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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.

TRACK MARKS 2019: “Want You In My Room” by Carly Rae Jepsen

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.

Back when Carly Rae Jepsen was really blowing up, by which I mean gaining popularity with some of the more idiosyncratic and picky pop-music fans and/or nerdy music critics circa her middling-selling 2015 album Emotion, I, as a picky pop-music fan and nerdy movie-not-music critic, found myself trying to explain why I liked CRJ so much. (I challenged myself not to cite her haircut at any point in this exercise.) I landed on this: She is old.

Not old by normal standards—she’s five years younger than I am, and I’m still young, right? Right?!—but for a pop singer having her big (which is to say medium) 40,000-copies-in-six-months moment, CRJ was kind of on the old side. She was nearly 30 when Emotion came out; even when her actual megahit “Call Me Maybe” took the world by storm in 2012, she was in her late twenties, and a full nine years younger than Justin Bieber, the beloved pop singer who gave her a major commercial boost. Listening to Emotion, I had the distinct sense that this was a person who had lived with herself—her personality, her disappointments, her music tastes—a little longer than the barely-formed kiddos hailed as ingénues and prodigies at 17, 18, 19, the normal (which is to say insane) age for coming of age as a peppy new pop star.

That might seem absurd, because Emotion does include as one of its highlights a song called “I Really Really Really Like You.” By most standards and by her own design, CRJ’s musings are not overly sophisticated. She captures crush-rush and shruggy-emoticon break-ups and fleeting empowerment; she’s not introspective and melancholy and wry, like Jenny Lewis (to cite another singer I’d follow anywhere at this point). But the craft of Jepsen’s songs is often sophisticated, and that’s especially noticeable on “Want You In My Room,” a cut from her hotly anticipated 2019 record Dedicated.

I get the sense that Dedicated received a relatively muted reception from some of the CRJ faithful—though anyone faithful enough to see her in concert could see the new songs greeted with appropriate rapture. It’s not quite as bouncy or immediate as Emotion, and feels a little more, well, yeah, mature. A little more MOR, if we’re feeling unkind. But the album’s many highlights reveal themselves; it just happens a little slower than it did on Emotion. And the great thing about “Want You In My Room” is that it’s not especially tasteful. CRJ kicks it off with kind of an exaggerated seductive-baby voice, giving way to sultrier-toned come-ons in the next verse, and then a robo-voiced chorus stating her desires plainly: “I want you in my room,” the voice I visualize as Robo-CRJ robo-sings. “On the bed, on the floor,” Regular CRJ adds. There’s a falsetto “I wanna do bad things to you!” and an invitation to “slide on through my window.”
Continue reading TRACK MARKS 2019: “Want You In My Room” by Carly Rae Jepsen

TRACK MARKS 2019: “Miss Americana and the Heartbreak Prince” by Taylor Swift

Jeremy Beck

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. As usual, we’re closing out the year by talking about a bunch of songs that we loved over the past 12 months.

Given that she’s one of the biggest pop stars in the world, it should be difficult for Taylor Swift to don the cloak of the underdog. But among her many gifts as a songwriter is a knack for immersion, the way she can use a sharp hook or a snappy phrase to instantly pull you into her filigreed worlds. Lover is a massive album (18 tracks!) that was massively successful (double platinum!), but when “Miss Americana & the Heartbreak Prince” kicks off, Swift is just another shattered teenage girl again; she effortlessly conjures a familiar high-school dystopia, the modest drums combining with her slightly breathy vocals to yank you back to a time of adolescent heartache. The lyrics are characteristically simple but evocative: She’s ripped up her prom dress, she’s running through rose thorns, she’s fending off whispers from judgmental classmates about how she’s a bad, bad girl. It’s The Scarlet Letter by way of Mean Girls.

Of course, “Miss Americana” is more than just another of Swift’s teen-centric fairy tales, like “White Horse” or “Love Story”; it’s also a cri de coeur in the wake of the 2016 presidential election. “Boys will be boys, then where are the wise men?” she asks rhetorically while staring helplessly at “American glory faded before me,” and her despair is palpable. There’s even a whiff of gerrymandering/voter suppression (“The whole school is rolling fake dice”), but mostly she’s just left helpless and depressed, learning of the election results (via a football scoreboard, naturally) and then running for her life. When the bad guys are exchanging high fives, all that’s left to do is paint the town blue.

Here’s the thing, though: None of that political metaphor is essential to appreciating “Miss Americana” as a kickass song, a finely constructed ballad that builds to a soaring conclusion. Swift is such a phenom, it’s easy to overlook just how skilled she is, how she approaches her work with sincerity and craft. It’s there in the spondaic shouts of “OH-KAY!” that punctuate several lines, and in the light piano that pops up in the chorus, meshing with the throbbing synths. My favorite part of the song is the bridge, where backup singers shout the last word of each line: “And I don’t want you to GO! / I don’t really wanna FIGHT! / ‘Cause nobody’s gonna WIN!” That sounds like surrender, but listen closer; after three crushing repetitions, Swift suddenly inverts the lyrics, promising that she’ll never go, that she’s staying to fight, that she’s determined to win. It’s a lightning-quick flip—from compliance to defiance, from desolation to resolution—and it turns this once-despondent ditty into a roaring battle cry. So sure, maybe it’s tough to accept Taylor Swift as the underdog, but only because—as this intricate, ecstatic song proves—she doesn’t know how to lose.

TRACK MARKS 2019: “Cheerleader” by Sir Babygirl

Jeremy Beck

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. As usual, we’re closing out the year by talking about a bunch of songs that we loved over the past 12 months.

Everyone hates cheerleaders. They’re the popular crowd, the mean girls, the queen bees who date the star quarterback and occupy the prime real estate in the cafeteria. If you’ve ever felt remotely marginalized or uncool, you’ve probably wished them harm or misfortune at some point, if only idly. Of course, this conception of pom-pom-wielders as bimbos, tramps, or both is an ugly and outdated stereotype. But on the power-pop anthem “Cheerleader,” rising artist Kelsie Hogue (aka Sir Babygirl) nevertheless gives voice to those dark and disgruntled thoughts, confessing to scribbling graffiti in the bathroom stall about how “everybody wants to watch the cheerleader fall.” She’s on the outside looking in, and when she asks for your complicity—”I’ll kill my reputation if you promise not to tell / I’ll kill my reputation if you come with me to hell”—it’s as though she’s concocting some sort of dastardly scheme, grist for a made-for-TV movie.

But is Hogue devious, or just envious? As “Cheerleader” progresses, its light notes of electronica gathering a propulsive energy with a heavy bass and thumping drums, it turns into a kind of empowerment ballad, and not just about the extra in the background who inadvertently drops the prom queen. As Hogue imagines climbing to the top of the pyramid—wearing a skirt so tight it makes her bleed, and festooned with friendship bracelets that double as handcuffs—the song transforms from an angsty lament of isolation into a glorious fantasy of belonging. Hogue doesn’t want to kill the cheerleader, she wants to be the cheerleader; the bridge is a plea for your support, exhorting you in a howling crescendo to “Come on, cheer me on.” It’s so noisy and catchy, it’s easy to miss the intricacy of the mix: the snap of the snare, the snaking guitar line, the way the precisely timed rat-a-tat barks of “C’mon-c’mon-c’mon” sit alongside the classic chant, “Be aggressive, B-E aggressive!” (Yo Grimes, you hearing this?) It’s simultaneously shameless and triumphant, and as Hogue’s immaculate shrieks grow higher and higher, you have no choice but to join her cause. After all, everyone loves cheerleaders.

TRACK MARKS 2019: “Cellophane” by FKA Twigs

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.