In December, we asked our readers what they were listening to. We thought it would be a good way to involve a lot of people. We thought it would be interesting. We thought it would be thought provoking and strange. We thought it would be fun.
Just today I mentioned a song to my friend, Judy, who is the most amazing person in the world second to my son. She is grace, humility, humor, patience, and kindness personified. I’ve no idea why I got so lucky. Anyway, I asked her about Fire Lake by Bob Seger because I love this song so much I put it in my novel, as it seems to me a song about yearning and loss.
A song I’ve listened to a lot lately is Teeth by Lady Gaga, much to my son’s chagrin. He’s not a fan, but I dig this song because it makes me feel . . . Strong? Provocative? Rebellious? Ladies and Gentlemen of the Jury, Lady Gaga gets me way more than Sarah Palin does. Hey, did you know Lady Gaga has a passage from Rainer Marie Rilke’s “Letter to a Young Poet” tattooed on her body in Rilke’s native German? That’s sublime. Love it.
I put John Lennon’s Imagine on any playlist anytime. Whenever I listen to it, I bawl like a baby. In fact, sometimes I turn it off so I won’t bawl. What a beautiful song that asks us to do such a brave thing as give up religion. I can, but a great deal of the world can’t. Still, imagine.
I recently acquired the new No Age album because I sort of liked their last album and I read good things about their new album so I thought why not give it a try. And so I did. On first listen, the noise sounded nice. On second listen, the noise sounded even nicer. On third listen, I cranked my stereo, stood in the middle of the room, and the noise shook my chest. Awesome. Fever Dreaming makes me feel alive, which is a good thing, because winter is rough sometimes, and it’s good to feel good, and by “good” I mean “happy,” or at least flirting with happy. It makes me feel like I’m putting my hand on Happy’s thigh in a dark room, and Happy doesn’t mind.
Slide Away by Noel Gallagher. Some nights, I have dreams where I am able to have conversations that never had a chance to begin or have been too scary to initiate in my waking life. I dream of the people who have impacted me in a big way, whom I have loved in ways both overlapping and independent of one another. I am brave, I am reverential and when I hear all the answers I need to hear, it is heartbreaking when I open my eyes. Some nights, the dreams are too real. No matter the version, this may be one of the best love songs ever. Ever. People who don’t like this song might be a little dead inside… I mean, I tend to say that about most Noel Gallagher songs, but I REALLY mean it this time.
Let it Ride by Ryan Adams and the Cardinals. In the words of my friend Katy Raine, “Play it long, play it loud.” One of the very best Ryan Adams songs. Stumbled across this version when I was looking for a version to post on behalf of another friend’s birthday. If I had a band, I’d make sure to cover this song.
Mama You Been on My Mind by Rod Stewart. I don’t even really like Rod Stewart and I love this song. It must be the Bob Dylan factor, and it may be sacrilege, but I’m with Nick Hornby in preferring this version. “I’m not asking you to say words like yes or no / please understand me” — I love it.
It Ain’t Me Babe by Robin Pecknold of Fleet Foxes. Speaking of Bob covers, this one’s pretty great too. I was looking for the original to link to, but this’ll do quite nicely. Bob’s the gift that keeps on giving, don’t you know. A love song and a song about failing. Perfect.
The Banjo Song by Seasick Steve. Why Seasick Steve isn’t more widely known, I do not know. The man can do amazing things with guitars, including ones with only a single string.
Full On by Oasis. Massive, full of lust and longing. The lyrics, read alone and without the music, don’t seem like much of anything, paired with that assault of guitar and piano, I love the whole thing. In short, this song turns me on.
More Than This by Roxy Music. Oddly enough, helped me with writing quite a bit last month.
Someday Soon by Doves. My very favorite Doves song. It helped me finish my book.
I’ve been listening to Florence + the Machine a lot this past week to get through finals and Drumming Song was always a good study helper.
I can’t stop playing holiday music until January 1. That’s just the way I was raised.
No Christmas music. If I hear one more pop cover of “The Little Drummer Boy,” I’ll scream.
Feast in the Time of Plague by Vic Chesnutt, because it’s looking like a bleak end to a bleak year.
Baby Birch by Joanna Newsom because it’s astounding.
Wrecking Ball by Gillian Welch because it’s about me.
Powerman by The Kinks. This was my pump up song for finals this semester. It makes you feel about as bad ass possible when you’re doing something as non-bad ass as walking into classroom for a three hour exam (not to mention it always reminds of the awesome last scene from the Darjeeling Limited).
Home by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes
Fargo by Gowns
The Long Song by Petits Fours
Hurt by Johnny Cash
Things by Frightened Rabbit. This is one of those songs that makes me want to drop everything, buy a one-way plane ticket to anywhere and start a completely new life. It pushes the question of whether or not the “normal path” (high school to college to job) is the best path from somewhere in the back of my mind to the forefront. It’s also one of the strongest opening songs I’ve heard on any album (unfortunately the rest of The Winter of Mixed Drinks didn’t really live up to this one in my opinion).
No Apology by Liz Durrett
The Van Lear Rose by Loretta Lynn
Baby Blue by Martina Topley
Mercy Now by Mary Gautheir
Born Under a Bad Sign by Richard Hawley
Little Girl with Blue Eyes by Pulp
Morning Bell/Amnesiac by Radiohead. Have sweet dreams.
Urge for Going by Joni Mitchell. Gifted writer. Amazing voice.
The Wild Hunt by The Tallest Man on Earth. This song makes me feel like going for long walks away from everyone I know, but then walking back and hugging them all. It makes my heart pretty achey for one thing or another.
San Bernardino by The Mountain Goats. This song is the most Christmasy song that is not at all about Christmas I have ever heard. It has basically made my Grinchy heart grow about three sizes since the first time I heard it.
Recently, I’ve been all over the place music-wise, but after a long trip home I really needed an up-beat tune with some buoyancy to it. What better than a classic Beach Boys tune, Heroes and Villains, from their 1964 Album, “Smiley Smile.” The lyrics don’t quite match this description, but the beat sure does.
Lay Down Your Weary Tune by Bob Dylan. The force of his lyrics in all his material — especially this song — is archetypal.
The album Exile on Main St. (the song Ventilator Blues) by the Rolling Stones. This album is burned into my brain. What a recording session.
At My Window by Townes Van Zandt. Van Zandt is — on most days — my favorite songwriter.
The Weight by The Band. A song that in many ways defined a generation.
Fireplace by Lost in the Trees
Christmas in New Orleans by Louis Armstrong
Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas by Judy Garland
Talking Timbuktu (album) by Ali Farka
Ready To Start by Arcade Fire. (If I was yours/but I’m not) It builds on you until you begin to welcome the architecture you’re standing in, like a fine rain. Little intense chilling moments barreling the whole thing along like a mudslide in your head.
Futile Devices by Sufjan Stevens. (4 hours now since I wandered through your place/and when I sleep on your couch I feel safe) Oh my God, this guy is so brilliant of a conductor in so many directions at once that it just floors you when he stops for a quiet moment to make something as lovely as this. He’ll get back to his usual cranky barrier breaking business on track 2, but here he simply lets it all play out.
If Love Whispers Your Name by Richard Thompson. (Love is worth every fall/even to beg even to crawl) Here the master takes his time —over 7 minutes of it — to build his case for letting go of the past and looking forward to the now with a new yet weary courage to do right and be a better man. Killer guitar solo.
I Don’t Know What To Say by Magnetic Fields. (I could try and shove you/off the nearest cliff) This is cracked in all the right places. The lyrics misplace your trust and the music lures you back home. Like a maniacal Brian Wilson dream.
Freak by Smashing Pumpkins. (Life is not a dream when you can wake up from the dream you wanted) Billy’s already been crucified more times than you can count, and he comes up with this? The guy’s a god.
Let Go by JJ.(All I have left is my soul…Let go…a place where new waves come in…a place to begin) There really is something very sweet about this duo that transcends geographic barriers of all kinds — inner and outer.
Winter Is All Over You by First Aid Kit. Like finding an old radio in a barn. You know what you’re going to do with it…”Don’t leave this world to me.”
Look at Miss Ohio by Gillian Welch. I think every folk song should be really simple, but also somewhat devastating. This one has got it going on. Also a huge fan of Blind Pilot’s cover of the song. Equally devastating with more harmonies.
Fireworks by Animal Collective. I’ve listened to this song more than any other for the past four months or so. The refrain is an auditory manifestation of nostalgia, and when I hear I can’t help but to feel a longing for the past, even if not exactly sure which memories I’m longing for.
Runaway by Kanye West. I’ve been addicted to the new Kanye album for the past couple so it’s pretty tough to pick just one. A few months back I had my first real experience where I ended up being the douche bag in a relationship, and because of that I think this one is just resonating with me in a way the other tracks from the album aren’t. The line “I’m so gifted at finding what I don’t like the most” is the way I’ve been feeling a lot lately.
In the Mouth a Desert by Pavement. Pavement has been my favorite band as of late (saw them in Boston in October- so awesome), and this one epitomizes all of they’re vintage elements: the lo-fi sound, cryptic lyrics and that feeling that the song is teetering on falling apart just before Stephen Malkmus manages to pull everything back together. Can’t get enough of this band right now.
Over the last two weeks I’ve had Regina Spektor’s Machine on a near- constant loop. I’ve been a fan of her music for a while, but never with any more vigor than a passing interest. When I want female piano music I tend to go for something angrier and heavier, maybe Amanda Palmer or Rasputina. And perhaps those affinities are what made “Machine” stick out. The song works well on its own — the overly structured measures coupled with percussive low-end piano “stomping” evokes the sense of a machine well–but in the context of the rest of the album, which is incredibly soothing and vocally rich, “Machine” is all the more powerful.
I recently became obsessed with Philadelphia rocker’s Kurt Vile’s song Freak Train after hearing Vile on the New Jersey radio show The Best Show on WFMU. After hearing the program I went out and picked up his 2009 album, Childish Prodigy. I gave the album the old once through became immediately hooked and while the album is full of great cuts, “Freak Train” really stuck out to me. The song’s intricate opening guitar riff acts as the foundation for the entire track and it is pure gold. I first listened to the album late one night and the next day walking around I kept whistling that riff, a good sign that I was going to become obsessed with this song. This catchy riff gets you going then Vile starts singing. Vile’s voice reminds me of a cross between Mick Jagger and Bruce Springsteen. He does a great job of changing his style and inflection to give his lyrics that extra kick. He switches with ease between a nonchalant I don’t give a fuck style and raw power and brings the listener along with him. When he sings, “Well, fabrication’s my best friend, but I ain’t never been so insulted in my whole life. Shit!” you really feel the intensity of that statement, and feel the insult Vile sings about. This song just has it all top to bottom. It’s catchy, it’s powerful; it’s got great lyrics. Once it hits its almost two minute long outro it’s going so strong it feels like it needs those two minutes to come to a complete and proper ending. Overall, Vile just brings it on this song.
Alana Noel Voth