Category Archives: Music

The SportsAlcohol.com Podcast: Best Music of 2020

Jesse is a cofounder of SportsAlcohol.com even though he doesn't care for sports or alcohol. His favorite movie is Ron Howard's The Paper. I think. This is what happens when you don't write your own bio. I know for sure likes pie.

Normally, we try to do some end-of-the-year music coverage timed to the period between the winding down of the calendar year and airing of the Grammy awards in February. This year, I have no fucking clue when the Grammys are even happening. I think they were pushed back? I assume Taylor Swift was nominated for a bunch of stuff? Anyway, the point is, this year in music was as weird as this year in everything else, which stymied any attempt to make a collective list of the best songs or albums. However, we did arrive at a few consensus favorites to discuss, so Marisa, Jesse, Rob, Sara, and Jeremy got together to talk about Phoebe Bridgers, Waxahatchee, Fiona Apple, HAIM, and some artists who aren’t white ladies! (But, honestly, not that many.) We also talked about how our listening habits changed, what old music we found ourselves digging into during quar, the stans who cyberbullied Jesse, and how Jeremy doesn’t know anything about the Beatles. It’s a lot. But it’s a fun conversation to accompany our excellent series of Track Marks song write-ups. Plus, we may not have an essay about the best song or record of the year, but we do have a playlist featuring selections from our collective and individual tastes! Check it out below!

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  • You can listen to the episode (and a bunch of great songs!) in the players below.

Track Marks 2020: “No Body, No Crime” by Taylor Swift

Jeremy Beck runs the website MovieManifesto, where he writes many, many movie reviews that nobody reads.

Track Marks is a recurring SportsAlcohol.com feature that invites writers to briefly discuss a song that is meaningful to them in any way. Though they can appear on the site at any time, we always run a bunch of them in December and/or January and/or February, looking back at the year in music.

For poptimists of a certain basic sensibility—not that I have anyone in mind—the prospect of Taylor Swift collaborating with Haim was tantalizing. (When I learned the news about Swift’s surprise December album, I was more excited than I’d been for any new music since… well, since Swift released her first quarantine record less than four months earlier. 2020 was an undeniably terrible year, but it had its first-world silver linings.) But “no body, no crime,” the sixth track off of Swift’s evermore, doesn’t just feature Haim as musicians; it features Haim as characters. It’s a murder ballad, starring Este Haim as the scorned woman who confronts her unfaithful husband, who then promptly kills her.

Sorry, did I spoil the ending? Not really, though I can understand the complaint. With its potboiler tone and its canny details—weekly dinners at Olive Garden, fateful life insurance policies—“no body, no crime” is decidedly cinematic, a 1940s noir by way of the Coen Brothers. In just three-and-a-half minutes, Swift tells a three-act story that opens with infidelity, progresses to homicide, and concludes with righteous vengeance. The plot traffics in hairpin twists and grisly violence: First, Este confides her suspicions about her husband (“that ain’t my Merlot on his mouth”) before accusing him of adultery, at which point she suddenly disappears; then Swift, ever the loyal friend, responds by killing the killer, framing his mistress for good measure. (Her alibi comes courtesy of Este’s sister, Danielle Haim, who casually lies to the police: “She was with me, dude.”) The lyrics are so clean and sharp, they compel you to imagine the sordid scenes unfolding in your mind, Swift effortlessly conjuring a squalid world of cheap jewelry, incriminating tire tracks, and corpse-carrying speedboats.
Continue reading Track Marks 2020: “No Body, No Crime” by Taylor Swift

TRACK MARKS 2020: “JU$T” by Run the Jewels

Sara is big into reading and writing fiction like it's her job, because it is. That doesn't mean she isn't real as it gets. She loves real stuff like polka dots, indie rock, and underground fight clubs. I may have made some of that up. I don't know her that well. You can tell she didn't just write this in the third person because if she had written it there would have been less suspect sentence construction.
Sara

Track Marks is a recurring SportsAlcohol.com feature that invites writers to briefly discuss a song that is meaningful to them in any way. Though they can appear on the site at any time, we always run a bunch of them in December and/or January and/or February, looking back at the year in music.

I don’t need to go through the whole rigamarole here about what an absolute dumpster fire 2020 was. We all experienced it; we all read the year-end reviews that rehashed it; we all know. Many of us hoped the start of 2021 would bring at least a bit of a respite. How foolish that seems now. January 6th was just the most recent of days where it felt almost dystopian to be still checking in on work email while the world fell apart before our eyes. At a time when so many are unemployed, facing eviction, scraping together a living, anger often feels like the only legitimate reaction. What, exactly, is the point of clocking in right now when it has never been a guarantee that you would be safe or cared for or valued beyond your ability to produce something commodifiable? That’s where a song like Run the Jewels’ “JU$T” comes in, articulating such volatile emotions with the ecstatically blunt verbosity that has become their trademark.

Since they started working together in 2013, Killer Mike and El-P have built up something of a formula for most Run the Jewels songs, the former trading bombastic rhymes with the skittery energy of the latter. But over the course of their four albums they’ve made brilliant use of a wide variety of collaborators, from Tunde Adebimpe of TV on the Radio to Mavis Staples to Blink-182’s Travis Barker. If your only awareness of Pharrell Williams was his “Happy” song being played on countless Democratic nominee stages, you might have been surprised by his appearance on this track. Certainly it’s a bit more unexpected to hear him sardonically deliver “Look at all these slave masters posing on your dollar” than when Mike and Zack de la Rocha of Rage Against the Machine take up the refrain. But according to the Song Exploder episode on “JU$T,” the line was Pharrell’s idea. And of course it shouldn’t be a surprise at all. He is a Black man, and no amount of success or wealth shields him from what that means in America.

It all starts with four beats that sounds like a heart revving up before moving with lethal rapidity to verses that mercilessly skewer the capitalistic cycle that forms the backbone of our country and the parasitic ways it works to keep us, especially Black people, at its mercy. “Try to sell a pack of smokes to get food/Get killed and it’s not an anomaly/But hey, it’s just money,” El-P raps, a nod to Eric Garner when it was written but with George Floyd’s murder on Memorial Day became a damning indictment of America’s inability to enact any meaningful change. Backed by a choppy chorus of voices both angelic and robotic, like the sort of menacing call waiting tone you’d hear on Judgement Day, it’s an anthem that feels tailor-made for live performance. In any other year, you can imagine a huge crowd at an outdoor concert ironically shouting “Make money!” back at the rappers. In 2020 we had to settle for screaming into the void instead, but at least it was comforting to know that artists were doing it too.

Track Marks 2020: “One Night Standards” by Ashley McBryde

Ben self-identifies as a Slytherin, so it makes sense that he is a business school graduate. He really liked the movie Margin Call, so that makes him SportsAlcohol.com's de facto business correspondent. By business correspondent, we mean the expert in movies and television about business (we don't care about the strength of the dollar or whatever).

Track Marks is a recurring SportsAlcohol.com feature that invites writers to briefly discuss a song that is meaningful to them in any way. Though they can appear on the site at any time, we always run a bunch of them in December and/or January and/or February, looking back at the year in music.

Country music is about form. It is constrained and traditional. It is so standard that, yes, it all can sound the same.

So what makes interesting country is a song that plays with its subject. A song that plays with rhyme. One that’s clever and smart and self-aware of the constraints that it lives in.
Continue reading Track Marks 2020: “One Night Standards” by Ashley McBryde

TRACK MARKS 2020: “Stain” by Soccer Mommy

Jeremy Beck runs the website MovieManifesto, where he writes many, many movie reviews that nobody reads.

Track Marks is a recurring SportsAlcohol.com feature that invites writers to briefly discuss a song that is meaningful to them in any way. Though they can appear on the site at any time, we always run a bunch of them in December and/or January and/or February, looking back at the year in music.

It’s barely even a riff. Just four notes, two of them repeated—dun-dun da-doom. And with those quick plucks of her guitar strings, Sophie Allison suddenly drains her typically whimsical songwriting of all color and hope. The penultimate track on Color Theory, Allison’s second album as Soccer Mommy, “stain” is a stark departure; there are no gentle choruses or hummable bridges. But there isn’t angst or despair either; though she’s examining the dying embers of a failed relationship, Allison is too lucid to lapse into self-pity. Instead, the primary sensation of “stain” is absence. It feels like a void, like a sonic representation of the lack of connection. No wonder it hit me so hard in 2020.

Still, for its opening minute, it can fool you; catch it askance, and you’re liable to misinterpret the repetitive guitar and the sighing vocals as the setup for a sweet and vivid love song. After all, while Allison’s music packs a punch, it can also be soothing. (In my favorite track off her prior record, she softly marries the intimate with the interstellar: “I’m just a victim of changing planets / My Scorpio rising and my parents.”) And in the initial moments of “stain”, her metaphors hint at the possibility of true romance, as a former lover insists that they were “pulled off the refrigerator and magnetized at heart”. But then: dun-dun da-doom. The riff that isn’t a riff arrives, and from there, the song becomes an autopsy, a quietly volcanic reconstruction of a moribund partnership. Allison’s lyrics are characteristically evocative—her ex’s words were “like chloroform”, and they’ve befouled her “like the sheets at my parents’ house”—but what’s truly disturbing about the song is that there’s no escape from it. That riff just keeps repeating, like an eerily melodic terminator; it never subsides, but it also never builds to anything, because that would imply progress. Yet there’s no catharsis here, no sense of long-sought closure or even righteous anger. And after three unrelenting minutes, Allison doesn’t fade out the track so much as extinguish it, comparing herself to a burden-out match.

Just before delivering that beautifully terrible image, Allison recognizes that this ugly union has inflicted permanent damage: “I’m always stained, and it’s never coming out.” She sounds ruefully self-aware but not despondent, and I’m weirdly jealous of her composure. Perhaps she’s used her music as an exorcism of sorts, virtually transferring her pain to the listener. And so, while “stain” is magnificent, it should probably come with a warning attached. Once this song scratches its way into your soul, it’s never coming out.

TRACK MARKS 2020: “Animal” by Katie Malco

Sara is big into reading and writing fiction like it's her job, because it is. That doesn't mean she isn't real as it gets. She loves real stuff like polka dots, indie rock, and underground fight clubs. I may have made some of that up. I don't know her that well. You can tell she didn't just write this in the third person because if she had written it there would have been less suspect sentence construction.
Sara

Track Marks is a recurring SportsAlcohol.com feature that invites writers to briefly discuss a song that is meaningful to them in any way. Though they can appear on the site at any time, we always run a bunch of them in December and/or January and/or February, looking back at the year in music.

In August 2020, I made a promise to myself: I would stop drinking for at least 90 days. It was one of those tests that people who suspect they might have a problem give themselves in the months, or years, before they decide to quit something for good. I made it, and then some, and while I have had a glass of wine at a holiday dinner here and there since, for the most part I’ve cut alcohol out of my life. The decision was and wasn’t related to the pandemic, which forced many of us to confront habits and tendencies that we otherwise might have been happy to avoid indefinitely. In truth it was a long time coming, longer than many of the people close to me probably realized. It also had some inevitable consequences, some of which I expected and some of which were a surprise. For example, I started noticing in ways I hadn’t before how people imbibed, casually or otherwise, in the pop culture I consumed — how the placement of a bottle in a frame can indicate either a detail or a problem, or how the intentions of a song lyric can be twisted depending on our knowledge of the singer’s life.

A lot of artists were confronting addiction issues in 2020, particularly women. Waxahatchee’s Saint Cloud explored the often uncomfortable contours of recovery, as did Best Coast’s Everything Has Changed. While the U.K.-based Katie Malco’s debut solo album Failures has the sort of title that connotes struggles with a substance, it’s not explicitly about that. Alcohol is just one of the many coping mechanisms for modern life that are explored with unflinching honesty here. “Animal” is the bracing opening track; after the first fifteen seconds of plaintively searching piano it drops listeners in media res with Malco heedlessly powering her way through an all-night bender: “Thirteen beers and a bad taste in my mouth” are the first words we hear. It mimics the textures of binge drinking in both its lyrics and composition, with guitars that veer from chugging along like the train the singer has found herself on to the jagged shards of memory in the morning-after. According to Malco, “Animal” is based on nights when she stayed out to avoid being at home with her mother’s abusive partner. She cycles through the same story in both verses, not unlike how someone who’s suffered a blackout tries to piece back together what they might have done. It’s strung together with a chorus both defiant and defenseless, with Malco sounding like she can barely catch her breath, raging one moment for the listener to “take those worried eyes off me” and pleading with childlike vulnerability to be carried home in the next. I wish I didn’t recognize myself in those words, but Malco is not judgmental of her younger self, only of those who might judge her. Like many a drunk, the song relents eventually, tapering off with a churning coda like the singer has finally laid down, head heavy with a case of the bends that might never stop.

Looking back now, Malco’s potential breakout year feels more like a dream deferred. Though she’s been the opening act for artists like Jenny Lewis and Julien Baker, missing out on a headlining tour has to hurt, and it means a lot of music fans were deprived of a potential new favorite. I look forward to when concert venues open up again, and hope Malco has the chance to do some gigs in the U.S.; in the meantime, her album is available on Bandcamp.

TRACK MARKS 2020: “Blinding Lights” by The Weeknd

Ben self-identifies as a Slytherin, so it makes sense that he is a business school graduate. He really liked the movie Margin Call, so that makes him SportsAlcohol.com's de facto business correspondent. By business correspondent, we mean the expert in movies and television about business (we don't care about the strength of the dollar or whatever).

Track Marks is a recurring SportsAlcohol.com feature that invites writers to briefly discuss a song that is meaningful to them in any way. Though they can appear on the site at any time, we always run a bunch of them in December and/or January and/or February, looking back at the year in music.

1. History and Context

Do you ever listen to an old song and ask, if this song came out today, would it still be a hit? Sure, there are songs that are clearly of their time — a grunge anthem that typifies the ’90s or an early hip-hop song of the ’80s that might not translate well. But then, there are those songs from whenever they came out that make you think, yeah, this is still a banger.

“Blinding Lights” answers a different question: If you created a perfect ’80s synth pop song with post-2000s production technology in the year of a quarantine, would it be popular?

Sure, the ’80s has its gems. Yes, Pitbull can sample Ah-ha’s classic “Take On Me” in “Feel This Moment” to push out a party anthem, but Abel Tesfaye (aka The Weeknd) along with Max Martin and Oscar Holter (with a few others) did something remarkable: They created a song for 2020 with its roots clearly in the 1980s (if not a little before), and they made it slamming.
Continue reading TRACK MARKS 2020: “Blinding Lights” by The Weeknd

TRACK MARKS 2020: Coldplay’s “Orphans,” the Unintentional Pandemic Anthem Released in 2019

Gripes
There are contrarians, there are iconoclasts, and then there is SportsAlcohol.com co-founder Marisa. A contraiclast? Her favorite Springsteen album came out this century, so she is basically a controversy machine.

Also, she is totally not a dude!
Marisa
Gripes

Track Marks is a recurring SportsAlcohol.com feature that invites writers to briefly discuss a song that is meaningful to them in any way. Though they can appear on the site at any time, we always run a bunch of them in December and/or January and/or February, looking back at the year in music.

Coldplay performed “Orphans” on Saturday Night Live on November 2, 2019, when I was more worried about middle age than coronavirus.

“Shit,” I thought. “This is catchy.” As a rock-music fan approaching 40, I’m always worried about showing my decrepitude through the music I like. Ragging on Coldplay is an easy way to keep my bones from turning to dust. It shows I’m still with it enough to discern the difference between corporatized, consciously-coupled-with-the-mainstream dad-rock and truly felt, authentically crafted indie rock. But every once in a while Coldplay manages to slip a song through my defenses and expose my whole view for the lie that it is.

Continue reading TRACK MARKS 2020: Coldplay’s “Orphans,” the Unintentional Pandemic Anthem Released in 2019

The SportsAlcohol.com Podcast: 1999 Albums – 69 Love Songs by Magnetic Fields

Jesse is a cofounder of SportsAlcohol.com even though he doesn't care for sports or alcohol. His favorite movie is Ron Howard's The Paper. I think. This is what happens when you don't write your own bio. I know for sure likes pie.

Our miniseries on notable albums from the blessed year of 1999 is finally coming to an end, with an episode recorded a year ago and lost until today, well past the 21st anniversary of 69 Love Songs by the Magnetic Fields. This episode is a showcase for frequent SportsAlcohol.com contributor Ben, who has a close and complicated relationship with the best-known, most acclaimed Magnetic Fields record, and who was really on the scene back in 1999. Are we all absolutely cuckoo for Stephin Merritt’s massive concept album? Listen and find out! It’ll only take one sixth as long as listening to the album itself!

We are now up to SEVEN (7) different ways to listen to a SportsAlcohol podcast:

The SportsAlcohol.com Podcast: Billboard Charts 2000!

Jesse is a cofounder of SportsAlcohol.com even though he doesn't care for sports or alcohol. His favorite movie is Ron Howard's The Paper. I think. This is what happens when you don't write your own bio. I know for sure likes pie.

It’s that other, similar but different time of year again: Time for us at SportsAlcohol.com to get together and take a selected tour through the full-year Billboard Hot 100 chart, talking about the singles we love, hate, and swear we’ve never heard in our lives. About the length of a killer mix tape, this episode crams in analysis, nostalgia, tangents, and everything else, covering, I don’t know, like 30 different pop songs across genres and tastes. It’s like what we did in 1999 and 1996, only this time it’s the YEAR 2000, BABY! So join Rob, Jesse, Marisa, and Jason on a wild ride through the first and/or last year of the millennium! And the Willennium! And the time when terrible pop-country dominated the charts!

We are now up to SEVEN (7) different ways to listen to a SportsAlcohol podcast: