and complete lots of goals, but no, I was up late at the kitchen table listening to blissfully woozy ambient passages of music like this track from Nosaj Thing, aka California electronic music producer Jason Chung. This is from the 2015 "Fated" album, which I've only ever listened to late at night, almost to the point where I don't even know if it would properly play if I tried to cue it up during daylight hours. No need, though, the night is vast enough for this deepening gauzy expanse of beats and synth to unfold in just three minutes, with pitch-adjusted cries punctuating an intensely emotive inner dance floor of exploration and truth, one strobe-lit percussion hit at a time.
Day 31: Prophase Metaphase Anaphase Telophase
If I would have had this Karen Gwyer EP when I was studying biology in high school, I definitely would have got more than a low B. The percolating bass bubbles in this make cellular mitosis seem mysterious and sexy. You can put this on your headphones and think, "oh, so this is what dividing cells sound like." Or at least that's a thought I had one Saturday night on a walk between rains, when even the lamplight on the puddles began to look strange and exotic. If there's a better combination than low-grade edibles and warm electronica, I have not found it yet.
Sunday, January 31, 2021
Day 30: Dirty Trip
Friday, January 29, 2021
Day 29: Secret Xtians
This song makes me think of "hipster Christians," the kindly, serious, often bearded/tattooed folks who love indie music and really good coffee. But I'm not sure how different I am. I grew up in the church, as did many close friends, none of whom seem to be practicing Christians now. But it still gives us a shared language of weird conversations with parents or grandparents about sin, death, or eternity—getting dragged to church on Sundays and spacing out for significant chunks of our childhoods. Ruban, the known quantity behind Unknown Mortal Orchestra, seems to have more amusement than hostility here. Separate fun fact: the woman on the cover used to be my neighbor at a loft apartment in Lawrence, Kansas. She and her beautiful, bearded boyfriend always smiled at me but at night I could hear them tearfully fighting. She sold flowers at a sidewalk booth on the corner, and the mist of the plants being watered made her look extra mysterious. I don't know if she's a secret Xtian or not, but she certainly had her secrets.
Day 28: Sad Nudes
I apologize in advance to anyone who has googled this song title looking for something totally different and instead wound up here. Actually, I take that back—you should be thanking me. You were looking for an object of physical attraction and instead you wound up with this dreamy aural exercise, an instrumental cover of a Cate Le Bon song by duo Group Listening. I listened to it today walking down Broadway, past not-yet-renovated buildings and a man offering "fire-ass kush," a gray afternoon filled with depressing news of COVID variants and cynical politicians. But this song made things seem not quite so glum, the piano reaching me across a distance that made the bad times feel temporary and the sunlight not so terribly far away.
Tuesday, January 26, 2021
Day 27: Ordinary Guy
Toro y Moi's album Underneath the Pine is one of my favorite albums of all time. If I put the first song on, I want to hear the whole thing. But if we're talking favorite individual songs by Chaz Bear, his cover of "Ordinary Guy" by fellow Afro-Filipino musician Joe Bataan is endlessly thrilling. The update is so smooth I never would have guessed it was a cover until I read about how the two musicians met at a Filipino restaurant in New York City, the song's composer expressing joy and approval upon hearing the younger artist's freshly recorded cover. What a special moment that must have been.
Day 26: If Our Love Is Real
Galt MacDermot's funky, sometimes cheesy instrumentals pop up often in films, samples, and on mixes, but unless you own the sheet music to "Hair," you have likely never seen his name in the print. It's the kind of thing you would have heard at the fabled Blow-Up club in Bonn circa 2002, halfway between a Michel LeGrand theme and a Serge Gainsbourg outtake, part Library music; part Swinging London. My favorite collection of his work is the "Up From The Basement - Unreleased Tracks" comp from 2002. "Woe Is Me" is sexy and downright sinister. "Piano Concerto Pt. 2" sounds like the Peanuts gang getting high for the first time. But I like the mellow, measured "If Our Love is Real." No wah-wah, blow, or breakbeats, just a pleasant trio of bass, drums, and electric piano. Something dreamy to nod off to, your fingers touching the stem of your wine glass, your foot absently tapping to the rhythm, your eyes closed, your cigarette still burning while your lover stands up and accepts a dance with the man in a dark brimmed hat.
Monday, January 25, 2021
Day 25: Melted Rope
"Melted Rope" is a 4-minute mind-melter that feels twice that long thanks to a spiraling guitar riff that shatters all sense of time and space and carries the listener away like the floating feather referenced in the opening lyric. I saw Wand open for Stereolab in Seattle in November 2019, just a couple months before live music shut down indefinitely. I was in the second row and loved every moment of it, and by the time Stereolab was a few songs in I decided to go eat sushi instead. No disrespect to Stereolab, but after Wand's set my heart just wasn't in it. Thanks to my good pal Douglas Huppe for turning me on to this group and giving me a copy of this record, a go-to platter for whenever I have an afternoon at home alone and need to turn the stereo so loud the furniture shakes.
Saturday, January 23, 2021
Day 24: Blanket Song
Kikagaku Moyo's "Blanket Song" evokes the sensations of campfire smoke on a crystalline night of sleeping bags, psychedelics, and stars. The band played in Kansas City a few years ago and it was one of the best concerts I have ever seen, all that cosmic noise and chaos somehow squeezed into the tiny Riot Room, the compact venue that is now apparently closed for good. The closing track on an otherwise raucous, Dungen-esque album suite, "Blanket Song" is soothing acoustic psych for the reverent pre-dawn hours.
Day 23: At The Crossroads
This is the kind of song you hope will follow you down the road as you fade into the distance. Yesterday I listened to it on a walk through the Kansas countryside at just about sunset and almost instantly went from feeling cold and outright depressed to warm and comfortably gloomy. Doug Sahm is a true Texas tornado, a country and rhythm & blues pioneer who, in the fashion of fellow statesman Willie Nelson and Roky Erikson, got tangled up in Texas' draconian laws against cannabis (arrested by a young Joe Arpaio, no less). While he's nowhere near as famous as Stevie Ray Vaughn, Sir Douglas may yet be getting his due. When I went to Austin for my sister-in-law's wedding in 2012, and the girls were all posing for pictures in the park, I took a walk with my then-infant daughter and saw a sign that I was at Doug Sahm Hill. At the peak of a spiral walkway was a colorful plaque featuring a picture of Sahm, a short bio, and his most famous lyrics: You just can't live in Texas, if you don't got a lot of soul.
Friday, January 22, 2021
Day 22: Flute Loop
Speaking of flute-powered party jams, I love how the fuzzy vocals on "Flute Loop" contrast with the song's crisp instrumentation and production. I also love the piano breakdown about halfway through. This was the first Beastie Boys album I ever owned, and far from the last.
Day 21: Jayou (remix)
After the music and events at the party described in the previous post (Day 20: I've Got The Blues), my mood improved dramatically. Sometime after midnight, Mike McGee put on "Jayou" by Jurassic 5 and decided to breakdance, which resulted in the destruction of the living room table. Twenty years later, Mike owns buildings and properties all over Kansas City, but at the time his prospects as a successful businessman seemed unlikely and remote. The song itself—which I had misremembered as being titled "Flute Loop"—still sounds pretty fresh. I especially like this remix in which Tuna Fish's incredible flow has a bit more sonic space to "conjugate verbs and constipate nerds." And of course there's the dynamic flute sample that has led to the accidental destruction of so much cheap furniture across the rented living rooms of the American Midwest.
Wednesday, January 20, 2021
Day 20: I Got The Blues
One night over winter break when I was maybe 18, I went to the house of some friends who played soccer for one of the local colleges. We were all drinking beer, and at one point someone handed me a bubbler. I didn't smoke much then and could tell right away I was literally over my head, spinning backward in slow motion like I was on a reverse Ferris wheel. I picked up a book on the coffee table to steady myself. "Fear and Loathing in America," Hunter S. Thompson's collection of letters. You don't need to be reading that right now, the host said, gently taking it from me and setting it back down. I went to smoke a cigarette on the front porch, but Glenn Hackberry and his baseball buddies were talking about a sports injury where one of their arm bones was visibly poking through the skin. I could almost feel it happening to me. I winced and went back inside. "Sticky Fingers" had been playing for a while, but I didn't really notice until Katie Weiss walked in, right at the first note of the slow, beautiful arpeggio of "I Got The Blues." A wave of warmth and sound washed through the room as she looked over at me and smiled. We hadn't seen each in almost a year and exchanged a warm hug, her coat still damp with snow. We were never more than friends who liked each other, but the small flame of her surprise entry was a saving grace, and I've loved that song ever since.
Tuesday, January 19, 2021
Day 19: Fair Play
"Fair play to you," a colleague messaged me the other day after I made a particularly pointed joke on chat. "Killarney's lakes are so blue," I almost typed back before stopping to ask whether she was, in fact, referencing the opening song on Van Morrison's 1974 masterpiece, "Veedon Fleece." Never heard of it, she said. But by that point my mind was elsewhere, specifically a train from Hamburg to Munich, then overnight to Rome, then to the coast, then a 19-hour ferry ride across the Adriatic to Greece. An almost three-day journey I took in 2005 during which I listened to Veedon Fleece throughout. It's definitely a breakup album, written on his journey back to Ireland after a divorce from his wife in San Francisco. My girlfriend and I were living in different continents at the time, and I wasn't sure how things would turn out. A few months later I decided to drop out of grad school in Europe and head home to find a job and resume our relationship. But I never forgot the melancholy of this album and decided that for my next epic train trip I did not want to go alone.
Monday, January 18, 2021
Day 18: Rise Up
The soul and positivity of "The Freedom Affair" is contagious, and this song is the perfect 45 to put on the home stereo on this grey, cold, Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The band members share songwriting duties, and the diversity of their lineup reflects the diversity, talent, and heart in the larger community of Kansas City. The music is unfailingly funky, and the lyrics dig into a variety of social and personal issues, from gun violence and toxic relationships to love and connectivity. If you like soul/jazz/funk music, I guarantee it will lift your spirits. This was the last group I saw play before lockdown, and I hope it's not too much longer before it's possible to see them play again.
Day 17: Time Moves Slow
Saturday, January 16, 2021
Day 16: Award Tour
I can still hear this song rattle out on the speakers of my 1989 sky blue Ford Taurus, the soundtrack to my own aimless teenage award tour. With vibes, keys, a fat bassline, and lots of rhymes about having the mic in your hand, this was music for mobility, a black-and-green CD that slid into my car stereo on Friday afternoon and didn't come out until after Saturday night. There weren't many real parties at age 16 and we often didn't have anywhere to go, but listening to this track helped us get there in style.
Thursday, January 14, 2021
Day 15: Be Still
A timely and beautiful reminder from The Beach Boys not just to be still, but also just to be.
Day 14: Select Your Drone
Wednesday, January 13, 2021
Day 13: Gospel For A New Century
I don't make ranked lists of songs, but for me the most anthemic track of 2020 was easily Yves Tumor's "Gospel For A New Century." I would put this song on the car stereo when I drove into work the first weeks of lockdown, steering into an empty but brightly lit downtown, borderline manic at being out of the house but also deathly terrified of germs. I was going in to the office to pull archives from the basement. It was dark and no one else was in the building except for periodic security checks. I listened to a few spiritual podcasts on my headphones and various audio links people sent. But when I got back up to my desk on the third floor above the streetcar stop, I'd turn the computer speakers facing out and blast this song. "I think I can solve it," Yves sings, with conviction, and riding those heroic stop-start blasts of brass, you believe you can, too.
Tuesday, January 12, 2021
Day 12: Window Lights
Some songs seem specifically designed to repair your brain, to ease you out of the swirling madness of the world or your own mind and lull you back into a comfortable, easy-breathing state of coolness and equanimity. This, for me, is one of those songs. I used to have it on a CDR mix I made of songs to come down to, usually in the early early morning, looking out the window of my second-floor room on Louisiana Street into East Lawrence, listening to the birds and waiting for the gentle light just before the sunrise.
Monday, January 11, 2021
Day 11: Weird Fishes
In Stephen Hyden's newish book about the cultural impact of Radiohead's "Kid A," he talks about how their 2007 album "In Rainbows" became a cult favorite among millennials. Which makes sense—it's fluid, upbeat, even sexy, and doesn't seem to carry the baggage or weight of their previous albums. But I didn't really see any evidence of the millennial theory until hearing British singer/songwriter/guitarist Lianne La Havas's cover of "Weird Fishes," which builds on the original and turns it into something truly special. I've had a few friends send it to me now and we've all watched/listened in awe. The rest of her album is incredibly refreshing as well, proof that—musically at least—2020 was not 100% bad.
Sunday, January 10, 2021
Day 10: The Conservation of Energy
Friday, January 8, 2021
Day 9: Interesting Results
Day 8: Mr. Lonely
Angel Olsen's version of Bobby Vinton's "Mr. Lonely" applies the weight and tension of the present moment to a classic song. I can picture her singing it alone in a spotlight on a dark stage, all of us hushed and humbled in the audience, more than a few tears dotting our faces. I've played it on repeat this week, a heavier week in American history than any I've lived through, and it seems to grow in force with each listen. "I wish that I could go back home," she sings, and so do we.
Thursday, January 7, 2021
Day 7: Masterpiece
I don't know much about who Sault is, and it sounds like not many other people do either. They're a collective of rhythm and soul musicians from the U.K. who have so far mostly kept anonymous, putting out no less than four incredible albums since 2019. Many of the songs deal with black identity and empowerment, and the most recent album came out this year on Juneteenth. My favorite track so far, however, is more of a love song, if not without strains of longing and heartbreak. Naming a song "Masterpiece" is a bold move, but this song more than lives up to it.
Wednesday, January 6, 2021
Day 6: Forever Dolphin Love
Dolphins are amazing, mythical creatures. I can't prove anything scientifically, but I'm pretty sure I was visited by the greek God Apollo in the form of a dolphin during a sunkissed trip to Ancient Florida back on Bastille Day 2016. Another person with a deep affinity for dolphins is New Zealand singer Connan Mockasin, whose 2011 debut album is called "Forever Dolphin Love." The title track is a jazzy, mystical journey that sounds as if it was either recorded or produced underwater. The music video is incredible, a splash of puppetry and high theater, comedic on first glance but also unblinkingly serious in its depiction of romantic—or perhaps spiritual—obsession. I listened to it on a November drive to the woods outside Baldwin City, Kansas, a region with a history of secret psychedelic gatherings that few of us have heard about, much less attended. Listening to the entire album, which apparently Connan only released after his mom encouraged him to do so, is like being in a sustained musical trance, calming but also uplifting, like there's a mysterious force driving it forward. Dolphins, maybe. Or love. Or both. Forever and ever.
Tuesday, January 5, 2021
Day 5: Spruce Bringsteen
Oh man, I missed this song. It used to be on streaming services years ago and then some dubstep artist by the same name filed a complaint and *poof* all the good Run DMT was gone, vanished from my party mixes and nearly out of my life. I couldn't even remember what this song was called, but after a bit of searching, here we are, reunited in bliss. The groove on this track is endless, the cover art is perfect, the way the beat drops out around 48 seconds in and then comes back a second later gets me every listen. Run DMT is Baltimore musician Michael Collins, also known as Salvia Plath, later to assume the moniker of Drugdealer. Overall his output is pretty uneven. But wow, when it hits.
Monday, January 4, 2021
Day 4: Chloe Dancer / Crown of Thorns
For emotive, melancholy, soulful children of the grunge era, this song is an undisputed classic, even if it feels more suited for a decadent piano lounge than a dank Seattle warehouse. The opening piano line is almost impossibly dramatic, and the nakedly personal and poetic lyrics still resonate 30 years later. And of course the whole thing is overshadowed by the death of the singer/songwriter Andrew Wood. The song itself is about a doomed love affair with a mystical woman from the French Quarter, and for a teenager listening at home on his Discman, the jaded descriptions of adult vices sounded no less evocative for being out of reach. Though for my slightly older cousin, who loved this song above all others, those problems were something she could relate to on a more literal level. We used to talk about music a lot, and she described what I could expect once I got old enough to drink, party, experiment, etc. I lost track of her for several years, but eventually heard from a family member that she had a baby daughter. Guess what she named her.
Saturday, January 2, 2021
Day 3: Please No More Sad Songs
Day 2: Daylight Matters
This is a strange song to write about at 4 in the morning. But songs get in your head when they want to, and in the case of this crushingly beautiful ballad, "Daylight Matters" pops into my head almost exclusively at night. It's a song about two people who are very much together in their loss and separation, but who no longer have access to each other. I know nothing about them as actual people, but it's hard for me not to hear this song as the dissolution of the close creative partnership between Cate Le Bon and Tim Presley (aka White Fence) who began playing together in the band Drinks before he got sober and more or less stopped writing music. While he wrestled with those issues in California, Le Bon wrote this album in isolation on the coast of her native Wales. The warmth on this album is much darker than on 2013's "Mug Museum," blood red rather than pink. It's the sound of moving on, growing up, and actually reconciling the "daylight matters" we all must face rather than continuing to exist in obscure, bohemian twilight. I know a thing or two about that, even if I know nothing about the lives or actual artistic motivations of the artist. I also know that this song sounds incredible on a Sunday night walk along the beaches of Southern California, after everyone has gone home from the picnics and surfing competitions but a few fires still continue to burn in their pits. While you stroll an empty beach, the waves continue to crash, and as a specific and seemingly infinite sense of loss arises, the only thing keeping you from disappearing into the surf is Cate's repeated incantation in your headphones to keep on keep on keep on keep on.
Friday, January 1, 2021
Day 1: Golden Lady
Thursday, December 31, 2020
Day 0: The Fall of Another Year
You're never more in the moment than when you're confronted with the stark realization that something is ending, and this song captures that feeling perfectly. A contemplative bass line, spectral organ, and driving percussion lead into the scratchy, soulful vocals of Malcolm Mooney, the American artist and traveler the German band met in Köln and whose often ad-libbed vocals appeared on the debut Can album. The mood of this song as a fascinating mix of melancholy and jubilant. Aother year is ending, the lights are about to be turned off and the curtain closed as we head into a new round of unknowns. This is an occasion of reflection and even some sorrow, but as the flute kicks in and the volume picks up, there is also a sense of celebration amid the decay. The lyrics speak for themselves (to the extent that they make sense at all) but for me the key word here is "another." Even in a year as monumental and cataclysmic as 2020, it's still just another year. But before it does end, we'll mark the occasion with music.
I have a recurring idea in my head of what my funeral would be like. Instead of speeches or ceremony, it would just a gathering of friends and family in a casual party setting, with decent food, drink, and — most importantly — an immaculately curated playlist. The playlist would include all the tunes I most enjoyed throughout my life. People would be given a copy of the tracklist and encouraged to find their favorites. It would be like I was DJing from the great beyond.
But of course that's incredibly self-indulgent and ridiculous. Who you are in life is much more than, and largely separate from, what music you listen to. And yet so many times at the end of a long night I find myself on a walk, or in the garage, or the back patio, or, if I'm lucky, at a gathering of friends, cueing up a favorite track, wishing I could dissolve into the music and let it speak for me. My favorite songs — or new favorites I've never heard before but grip me instantly — express my own feelings, wishes, desires, hopes, and laments so much more eloquently than I ever could. Much more so than in writing. And yet the act of bringing language to music is an enjoyable pastime as well, especially when it serves to introduce someone to a new potentially favorite song.
Music is a common thread that runs through all of our lives. We may have the same favorite song, but for totally different reasons, like how we first heard it, where we were at the time, who we were with. So for fun this year I am setting out on a new project of going through a favorite personal song every day, not necessarily trying to curate a "best songs" list, just songs that made an impact, that are still stuck in my head years or decades after I first heard them, songs that shaped my life in one way or another and maybe shaped yours as well.
Thanks for reading and happy listening.
Day 82: It’s Too Late
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