Friday, November 29, 2019

Survivor Playlist: Kick Butt Day

It's time to post the results of my last playlist!

My theme was "Kick Butt Songs," in honor of National Kick Butt Day on October 14th. How they interpreted that was up to the submitters.

I got 40 songs. You can find the full playlist here in no particular order, but below are my comments in the order they were kicked off.

40. "Superheroes" by The Script. It's one of the more mellow songs on here, falling into more of a chill inspirational song. It sounds encouraging more than empowering, which turns out to be a significant difference in this playlist. I actually like The Script pretty well, but this one just makes very little mark on me, and this is too much of a punch-you-in-the-face playlist for this one to survive.

39. "Twilight of the Thunder God" by Amon Amarth. Screaming non-melodic metal typically doesn't fare well in these playlists, but the first time around it didn't bug me, so I thought, "Oooh, maybe the tide is turning for me on metal the way it apparently did for classic country last month!" But then this listen happened and, nah, it's not my jam yet. The lyrics *are* pretty kick butt, and the music definitely has a lot of energy to it, but hearing someone scream in my ear for four minutes is not something I'm into yet.

38. "Slowly, Slowly" by Magnapop. After three playlist listens, we start coming to the songs that aren't making much of an impression on me. I've heard this three times now and cannot remember it at all, maybe even while listening to it? This is the kind of stuff that gets tossed into my "I need to be productive" playlists because it won't grab my attention and distract me, but I like these playlists to be a little more compelling for me.

37. "Warrior" by Nina Sublatti. This song is just "okay" for me. I played it to start writing about it and it played through the entire song before I remembered it was playing. It *shouldn't* feel that nondescript to me, it's got this cool booming background instrumentation that should get my attention more than it does. Maybe it's because it feels like a lot of pop songs have adopted this kind of sound in recent years and I'm just tired of it? I don't know. Either way, it doesn't make an impression on me, and we're at the point in the playlist when that gets it kicked off.

36. "Are You Satisfied?" by Marina and the Diamonds. From the opening notes of this song, I was skeptical it would go far. I just have trouble connecting to songs sung by this style of female voice -- there's too much artifice in it to make me feel like there's a true connection between artist and lyrics. And the lyrics here don't really connect with me regardless, so it had an uphill battle anyway. It's not doing much for me at this point in the playlist, so it's time to kick it off.

35. "High Five" by Dragonette. We are somehow almost out of the forgettable ones already, because this is at the top "I like it a lot, I just can't remember it" level. There's no reason this shouldn't work -- I should dig the sort of bubble gum pop vibe of it and the high energy and the optimistic lyrics, but for some reason it doesn't all come together for me and I immediately forget it once it's done. I kind of want to look up the rest of the artist's music though, because if it has a similar feel, maybe one of their other songs will seem infectiously fun to me the way this one probably should.

34. "The Greatest" by Sia and Kendrick Lamar. This is one of those songs that I feel a little guilty for not liking more, because I know it served as an anthem for a lot of people in the aftermath of the Orlando nightclub shooting. But the song itself just doesn't do a lot for me. I don't think Sia was meant to write anthems. Her songs are too introspective and vulnerable, and anthems need to be more... impenetrable. Kendrick's bit is cool and builds up some of that needed energy, but he's not in enough of it. Sia is a great songwriter, I just don't fully believe her interpretations of this style of song.

33. "Is She With You? - Wonder Woman Theme" by Hans Zimmer from Batman v Superman. As is the case with a lot of the movie score tunes I get for these playlists, I really enjoy the first minute or two and then wish they ended there. There is *definitely* an element of kick butt to this, and that's great, but as with most instrumental pieces, my interest starts waning about a minute and a half in, and since it's written to be atmospheric rather than draw attention, it doesn't draw mine the rest of that time.

32. "Motivation" by Normani. This song is a nice chill, fun song, but it feels a little out of place on this playlist, which is largely a much more intense energy. Being out of place on the playlist matters less the more I like the song, but I think this has reached the peak of that curve. It's fine, but it's not working as much for me as the rest of the songs.

31. "Come With Me Now" by KONGOS. This is one of the ones I knew somewhat beforehand. When I discovered it previously, I enjoyed it but didn't love it, and that's pretty much where I still stand on it; 10 extra listens hasn't changed it. I do like the sound of it a lot, it's got a sort of large booming feel to it that definitely works well as part of this playlist... I think I'm just missing some really intense powerful lyrics to go with it.

30. "Maniac" by Michael Sembello. This song has such an interesting musical vibe to it. It is fun? It is sad? Is it ominous? Is it sexy? I don't know... Maybe all of the above? I think the reason it's going now is that that vibe stays at the same intensity all the way throughout. I wish it had a stronger... build of some sort, but that background beat is just unrelentingly identical all throughout. Sometimes that's cool, but for me right now, it holds it back a little.

29. "Odd Look (Remix)" by Kavinsky feat. The Weeknd. Honestly, I thought this song was going to be out a lot sooner -- it didn't work for me at all the first couple times. As I listened to it a few more times, though, it started kind of working and I found myself jamming out to it some more. I do think the falsetto voice makes it sound much less "kick butt" and more vulnerable than I expected for this prompt, but the lyrics are pretty bold so it works out.

28. "I Have Lived" by Marc Almond. Apparently this is the lead vocalist of Soft Cell, best (only?) known for "Tainted Love." That makes sense, because this is cleary an 80s rocker's interpretation of "My Way." I like the sound of it, but I'm not sure I like it paired with the lyrics, which are a little bolder and more defiant than this fairly mellow tune would imply. It's good, but I think it's peaked.

27. "Hold Up" by Beyonce. Sometimes I feel like the only person in the world who doesn't really love Beyonce. Aside from "Love on Top," which is one of the best songs I've ever heard, I'm pretty much indifferent to her work. This one has grown on me a bit from the first time I heard it when "Lemonade" was first released, but it still doesn't really wow me. It does have a very cool understated vibe that is kind of fun in contrast to the much more intense lyrics, and I like hearing this lower range of Beyonce's voice. But it is time for it to go.

26. "Let the Little Lady Talk" by Capital Lights. I do enjoy the sound of this one -- it has a very cool driving force to it. But I don't understand the lyrics at ALL, and the phrase "Let the little lady talk" just reads as condescending without any helpful context. A lot of the proposed song meanings I found online didn't help with that either, haha... But I think I'm done listening to it even if I found the perfect meaning for it, so it's going for now.

25. "Is He Worthy?" by Chris Tomlin. After listening to this song, I told Jacob, "There's no way Chris Tomlin wrote this. It's too interesting." Turns out I was right-- this was originally an Andrew Peterson tune. That makes more sense! I really like the way the back-and-forth question method here subtly makes room for questioning and melancholy in worship, and I like that the inclusion of a choir makes it a *communal* lament (with an eye toward hope), so it's not just one person being sad on their own. That being said, it feels disingenuous to keep it on this list. It feels less like a song about kicking butt and more about a song about like... holding onto an anchor during a storm. Both awesome things, both can be triumphant, but it's a different vibe than I'm looking for. This is a heckuva suggestion accomplishment, though, as I'm pretty sure I'm going to be adding this to my personal worship playlist (which is short and selective!).

24. "Forget and Not Slow Down" by Relient K. This one very nearly went out like fourth or fifth, but the more I listened to it the more it grew on me, all the way up to leaving 17th. It has a good musical contrast between the different modes of resigned, triumphant, and introspective. I love the line, "I could spent my life trying to sift through / What I could have done better, but what good do what ifs do." The whole song is very closely connected to stuff I've been working on lately in my own mental health journey, so it definitely hit home. I'm glad I gave it enough of a chance for it to resonate!

23. "The Ecstasy of Gold" by Metallica and Ennio Morricone. Let me just start by saying the idea of Metallica covering a Morricone tune is amazing. And this is a pretty great tune -- I especially love the rock vocals chiming in partway through. This feels like both a rock tune and an epic movie score, and those don't always go together. It's not hitting me quite as much as the rest of the tunes in the playlist, so it is time to go, but I'm glad I heard it.

22. "Game On" by Disciple. So in my mind I thought Disciple had been given to me in like... three previous playlists, but turns out I'm completely wrong and this is the first one. Anyway, this is fun! I like the repeated opening lyrics (which ranked very highly on my "which opening line is most kick-butt" poll, found in my first comment on this thread if you haven't voted) and the frequent changes between heavy instrumentation and almost none. It's most definitely a kick-butt song, but the screamy vocals are starting to wear out their welcome, so it's probably time to let it go.

21. "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" by Pat Benatar. It's hard to come up with anything *wrong* with this song -- it's energetic and fun and Benatar's voice is great and the instrumentation is fun and the lyrics are good -- but maybe it's one that I've just heard so many times that it just fades into the background more often than not, so it doesn't quite make my top 20. But it's a good choice for this playlist and a good choice overall.

20. "Ignition" by TobyMac. I didn't pay a *lot* of attention to TobyMac after his first album, which I listened to obsessively, so I'd heard this but didn't know it well. I definitely love the sound of it; there's a very forceful drive to it that serves this playlist well. It's starting to fade into the background a bit, so it's time to kick it out before I get tired of it, but it was nice to get a chance to dig a little deeper into this one.

19. "Kick Out the Jams" by The Presidents of the United States of America. We're starting to get down to much tougher decisions on what to eliminate because I like all of these. This one has just the right kick-butt feel, very punky and fierce, and I like how short and concise it is. The lyrics are a little vague to *really* give me a sense of empowerment listening to it, but it's a good listen.

18. "Finish Line" by Skillet. When I first saw this on my list of songs, I did a little internal sigh. I was never much of a Skillet fan but I always felt as a teen like everyone else around me was. This is by far the best song I've heard from them though. Those verses are pretty fantastic -- they bring to mind the opening of "The Greatest Show," aka the only song from The Greatest Showman that I kind of enjoy. And then the chorus jumps in and is equally awesome. The lyrics are pretty generic, but the sound of it is really great.

17. "Ten Thousand Against One" by Unleash the Archers. Whoo, lady vocalist metal! This is definitely a huge "stand up and fight" kind of song, both in its sound and in its lyrics, and it's a whole lot of fun. Even the instrumental solos, which I usually am not into, has that same forceful energy that really works for it. The song is starting to lose its power a little bit so it's probably good for it to go out now before it fades.

16. "Not Ready to Make Nice" by Dixie Chicks. While this definitely doesn't reach the delightful heights of "Goodbye Earl" (which the submitter at first suggested before I said it had unfortunately already won a previous playlist and was therefore ineligible), I do really enjoy this one as well. It's a different *kind* of kick butt than the rest of the playlist. It's got a determined exhaustion to it, which is the kind of kick butt you need when you just DON'T have the spoons to actually fight anything. It's a good vibe and plays with the rest of the playlist in an interesting way. Glad I got to know it.

15. "Rebel Girl" by Bikini Kill. This one was another on this list that nearly got kicked out in the first four or five. Why? I don't know. There is something about punk that sits awkwardly with me sometimes, and it hit me here at first. Something about the ugly rawness of the vocals. But the more I listened to this one, the more interesting it became, and I kind of love the lyrics and how much fun they are. Glad this one stuck around this long!

14. "Thunderstruck" by AC/DC. I actually know very little AC/DC, so this one was new to me, and, yeah, it's pretty awesome. I am not fully sold on the vocals on the verses, it sounds almost silly to have that level of screaming in the quieter opening sections, but it *definitely* works once the build-up happens, and the chorus is great.

13. "Some Bodies Gonna Get It" by Three 6 Mafia. So this is part of a compilation album of songs for WWE wrestlers, and that makes total sense, because that's exactly what it sounds like. It's got a very cool dark sound to it, and the lyrics are... far from subtle about kicking butt. It's almost comical how over-the-top their cheerful cries of violence are (there's one section where they just yell, "BEAT HIM UP! BREAK HIS NECK!" over and over again). At first I thought that was going to bring this one down, but turns out I love the sound of the song enough to overlook how silly the lyrics are.

12. "High Hopes" by Panic! At the Disco. I do super enjoy Brendan Urie's voice, especially when he goes theatrical with it, which definitely happens here. This one is just a huge burst of high energy and optimism -- a good vibe to have in your pocket for kicking butt. It's just a tremendously fun song.

11. "Sabotage" by Beastie Boys. While there is no denying this is a *powerhouse* of sound and most definitely kick butt, it's starting to lose its power the more I listen to it, and on my last listen I tuned it out entirely. Looks like I need to give it a break for it to come back around to me. Glad I got a chance to relisten to this one and get to know it a little better.

10. "Come Alive" by Foo Fighters. On my first listen I thought this might walk away with the whole thing, but others have crawled up over it, but it's still proudly finishing in the top 10. It's got such a slow build, but when it hits that high point, it is *fierce*. The last few choruses are so intense. I love it.

9. "U + Ur Hand" by Pink. This is such a great choice for me. I always love Pink's rockier anthems, and this one has long been one of my favorites (which Sarah well knows!). I love how cheerfully snarky it is -- just gleefully dismissing someone being a possessive jerk to her and being like, "Nah, I'm good." The only reason it's going out this early is because I have listened to it SO MANY TIMES before this, that it is starting to fade into the background more with each subsequent listen, so it's time for it to head on out. But it's such a good tune.

8. "Give Up the Grudge" by Gob. My immediate first reaction to this song was just a smile, because it sounds exactly like Trent's band from Daria. But the more I listened, the more I just really enjoyed the sound of it. Much like the Pink song I just kicked off, I like that it sounds *cheerfully* angry. It's angry in a way that doesn't sound like the singer's leaving in a bad mood, just being like, "You suck," and then going on their way to live their own life. So much fun.

7. "Stand Up" by James Covell. This song is from a McGee & Me movie I watched growing up, and hooooly cow is there a bunch of nostalgia here that almost certainly pushed it up further than it would normally have gone. But it is also a fun song. It is the kind of cheesy 80s song that *absolutely* belongs in a "learning to skateboard so you can beat a bully in a skateboard race" montage (which, yeah, was exactly how it was used). So silly and so much fun.

6. "All I Do Is Win" by DJ Khaled (featuring T-Pain, Ludacis, Snoop Dogg & Rick Ross). I only had a generic sense of this song before listening to this, but whoa, this song is *forceful*. It's got this big expansive-sounding instrumentation and all the verses have their own vibe, from Ludacris' more aggressive one to Snoop's chill, "yeah, whatever I do what I want" section. It is an incredible hype song that fits this playlist perfectly.

5. "Mama Said Knock You Out" by LL Cool J. I'm always pleased to have older hip-hop in these playlists. It's a huge blind spot for me, and I nearly always like it. That's obviously the case here. It's... infectiously aggressive, if that combination of words makes any sense. It's most definitely a great kick butt song, and the use of the rhythm and the way LL Cool J creatively uses his vocal inflections heightens it awesomely. This is so great.

4. "Cool Patrol" by Ninja Sex Party. Another NSP song from Carmen did super well on my "Left-Handed Musicians" playlist like a year and a half ago, and it's becoming more obvious I need to check out this band, because this one is also hilarious. This song is about trying to help someone stop their bullies through a series of increasingly difficult dance moves. (It does not work.) It's just so much fun and so silly and makes me laugh and dance. Though not quite according to their instructions.

3. "Get Down" from Six. It is incredibly difficult to kick anyone out among this top three. It's kind of an astonishingly great group of songs (and all female vocalists, which is fun). This one definitely makes me want to check out the whole show, as this is a fantastic electronic hip-hop song from the point of view of Anne of Cleves. The lyrics are smart and funny, the vocals are perfect, and the music is so, so much fun. It's a great tune, and I'm glad I got to know it.

And here we are at our final two. As always, I'll do a write-up of both and then announce the winner.

First up we have "Juice" by Lizzo. So it appears I just freaking love Lizzo's new album, as every song from it that I've been given in a playlist thus far has landed in the top 10. This one, though... DANG. Goes to a new level of just pure delight. The funk instrumentation is so incredible, and as always, Lizzo's confidence and self-love dance through here in a way that makes me be like "YESSSSSSSSSSSSSSS." And for whatever reason, I absolutely adore the line, "If I'm shining, everybody gonna shine." As quite a few of these top ones have been, this isn't a kick butt song coming from deep anger, this is a "Pfft, I'm great, don't really care how you feel about it."

Second is "Woman" by Kesha. A lot of what I said up there about "Juice" applies to this one too. This song is an infectiously *free* song, down to the laughter at the end of the second verse, like Kesha's having such a good time and feeling so great about herself that it just leaks out into her performance. In an interview, she said, "I just really love being a woman and I wanted an anthem for anyone else who wants to yell about being self-sufficient and strong." And, um, yeah, that's what this is.

It is nearly impossible to choose between these two, and I debated cheating again and doing a double win... but it's only *nearly* impossible, not fully, and I have a little twinge in my heart pushing me one way.


#2 is "Woman."

#1 is "Juice."


Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Survivor Playlist: 3 Minutes Exactly

For those who are not my Facebook friends, I've been doing this thing for the past 2 years where I choose a music theme and request song suggestions from my friends. Then I toss them all into a playlist and listen to it over and over again, kicking my least favorite off every time. I initially called them "Survivor Playlists" and then a group of music-loving friends started doing it too and they call them "Last Song Standing Playlists" (shortened to LSS). I tend to use both terms alternately, but for the purposes of this blog series I'm calling them Survivor Playlists because I made up the darn thing and I'll call it whatever I want!

I just started my third year of doing this and decided I wanted to cross-post everything I wrote about each song over here. Some of my participating friends are no longer on Facebook, and some people may just want to get a cool new playlist and know what I thought of each song. I have removed names of the submitters to preserve my friends' anonymity.

So here we go.

My theme this time, in honor of starting my third "season," was "Songs That Are Exactly 3:00." Or at least are exactly 3:00 in whatever music library my friends were using -- I understood it might be different when I put them into Spotify.

I got 35 songs. You can find the full playlist here in no particular order, but below are my comments in the order they were kicked off.

35. "Crossing Our Fingers for the Summer" by Cinematic Sunrise. (I feel quite bad for kicking this out first because her comment was, "It took me forever to find a 3:00 possibly Hannah-friendly song, so I hope it was worth it!" Whoops, ha... So sorry about that!) This is a very... "in the middle" playlist, with nothing standing out yet as really great or really terrible, so we have to jump right to "songs that just didn't interest me." Usually when I stop paying attention to songs as they play, it's time to get rid of them, but this was the only one that I tuned out of while reading the lyrics sitting in front of me. It's not at all bad, but it didn't hook me, just kind of faded away into a chill background song. It's a great fit for an "I have to get work done" playlist for me, though, when I want sound but don't want to pay attention to the song.

34. "The Christmas Waltz" by Kristin Chenoweth. While I love this song and I love Kristin Chenoweth, I somehow don't find this combination as magical as I should. It's just... okay. And I was totally fine including a Christmas song on a non-holiday playlist (I've done it before with Amy Grant's "Emmanuel") but turns out this is SUCH a Christmas-y song in my brain, it doesn't register as a standalone song and has immediately become weird and impossible to compare it to other songs in this playlist. I didn't really anticipate that happening, but off it goes.

33. "Youth Knows No Pain" by Lykke Li. Lykke Li was EVERYWHERE for awhile, and I never quite got into her. I dig the echo-y drum-centric sound of it more than I like most of her other songs, but it stays in that exact place for the whole song and doesn't really do anything different with it. I want it to kick into high gear at some point, and it never really does, so I feel like I'm just waiting for a beat that will never drop. But it is a VERY cool sound.

32. "Feels Like Summer" by Tim Wheeler. I quite like summertime songs, both songs literally about summer and songs that tend to get released in the summer. But my favorite ones are the ones that have an energy to them, and this one is a lot (a LOT) more chill, and I'm just struggling to get a personality from it. It's a good background song, just not one capturing my interest currently.

31. "Alive" by Avalon. As much as I sometimes enjoy the cheesy pop sound of Avalon, this one is not terribly interesting either musically or lyrically. I kind of like that's it got a darker-sounding vibe with such clearly optimistic lyrics, but I've now listened to it five times and can't remember it whenever it shows up on my list, so it's probably time for it to go.

30. "Broken Halos" by Chris Stapleton. This playlist has a higher-than-usual amount of country music, and while I'm finding myself really enjoying some of them (including a few I wouldn't have expected), this is probably the one that's least interesting to me at this point. I like the guy's voice, he's got a good raspy country/rock vibe to him, but the music and lyrics don't do much to draw me in.

29. "The Stache" by Jonathan Coulton. Jonathan Coulton is one of my favorite artists, but this is a song I've never really connected with. I hope a more focused listen would help it gel in my mind, but not really. My favorite Coulton tunes all have a story behind them, even if it's kind of a weird and silly one, and this one is more vague concept than anything else. It just doesn't hit me on a lyrical level like so many of his others do, so it's probably time for it to go.

28. "Step to Me" by Thousand Foot Krutch. I don't know a lot of TFK, but I tend to like their sound. This song has kind of a cool feel to it, but it's brought down a bit by the fact that the lyrics are *extremely* confusing. Given the fact that they're a Christian band, my best guess is that it's constantly flip-flopping between singing to God and singing to Satan, which is a rather bizarre choice to make and muddles the overall vibe.

27. "Mercury" by Clutch. This is a strange and complicated song with many pieces, and that easily kept me interested for this many listens. However, the feel of it is a little too abruptly abrasive to last beyond this point. It was very interesting to sit with for awhile, but I think I've exhausted my intellectual interrogation of it and am just not enjoying it as much as I am the others. Still a fascinating listen, though!

26. "River Below" by Billy Talent. I like the energy of this song, especially in the chorus, but this round it came down to several "like, don't love" songs and this one was the one that captured me the least every time it played. The lyrics aren't particularly standing out to me, and the chorus kicks it up a notch but the verse don't grab me much. I don't mean to write only negative things about this - I do like that slightly echo-y chorus quite a bit.

25. "Mediocre Bad Guys" by Jack Johnson. It's hard for me to really care about Jack Johnson as more than just background music, so he's reached his threshold, but I like the lyrics to this quite a lot, examining how silly it is that people who aren't even very good at being villainous can tear you down. It's kind of empowering in a strange way, and I like that.

24. "Nellie the Elephant" by Toy Dolls. Every so often there's a song that I'm enjoying pretty well for several listens, and then ALL OF A SUDDEN I listen to it and need it off my playlist right that second. No warning that it's approaching its end, it just explodes off my list. That just happened to this one. It's a fun, silly punk take on a kids' nursery rhyme -- not a lot of substance beyond that, it's just fun. But apparently it has to go now.

23. "They Don't Know" by Tracey Ullman. This is a very pleasant little pop song and I've had a good time listening to it, but it isn't making much of an actual impression on me -- to the point where I'm really struggling to come up with things to say about it even while it's playing in the background to prompt me. It's a nice song and I enjoyed it, but it is time for it to go.

22. "La Di Da" by VUKOVI. The energy of this song is so great and aggressive and angry, which is always especially fun for me with a female vocalist. The verses aren't as explosively interesting as the chorus, but I definitely like the vibe of this tune, though I believe it has peaked.

21. "Miserable" by Kacey Musgraves. The next country song is on its way out. I like Musgraves' voice, and the tune is pretty, but it isn't all coming together as much as I want it to. Maybe the tune is too sad for the mildly snarky lyrics? Not sure, but it's been a consistent "like, don't love" for a few rounds now, so it's probably time for it to go.

20. "Grigio Girls" by Lady Gaga. I'm pretty sure I'm the only one around who *doesn't* think the album "Joanne" was a step up for Gaga. I think she's going for a raw, stripped-down sound with her vocals, but nearly every song on this album just sounds vocally unpleasant to me, like she's struggling to hold the notes. This definitely happens here, especially on the verses. I do like the song's lyrics a LOT, which is what got it this far, but I am not sold on Gaga's interpretation. I want a cover version of this. Or a more produced version from her.

19. "Better Get a Lawyer" by The Cruel Sea. I'm digging the dark blues rock feel to this song, and the vocals definitely go along with the sound. And I like the lyrics as a lament about the justice system failures (whether justified or not). The song just sounds so... *exhausted*, and it's a cool vibe. That being said, it's not hitting me on much of an emotional level, and most of the rest are at this point, so it's time to kick it off.

18. "The Night Belongs to Us" from Firebringer. As much as I love musicals, I don't think I've heard anything from a Starkid musical before this. And... I'm not wowed by it? It's fine, it's fun, it builds to a fun "Do You Hear the People Sing?" kind of feel, but the music itself is very repetitive and doesn't get nearly as triumphantly anthemic as I desperately want it to be. It's all very understated. I have no idea if this is representative of their work as a whole, and I certainly didn't dislike it -- I just want to like it a lot more.

17. "Dance, Dance" by Fall Out Boy. This was one of two songs suggested by two separate people, but one person got to it first. It's definitely one I know well, as one of the earliest songs I ever knew by the band, but it's never really grabbed me, and even though I like (as always) the FOB sound and dark energy, it doesn't hit me on a deeper level, and already knowing it means I'm less likely to give it further chances. Sometimes giving me songs I already know really pays off, and other times it kicks it off a little early. It's a good Fall Out Boy song but there's not really a listen to listen to it over any other Fall Out Boy song.

16. "Crash" by House of Heroes. There is a WHOLE STORY going on here that I am extremely intrigued by. It definitely makes me want to listen to the rest of the album, even when I'm not completely sold on the song's sound. I like this back-and-forth between the two characters and trying to figure out what's going on with their relationship. I wish I liked the music piece of this song as much as I like the lyrics!

15. "Pocket of a Clown" by Dwight Yoakam. This submitter isn't on Facebook anymore, but I wasn't going to let that keep me from him teaching me all about classic country, so he's still going to be submitting via Twitter. I did not at ALL expect this one to get this far on first listen, but the more I listened to it, the more I found myself connecting to the melancholy lyrics and enjoying that climbing and falling bass and the "Ooh-ah ooh-ah ooh-ah" background vocals. It ended up landing in an unexpectedly *comfortable* place for me, musically. Maybe this is it, maybe the "I don't like country" switch has flipped in my brain and now I like it. (There's one more country song still on here, and I'm not at all sure that would have happened two years ago when I started this project!)

14. "A Tombstone Every Mile" by Dick Curless. Much like the other country song I just kicked off, this is a song style that I would have dubbed as "irritating" for most of my life, and for whatever reason I'm digging this time around. Plus I like this weird narrative about a treacherous Maine road where truckers frequently crash and die -- it's almost got the vibe of a creepy ghost story, but along with a pretty upbeat tune. It's a fun one.

13. "On the 5" by Winnetka Bowling League. This was one of three different songs suggested to this playlist about driving, which was kind of surprising. It's the sort of echo-y dazed indie sound I typically don't like at all, but here it serves the lyrics, as the lyrics are nostalgic and wistful and the vocals and the music convey that feeling perfectly, that sense of "I can close my eyes and I'm almost there." It's got a great atmosphere to it.

12. "The Fool on the Hill" by The Beatles. This is one I was somewhat familiar with before, and I still like it a lot. It's not one of the first songs anyone jumps to mention from The Beatles, and sometimes I forget it exists, but it's got such a pretty tune and kind of haunting lyrics. It's a very quietly melancholy song, and definitely one I'm glad I got to revisit a little bit.

11. "Heroes" by Brian the Sun. I do enjoy some good J-pop, and this one is a lot of fun. It's apparently a theme song for My Hero Academia, which makes sense, because it definitely has the same "We can do it, team!" vibe that like 90% of anime theme songs have, which is fun. And it's a pretty significant placement in the list for a song that doesn't have English lyrics -- usually those go out a lot earlier.

10. "Lighthouse" by The Hush Sound. This is one of those songs that ranked in the middle on first listen and then somehow kept working its way further up and sticking around longer. I love the ghost story narrative in here, going through the various lives of people who frequented it (and most likely haunt it now), and that is an especially eerie final line where it implies the person singing the song has just become trapped in the lighthouse and is doomed to haunt it along with these other lost souls. The musical sound of it works for that, too, the vocals and the melody and the instrumentation all capturing the melancholy of it all. I'm glad it climbed up my list.

9. "Main Title" from Ladyhawke. Well, this was a blast from my past. I haven't seen this movie (and therefore heard this music) in ages, and I'd forgotten how fun it is, and how very, very 1980s. And I like both pieces of it, both the slow opening piece and then the more upbeat adventurous sound to it. I'm sure nostalgia played a big part in this song getting this far, but it's also just a lot of fun. Love those violins in the second half.

8. "Inside" by Jennifer Knapp. Jennifer Knapp was always more thoughtful about her songs than most Christian songwriters, but I never quite got into her sound as a kid, and then when she came out and fell out of the CCM industry's good graces, I always meant to go look up her work. And dang, this song is great. I connect hardcore with that final line of the chorus, "I'm the one who keeps it on the inside / So they'll leave me alone." The frustration at having to hide a huge piece of herself to avoid judgment and cruelty from her community is evident and personal and makes this such a powerful song. I should listen to the rest of this album.

7. "Cuz I Love You" by Lizzo. Lizzo has traditionally done very well on these playlists, so this was a good choice. I went hunting up info on the song after the first few listens and was a little startled to find that Lizzo is, in fact, about my age, because this song is 100% teenager. The rawness and newness and BIGNESS of the emotion is just so very me at 17. The vocals are frequently not actually pleasant, but they absolutely match the bombastic angst of this song. This is so a song that would have been on my rotation a lot as an angsty teen riddled with unrequited crushes.

6. "Found/Tonight" by Ben Platt and Lin-Manuel Miranda. It's been a little while since I did my in-depth listen of Dear Evan Hansen, but relistening to this mostly reinforces my original thought: the songs themselves are terrible, but Ben Platt is a national treasure. I forget how he can make even the blandest lyrics sound like they actually mean something. So basically Ben Platt in and of himself has carried this song all the way to #6. That is how good he is.

5. "Me Too" by Meghan Trainor. So a playlist or two ago, this same submitter also gave me "Look What You Made Me Do" by Taylor Swift, which I hated when it first came out and then fell in love with on a revisit. That's basically exactly my journey with this song, which I was VERY not into when it first came out, but I am super into it now I guess. I think what I read as annoying before now comes across to as some (much needed these days) self-empowerment. It's fun stuff.

4. "Guilty" by Bonnie Raitt. So I don't know Bonnie Raitt at ALL, but I am super digging this. It's such a jazzy bluesy torch song, and Raitt's voice is so perfect for it. It was one that I just consistently enjoyed the sound of, even if I didn't also fall in love with the melancholy lyrics. So good!

3. "I Want You Back" by The Jackson 5. This is such an incredibly fun song -- a deserved classic. It's one I knew super well and I didn't know if I'd get tired of it listening to it over and over again, but every time that music started up I'd be back on board. Such a great tune.

This makes my final two "Strangers Like Me" by Phil Collins and "The Distance" by Cake. One I know well and one I didn't know at all before this.

"Strangers Like Me" is from Disney's Tarzan, one of my favorite soundtracks. It's of course a really fun-sounding song, but I also like how Collins lyrically taps into the myriad emotions that Tarzan is most feeling in this part of the story, from confusion to attraction to hope. It also builds really beautifully -- the verses are a little quieter and introspective, and then the chorus comes in much stronger in a very satisfying way. It's such a fun song.

"The Distance" was another one of the songs I got about driving. It's an odd little song about a car race that ends, only for one person (who did not win) to keep driving, "thinking of someone for whom he still burns." It's such an interesting metaphor and conjures up such fascinating images of someone just driving faster and faster because he needs to feel like he's won even if he hasn't. Plus the sound of it is fun, with lyrics falling into like a monotone spoken word rather than anything you could call singing. (I'm not sure I've ever listened to Cake before -- is this typical of their sound?)

As to which is my winner... it fell into place for me as I listened one more time. #2 is "The Distance" and #1 is "Strangers Like Me."

Incidentally, I am extremely pleased that the top two slots were taken by longtime submitters whose songs often leave in the lower middle of the playlists. Congrats to both!

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

"A Seat at the Table" by Solange (150 Albums By Women #134)

NPR compiled a list of the 150 greatest albums created by women. I've decided to listen to these albums, from #150 all the way up to #1. But to give myself a bit of forward momentum and have a sense of when I was "done" with each album, my method is to listen to the album one time all the way through, then with each subsequent listen, I'd remove my least favorite. This lets me listen to the best ones most frequently without having to sit through too many that didn't work for me at all.

I have actually listened to two albums on this list but never got around to writing about my top five from The B-52's self-titled debut album, and I don't expect to. Rather than wait around until I have something inspiring to say about it, I'm moving on to writing about #134!

Solange is Solange Knowles, aka Beyonce's younger sister. This is her third studio album and her first number-one album on the Billboard Top 200. It took me a little while to get into this one -- the musical sound has a very chill, low-energy feel to it, and that often can take awhile for me to like. What sold it for me ultimately was how empowering and high-energy the lyrics themselves were. While the music might feel passive to me at times, the lyrics are anything but. They are passionate and angry and smart and interesting, and that pulled me in.

My top 5:

5. Interlude: I Got So Much Magic, You Can Have It
There are almost as many interludes on this album as there are full songs, but this was the only one that really stood out to me. It's a tiny, under-a-minute song featuring Solange and two other singers singing about not letting anyone steal your magic. Even with how short it is, I find it empowering, and I love how playful they sound when they sing, "But I got so much, y'all!" There's so much confidence in the power they have, it leads to generosity. It just makes me smile.

4. Rise
This super simple, really lovely little mantra song opens the album. For awhile there in the middle I thought its repetitiveness would kick it out earlier, but I continued to really appreciate this every time I heard it.

3. Mad
I have never heard such a chill song about being angry before, and at first that didn't work for me at all, but then I started hearing the vibe as one of just being tired, and that suddenly clicked. I like the lyric, "You've got the right to be mad" and "I got a lot to be mad about" -- they're simple but poignant. And while I've never really been a Lil Wayne fan, I like his verses a lot here.

2. Cranes in the Sky
This is such a great, mournful tune. The lyrics to the verses especially, about trying to find different ways to distract from the pain, are just great. This is one that I don't know if I have a lot of words about, but it's just a solid tune and connects with me every time.

1. F.U.B.U.
...Is it strange that my favorite song on this album is one that repeatedly states it is not for me? But I love how beautifully the super chill vibe of the album works with these lyrics. It's less intensely anthemic and more just matter-of-fact: "Some sh*t is for us." And it's awesome.

The albums I've listened to thus far in this project, in order:
  1. The Roches - The Roches
  2. Robyn - Body Talk
  3. Norah Jones - Come Away With Me
  4. The Breeders - Last Splash
  5. Patty Griffin - Flaming Red
  6. Iris Dement - My Life
  7. Solange - A Seat at the Table
  8. Cocteau Twins - Heaven or Las Vegas
  9. Alicia Keys - Songs in A Minor
  10. The B-52's - The B-52's
  11. The Bangles - All Over the Place
  12. Yoko Ono - Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band
  13. Oumou Sangaré - Moussolou
  14. Terri Lyne Carrington - The Mosaic Project

Monday, April 15, 2019

Cast Album Discoveries: Be More Chill

I've been alternating the albums in my Top 150 Albums By Women project with cast albums, so I'l share my favorite five tracks from these as I listen to them as well. 

I first became familiar with Be More Chill through the song "Michael in the Bathroom," which I instantly fell in love with. (I've written about it before on this blog.) But I'd never sat down and listened to the whole album, which was released a couple years ago and grew to be a huge cult classic among teens.

The show is based on a YA novel of the same name, and the story follows that of a teen boy, Jeremy, who purchases a quantum supercomputer that promises to help him act cool so he'll be popular. It backfires when it turns out that supercomputer kind of wants to take over the world, so he has to shut it down and go back to living life in the world of uncertainty (aka regular life).

This one started off kind of blah, but then it grew on me -- I got to the top six and had real trouble kicking any out. So let's see what finally made it to the top five.

5. Be More Chill (Pt. 1)
This song happens right after the computer (aka the SQUIP) implants itself in Jeremy's brain. It immediately starts judging everything he does, from the way he walks to the way he speaks to the way he dresses. I have to admit part of my love for this song came from falling in love with Eric William Morris' voice, which just oozes confidence and coolness in this tune. But it's also just a lot of fun, particularly in the second half, where the Squip guides Jeremy through a conversation with the popular girls at school.

4. The Squip Song
This is an early song where Jeremy learns from his classmate Rich how great the Squip was for him. This song has gone in and out in my love for it, but when I love it, it's like 90% because of the line, "IT'S FROM JAPAAAAAAAAAN" which is just way too much fun. And it's kind of hilarious that Rich explains what the Squip is, and when Jeremy is like, "I don't get it," Rich just says, "It's from Japan" and then repeats exactly what he just said. I love how ominous the middle part of the song sounds compared to the beginning and end -- some musical foreshadowing that the Squip might not be as great as it sounds.

3. The Smartphone Hour (Rich Set a Fire)
This song climbed up my list the more I got to know it, partly because it is way too much fun to sing along with. It's an obvious homage to Bye Bye Birdie's "The Telephone Hour" but with more entertaining lyrics and a darker undertone of glorying in someone else's tragedy as long as you have the full story about it. I watched an interview with Joe Iconis recently where he talked about it as his big six-minute dance song that he didn't have to have in the show, and he kind of kept waiting for to get cut, and then it just never did. I'm glad it didn't, because it makes me smile so much every time I get to belt out, "Rich set a fire and he burned down the house, WHOOOOOOAAAA!"

2. The Pitiful Children
I mentioned on song #5 how much I loved Eric William Morris in this cast recording, and this is his big evil villain song, and it's so much fun -- a great combination of OBVIOUS villain sound with ostensibly compassionate lyrics and then these hilarious little "beep boop beep boop" interludes which just highlight how ridiculous and over-the-top this whole thing is. It is so much fun to listen to and sing along with, and if I didn't love the #1 choice so very, very much it easily would have won.

1. Michael in the Bathroom
Yeah, there wasn't much doubt that this was going to win this one. I discovered this apparently all the way back in 2014 and have loved it ever since. The best part of doing this album survivor playlist style was that I got to hear this song every day on my way to work, and there were some days when I really needed to belt along with it. It's an awesome song that didn't lose anything through repeated listening -- though I suspect it wouldn't. I know for a fact it's one of the few songs I have listened to on repeat at various points in my life. It's just so good.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

A Brief Musing on Church

About a week ago I was listening to a podcast where someone had been discussing the community she used to find in church and then transitioned to discussing the community she found in the comedy scene, but then that got a disclaimer as well. She said something along the lines of, "Some people think you should put the community above everything, and I'm like, 'No, that community isn't going to protect me.'"

And it was like a punch to the gut with the realization that that's been exactly the feeling I've had about the church for years now.

The church is not going to protect me.

It's so obviously not going to protect me. Never in any of my years growing up did that ever even cross my mind as a possible function of the church.

And yet, I feel like that must be an element of any true community. Protection, security, safety, the sense that you can go in there and be all right because the people there are on your side. Because that's when you grow.

I have never felt like anyone in church was on my side.

In all my deepest struggles, my most passionate moments, so many times the church immediately jumped to spouting out verses to prove me wrong, rather than protection -- wrapping their arms around me (metaphorically, anyway) and keeping me safe. I think it comes out of a desire to see people do the "right" thing, and the idea that tough love is the truest love, and so any time they see me going down a path that is not what they believe is right for them they have the urge to fix it. I think it CAN be well-intentioned... but it makes it not safe. There have been so many times where I'm TRYING to follow God the best I know how, only to be abandoned by his people because I like an Eminem song or I learn from a Rob Bell book or I vote for a Democrat or I have a tough time going to church. (All things that have actually become huge rifts between me and other Christians.)

This is one of the many reasons I have so much baggage dealing with it now. Church is a battleground for me. Church is a place where I must be ready at any moment to protect myself, because those around me won't help me. Stepping into my church puts me on the defensive. And since I only hear from God in moments of openness and vulnerability, and I can never let down my guard in church, I can never hear from God in church.

Friday, February 8, 2019

"Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band" by Yoko Ono (150 Albums By Women #136)

NPR compiled a list of the 150 greatest albums created by women. I've decided to listen to these albums, from #150 all the way up to #1. But to give myself a bit of forward momentum and have a sense of when I was "done" with each album, my method is to listen to the album one time all the way through, then with each subsequent listen, I'd remove my least favorite. This lets me listen to the best ones most frequently without having to sit through too many that didn't work for me at all.

Last time I announced that my next album would be #137, Ofra Haza's "Fifty Gates of Wisdom." Well, halfway through my survivor playlist listen of that, it was actually removed from Spotify. Sheesh. So I moved onto Yoko Ono's "Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band" album instead, which I anticipated would be the most challenging listen of the entire project so far.

It's only six songs long on the original version (I opted not to include bonus tracks that got added later), but avant-garde music is so not my thing that I found myself completely at a loss after the first listen to find anything positive about it, but I kept chugging along. And then, on the last two songs... it somehow clicked? I was astonished, but I actually kind of dug these last two by the fifth listen.

A top 5 is ridiculous for an album with only six tracks, but I will share my thoughts on those top two. So here we go.

2. Greenfield Morning I Pushed an Empty Baby Carriage All Over the City
This apparently has lyrics going on (the title lyrics, it appears) but the sound of this is pretty intriguing to me. It's one of the more musical pieces, and definitely an atmospheric one. The title apparently references a miscarriage, and there's a very empty melancholy feel to this one. Ono's voice is not as abrasive as it is in some of the other pieces, making it easier to lapse into the emotional tone of it.

1. Why
And everything I just said about the previous track doesn't apply to this. This IS abrasive and busy and obnoxious, with Ono wailing what I believe is the word "Why" over and over again in various vocal styles. John Lennon is on guitar here, and the guitar sounds great -- providing a much-needed musical foundation for Ono to essentially riff all over. One review I read called this track "primal," and that's absolutely the right feel here. I'm so fascinated by it.

The albums I've listened to thus far in this project, in order:
  1. The Roches - The Roches
  2. Robyn - Body Talk
  3. Norah Jones - Come Away With Me
  4. The Breeders - Last Splash
  5. Patty Griffin - Flaming Red
  6. Iris Dement - My Life
  7. Cocteau Twins - Heaven or Las Vegas
  8. Alicia Keys - Songs in A Minor
  9. The Bangles - All Over the Place
  10. Yoko Ono - Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band
  11. Oumou Sangaré - Moussolou
  12. Terri Lyne Carrington - The Mosaic Project

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Cast Album Discoveries: Newsies

I've been alternating the albums in my Top 150 Albums By Women project with cast albums, so I'll share my favorite five from these as I listen to them as well. 

This is a very specific discovery of a cast album -- the original Broadway cast version of Newsies. I grew up on the original movie, loving so many of those songs, but had never given the cast album much of a shot. Well, perhaps unsurprisingly, my top songs were mostly the ones that were written for the original movie as well. The only original song that came close to cracking the top five was "That's Rich," a song written for a character whose songs in the movie were terrible. "That's Rich" is a huge improvement, but still not quite enough to win when up against some of the truly great songs carried over from the film.

So here are my top five.

5. Santa Fe. I love the ending piece of this song, and I love that they changed that really dumb lyric from "I want space, not just air" to "I want space and fresh air." (Like... what did that even mean before? Did he have an overabundance of air in New York City?) My issue here is that despite loving Jeremy Jordan overall, I do not like him in this show, and certainly not in this song. He's not pleasant to listen to nor does his attempt at an emotional portrayal works for me. It comes around by the end, but it's a rough enough listen at the beginning that it's leaving now.

4. Seize the Day. This was never one of my favorite songs, but the reason it stuck around through #4 out of 17 songs is because of its new intro. The original version is very repetitive and goes on for a very long time, and its intro was just a slowed-down version of the rest of the song. But I absolutely love this new intro. I love the line, "Say to all the others who cannot follow through / You're still our brothers and we will fight for you." I love, "And a prayer becomes a vow." I love so much of it. Oddly, it flags for me once it gets going in the rest of the song -- but this has always been a dance-heavy song more than anything, and that loses something when just listened to.

3. The World Will Know. The final three songs on this list are all so good. There's such a delightful anthemic marching feel to this one. I don't even really have much else to say it, I just love it a lot.

2. Once and For All. This one comes into its own in the Broadway cast recording in a way that it didn't in the movie. It always felt like a kind of half-song there, while here it definitely stands out here -- obviously, since it made it to #2. The harmonies on "All of these guys who are sick of the lies getting ready to rise to the call" are stunning.

1. Carrying the Banner. It was unlikely anything other than this was ever going to win, unless the cast album version super messed it up, but they did not. It's such a delightful upbeat song, one of my favorite "wake up and go to work" songs. The last minute or so where the chorus all comes together in one giant amazing power sound is just fantastic.

Next up, I return to the Top 150 Albums by Women. I'll be listening to Ofra Haza's "Fifty Gates of Wisdom," which is on Spotify, if you would like to join me!