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August 2013 – Some Mid-Year Highlights

August 16, 2013

(No apologies for lateness, other than this. Also, I changed the naming convention to make more sense – the playlist shares the date for when it’s posted, not necessarily the month it was accumulated / reflects.)

When I sit down to make a playlist with some sort of limit (length of time, or number of songs for example), I go through the same process. I start with one or two songs that immediately come to mind, struggle to find the next few songs, and then add twenty or thirty more songs than I need. The same thing happened in early July when I sat down to make a “mid year favorites” playlist – five songs soon became thirty songs, so I set it aside for a while. Today, with a few new additions, I pared it down to thirteen with the following stipulations: I didn’t include any songs from my other playlists (save for two that I barely discussed that I want to discuss a little further), I didn’t include a few of the big songs (so no “Blurred Lines” even though that was the first song I put on the playlist), and a few more were cut for other reasons.

That said, I’ve updated my running playlist of favorites, including the thirteen songs on this playlist. You can listen to it / subscribe to it on Spotify here, but maybe after listening to this one. If you subscribe to this playlist on Spotify, it will update once I update it in September or October.

I also recommend listening to this playlist in order, as I’m pretty happy with the way I arranged it.

1. “Me & You & Jackie Mittoo” – Superchunk

I want to write something about Superchunk’s excellent new record I Hate Music between now and when it comes out next week, and I already (kind of) wrote about Superchunk here last week, so I won’t say too much else about it right now. Jessica Hopper wrote an excellent review of I Hate Music for Spin today, so if you want to read something about it, I’d recommend that.

2. “The Wire” – Haim

I kept seeing friends of mine sharing Haim’s cover of “Strong Enough,” but I prefer Haim’s originals to the cover. I played “Falling” a ton this spring, and I concur with everyone singing the praises of their new single and its heartbreaking video. On more than one occasion (including right now as I write this), one listen isn’t enough. The first time through, I key in on the vocals, especially the way the Haim sisters let their voices tangle together without crushing the others’ notes (Matthew Perpetua praises the vocal phrasing on Fluxblog, and it’s an excellent point). The rest of the track, in particular the Gary Glitter drums and overdriven guitar, frames the vocals perfectly. If some songs end up sounding like collages of sound (or blurs, mushes, or whatever mutation it takes on), “The Wire” sounds (appropriately, I guess) like a wiring rig where each strand makes the entire mechanism stronger than the sum of its parts.

3. “Face to Face” – Shellshag

With Screaming Females, Waxahatchee, and Shellshag, New Jersey’s Don Giovanni Records is having a nice moment in the spotlight. Shellshag Forever was the perfect late spring / early summer discovery for me, and “Face to Face” reminds me of so many of my favorite pop-punk songs: giddy, quick, and fun to sing along (see also: Chris and Hallie from The Chris Gethard Show singing it with a ukulele).

4. “Just Make it Stop” – Low 

In one of the links I posted above, I wrote about having a meditative-like moment with Low’s latest album The Invisible Way. I recommend fixating on nothing but the sounds in “Just Make it Stop,” whether it’s the harmonies or the way the piano leads the rest of the track’s crescendo.

5. “The Way” – Ariana Grande f/ Mac Miller 

Spotify’s “Discovery” tab (which I don’t really care for) recently started going beyond the “If you like X, try Y” method to try to cater to nostalgia. For users of a certain age, it’s started recommending songs that were “big when you were a teenager.” For instance, Spotify offered me Jennifer Lopez’s “I’m Real” remix with Ja Rule.

I could sum up why I like “The Way” similarly: it flips Big Pun’s “Still Not a Player,” Ariana Grande has a few moments where she could pass for Mariah Carey, and Mac Miller’s guest verse is as goofy as I remember some of those Ja Rule guest verses being. Still, this sells the song short; “The Way” is more than its nostalgia references. Grande sings charismatically, particularly when she isn’t impersonating Mariah, and even Mac Miller comes across as charming in a goofy way (seriously, this guy’s game involves both American Beauty and Bruce Almighty? Well, maybe those movies have more in common than I originally thought). Even the track has a little more spring in its step than its antecedent. I imagine for the song’s target audience (based on Grande’s Nickelodeon acting career and the giant line of teens and college students waiting in line around the block from the House of Blues to see Mac Miller earlier this summer) the song works just as well without caring about Big Pun, Mariah Carey, or Ja Rule.

6. “Ain’t That the Way” – Divine Fits

An unpopular opinion I reserve the right to change my mind on when the next Spoon album (which is in some stage of production) comes out: I’d rather have another Divine Fits record. I wasn’t surprised that I liked Britt Daniel’s songs, but the amount that I’ve liked Dan Boeckner’s songs surprised me given my disinterest in Wolf Parade and Handsome Furs. I had a hard time deciding on Boeckner’s “Chained to Love” or Daniel’s “Ain’t That the Way” for this playlist, but ultimately opted for the latter.

7. “Take a Picture” – Carly Rae Jepsen

I came around late to CRJ’s Kiss album last year, but I feel like I got a year’s worth of listening to “Tiny Little Bows” in the ensuing couple of months. I didn’t know about the crowdsourced, cola-sponsored genesis of her most recent single “Take a Picture,” but I’m surprised it isn’t ubiquitous on the radio this summer. I especially loved Andy Hutchins’s take on the song for The Singles Jukebox, where he says that “when Carly sings about wanting to live and be alive, she sounds like someone who enjoys living and being alive more than 99% of the populace.” It evokes the same giddiness in me as a listener that “Tiny Little Bows” did this past winter, and I hope Jepsen has another dozen singles that do the same thing.

8. “Wildest Moments (Remix)” – Jessie Ware f/ A$AP Rocky

If I had to encapsulate my musical interest in 2013 in a single sentence, I might offer that I’ve adored Jessie Ware’s debut album Devotion the same way that others praised Rocky’s debut. I haven’t really given LONG.LIVE.A$AP a chance, but I don’t feel compelled to do so when I could listen to any of Devotion‘s tracks in its place. So I was surprised that I’ve slowly warmed to the remix of “Wildest Moments” even though I can’t say I have any strong feeling about Rocky’s two verses (well, maybe a verse and an introduction). I don’t love it or hate it, but I like that it’s there, and when I listen to the album version, I miss it. Maybe I got used to the idea that “Wildest Moments” lends itself well to a guest verse, but not a show-stopping verse. Maybe that means that Rocky fulfills my concept of a perfectly average rapper, at least on this track. Either way, I’ve become fascinated with my non-reaction to this song on top of my love for the original.

9. “Behead Yrself, Pt. 2” – Bent Shapes 

I’ve acquired three flexi-discs in the past year, and two of them are by Bent Shapes. Their debut LP Feels Weird is working its way across the country toward my apartment, despite the band being from the same city as me. I’ve seen them twice in the past year (and missed seeing them half a dozen times at least, including their record release show that’s literally down the street from me on a night I’ll be out of town), and I’m looking forward to having these songs on solid vinyl in addition to the brightly colored red and blue flexi-discs sitting in my bin of 7″ singles. The singles and live shows suggest Feels Weird will be among my favorite records this year.

10. “Calm Down” – The Love Language

The most recent time I saw Bent Shapes they opened up for The Love Language. I missed seeing them a few years ago, but heard stories about their giant sound. The gig a few weeks ago and their most recent record Ruby Red live up to those expectations, and if anything their sound suggests that they are ready for bigger stages. I don’t know if Merge Records has the power to do this, but when Arcade Fire tour their next record, The Love Language would be a perfect opening band. Songs like “Calm Down” would sound great on a PA designed for thousands, and I bet a lot of Arcade Fire fans who like their swelling pop anthems would grab a copy of Ruby Red at the merch table during intermission.

11. “Black Skinhead” – Kanye West 

Like many, I binged hard on Yeezus for the first week or two after it came out. Then I put it down and haven’t really returned to it. Likely, you’ve either read far too much about the record or you could care less about it in the first place. I’ll pass on any “big thoughts” on Yeezus (mainly because I don’t have a hot take on it, at least not now). That said, “Black Skinhead” is the single track that worked the best for me, largely because of its urgency. I’d have to sit down with the rest of the record again to know for sure, but this feels like the moment where Kanye loses himself in the music the most, where elsewhere it feels like he’s trying too hard to be clever or shocking. I could do without the Napoleon Dynamite-like “Gawds” near the end (this is at least the second ND reference for Kanye since 2010), but otherwise the rest of the track works for me.

12. “My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark (Light ’em Up)” – Fall Out Boy

This spring, I decided that I didn’t give Fall Out Boy a fair shake the first time around. They became popular right around the same time I felt worn out on pop-punk, and their overwrought song titles made them easy to write off. I’d slowly started to reconcile that wrong (starting with my admission that “Sugar, We’re Going Down” is a stone cold classic) when “My Songs…” came out, so I was primed to like this one. It’s also the song from 2013 that I’d most like to become an arena staple at sporting events (I’d be happy to have it replace the football teams that use “Machinehead” during kickoffs, so feel free to pass that on to the Patriots).

13. “Ohm” – Yo La Tengo

After missing Yo La Tengo the first time around in the spring, I’ve been lucky to see them play twice this summer. “Ohm” was the first “new” song I loved in 2013, and watching Ira swing his guitar around his head during the song’s feedback-laden outro, it still sounds as good. If anything, I’ve grown fonder of the song’s circular themes. Lyrically, its title draws both on the language of circuitry (a closed loop) and meditation (spiritual connection, or looping I guess), and the way the song stretches its riff throughout its nearly seven minutes always feels natural. It makes sense at the beginning of Fade, in the middle of a live set, or at the end of a playlist, and I hope it stays in the band’s repertoire for years to come.

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