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!