Here’s what I listened to in the month of June:
Talking Heads’ Stop Making Sense.
Imagine the Zoë you know and love today as a 15-year-old, combing through the CD section at her local public library looking for music she can take home and put on her iPod nano. One of those CDs happened to be the soundtrack to a documentary of live Talking Heads performances in the 1980s, called Stop Making Sense. Those MP3s have survived every computer crash, iTunes library purge and iPhone upgrades. I’ve always liked the Talking Heads because of how infectious the beats are, and it’s aged really well when ’80s music can sound dated. Fast forward to this past month, when I finally watched the movie on Amazon Prime. I really don’t know why it took me so long to watch Stop Making Sense, because it’s incredible and refreshed my appreciation for the Talking Heads’ music.
If you have no idea who the Talking Heads are, you’ll watch the movie and thoroughly enjoy it — the music is easy to understand, and it’s fun to listen to. If you do know who the Talking Heads are, you’ll watch the movie and fall deeper in love. If the Talking Heads’ music is anything, it’s kinetic — and the visuals of David Byrne running around the stage, Tina Weymouth moving in sync with her bass or keyboard and the backup dancers /additional musicians bouncing up and down with every note makes the music even fuller. There’s an energy to the music that makes you want to get up and dance. Now when I listen to the tracks, I think about how wonderful the performances are and wish that I could have been there. I’ll never be able to the studio albums that Stop Making Sense pulls from, because they pale in comparison. My favorite tracks are “Burning Down The House,” “Life During Wartime” and “Girlfriend Is Better.” I think you’ll like them too.
When I need work or driving music, one of the first bands I’ve always reached for is Real Estate. Back when Urban Outfitters used to release weekly and monthly download playlists, I found their single “It’s Real” buried in between two mediocre hipster tracks (I don’t remember specifically, but the only reason to download those UO playlists was to find the gems. I digress.) I’ve seen them at FYF and just recently in concert, where they were magnificent. They’re part of a rare breed where both the studio recordings and the live performances sound good.
Real Estate’s songs are both optimistic and wistful, which I like. The lyrics zero in on relationship disconnect, the feeling of running out of time and just general life fatigue. Real Estate’s music captures the idea that there are moments from your life that you can’t shake off of your consciousness, no matter how hard you try. “Past Lives” from Atlas is a good example of a song that parses this out — in the song, the narrator comes home to his small town and reflects on how much his life has changed in a way that makes my heart hurt. “This is not the same place I used to know / But it still has that same old sound / And even the lights on this yellow road / Are the same as when this was our town.” Real Estate is doing great work, and I wish more people listened to them.
Alabama Shakes’ Sound and Color.
I discovered Alabama Shakes via The Arcs Spotify radio station, and I will always be annoyed with myself for not exploring their music when I first heard about them last year. The radio station cycles through both of the band’s albums, but I like Sound and Color the best.
This album is deliciously complex, in both its lyrical content and its musical arrangement. Sound and Color is definitely influenced by the blues and ’60s soul, but it also sounds like it was beamed in by the most well-meaning extraterrestrials from another planet. It’s loud and intense and unapologetic and contradictory, and I am a big fan of Brittany Howard’s voice. She writes songs about trying to figure herself out and find her place in the world, and I find her point of view more interesting and relatable than most white dudes in popular music. The relationships that make up some of the song’s narratives are not rosy, but she drops lines throughout the album that show she’s most interested in being her own person, and that you can find immense power in that to make big changes in your life and others — “Future People” swirls that idea around. Alabama Shakes makes songs for people who understand that they are human. I love that.
My favorite songs off of Sound and Color are “Sound & Color,” “Don’t Wanna Fight,” “Dunes,” “Future People” and “Gimme All Your Love.” I’m patiently awaiting the next album, and I’m excited to see what they come up with next. If you’re looking for a similar sound, go for The Arcs or Leon Bridges.
Kanye West’s “Touch the Sky.”
I have a ritual at the beginning of every work week where I get in my car to go to work, turn on the ignition and put on “Touch the Sky” before pulling out of the driveway. Listening to this song is better than any pep talk I could give myself, and it is one of my personal favorite good vibes songs.
You can say or think whatever you like about Kanye West the celebrity, but you cannot deny that the man is a genius when it comes to wordplay. Rap music is more imaginative and innovative with language than most other genres, which is one of the reasons why it fascinates me. “Any pessimists I ain’t talk to them / plus I ain’t have no phone in my apart-a-ment” is one of my favorite Kanye zingers and I am glad that it exists in this world. It simultaneously exudes bravado, the feeling of ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ and a hustler’s ethos. The sample of a great 1970s song makes it even better. I dare you to play this song first thing in the morning, and not feel like you can do anything you set your mind to.
What have you been listening to lately? Let’s talk about it in the comments.