Tune Time: June 2016

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.

Real Estate.

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.

Both Days and Atlas are wonderful albums, so start with both of those. If you like Real Estate, consider exploring Fleet Foxes, Mac Demarco or Grizzly Bear‘s tunes.

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.

Link Party: 4/4-4/8

A little bit of rain.
A little bit of rain.

Here’s what I read this week:

1. This 9-year-old reporter and her community news efforts make me so proud.

2. This is a stupendous feature on Yellowstone National Park and its wildlife. This is a must-read.

3. The work of professional taste testers.

4. Read about the guy who recorded, tamed and sold nature sounds to America.

5. This story about a real estate family that shaped 19th century New York is a wild ride. Before the Trumps, there were the Wendels.

And a bonus: The Smithsonian’s Museum of Natural History archives.

Have a great weekend.

Culture Connoisseur: The Top 10 Albums of My College Experience

Music of all genres has always been a significant part of my life. Here are a few of the vinyl records I enjoy most.
Music of all genres has always been a significant part of my life. Here are a few of the vinyl records I enjoy most.

The other night I tweeted about how I tend to associate music and books. I like to listen to music while I read or do homework (which usually involves reading anyway) and can often think of a book or album and what I was reading or listening to at the time. I also realized that there are certain albums that I associate with particular times of my life. As I approach graduation from college, I’ve been thinking about the albums that have had some kind of personal significance for me in the last four years. Here are the top 10 albums that have marked my college experience.

1. AM by Arctic Monkeys

I have been listening to Arctic Monkeys since I was 13 (it was one of the first albums I uploaded to iTunes and put on my iPod nano), and will wax poetic over the band’s entire discography for days. But what has a special place in my heart is AM, which came out in 2013. I saw the band perform three times for the AM era, and know 98 percent of the lyrics. This, I feel, will be an album that I will never get tired of. “Do I Wanna Know?” is my text tone. I have the digital version, the CD and the vinyl. Out of all of the albums on this list, it is definitely the most personal. AM reminds me of September nights, driving in Los Angeles and relationships that didn’t work out.

2. Modern Vampires of the City by Vampire Weekend

This is also another deeply personal album for me, and the record that made me a Vampire Weekend fan. I still enjoy dissecting the lyrics of MVotC, which deal with time and mortality and love and sense of belonging, amongst other things. I also got to see Vampire Weekend while it was promoting the album, and I desperately want to go again. This album reminds me of my school commutes, dancing around in my bedroom and rainy days.

3. Yeezus by Kanye West

This album is what made me a true believer in Kanye West and his cultural significance. Yeezus also changed my life. It is my go-to “gotta get shit done” album, and I find something new to analyze with every listen. This is not an easy album to listen to, but I think it’s the perfect example of just how powerful music can really be. Yeezus reminds me of many late, sticky summer nights.

4. Days and Atlas by Real Estate

This is a 2-for-1, but I discovered Real Estate in my second year of college and fell in love with the beachy sound. Atlas came out in 2014, and I have had it in heavy rotation. I also like how both albums talk about what it feels like to be displaced from home. Real Estate in general reminds me of both Berkeley and Washington, my discovery of lattes, and cold-but-bright winter weekends.

5. Sunbathing Animal by Parquet Courts

I believe my good friend Valerie recommended Parquet Courts to me, and I like Sunbathing Animal‘s balance between sentimental lyrics and good old fashioned rocking out. This is also a “gotta get shit done” kind of album for me, which has gotten me through many papers and planning sessions. This album reminds me of walking around on campus, feeling like a badass for the great things I said in class or about to go take care of business.

6. Is This It? by The Strokes

This is kind of a cheat, because I discovered The Strokes in high school (Side bar: I was in love with the friend of the boy next door [who I had never interacted with] and I found out through his MySpace account [this was like, ninth or 10th grade so don’t judge me on any of this] that he loved The Strokes) and have loved the band ever since, but I have found myself returning to Is This It? over and over again in the last four years. For me, it’s one of those albums you can play all the way through without skipping anything. I guess it’s my safety blanket. And “Someday” has been resonant for me at many points in the last four years. Is This It? reminds me of listening to vinyl records in my bedroom and doodling lyrics in cursive all over my French notebooks.

7. 2 and Salad Days by Mac DeMarco

I discovered Mac DeMarco last year through my brother Graeme. Graeme doesn’t like him much anymore, but I have a soft spot for Mac DeMarco. He’s a very weird dude with very weird preferences, but his music can be very tender. “Ode to Viceroy” and “Let My Baby Stay” are two very good examples of both the former and the latter, and happen to be my personal favorites. These albums remind me of Burgerama with Graeme and the Law siblings, the last summer at Public Affairs and multiple trips to and through San Bernardino.

8. Dead Man’s Bones by Dead Man’s Bones

I bought this album on a whim in October of my freshman year, mostly because Ryan Gosling was in it. I distinctly remember sitting in the library between classes, previewing this album on iTunes and immediately falling in love. It has sort of morbid subject matter, but it is very earnest and endearing. “In the Room Where You Sleep” comes to mind. Dead Man’s Bones reminds me of fall quarters and walking to a deserted parking lot after 7 to 8:50 p.m. statistics lectures.

9. If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late by Drake

This is a very recent addition to the list, but a great one. I had never listened to much Drake before this mixtape came out, and we listen to it constantly in the Poly Post newsroom. If I remember anything about my Poly Post experience, it will be our spirit animal Ferlinda Shedricks (don’t ask), “apparently” and this mixtape. It also has got some fantastic lines that I have made a part of my vocabulary, and I listen to a song from this album at least once a day. If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late reminds me of Sunday deadline night and boba runs.

10. George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue

Between my second and third summers of college, I started watching a lot of Woody Allen movies. The opening scene of Manhattan references Rhapsody in Blue, and when I looked it up I fell in love. Rhapsody in Blue is the aural version of my life. It is nothing like the other albums on this list, but discovering Rhapsody in Blue is a hallmark of my attempts to widen my cultural horizons and appreciate art to the fullest. I will never forget seeing it performed live at the Hollywood Bowl last summer. Rhapsody in Blue makes me feel invincible and bold.

My honorary mentions include Allah-Las, Albert Hammond Jr., Spoon, Divine Fits, The Shins, Beirut, Arcade Fire, The Police, Fleet Foxes and The Black Keys.

Do you have albums that you associate with particular points in your life? Let’s talk about it in the comments.