Throwback Thursday: “1901” by Phoenix

This one’s been on my to-blog list for a while. It’s one of those songs that randomly runs through my head as I think about that particular time in my life. I think “1901” is another good example of hipster music; vocally, they’re very similar to Vampire Weekend, and have that crunchy, blistering sound that you’d also hear in, say, Passion Pit or Foster the People.

What I like about “1901” is the fizzy drop of it. Like Alka-Seltzer in water, the song opens with suspended guitar before descending into something stronger that’s bolstered by electronica. Very reminiscent of “Little Secrets.”

Usually with these posts, I talk about the lyrics, too, but honestly, I don’t think the lyrics are really the point of the song here. In hipster-ville, lyrics tend to be secondary. They’re either obscured by double or even triple meanings and intellectuallism, layered with references to the past or drama about the future. Often, too, they’re also just plain obscured by what’s going on technically, and that’s definitely the case with “1901.”

Another thing I like about “1901” is how danceable it is. In another life, I was a dancer, so I’m drawn to songs that urge you to move, especially if they’re unique like this one. In that way, “1901” reminds me of another indie song that has a great drop, “Dance Yrself Clean” by LCD Soundsystem.

Now, if you need me, I’ll be lacing up my Converse and finding my American Apparel hoodie…

“Are We Not New Wave” Book Review

A fellow music blogger friend of mine recommended this book to me and I finally got around to reading it. When I checked the book out from the library, my roommate laughed at how “on brand” it is for me. What can I say, I love music history, and new wave is, admittedly, a genre/era that I don’t know much about.

I have to say, Are We Not New Wave is not immediately accessible. It’s written primarily for an academic audience, rather than the average reader. Yet it’s compelling: the book situates new wave in the context of both punk and disco, the era and genres that preceded it. New wave maintains punk’s disaffected sensibilities (see: The Cars), throws in some disco danceability (see: the B-52’s), and comes up with something new. The genre can also be seen as somewhat highbrow; Elvis Costello’s glasses and clever lyrics lends it some gravitas.

The book also encouraged me to reflect on my own relationship with new wave. Of the bands it discusses, the one that I’m most familiar with in terms of oeuvre is The Cars. I love their debut album, of course; it’s almost entirely composed of their greatest hits. Heartbeat City has the bouncy “You Might Think,” and Candy-O has “Let’s Go.” (As a music fan, I think there’s really nothing wrong with liking just one or two songs off an album, even [especially?] if they’re what was most heavily promoted or released as a single.) The Cars have a lot in common visually with punk; they have a similar wardrobe to the Ramones: sunglasses, leather jackets, limited color palette.

That was another aspect of new wave that I hadn’t thought of before reading this book: music can be defined as much by appearance as it is by sound. Aside from The Cars, the aesthetics of new wave were very plastic-y and forward-thinking; for example, the book begins with The Buggles’ seminal “Video Killed the Radio Star.” The song is an early glimpse of new wave, with its synths and high-pitched, slightly flat vocals, and futuristic vibe. It’s also a literal description of what was to come: the song was the first that MTV ever played, and new wave would dominate the channel for much of that decade.

I’d give Are We Not New Wave 3.5/5 stars. I enjoyed it, but there were times when it was a bit too dense, even for someone as obsessed with music history and trivia as I am.

Monthly Obsessions – April 2022

Very mini mix this month (she said alliteratively). I think I just didn’t keep as good of a track, as it were, of what I had on repeat like I usually do. That said, I did want to call out one of the gems on here. Alex Melton has been in the game for a while, and I was listening to/rediscovering his work. He primarily does “y’allternative” covers, a genre he seems to have developed; it’s essentially country-style covers of pop-punk classics. In April, one of the covers I had on repeat was “Miss You” by blink-182. I’ll have to do a longer entry on Alex eventually for my Covers Corner series.

Throwback Thursday: “Giving Up the Gun” by Vampire Weekend

I feel like Contra was one of the hipster albums, up there with The Black Keys or Tame Impala. This status was confirmed with the Pitchfork stamp of approval as a best new album. Vampire Weekend both leaned into and calcified the hipster world. One of their biggest songs from their debut album, “Oxford Comma,” is pretentious in title and content: who gives a fuck about an Oxford comma indeed. The band has that sensitive, slouchy feel typical of the era that was sometimes described as “metrosexual.” As Matty Healy once said, “I thought that you were straight/Now I’m wondering.”

“Giving Up the Gun” is my favorite song of theirs. It has the hallmarks of that era of indie music: lightly bruising synthesizer, disaffected vocals, and lyrics that describe the futility of trying. I remember being surprised when Joe Jonas appeared as a guest star in the music video. There was always that tension between pop and indie, and when a band or song became a hit, the lines blurred. Does that mean that “Giving Up the Gun” is an ironic comment on the glory days? If so, that makes it the most hipster of all.

Covers Corner: “Temptation” by The Limousines

I had a completely different Covers Corner lined up, but then I was reminded of this one, which has long been a favorite of mine. The echoing, “I do believe, I do believe, I do believe” gets stuck in my head all the time.

I’ve talked about The Limousines many times before, so this time I’ll focus on the song itself. In their hands, it opens with this machine gun of a dance beat, urgent in its potency. Eric Victorino’s distinctive vocal fry adds a great layer. When he says, “Hey!” and jumps into the chorus, there’s a hint of boyishness, but he turns fierce at just the right moments. The lyric, “Bolts from above hurt the people down below/People in this world, we have no place to go” is muffled and calls to mind his song “The Future,” which might be one of my favorite Limousines songs.

New Order and their predecessor Joy Division are fixtures of the new wave ’80s. With The Limousines’ electronica cover, they hurtle right into the 21st century.

(I am loathe to post YouTube links instead of Spotify, but this was a limited release on their website 10+ years ago and isn’t available anywhere else.)

Monthly Obsessions – March 2022

It was ’60s and ’70s vibes around here this past month, apparently. I love “America” by Simon & Garfunkel. Not sure if it’s my favorite song of theirs, but it’s pretty high up there. (I may have mentioned at one point that I like the soundtrack version of “Mrs. Robinson” better than the original. #hottake) There was a time when I’d turn it up at the chorus: “it took me four days to HITCHHIKE FROM SAGINAW/I’VE GONE/TO LOOK FOR AMEEEEERICA.” Think you can’t belt along to ’60s folk crooners? Think again!

“Morning Has Broken” is such a romantic song to me. It’s so hopeful and joyful as well: today is a new day, just like the first one ever made. “Medicine” is romantic, too, though obviously in a different way. It’s a paean to someone that’s literally healed the narrator. The song is softer and more sweeping than the others in The 1975’s catalogue, and is definitely my favorite.

“Stealin'” by Uriah Heep was a new discovery this month. I love it! The song starts out like an echoing version of a country song and crunches into hard rock made for jamming. Now that’s something you can belt along to.

“Right in the feels”

Something that’s been on my mind for a while is a comment from music YouTuber Adam Neely. “Music makes you feel thoughts.” I want to unpack that and also examine what it means for me personally.

The first thing that I think of are the times I’ve gone clubbing or to concerts. The music is so loud you literally feel it. It hits you in your heart, spreading all throughout your body. So, most obviously, feelings are visceral; something physical that’s expressed by way of listening to music. (Side note: I really miss going out dancing.)

Anyway, on a deeper level, feelings are emotional. (Yes, yes, chorus in the back: duh.) It’s like a post I wrote but I’m not sure I ever shared – or, if I did, it’s something that’s been lost to time in my archives. In it, I talked about an “oof” playlist I have on my personal, non-clarascassettes Spotify. It’s one of my longest playlists, if not the longest one I have. The playlist is a collection of songs that speak to some sort of ache. They might be melancholy or wistful; many are in a minor key. None of them are truly sad, I don’t think – they just capture a kind of introspective loneliness and an intensity of feeling.

And again, music is that conduit, that access point for either expressing or (if you dare) revisiting those feelings. That might be why I love music so much. I’m an introvert at heart (though I’ve gotten better over time) and so expressing myself doesn’t always come naturally. With music, I can turn it up, share it, and with that, say, this is what I meant.

Covers Corner: “Uncle John’s Band” by Jimmy Buffett

It’s sunny where I live for the first time in ages. That got me thinking about the “Summertime Jamz” (yes, with a zed) playlist that I made years ago. I listen to it during the colder months when I’m daydreaming about warmer climes. Now that we actually have warm weather around here, it’s time to break it out again. One of the first songs I put on there was “Uncle John’s Band” as covered by Jimmy Buffett. I was never a Deadhead (far too young for that era, and not my style of music in general), so this post is primarily going to talk about the cover rather than the original.

I’ve heard this song so many times I know a̶l̶l̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶r̶u̶l̶e̶s̶ ̶b̶y̶ ̶n̶o̶w̶ the lyrics by heart. I find some of the lyrics moving: in one interpretation, they’re about John the Baptist. “Come hear Uncle John’s Band/playing to the tide…/He’s come to take his children home.” Beyond that, the song is almost melancholy. It’s a story of loneliness; living in a silver mine called Beggar’s Tomb and hoping someone will listen to you. I like songs that are contemplative that way.

The steel drums are what prompted me to put it on my summertime playlist in the first place. It calls to mind “Kokomo” and island escape. Besides, Jimmy Buffett is summertime music; I think I have one of his other songs on that playlist as well.

Here’s to more warm days to come.

Throwback Thursday: “Pure Heroine” by Lorde

I did say that I was going to talk about this album eventually, and now here we are! Pure Heroine came out in 2013 and felt new, experimental; like Lady Gaga before her, Lorde was rewriting the pop rules. In Lorde’s hands, pop became sonically darker and thematically emptier: torn-up towns, hollow bottles. Yet the aimlessness of Lorde’s protagonists is intentional. She captured the #aesthetic of driving with the windows down, clean teeth and tennis whites, both riding the wave of Tumblr moodboards and inspiring them.

It’s a cohesive album, and though Lorde definitely likes a droning beat, it never feels like too much. Part of that is the neat production; another part is because Lorde has a throatier voice than her contemporaries, which provides nice depth. She has incredible confidence right out of the gate.

I didn’t immediately connect with this album when it came out, but “400 Lux” definitely holds memories. Although “Royals” was obviously inescapable, I’m always one to look for the deeper cuts.

Monthly Obsessions – February 2022

It’s been awhile, hasn’t it? What with Current Affairs, both at home and abroad, maintaining a culture blog felt…small somehow. Let me know in the comments if you run a culture blog and feel/felt the same way. But I love doing these “scrapbook” posts, so without further ado, here’s what I was listening to last month. It’s a mini list this time, but let’s dive in.

I had “I Eat Boys” on repeat actually. It’s this cheerful little ditty that has major Jennifer’s Body vibes. “Want You Like That” was a recommendation from my roommate. Looks like this was something of a Peter Gabriel month as well. “Sledgehammer” is catchy and has pretty ridiculously suggestive lyrics. Sexy songs these days are much more overt; let’s see what you can do with fruitcakes and airplanes.

“Two Points for Honesty” shows me veering into angsty territory. I really should do a Throwback Thursday post about it. It majorly takes me back to college. (Or perhaps that’s not a time I’d like to remember? Interesting tension there.)

Prince provides a nice palette cleanser to the above (and alliteration as well). “When Doves Cry” is a dance song with deeper themes. No wonder Purple Rain is one of the best-selling soundtrack albums of all time.

What are you listening to these days?