New Playlist: February 2021

I present to you: the third brand new monthly Rosy Overdrive playlist, and the site’s fourth playlist overall. 2021 is in full swing in terms of new music, which is where the majority of these songs come from. My foray into 1991 (which started last month) continues—it’s been on the backburner a bit, but a few songs from then surface here as well.

Lydia Loveless, The Boys with the Perpetual Nervousness, Yasmin Williams, and Mister Goblin earn the incredibly prestigious honor of having two songs on the playlist this time around. There are three Hold Steady songs on here, because I’m not getting paid for this and I can do what I want.

Weather permitting, I will have an archival playlist that I made roughly two years ago written up a week or so after this post’s publication, and then some album/EP write-ups later this month. I’ve also got a few songs already marked down for the March 2021 playlist—that will be fun.

You can follow the whole playlist on Spotify here. Bandcamp embeds are included in the list when available.

“Specificity (Or What Have You)”, Terry Gross
From Soft Opening (2021, Thrill Jockey)

For some reason naming themselves after the NPR host, the band Terry Gross is an offshoot from the long-running krautrock/post-rock power trio Trans Am. TA’s guitarist Phil Manley leads this group—he and two fellow recording engineers, Donny Newenhouse and Phil Becker, created Soft Opening in the Bay Area recording studio they co-own. The amusingly-titled “Specificity (Or What Have You)” is the only one of the album’s three (!!) songs under twelve minutes, which unsurprisingly makes it the most easily digestible of the record’s vastly expansive yet accessible psychedelic space rock. The propulsive rhythm section checks the bursts of guitar freakouts, melodic vocals and an actually catchy chorus balance out the long instrumental breaks.

“The Shining But Tropical”, Wild Pink
From A Billion Little Lights (2021, Royal Mountain)

This song’s been out for awhile now, but I had to hear it in the context of February’s A Billion Little Lights to fully appreciate it. Wild Pink continues delving into shiny, polished heartland rock with their new album—a development that initially put me off of 2018’s Yolk in the Fur after being a big fan of their self-titled debut. While I’m still conflicted about that album, this new record quickly grabbed my attention after putting it on more or less as an afterthought. Either frontman John Ross and crew have grown more comfortable in these shoes, or I’ve grown more open to Indie Rock Superheroes Wild Pink with time—whatever is the case, “The Shining But Tropical” is an excellent gliding pop rock anthem that justifies Ross’ citation of Sagan’s Cosmos as inspiration. I had no idea that Julia Steiner from Ratboys sings the backing vocals on this song until researching for this, but she’s the best part of the whole damn thing—that second verse is positively goosebump-inducing, and every indie singer-songwriter with pop ambitions should be taking notes.

“The First One”, Kittyhawk
From Mikey’s Favorite Songs (2021, Count Your Lucky Stars)

I wrote about Mikey’s Favorite Songs, the compilation of Kittyhawk’s non-LP material, last month. I recommend you check out the whole thing, but I’ve included “The First One” here, which in my review I referred to as “straightforwardly sweet”, “infectious”, and “correctly-titled”. There are some pleasing back-and-forth vocals going on here. I can very vividly picture the new apartment in the song, boxes half-unpacked, wires and cables strewn about just so we can set up the record player and listen to something while we go through the rest of the stuff, staying up late because no routines exist yet, everything lying ahead of us

“Lover’s Spat”, Lydia Loveless
From Boy Crazy and Single(s) (2017, Bloodshot)

I have a few “break glass in case of emergency” albums that I’ve never heard but know I’ll enjoy when I do. There’s still a Yo La Tengo album I haven’t listened to, a Low album, that album that Ted Leo and Aimee Mann did together….Anyway, I finally listened to the Lydia Loveless comp after being a fan of her proper albums for awhile now. And now here I am in 2021, enjoying “Lover’s Spat”, AKA the Jeffrey Dahmer song. Originally from 2013’s Boy Crazy EP, I’m not entirely sure if Loveless intended the song to be literally from the perspective of the serial killer, a metaphor for a relationship fight, or if it’s completely autobiographical and there’s just an alarming level of coincidences between Dahmer and Loveless. My fact checker has not gotten back to me yet RE: whether or not she was pursuing a business degree at OSU as of press time.

“Can’t You See?”, The Boys with the Perpetual Nervousness
From Songs from Another Life (2021, Bobo Integral)

In my review of Songs from Another Life, I referred to “Can’t You See?” as an “under-two-minute plea” with “urgent” undertones. I also complimented how it immediately grabs the listener with its Teenage Fanclub-revering jangle-pop chorus—the song is effectively one 90-second-long hook.

“Lanyards”, The Hold Steady
From Open Door Policy (2021, Positive Jams)

Coming after two songs that take some time to fully appreciate, “Lanyards” was the first “oh shit, the Hold Steady are back” moment in Open Door Policy for me. It’s not the easy way to get there, either. It’s not a party of a song, but rather a mid-tempo number ornamented with Franz Nicolay’s piano playing that explodes in the chorus. Craig Finn’s wistful talk-singing feels like a natural progression from his solo work, and he plays his lyrical hand very well here, letting the atmosphere and the words speak for themselves here. The words are more than enough, mind you—“Lanyards” is a bleary world of hospital bracelets, doctors, failed acting careers, and the western edge of the (continental) United States.

“Sunshowers”, Yasmin Williams
From Urban Driftwood (2021, Spinster)

In my review of Urban Driftwood, I noted my appreciation for how “the quiet picking of  ‘Sunshowers’ gives way, about a minute in, to a giddily melodic riff and adds on from there”. The way Williams is able to clearly delineate the introduction of “Sunshowers” from the central part of the song and then clearly call back to both of them over the track’s four minutes is edge-of-the-seat-worthy, and doing it entirely with one instrument is a nice change of pace for the playlist if I do say so myself.

“Seeing Shapes”, Teen Creeps
From Forever (2021, [PIAS]/Sentimental)

Belgian’s Teen Creeps cite Superchunk and Dinosaur Jr. as influences, and “Seeing Shapes” delivers as a paean to scrappy, 90’s underdog indie rock—aware of punk rock but not punk, emotional but not emo, a guitar jam first and foremost but burying pop sensibilities under the squall. While musically the J. Mascis guitar hero effects are easy to pinpoint, lyrically “Seeing Shapes” remind of another member of Dino Jr.—Lou Barlow and his Sebadoh. “Seeing Shapes” is an ugly, self-effacing, vaguely uncomfortable number: “Look into my eyes before you leave me for someone better / I’m a mess inside but at least it’s been that way forever” is absolutely brutal. I wouldn’t want to be miles near anyone involved in whatever relationship is being described here, but it makes for good theater.

“100,000 Fireflies”, The Magnetic Fields
From Distant Plastic Trees (1991, PoPuP)

Here we have the first classic Magnetic Fields song. Distant Plastic Trees is far from Stephin Merritt’s best work, but this song’s reputation is well-earned. “I have a mandolin / I play it all night long / It makes me want to kill myself” is one of the greatest opening lines of all time, but “You won’t be happy with me / But give me one more chance / You won’t be happy anyway” is the sound of 69 Love Songs (and, really, Merritt’s whole career) germinating. I’m not sure how Susan Anway’s vocals are viewed by Fields-heads, and I don’t love either of the albums she fronts enough to have a strong position on whether she helps or hurts the songs, but it is hard for me to imagine any voice suiting the twinkling plastic instrumentation of “100,000 Fireflies” as well as hers do. Not even Mac McCaughan. The quiet “Josephine” from the same album is just as good as this song, but didn’t fit quite as well on the playlist, if you’re looking for a deep cut.

“On and On”, The Fragiles
From On and On (2021, Living Lost)

In my review of On and On, I referred to the title track as a “five-minute slow burn”. While there are perhaps more straightforward pop songs on that album (see “Kaleidoscope” or “Armistice Day”), “On and On” is the song that I continually find myself most transfixed by. The song is anchored by a simple, cycling guitar riff that puts the song in psych-pop territory, while the lo-fi production and busy drum work give it a sharper edge as well. It’s the perfect soundtrack to watch satellites float across the sky and consider space and time, as the song’s lyrics suggest.

“Excursions”, A Tribe Called Quest
From The Low End Theory (1991, Zomba)

The Low End Theory is good because of how effortlessly it folds jazz into hip-hop, so what better song to pull from it than “Excursions”—the song that explains how hip-hop is pulling from the same cloth as jazz? All over an upright bass, too, which unfortunately didn’t catch on in hip-hop to the degree I would’ve preferred it to. “Excursions” is also a pretty good exemplar of how Q-Tip AKA The Abstract earned his reputation as the philosophical one of the recognizable 90’s MCs—not that others couldn’t have pulled off something as simultaneously verbose and down-to-earth as “Excursions”, but this is how Tip and Quest thought they should start off their biggest album.

“Some Nerve”, Sweet Soul
From So Far No Further (2021, New Morality Zine/Extinction Burst)

“Some Nerve” is a short and sweet slice of melodic punk rock. Nearly the whole two-minute thing is the chorus, all power chords and “whoa-ohs”, with the main hook appearing both in vocal and lead guitar form. Sweet Soul even make time for some brief melodic bass playing. I’d easily recommend the rest of So Far No Further to you if this sounds up your alley—it’s ten songs of this band’s heavier brand of pop punk in 23 minutes. Frontman Taylor Soul, rather than hamming it up and singing in the nasally whine characteristic of this kind of music, instead brings forward an understated, nearly emotionless vocal, giving the whole thing a vaguely sinister undercurrent (just an undercurrent, mind you—it’s still fun music).

“Mr. Chill”, Dan Wriggins
From Mr. Chill (2021, Orindal)

I saw Dan Wriggins’ band, Friendship, play this song live in 2019 before all the Unpleasantness went down. I remember liking it, and being disappointed it didn’t show up on their album that came out later that year, Dreamin’. It’s now finally seen the light of day, as the title track for Wriggins’ debut solo EP that comes out mid-March. Friendship’s Michael Cormier adds some quiet barroom piano and percussion to “Mr. Chill”, which Wriggins says he wrote while working for a tree care company. The laid-back music of the song accompanies lyrics that stare down the abyss of routine threatening to dull everything valuable and meaningful in this world. It has a great punchline, too.

“Unpleasant Breakfast”, The Hold Steady
From Open Door Policy (2021, Positive Jams)

“Unpleasant Breakfast” is, for a Hold Steady song, weird as hell. Craig Finn is still doing his Craig Finn thing, and the Springsteen horns are, while not exactly a band staple, nothing new either—but this is about where the similarities end. The song starts building around, of all things, a shuffling drum machine beat, and a good deal of “Unpleasant Breakfast” is accompanied by an absurd “whoooo”ing siren sound (which, as someone moderately tapped into the Hold Steady fan community, I can tell you was easily the most controversial part of Open Door Policy). About four minutes into the five-minute number they break out into the “normal” bombastic, Franz Nicolay piano-led Hold Steady, as if to say “yes, we could’ve done the song that way if we wanted to, but where’s the fun in that?” Appropriate for a song rejecting “the romance in these ghosts”, which I assume has to do with nostalgia.

“The Perfect Idiot”, Fievel Is Glauque
From God’s Trashmen Sent to Right the Mess (2021, La Loi)

Belgian kitchen-sink pop band Fievel Is Glauque cover a lot of ground on God’s Trashmen Sent to Right the Mess—frantic orchestral pop, chill bedroom lounge, straight-up jazz numbers. Album opener “The Perfect Idiot” is a short burst of bossa nova-informed indie pop, with metronome percussion accompanying Ma Clément’s sweet vocal. Despite its brevity and surface simplicity, Fievel Is Glauque cram quite a bit of instrumental injections into “The Perfect Idiot”, presumably both from co-bandleader Zach Phillips and the laundry list of collaborators listed on the album’s Bandcamp page.

“I Gotta Getaway”, Wake Up
From Tigers Can’t Be Choosers (2021, Maggot Chic)

Tigers Can’t Be Choosers came out in February, but apparently it’s several years older than that—recorded by Wake Up in 2012-2013 but ultimately shelved before finally seeing the light of day in the midst of quarantine. None of this really makes much difference to me, who’d never heard of this band at all until a couple of weeks ago, so it just comes off like an album of new 90’s indie rock-influenced music. Obviously, there are quite a few bands out there inviting Pavement comparisons in the year of our Lord 2021, but “I Gotta Getaway” hooked me immediately. With “Church on White”-style Malkmus vocals and a There’s Nothing Wrong with Love guileless pop sensibility, “I Gotta Getaway” is an extremely likeable single even before that starry-eyed chorus kicks in.

“At Least”, Mister Goblin
From Four People in an Elevator and One of Them Is the Devil (2021, Exploding in Sound)

I didn’t really touch on “At Least” in my Four People in an Elevator and One of Them Is the Devil review, even though it’s maybe my favorite song from that album. Like an increasing number of Mister Goblin songs, it starts off as a fairly subtle downbeat number before exploding in sound in the latter half of the track. Although the hospital climax of the song is thrilling (it’s a release, sure, but I’m not sure if “cathartic” is the right word) it’s how it gets there that really makes “At Least”. While I don’t understand exactly how every line of the lyric fits in with each other, I don’t really need to in order to get into the headspace of the song’s narrator. It’s a song about regret and repentance, full of brutal self-laceration (“I know that I can’t cut it, but I can’t quit”… “Just don’t work too hard / Not on my account”). “At Least” is a plea, not even for forgiveness, just for an acknowledgement that the narrator is trying to atone—and for me it is unclear if anything is resolved by the end of the song’s near-five-minute runtime.

“Fortune”, Dog Faced Hermans
From Mental Blocks for All Ages (1991, Konkurrel)

I’ve been a fan of Dutch agit-punks The Ex for awhile now, but I’m only now getting around to one of the bands most frequently associated with them. Dog Faced Hermans and The Ex are linked together most prominently by guitarist Andy Moor, a founding member of the former and thirty-year member of the latter, but the musical similarities are present as well. “Fortune” is classic aural guerilla, an anything-but-easy listen led by a pummeling rhythm section and insistent horn section. The similarities stop with vocalist Marion Coutts, whose dramatic, operatic performance is a far cry from G.W. Sok’s carnival barking, but is no less effective. An artist who just happened to dabble in music in addition to several other fields, Coutts invites comparisons to Sue Tompkins of Life Without Buildings, a band who seems just now to be getting its moment in the sun. While Coutts’ rather accomplished musical background fails to make this a 1:1 comparison, Dog Faced Hermans conjure up a similar aura of a happy accident of a band that we’re lucky to witness come together.

“Skyline Top Removal”, Styrofoam Winos
From Styrofoam Winos (2021, Sophomore Lounge)

In my Styrofoam Winos review, I said that “Skyline Top Removal” “marries the record’s brightest and most pleasing music with its most striking images and biting lyrics (‘It was built on the backs of the underpaid….but isn’t it minimal? Isn’t it great?’, chiefly, not to mention the song title itself) to make a modern southern-urban classic.” Lou Turner, the Wino at the helm for this song, deftly shifts from singing the song’s two distinct hooks to delivering a more conversational talk-singing style in the verses to really sell the potent energy of “Skyline Top Removal”.

“Rose Tinted Glass”, The Boys with the Perpetual Nervousness
From Songs from Another Life (2021, Bobo Integral)

Continuing the Teenage Fanclub-indebted jangle pop bliss of “Can’t You See?” earlier in this playlist, “Rose Tinted Glass” is a similarly brief track, which as the title suggests is a bittersweet, melancholy reminiscence of a past long gone—a feeling that this style of music is particularly good at capturing. Although The Boys with the Perpetual Nervousness ultimately resolve to look forward by the end of “Rose Tinted Glass”, the exact details of the song are less important than the images it conjures. Sitting on the floor tuning a guitar, an unspecified “you”, the titular glass—in the hands of TBWTPN’s chiming guitars, it’s all a pure evocation.

“Witness to Your Secrets”, The Cakekitchen
From Time Flowing Backwards (1991, Homestead)

The Cakekitchen was New Zealander Graeme Jeffries’ third notable band after Nocturnal Projections and This Kind of Punishment, and the first that didn’t also feature his brother Peter, who pursued a solo career in the 1990s before more or less retiring from music. The Cakekitchen released two albums in 1991—the album that this song is from, which is a compilation of sorts, and a more proper LP called World of Sand. Time Flowing Backwards is effectively a U.S. reissue of their debut EP, where “Witness to Your Secrets” was originally released, plus some bonus tracks. This song is a departure from the dark, noisy post-punk that characterized Jeffries’ 80s work and suggested a brighter future that was more in line with the kind of music for which Flying Nun Records was becoming renowned. Although the deeper cuts from Time Flowing Backwards revealed trace elements of Jeffries’ past work, with “Witness to Your Secrets” he and the rest of the band put together a gorgeous, reasonably-polished guitar pop ballad that could’ve easily been an indie rock standard.

“Houses into Homes”, Katie Ellen
From Cowgirl Blues (2017, Lauren)

I struggled with isolating an individual song from Anika Pyle’s recent solo album, Wild River, for this playlist, but my enjoyment of that record caused me to look back on her previous bands a bit and led me to this song from Katie Ellen’s Cowgirl Blues. I didn’t remember this song upon revisiting, which is odd because A) I recall listening to Cowgirl Blues a lot when it came out and B) it rules. So consider “Houses into Homes” a dual-purpose song here—both as a reminder that Wild River is still good and you should listen to it, but also as a great song in its own right. It’s a pop punk ripper of a song that deploys its ace “Meet me in the courtyard, darling” hook just the right amount of times in its two minutes, and covers the impressive breadth of a relationship and its aftermath in relatively few words.

“Spy Vs. Spy”, Smart Went Crazy
From Now We’re Even (1996, Dischord)

Now We’re Even, which turned 25 last month, doesn’t reach the heights of the following year’s Con Art, to say nothing of Chad Clark’s 21st century work with Beauty Pill. Divorced from that lineage and taken as a mid-90s Dischord Records muscular post-punk album, however, I’d consider it above average, and there are glimmers—which leads us to “Spy Vs. Spy”. On the surface it’s a fairly straightforward mid-tempo moody-rocker, but with plenty of subtle moments that stick out—a brief but memorable performance by Hilary Soldati’s cello, Clark’s increasingly theatrical vocal performance in the second half of the song, and an unexpected shining moment from the bass guitar towards the end—indicating that something was already fully-formed here.

“Good Luck Come Back”, Caithlin De Marrais
From What Will You Do Then? (2021, Skeletal Lightning)

I think the last we’d heard from Caithlin De Marrais was in 2017, when her underrated band Rainer Maria released the underrated S/T, which found the emo trio embracing a smoldering, harder-rocking sound. What Will You Do Then?, then, is De Marrais’ chance to explore a different avenue—sparse, dreamy, often dark synthpop. Album opener “Good Luck Come Back” is certainly sparse; while De Marrais contributes memorable bass playing and synths interjections to a beat provided by fellow Rainer Maria member Kaia Fisher, the two still leave plenty of empty space for De Marrais’ heartbreaking lyrics to hang over the listener. It also doesn’t skimp on the “pop” side of synthpop, either—when De Marrais and Annie Nero hit “Do you feel alone?” it takes the song to the next level.

“The Day My Baby Gave Me a Surprize”, David Nance
From Duty Now for the Future (2021, Self-released)

It was incredibly generous of Nebraska lo-fi negative boogie-er David Nance to cover Devo’s second album in its entirety last month. Apparently Nance is no stranger to these projects (he’s also got versions of Berlin and Beatles for Sale in his archives) it caught me by surprize as the first one to come out since I’ve been aware of his music. Duty Now for the Future makes a hell of a lot of sense of him, too—Nance often comes off as a more expansive, prairie-fied version of Devo’s Midwestern rust punk. “The Day My Baby Gave Me a Surprize” filters one of the more straightforward songs from the album through bluesy basement fuzz and country feedback, creating a new wave-tinged garage rock raver.

“Anything You Want”, Spoon
From Girls Can Tell (2001, Merge)

I’ve been making these playlists, mostly for myself, for over five years now, and scrolling through my personal archives I was surprised to find I’d selected at least one song from every Spoon album except for this one and the divisive Hot Thoughts. While I’ve come around to Hot Thoughts somewhat, the lack of anything from Girls Can Tell is what we call an “egregious oversight”. That album, which turned 20 last month, is the one that solidified the “Spoon sound”, the uncanny valley Texas-Kinks-piano-rock that somehow turned them into the one indie rock band of the 2000s that earned the “cool” label through their music rather than their critical or cultural clout. And it’s the album that kickstarted their case for being the band of that entire decade, which would be rock solid if they’d just released Transference a couple weeks earlier. I haven’t really said anything about “Anything You Want” yet, but it’s a great Spoon song, maybe the great Spoon song—the simplest organ riff, a simple guitar riff, Britt Daniel rambling about something that doesn’t really need to be examined but can be, and just enough variation over two minutes to make the entire thing memorable.

“All I Know”, Lydia Loveless
From Boy Crazy and Single(s) (2017, Bloodshot)

Another cut originally from the Boy Crazy EP—the opening track this time. While not quite dealing in subject matter as striking as “Lover’s Spat”, “All I Know” is a very well-written alt-country pop song about certain universal inconvenient feelings, and about losing the fight between yourself and them for control of where you’re eventually gonna end up. “How many times have I lied awake at night / Wishing you were here to start a fight” is a good an opening line as any in Loveless’ work, and I can particularly relate to deciding that time and distance are going to solve all one’s problems and then getting immediately frustrated that a nine-hour flight didn’t do the trick.

“Soho Square”, The Crowd Scene
From South Circular (2020, Self-released)

While I didn’t really talk about “Soho Square” in my South Circular review, quite a few points of comparison I brought up for the album as a whole—Aimee Mann, Jon Brion, Brendan Benson—apply here. One thing I didn’t bring up in my review that I ought’ve is Anne Rogers’ sublime Neko Case-esque backing vocals, only briefly surfacing in the chorus of this song but making the most of their moment. Lyrically “Soho Square” feels like perhaps a more personal spin on “all the lonely people”, and I detect some Andy Partridge in the song’s more anxious moments.

“Nothing Without You”, Cloud Nothings
From The Shadow I Remember (2021, Carpark)

The second song on this playlist in which a male-fronted indie rock band recruits a female singer from a Chicago-based group to help out on vocals, “Nothing Without You” is a highlight from Cloud Nothings’ return-to-a-form-that-they-never-really-left-so-they-didn’t-actually-need-a-return The Shadow I Remember. Rather than just harmonizing with Dylan Baldi, Macie Stewart from Ohmme takes the reins to the chorus hook all by herself, and it works out very well—there are a half-dozen songs from the album that would’ve slotted just fine here, but “Nothing Without You” has just that little extra juice. Bizarre Tamagotchi game not required, but it’s not like you’ve got anything better to do.

“Forty One Days”, Boozoo Chavis
From Boozoo Chavis (1991, Elektra/Nonesuch)

I’ve always found zydeco music incredibly fun and revival-worthy, and as an NRBQ fan I’m familiar with who Boozoo Chavis is due to their 1989 song “Boozoo, That’s Who”, but 1991’s Boozoo Chavis is the first time I’ve really listened to Chavis’ music. The man could teach modern contract negotiators a thing or two about holding out—frustrated with not receiving money from his 1954 debut single, “Paper in My Shoe”, he recorded nearly nothing for the next three decades before friends, family, and fans lured him out of semi-retirement in the late 80s for a brief (he passed away in 2001) but surprisingly prolific recording career. The album “Forty One Days” comes from was Chavis’ major-label debut, and was produced by NRBQ’s Terry Adams. It’s a classic zydeco number if I’ve ever heard one, featuring a blues lyric that’s brightened up by the fast tempo and joyous accordion playing, as well as an amusing spoken intro by Chavis himself.

“Adrift”, Yasmin Williams feat. Taryn Wood
From Urban Driftwood (2021, Spinster)

In my Urban Driftwood review, I wrote that “’Adrift’, featuring cello accompaniment from Taryn Wood, builds into a swirling number that intertwines both instruments, but its slower tempo also allows Wood’s and Williams’s playing to shine individually.” Over the song’s four-plus minute runtime, it’s possible to get lost in the dual string instruments’ interplay and feel like drifting off into the sea as the title implies. However, the interplay between Woods and Williams leads to an ebb and flow suggesting that their version of “drifting” is anything but a passive, monotonous affair.

“Family Farm”, The Hold Steady
From Open Door Policy (2021, Positive Jams)

We’ve reached the third Hold Steady song on this playlist, and the most “Hold Steady” Hold Steady song to hold steady on this playlist. With triumphant horns and ringing piano, “Family Farm” has everything you’d expect musically except for the anthemic chorus, settling for a mostly-instrumental refrain instead. Meanwhile, Craig Finn throws some compelling images out—the titular “Family Farm” is not literal but due to an unreliable narrator it’s unclear exactly what it is, a nurse listens to Van Halen on shitty cell phone speakers, and the woman praying before taking a shot of god-knows-what is a reminder that all your funny Hold Steady parody lyrics will never be able to out-Finn the man himself.

“Blue (In A Major)”, LULA
From Cabin Fever Dreamin’ (2020, Safe Suburban Home)

A late addition to the playlist, the Swedish-Australian garage rockers of LULA gleefully blast through the hooky “Blue (In a Major)” and do their best to lodge it into your head the whole two-and-a-half-minute runtime. Their strongest weapons are the half-sneering, Thermals-esque vocals of frontman Jake Farrugia (the Australian) and a surprising incorporation of a guiro throughout the song. It’s both my favorite song from and an accurate representative of Cabin Fever Dreamin’, which came out a few months ago but just got a cassette re-release from Safe Suburban Home if that’s your thing.

“Tall Order”, Nature’s Neighbor
(2021, Tai Duo Music)

When I’m paring down these playlists to a “brief, manageable” two hours, seven-minute numbers are usually first on the chopping block, so the appearance of “Tall Order” here alone is a testament to its quality. If I’m reading the song’s Bandcamp description right, this song was recorded during the sessions for Nature’s Neighbor’s next full length album, Otherside, but is a standalone single rather than a preview of that record. If there’s any song on here that would stand up on its own it’s “Tall Order”, a dense, multi-movement suite of a song that builds electronic beats, piano, synths, and more traditional rock instrumentation all on top of each other, pulls it all away, and builds it up again across its runtime.

“Cover Song”, Mister Goblin
From Four People in an Elevator and One of Them Is the Devil (2021, Exploding in Sound)

“Fuck it, never mind” is the key lyric from “Cover Song”, an acoustic late-album highlight from Four People in an Elevator and One of Them Is the Devil. The song is one part tender recollection of an unidentified individual that gets swallowed up in service of the safe, the familiar, the known. In this case, that means covering a song that “everybody likes”, your Freebirds, Blackbirds, and In My Lives, as Mr. Goblin intones over the song’s bridge.

“I’ve Got Some Friends”, Akron/Family
From Love Is Simple (2007, Young God)

Despite the fact that you’re reading a music blog at this very moment, it’s not the 2000s anymore. While I have no intentions of glorifying that age of indie/alternative/underground/whatever music, I would like to question the degree to which that era has been discarded for “90’s revivalism”—as if the former, precariously-propped up by nascent institutions that have largely flamed or fizzled out, was ever on the same footing as the major-label bloat of the latter. This is to say—Akron/Family were never really “that band” for me, but if you lived through that decade or through its aftershocks, you have a few “that band”s, and I know A/F was “that band” for a lot of people. It is also to say: rest in peace, Miles Seaton. Even if I didn’t think the obvious choice for this playlist, “Don’t Be Afraid, You’re Already Dead”, was too on-the-nose for the occasion, I think I would still want to highlight “I’ve Got Some Friends” in its delirious, absurdly joyful glory.

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