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Track Marks is a regular feature on SportsAlcohol.com where a writer highlights a single a single song. Yes, we’re really calling it that.

Grammy Week Track Marks: “The Stove and the Toaster” by the Hold Steady

Jeremy Beck

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

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.

Music purists of a certain age and disposition are currently frustrated with The Hold Steady, given that they’ve spent the past five years dribbling out a couple of songs at a time rather than holing up in the studio and releasing, you know, an album. But as desperate as I am to finally unwrap the band’s seventh LP and see what Holly and Charlemagne are up to, I can’t be too mad at The Hold Steady, not when they’re releasing songs as spectacular as “The Stove and the Toaster,” another of Craig Finn’s propulsive adventures in sleazy criminality. At just three-and-a-half minutes, it’s a remarkably dense song, packing in the usual torrent of verbiage and somehow still finding room for an epic guitar solo. Finn’s lyrics are as sharp and flavorful as ever, but it’s important not to overlook the band’s musical flourishes, like the sudden squalls of piano, or the horns that punctuate each line of the chorus, a sort of subliminal reminder that declares, “Hey folks, we aren’t just talk-singing poets; we’re a goddamn rock band.”

But Finn’s storytelling will always be the heart of The Hold Steady, the way he weaves tales of extraordinary specificity—geographic, personal, architectural—and spins them into music. “The Stove and the Toaster” is so teeming with detail and suspense, it could practically double as an episode of Breaking Bad, and not just because of the southwestern locations. The premise is simple: Finn wants to rip off some drug dealers, and his girlfriend has inside info that will allow them to pull off the perfect heist. (In some characteristically piquant Hold Steady minutiae, the stash is in the stove, the cash is in the toaster.) The problem is that they’re in over their heads; their marks are “earpiece dudes in a fortified fortress / A wholesale crew that does pretty big business.” This makes their fates a foregone conclusion—“We came to the kitchen and we knew it was over / I didn’t see any stove, no sign of the toaster”—but it also makes their recklessness oddly tragic. Finn just wanted to show his girl a good time, but he never stood a chance. Only a songwriting pro could conjure such a clueless amateur.

Grammy Week Track Marks: “Mistake” by Middle Kids

Jeremy Beck

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

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.

As lousy as 2018 may have been for America, it was quite the year for Australia, or at least for Australian three-pieces. Not only did Camp Cope deliver a blistering sophomore album, but the little-known outfit Middle Kids arrived onto the scene with Lost Friends, a ferociously catchy debut full of taut, intricately composed bangers. There’s nothing especially revolutionary about this trio’s music; they write straightforward songs that bounce from verses to choruses and back. But art doesn’t need to be original to be great, and “Mistake,” the record’s second single, weaponizes your familiarity against you. You think you’ve heard it before, and all of a sudden you’re tapping your foot, banging your head, and belting out its refrain at the top of your lungs.

Naturally, the pet trick of lead singer Hannah Joy is an oldie but a goodie: She loves to draw out single syllables for seconds at a time, right from the “Ooooh darling” that opens the song. Joy’s lyrics aren’t fancy—she repeatedly rhymes “back” with “back”—but they’re evocative, efficiently revealing a woman crippled by confusion regret (“Thought I was healthy but I’m choking / It must be catching up, my smoking”); she also drops in some sly bits of Swiftian pronoun-switching. But the sound is the key here, the way the drums and guitars seem perfectly unified, propelling Joy forward as she pushes toward each electric chorus. The band knows exactly when to crescendo and when to downshift, resulting in a song that snakes and curls before finally erupting with euphoria. It’s perfectly constructed, yet it doesn’t feel engineered or excessively polished. It’s a hell of a thing: Musicians have been banging on drums and strumming on guitars for decades, and without altering any of that basic technique, Middle Kids have somehow produced something fresh and exciting. Maybe it’s telling that the word “mistake” never actually appears in “Mistake”. On multiple levels, it’s nowhere to be found.

Grammy Week Track Marks: “Nobody” by Mitski

Sara

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

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

Sara

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

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.

Track Marks: The Worst Song of The 00’s is “Crazy Bitch” by Buckcherry

Rob

Rob is one of the founders of SportsAlcohol.com. He is a recent first time home buyer and it's all he talks about. Said home is in his hometown in Upstate New York. He never moved away and works a job to pay for his mortgage and crippling chicken wing addiction. He is not what you would call a go-getter. This may explain the general tone of SportsAlcohol.com.
Rob

This week, SportsAlcohol.com will be counting down our 101 Best Songs of the 2000s. Some of our contributors will be offering additional thoughts on the years 2000-2009 in music.

Imagine, if you will, the following hypothesis: Buckcherry is a band that does not appear to like music. I’m assuming they most likely got into it “for the chicks,” as the cliche goes. Based on their desire to live that rock n’ roll lifestyle, they have clearly seen at least a couple music videos. Based on lead guitarist Stevie D’s use of Gibsons, there may have been a Guns N’ Roses video in there. You know for sure they’ve seen at least a couple of Motley Crue videos as lead singer Josh Todd has the word “Chaos” tattooed across his abdomen in almost the exact location Tommy Lee has “Mayhem” tattooed across his (though he gives another reason).

Yes, this is from a real interview. Source

Buckcherry is like a bad Star Wars cartoon: trying to ape something without any knowledge of its disparate influences. They know they’re supposed to be loud, brash, and sexually explicit, but they have no idea why.

“Crazy Bitch,” is Buckcherry’s biggest hit. I think about it a lot as it’s in rotation at one of my regular lunch spots. I’m just confronted with how something so loud can be so empty. The song is the musical version of Barney Stinson explaining the Hot/Crazy Scale if How I Met Your Mother was on Cinemax instead of CBS. Each chorus repeats the following twice:

Hey
You’re crazy bitch
But you fuck so good, I’m on top of it
When I dream, I’m doing you all night
Scratches all down my back to keep me right on

The verses basically restate this central premise. In case the song’s nuances are lost on you, Todd twice screams the following couplet:

You’re crazy
But I like the way you fuck me!

When you strip hard rock of all of its influences and what little subtlety it has, you’re only left with a parody. At least when the Stones or Zeppelin went full hedonist they did it with a bit of subtext and a whole lot of melody. They also had clearly listened to other records before.

Does Buckcherry have worse songs? Do they have songs that might redeem them? Is this actually the worst song of the 00s? The answer to all of these questions is who cares. Other songs I considered were similar enough that I’m calling it. Why dig deeper into the sewage?

Track Marks – “Kattena Seishungeki” by Gesu no Kiwami Otome

Rob

Rob is one of the founders of SportsAlcohol.com. He is a recent first time home buyer and it's all he talks about. Said home is in his hometown in Upstate New York. He never moved away and works a job to pay for his mortgage and crippling chicken wing addiction. He is not what you would call a go-getter. This may explain the general tone of SportsAlcohol.com.
Rob

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 podcast.

Besides a handful of words, I don’t understand any lyrics from my favorite album of the year.

That album? Daruma Ringo by Gesu no Kiwami Otome. Three years ago, Brent DiCrescenzo (the writer who first turned me onto The Dismemberment Plan) sent out this very compelling (to me) tweet:

To my ears, he wasn’t wrong. Very much a j-pop act with their bright, melodic choruses, Gesu no Kiwami Otome sets themselves apart by bringing some major chops to the table. Their desire to show them off stuffs their catchy songs with noodle-y, basically prog riffs . Also, sometimes it sounds like rapping? This type of kitchen sink approach backed by virtuosic playing and honest-to-god melodies is very much my jam. I don’t what they’re saying or why their videos are so weird, but it’s probably better that way.

Daruma Ringo is their second full length, but the first you can buy on iTunes in the USA. “Kattena Seishungeki” is a single from Daruma Ringo that I quite like. Again, I have no idea what it’s about, but it shows off the whole band and I quite like it.

Track Marks: “MICHUUL” by DUCKWRTH

Rob

Rob is one of the founders of SportsAlcohol.com. He is a recent first time home buyer and it's all he talks about. Said home is in his hometown in Upstate New York. He never moved away and works a job to pay for his mortgage and crippling chicken wing addiction. He is not what you would call a go-getter. This may explain the general tone of SportsAlcohol.com.
Rob

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.

I don’t write a lot on this website, but when I do I usually preface it by saying that I’m nostalgic for the music of my younger days. This year, though, I really tried to expand my horizons and engage with music culture like I used to. It probably says more about these times than my own intellectual curiosity that I replaced podcasts on my commute with new artists and tried to read the news less and music writing more. The bad news for me was that this was the year that trap music captured the zeitgeist. Particularly, Soundcloud and emo-influenced mumble rap has ruled the day in a way that’s about oppressive as possible in the streaming age. I’m not saying this music is bad; there is a compelling argument to be made that Young Thug and Future are the true rock stars of our time and kids churning out formulaic, minimalist jams on their laptop is more punk than anything white kids who can afford a whole bands-worth of instruments can make in 2017. These old ears aren’t feeling it, though. Pretty girls might like it, but I don’t think it’s for me.

Given this scenario, discovering an artist like DUCKWRTH is a breath of fresh air. Instead of Cash Money Records and Three Six Mafia,  his sound imagines N.E.R.D. and Outkast as having the biggest influence on hip-hop in the last two decades. DUCKWRTH cares about melody and rhymes as much as flow and swagger. He even sings and dances!

The song that turned me onto DUCKWRTH was “MICHUUL,” an ode in equal measure to both a hypothetical girlfriend and Michael Jackson. Kicking off with the sample of a child saying they want to be MJ when they grow up straight into a variation of a Pharrell four-count, “MICHUUL” clearly states its intentions from the jump. This is a party record like he used to get down to in his youth. A Neptunes-inspired beat is propelled by Triton-esque synth stabs and simple guitar riffs with some chill-sounding piano in the breakdown. Thematically, his subject matter isn’t that different from his contemporaries, but DUCKWRTH rhymes about desiring and enjoying the trappings of success as opposed to merely having them. He’s having fun and he wants you to have too. In 2017, that makes all the difference in the world.

(This clip courtesy of The Rundown With Robin Thede, which didn’t make our best of TV list but would have if Sabrina and I were voting).

Track Marks: “Love Galore” by SZA

Sara

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

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: “Younger Now” by Miley Cyrus

Jesse

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.

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.

Is it really so ridiculous that Miley Cyrus would sing about feeling young? It might seem redundant, I guess, because she’s only 25, which to me, racing toward 40, sounds so impossibly fresh and dewy now. But I don’t know that I felt that way about 25 when I actually was 25. Bless anyone who maintains uncomplicated feelings about aging for 25 whole years.

Moreover: Miley Cyrus has been making music for a decade. Yes, she’s the kind of showbiz lifer who was born into it and made a beeline for the Disney machine, but Younger Now, the 2017 record whose title song I adore, is her sixth album. It’s the first one I’ve ever bought; I got Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz from whoever was kind enough to rip a free mp3 version from the free streaming version that was the only version available for a while (it’s now available as a paid download, and honestly, I kind of recommend it). I bought “Wrecking Ball” but not all of Bangerz. I downloaded “Party in the USA” from a music blog that encoded its source album as Shit Guys, Miley’s Done It Again!

There was a time when that fake title was only half-ironic. People like “Party in the USA” and especially “Wrecking Ball.” In the annals of teen or teen-like stars getting grown-up and weird, people do not so much like Dead Petz, the album where she fronted the Flaming Lips and (I assume) smoked a lot of pot, displaying a lot of vulnerability – and genuine, not overproduced, weirdness – in the process. People do not so much seem to like Younger Now so much, either. I gather that it’s considered kind of a clumsy, opportunistic pivot back to pop-country after a series of failed cultural appropriations. Though the record is country only insofar as it sounds kind of country-ish compared to the Flaming Lips, it is inarguably uneven. Miley Cyrus is not a savant who makes Top 40 pop that we wish actual Top 40 pop sounded like, like Carly Rae Jepsen. But then, Carly Rae Jepsen is 32. She knows things. This is why we (Rob and I, anyway) love her.

Which brings us back to “Younger Now.” Like the album of the same name, it’s not perfect. It has at least one production touch I actually hate: the fake or fake-sounding drum-ish fills that sound way too much like the fake record-scratching noises everyone started using around 1997 or so. (Again: I am not 25.) The lyrics are rife with clichés, especially in the chorus: “No one stays the same.” “What goes up must come down.” “Change is a thing you can count on.” But as on Dead Petz, the weakness and awkwardness in her music now feel achingly sincere, and both the melody and sentiment of “Younger Now” soar with an unforced wistfulness, and faux-drum stutters aside, the production lets that wistfulness breathe, showcasing Cyrus’s vocals. She’s never sounded more confident or comfortable or hopeful. You know, like how you feel for a few fleeting moments when you’re young, if you’re lucky.

Track Marks: “Up in Hudson” by Dirty Projectors

Sara

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

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.