One of the reasons I initially decided to put medium-effort into making this blog—other than gentle suggestions by acquaintances that this would be more productive than just talking their ears off whenever I had something to say—was to go through, share, and review all these old playlists I’ve been making the past half-decade. These playlists are generally made once a month (with exceptions) and generally around two hours in length (again, exceptions), and have no real theme other than “music I enjoyed listening to in this particular month (believe it or not, exceptions here too). So, this one will kick it off. It’s far enough away from Present Day to where there’s no overlap with my recent end-of-2020 posts, but not too far that I’m particularly embarrassed of anything on it, and not too much of “well, this hasn’t aged well”.
This playlist was initially made in November of 2018. It is, chronologically, the 42nd playlist on my master list of all the ones to potentially post about on here. It is 18 minutes over the ideal two hours, and contains 43 songs. The next one of these I’ll do should be the one I’m currently in the process of making (December 2020), and in a perfect world I would ping-pong between a new one and one from the archives for the next few years. We’ll see how this goes.
I’ve split this one up into two parts, because 43 is kind of a lot of a number.
You can follow the whole playlist on Spotify here. Bandcamp embeds are included in the list when available. Here’s a link to part two.
“Change Your Mind”, Bad Moves
The first track on the first Bad Moves album feels like the opening number to a punk rock opera. There’s no traditional song structure here, just two parts: build-up and release. On a more personal note, I always hear “we all share a common excuse” with “we all share a communist view”, and really, who’s to say which is the correct line.
“The Airplane Song”, Laura Jane Grace and the Devouring Mothers
The in medias res mid-flight manifesto of “The Airplane Song” is an impressive turn of songwriting for Grace. I already knew what she could do as the leader or Against Me! and while their fingerprints are on this song (particularly the insistent chorus), this kind of character ride-along is something I’d wish she’d explore more often, especially with a band of Devouring Mothers caliber.
“All the Nations Airports”, Archers of Loaf
This is going to be the case a lot in going through these old playlists—I do not know if the two air travel songs in a row were intentional. I do remember putting this playlist on while picking up or dropping off a friend from the airport. I also remember nearly rear-ending someone trying to get around the airport while listening to a Red House Painters song. Good thing I wasn’t listening to this—somebody’s ride would’ve gotten totaled.
“John the Dwarf Wants to Become an Angel”, Boston Spaceships
Musically, as gorgeous and understated as any of Robert Pollard’s greatest pop songs. Apart from being characteristically enigmatic, the lyrics have a pretty dark undercurrent (references to slaves, being bound and gagged, spies, and just a general uneasiness and melancholy), suggesting that John the Dwarf’s request may not have been fulfilled.
“She Will Only Bring You Happiness”, Mclusky
Not sure what possessed the noise rockers to make such an (albeit skewed in the usual British way) effortless pop tune, but as someone who’s playing both sides (so I always come out on top), I have no complaints whatsoever. The chiming guitar and the singer’s emphasis on repetition and vocal delivery puts this closer to later-appearing-in-this-list Life Without Buildings than Mclusky Do Dallas.
“Madison Girls”, J. Marinelli
Madison, West Virginia is the hometown of one Marinelli’s most frequent points of comparison, the psychobilly pioneer Hasil Adkins, something I don’t imagine is a coincidence. It’s as good a place as any to situate this 2.5 minute 4-track pop-rocker, whose scattered allusions to walls and swastikas belie the disgusting 2016 election soup in which it was concocted.
“New Kind of Hero”, The Verlaines
My notes tell me this is the only Verlaines song I’ve ever put on one of these playlists, which I should look into correcting. Most of the best albums to come out of the Dunedin/Flying Nun scene are compilations, and Juvenilia is, for my money, a better collection of songs than anything The Clean or The Chills ever put out. Which, as will be revealed if you and I both stick to these playlist reviews long enough to see how often both of those bands show up, I do not say lightly.
“Gold Star”, St. Lenox
My goodness, there are so many excellent lines to quote from this one from Andrew Choi, one of my favorite vocalists of the past decade. Following up Ten Hymns from My American Gothic, a deeply rewarding concept album about his experience being a son of Korean immigrants, with, you know, the being a musician that isn’t famous kinda sucks don’t it, is pretty risky but “You don’t wanna go Gangnam style with a shit-eating grin and bear it” and “Did you know beggars on the street make about fifty bucks a day more than you do?” is more than enough.
“Wine Flies”, Upper Wilds
Let’s get a few things straight. Parts & Labor was one of the best bands of the 2000s. Upper Wilds was one of the most underrated bands of the late 2010s. Mars was maybe the best album of 2018. Dan Friel is one of rock music’s greatest hook writers, and the amount of distortion and/or screaming guitars and synths he dresses them up in doesn’t change this. We need to be on the same page here before we continue.
“Let’s Get Out”, Life Without Buildings
Speaking of misheard lyrics, I always hear Sue Tompkins singing “I still believe in getting low” as “I still believe in gay love”. Other than that I don’t have much to say about this song from this cult favorite album—I am not one of the people whose trajectories were altered by finding Life Without Buildings at the right time but I can still appreciate how friendly and unique this song (and most of their other songs) is.
“Leave Him Now”, Cloud Nothings
Last Building Burning was the Cloud Nothings Damage Control album, coming less than two years after the mature Life Without Sound didn’t land the way it would have in a more tasteful world. And “Leave Him Now” is the Attack on Memory Part 3 Single, with Dylan Baldi grabbing the titular phrase and turning it from tuneful to screamed out over three minutes. All of this would be a little too on-the-nose if it wasn’t executed perfectly, which it was.
“The Names You Got”, Dusk
The Dusk self-titled LP is one of the best alt-country/no depression albums of the past few years. The singer (of this song, at least—seems they all take turns) has a voice that’s going to necessitate an Old 97s/Rhett Miller comparison, though they come off as a bit more traditionally-influenced musically and more band-centric rather than a songwriting vehicle.
“Maybe More”, Eyelids
Every Eyelids album is good for at least one nü-power pop classic and here’s the one from their 2018 release of the same name. Peter Buck production and excellent melodic guitar lines, if you know Eyelids you know what they do and how well they do it.
“Look a Ghost”, Unwound
Weirdly enough I believe this is the only Unwound song to ever appear on one of these playlists. Not exactly a “singles” band, I suppose. This is another band where—they changed a lot of peoples’ lives, and I can appreciate that without pretending I was one of them. Doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy them when they click for me, like this shiny one.
“Bow Down”, CHVRCHES
Oh, wow, a CHVRCHES deep cut! At least, to the degree a band of CHVRCHES’ stature can have a deep cut. I’m not sure why so much music like this makes me grit my teeth (respectfully) but I actively enjoy listening to this, but those first two albums still hold up to my ears. The less said about the third the better, though.
“One Thing”, Bad Moves
This is really the Bad Moves playlist, ain’t it? Man, you could make this tune the focus of a songwriting seminar or something, if that’s something I didn’t just make up. Just the tightest music with tantalizingly vague lyrics (it’s begging us to let it out…), and then it just lays everything out in the last twenty seconds, leaving you to pick up the pieces.
“Sea Ghost”, The Unicorns
Not sure if this is a hot take or anything, but I’ve always found the Unicorns album very memorable and spirited but also wildly uneven and viewed Nick’s post-Who Will Cut Our Hair output (particularly the first Islands album) as more rewarding. “Sea Ghost”, then, would fall towards the “hell yes” end of the “wildly uneven” spectrum.
Wikipedia says this song was originally released in 1998 on Machines Are Not She, which was a bonus 12” that came with their first proper album, Under the Western Freeway. I know it as part of a B-sides comp, and a great downer of a Grandaddy song that bridges the gap between Freeway’s alt-rock leanings and the atmosphere they achieved on The Sophtware Slump.
“Not Given Lightly”, Chris Knox
What more is there to say about “Not Given Lightly”? It’s probably New Zealand’s greatest love song (speaking of things not given lightly), and despite how readily apparent this song’s greatness ought to be for both those familiar with Chris Knox’s other work and those unfamiliar, it’s still able to retain the personality typical of his songwriting.
“My Body”, David Bazan
This is an instant Bazan classic that he admirably buried on a split release with the ambient musician (and current Pedro the Lion drummer) Sean Lane. It’s a midtempo chugger with some Only David Bazan Could Write This lines (“All growing up I was banking on the Second Coming / Now I’d be ecstatic if someone would just pick up the phone”).
“I Hate Everything”, Obnox
This song originally showed up on 2017’s Murder Radio but it didn’t grab me until Lamont Thomas and crew re-recorded it with Steve Albini for Bang Messiah (which is the version I’ve chosen here). It’s about as fun a fuzz rock song called “I Hate Everything” could be, with a nice call-and-response verse structure.