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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, BEST OF 2016: “SHUT UP KISS ME” BY ANGEL OLSEN

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

This was a good year, musically speaking, for women on a tear (which is heartening, because we’re going to need them if we’re getting through the next four). In addition to the ones who made our albums of the year list (no spoilers here!), there was the spiky art rock of Thao & the Get Down Stay Down, the electric alienating fuzz of Mitski, and the shimmering delicacy of Springtime Carnivore. It’s probably no great coincidence that many of these records were borne from painful separations, both from lovers and family, and Angel Olsen’s MY WOMAN might be the most surprising of them all for previous fans of her work: the album feels as much like a departure as the apex of her many talents, from the unexpectedly slinky opener “Intern” through the seven-minute sprawl of “Sister” and beyond. But on no track is this artistic volatility better exemplified than “Shut Up Kiss Me,” the most immediately arresting song on the record and also the most vulnerable.

At first listen it seems all insouciant demands: “I ain’t hanging up this ti-i-ime/I ain’t giving up toni-i-ight” is the gauntlet thrown down at the very start and it doesn’t let up over its lean 3:22 runtime, with Olsen’s voice at its most seductive and rock n’ roll snotty. But don’t let her cheeky attitude and sparkly wig in the video fool you. As with many things in life, the brazen come-ons mask a deep well of insecurity and pain, and the posturing gradually gives way to exasperation. “It’s all over baby, but I’m still young,” she repeats desperately at the song’s end, backed by her own insistent wailing, and it’s unclear at that point if she’s even still reaching out to her fickle, frustrating lover. In a year that saw so much apocalyptic upheaval it’s as good a rallying cry as any, not unlike Janis Joplin’s exhortation to “get it while you can.” Intimacy is vital to our shared humanity, even when it’s begged for. And when it’s the end times, whether in your own world or the one at large, what point is there in waiting?

TRACK MARKS BEST OF 2016: “Berlin Got Blurry” by Parquet Courts

Gripes

Marisa

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

Non-story of 2016: How good some regular ol’ dude-fronted rock bands were. (That is non-news of such little consequence I’m surprised the New York Times didn’t cover it.) I quite enjoyed the albums of Car Seat Headrest, Public Access T.V., Modern Baseball, and, of course, Parquet Courts.

Parquet Courts is a little different from the others in that half the time they seem like they’re just screwing around. Well, they always seem like they’re at least partially screwing around, but half the time it feels like the joke is on me. But then, when they get the chance to focus up, they come up with something like “Berlin Got Blurry,” and I want to shake them and ask them why they don’t write songs like that all the damn time.

It has, like the best Parquet Courts songs, references to food—fries, hot dogs, ketchup, and, since it’s about being a foreigner traveling in Berlin, döner. But between the travelogue of treats, the band drops really elegant bits of wisdom (“It feels so effortless to be a stranger/But feeling foreign is such a lonely habit”) or really well-crafted lines (love the internal rhyming of “Kind ears captive to the beers you’ve purchased”).

It’s not deep, but it’s upbeat, moving along at a jaunty pace. Like being a stranger in a strange land, it’s fun for a short time.

TRACK MARKS BEST OF 2016: “I CAN’T STAND YOU ANYMORE” by SLEIGH BELLS

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.

Because even a post-digital music world can be a little cautious about writing off critically acclaimed music acts, it took until 2016 for Sleigh Bells to officially become unfashionable. Their almost universally acclaimed 2010 debut Treats machine-gunned through 2010 with gleeful abandon, and their swift follow-ups Reign of Terror (2012) and Bitter Rivals (2013) garnered the kind of respectable reviews that are retroactively called lukewarm later, like for example when Jessica Rabbit dropped this year. The newest Sleigh Bells album was damned with faint praise about it at least being more inventive than Bitter Rivals but never reaching the heights of Treats.

But what does? What in the world is ever as good as the first bunch of times you bump Treats with the windows rolled down as you cruise back into your hometown for a weekend? (Is that just me? The point is, Treats owns.) The Sleigh Bells formula of cartoonish thrash plus angelic pop vocals is malleable enough to sustain several records, and Jessica Rabbit mixes it up appropriate (and sometimes, OK, strenuously). Its best reconfiguration of the thrash-to-pop ratio comes in “I Can’t Stand You Anymore,” a kiss-off that might have, on their earlier records, been a full fuck-off. Singer and co-writer Alexis Krauss asserts herself on the vocal track, giving a sweet-and-spiky pop performance the dominates over Derek Miller’s somewhat less jacked-up guitars. Instead of killer riffs, the song rests on a full-on vocal riff as Krauss sings that “bombs don’t compare to the trouble you give me/I just can’t stand you anymore.” It’s dramatic, but not in the way that many of the other best Sleigh Bells tunes are dramatic; many of those sound like an emergency alarm, while this one sounds, dare I say it, almost diva-ish, except with a casual relatability not often found with practiced oversingers.

Yet Sleigh Bells hasn’t replaced itself entirely. Before the second verse, Krauss calls out in a slightly distorted vocal, “CONFESSION!” except it’s actually more like “CONFESSION:” — she’s prefacing what she’s about to sing. For a micro-moment, “I Can’t Stand You Anymore” recaptures that Treats sound, fae my shioning the tinest of hooks from their instantly recognizable style. It might be my favorite single second of music this year.

TRACK MARKS BEST OF 2016: “1,000 TIMES” BY HAMILTON LEITHAUSER AND ROSTAM

Gripes

Marisa

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

This song has a lot going against it. It’s by that one guy from that one band, plus another guy (but not the guy) from that other band; surely it can’t be as good as the output of their real groups, right? It also has an uninspired title, similar to that song from Llewyn Davis or that catchy one-hit wonder. Worse, when you load it into iTunes, that title comes up as “A 1000 Times,” which I always read as “a one thousand times.”

When I actually stop and listen to the song, though, I don’t think about those things anymore. I don’t think about anything. “1,000 Times” brings me to a dead stop, and all I can do is feel longing. Rarely am I attracted to songs because they are merely beautiful; this one is pretty, to be sure, but also sad and lonely, though not exactly down for the count.

The speaker of the song is dealing with an unrequited love, the kind that has you wandering past someone’s house without consciously deciding to. I get that, but I’m mercifully long past my unreturned-crush days. Even so, the opening lines “I had a dream that you were mine/I had that dream a thousand times” can be felt by anybody who has something just out of reach, aka everybody on the planet.

Again, universality isn’t a requirement for me to like a song. But there’s just something so gripping about this one. You can feel the mix of hope and defeat. You get the sense of moving on (“I changed my crowd, I ditched my tie”) without really getting over. I know by now it’s a cliché to say that 2016 was a rotten year, but it’s one we’re closing the books on as we take its traumas with us. And one heartbroken voice, singing “The 10th of November, the year’s almost over,” is going to come with me into 2017.

TRACK MARKS, BEST OF 2016: “CRANES IN THE SKY” BY SOLANGE

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

Let’s get this out of the way now: whatever artistic debt Solange owed to her older sister Beyonce when she first started out is more than paid now. The two make very different kinds of music which, if it wasn’t apparent before 2016, was made clear by the very different albums the two put out this year. I may be in the minority in favoring the younger Knowles but that’s because I tend to prefer my girl power songs introspective over anthemic. While I probably wouldn’t put it on at a party, “Cranes in the Sky” gets more replay from me because it feels like a warm embrace from an empathetic friend, albeit one who is radically woke and wants to pass along her insights into years of oppression as much as she wants to offer comfort in shared pain (also, I don’t have very many parties).

There were several strong records that addressed the singularity of the black experience in America in 2016 (see Blood Orange, Frank Ocean, Childish Gambino, among others) but none were quite as transcendently, painfully gorgeous as Solange’s A Seat at the Table and “Cranes in the Sky” is the album’s early peak. Like the titular birds the song evokes a delicate grace, the instruments and vocals unadorned but stealthily powerful. At the start Solange’s airy voice settles over a simple percussive beat and tentative strings, knitting together in a mournful funk that both enfolds and unsettles the listener. What at first sounds like a litany of post-break-up salves (Solange has variously tried to drink, dance, sex, and read “it” away) soon becomes a eulogy to all the things in life that can’t be changed, particularly for black women trying to make it in a world that, more often than not, devalues them. While the repetition of “away” in the refrain almost seems in danger of floating off, it’s the insistence that “Sometimes I don’t wanna feel those metal clouds” that pins it all back in place. It’s self-assertion as origami, a folding up that also gives oneself shape. We’re all works in progress, and our best chance of surviving together comes from accepting that.

TRACK MARKS: “Most of the Time” by Bob Dylan

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

You may have heard a little announcement out of Stockholm recently: Bob Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature, the first American to do so since 1993 and the first musician ever so honored. It was, to say the least, a controversial choice among the literati. As a writer and avid reader of fiction, I sympathize with the complaints that awarding a literary prize to someone like Dylan robs an actual author, often one whose name is hardly known in the U.S., of a well-deserved boost in sales and recognition. And as someone who strives to read poetry more regularly, I understand the necessity of interrogating whether someone who is known primarily as a lyricist can or should be considered a writer of verse in the same way laureates like Szymborska and Heaney are. And as a woman who has experienced her share of man-splaining, I nodded my head at the annoyance that rippled through many Twitter feeds that perhaps the ultimate white male artiste beloved by every pretentious dickhead who ever picked up a guitar received an award of this magnitude and prestige.

And yet.
Continue reading TRACK MARKS: “Most of the Time” by Bob Dylan

TRACK MARKS: What the Hell, You Weirdos Are All Too Good For “Creep,” by Radiohead?

Gripes

Marisa

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

I used to have a long-ish commute. As expected, sometimes traffic would snarl to a halt. On one particularly backed-up day, I looked up and realized I had no idea where I was. Even though I was overly familiar with every inch of scenery on my way to and from work, having driven the same route every day, I never really had the chance to stop and look closely at some of the things I was passing.

After seeing our Best of Radiohead list, I realize that “Creep” is that stretch of landscape. People pass by it so often that they don’t stop to really listen to it anymore.

Continue reading TRACK MARKS: What the Hell, You Weirdos Are All Too Good For “Creep,” by Radiohead?

TRACK MARKS: “Kiss” by Prince

Nathaniel

SportsAlcohol.com cofounder Nathaniel moved to Brooklyn, as you do. His hobbies include cutting up rhubarb and laying down. His favorite things are the band Moon Hooch and custard from Shake Shack. Old ladies love his hair.
Nathaniel

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In April of 2001, the struggling Arizona Top 40 radio station 104.7 ZZP  was getting ready to relaunch as 104.7 KISS-FM. The station’s format was undergoing a transition from Mainstream Top 40 to Rhythmic Top 40, and the change would be punctuated by three days of “stunting.”  Stunting is a common radio practice of abruptly airing something unusual, often used when stations change formats or owners as a way of generating listener interest and publicity. From 6pm on April 20th to noon on April 23rd, 104.7 would play Prince’s “Kiss” on a loop.

I didn’t know any of this radio business background at the time. And I didn’t even really know much about Prince. Sure, I’d seen the Batman movie with his music, missed this Animaniacs joke going right over my head as a kid, and knew Purple Rain was a thing that existed, but I didn’t have particularly cool musical tastes and couldn’t have told you much beyond that. I’d flip around hunting for songs I liked on the radio, but I didn’t buy many albums or go see much live music. What I did do, as a high school senior in Apache Junction, AZ, was go to the park on weekend evenings to goof off and play racquetball with friends until the park closed. Then maybe we’d go back to my folks’ place and bake some cookies before watching a movie or SNL. I was Not Cool, I wasn’t particularly self-conscious about that, and this isn’t a story about how Prince changed my life or anything. But one thing that was really special about him was that he made a world that was cool and sexy and kind of dangerous accessible to even a square kid sitting in the parking lot at Prospector Park, listening to that song one more time (okay, maybe two more times) before getting out to play.

I left the dial tuned to 104.7 that entire weekend. “Kiss” is pretty immediately arresting, with its stripped down arrangement, that jangly guitar lick right before the last word in the chorus, and Prince’s slippery falsetto lead vocal. It was so different, and I admit I genuinely wasn’t even sure at first whether I was listening to a man or a woman. The song is funky as hell and doesn’t even have a bass line. It also felt sexier than anything I’d ever heard on the radio, and he was mostly just singing about getting a kiss.

I don’t know how many times I listened to that song in those three days, but I do know I was genuinely disappointed on April 23rd when the world went back to normal.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=baPsgmDexno

TRACK MARKS: “Political Science” by Randy Newman

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

Satire without the potential for danger is pointless. This is something Randy Newman knows all too well. It’s understandable that listeners of his early work (or fans of his later incarnation as a writer of sweet Pixar songs) would take it at face value; they all have the seductive, nostalgic quality of a stripped-to-the-bone pop song. The compositions are so pleasant to the ear that it’s easy to miss the sharpened daggers hiding just underneath the surface. Newman’s genius, though, is that he doesn’t want to wound his audience. He just wants to poke at them a little and see them squirm. A song like, say, “Rednecks,” perhaps his most controversial for its liberal use of the n-word, works because of its intense specificity and matchless evocation of a character’s voice, in that case a Southerner fed up with the smug superiority of the North, which is racist in less overt but no less harmful ways.

“Political Science” was first released on Newman’s 1972 album Sail Away during the height of the Cold War and disastrous final years of Vietnam, but its portrait of a cheerfully ignorant world leader is timeless, as this unfortunate election season has recently proved. As the Republican candidates run a race to the know-nothing bottom, hastened by a front-runner openly advocating war crimes and tarnishing America’s image abroad, the playful irony of Newman’s little ditty has become frighteningly plausible. “No one likes us. I don’t know why,” the narrator gently intones at the song’s opening before deciding a mere two lines later that nuclear destruction is the only option: “All around even our old friends put us down. Let’s drop the big one and see what happens.” It’s a train of thought so simply and nonchalantly followed that it almost sounds like a good idea.

The song then moves into a flippant litany of reasons the rest of the world has it coming. They’re ungrateful, spiteful, Asia’s crowded, South America stole our name so “let’s drop the big one, there’ll be no one left to blame us.” A world made up of just people who think like us would be paradise, right? “How peaceful it’ll be,” the narrator blithely cries, “We’ll set everybody free!” But such bland agreeability has its own drawbacks. After all, once you begin destroying everyone who disagrees with you, how long will it be until that extends to those across the aisle in your own country? In most ways, we’re already there and we haven’t had to drop a big one in 70 years.

When Newman performed “Political Science” on The Colbert Report back in 2006, halfway through Bush’s unearned second term, it seemed like a knowing wink to the show’s left-leaning viewers. I wonder if he’d get the same reaction now. In the damning final couplet the narrator throws up his hands, which has come to seem like the only appropriate reaction to the modern political process: “They all hate us anyhow, so let’s drop the big one now.” We need the song more than ever, because the joke of it isn’t funny anymore.

There’s unfortunately no clips available of the Colbert performance but this one seems close enough:

TRACK MARKS: “False Alphabet City” by Eleanor Friedberger

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.

Eleanor Friedberger used to live in my neighborhood. I’m pretty sure I passed her walking down my block once. Other people I’ve passed on the street in my neighborhood include Craig Finn and Ray from Girls, which is to say I might be priced out of Brooklyn before I’m done writing this. Back when Eleanor Friedberger lived in my neighborhood, she played a show at the Music Hall of Williamsburg, just south of here; the vast majority of times I’ve seen her play, either as a solo act or as part of her band the Fiery Furnaces, have been in Greenpoint (here, until I get priced out) or Williamsburg (just south of here, until I get priced out). At that Music Hall of Williamsburg show, I was in the front row, and toward the end of her encore during the song “My Mistakes,” she lowered herself from the stage onto the floor, using me and the guy next to me to help herself down. Offhand, I would call that brief moment the most intimate one I’ve shared with a professional rock and roll musician, especially if that sex dream I had about Shirley Manson doesn’t count. (It doesn’t count.) That moment, combined with passing her on Calyer Street, combined with the time I saw the Fiery Furnaces play at a club a block away from my old apartment that no longer exists (before you ask: both. The club no longer exists, and the apartment no longer exists, at least in the form it did when we lived there), combined with the lyric in “Owl’s Head Park” about posing for a photo on Manhattan Avenue, has lodged Eleanor Friedberger firmly into my head as one of the New Yorkiest of indie rockers. It’s a selfish distinction; she feels like New York City to me because I know that she knows my New York City – even if most of her New York references talk about further-flung places like Coney Island, Roosevelt Island, and Owl’s Head Park, places I go maybe once a year if ever; Owl’s Head Park being someplace I went mainly because of the song.

Those New York references I shouldn’t care that much about continue with “False Alphabet City,” her new single that doesn’t appear on her new album New View. She recorded it for some kind of film-based art project (oh, New York) but it stands alone just fine, even for a New Yorker who rarely finds himself in Actual Alphabet City. The way it starts with a stuttery creep throws back to her Fiery Furnaces days; the way the guitar swings in after seconds feels like a veer away from the Furnaces’ weirdness (though their pop instincts, occasionally deployed, were not too shabby). Where it really opens it up is its New York City sentiment: “Everyone’s searching for their own letter in the false alphabet city.” She’d know better than most, having spent over a decade in the city and only recently decamped for upstate. The NYC-centric lyrics, plus the tempo and instrumentation, don’t really fit in on New View, so it makes sense that it was left off; you wouldn’t want the best song on an album to be one that sounds nothing like the rest of it.

For most of her show last night at the Bowery Ballroom, I didn’t think Eleanor Friedberger was going to perform “False Alphabet City.” She played every song on New View, and had to play some older stuff, too (impeccably chosen), which didn’t seem to leave much room for a one-off single based on an art project. But she played it, late in the show, telling the crowd it was for us. That would sound like a cheesy rock-star sentiment coming from a lot of singers, but one of the more remarkable things about Eleanor Friedberger is the way she combines real, sometimes inscrutable charisma (that voice, those mysterious bangs) with a slight hesitation – she’s not a wild dancer on stage, but when she moves with her music, it looks natural and sincere. So when she tells me and a couple hundred other people that a song is for us, I believe her, no questions asked, even if I don’t see her around anymore.

Eleanor Friedberger is out on tour in support of New View right now.