This is my favorite MGMT song. (Sorry, Kids.) It is a small gem that really captures the MGMT magic. At only two minutes and thirty seconds, it might feel a little bit like a toss-off. It starts off wavering, then it gets all climactic. But doesn’t overstay its welcome. That’s the trick with really catchy things: it’s tempting take a good hook and hammer it to exhaustion. But you gotta leave ’em wanting more. Just when you’re pumped for it to build up for another round, it ends. It’s magic like that. MGMT are a band who know their way around a really good hook, but don’t take themselves to seriously, and that’s magic too.
Well, that slid right in and out of my brain with zero traction. It’s like sparkling seltzer water for the mind. This kind of bubbly ambient pop has become its own very lucrative market, since companies discovered it makes great background music for showcasing shiny lifestyles. That’s probably not Brian Eno had in mind when he conceptualized ‘music you don’t have to pay attention to’. In his case it was some kind of an elevated artistic statement. Nowadays it’s big money. The Norwegian duo Royksopp are leaders in the ambient pop field today, because evidently there’s something in the air up there that makes people want to compose frosty electronic soundscapes.
A Bothered Mind was the R.L. Burnside’s final album, recorded the year before his death. You sure wouldn’t guess it from the sound of it, though. You wouldn’t guess that Burnside’s doctor had told him to knock it off with the drinking and he was having trouble playing as he used to. Blues musicians just keep on knockin’ until they knock on over, I guess. Burnside, for one, played with the burning enthusiasm of a successful man with decades of failure and obscurity to make up for.
The Real Tuesday Weld is music for salting your absinthe with your tears. The Real Tuesday Weld comes to you from an alternate universe where La Belle Epoque never ended. It’s a universe where the world is more refined and beautiful but no less sad, and where you, the constant listener, still can’t find a lover who stays.
Yes, more Pet Shop Boys! Because I really want to listen to a lot of sad gay music. I want to capture that feeling when you’re dancing on the outside but melancholy on the inside. Part of the hands-in-the-air scene but aloof from it. If you’re the sort who goes out dancing a lot, you know that there’s an underlying sadness that’s just part of the scene. Happily settled people don’t go out to clubs. Clubs are full of lonely people hoping to banish their loneliness through the euphoria of spasmodic movement. It’s inherently sad because the feeling is transient, the sloppy attempts to connect with strangers usually fall flat, and you wake up the next day with a hangover. The music written for clubs isn’t generally allowed to acknowledge that, because nobody wants to bring the dancefloor screeching to a halt. Pet Shop Boys are one of the few who allow you to dance it out to your melancholy. Throw you hands up in the air as you contemplate the saddening complexity of life.
Sade says very profound, simple things about love. Though she writes about heartbreak a lot, she never comes off as a sad person. She makes it sound like a storm to be weathered, from which she emerges with her strength intact. That makes her some kind of throwback as a songwriter. Her stoicism and ability to find poetic beauty in pain is timeless. It’s also antithetical to modern songwriting, which wants to view heartbreak as trauma and breakups as a series of petty grievances. Right now is the age of confessional songwriting, in which everything is messy and ugly and raw, and that is in many ways cathartic. But though songwriters like Kristine Flaherty (K.Flay) who paint themselves as messed-up and dysfunctional are easy to relate to (and I admire them for that), the old-fashioned grace of Sade is something to aspire to.
Amy Winehouse had a lot of problems in her short life. (Watch the film Amy for all the tragic details.) Not least of those was her absolute devotion to a man who was little more than a crackhead and petty criminal. In the years of her rise to fame, and subsequent breakdown, her life revolved around him; even when he left her for another woman, even when he used her fame and money to gain access to drugs and more drugs, even when he was sent to prison. It was that masochistic loyalty, as much as her musical talent, that set Winehouse apart from other singers and put her in the Billie Holiday torch singer playbook. Glamorizing bad relationships with bad men is way past being acceptable anymore, and even in 2006 it was disturbing. Except that, in all of her obvious sincerity and turmoil, no one could accuse Amy Winehouse of trying to glamorize anything. She knew damn well her choices were bad, she just couldn’t help herself.