That Brunette Celebrates New Single “Capricorn Moon” with a Song for Every Star Sign

Photo Credit: Fred Attenborough

Like your personal life coach, Audiofemme favorite Madeline Mondrala has returned with a new That Brunette jam called “Capricorn Moon,” and it’s all about rebirth, reframing negative thought patterns, and tapping into creative energy. “The sign of Capricorn is known for its practicality, self discipline, ability to build strong foundations, and impeccable work ethic,” she explains. “New moons mark the beginning of new cycles so I think the combination of those energies in tandem with the state of my personal growth at the time allowed me to see my negative thoughts for what they were; thoughts. It felt like a veil was lifted and I was able to interpret my life and myself from a perspective of love rather than judgement.”

Written during a new moon in Capricorn, and recorded with her friend and producer Ariel Loh (Yoke Lore, Drinker, Cape Francis, Gold Child) at his home studio in Queens, “Capricorn Moon” bursts with positive, motivational vibes. “All I needed was a little time,” repeats That Brunette’s breathy vocals before detailing the steps of her emotional growth: “Excavation/It’s the death of old perception/Took the long way/Wasn’t easy/Trusted in my intuition.”

That Brunette says the song is about shifting your perspective from negative to positive in the wake of a personal failure. “It tells the story of my path to forgiving my past self in order to love my present self. I learned when life pulls you apart, it’s an opportunity to put the pieces back together in a new, beautiful way,” she says.

“It describes a mental shift that took place for me when I decided to move away from self loathing and into self love and acceptance. Something about the Capricorn energy at the time gave me so much clarity and motivation to turn the page and enter the next phase of my life with confidence and joy,” she adds. “When I hear the song it reminds me of how far I’ve come. I hope it can do the same for others.”

Xylophone chimes, throbbing synth, and handclaps give “Capricorn Moon” a non-traditional, organic beat; its meditative moods are driving, rather than calming. “The percussive upbeat energy of the drums propelled the song forward and informed the playful nature of the melody,” says Mondrala. “The song excited us so much that we finished it in only a day or two.” “Capricorn Moon” is the first single from That Brunette’s upcoming EP Dark / Cute, also produced by Loh.

That Brunette is something of an astrology buff – this isn’t the first time she’s looked to the stars for songwriting fodder. As a triple Gemini, she says she engages with the world and with creativity from a heady, intellectual place. “I’m always looking for mental stimulation in the form of wit, humor, originality, or outrageousness. Those preferences make my taste very eclectic and camp, with an undertone of contemplative introspection,” she explains. “I feel that my music totally embodies that vibe. I love to speak truth with a wink. That’s what makes my songs both lyrically interesting and danceable.”

In honor of the release of “Capricorn Moon,” That Brunette put together a playlist for Audiofemme composed of twelve tracks – each one chosen to correlate to a certain sign. For her part, she says, “I think the ultimate Gemini anthem has to be the 1997 hit ‘Bitch‘ by Meredith Brooks. The lyrics ‘I’m a bitch, I’m a lover, I’m a child, I’m a mother, I’m a sinner, I’m a saint, I do not feel ashamed’ embody the duality of being a Gemini.”

Luckily, Mondrala adds, “The people who are closest to me and who I cherish the most are able to handle all the facets of my personality that somehow manage to starkly contrast one another and exist all at once. It can be a bit exhausting sometimes but it’s never dull!”

Charlotte Sands – “Dress”

Inspired by Harry Styles’ Vogue cover, Charlotte Sands went viral on TikTok with “Dress” in December 2020. “The overall vibe of this song along with the person the lyrics describe give me major Aries vibes,” says That Brunette. “It’s super punchy, flirty, upbeat and badass!”

That Brunette – “Platonic”

“I wrote this song about a Taurus in my life who moved to another city,” explains Mondrala. “Their energy had grounded me so much that when they left I felt like a balloon floating out into the ether.” When Audiofemme premiered this song at the end of last year, she pointed out that “platonic love… can be just as profound and transformative as romantic love” – a message Taureans can certainly appreciate, since they’re ruled by Venus and known as one of the most loyal signs.

girl in red – “Serotonin”

Norwegian singer-songwriter Marie Ulven is brutally honest as she rattles off her darkest urges on her alternative-tinged tune “Serotonin,” co-produced by Billie Eilish collaborator/sibling FINNEAS. That Brunette can relate to girl in red’s almost frightening rawness. “I struggle with intrusive and negative thoughts and when I heard this song I felt seen,” she says. “Since Geminis are so word-oriented, a lot of time our anxiety can manifest itself in words too. It feels like your brain is using its own nature against you. This song embodies that dissonance perfectly.” girl in red’s anticipated debut album if i could make it go quiet drops April 30th via AWAL.

SOPHIE – “It’s Okay To Cry”

SOPHIE was nothing short of a musical visionary, and her fatal fall from a tower in Greece in January 2021 was especially shocking. But the lead single from her first (and sadly, only) proper studio album, 2018’s Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides, provided a powerful, almost prescient message to embrace our most uncomfortable moods. “RIP Sophie and thank you for this beautiful song. It always makes me think of the sensitive Cancers in my life,” says Mondrala. “I’m drawn to their watery emotional energy because I have none in my chart!”

Young Baby Tate (feat. Flo Milli) – “I Am”

“This is the ultimate self-empowerment song,” says That Brunette. “Leos are amazing at asserting themselves confidently. This song helps me get into that manifestation mindset that comes so easily to them.” In fact, the Atlanta-based Tate Sequoya Farris told Rolling Stone that her latest EP, After the Rain (on which “I Am” appears), was written as a way of talking herself through a difficult breakup – so feel free to put it on when you need some affirmation, no matter your sign.

Qveen Herby – “Sade In The 90s”

“I’m allergic to the bullshit,” claims Qveen Herby in her 2018 ode to iconic smooth jazz singer Sade, going on to prescribe orange soda and Deepak Chopra as essentials for her self-care routine. “Virgos are so good at living in the flow,” Mondrala says. “This song is all about filling your own cup and taking good care of yourself inside and out so your light can shine as bright as possible.” Qveen Herby’s “I keep it moving/Put that shit behind me” mantra definitely reflects that practical Virgo nature.

Taylor Swift – “gold rush”

Libras are my kryptonite – effortlessly cool, beautiful, charismatic, just out of reach,” admits Mondrala. “The person Taylor describes in this song has such Libra energy to me.” Swift characterizes that person as someone that everybody wants on the evermore fan favorite, so much so that she has to remind herself not to be charmed by their magnetism – a trait Libras are definitely known for.

That Brunette – “Coolest Girl”

Scorpios can be very beguiling – independent, emotional, ambitious, and intense, they’re one of the most misunderstood signs, and they actually prefer to remain mysterious. “I wrote this song for a Scorpio in my life,” says Mondrala. “They really are the coolest aren’t they?” That Brunette’s slinky synths meet a surprising twang on the track, almost like the seemingly contradictory characteristics of those Scorpios who always keep us guessing.

King Princess – “Cheap Queen”

The surreal video for “Cheap Queen” tells you everything you need to know about a Sagittarius – their curiosity and quirky sense of humor make them irresistible and fun to be around. Mondrala says, “Listen, Sags can hang! They know how to take care of themselves and those around them. This song song gives off that chill, self assured, yet slightly lonely Sagittarius vibe.” As it turns out, King Princess is actually a Sagittarius – but told Vulture that the song was more an homage to the queer community than an autobiography: “We are all cheap queens. It’s a drag term for someone who is resourceful, who makes something out of nothing, who is a creator on a budget. That’s how I feel.”

That Brunette – “Capricorn Moon”

“This song is all about learning from your past and taking failure as an opportunity to rebuild a better more fully realized version of yourself,” Mondrala reiterates. “Capricorns are masters of practicality. They look at everything logically which can be very helpful when you’re in the process of evolution.” On this song, That Brunette acts as a conduit for that redirection, whispering “Do you feel it too?” like your reliable Capricorn friend might.

Vagabon – “Water Me Down”

Brooklyn singer-songwriter Laetitia Tamko, aka Vagabon, is a bit of a kindred spirit when it comes to pulling inspiration from the zodiac; she opened her 2019 self-titled debut with a track called “Full Moon in Gemini.” Also from that record, “Water Me Down” hinges on the indignation of being misunderstood – a definite Aquarius trait. “Aquarians do not compromise who they are for anyone,” says That Brunette. “This song has a subtle strength to it that definitely reminds me of Aquarius people in my life.” 

Olivia Rodrigo – deja vu

The latest track from “the Pisces queen herself” packs all of the emotional punch Rodrigo’s sign is typically known for. Pisces often fall fast and hard when it comes to relationships, and can have a hard time letting go. Telling the story of an old flame who has moved on to a new relationship only to go through the same motions with someone oddly similar, “deja vu” seethes with heartbreak and bitterness. But belting “So when you gonna tell her that we did that too?” – maybe while driving through your exes’ suburb – is perfect for indulging in a little Pisces-style catharsis.

PLAYING CHICAGO: 15 Songs to Usher in Spring

Spring is just around the corner – but this is Chicago. Anything can happen. It has snowed in April here (cue Prince). Luckily, neither the lingering chill in the air nor the ongoing pandemic can stop the city’s creative pulse. There are dozens of releases from exciting, rising musicians set to bloom later with the season – until then, these songs (some of which you might’ve missed in the last year) have been keeping us warm and dancing while the rest of winter melts away. 

Demetruest – “Blouse Undone”

In under two minutes, singer/rapper Demetruest (a.k.a Demetruis Spidle) delivers a tightly-woven rap allegory over a fierce loop of abstract beats on “Blouse Undone.” Tracking the end of day, when hardworking folks can undo a button or two and find some after-hours relief amid life’s challenges, their lyrical repetition echoes the monotony of the every day while leaving space to celebrate surviving it. Each of the songs on their EP Direction tells a story of identity, but this one’s catchiness sticks with you.

Rat Tally – “Shrug”

With this cold and fuzzy break-up tune, Rat Tally – the musical moniker of Addy Harris – reconciles the need for closure, with the help of her guitar (solo as well as swallowed by muffled layers of distortion). Her take on grunged-up pop bubbles beneath journal-like lyrics, underscored by just a hint of precociousness and wink-delivering stand out one liners like “I wanna throw a fit, fuck, then forget it.” Harris’ vocal quiver will no doubt draw comparisons to the likes of Phoebe Bridgers and others in her indie rock company, but nowhere in my book is that a bad thing.

Pixel Grip – “Pursuit”

The goth disco is open. A dark, seductive middle-finger to making “good” choices, synthesizers grind against the hypnotic thump grounding Pixel Grip’s exciting single, “Pursuit.” Described as being about “surrendering your desires to be someone who is bad for you,” singer Rita Lukea captures an almost-desperate longing vocally, as a sinister bassline heightens the track’s overall sense of urgency.

Serena Isioma – “Meadows in Japan”

“Meadows in Japan” encourages you to get lost in a fantasy before crash-landing back to reality, while warm melodies invite you into singer/rapper Serena Isioma’s sun-kissed idea of romance. A tempo change disrupts its easy simplicity and takes you to the other side – an “I love you, but I love me more” reflection that isn’t out of character on an EP titled The Leo Sun Sets. As the beat progresses, it unravels much like Isioma’s lyrical affections, culminating in a voicemail – which would be infuriating if it didn’t sound so good.

KeiyaA – “Negus Poem 1&2” Forever, Ya Girl

On her debut album Forever, Ya Girl, KeiyaA weaves observation and meditation into R&B poetry across 16 tracks – but nowhere is the synthesis more complete than on “Negus Poem 1&2.” The track captures the feel of live jazz improvisation, bucking conventional form with the exception of its chorus-turned-chant and fading into a spoken word excerpt, a sonic template repeated in interludes across the album. KeiyaA makes it clear why she’s making music and who she’s making it for: just listen.

Tenci – “Joy”

Tenci’s soft, warbly twang tells the story of “Joy” – the title could refer to a person or personified emotion, but either way, it’s devastatingly fleeting. A song that feels both hopeful and grief-stricken, the soft strumming of the guitar becomes hypnotic as singer-songwriter Jess Shoman outlines a lullaby of sorts. Set amongst other stellar tracks on My Heart is an Open Field, a bit weathered by time and heartache, “Joy” feels like the beginning of something a bit bigger.

Sol Patches – “Couleur” (feat. Dani Ochoa-Bravo)

Three years after 2018’s Blue Transitions, Sol Patches dropped Vivid Image in February. While the release itself was a surprise, its quality is not. A journey in itself, “Couleur” confronts realities of the Black, Trans experience in America. As Ochoa-Bravo leads you to Sol Patches’ no-holds-barred verse, expressing as much anger as resolution, Sol reminds you why they’ve been so missed.

Mia Joy – “Haha”

One of the most anticipated releases of the year, “Haha” was released in January as the first single from Mia Joy’s debut LP Spirit Tamer, due May 2021. Singer Mia Rocha’s amplified whisper floats above a gentle cascade of synths and strings; enveloping the listener in a beautiful – if not a bit melancholy – ambience. Ushering in change, be it physical, mental, spiritual or otherwise, can be chaotic at times. Let Mia Joy guide you with a more meditative hand.

HLDAY MAGIK – “LUV IS MDTATN (love is meditation)”

A collection of understated, lo-fi pop tracks, singer Pamela Maurer – known as Baby Money – introduced new project Hlday Magik in February with the Music 4 Ur Ears EP. Across seven songs, Maurer explores various vocal textures and the boundaries of her bedroom production aesthetic, but the must-hear is “LUV IS MDTATN.” Without overwhelming her hushed coo, minimal instrumentation serves as the glue holding the vulnerable confessional together. It’s simply lovely.

Jackie Hayes – “Eye 2 Eye”

A bass-driven rocker, Jackie Hayes found inspiration in new wave on latest single “Eye 2 Eye.” A little grimy – with the potential for a big, noisy payoff in a future live setting – the song details the frustration that comes with self-growth, reinvention, and expectation (or lack thereof). Luckily, Hayes left some space to take out said frustrations on the dance floor.

Carlile – “Restart”

A house music-inspired cardio circuit of a song, Carlile sends her brand of pop into overdrive.  A maximalist club track, “Restart” showcases the artist’s developing style and increasingly biting turn of phrase. Racing against time and dwindling patience, Carlile demands a breakthrough. Let it go.

Brittney Carter – “Prove ‘Em Wrong” As I Am

One of the best LPs of 2020, Brittney Carter’s relentlessly focused As I Am is a force. On “Prove ‘Em Wrong,” she makes sure you’ve been listening. Delivering every syllable smoothly, Carter raps with enviable self-assurance regardless of the story she’s telling. Rhythms unrushed (even sparse on other tracks), she makes sure to give every word the attention it deserves – respecting her music as a natural extension of herself.

Tink – “CAP”

Tink has had enough and she’s got a list of grievances for the fuckboys on “CAP,” appearing on 2020 EP A Gift and a Curse. She’s concise within the three-minute track, her flow poised despite “cleaning up the mess” she sings of. With a catalog of songs calling for women to stand in their worth, respect and desire, “CAP” and its earwormy hook (“too many lies, too many hoes, too many bitches”) is another one for the Tink canon.

Ashlee Bankz – “Big Boss Livin’”

Ashlee Bankz released a handful of tracks in 2020, but none were quite like “Big Boss Livin’.” In a year that needed any excuse for celebration, Bankz – undeniably dexterous vocally – directed that energy toward herself with this rapid-fire ode to moving up. There’s no filler here, no room for apology or humility. It feels good to flex; let Bankz take this minute and a half to remind you.

Astrachan – “Ladakh”

A delightful familiarity rings from Astrachan’s “Ladakh.” Its folksy, Laurel Canyon-feel dances with bits of psychedelia to lull the listener into songwriter Ben Astrachan’s memory. Building a pretty dreamy atmosphere, heightened by clever flairs of clarinet and flute, the artist’s namesake band is as charming as it is promising; be on the look out for a self-titled release due May 2021.

How I Fell in Love With 7-inch Singles and Why They Still Matter

ONLY NOISE explores music fandom with poignant personal essays that examine the ways we’re shaped by our chosen soundtrack. This week, Beth Winegarner flips through an old collection and finds it relevant even today.

When I was a teenager, I had a ritual every Saturday afternoon. My mom and I would go to Coddingtown, the Santa Rosa shopping center immortalized on Primus’ Brown Album, and I would make a beeline for International Imports, which sold rock-band posters and T-shirts and had a small, well-curated rack of 7-inch vinyl singles.

I was methodical. I would flip through the singles alphabetically, fingertips brushing against the colorful paper sleeves, working my way from A-Ha to Dweezil Zappa. I wasn’t a completist; I didn’t need copies of every single, not even every single by my favorite musicians. With an allowance of five bucks a week, I couldn’t afford to be.

My love of music started when I was about 10, with albums like Cyndi Lauper’s She’s So Unusual, Duran Duran’s Seven and the Ragged Tiger and Madonna’s self-titled debut. I spent my afternoons and weekends listening to them over and over, flipping the cassettes every 20 minutes in my cheap plastic boombox. When an album didn’t come with a lyric sheet, I would lie on the floor in my room with a notepad and pencil, the tape deck close by, stopping the tape after every line to write down the words, rewinding when I needed to hear it again to puzzle out what they were singing.

Music dropped me straight down into my feelings, which were swirling thanks to puberty. Music made me want to cry, laugh, move my body. It made me want to kiss the boy in my class that I’d had a crush on since fourth grade. I felt it in my heart, my belly, my arms and legs, my stomping feet. Nothing else came close to making me feel so good, or feel so much.

Sometimes I saved up my money to buy full albums on cassette, but there was always a risk that those albums were just a few hit songs and a lot of boring filler. Seven-inch singles were cheaper, and you were guaranteed at least one good song; often the B-side was great, but other times it was a dud. Partly because of the posters and t-shirts, International Imports was my favorite place to shop for singles, even though it didn’t always have the best selection. Some Saturdays the rack looked like it had been picked clean by collectors, down to its last Debbie Gibson or Phil Collins 45s.

Over time, I built a small collection of about 50 singles, several of which are now considered classics. Among them are Bon Jovi’s “Wanted Dead or Alive” (backed with “I’d Die For You”), The Cure’s “Just Like Heaven” (b/w “Breathe,” which I immediately loved more than its poppy, whirling A-side), INXS’s “Devil Inside” (b/w “On The Rocks,” an unreleased track) and Prince’s “When Doves Cry” (b/w “17 Days”).

Many others are one-hit wonders only a teenager in the mid-1980s could love. Does anyone else remember Icehouse’s “Electric Blue,” Noel’s “Like a Child,” Times Two’s “Strange But True,” The System’s “Don’t Disturb This Groove” or Pebbles’ “Girlfriend?” If you’re a true aficionado of ‘80s music, sure. I have them all on 7-inch vinyl, and I’m not sure I would still remember them if I didn’t.

Although we shopped regularly in Santa Rosa, a medium-sized Northern California city, I lived 12 miles away in Forestville, an unincorporated town that had a population of just a few thousand. We didn’t get access to cable television – and hence MTV – until 1987. Before then, I relied on popular radio stations and the DJs at our school dances to find out about new music, and as a result my tastes were strictly mainstream. The vast majority of the singles I bought were from stars popular with teens, including Tiffany, Duran Duran, Madonna and Wham! But several are a reminder of how R&B and rap mingled with pop at the top of the charts, then as now: Rockwell, Terence Trent D’Arby, New Edition, Billy Ocean, Salt N’ Pepa.

The Saturday-afternoon Coddingtown visits were only part of the ritual. Once we got home, I would immediately listen to any singles I’d picked up. We had a respectably nice Sony record player in our family room, although that meant either subjecting my parents and little brother to the latest hits, or sitting on the floor with headphones as the songs played in my ears, since the cord didn’t reach to the couch or my dad’s recliner. More commonly, I listened to them in my room with the doors closed. I had one of those portable turntables that folds up like a small plastic suitcase, the outside decorated to look like it was made of patchwork denim. The turntable’s small, single speaker made everything sound tinny and far away, but being able to enjoy my favorite songs on my own terms made up for a lot.

I dreamed of buying a jukebox – I could load all my 45s in it, and choose among them at the push of a button! The sound quality would be much better, and I could listen to a dozen songs in a row without having to get up and change the record every three to five minutes. I had no idea, at the time, how much a jukebox would cost. Finally I saw one listed in my dad’s Sharper Image catalogue, and my heart stopped when I saw the price: about $10,000. There was no way I would ever be able to afford that, and no way I could convince my parents to buy one for me.

My love of 45s came just as the format was on its way out. Seven-inch singles existed throughout the 20th century, and were hugely popular in the 1950s through the 1970s, when they made popular music easily portable for the first time. Sales were already on the wane by the 1980s, although it was still standard procedure for pop artists to release their latest hits on 45-rpm vinyl. Some record companies lured buyers by wrapping the singles in a large poster, folded to create a kind of envelope, although that left you without a sleeve if you wanted to put the poster up. My copy of Duran Duran’s “The Reflex” spends its days in a sleeve I made out of printer paper after I pinned the promotional poster to my wall. The poster is long gone, but the paper sleeve I made remains.

Seven-inch singles carried me through from the beginning of my passion for music until 1987, the year I turned 14. It was a year of big shifts, both for me and for the 7-inch single. That was the year American record companies largely abandoned vinyl singles in favor of the cassette single, the unfortunately nicknamed “cassingle.” It was also the year I gained access to MTV and the year I entered high school, leaving my pre-teen tastes behind me. Glam-metal and hard rock were on the rise, particularly bands such as Dokken, Poison, Guns N’ Roses, Motley Crue and Whitesnake. My collection of 45s reflects this; some of my last purchases include “Wanted Dead Or Alive” and Def Leppard’s “Love Bites” (b/w a live version of “Billy’s Got a Gun”).

International Imports stopped selling 7-inch singles and I stopped buying them, although I kept visiting for things like posters and shirts, plus more “international” items like funky jewelry and nag champa incense. I turned away from pop and R&B and towards anything featuring electric guitars and scruffy-looking male howlers. And instead of buying cassingles – which needed flipping just as often as a 45 but lacked the elegant ritual of moving the needle, turning the vinyl over and setting the needle in the groove – I recorded videos from MTV’s Hard 60 and Headbanger’s Ball and watched them repeatedly until my tapes just about gave out.

I still have all my 45s, tucked alphabetically inside a specially designed box on a shelf with the rest of my vinyl records. I rarely listen to them anymore, but I can’t bear to sell them or give them away. A few musicians today release their singles on 7-inch records, mainly as collectors items, but it’s rarely musicians whose music I love. The most recent vinyl single in my hoard is “Backworlds” by Lusk, a psychedelic rock band co-founded by former Tool bassist Paul D’Amour; I received it as a promo when I wrote a feature about Lusk in 1997.

Record collecting is often thought of as a man’s activity, epitomized in Nick Horby’s High Fidelity (and the movie based on it). There’s an assumption that only men would be so obsessive, so knowledgeable, so nerdy – or that it’s a club to which women are not allowed to belong. As academic Emily Easton has pointed out, research on record collecting has pretty much excluded women, even though there are plenty of female vinyl nerds out there. “Records remain one of the most important forms of objectified cultural capital in many musical communities because they have been recognized as a symbol of musical expertise and investment,” Easton says. “Understanding how women have participated in these practices contributes to an emerging body of knowledge on the experience of the female music fans and connoisseurs.”

Flipping through the singles at International Imports, it never occurred to me that my passion for collecting 45s might make me part of an unusual or under-recognized family of music fans (I mean, when Rob Gordon says he’s rearranging his albums chronologically, I knew exactly what he meant). I only knew I was following my 10-, 12-, or 14-year-old heart, bringing home the songs I loved in a format that felt good in my hands and sounded good on the turntable. Knowing now that female vinyl collectors have been sidelined and ignored makes me want to clutch my records to my chest in defiance and never give them up. Maybe someday I’ll buy myself that jukebox after all. I’ll push the buttons, flip “Pump Up The Volume” by M/A/R/R/S or “Paranoimia” by Art of Noise (featuring Max Headroom) onto the player, and dance.

HIGH NOTES: An Acid Trip on a Third Date, in Music

J and I met on Tinder and developed a relationship equal parts unconventional and beautiful. Our first date was vegan food and a late night beach walk, our second was mushrooms, and our third, perhaps the richest with meaning, was acid.

J had a few hits left over from a prior trip, which he was waiting to take with the right person. I had a few tabs a friend had given me to microdose. Together, we had enough for one hit and one re-up each.

It started off in my sunlit bedroom, with its lacy curtains and white king bed, where we each mixed the liquid with a lemon drink I’d bought and drank in down with anticipation.

Then, it transitioned to the sun, the shine of Venice Beach, where we ambled down the boardwalk, stopped to chat between cacti, and lay in sand where fleeting traces of mermaids scampered. Feeling how burned we were getting, we bought sunscreen, and he tenderly rubbed mine into my skin, a gaze of deep affection on his face. Once he was done, his eyes diverted back to the ground.

Back to the room we went, where we re-upped and put on music. After a lull in the song selections, I told him I’d channel the next song to play from above. For some reason, “Lazy Eye” by the Silversun Pickups popped into my head. I found it on Youtube.

“This song always made me sad,” I told J.


“I’ve been waiting for this moment all my life / But it’s not quite right,” I quoted the opening line. “It’s like when you’re trying to make a relationship work.” Tears came to my eyes. I couldn’t explain further.

“Did you notice something special pass between us, when you were putting on my sunscreen?” I asked as we held each other in piles of blankets and pillows.

“I know what you mean,” he said.

“I want to look you in the eye again.”

He peered up for a second, then hid his face in a blanket. “It’s scary,” he said.

“To appear sad / With the same old decent lazy eye / Fixed to rest on you / Aim free and so untrue,” the Silversun Pickups sang.

“What do you feel you need to hide?” I asked.

“Do you think I’m hiding?”

“Well, when you’re afraid to look people in the eye, there’s usually… shame.”

He buried himself further, then pulled himself up to meet my gaze at last. His eyes looked particularly beautiful in that moment, like sunflowers in a field.

My own eyes met his as I whispered, “You have nothing to hide.”

“Still the same old decent lazy eye / Straight through your gaze / That’s why I said I relate / I said we relate / It’s so fun to relate,” the music continued. “It’s the room, the sun, and the sky / The room, the sun, and the sky.”

After the room and the sun came the sky, the satellite-speckled Santa Monica sky that we lay under and talked about the siren sounds nearby, the song of the sirens, how Odysseus plugged his ears and Oedipus stabbed out his eyes.

“Everyone’s so intimately rearranged / Everyone’s so focused clearly with such shine.”

Back in the room, now full of sand from the sun and the sky, he told me about his goal to be more adventurous, inspiring me to play another song.

“I read with every broken heart / We should become more adventurous,” Rilo Kiley sang. “And if you banish me from your profits / And if I get banished from the kingdom up above / I’d sacrifice money and heaven all for love / Let me be loved / Let me be loved.”

We fell down a Rilo Kiley rabbit hole, and “The Absence of God” came on: “And Rob says you love, love, love / Then you die / I’ve watched him while sleeping / And seen him crying with closed eyes.”

He decided to go home. I wondered if the intimacy scared him. It didn’t scare me anymore.

“And Morgan says maybe love won’t let you down / All of your failures are training grounds / And just as your back’s turned / You’ll be surprised, she says / As your solitude subsides.”

Our fourth date was molly, our fifth was a cacao ceremony followed by a sex party, and our sixth was a San Pedro ceremony. After the latter, we lay in my bed talking again, and J told me about a friendship of his that almost became a relationship. “It’s like that song,” he told me. “Like what I’d been waiting for all my life… but not quite right.”

“You know,” I said, “that’s how I feel about us.”

“Me too.”

“No wonder I picked that song.”

“Nailed it.”

Then we gazed into each other’s eyes, eyes unafraid and unashamed, eyes that cried open, eyes that were more adventurous, eyes that were lazy no more.

Seven Songs Celebrating the Female Orgasm

Female sexual pleasure doesn’t get the attention it deserves, in the bedroom or in music. It’s traditionally been more common for male artists to sing about what turns them on, but that’s changing. With more and more female artists unabashedly singing about sex — and more male artists unashamed to admit they love pleasing women — women’s orgasms have come into the spotlight (no pun intended). Here are some songs celebrating female orgasms, from the subtle to the very explicit.

“Butterfly” by Crazy Town

Given that Crazy Town sings “I’ll make your legs shake,” I’m guessing they don’t just mean “come here” with the chorus “come, come my lady.” The lyrics read like an ode to a woman who is truly the narrator’s princess, paying homage to her “sex appeal” as well as the way she’s “always there to lift me up.” It’s nice to see women getting the respect (and orgasms) they deserve.


“Laid” by James

This song is fantastic in multiple ways, describing a woman who “only comes when she’s on top,” leading the neighbors to “complain about the noises above.” It also touches on gender-bending themes (“Dressed me up in women’s clothes / Messed around with gender roles”) that are accentuated by Tim Booth’s falsetto voice. The woman in the song is depicted as destructive, but they’re clearly both enjoying their “passionate love.”


“My Neck, My Back” by Khia

In this ode to cunnilingus, Khia is not afraid to ask for exactly what she wants: “Then ya suck it all ’til I shake and cum nigga / Make sure I keep bustin’ nuts nigga / All over yo’ face and stuff.” She concluded about the song’s popularity: “I guess the world is just nasty and freaky like that.”

“Get Sleazy” by Kesha

“Rat-tat-tat-tat on your dum-dum-drum / The beat so phat, gonna make me come, um, um, um, um, over to your place” might seem to just be expressing Kesha’s desire to visit a crush… if she didn’t then sing, “you really think you’re gonna get my rocks off.” I’d really love to hear whatever beat is having such a profound effect on Kesha.


“Get Low” by Liam Payne and Zedd

Don’t be fooled by Liam Payne’s innocent past as a One Direction member; this song is dirty as hell: “I’m right here, you know, when your waves explode… I like the way you touch yourself / Don’t hold back, I want that / When the water come down, I’mma get in that.” It sure sounds like he’s talking about squirting (not the same thing as orgasm, but certainly an adjacent topic).

“Sweetener” by Ariana Grande

As usual, Ariana’s being more sexual than the casual listener might expect here. Throughout the song, baking becomes a metaphor for oral sex, with lyrics like “Twist it, twist it, twist it, twist it / Mix it and mix it and mix it and mix it / Kiss it, kiss it, kiss it / You make me say oh, oh.” But the real kicker is when she sings, “I like the way you lick the bowl / Somehow your method touches my soul.” In case you were wondering, “licking the bowl” is slang for “licking cum from a girl’s pussy after she has had an orgasm,” according to the Urban Dictionary. Apparently, it’s the way to at least one woman’s soul.

“Or Nah” by Ty Dolla $ign Feat. The Weeknd, Wiz Khalifa, and DJ Mustard

Ty Dolla $ign leaves to mystery as to what he’s after, asking the object of his affections (if you could even use that word), “Do you like the way I flick my tongue or nah? / You can ride my face until you’re drippin’ cum.” You have to respect the way he asks for clear verbal consent. Still, I don’t recommend using these lyrics as pickup lines.


ONLY NOISE: Playlist for a Schoolgirl Crush

ONLY NOISE explores music fandom with poignant personal essays that examine the ways we’re shaped by our chosen soundtrack. This week, Erin Lyndal Martin shares a selection of songs that bring back the rush of a schoolgirl crush.

No matter how old you get, there’s something that stays dreamy about teenaged crushes. I call these my schoolgirl crushes, remembering the flush of excitement every time my crush asked to borrow a pencil. As we get older, schoolgirl crushes seem so much more innocent. We never worried about the bad things our crushes had done or why they’d been divorced twice or if their time management skills were lacking. We just wanted to lie on our beds and listen to songs that reminded us of their dimples.

These songs go back to those dreamy crushes. They all have an element of escape to them — slipping away from parents, from responsibility, from a place that holds you back, from anything that isn’t basking in your lover’s presence.

“The Ghost In You” by The Psychedelic Furs (Mirror Moves)
Formed in 1977, the Psychedelic Furs have explored a number of rock genres, including post-punk and New Wave.

“Ghost In You” could well be the theme song of this whole collection. “Inside you the time moves/She don’t fade,” Richard Butler sings, his thick British accent making the song all the more charming. And he’s right. When I remember my high school crush, the boy with the beautiful dimples, I remember him not as a teenager but as a man, the two of us always on the brink of a great romance.

“ocean eyes” by Billie Eilish (don’t smile at me)
Billie Eilish is a 17 year-old singer/model/dancer from Los Angeles.

The power in this song is its slow, sensual flow. Listening to it brings back how mind-blowing it was when making out was new, when every breath on your neck made you tremble on the brink of a new world. Eilish’s soprano mimics the intoxication of touching someone for the first time.

“Anthems For A Seventeen Year-Old Girl” by Broken Social Scene (You Forgot It In People)
Broken Social Scene is a Canadian musical collective comprised of members of other bands, mostly based in Toronto.

This song balances innocence and obsession in a perfectly winsome way. Emily Haines’s vocals are breathless, smeared slightly with distortion, and stay quiet even as the song intensifies. Every lyric in the song is repeated several times, building up to a single line (“Park that car, drop that phone, sleep on the floor, dream about me”) being repeated 13 times. Meanwhile, the instrumentation builds from sparse banjo strummed to an ecstatic violin and percussion. While the song is more about nostalgia than love, its giddy take on fixation speaks to the 17 year-old girl in all of us.

“I Know Places” by Lykke Li (Wounded Rhymes)
Lykke Li is a Swedish singer, songwriter, and model who blends folk and electropop.

This is a song for the schoolgirl crushes I feel as an adult. For the rush of first getting intimate with someone and wanting only to be together, to ignore the world. “The high won’t fade here, babe,” she promises. Ambiguity is part of why the song is so captivating. Maybe they’re seeking literal places to escape, or maybe getting intoxicated on one another in bed, or off in a forest or on a beach.

“Thunder Road” by Bruce Springsteen (Born to Run)
Bruce Springsteen is a legendary singer-songwriter from New Jersey known for writing about working class struggles.

“Thunder Road” has to be a contender for one of the best songs ever written, and it’s all in the incredible imagery, the swell of the music, and even in the way Springsteen mumbles divine lyrics. However old you are, whatever your situation was growing up, he brings to life the glory of a brief escape from town where Mary’s past lovers haunt her from “the skeleton frames of burnt-out Chevrolets,” her graduation gown long tossed to these boys. The narrator sings about putting out to win from a town full of losers, and you get the sense there’s really no hope of it, but in the moment, you believe in that love, and any young love that’s made it seem possible to escape the limitations of your current life.

“XO” by Beyoncé (Beyoncé)
Beyoncé Knowles is one of the most acclaimed singers and performers of the day, and was ranked most powerful female in entertainment by Forbes in 2015 and 2017.

“XO” manages to be both intimate and urgent, full of both love and lust. The song takes place in a crowded room where the lights will be turned out soon. The driving beat reinforces the urgency of finding each other in the impending darkness, but the soaring chorus and backing vocals create atmosphere. The lights going out take on different meanings, mostly with Beyoncé begging “baby love me lights out.” The immediacy of the song brings back the thirsty makeout sessions of adolescence, all the more urgent because a curfew was usually involved.

“There Is a Light That Never Goes Out” by The Smiths (The Queen is Dead)
The Smiths are a Britpop band known for melodramatic but highly melodic songs.

For me, and for many of my friends, this song inspires the same feeling in us now as when we were 16 and first listening to it. The synthesizers swirl like ribbons, and lead singer Morrissey pouts in his falsetto, and it’s so triumphant. Like “Thunder Road,” this song celebrates an escape from real life (“Take me out tonight/I need to see people and I need to see light”) and the magic of finding escape velocity with a lover. So much magic that it becomes romantic to think about dying in a crash with a ten-ton truck. That’s some seriously potent escapism.

“All Through the Night” by Cyndi Lauper (She’s So Unusual)
Cyndi Lauper is best known as a pop singer who rose to fame in the 1980’s.

Originally a folksy song by Jules Shear, Cyndi Lauper’s twinkly synthesizer and sweetly pouting voice made it her own song. She includes details from the real world, like stray cats crying, but the real world is irrelevant. “We have no past/We won’t reach back,” she sings in the chorus as the music swells. “Keep with me forward all through the night,” she sings, another way of saying “We’re in this together. It’s only us now.”

ONLY NOISE: Real(istic) Love


ONLY NOISE explores music fandom with poignant personal essays that examine the ways we’re shaped by our chosen soundtrack. This week, Erin Lyndal Martin shares a selection of songs that jar her out of a sardonic mindset when it comes to romance.

There’s nothing wrong with sugary love songs. But I don’t trust them because they tend to be completely non-specific. The poet in me cries out for more details. The realist in me wonders how the people in these songs ever get their laundry done if they’re always high on love. And the cynic in me thinks of all the bad dates, all the times I’ve swiped left, all the lore about how undesirable women are after 30, all the fat shaming, all the dick pics. But I feel hopeful when I hear songs about smart, jaded people who’ve found love, often unexpectedly.

These are some of the songs that give me hope.

“Miss You Till I Meet You” by Dar Williams (from My Better Self)
Dar Williams is a talented singer-songwriter who frequently tackles real-life situations in songs that address coming of age, going to therapy, and finding one’s place among gentrification.

Bad dates are not all alike. Sometimes I’ve come home from a date feeling down because my date and I had nothing in common, or maybe it just didn’t seem like the right time, or my date asked me weird questions like if I wrote “human interest fiction” or “technical fiction.” Afterwards, it helps to think about telling these stories to someone I do want to hang around. Someone I want to hang around me.

“Papa Was a Rodeo” by The Magnetic Fields (from 69 Love Songs – Disc 2)
Helmed by Stephin Merritt, the Magnetic Fields bring an irreverent sensibility to matters of love, usually with a twist of magical realism, as on their 69 Love Songs trilogy.

At first, labeling this song as “realistic” is a tough sell. What are the chances that two people could bond over their childhoods spent roping steers, only to spend decades wrestling alligators together? But, like a lot of Magnetic Field’s 69 Love Songs, there’s a grain of truth here. At a certain point, you stop hoping you’ll meet someone who has zero baggage. Not only is it impractical, but it has ceased to even be appealing; instead, you daydream about meeting someone who understands your baggage, who sees you and sees your baggage and says “yeah, me too.”

“Something Changed” by Pulp (from Different Class)
Pulp is a Britpop band known for songs about perversion and classism (not usually at the same time).

I got the Different Class CD in high school and remember flipping through the booklet and seeing the request not to read the lyrics while listening to the music. I listened for the snotty Britpop protest songs and lurid perversions, and then this song came on – a love song written for acoustic guitar. I was surprised, but I trusted Pulp not to mess with me too much, and I thought about this as being a love song for the sort of people who trust sneering Britpop bands with love songs. I love that it retroactively assigns importance to all the little things done on a day that ends up coincidentally being the day one falls in love.

“I Hope That I Don’t Fall in Love With You” by Tom Waits (from Closing Time)
Tom Waits is an iconic songwriter and musician known for his gravelly voice, rich lyrical imagery, and jarring songcraft.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone to a bar alone with just a novel and a notebook, nursing a drink and scribbling down ideas while watching people around me. This song always reminds me of those nights. I’ve had many nights where that’s all that happens. If I’m lucky I write a few good lines or draw a cute picture of a cat. But those nights tend to blur together and I mostly remember the outlier nights, when a conversation with a stranger just happened, and I was excited and terrified to see where it went next.

“Yellow Brick Road” by Kris Delmhorst (on Five Stories)
Kris Delmhorst is a singer-songwriter-fiddler from Massachusetts known for her pithy lyrics and lovely melodies.

Once I was at a wedding where the best man’s toast included the line “now your real life can begin.” Wow. Just wow. As if there are any parts of our lives that aren’t real and everything we do before we have an official, government-sanctioned bond just doesn’t count. This song celebrates who we are as individuals within a couple. “I’m not on a yellow brick road/Got a mind and a heart and guts of my own/Not looking for someone to set me free,” Delmhorst sings. “I’m not on a yellow brick road/I’ll find my own way home/I just want someone to walk with me.”

“Kathleen” by Josh Ritter (from Hello Starling)
Josh Ritter is an acclaimed and prolific singer-songwriter once voted among Paste Magazine’s Top 50 living songwriters.

This song makes me happy. Very happy. It’s about a guy who drives a beautiful girl home from a party. He knows they’ll never fall in love, but he’s so excited to be the one who has that time alone with her, that “only both of us know about.” When you don’t have the love life you want, you learn to make the best of these little moments of connection: driving someone home; smiling knowingly at a stranger on the bus when a passenger shows the bus driver her groceries; standing next to someone while you look at a painting in a museum.

“Reservations” by Wilco (from Yankee Hotel Foxtrot)
Wilco is a highly regarded alt-country band, and their 2002 album is already considered a classic.

Recently, a romantic partner I hadn’t seen in years came to visit and I was really stressed out, which was funny because I realized I had zero anxieties about this particular person. We know each other well and have a great time together. But the thought of sharing my living space with anyone, even for a few days, was terrifying. I wanted everything to be perfect. In the end, he was an amazing houseguest who did my dishes and bought me good bourbon and let me play him videos of goats and magicians. And I did get sick towards the end of his visit, something I feared, but that won’t be what I remember. What I will remember is that even the worst anxieties can disappear with someone who really sees me.

“Unison” by Björk (from Vespertine)
Björk is an Icelandic musician known for her conceptual albums, creative collaborations, and quirky individuality.

Unsurprisingly, Björk is wonderful at writing songs that balance realism and reverie. She has a number of them, but “Unison” is my favorite. “I will grow my own private branch of this tree,” she sings, celebrating her individuality. But trees — and people — can bend, and the refrain continues, “I never thought I would compromise.” When you’re single, it’s so easy to get lost in thought loops about who you want to be with and if you’d even want to make room in your life for another person. Björk reminds us that we don’t have to choose between ourselves and being with another person.

ONLY NOISE: Seven Songs That Help Me Navigate Depression and Anxiety

Soccer Mommy’s “Your Dog” reminds the author that everyone deserves respect, even on their darkest days. Photo by Daniel Topete

ONLY NOISE explores music fandom with poignant personal essays that examine the ways we’re shaped by our chosen soundtrack. This week, Lauren Rearick compiles a playlist of songs she’s leaned on to cope with mental illness.

Nearly eight years ago, I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety. I had long suspected that my lifetime of continual worries and lingering sadness had been something more, and although receiving confirmation made me feel validated, it also made me feel afraid and alone.

The stigma surrounding mental illness continues to lessen, but there are still times when it can seem as if you’re the only one in the world going through it. It’s hard to explain to others why you constantly worry, or fear something as simple as driving to a new destination, when you don’t even understand the reasoning behind your own emotions. Additionally, it feels like mental illness is some secret that, once shared, will forever impact your relationships – it becomes this hidden extension of you.

I continue to work towards getting better, and while I have found methods of treatment that work for me, I’ve also found coping mechanisms. Along with watching endless amounts of uplifting cartoons (Sailor Moon and Adventure Time are my go-tos) I’ve turned to music, and those feelings and fears that I once thought were unique to me have revealed themselves through others’ songs. From my fear of being alone to a promise that even the most broken pieces will eventually fit together into something beautiful, here are the seven songs that helped me navigate relationships and life while contending with depression and anxiety.

“Your Dog” – Soccer Mommy

I used to believe that having a mental illness made me unable to have normal relationships. As it turns out, I was waiting for someone who practiced understanding. “Your Dog,” from Soccer Mommy’s 2018 LP Clean, is a note to demand your worth, and to accept nothing less than kindness from others. There’s a furious beauty to the song, a message of empowerment that seems so soft when presented, but is made to land with an impression. In particular, the line, “I don’t wanna be your fucking dog/That you drag around/A collar on my neck tied to a pole/Leave me in the freezing cold,” struck an immediate chord with me, reminding me that one should never be forgotten, even on their darkest days.

“#23” – IAN SWEET

The entirety of IAN SWEET’s Shapeshifter album is an ode to anxiety, with the release detailing vocalist Jillian Medford’s struggles with mental illness. While I’ve found myself connecting with the whole album, “#23” openly talks of isolation, and as it continues, Medford expresses a desire to change, but an inability to make it happen. I have so often been there; wishing I could make my emotions just disappear. When I’m feeling totally alone, I know I have others I could call upon, but sometimes just listening to this track is enough – it reminds me that someone else potentially feels the same.

“Everybody Does” – Julien Baker

The intimacy of Julien Baker’s music has connected with numerous fans, including myself. In my initial experience with depression, I had a constant fear that I would be left alone. Even without depression, I think we all have a fear that we could potentially lose a friendship or a relationship, and on “Everybody Does,” — a single which appears on Baker’s 2015 debut album — the singer appeals to that worry. The song isn’t meant to encourage; rather, it reminded me that I’m not the only one fearful of being alone, and knowing that is comforting. In particular, the line: “I know myself better than anybody else / And you’re gonna run / You’re gonna run when you find out who I am” really resonates with me, but as Baker explained in an interview with Stereogum, she’s come to realize “it’s a fallacy to believe everyone will run when you tell them who you really are.”

“TV Dreams” – Katie Ellen

Even with continuing work, medication, and treatment, I still have bad days. And for those moments when I need a reminder that it’s okay not to be okay, I listen to “TV Dreams.” This track was one of the first songs released by Katie Ellen — the project of Anika Pyle and Dan Frelly, born from the ashes of their former band, Chumped — and later appeared on the band’s 2017 debut Cowgirl Blues. It incorporates both soft and harsh moments, with confessional proclamations to be there for someone, even if that someone has since moved on. “TV Dreams” reminds me that sometimes things won’t work out, and I may never understand my every feeling, but the ensuing confusion is something others experience, too.

“Let Down” – Radiohead

There’s no telling when I’ll have good or bad days, and when I’m at my lowest, “Let Down,” from Radiohead’s critically lauded Ok Computer, has provided a small glimmer of hope that things will change. This line: “Don’t get sentimental, it always ends up drivel/One day, I am gonna grow wings,” has etched itself into my memory and heart. There’s something truly comforting in feeling as if one day, I’ll have the ability to move on from where I am now.

“Reality TV” – Remember Sports

Hidden beneath the chaotic drumming and fast guitars of this single from 2015’s All Of Something is a message of just needing someone to rely on. The line “Take my mind off the empty space in this heart of mine / and I’ll take your mind off the empty space in your bed tonight,” has always resonated with me, helping me to realize I was relying on the wrong person to get me through a tough time. “Reality TV” is a musical reminder that no one has it all figured out – sometimes we’re just passing through.

“Bus Ticket” – Cayetana

The music of Cayetana has always been particularly therapeutic for me, and this proves especially true on “Bus Ticket,” a song that explores adjusting to a new medication and finding yourself again. This track, featured on the group’s sophomore release New Kind of Normal, has a quiet rage, and it instills in me a sense of pride, pushing me forward when I’m at my lowest. From reflections on strength inspired by others to the desire to finally get some serious “shit off my chest,” I think this is the track that finally reminded me that feelings things more than others or being afraid of something simple doesn’t make me any less of a person.

HIGH NOTES: How to Return to Your Life After a Wild Festival Weekend

A weekend of partying at a music festival may leave you feeling like the human equivalent of these overflowing Glastonbury trash cans.

Most people don’t spend music festivals worrying about how they’ll feel after all the shouting, head-banging, and (if you’re into that sort of thing) drug use is over. That’s something you can worry about on Monday. But while living in the moment can be liberating, it doesn’t feel as liberating when you’re nursing a nasty hangover, likely compounded by sleep deprivation and undernourishment. So, if you want to make Monday (and Tuesday and Wednesday) more bearable, here are some ways to minimize the damage as you return to real life.

During the festival…

Don’t forget to eat. If you’ve been using certain, ahem, substances to keep you going, food may feel superfluous. But don’t let stimulants’ appetite-suppressant properties fool you. Being deprived of food will have the same effect it always does — you may just not feel it until afterward, and it’ll make your hangovers that much worse. “Try to ‘graze,’ eating smaller, nutrient-rich foods throughout the day and night,” says James Giordano, professor of neurology and biochemistry at Georgetown University Medical Center. “Fresh fruit, fruit and nut bars, and low-sodium jerky are all good, easy-to-pack-and-carry options.”

Take power naps. If the event goes late into the night (or early morning or afternoon), try to find some time to sleep, even for a short while. “Power napping (for 20-60 minutes) during the event can be helpful to avoid compounded effects of fatigue and periodically re-charge your system,” says Giordano. Plus, you may then feel less of a need to use stimulants to stay up.

Bring water. Hydration is essential if you’ll be out in the sun and/or dancing all day, especially if you’re using a drug like MDMA that dehydrates you. “There are a number of new hydration packs on the market that can make carrying and re-filling water at re-fill stations far quicker and easier,” says Giordano. The newly launched hydration pack Lunchbox also keeps your stuff secure so you don’t have to worry about theft. 

After the festival…

Take in electrolytes. Electrolyte-rich drinks like coconut water provide extra hydration to replenish you after a debaucherous weekend. You can even eat salty snacks to get electrolytes. Kellye Greene, President of New York DanceSafe, recommends doing this before you go to bed after the festival.

Supplement. B vitamins help flush out toxins, says Greene, so taking a B complex supplement during and after the festival might lessen the intensity of your hangover. A protein isolate like Isopure can also help you recover if you’ve been using drugs. Other supplements that may be helpful for hangovers include vitamin C, magnesium, acetyl L-carnitine, ginger root, N-acetyl-cysteine, milk thistle seed, and dandelion root, Greene adds.

Eat well. Ideally, you should be eating nutritious meals during the festival, but at the very least, eating well afterward can make your hangovers less hellish. Greene recommends green juice smoothies, bone broth, miso soup, asparagus, and Korean pear juice.

Listen to some chill music. This is not medical advice, but this playlist might help you relax and rejuvenate. Enjoy.

ONLY NOISE: My New Year’s Resolution to Listen to More Women Empowered Me

ONLY NOISE explores music fandom with poignant personal essays that examine the ways we’re shaped by our chosen soundtrack. This week, Tamara Mesko details the resolution that led to revolution when she decided to bring more music made by women into her rotation. Check out her playlist here.

New year’s resolutions are generally difficult for me to keep. Lofty goals are written down, gym memberships are acquired, healthy recipes are copied to a vision board. But a few weeks into the dark winter, all is abandoned in favor of binge-watching shows and eating comfort foods. Instead of repeating this unsustainable cycle, over the past year I’ve set intentions for myself in areas where I actually felt willing to be challenged, and then worked out the details of incrementally pursuing these ideas. As someone who’s almost constantly listening to songs, I’ve realized that the bulk of my music library consisted of albums by male artists. Looking to diversify and expand my music-listening habits, I decided to immerse myself in more music made by women. By devoting my time and funds to prioritize and promote female musicians, I hoped to amplify their voices and support them. Seeking out women who hadn’t been publicized by the traditional gatekeepers led me to discover such an incredible variety of albums that have transformed my life in countless ways. The connection I now feel with these women has revolutionized my perspective, repaired my self-image, and encouraged me in my daily attempts to navigate the male-dominated world.

One of the most transcendent moments of my year was the night I saw Petal opening for Camp Cope in concert. Both bands are primarily made up of women, and the crowd that night was as well. Petal is primarily the work of bandleader Kiley Lotz, who was touring in support of her second album for Run For Cover, Magic Gone. I’d heard a few of her songs before that night, and was instantly transformed by her performance. The unique energy emanating around the venue was overwhelmingly beautiful. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so safe and supported at a show before; at concerts where the band members and crowd skew heavily toward the male side, underneath any positive feelings I have about the music, there’s a constant apprehension, an edgy anxiety that covers my decisions with a shell of protection. Hearing Kiley’s vulnerable stories about mental health between her stunning songs felt like a revelation. Her encouraging and therapeutic presence filled the room with a redeeming light.

Another musician I discovered in the last year was Lucy Dacus. Her latest album, Historian, is a masterpiece, and convinced me that seeing her on a headlining tour early this year would be well worth my time and energy. The evolution happening in my psyche that night was a direct reaction to Lucy’s boldness throughout the concert. Her voice exuded incredible power from the very start, when she opened with a brand new song, to midway through, when she decided something felt off and had to restart another. Her admissions of imperfection spread a sense of authenticity into the audience, urging us to join her in singing through our problems, perceived or real, that we’d carried in with us. As I drove home, I felt my levels of compassion for and confidence in myself rising to new heights.

By extension, I’ve been slightly obsessed with boygenius, a newly formed supergroup comprised of Dacus, Phoebe Bridgers, and Julien Baker (whose music I was already familiar with). All three are masters of their solo craft, yet I was unprepared for the overwhelming harmonies they created together. The day the album was released, I was at the ocean at a women’s retreat, harboring some disappointments while feeling generally directionless. Breaking up the communal times spent with friends by walking along the shore with these songs in my headphones gave me such solace and was a perfect reprieve from “real life.” Singing in community is a sacred act, one that’s sustained me long after that weekend ended. Indeed, the women of boygenius are incredibly supportive of each other, and the music they produced while cheering each other on encourages me to try to infuse my daily tasks with this same love and support for myself.

Lesley Barth’s music came into my life this summer just as I’d canceled on an opportunity to see a male musician playing that same night. I’m sure his show would’ve been good, but seeing Lesley impacted me on a much more deeply personal level. A New York City native, Lesley has been singing and performing for many years. She released her first full-length album, Green Hearts, in 2017, and in a live setting, is engaging and connected to her audience. As part of a local concert series, her set was more of a conversation, with intimate stories to go along with each song. I felt inspired and proud of her as she talked about quitting her unfulfilling office job to pursue being a full-time musician, about how much she loves sad songs, and about how frequently we as women struggle to develop and maintain a healthy self-image.

I haven’t yet had the privilege of seeing Mitski in concert, but she manifests a particular bold energy on her fifth album, Be The Cowboy. These songs seem less personal than her earlier work, though just as powerful. Through a more fictionalized worldview, she introduces a character in “Nobody” who tries on countless personas in an attempt to avoid loneliness. As she progresses through this montage of selves, she realizes that not only is she still alone, but her acts of desperation are destroying the very possibility of connection. Throughout the album, Mitski continually subverts expectations, musically and lyrically, while describing ways to develop a more authentic sense of self.

As a late-December addition to my absolute favorites, I first heard Tomberlin on a podcast, discussing her restrictive religious upbringing. I promptly bought her debut album At Weddings, and was struck by how wise she sounds, how much of her background she’s already deconstructed in a healthy way. Her voice has a stark beauty and a healing quality. She both anchors and directs me in how to dig myself out of my struggles and gracefully move forward. “I’m Not Scared” works its way in mid-album to speak honestly of the female human condition: “And to be a woman is to be in pain / And my body reminds me almost every day.” It’s a song that destroys all my defenses so effectively that I actually don’t want to know specifically what it’s about; I want it to simply exist as a daily incantation for women everywhere to adopt as our own.

For a lot of listeners, music is mainly background noise, something to occasionally notice while they’re busy doing something else entirely. For me, music is a lifeline, and it’s been revolutionary and breathtaking to find new perspectives along that line in the past year. I’ve discovered new facets of my identity that I didn’t realize I was missing. Diversifying how I listen to music and which artists I decide to support has become a year-round, life-long resolution.

ONLY NOISE: My Parents’ Tapes Taught Me How to Love ‘Uncool’ Music

Kiri Oliver dyes Easter eggs at her grandparents’ house in the Car Tapes era.

ONLY NOISE explores music fandom with poignant personal essays that examine the ways we’re shaped by our chosen soundtrack. This week, Kiri Oliver takes us on a trip with the soundtrack to her childhood – before “coolness” dictated the playlist.

Growing up, my parents rarely played albums in the house — I mostly remember hearing classical radio in the background. But they had three portable cases of cassettes that they brought on car trips, most often to my grandparents’ house in Connecticut. It was an eclectic mix of ‘80s and ‘90s albums, many of which remain among my favorites to this day.

I’ve realized over time that these albums embody a strong sense of nostalgia for me — nostalgia for a very specific set of circumstances that allowed me to listen to and absorb music without context. It was the pre-internet era, and therefore pre-everyone having takes on everything all the time. It was also before I started talking to other people about music, going to shows, being a part of scenes, and building my identity around the bands and genres I liked.

I really appreciate that I had the experience of learning what I liked musically as a kid and preteen without anyone telling me what was cool or not—messages I later had a hard time disentangling from my tastes. In some ways, I knew what I liked when I was nine and rocking out in the backseat more than I did when I was 19 and hanging out with indie rock snobs who worshiped Pere Ubu and said things like “don’t worry, your tastes will mature.”

And now, when I go back and listen to what my nine-year-old self flipped out over, I still hear what excited me so much the first time around. I also hear so many of the elements I’m still drawn to as a fan and songwriter, including theatricality, giant hooks, piano, harmonies, and vocals shot through with emotion. A few highlights from the car tapes are below, and my full playlist is here.

Enya – “Book of Days”

I don’t know why my parents were so into Enya, but we had at least four of her tapes in the car. My favorite song was “Book of Days,” a lush, rousing number with approximately 1,000 layers of vocals in Irish Gaelic that predicted my obsessive love of the Titanic soundtrack. I listened to it just now and had a minor life crisis wondering how I never noticed the chorus was in English—according to Wikipedia, the original version was replaced with a bilingual one that now appears on the album instead. Irish Gaelic 4ever.

REM – “Try Not to Breathe”

REM was another heavy hitter in the car rotation. “Try Not to Breathe” from Automatic for the People was always one of my favorites, but I honestly didn’t realize until now that it’s about death. How did I not get that before, you might ask, when it includes lyrics like “I will try not to breathe/This decision is mine/I have lived a full life/And these are the eyes that I want you to remember”? I have a different relationship to the music I loved when I was very young, which I didn’t necessarily absorb or connect with on a topical level even though I could sense the feelings being expressed. So I knew this was a sad song—just not this sad.

Phil Collins – “Something Happened on the Way to Heaven”

I still haven’t figured out whether liking Phil Collins is definitely uncool, or passably cool if it’s ironic, but I don’t care—I love Phil Collins. This song’s dramatic, horn-laden introduction sounds like the lead-up to a West Side Story-style dance fight. In 2018, the chorus lyrics “you can run and you can hide, but I’m not leaving unless you come with me” sound a bit ominous and coercive. But in the song, Phil sounds naively hopeful enough to pull it off—and the cheery horns definitely help.

Sarah McLachlan – “Vox”

Before she was known for her coffeeshop fare and Lilith Fair, Sarah McLachlan made ethereal new-age albums in the ‘80s. My evidence backing up this statement is that I listened to her album Touch a LOT and the tape said 1989 on the back cover. Anyway, “Vox” is music for frolicking fairies, full of sparkling acoustic guitar and soaring vocals (including a less-angsty version of a Tori Amos wail). It also has a bouncy synth riff thrown on top of all this, which both makes no sense and is perfect.

Live – “Pillar of Davidson”

Is it weird for a 5th grader’s favorite song to be an almost 7-minute album track that I just learned is about factory workers’ rights? Probably. Does this song still rip? Absolutely. It starts with an old western, rolling-tumbleweeds feel and escalates into one of the biggest choruses I’ve ever heard, with Ed Kowalczyk rhapsodizing about “the shepherd of my days” while the drummer goes to town on the ride cymbal. I still lose it every time I listen.

Patty Smyth and Don Henley – “Sometimes Love Just Ain’t Enough”

This is a beautiful and melancholy duet about adult heartbreak that I couldn’t have possibly understood at the time, but it still genuinely moved me. Did I know from my ten years of life experience that “there’s a danger in loving somebody too much”? Definitely not. Did I personally relate to Patty’s lament in the bridge that “there’s no way home when it’s late at night and you’re all alone”? Nope, but I’ve apparently always been a sucker for power ballads.

Meat Loaf – “Everything Louder Than Everything Else”

My revelation from revisiting Meat Loaf’s albums is that Bat Out of Hell is the original American Idiot. Listen to this song from part II: it starts with a chant of “wasted youth,” it ambitiously crams a ton of parts into 7.5 minutes, it has a whole background choir, AND it’s about both war and chicks. Key lyric: “You gotta serve your country, gotta service your girl/You’re all enlisted in the armies of the night.” It’s insane to me that it took until 2017 for Bat Out of Hell The Musical to exist (it ran in London and Toronto, with a tour and NYC run in the works).

I think my parents still have the tapes in the back of a closet, although they’ve long since upgraded their car to one without a tape deck, and I’ve achieved the stereotype of native New Yorker who can’t drive. But I’ve been rocking out to my Car Tapes playlist for a few years now, and I’ve found that it brings me comfort, joy and a break from the endless pursuit of keeping up with new media. We spend so much time taking in new information so we can carefully curate our image and tastes for the consumption of friends, acquaintances and strangers; it feels like a radical act of self-care to detach and dance around my room to a goofy song I loved deeply and unironically when I was nine. I was so sure then of what spoke to me, without needing to explain or even understand why. All these years later, with a head full of countless other people’s musical opinions, it feels so good to tune that out and tune into a channel that feels like mine alone – a channel that happens to play a lot of Enya.

AF 2018 IN REVIEW: How A Wave of Queer Hitmakers Helped Me Assert My Identity

illustration and words by Ysabella Monton

Drunk on $2 strawberry margaritas during my very first visit to Cubbyhole, my 19-year-old self and a friend struck up a conversation with two women who led with, “Aww, how cute, two straight girls at the gay bar!” We looked at each other, confused. She was quick to correct them about her sexuality, while I, on the other hand, kept quiet, thinking they were right. Who was I trying to fool by being here? I’ve been “mistaken” for straight just about every time I’ve been there, for that matter. And what right did I have to be upset? To those who saw me everyday, I was straight, and was too scared to convince them otherwise.

Fast forward to sometime in early September of this year. After getting “mistaken” for straight in a casual conversation by a gay friend, I couldn’t let it go. At 2am, in an act of subconscious (and delusionally tired) defiance, I chopped my hair below my shoulders – as if a drastic change in my appearance would make people finally believe me when I say I’m queer. I thought back to an interview I’d read in which Héloïse Letissier, who fronts Christine and the Queens, described the epiphany she had upon cutting her hair: “I felt like, ‘This is how I want to exist.’” My drunk ass almost cried when someone in the bathroom at a Rina Sawayama show complimented my new ‘do for the first time; knowing that a large part of Sawayama’s fan base is queer, I found comfort in being seen.

Rarely did I consciously think about openly queer women in entertainment in the past. When I recall queer artists that I listened to growing up, I admit that David Bowie or Freddie Mercury – not women – come to mind first. Whether it’s the media at fault or my own ignorance, I was somehow never consciously aware of women’s queerness. From Fergie and Lady Gaga in my youth, and then, as I got older, The xx, Tegan and Sara, and Sleater-Kinney, I often didn’t know some of my most beloved female artists were queer until after the fact. I later clocked many hours over the years Googling “[insert artist] queer,” intrigued by female androgyny by way of Annie Lennox, and for selfish reasons, hoping to find that Debbie Harry might be into women. This was all prior to the realization that my “girl crushes” were born of genuine attraction. Maybe it took so long because I had few truly visible artists to help me understand that loving another woman was real and valid.

I remember when I first started telling my best friends that there was a slight chance that I could maybe be bisexual, and being met with the classic “it’s probably just a phase.” It made me curl in on myself, backtrack, and call myself “fluid” instead. “Fluid” was my safety net to go back to living as a straight cis female, since I wasn’t committed to a label.

But “fluid” was never the whole truth.

I’ve known for a long time that I’m bisexual, but 2018 marks my first year of unapologetic out-ness. Sexuality is a journey, and labeling oneself isn’t pertinent to having a queer identity. Fluidity perfectly encapsulates how many other people define their own sexuality. For me, though, calling myself “bisexual” out loud lifts a weight off my shoulders. I owe this newfound confidence to queer female artists, from SOPHIE to Janelle Monáe, who are unapologetically themselves.

2017 and 2018 saw a jump for queer females in the mainstream beyond “I Kissed a Girl” or “Cool for the Summer,” where being queer is synonymous with experimental sexual deviance (not to discredit Demi Lovato’s own bisexuality). Kissing girls was once taboo, “just something that we wanna try.” Songs like Sawayama’s “Cherry” operate in the same realm of queerness being new and different. However, rather than eroticizing it, Sawayama crafts a sweet, sparkling anthem that illustrates an awakening; it’s less about the missed connection and more about what it taught her about herself. “Now I wanna love myself/It’s not that us is guaranteed/’Cause inside I’m still the same me with no ID” reminds me of being 19 and becoming infatuated with a stranger at a party as we talked and smoked cigarettes and got dollar slice pizza, though I never got her name. Still, I can’t will myself to forget the moment she told me she likes girls and with ease, I told her I do too. It had nothing to do with my attraction to her. It was the first time I had ever come out, and she has no idea how significant that moment was for me. She was the first person with whom I was living my truth.

Today, there’s Kehlani in the mainstream crooning, “I like my girls just like I like my honey/Sweet/A little selfish.” These lyrics effectively normalize women loving women in a way I’d never understood before. By way of Kehlani, I also discovered Disney-girl-turned-“Lesbian Jesus” Hayley Kiyoko this year when Kehlani appeared on “What I Need.” Kiyoko candidly sings, “I only want a girl who ain’t afraid to love me.” I could never imagine hearing that on the radio growing up. Kiyoko was recently awarded the Rising Star Award at Billboard Women in Music, presented to her by bisexual pop singer Lauren Jauregui. “Nobody wants to be brave,” Kiyoko confesses in her acceptance speech, through tears. “We’re all terrified. I’m very grateful for my fans…I found my purpose in life, and the ability to embrace my truth.”

Women have shown me what it’s like to go from grappling with your truth to embracing it. Asserting herself beyond myriad production credits, SOPHIE’s debut album Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides is a disarming nine tracks of simultaneous chaos and vulnerability. There’s a challenge from SOPHIE to listen to this record without the preconceived notion of what pop music – and furthermore, people – should be. “Without my genes or my blood/With no name and with no type of story/Where do I live?” she asks on “Immaterial,” giving herself the answer: “I could be anything I want.”

The album is powerful enough to have turned the heads of traditionally closed-minded Grammy committee. She and singer-songwriter Teddy Geiger (who co-wrote the Shawn Mendes single “In My Blood”) have become the first Grammy-nominated transgender women for Best Dance/Electronic Album and Song of the Year, respectively.

They, and artists like the genderqueer and pansexual Letissier, haven’t been blurring the lines of gender in music so much as beginning the process of erasing them. The first time I saw Christine and the Queens live in 2016, I had given little to no thought to the nuance and fluidity of gender expression. When she returned this past year, it appeared that she had invented a masculine persona along with her new record, Chris. The more I indulged in the record, it became apparent that rather than stripping herself of femininity, she had adapted traditionally masculine themes – eroticism, power, dominance – to dispel the pre-existing notion of softness that womanhood was supposed to be.

As Ariana Grande and King Princess have affirmed this year, “Pussy Is God,” after all.

I came across King Princess through Mark Ronson, when she became the first official signed artist on his label, Zelig Records, releasing her first single “1950” earlier this year. In addition to paying tribute to a decade when women could exclusively be queer in private, she plays with religion and divinity in a way that calls out to the once-ardent Catholic still living inside me. “Tell me why my gods look like you,” she whines, “and tell me why it’s wrong.” The idea is not lost on songs like “Holy” and “Pussy Is God,” which not only put women, but queer women, at the center of worship. In an interview with Harper’s Bazaar, King Princess calls it “extremely fucked up and fun…being the antithesis of a belief system.”

“Fun” never would’ve been the word I’d use to describe the intersection of being a self-proclaimed Jesus lover while attempting to repress this sinful secret the way I repress Catholicism now. While I’ve never been homophobic and I’ve tried to be an ally to others, I was adamant that homosexuality wasn’t a possibility for me. But now I find the layers of irony so absurd it’s funny. For me, queerness was directly associated with eroticism, in turn lacing this part of my identity with sin. Coupled with my warped notions of feminism (in my teenage years, I called myself anti-feminist), it’s all rooted in self-hatred.

Then I heard this verse:

“Searching for someone to fix my drive
Text message, God up in the sky
Oh, if you love me, won’t you please reply?
Oh, can’t you see that it’s only me, your dirty computer?”

It made me wonder if Janelle Monáe had somehow gotten inside my head and heard these conversations I was having with God to fix whatever the hell was going on inside me. Her music has been lush with futuristic and science fiction imagery via Cindi Mayweather, her android alter ego. The juxtaposition of real life with a surreal world allows raw emotion to take the forefront. It’s the same question I’ve been asking myself this whole time that I’ve been fighting the truth: what is wrong with my programming as a human that I’m so inherently broken and flawed?

Janelle Monáe intended “to really celebrate those that I felt needed to be celebrated most, those in marginalized communities” with Dirty Computer. Those communities include not only the LGBTQIA community, but women and people of color as well – and these are all intersections I identify with. It’s the things about myself that I’ve been conditioned to believe are defects, dirty. Deconstructing the android on Dirty Computer gives insight to our very coding as people, the root of this “other” that terrifies people in 2018 as much as ever.

What a weird time, in 2018, to have finally found relief through leaning into that exact fear. This whole time, I’ve been internalizing it, using it against myself, so much that even when I first began exploring the possibility of being queer, I accepted without argument that I wasn’t queer enough to be valid. Compared to the first time I called myself “bisexual” out loud circa 2014, when I say it today, it no longer leaves a bad taste in my mouth. There’s still an adrenaline rush, but it comes from excitement. Because for the first 23 years of my life, I was never being my honest self.

But now, I finally believe that I deserve to live my truth. And so do you.

Check out Ysabella’s ever-growing CHEERS QUEERS playlist on Spotify, as well as the rest of our year-end coverage.

PLAYING SEATTLE: 10 Underground Gems of 2018

Seattle rock outfit Thunderpussy during a typically raucous performance. Photo by Victoria Holt, c 2018.

As much as 2018 was a good year for Seattle’s established music names – shout-out to Brandi Carlile for “By The Way, I Forgive You” and its six (!) Grammy nominations – it’s been surprisingly phenomenal for fresh voices and indie artists on the rise. Bear with me as I get sentimental; here are ten underground gems from Seattle artists in 2018.

Marlowe (L’Orange & Solemn Brigham) – Marlowe

Marlowe is the break-out album from a new duo of Seattle-based beatsmith L’Orange, and North Carolina-based rapper, Solemn Brigham. L’Orange is known for his nostalgia-soaked tracks, looping obscure vintage radio finds like an old-school crate-digger. Over those, Solemn Brigham raps conscious lyrics with that easy-yet-aggressive flow reminiscent of Kendrick’s early mixtape days.

Red Ribbon – Dark Party

Red Ribbon’s Dark Party is aptly named. While melancholic and cynical, the release is unexpectedly upbeat and fun to dance to, achieving a combination of dark and light that is often-attempted by musicians but rarely well-executed. Each song on Dark Party is a new psychedelic, trance-world, accented with new age flute, droning, and reverb-y guitar. Like a spiritual guide, Emma Danner’s soothing, slow-simmering vocals lead the listener through.

ParisAlexa – Bloom

ParisAlexa’s Bloom captures her rise on the Seattle scene. After many appearances at local events over the last few years, ParisAlexa has a sizable and devoted following of fans and critics alike, including the covetable support of KEXP, who recorded her in a live session in April. Bloom is a coming of age portrait, depicting ParisAlexa in a raw, sensual state, claiming her newfound womanhood. And it’s saturated with the echoes of neo-soul artists like Bilal, Erykah Badu, and pop singers like Alicia Keys and Mariah Carey.

Rat Queen – Worthless

Born of the quirky, colorful musings of two best friends, Jeff Tapia and Daniel Derosiers, Rat Queen’s “Worthless” is all about quick and twisted little ditties that pack a juicy pop-punk punch. Tapia’s growling and dominating vocals match Derosiers’ playful energy on drums, turning what could’ve been a just-for-fun party album into something anthemic: the chronicles of twenty-something punks and misfits just getting by in a changing city.

Bad Luck – Four

If noise-jazz could be your thing, brace yourself. Bad Luck, the tenor-drums duo featuring Neil Welch and Chris Icasiano, is an explosive, dynamic organism of sound experimentation. With a mic-ed sax, Welch creates wide swathes of atmospheric sound that converse with Icasiano’s energetic and impressive percussion. Four is (you guessed it) their fourth release since 2009.

Leeni – Lovefool

Leeni, also known as Prom Queen, is a wizard synth-pop producer and singer-songwriter who made national news a few years back for her clever mash up of the themes from ’90s TV show Twin Peaks and Netflix hit Stranger Things. Leeni’s 2018 release, Lovefool, is akin to that mash-up; one moment dark and brooding, the next bright and manic. Creating dreamy mirages of ’80s synth and ethereal singing, Lovefool gets lost in lush, velvety soundscapes.

Steve Tresler and Ingrid Jensen – Invisible Sounds: For Kenny Wheeler

Though largely unknown outside of the area, Seattle has a rich legacy with jazz music and education. Our high school jazz bands consistently win the prestigious Essentially Ellington contest, and we have been home to jazz musicians like Quincy Jones and Ernestine Anderson. Local saxophonist and teacher Steve Tresler teamed up notable Canadian jazz trumpeter Ingrid Jensen to record Invisible Sounds as a tribute to jazz music legend Kenny Wheeler, who passed away quietly in 2014. The album is a spirited, expansive, and gorgeous merging of two of the most powerful Pacific Northwestern voices in jazz.

Chemical Clock – Plastic Reality

Plastic Reality will be the final release from Chemical Clock, a experimental jazz group made up of local avant-garde, jazz, and funk musicians who met during their time in the University of Washington’s music program. Their third album, Plastic Reality, is chock full of manic synth patterns and angular melodies that build into thunderheads of sound. It’s a triumphant culmination of a decade making boundary-pushing music together.

Thunderpussy – Thunderpussy

Thunderpussy’s self-titled full-length is a glam rock firestorm. In some ways, the band picks up where artists like Heart left off, as a self-possessed all-women rock group that oozes sensuality, musicianship, and sheer power on their own terms. They put on a hell of a live show, too.

Car Seat Headrest – Twin Fantasy

The brainchild of Will Toledo, Car Seat Headrest is probably the biggest artist on this list. 2018’s Twin Fantasy is a completely re-recorded version of an album he put out in 2011 and follows 2016’s Teens of Denial, which was named one of Rolling Stone’s 50 best albums of 2016. Twin Fantasy doesn’t disappoint either; Toledo has maintained the self-deprecating awkwardness that makes him so relatable and revelational as a indie rock singer-songwriter.

AUDIOMAMA: A Very Indie Christmas

The second Monday of every month, we explore the trappings of the millennial mama with parenting tips and tricks that are more Tycho than Tangled.

My son giving Santa the “Who are you again?” eyes.

If you’re like my family, the holidays are spent watching the same movies (Muppet Christmas Carol on repeat), eating the same food (#homemadefudge4life), and listening to the same holiday music. This is our son’s first Christmas and we’ve been hard at work, creating our own traditions by infusing our music taste into the mix.

In order to bring you the best and brightest Indie Christmas playlist, I had to comb through some fairly terrible holiday tunes. Did you know that Oasis managed to get it together long enough to make “Merry Christmas Everybody”? Or that The Killers composed the jaunty tune “Don’t Shoot Me Santa”? These are just a few of the gems I would not expose my child to.

We’ve laid out some of our favorite new classics below, with even more in the AudioMama Vol 3 playlist. Turn on Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, pop some Chocolate Chunk Shortbread Cookies in the oven, and listen to the sweet sounds of Bright Eyes moping around on Christmas Eve.

“Christmas Is Going To The Dogs” – Eels

Plum fairies are replaced with chew toys in this playful tune made for your favorite pup! Indie artists tend toward the morose (we’re looking at you, Bright Eyes), so this is a rare uplifter.

“Lumberjack Christmas / No One Can Save You From Christmases Past” –  Sufjan Stevens

Remember that year you drunkenly told your office crush  ____ while ____ and after that he / she totally _____? The memories may never fade, but at least you’ve perfected the perfect smile-while-avoiding-direct-eye-contact.

“My Dear Acquaintance (A Happy New Year)” – Regina Spektor

Sometimes an old classic gets a makeover and you remember why you loved it in the first place. Sometimes an old classic gets a makeover and you’re introduced to it for the first time. I’d never heard this Peggy Lee number, but with Regina Spektor at the helm it instantly brings to mind classic that New Year’s movie scene of a forlorn lover waiting at the doors of a party for Mr. Right to waltz in.

“Linus & Lucy” – Anderson .Paak 

A Charlie Brown Christmas is one of those rare movies the whole family can enjoy. Anderson .Paak gives Vince Guaraldi’s “Linus & Lucy” a more improvisational jazz feel. It’s tight and cheery, with the perfect modern twist.

“50 Words For Snow” – Kate Bush

While it’s not directly a Christmas song, “50 Words For Snow” has the kind of magic meant for the holidays. Bush was fascinated with the claim that the Inuit people have over 50 words for snow. The song features Stephen Fry listing out Inuit words for snow while Kate eggs him on: “Come on Joe, you’ve got 32 to go.”  The words devolve into nonsense: “19 phlegm de neige / 20 mountainsob / 21 anklebreaker / 22 erase-o-dust / 23 shnamistoflopp’n / 24 terrablizza / 25 whirlissimo / 26 vanilla swarm / 27 icyskidski…” you get the drift. See what I did there?

If you’ve got a good tune for our list, tweet @AudioFemme and we’ll add it! Happy Holidays!

PLAYING DETROIT: This Summer’s Hottest Releases You Might’ve Missed

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Summer Like the Season released “Wakey” in July via PopMatters. Photo by Allen Zhang.

As we all know, it’s impossible to keep track of all the incredible music being released on a regular basis, even on a local scale. Instead of focusing on one particular release, I wanted to do a roundup of some seriously solid Detroit artists who released music in June & July. This list spans all genres and shows the deep complexity of Motown’s musical landscape.

Soviet Girls – Filled Up With Nothing EP

This local indie-rock outfit – comprised of Anna Baghina (vocals/guitar), Jonathan Franco (vocals/lead guitar), and Devin Poisson (drums) – released their first set of songs this July and it is a goddamn treat. Teetering somewhere between garage rock and the bright, smart songwriting of the ‘60s (think Beach Boys, early Jonathan Richman), Filled Up With Nothing is a collection of masterfully simple songs, encapsulating the emptiness that lost love, adulthood, and, well, just plain old life can bring, but somehow makes it sound…fun? Enjoy.

Nebr, The Tiger – “w&b”

Detroit hip-hop artist Nebr, the Tiger released an escapist anthem called “w&b,” which stands for “weed and brews.” Sure, it may not be the most cryptic song on the planet, but it’s obviously fuckwithable. Who couldn’t use some weird and a nice brew in THIS economy?

Saajtak – Hectic EP

Consistently impressive art rockers Saajtak offered up their Hectic EP, and it is nothing sort of a sonic masterpiece. Lead vocalist Alex Koi gives a transcendental performance with her ethereal vocals, bending between operatic and punk rock. The title track evokes the mood of its namesake and meditates on the tumult of undying, unhealthy love. “If You Ask” incorporates heavily syncopated beats a la the band’s drummer, Jonathan Taylor. The 7-minute opus is a gorgeous and haunting journey through a myriad of emotions.

Mango Lane – El Diablo

Superfunky indie new-wave group Mango Lane shared single “El Diablo,” a couplet of FTW tracks that will save any shitty day. Its A-Side is a catchy, meaning-fits-all song impossible not to sing along to. The B-Side, “Vacation,” has the same weightless beat with a more grounded theme – wanting to enjoy a vacation but being mentally plagued by responsibilities.

JMSN – “Talk Is Cheap”

Christian Berishaj, a.k.a. JMSN, is a rare and underappreciated jewel of Detroit’s R&B/funk scene. “Talk Is Cheap” is a clap back at all the bullshitters that waste our time – in work, love, friendship, whatever. Berishaj’s no-bullshit message could be easy to miss when delivered by his sweet-as-sugar falsetto, but sinks in deep to anyone who is truly listening.

Summer Like The Season – “Wakey”

Writer, drummer, producer, and all-around talent Summer Krinsky captures restlessness on “Wakey.” What started as a solo effort in 2014 has blossomed into a beautifully balanced quartet complete with Tasha Peace, Scott Murphy, and Sam Naples. The group makes what they coin as “indie art rock bizarro pop,” and I couldn’t describe it better myself. Treat your anxiety-ridden insomnia with “Wakey.”

Legume – Shrug LP

Shrug is a summery, light-hearted, and freaking cute record from local indie-outfit Legume. Channeling some vintage Fleet Foxes vibes, Liam McNitt joins forces with Arman Bonislawski, Paige Huguelet, and Alex Murphy to craft the windows-down sunshine record of choice.


TRACK OF THE WEEK: Lost Boy ? “96”


Davey Jones, the prolific mastermind behind experimental bedroom pop project Lost Boy ?, put out my favorite new summer jam this week! Listening to “96” after scrolling through too many friends’ family vacation photos and recovering from an ice cream binge stomach ache succeeded in making me feel less like an apathetic beach sloth. Its “I’ve only got time for love” hook lies on top of a Violent Femmes-y bass line and bright acoustic guitar, immediately sticking in my sun-fried brain and turning it into a more hopeful warm place. Thanks Davey!

Lost Boy ?’s next NYC show is July 29th at Riis Park Beach Bazaar with THICK, Big Huge & Gobbin Jr. RSVP here.

Check out the rest of our Track of the Week playlist below…

ONLY NOISE: Waterloo

Waterloo always sounded like an exotic place to me, an English garden oasis dotted with fountains and plum trees and those little stone statues of naked angel-babies. The name suggested a swan pond, croquet matches, and crustless triangle sandwiches served at 3 p.m. for tea. Little did I know that the “Waterloo” Ray Davies was singing about in the Kinks’ “Waterloo Sunset,” which first topped the pop charts 51 years ago this week, in fact referred to a bustling train station in the center of London, far removed from the green gardens I’d imagined.

It took living in London to come to this realization. Prior to moving there at 21, I had a vague and filmic idea of the place, which would be better described as ignorant and romantic. I had no perception of London as a real metropolis. Like my relationship with New York before moving here, I simply knew I would love it. I decided to love it. And most of that preemptive love came from the British music I listened to as a child and into my teenage years. The influence of U.K. rock stars and punk urchins so influenced my tastes that as a middle schooler I dreamt up a future business plan that paid homage to my heroes across the pond.

When I was about 12 or 13, I let my dad in on this grand scheme of mine. I told him that when I was older, I was going to open a concert venue (/record store/clothing store/cafe, obviously). I would call it, “The London Underground.” My dad, a person who had actually been to London, as well as many other places, explained to me that this name was already taken, and the use of the word “underground” in that name did not mean “obscure” or “edgy,” but “underground” in the most literal sense. This was because that name belonged to the London metropolitan commuter train, which was in fact, subterranean. It would take me a decade to experience what he was talking about firsthand, but by then I’d at least figured out that owning your own brick and mortar business was a pain in the ass, anyway.

For years I subconsciously learned about different parts of London from songs by my favorite bands. The names of neighborhoods and streets would slip out of the mouths of the Jam’s Paul Weller and the Streets’ Mike Skinner, and funnel straight into my memory, where I kept them tucked away as useless scraps of information about a place I’d never been. The English music I loved so much was imparting me with a partial education on the city all along, but I wasn’t able to utilize until I moved there.

I knew from my favorite Tom Waits songs, for instance, that the “dirty old river” Ray Davies sang about in “Waterloo Sunset” was pronounced “temms,” not “Thames” despite its spelling. I’d like to think this saved me from being pegged as “too American” by my British friends, but my refusal to call bathrooms “the toilet” doomed me from day one. I knew there was a Wardour Street from one of the many Jam songs I loved in college, though I did not know where this “Wardour Street” was. When Morrissey sang about “Battersea” in “You’re the One for Me, Fatty,” I thought he was saying “All I’m about to see;” I had no idea he was talking about a South London power plant. I gleaned that Squeeze’s Glenn Tilbrook was singing about a poor couple getting pregnant and falling on hard times in “Up the Junction,” but didn’t realize the title was a pun combining a British euphemism for pregnancy (“up the duff”) and the northeastern neighborhood of Clapham Junction until I was informed otherwise.

When I moved to New York, the city felt paved with scenes from my favorite movies. When I moved to London, I navigated its circular streets with lines from my favorite songs. These songs followed me as much as I followed them, and my daily commute often felt like an interactive playlist. In 2013 I moved back to London for a summer, and spent two months interning at a fashion house in the southwest corner of the city. My commute took about two hours each way, as I lived on the exact opposite side of town. I’d get on the bus at Clapton Pond at 7 a.m. and transfer at Victoria station roughly an hour later. The moment the bus docked at Victoria, my mind’s DJ would invariably cue up “Victoria” by the Kinks. This was the schedule everyday, and it at times felt like the “I Got You Babe” alarm clock in Groundhog Day. Same song. Same Time. Every day.

From my second story bus seat I could see every street name as we rounded their corners. These were names I knew well, but I didn’t understand the significance of them until those early morning commutes. I passed by Wardour Street, where fortunately, there was no a-bomb. I saw signs for Brixton Station, which brought to mind the Clash’s dub-heavy classic “The Guns of Brixton.” I passed Trafalgar Square, and  Leicester Square, and Sloane Square, each of which was lassoed to a song in my memory.

These associations are deeply ingrained in my hippocampus, and it never took much for a particular song to spill from my subconscious into my waking mind. When passing Vauxhall station, I thought only of Morrissey’s 1993 solo record Vauxhall and I. When my bus careened through Piccadilly Circus, Morrissey was there, too, with his brazen opening track from 1990’s Bona Drag, “Piccadilly Palare.” At times it felt like my brain was home to a 6-CD changer that swapped discs with the slightest provocation. After five years of living Stateside, things have changed: now when I listen to my favorite U.K. bands, I can picture the days when I stood exactly where they sing about.

ONLY NOISE: When You Walk

There is certain music that you share with close friends and family. Music that scores the first dance at your wedding, albums you recommend to your sister, and songs that make your dinner party mix. There is music that feels inherently a part of a communal experience, and necessitates sharing immediately. And then, there is the music you hold close to your chest like a winning hand. The work of Bill Callahan and Smog has always felt like the latter to me, and maybe I haven’t so much held it close as I have ingested it completely.

I initially associated Callahan’s work with the friend who introduced me to it, but over time it’s started to feel like my own discovery. That friend and I have only ever communed with Callahan’s music together once, and that was nearly two years ago. We saw him in concert in the summer of 2016, during the little residency of gigs he did at Baby’s All Right. Theoretically the live performance is the most intimate and collective way to experience music, but even then it felt as if we were alone in crowd, together.

Despite my attempts to share Callahan’s music with other people (none of whom have latched on as ferociously as I did), I have spent the most time with his music in my bedroom, or alone in the kitchen doing dishes. This is very similar to the way I enjoyed music as a teenager, and it begets a certain kind of isolationthough at times I can’t tell if I’m responding to the alienation of Callahan’s characters, or projecting my own sense of it onto his songs. Either way, his music has reached me alone for the better part of two years, in moments of stillness and domestic routine: folding laundry, writing, cooking dinner. For me, his records exist in a permanent state of solitude, which is a state that suits me pretty well. But in light of a recent news break, my relationship with his music is taking a new, more public turn.

On Sunday, Callahan’s longtime record label Drag City dumped the majority of their collection on Spotify, Tidal, and Google Play. The label had already released a portion of its catalogincluding the discographies of Bill Callahan and Smogon Apple Music last year, but due to my distaste for the platform’s user interface (and general distaste for change), I stuck with Spotify, figuring that physically purchasing Callahan’s records on vinyl and listening to that 2001 Smog Peel Session on YouTube for a 408th time would do just fine. But downloading the entirety of Callahan’s output moments after it appeared on Spotify allowed me to do something I’d never really done before: take it outside and walk with it.

I was walking when I got the news, actuallyheading down Dekalb avenue to meet with Audiofemme’s Annie White and Lindsey Rhoades. I don’t typically listen to music when I walk for a number of reasons, but every single one of those reasons flew out the window when this piece of information fluttered into my Twitter feed. As it turned out, Bill Callahan’s enormous, three decade-deep body of work had been in the palm of my hand for over an hour, and I hadn’t even realized. In a snap of instinct, I located Smog’s 1999 album Knock Knock, and cued up “Held,” a song I’ve always felt sounds like a heavy trod. I’ve listened to this track countless times, but hearing it in a state of motion, chugging down the sidewalk on Easter Sunday, I could pick out crisp details that had been muddied by my indoor multitasking for years. The song’s screeching stretches of guitar and the rumbling percussion seemed to propel me forward with amplified force, and I was surprised by the thudding impact of piano late in the track.

It occurred to me that I’d been missing out on an entire conversation with some of my favorite music, and though I don’t love the lack of spatial awareness that comes with walking around New York with headphones on, it seemed necessary to investigate this exchange further. At least if I got hit by a car, I’d die listening to something I love. On a morning trek to Jackson Heights, Queens, I played my favorite Smog LP, 2005’s A River Ain’t Too Much to Love in its entirety. This record is bursting with naturalistic imagery; there are forests of pine, sleeping horses, and rushing streams. These may not be the kind of visuals that spring to mind when you think of Jackson Heights, but the contrast only seemed to beautify the songs and setting. I walked along Junction Boulevard to the tune of “Rock Bottom Riser.” It was a bright day, and I was surprised that I’d never fully absorbed the painterly imagery of the sunlight Callahan conjures with only a few words: “And from the bottom of the river/I looked up for the sun/Which had shattered in the water/And the pieces were raining down/Like gold rings/That passed through my hands.” The sun in my part of the world was passing through windows of the 7 train and bare branched trees, but it wasn’t any less glorious that day.

This new context of listening has allowed me to reach into different corners of Callahan’s songs, inspecting them from all new angles. But the funny thing about hearing his music while walking among other humans is that it kind of reaffirms that original feeling of isolation. Songs like “Teenage Spaceship” and “Ex-Con” comment on this sense of public seclusion. Callahan wrote the former during a period of nocturnal restlessness; he would go for walks around his parents’ neighborhood late at night, noting his sole presence among the stars and the house lights. Listening to it now, having walked at night with it pulsing at top volume, the image of someone strolling in the dark is undeniable. “Ex-Con,” from 1997’s Red Apple Falls touches on this subject more directly. It is notably more upbeat than “Teenage Spaceship,” and its staggered bleats of horn and synth beckon a brisk gaitbut its lyrics act as proverbs for the Outsider. “Alone in my room, I feel like such a part of the community,” sings Callahan. “But out on the streets, I feel like a robot by the river.” Then again, that’s a pretty good summation of New York City sidewalks: millions of people, alone, together.

TRACK OF THE WEEK + INTERVIEW: Elli Perry “Without You”

I saw Elli Perry for the first time in 2010 or 2011 (back when Brooklyn seemed to be at the height of its chillwave/synth-pop ’80s revival), wailing her lungs out with an acoustic guitar. I was too insecure and intimated to start a band, feeling surrounded by pretentious dudes who only listened to whatever had the Pitchfork stamp of approval. My pretty artist boyfriend-at-the-time brought me to this small loft party where Perry may have just have spontaneously picked up the guitar and I couldn’t be more thankful. Her authenticity and powerful voice filled me with a feeling of relief that there were inspiring women in Bushwick who could express themselves at any time, without inhibition. Her new intimate and bluesy number “Without You,” from her EP Totality, captures this magic totally. Her performance encompasses a swaggering attitude that reflects her spontaneity and freedom balanced with a sweet vulnerability.

Perry has long since left Brooklyn and currently lives in an RV in the southwest with her husband, allowing her to tour the country non-stop. Totality was recorded while camping out in her friend’s living room in Collins, CO inside of a blanket fort with one microphone. The EP as a whole is a prime example of how much power she can harness in her vocal performance alone by utilizing such a minimal set up. Totality comes on the heels of her second record, which included members of Deer Tick and My Morning Jacket as collaborators. We had a chance to chat with Elli Perry about her nomadic lifestyle and what happens when you accidentally cross the Mexican border without a passport.

AF: Can you give me a brief synopsis of all the places you’ve been to and important experiences that have happened since the last time I saw you in Brooklyn?

EP: I moved out of Brooklyn in the spring of 2011. Since then, I’ve lived in New Orleans, in an adobe geodesic dome on a mesa outside of Taos NM, in Fort Worth TX, on an island off the south coast of Georgia, in a small stone cottage in the French countryside, in a wallless shack on the Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica, for one very long year in Nashville, and in more Walmart parking lots, public lands, and random driveways than I can count since moving into our RV in February of 2017. Some of the moments and experiences that stand out from those years and places are dancing in Mardi Gras super parades with the carnival krewe I was a part of while living in New Orleans; getting a crash course in self-sufficiency while learning how to homestead, grow my own food, maintain a composting toilet, and other such things that come along with living off grid; getting a divorce; touring 200 days a year for multiple years on end out of my beat up Nissan Cube; lying on the floor of a bistro in the 10th arrondissement of Paris the day after the 2015 terrorist attacks, during the midst of what was thought to be a second attack (but was fortunately a false alarm); recording to tape for the first time while I was tracking my last LP Little Thieves in Nashville; meeting my husband, who I married during the total solar eclipse in August of last year; renovating our RV together; experiencing the kind of confidence and peace that comes from knowing you are making art you truly believe in; and adopting our dog, who is the weirdest creature in the world and my best friend.

AF: 2017 looks like it was an incredibly momentous year for you! How have your performances, creativity, and songwriting evolved over the year?

EP: 2017 was as humbling as it was momentous for me. I had taken several years off from touring and releasing much music, as I had gone through a dark season in my personal life, and needed a lot of time to write and release my last record. By the time it came out and I was back on the road promoting it, I had changed so much that I kind of had to relearn how to be a performer and how to tour. I had gotten sober during those years, which really blew the doors open on my creative output. I can’t overstate the impact sobriety has had on both the quality and quantity of my artwork. But I also had to figure out how to get on stage and then talk to people afterwards without a drink in my hand. That was a challenge, as someone who deals with social anxiety, and who is also front and center by herself all the time – I don’t tour with a band, so there’s no one else who can help be my buffer or take up some of that interactive slack with the audience. I’m also touring with my home, husband, and dog with me now, which is about as different as can be from road-dogging it out of a car and living in motels or sleeping on air mattresses in the living rooms of strangers. But once I started to work out the kinks of those new logistical elements, it ended up being one of the most powerful creative periods I’ve ever experienced. Releasing a record that I had spent so much time on cleared up vast stretches of mental real estate for other creative work. I’ve grown a lot as a writer, and my writing process has changed significantly. I’m also a visual artist, which was something I concentrated on a lot last year. I painted all of the artwork for my last album packaging, and collaborated with my husband on the artwork for this EP (he’s a photographer, so we spend a lot of time working on projects together). I decided to make Totality about halfway through last year, and was chomping at the bit to get into the studio by the time I was able to actually plop down and record it somewhere. I’m about halfway through writing my next LP, which I plan to record later this year. Suffice it to say, 2017 left me with a lot of inspiration and drive.

AF: How did you come to the decision to move into an RV? How did you find your RV, does it have a name and what is your favorite RV-related story that’s happened so far?

EP: I started thinking about buying an RV after establishing the release date for Little Thieves. I didn’t want to be away from my husband for months on end, we didn’t like where we were living nor did we want to keep paying an exorbitant rent to be there, and I knew I wanted to tour differently than I had before. As you know well, road life burns you the fuck out. I just didn’t want to go through that again. The idea of being able to cook my own dinners and crawl into my own bed after shows sounded very appealing. I started obsessively scouring online sales listings, and finally found our rig in Savannah, Georgia, about an hour from where my parents live. It is named “The Turtle.” We gutted and renovated it ourselves – that was a story and experience in and of itself. Apart from that, my favorite RV story is no doubt when my husband accidentally drove us into Mexico without passports, and we were detained by Border Control while they searched the RV with dogs for nearly an hour. They were so convinced that two people who look like we do, who “accidentally” crossed the border were packing something illegal. We weren’t. Stress and subsequent hilarity ensued.

AF: After creating a super-polished full length record and a more bare-bones EP, which recording experience did you enjoy more and what do you think you would like to do next production wise?

EP: I loved both recording experiences equally. For all their differences, they share two significant commonalities. First, they’re both projects I was immensely proud of, and material that I really needed to get out of my head/heart and into the world. Second, and probably most importantly, both were collaborations with my friends. The musicians who played on these two records are folks who I admire to no end, and they also happen to be people I love. You can’t ask for much more than that when bringing a record to life. I will say that from a technical perspective, I far prefer analog recording to digital. For the next record, I hope to marry the two experiences by bringing together collaborators from both projects. Adam Landry, who produced Little Thieves, is such an amazing friend, and is my guitar guru. Bryan Gibson, who played cello on Totality and mixed the EP, is one of my oldest musical mates. We’ve been playing together since I was a teenager. Getting those two in the same room together would be a dream. The next record will be full band again. But I’ll probably follow it with another stripped down EP for the hell of it. I don’t want to have to choose one approach or the other. And I certainly don’t want to ever go three years without releasing a record again! That shit is for the birds.

Listen to the full Track of The Week Playlist below…



ONLY NOISE: Love Songs

If you were lucky enough to get them, you must admit: by now the chocolates have been eaten, and the roses are beginning to droop. Maybe there are a few once-bitten, raspberry cream rejects left in that heart-shaped box of truffles your main squeeze gave you, but they will retire to the trash can only a few days before the flowers. Valentine’s Day was this week, and if you couldn’t guess by my tone (and annual, grumpy V-Day column), the only thing I did was my laundry. Afterwards, I ate a shrimp Panang curry for one, and listened to the stories of my one true love: NPR.

I know what you must be thinking, and you’re right. Being a single human in New York is thrilling. Despite all of my sarcasm, it really can be. You don’t have to answer to anyone outside of work. You get to take yourself to dinner and read a book instead of forcing conversation or watching your date scroll through his Instagram feed. You can travel spontaneously, flirt at will, and cat-sit for your married friends with better apartments. But societal constructs and the bulk of pop culture are not here to make single people feel better. Carrie Bradshaw, the fictional star of TV’s Sex and the City and patron saint of single ladies for years, gets hitched in the series’ first film adaptation. In the Fifty Shades trilogy, what’s disguised as a taboo romance ultimately ends in marital normalcy, including the overbearing husband, kids, big house, etc. Off the top of my head, I can probably think of two romantic comedies (and I’ve seen a surprising amount of them) that ended realistically, with the lovers in question going their separate ways.

But music, as a medium, is far more honest about the harsh realities and banalities of love. The love song does not promise a happy ending. In fact, converse to romantic comedies, I can barely think of a love song that ends well. The most memorable ones end horribly, or at the very least, unresolved. Some convey longing for a relationship that never was and never will be. Others pick at the untidy details of a failing one, as if plucking wilted petals off a flower until only its bald center remains. The former yearning can be found in classic pop songs like Sam Cooke’s “Cupid,” which, despite its blissful melody, is about the most extreme version of unrequited love. “I love a girl who doesn’t know I exist,” Cooke sings, which seems as hopeless as it does impossible. How can you really love someone when you’ve never had an interaction, let alone a date?

Cooke’s song maintains a promise reinforced by decades of film, television, and (some) pop songs: that if you could only get the person you desire to look at you, to kiss you, and to eventually love you, that everything will be ok. The movie ends with the first kiss. The TV show draws out and dramatizes the dating ritual for seasons on end. The song, however, has only so many minutes to tell a story, and nothing – not even a kiss – is ever guaranteed. To me, love songs have always felt like snapshots documenting individual phases of a relationship, or lack thereof, rather than the broader perspective visual storytelling can offer.

One master of these snapshots is Elvis Costello. Costello’s breakup songs are so biting I often wish he worked on commission to pen vengeful letters to exes. But he’s also capable of conveying the most vulnerable aspects of monogamy. Tracks like “Little Triggers” (from This Year’s Model) and “Different Finger” (a song about infidelity on an album called Trust) strip the varnish from matrimonial bliss. Costello succinctly captures the spiteful side of relationships in the first few lines of the former, when he sings of “Little triggers that you pull with your tongue;” if you don’t know exactly what he means, I suspect you have never dated, and had parents who hid their arguments well.

The love song is in a category unto itself, but it splinters into infinite subcategories spanning countless genres. The unrequited love song; the breakup song; the disintegrating-relationship-but-not-quite-breaking-up-yet song; the song about cheating; the song about being cheated on; the you-broke-my-heart-but-I-still-want-you-despite-having-no-rational-excuse-for-that song; the song about being so hurt, you pull the emotions plug and cut yourself off from ever loving again; I could sit here for days digging heartbroken anecdotes from the crevices of pop’s past. I could also list of some pure love songs, the ones that stay true to their title and end happily ever after. But who needs to hear those right now? The people lucky enough to be in love don’t need help this week. They got their chocolates and their flowers. And what do the rest of us get? I suppose almost every song ever written is a good place to start.

ONLY NOISE: Christmas Wrapping

I’m not one to jumpstart holiday season. For the previous nine years, I’ve left Christmas shopping until December 23rd – and if it weren’t for my annual Christmas Eve flight, I’d likely wait another day. As of now, I haven’t even begun making my Christmas list, on which I assign gift ideas to relatives. This usually occurs on December 22nd. Fortunately, my unquestionably kinder and more responsible older sister texted me earlier this week, asking if a certain member of our family would or would not like a couple of albums she was considering gifting them (I can’t get too specific for obvious reasons, unless I want a lump of coal for Xmas for ruining surprises).

In 2017, buying an album for someone’s Christmas present is a little weird. A staggering number of listeners can find the music they want via streaming services, and though the vinyl industry has made a robust comeback, my sister is not talking about vinyl.

In my family, a CD is still a 100% acceptable gift to give and receive. My dad still has two wooden shelves of them, towering next to his vinyl collection in the dining room-cum-office. His collection is growing, too, as a favorite weekend pastime of his involves visiting the bargain bins at the local Silver Platters. He typically gives me a report of any new purchases, including how big of a deal he scored.

In a way, the CD has simplified gift giving in my family. It’s cheaper (and more flight-friendly) than vinyl. Sure, it’s more expensive than an MP3, but you can’t exactly wrap an MP3, now can you? Regardless of your family’s preferred musical medium, here is a shopping list of new albums for the whole family: from moms to dads, brothers to cats.

Mom: Not Even Happiness by Julie Byrne

My mom would probably prefer the new Quiet Riot record, but I’m not going to recommend that for your mom, who is probably a far classier lady. Julie Byrne’s sophomore album Not Even Happiness is, dare I say, indisputably gorgeous. Byrne’s lyrics are devastating and poignant, formed from her wind-song voice. Mom can do about anything to this record: drive, read a book, sip some wine, or simply listen intently on a Sunday evening.

Dad: Semper Femina by Laura Marling

I’d say it’s a pretty good time for men to listen to overtly feminist music, and this is a great feminist record by brilliant songwriter Laura Marling. Marling’s writing expertise matches her guitar playing and steely-sweet voice, of which she has astonishing control. She can reach soprano heights in one bar, and plumb the depths of early Fiona Apple in the next. Songs like “Wild Fire” and “Nothing, Not Nearly” codify Marling as a master of the craft, weaving soul, folk, and pure poetry into accessible pop melodies.

Sister: Ash by Ibeyi

A record of, by, and for sisters, brought to you by Naomi and Lisa-Kaindé Diaz. The French-Venezuelan Afro-Cuban twins give a whole new meaning to the word “sisterhood” considering their highly collaborative songwriting process. Ash, the duo’s sophomore LP, is steeped in messages of racial equality and female empowerment, the later shining through in cuts like “No Man Is Big Enough for My Arms” which features samples from a Michelle Obama speech. “The measure of any society is how it treats its women and girls,” Obama insists. I’m sure your sister (and hopefully your entire family) will agree.

Brother: DAMN by Kendrick Lamar

This record needs no introduction, nor explanation. Kendrick has done it again! Plus, gifting this to your brother ensures great one-liners to pen inside the corresponding card. For example: “Why don’t you already own this, are you living under a rock?” and “Bitch, be humble.”

Aunt who’s into crystals: A Common Truth by Saltland

One of my all-time favorite joke-news headlines read: “Local Woman Believes In Crystals But Not Herself,” a hilarious dig, but one you have to shelve during the holidays. In all seriousness, Saltland’s atmospheric A Common Truth is both a stunning record and a perfect present for someone who’s into “vibes.” Cellist Rebecca Foon collages rippling soundscapes atop sparse vocals extolling environmental preservation. Also, there is literally a crystal on the album cover.

Uncle who rides a Harley: Villains by Queens of the Stone Age

I’m not going to lie, I’m not a big Queens of the Stone Age fan, and I don’t love this record… but your uncle will. Just imagine him ripping open the wrapping paper to find a dude in a motorcycle jacket and the devil himself riding on the back of his bike. He will undoubtedly shout “bitchin’!” and take you out for a spin before dinner.

Your significant other Your Ex: ÷ by Ed Sheeran 

Step one: burn Sheeran’s insufferable third album onto a blank CD. Step two: write, “Best Bands of 2017” on the disk in sharpie, mixtape style. Step three: send it anonymously. Hopefully it will take your ex a while to realize he’s been listening to Ed Sheeran unwillingly.

Your Cat: Music For Cats by David Teie

A record designed to please Mr. and Ms. Kitty. David Teie, a soloist with the National Symphony Orchestra, developed Music For Cats with animal scientists. The result is a lovely mélange of string swells, birdsong, and of course, purring. Though it’s “for cats,” it’s a score I’d be happy to listen to with or without a feline companion. The standout track? “Katey Moss Catwalk,” of course.

ONLY NOISE: Thanksgiving Dinner

Thanksgiving is a controversial holiday with a wretched color scheme. The Hallmark credo of thankfulness is thin when stretched against this country’s historical relationship with Native Americans. The shirking of materialism is undercut when Black Friday rolls around. To many, Thanksgiving is merely a day to get tanked, watch college football, and shout about politics with Uncle Larry.

Holidays are hard for me. I’m not religious, my family lives 3,000 miles away, and if I did live closer to them, I’d have to decide which half to celebrate with. I don’t like the premise of most holidays either – the fact that we need a nationally ordained day to eat a meal together and be thankful has cynical implications – as if we aren’t thankful for the food we share together the remaining days of the calendar year. As you know, I could easily play the curmudgeon and pick these things apart to forever, but there is one thing Thanksgiving has going for itself that I just can’t knock: the food!

A delicious meal is a delicious meal, and I’m thankful for all of them, but Thanksgiving dinner is a particularly iconic spread of dishes only Americans can understand – like, say, canned cranberry sauce and mini marshmallow encrusted sweet potatoes. The Turkey Day smorgasbord is vast and overwhelming; gluttonous and nap inducing. In fact, it is so immense that I’ve put together a soundtrack to help us waddle through each course.

The Turkey

We don’t call it “Turkey Day” for nothin.’ You don’t have to hang your kids hand-traced paper turkey art on your fridge each year for nothin’ either. The turkey is the main event on Thanksgiving, and whether you’re the one butchering it, cooking it, or simply eating it, the big bird that goes “gobble gobble” is going to affect your life this week. So why not give the poor bird a song? “Stuffy Turkey” by Thelonious Monk is a great place to start – a classy jazz number to score the bird’s arrival, all glazed and brown and stuffed. Follow it up with the frantic “Turkey Chase” by Bob Dylan as you and your family members squabble over precious dark meat morsels. And finally, blast Butthole Surfers’ “Turkey and Dressing,” which will provide the necessary aggression to finish your plate of food, and weather Uncle Larry’s xenophobic rants.


When Peaches sings, “I see you sittin’ and stuffin’ your face/Why don’t you stuff me up?” on 2003’s “Stuff Me Up,” she is clearly personifying the Turkey in your kitchen, begging to be filled with breadcrumb dressing, aka “stuffing.”

See also: “Stuffy Turkey.”

Mashed Potatoes

What would Thanksgiving be without a vat of butter sodden mashed potatoes? Just another Thursday, that’s what. There are a lot of songs that pay tribute to the “mashed potato,” referring to the wildly popular 1960s dance move. Rufus Thomas’ “Mashed Potatoes,” however, is a tune that rightfully exalts potatoes in their many forms, be they “French fried potatoes” or the titular, macerated kind. For purists, The Ventures’ ode to the side dish, “Mashed Potato Time” has but two lyrics: “Mashed” and “Potatoes.”


It appears that Dee Dee Sharp’s “Gravy (For My Mashed Potatoes)” may be a grotesque sexual innuendo, but at least it’s spot on for Thanksgiving Dinner. Like Sharp, we likely won’t get through the evening without shouting, “C’mon baby/I want some gravy!”

Rock n’ roll has been good to gravy, as there are countless songs that reference the rightful sidekick to turkey and mashed potatoes. Gravy grooves range from the instructional (Paul Kelly’s “How To Make Gravy”), traditional (George Benson’s “Giblet Gravy”), and of course, the addictive (“Nicotine & Gravy” by Beck).

Sweet Potatoes

The idiosyncratic orange cousin of russet potatoes, sweet potatoes come in many forms. Baked whole, sliced au gratin, glazed, and of course: mashed and smothered in tiny marshmallows. In the music world, sweet potatoes seem to have as much clout – and erotic overtones – as gravy. As Lonnie Johnson sings in the searing “Sweet Potato Blues,” “If you want sweet potatoes/Bake it in my pan.” For a less raunchy take, check out Pete Seeger’s family-friendly “Soon As We All Cook Sweet Potatoes.”

Green Bean Casserole

There is an unjust deficit of green bean songs on the Internet, and even fewer that mention the congealed, Turkey Day staple we refer to as Green Bean Casserole. What I have found in the musical spirit of hericots verts has been pretty dismal. Especially “Green Beans,” a warbled electro cut that slanders its namesake ingredient by repeating, “I don’t like green beans” through a vocoder too many times. The most practical application of this song would be as a punishment for children who don’t eat their vegetables. Weary parents of picky eaters should make them listen to it fifty times in a row.

Cranberry Sauce

If you thought there weren’t enough songs about green beans, then you’ll be horrified by the dearth of cranberry sauce ditties. Such a peculiar condiment deserves to be memorialized in song. Alas, the closest we can get to an aural rendering of that red, gelatinous cylinder is ‘90s Irish alt-group The Cranberries. Their catalogue may be pretty food-reference-free, but songs like “Ode To My Family” and “No Need To Argue” fit perfectly with the relatives-around-the-table theme of Turkey Day. And who could forget “Linger” – the band’s biggest hit, which could very well reference the relentless food coma that looms post-feast.

Pumpkin Pie

Last, but certainly not least in our festive meal is dessert. Though different tribes may take their coffee with a variety of sweets, pumpkin pie is the poster pudding for Thanksgiving. It is also (much like mashed potatoes, gravy, and sweet potatoes before) a euphemism for genitalia. Look no further than The California Honeydrops’ ditty “Pumpkin Pie” (off of the subtly titled Spreadin’ Honey LP), which begs in a brazenly possessive manner, “Won’t you save all your pumpkin pie just for me, girl?” A similar winking nastiness can be found in Bob Dylan’s 1969 number “Country Pie,” which nods to pies of pumpkin, and many other flavors. Let’s just pretend these songs really are about pie for one night, what do ya say? Your family will thank you for it.

ONLY NOISE: One More Cup of Coffee

I’ve stopped counting the number of times “coffee” is mentioned in Patti Smith’s M Train. The short answer is: a lot; coffee is the lifeblood coursing through the entire book. Coffee is the daily elixir of Smith’s life, and she finds great poetry in every sip – from hand-selected, highland grown beans in Veracruz, to the charred offerings of Styrofoam deli cups – she wants “to write an aria to coffee.” Yet, quite surprisingly, the poet and songwriter never did. Smith’s connotations with coffee result from her caffeine-fueled memoirs and New York coffee shop patronage, and she is therefore one of the artists I most strongly associate with those bitter brown beans. I imagine that her version of heaven is an eternal corner table in her favorite café, where the brown bread and olive oil never run out and the coffee flows black and hot.

Considering today is National Coffee Day, I can’t help but think about the decades, even centuries long relationship between music and coffee. Who are the musicians who’ve paid homage to the drink named Joe? And which artists, like Smith, evoke coffee shop romanticism without needing to sing of a single sip?

Since Smith never wrote her aria di caffè, I can only speculate what coffee represents to her. In M Train it signifies ritual; each day of import is commenced with a description of her coffee and breakfast regimen, but not in an Instagram diary manner. Smith isn’t keeping a food journal for fitness purposes. Rather, it seems that every sip of coffee transports her back in time, where she can commune with her beloved Beat poets, and sit in Mohammed Mrabet’s fictional The Beach Café for a little while. Surely it must also evoke her greatest influence, Bob Dylan, and his early days at the Gaslight Café.

Coffee pairs with Bob Dylan just as well as cigarettes (a classic duo we’ll get to in a moment.) From his Greenwich Village coffee shop days and his caffeinated delivery on songs like “Subterranean Homesick Blues” and “Talkin’ New York,” to his 1975 ballad “One More Cup of Coffee,” Dylan and java go hand-in-hand. In fact, because of his proximity to the Beats, Dylan was one of the musicians who pioneered the image of a rock n’ roll poet holed up in a café, dousing themselves with free refills and stamping out smokes while scribbling lyrics. Smith merely conjured her idols, and eventually became one herself.

Like Patti Smith, Tom Waits never wrote a song with the word “coffee” in the title – but can you think of a musician more at home on the pleather booth seats of a 24-hour diner? Waits is seemingly made of coffee grounds, burger grease, and cigarette tar. The same year that Dylan released “One More Cup of Coffee,” Waits recorded his iconic live album Nighthawks at the Diner, a jazz-beat-opera to the greasy spoon lifestyle. The most caffeinated track on Nighthawks has to be “Eggs And Sausage (In A Cadillac With Susan Michelson),” which relays the deadbeat clientele and menu options of a roadside-dining joint. “…There’s a rendezvous/of strangers around the coffee urn tonight/all the gypsy hacks, the insomniacs…/eggs and sausage and a side of toast/coffee and a roll, has browns over easy…/it’s a graveyard charade, a late shift masquerade.”

If Bob Dylan and Patti Smith claimed cafés for the poets, Waits reclaimed them for their rightful patrons: nightshift gas station attendants, prostitutes, and aimless drunks. When bars are only open until 4am (2am if you are on the West Coast like Waits), where is one to go in the wee and in between hours? The diner of course, where coffee flows cheaply and liberally. That is the beauty of coffee shops and canteens: they offer refuge for those who don’t have an office or a studio, and can’t afford to wash themselves in fine wine or dine out on the regular. In the coffee shop, you can purchase a single item (a cup of coffee) and sit for hours on end working, reading, or simply sipping. And not too long ago, you could also smoke.

It’s no coincidence that Waits sings of “cold caffeine in a nicotine cloud” in “Eggs And Sausage.” The narcotic pair has been canonized in literature, music, and film for years. Jim Jarmusch’s 2003 flick Coffee and Cigarettes plumbs the eternal relationship between the two vices, and whom does he turn to for much of his cast? Musicians, naturally. Coffee and Cigarettes is comprised of eleven short scenes revolving around the titular pleasures. Three of these scenes involve famous musicians, the most memorable being Somewhere In California, featuring Iggy Pop and, you guessed it, Tom Waits.

The rock icons meet in a corner booth, sipping black coffee and making awkward conversation. Though Pop and Waits both quit smoking long ago, a mysterious pack of Marlboros sits on the table. The marriage of coffee and cigarettes (and coffee and rock n’ roll and cigarettes) is so undeniable, that the smokes have just magically appeared. After realizing that since they’ve already quit, they can now partake every once in a while, Waits and Pop light up and bask in nicotine. “Hey, cigarettes and coffee man…that’s a combination,” says Iggy. Waits nods in agreement. “You know, we’re really like the coffee-and-cigarettes generation, when you think about it,” he says. “Well I mean, in the ‘40s it was the pie-and-coffee generation…”

When Otis Redding recorded “Cigarettes and Coffee” for The Soul Album in 1966, the substances seemed to represent domestic bliss as well as stimulating conversation. “It’s early in the morning/About a quarter till three,” sings Redding, “I’m sittin’ here talkin’ with my baby/Over cigarettes and coffee, now.” Perhaps Redding’s positioning of coffee in rock n’ roll is the most honest – suggesting that its warmth and ceremonial nature recalls home.

Other than booze and blood, coffee has to be the most romantic liquid in the Western Song Book. Cowboys and rappers like it black (unless you’re the Beastie Boys, and must have your “sugar with coffee and cream.”) Blur has it with TV, Squeeze drinks it in bed, and Kate Bush wants it homeground. And in the 1970s, Patti Smith ventured to all the way to Mexico is search of the ideal brew. “It was February 14,” she recalls in M Train, “and I was about to give my heart to a perfect cup of coffee.”

ONLY NOISE: Bringing It All Back Home

By the time you read this, I’ll be home. Not the home I’ve made for nearly a decade – not New York home. I’ll be “home” with a big “H.” The “home” Carole King sang of in “Home Again,” the home James Joyce fled but could never stop writing about, the home of countless poems and plays.

It’s not controversial to say that most songs are about love in some capacity, but I would wager that music about home – whether leaving or returning – makes up a hefty portion of the American songbook as well. Some say there’s no place like it, some say you can never go back to it, but everyone seems to have an opinion on the matter.

I recently conducted a small and unscientific social media survey attempting to crowdsource peoples’ favorite songs about home. This is something I frequently do for various reasons, including a desire for musical diversity, and plain ol’ laziness. But of all my little studies, I’ve never been met with so many responses as this one produced. Home is clearly a topic that hits, well, home.

But why? The participants in my study don’t have too much in common, so their suggestions were all over the sonic spectrum. The only consistent factor between the contributors is that each of them has left home; none of them currently reside in the place they grew up. That seems to be the defining aspect for music about home as well – the longing needs the leaving. How can you miss something, how can you return to something, unless you’ve left it to begin with? In fact, the only song I’ve found thus far about just staying at home is Dolly Parton’s “My Tennessee Mountain Home.” But only the angelic Ms. Parton could be wise enough to appreciate what she has in the moment – the rest of us must lose it first.

While I love and respect Dolly’s depiction of home, I sure as hell can’t relate to it. “Church on a Sunday” and “June bugs on a string” are foreign things to me, about as foreign as Tennessee itself. Bob Dylan’s 1961 “I Was Young When I Left Home” however, strikes quite a chord. “I was young when I left home,” Dylan cries. “And I been out a’ramblin’ ‘round/And I never wrote a letter to my home.” This early-career track captures a far more familiar feeling than Parton’s jovial country ballad. While Dolly evokes domestic satisfaction, Dylan unmasks guilt.

Guilt, along with a strong cocktail of superiority and shame, seem to be the base ingredients for songs about home. Dylan’s portrayal of guilt came in the form of negligence – the thought that while, and perhaps because you are off making a life for yourself, the people you left behind are suffering: “It was just the other day/I was drinkin’ on my pay/When I met an old friend I used to know,” Dylan continues. “He said your mother’s dead and gone/Your baby sister’s all gone wrong/And your daddy needs you home right away.”

The call home is something many of us will experience at some stage in our lives, and it is always a strange beckoning. Revisiting the point of origin you love or hate, or love and hate, is an exercise in ambivalence. We miss home, and we dread home. We want to pay our respects to the cities that birthed us, but we also want to look good for it like home is an old flame; we want to let it know we’re doing just fine without it. As Dylan sings, “Not a shirt on my back/Not a penny on my name/Well I can’t go home this a’way.” The thought of returning to our doorstep worse off than when we left it seems humiliating.

I was young when I left home, too, but “home” for me has always been a fragmented thing. Before I left for New York, I’d lived in nine different houses, and my parents have since moved into their tenth, then eleventh, abode (oddly enough, I sometimes think I moved to New York to settle down). When I “go home,” it isn’t technically going home. The remnants of my childhood belongings are in boxes, save for some clothing hung in the closet and records parked in my dad’s collection. I don’t really have a childhood home, but this is more of a blessing than you might realize. For instance, my childhood home will never burn down. I will never have to sell my childhood home, or squabble over its title with siblings. I will never watch it decay or become condemned – because it doesn’t exist. Home for me has never been a house – it has never been measured in shingles or siding, but in people and meals and songs. I remember when interviewing Bill Callahan last summer I asked what made him feel at home. “My wife,” he said. “My nylon string guitar if that’s all I got to hold on to. Bob Odenkirk as Jimmy McGill.”

Similarly, my version of home resides more in my father’s jumbo 6-string guitar than any midcentury bungalow or wrap-around porch. My dad hasn’t owned a home since 1998, and his rentals have been numerous. Some were even pretty badass – one had a pool table and a hot tub, but while the billiard balls and Jacuzzi did not travel on, the instruments and 4,000 LPs always have. When moving, the turntable and albums were always the first things to be unpacked and set up properly.

Still, “home” encompasses a lot more than just the nuclear family and its hearth. It’s the surrounding town too, and for me that’s the tricky part. The dissonance of visiting a place you never quite belonged is best depicted in songs like Catch Prichard’s “You Can Never Go Home Again” and Blaze Foley’s “Clay Pigeons.” Songs like these remind us that home is a construct; it is a perfect merging of time and nostalgia that you can never physically return to. Foley was well aware of this fact when he sang, “I could build me a castle of memories/Just to have somewhere to go.” 

It’s a troubling thought, but maybe we’re so intrigued by the idea of returning home because we want to be rewarded for escaping it in the first place. Look at movies like Garden State and Columbus, or really, any flick about self-righteous, post-collegiate white people returning home to assert their superiority over the ‘townies’ they left behind. Music has a far more graceful relationship with home I reckon, but one can’t help but notice the conflict residing in cuts like “A Long Way From Home” by The Kinks. “I hope you find what you are looking for with your car and handmade overcoats,” Ray Davies snipes. “But your wealth will never make you stronger ’cause you’re still a long way from home.”

Perhaps it is the artists who fled home so quickly that spend the most time singing about it; those who are never home, who are in constant motion, are the ones continuously pondering stillness. Or maybe home is so appealing because the future is always so uncertain. To quote another Kinks song about home, “This Time Tomorrow”: “I don’t know where I’m going, I don’t want to see.”