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Sara

TRACK MARKS 2019: “Cellophane” by FKA Twigs

Track Marks is a recurring SportsAlcohol.com feature that invites writers to briefly discuss a song that is meaningful to them in any way. As usual, we’re closing out the year by talking about a bunch of songs that we loved over the past 12 months.

As far as materials with metaphorical possibilities go, cellophane has been more durable than its flimsy texture might suggest. Lest it have faded from your memory since 2002, John C. Reilly’s big number in the film version of Chicago casts him as a sad clown singing of how people “can look right through me, walk right by me, and never know I’m there.” But FKA twigs is singing about a different kind of transparency here: the kind that comes with the vulnerability of loving another person, of letting yourself be seen fully, perhaps for the first time.

FKA twigs has had a difficult couple of years. Following a very public breakup with Robert Pattinson, she announced that six fibroid tumors had been discovered in her uterus, forcing her to undergo an invasive surgery. For an artist of such lithe physicality, it must have been devastating, but she rebuilt herself in her typically idiosyncratic way: by learning pole-dancing. Her new skill is on full display in the video for “cellophane,” but she’s equally adept at expressing the song’s muscular intimacy when performing live, as she demonstrated on Jimmy Fallon’s show back in late October.

It’s one of the weirder pairings of artist and venue, which also makes it all the more remarkable to watch unfold. She starts seated on a piano, her voice tiptoeing out towards the audience. You can almost feel her listeners leaning closer, drawn into her singular vortex, the lyrics painting a portrait of a love doomed by the pressures a greedy public has exerted on it. “They want to see us apart,” she sings, the phrase fluttering like something about to be picked up by the wind. And later: “I don’t want to have to share our love.” Just because you asked for the spotlight doesn’t mean it won’t burn you. But she lifts herself up as she goes, both vocally and literally onstage, her great strength lying paradoxically in her defenselessness, inviting us to watch as she symbolically sheds her own skin. “THIS is how you flex on your ex,” says one of the YouTube comments on the performance, and it’s true. If you know they’re going to be watching, better make sure it’s a sight they won’t forget.

TRACK MARKS 2019: “Devotion” by Pure Bathing Culture

Track Marks is a recurring SportsAlcohol.com feature that invites writers to briefly discuss a song that is meaningful to them in any way. As usual, we’re closing out the year by talking about a bunch of songs that we loved over the past 12 months.

Mention that a band sounds like Fleetwood Mac to the SportsAlcohol crew and the reaction can be a mixed bag (you can separate the haters from the ones who are right by listening to this podcast episode about California music). That’s especially true when you’re talking about the Fleetwood Mac of the Tango in the Night era, when the melodies get a little more sugary, the lyrics a little less angsty and a little more new age-y. An artist picking up on those sounds in 2019 better know what they’re risking. The result could be euphoric; it could also be downright embarrassing.

For me, at least, it never hurts when the band has a “go big or go home” attitude about it, and Pure Bathing Culture certainly has that. After being unexpectedly dropped by their label with many of the songs for Night Pass already written, the band decided to forge ahead anyway, piecing together a record of heady ’70s bliss from the wreckage, of which “Devotion” is an early highlight. It tells a familiar tale of a reluctant lover, someone who’s reached out so many times and is stunned to find someone reaching back, supported by the sort of jangly riff that could slide easily between Hall & Oates and Prefab Sprout on any classic rock radio playlist (provided there are any stations that are playing “Bonnie” these days). While the imagery of the lyrics is all effervescence and mysticism (according to them, devotion “puts the stars in the jewels” which, sure, why not), the production from Tucker Martine, who’s worked with R.E.M. and My Morning Jacket, grounds the song, keeping it from spinning too far off into the stratosphere. Sarah Versprille’s voice has a similar effect; like the best elements of Stevie Nicks and Christine McVie combined she manages to sound both earthy and otherworldly at once. “She wrapped her arms around me,” Versprille sings with just a whiff of desperation, and “Devotion” does the same for the listener, swaddling you in a reverb warmth that’s not unlike falling in love.

TRACK MARKS 2019: “Seventeen” by Sharon Von Etten

Track Marks is a recurring SportsAlcohol.com feature that invites writers to briefly discuss a song that is meaningful to them in any way. As usual, we’re closing out the year by talking about a bunch of songs that we loved over the past 12 months.

Some anthems announce themselves before you’ve even pressed play. You don’t call a song “Born in the U.S.A.” and not open with stadium-sized power chords, even if the lyrics they’re backing take the piss out of such nationalistic fervor. A title like “Seventeen” also conjures all sorts of associations for listeners both nostalgic and painful, but Sharon Van Etten’s ode to youth is ready to carry whatever baggage is brought to it. Like much of the Boss’s classic catalog, it works as a rock song and a reckoning simultaneously.

Van Etten has made no secret about how much an abusive relationship has influenced her songwriting, and about how uncomfortable this makes her, and much of her superlative 2019 album Remind Me Tomorrow feels like a conscious attempt to move beyond such narratives while acknowledging the impossibility of ever doing so completely. It’s a work both haunting and haunted, almost Lynchian at times with its slinky synths and narcotized soundscapes. It’s not always an easy listen, which is why “Seventeen” initially feels like something of a relief, rolling up at the album’s halfway mark like a car with its top down, filled with the people you used to be.

But if “Seventeen” looks backward, it does with eyes wide open. As Van Etten observes a young woman on the cusp of adulthood, her lyrics straddle the line between wisdom and longing, embodying both the girl’s anxious rush to grow up and the singer’s wish to shield her from what that might mean. At times, it’s as if she’s addressing to her own ghost: “I see you so uncomfortably alone/I wish you could see how much you’ve grown.” It feels like a distinctly feminine thing to fear: that your younger self would look at what you’ve become and sneer. But Van Etten refuses to sneer back. It’s why this song will last long after 2019 is in the rear view. Because whether you’re at the beginning of your next decade or the end of one, it’s got something to say to you.

4 and 3 and 2 and 1: Counting Down the Best Episodes of Broad City

When Broad City premiered back in January 2014, it was easy to underestimate. Pitched as an affable stoner millennial version of Laverne and Shirley, it didn’t quite announce itself as the “voice of a generation,” like another hyped-up NYC-set girl-centric show. But as one of the first female-produced series to get a full order from Comedy Central, it had to thread a more delicate needle, smuggling in its fiercely feminist, queer worldview amongst the requisite scatological and drug humor, proving itself the more subversive in the process. Not that the women of Broad City would ever think of themselves as competing with anyone else. Ultimately what makes the show so memorable and endearing is the central partnership of Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer and the specificity of the city they inhabit. The genuineness of their love for one another and the seat-of-the-pants mode of their survival felt more realistic to me as I navigated the same metropolis for over a decade (minus the Vicodin-induced Bingo Bronson sightings, regrettably). That I was preparing to leave New York just as the final season of Broad City premiered seemed oddly right. But wherever the series decides to send Abbi and Ilana next, their legacy will continue to live on in shows as varied as HBO’s High Maintenance and Insecure to TBS’s Search Party, and in every “Yaas Queen!” shouted to the heavens. Before we bid farewell, in true SportsAlcohol tradition, let’s celebrate with the five best episodes of this singularly absurd, delightfully daffy show.
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Grammy Week Track Marks: “Nobody” by Mitski

The Grammys are happening this Sunday, and in celebration (?!), a few SportsAlcohol.com folks will be offering up some words about some of our favorite songs of 2018.

It’s a tough time for romantics. Nobody (heh, heh) understood that better in 2018 than Mitski, who put out a concept album on the possibilities and pitfalls of commitment called Be the Cowboy, a slippery piece of work that never quite plays its whole hand and is all the better for it. Prior to this single, it wasn’t immediately obvious that Mitski was at all interested in producing dance music, but this is a beat that even depressed people can dance to. The lyrics mention a love planet “destroyed by global warming,” just in case you were still wondering where millennial concerns truly lie.

There’s a chilliness and distance to “Nobody” that embodies our current state of courtship at its best and worst. “I don’t want your pity/I just want somebody near me,” Mitski sing-speaks at one point, and there’s perhaps no better encapsulation of the ennui that many young people feel these days, when communication is at everyone’s fingertips but connection remains just out of reach. Mitski’s delivery has a certain vulnerability to it, but there’s also the sense that this is just another shield. She’s singing to a void, after all. Perhaps the future of club music is songs you can dance to alone. In that case, Mitski has a long career ahead of her. Not that there was any doubt about that.

Grammy Week Track Marks: “How to Socialize & Make Friends” by Camp Cope

The Grammys are happening this Sunday, and in celebration (?!), a few SportsAlcohol.com folks will be offering up some words about some of our favorite songs of 2018.

There was no shortage of songs by fed-up women in 2018. From Courtney Barnett co-opting a famous Margaret Atwood platitude for the chorus of “Nameless, Faceless” to Soccer Mommy’s opening salvo of “I don’t wanna be your fucking dog,” badass ladies were not afraid to put their anger front and center. And with good reason. Credibly accused sex offenders are now serving both the highest office in the country and on the most respected court of law. It was a good year to be furious. But of all the female kiss-offs that came out last year, Camp Cope’s under-the-radar “How to Socialize & Make Friends” might be my favorite.

The three-piece all-female band hails from Australia, which is obvious from the moment lead singer Georgia Maq opens her mouth. She has a delightfully insouciant delivery, tossing off the lyrics’ tangled storyline like she’s telling it to commiserating friends in a bar. While there are more overtly political numbers on the album “How to Socialize” hails from, there’s something more pervasive about this song’s depiction of the power imbalance that’s often at play in romantic heterosexual relationships. Maq alludes at various points to a key left for her, a man who routinely sleeps next to his wife, and how often women bear the emotional baggage of men without expectation of much in return. While a lot of this feels recognizable for women navigating the modern dating scene, there’s something immensely freeing in Maq’s vision of riding her bike “with no handlebars,” a return to the simplicity of girlhood that has the pull of a siren song. Once she gets to the repeated line “I can see myself living without you” she could be talking about a single man or all of them, and that’s the kind of spitefully independent spirit I want to take with me into 2019.

The Ten Best Soundtrack Cues from The Americans

When The Americans premiered back in January 2013, it had all the makings of a fun throwback. ’80s fashion! ’80s politics! Felicity gracing our screens again! It quickly revealed itself to be a much more serious exploration of the crisscrossing allegiances to family and country than its sexy logline implied, albeit with plenty of time for bone-breaking and tooth-extracting, and with some of the most complex (and perplexingly under-awarded) performances on television. And in hindsight its granular exploration of the old Cold War was remarkably prescient of our current quagmires, constantly forcing the audience to question just how much it should be sympathizing with characters that want to undermine our very way of life, antiheroes whose destructive reach extends beyond even Heisenberg. What the show’s ultimate legacy will be after its May 30th finale remains to be seen, but one thing is for sure: it had some of the most artful era-appropriate music cues this side of Mad Men. In honor of its six masterful seasons, here are the 10 best cuts from the entirety of the series (up until the eighth episode of season six, that is), presented in the order they first appeared. Also, though The Americans has its favorites like everyone, I limited this to one soundtrack cut per artist out of fairness. Otherwise this list might be mostly Fleetwood Mac. Speaking of…

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Track Marks: “Love Galore” by SZA

For the impending end of 2017, some of our writers are going back and talking about beloved songs from this year, especially from artists not covered on our upcoming podcast.

In case it wasn’t clear yet, single women are tired. Match, OkCupid, Tinder, Bumble; you can text multiple people for months and still never nail down an actual in-person date. And everywhere we look these days are, in the TLC parlance, scrubs. Or is it actually a bit more complicated than that? Is it also a matter of facing our own insecurities and acknowledgments before we can really accept love? Nobody embodied this ambiguity of being a modern, sexually “liberated” woman better than SZA in 2017. Her full-length debut Ctrl explores all of the contradictions and frustrations of modern romance and that’s never better encapsulated than in “Love Galore.”

While some of the other tracks on the album depict a woman grappling with being a “sidepiece” or revenge-fucking an ex-boyfriend’s bro on Valentine’s Day, “Love Galore” is the sound of gentle reclamation. Of time, of body, of peace of mind. Buoyed by backing vocals from Travis Scott, it’s an amiably slippery examination of dating in the digital age, when any given person is a well-timed message away. “Why you bother me when you know you don’t want me?” she assails her listener and it feels like a clarion call for everyone who’s ever been on the receiving end of an unwanted “U up?” text. It works, though, because SZA isn’t afraid to acknowledge the vulnerability that lives just underneath her bravado, dramatizing in the most sonically pleasing way the belief that love is worth it because it requires so much work on our part to find it.

Track Marks: “Up in Hudson” by Dirty Projectors

For the impending end of 2017, some of our writers are going back and talking about beloved songs from this year, especially from artists not covered on our upcoming podcast.

Remember February? I sure don’t. Woe to the artists who happened to release their albums so early in the year because I have mostly forgotten them in the midst of all the insanity, and great music, that’s happened since then. Anyway, if you’d told me last week that I’d still have patience for a sad white guy bemoaning his girlfriend leaving him I’d have laughed in your face. And yet “Up in Hudson,” from Dirty Projectors’ self-titled 2017 release, remains in my rotation despite fitting that description to a T. Because that also sells it short. At almost eight minutes, unfolding over a luxurious horn-based hook, it’s a break-up anthem that manages to be incredibly even-handed while also being honest about its creator’s pain, considering the girlfriend in question was an integral, and celebrated, member of the band.

The next move for Dirty Projectors has never been easy to predict: they’ve done jagged art pop on Bitte Orca; Dylan-flecked folk on Swing Lo Magellan; even a recreation of Black Flag’s Rise Above done entirely from memory. So it’s interesting to see what it’s morphed into now that Dave Longstreth is essentially a solo artist performing under an established name. The stripped down, distorted aesthetic on display here isn’t always easy to love in comparison to their past classics, but it does feel like a honest reckoning, and “Up in Hudson” is its early highlight. If Longstreth seems like he’s working out his own bitterness and resignation in real time, at least the end result is something we can all share in.

Happy Holidays-ish: The Top Six Best Christmas-Adjacent Movies

First, a confession, which may not seem immediately related to the subject at hand: until December 3rd, I had never seen a Batman movie in full. Not a Nolan, not a Keaton, only dim memories of Val Kilmer clips interrupting Seal in the “Kiss From a Rose” video. But that night I gathered with some fellow SportsAlcohol-ics to watch Tim Burton’s Batman Returns, in a thinly-veiled attempt on Jesse’s part to (a) get me to finally watch one of these things and (b) put forth the argument that Returns is part of one of my favorite genres: not unequivocally holiday-themed films like A Christmas Story or Elf, but what I’ll call the Christmas-Adjacent. These are films whose plots do not revolve around, say, getting the family together for a big dinner, taking over for Santa after accidentally killing him, or having your marital infidelities exposed with poorly hidden gifts intended for your mistress. Rather, they use the holiday, or holiday season, as a motif or backdrop for other stories, variously invoking the warmth, loneliness, and occasional homicidal rage the season brings. You can also watch them any time of year and it doesn’t feel too weird. Having now seen Batman Returns myself (Ed. note), I absolutely agree that it fits the genre, and is fun to contemplate as one of the strangest studio tentpoles to exist. But the following, in my opinion, are the best, and the ones that most often end up in my holiday-watching rotation.
Continue reading Happy Holidays-ish: The Top Six Best Christmas-Adjacent Movies