Tag Archives: track marks

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 2015 – “Downtown” by Majical Cloudz

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

Our Track Marks feature spotlights individual songs that SportsAlcohol.com contributors love. Looking back at the year, we’ve selected some of our favorite songs from albums that don’t appear on our Best Albums of 2015 list.

Adolescent yearning can be unbearable in real life but in art it’s often transcendent. Case in point is the music of Majical Cloudz, which has the intimate nakedness of an aural striptease. At times it’s like listening in on something you’re not meant to hear. As sad as it is romantic, “Downtown” from their sophomore album Are You Alone? (a title whose similarity to a late-night text can’t be accidental) is like a love song for a ghost, an impression bolstered by the starkness of the music video, which alternates between a black and white close-up of singer Devon Welsh, his gaze directed straight at the camera, and counterpart Matthew Otto spinning in what looks like the remnants of a bombed-out city. This ain’t the place Petulia Clark sang about.

Welsh’s voice has the same chameleonic qualities as Ian Curtis, timid one moment and adamant the next, and he puts it to good use here. The song opens with a shimmery electronic instrumental backed by a beat reminiscent of windshield wipers fighting a steady rain, a foggy, hypnotic melody that might float away if not for Welsh’s insistence on remaining in the moment, grasping for something that’s less a place than a state of mind. “Nothing you say will ever be wrong/Cause it feels good just being in your arms,” goes a typical sentiment. Yet the lyrics also look forward to a time when the intensity of these feelings will just be another memory. “If suddenly I die,” Welsh sings with a forthrightness that even those well beyond their teenage years will admire, “I hope they will say/That he was obsessed and it was okay.” Some things will naturally be outgrown and left behind but it only takes the right song at the right time to bring it all back again.

TRACK MARKS: Best of 2015 – “Bored in the USA” by Father John Misty

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

Our Track Marks feature spotlights individual songs that SportsAlcohol.com contributors love. Looking back at the year, we’ve selected some of our favorite songs from albums that don’t appear on our Best Albums of 2015 list.

Artists have been looking back for as long as there have been others before them but few blur the line between past and present with as much flair (and controversy) as Father John Misty, the stage persona of ex-Fleet Fox-er Josh Tillman, which is equal parts Mick Jagger swagger and Harry Nilsson self-loathing. Like any good persona it’s a pliable one, noxiously hostile on one track and swooningly romantic on the next; the best songs on his second record I Love You, Honeybear often sound like a battle between the two, a hardened cynic trying on a pair of rose-colored glasses.

Tillman, you see, got married while he was working on Honeybear and the album is rife with the anxieties that come with making big life choices and devoting oneself to someone else’s happiness. “Bored in the U.S.A.” at first seems like an outlier, a Springsteen-referencing goof in the midst of tormented love songs that turns its gaze within rather than toward another. There’s more than a little of Randy Newman’s D.N.A. in its composition, from the deceptive simplicity of its piano line to the winking irony of the lyrics. (“Save me white Jesus,” he cries at one point.) But it’s of a piece with Tillman’s larger aim, which is to kick up enough dust that you won’t notice the real tears in his eyes.

Like “Born in the U.S.A.” it’s the sort of openhearted satire that invites misconstruing. Lazy listeners of that classic (several of them presidential candidates) heard only the patriotic fervor in Springsteen’s lyrics, ignoring the harder truths they underscored. Here too Tillman seems to be sarcastically calling out the lie of the American dream with such lines as “They gave me a useless education/And a subprime loan/on a Craftsman home.” But as the studio audience laughter begins trickling into the audio the hollow core of his cleverness sinks in. It’s not the U.S.A. that’s the problem but the privileged men who proclaim to be bored with it and believe that alone makes them interesting. It seems a bit counterintuitive for an artistic persona to shill for the rewards of being real. But in the year of the so-called “affluenza teen” it may be too bitter a pill to be swallowed straight.

REST OF THE 1990S TRACK MARKS: “WHAT’S THIS?” BY DANNY ELFMAN

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

Starting next week, we’ll unveil our big list of the Best Songs of the 1990s. In the run-up to the reveal, we’re featuring some of our favorite songs that didn’t make the list through our regular Track Marks feature.

When the contributors to our upcoming ’90s list talked about how they put together their individual ballots, it was inevitable that the subject of how many avenues of discovering music there was in the ’90s came up. The radio played songs we wanted to listen to! The TV showed music videos! Just when all of that was starting to fade, we went to college and found the anything-goes world of a fast internet connection hooked up to peer-to-peer filesharing! The world was our musical oyster.

But, when going over the songs that actually made it onto our ballots, one path to discovering new music—one that’s very much still used today—kept coming up over and over: movie soundtracks. We’d discuss a song, then someone would talk about how it was used to perfection in a critical movie scene. I’m sure Rob and Jesse could write a Track Marks post about every single song on the soundtrack to Danny Boyle’s A Life Less Ordinary (see our upcoming podcast for more on this); I myself almost did this post about “A.M. 180” by Granddaddy—which has been my only ringtone since my very first cell phone—a song I first heard in Boyle’s 28 Days Later. (And, you know, non-Boyle soundtracks are pretty good, too.)

But there’s a certain category of movie soundtracks that, while I’m sure we all listened to them on a loop in the ’90s, probably didn’t make it on our individual ballots: animated movie soundtracks. My long list had a few, including “Belle” from Beauty and the Beast and “Be Prepared” from The Lion King. My short list only had one: “What’s This?” from The Nightmare Before Christmas.

It’s one of the only animated-movie soundtrack songs I still listen to today; granted, it’s because I treat it as a Christmas song more than anything else. But the fact that it could have a second life in my annual iTunes Christmas playlist also speaks to its craft—I’m pretty picky about my holiday music. (Sorry, kids from South Park, your holiday songs don’t make the cut because your voices are too irritating.) To me, this one is up there with Vince Guaraldi.

What makes “What’s This?” unique for a holiday song is that it’s about looking at Christmas from the outside. Yeah, our traditions should seem both strange and incredible to an outside observer; seeing Jack Skellington’s awe invites us all to look at the holiday as if it’s our first time.

And then, of course, there’s Danny Elfman. I bet that man could write the instrumentation for 10 perfect Christmas songs in his sleep—he seems like I’d bet he’d want to add sleigh bells to nearly everything, holiday-related or not. It’s a harder hurdle to clear to seamlessly combine the musical aesthetics of Christmas and Halloween, like he does on other songs on The Nightmare Before Christmas soundtrack. But his performance as Jack is what really makes “What’s This?” (I should be ashamed to admit that I’ve only heard Elfman sing through Jack Skellington; my knowledge of Oingo Boingo is nil.) Through his Skellington, we get the excitement of discovery, the wonderment of Christmas, the puzzlement over coming across an unknown culture, and then the burning desire to possess and control it all.

By the end of the ’90s, The Nightmare Before Christmas became shorthand for a certain kind of Hot Topic goth. But they don’t get to own “What’s This?” the way  Jack Skellington doesn’t get to own Christmas. It’s ours this time.

 

Rest of the 1990s Track Marks: “Ruby Soho” by Rancid

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

Starting next week, we’ll unveil our big list of the Best Songs of the 1990s. In the run-up to the reveal, we’re featuring some of our favorite songs that didn’t make the list through our regular Track Marks feature.

The 1990s was a good decade for taking punk music out of Berkeley, California and selling it to the mainstream kids across the country, all the way to the suburbs of New York (ahem). At the helm were two Armstrongs: Billie Joe of Green Day, and Tim of Rancid. For a while, it seemed like both bands were on the same trajectory: They were from the same neighborhood, signed to the same label (we’ll forget it’s the one that also discovered The Offspring), and both put out breakthrough albums in 1994. But, for whatever reason, Green Day hit first and rocketed to a level of fame that gets its songs onto best-of lists, while Rancid’s songs pick up a few bottom-of-the-list votes that don’t get it onto the final roster.

That’s not to take anything away from Green Day—I definitely had them high up on my final ballot—but, when you listen to “Ruby Soho,” you realize it’s not fair. It has all the makings of a tune that’s not just good for a punk track if you’re into that kind of thing, but a classic, love-it-forever type of song, including:

  1. Telling a sad story in an upbeat tempo. There’s yearning, there’s leaving, and Ruby is sad, but you can still pump your fist to it.
  2. It’s a song about music, and making music. He’s leaving because he’s a musician; he loves her, but he sees his name on a marquee and knows he can’t resist.
  3. The word “Ruby” in the title. As in Tuesday. Musicians from 1996 onward had to really think about naming an in-song character Ruby, since “Ruby Tuesday” and “Ruby Soho” set an almost impossible bar to meet.
  4. Random evocation of a New York City neighborhood. Even when it comes from Californians, it gives the song mystique. I don’t know much about Ruby Soho, but the name alone makes me think it’s something downtown, underground, cooler than I am, and a little worse for wear.
  5. Parts that you can split up when you sing in the car. Makes the song equally at home on road-trip mix tapes as it is on romantic mix tapes.

I won’t say that “Ruby Soho” never got its due; it’s on Rancid’s most popular album, …And Out Come the Wolves, and they played it on Saturday Night Live. It’s been covered by Vampire Weekend and Jimmy Cliff. But, as a suburban pre-teen looking to pretend like I was a California punk for two minutes at a time, I would’ve preferred meeting Ruby Soho and hanging out with musicians in the city than chilling with Green Day on their couch, doing whatever it is they were doing in “Longview.”

TRACK MARKS: “The Bleeding Heart Show” by the New Pornographers

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

Having your song used in commercials is a double-edged sword for artists. For many indie bands, I’m sure the royalties are welcome and hard to turn down, but it’s also the sort of thing that can follow an artist around for life (exhibits A, B, C, infinity: just about anyone who’s been featured in an Apple spot). A good pairing, though, can elevate something potentially mechanical and soulless to memorable, even transcendent. It helps, of course, if the song itself reaches those heights already. Such is the case with the New Pornographers’ anthem “The Bleeding Heart Show,” whose spangly hey-la hey-la chorus is best known for being prominently featured in a commercial for the for-profit educational center University of Phoenix, of all things. It’s also one of the most perfectly constructed pop songs of the past decade.

The album it comes from, Twin Cinema, was released a decade ago, and though the band has released many ear-wormy delights since then, “The Bleeding Heart Show” has become one of their signature songs. The New Pornographers are something of an indie supergroup, spearheaded by A.C. Newman trading vocals with Dan Bejar of Destroyer and the volcanically talented Neko Case, backed up by other journeymen and women. They’ve put out six records since first forming in 2003, and each one harnesses the alchemical joy of a group of good friends getting back together again. It’s like The Big Chill, except without the Boomer moping and everyone’s singing songs they wrote together instead of Motown classics.

As a band, The New Pornographers seem incapable of making something without a hook. On paper “The Bleeding Heart Show” has a classic three-part structure, but that’s liberating for the song rather than limiting. It begins quietly with the plaintive chords of a lone piano. The drums kick in with Newman’s vocals, the lyrics somewhat nonsensical but seeming to detail the hazy morning after a rager, an impression reflected in the music, which sounds like it’s fumbling toward what it wants to be. But it moves swiftly after two verses into the bridge, the drums escalating as Newman and Case build in urgency and solidarity, joined by a melodica, the harmonica’s carnival cousin. Then Newman drops out and a chorus of “oohs” takes over, carrying us as the instruments begin locking together and surging forward, exploding into the “hey-la” finale. It’s a fist-pumping, chest-swelling blast of emotion, and for the next sixty seconds it seems the band may go on forever, backing up each epic moment in your life.

The New Pornographers play Prospect Park on Saturday, July 10th, for free, if you’re in the area.

TRACK MARKS BEST OF 2014: “Lights Out” 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 week, SportsAlcohol.com writers are recounting the best music of 2014. Today’s Track Marks focus on individual songs from albums that didn’t make our collective top five, but did appear on our individual best-album ballots.

It took me awhile to get into Angel Olsen’s fantastic 2014 record Burn Your Fire For No Witness. This seems to be a pattern with me as I was late in discovering Waxahatchee last year, an artist who shares some surface DNA with Olsen. Both are lone females with shuddery but commanding voices and country-tinged compositions that seem to issue directly from the parts of the American South that rarely get visitors. To me, though, Olsen feels like the more risky, eccentric artist. Even after multiple listens to the album it’s impossible to predict from moment to moment what side of herself she’ll reveal next: brash and boot stomping, sinister and threatening, achy and longing. She could as easily back a bar fight as a slow dance.

“Lights Out” finds her in torch singer mode. It hits at the mid-point of the album and at first seems like something of a comedown before she’ll rev up again in the back half. It starts with a simple guitar line and drum beat, Olsen warbling to an indecisive lover, “If you don’t feel good about it then turn around. If you really mean it baby then stand your ground.” There’s resignation in her voice but also a whiff of impatience. Olsen has spent much of the record grappling with loneliness but she also knows indifference is no substitute for love. The song builds with each verse, adding texture and volume until it bursts open in a moment of fist pumping conviction: “No one’s gonna see your life through, there’s no way.” If Olsen’s voice sometimes sounds like a candle on the verge of going out, this is her as the fire about to consume the house. The torch she’s carrying turns out to be for herself.

TRACK MARKS BEST OF 2014: “Nothing But Trouble” by Phantogram

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 writers are recounting the best music of 2014. Today’s Track Marks focus on individual songs from albums that didn’t make our collective top five, but did appear on our individual best-album ballots.

Full disclosure: I am in the tank for Phantogram. Even though they hail from Greenwich, NY my hometown of Saratoga Springs has claimed them as their own (same county). We don’t have much of a music scene to speak of, so we get excited every time a local act breaks out onto the national stage. It’s only happened a few times in my life.

I am also in the tank for high energy track ones. “Nothing But Trouble,” the leadoff song to Voices, Phantogram’s sophomore full-length, is maybe my favorite one of the year.

The beat shows the influence of their touring with a live band to great effect. The bass line uses their standard fuzzed-out synth sound, but it moves a little more than usual. The drums go beyond standard loops to include fills you don’t often hear in songs like these. While there’s a lot of growth in their songwriting, the lyrics feature psychedelic abstractions that would feel as comfortable in early Phantogram cuts like “Mouthful of Diamonds” as it would in a classic Guided By Voices tune.

As always, Sara Barthel’s vocals are an ethereal eye in the storm, but her partner in crime Josh Carter is in the spotlight a little more than usual (especially when they play this song live). His underutilized voice provides backing in the second half of the song and his guitar closes everything out with a rare solo. The way it breaks out of nowhere in a pretty dance heavy track, it’s almost Prince-like.

This all comes together in one song. If reductive, lazy critics are still calling Phantogram trip-hop, they should probably listen to “Nothing But Trouble” a few more times.

TRACK MARKS BEST OF 2014: “Blue Moon” by Beck

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 week, SportsAlcohol.com writers are recounting the best music of 2014. Today’s Track Marks focus on individual songs from albums that didn’t make our collective top five, but did appear on our individual best-album ballots.

I know I’m in the minority on this but I like Beck most when he’s mopey. Sea Change was a very meaningful record to me in high school; to paraphrase Rob from High Fidelity, it takes a very particular kind of person to think they’ll be alone for the rest of their life at twenty-five, so it must take an extraordinarily neurotic one to worry about that at sixteen. But for whatever reason, I felt less lonely when I listened to “The Golden Age.” I suspect it has something to do with the fact that Beck, for all the gimmicky (and wonderful!) singles he released in the nineties, has a warm and inviting voice when he’s crooning. Morning Phase, his 2014 record, is full of that sound, and no song on that record more so than “Blue Moon.”

The song feels in many ways like a continuation of “The Golden Age.” They share a similar rhythm, which lacks the urgency of his more aggressive singles but is buoyed by a dreamy tempo that’s perfect for driving at night with the top down. “Blue Moon” has more playful instrumentation, with the main theme provided by a plinking charango and a swell of soulful “ooh-ooh’s” carrying along the chorus. I could listen to the jumpy clavinet progression near the end for hours. It’s so lush and swoony that you’d be forgiven for ignoring the lyrics, which invert the Rodgers and Hart classic of the same name from a singer finding solace in the skies above into a naked plea to the people who surround him. “Don’t leave me on my own,” Beck entreats, and by the time the song is over we’re sorry to go. While the rest of the album plays in a pleasant earthy register it’s with this song that it truly hits the stratosphere.

TRACK MARKS BEST OF 2014: “Backseat Shake Off (Kendrick Lamar vs Taylor Swift)” by The Hood Internet

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 writers are recounting the best music of 2014. Today’s Track Marks focus on individual songs from albums that didn’t make our individual best-album lists.

I know what you’re thinking, reader: “Rob, a mashup was one of your favorite songs of 2014?! There are less embarrassing ways to relive your college years.”

Fret not, reader. I have so many great reasons to include The Hood Internet’s latest.

I wanted an excuse to post this video.


“Backseat Shakeoff” was released at the tail end of the media’s coverage of the  mutual admiration society between Kendrick Lamar and Taylor Swift. This appeals to a very particular demographic AND I AM PART OF IT. I wish I had something more insightful to add beyond “I think it’s cool that Taylor Swift is into Kendrick Lamar and vice versa” on this point, but  I’m not sure what to add on this point.

Just Enough T-Swift

 


Maybe Jesse and I are just clueless old men who just don’t get the success of Taylor Swift’s march towards world domination, but we’re totally the type of dudes who love great pop music to the degree people question our sexual orientation. I’m serious. Jesse and I did a radio show during summers in college and we’d throw in some Mandy Moore and Atomic Kitty in between the de rigueur Guided By Voices and Built To Spill. We would sometimes get phone calls full of homosexual slurs.

This is a roundabout way of saying that I really like the idea of Taylor Swift transitioning from country to pop superstardom, but the tunes don’t always grab me. “Shake It Off”, the lead single from her latest album, is a mixed a bag. The Hood Internet take the good parts for their mashup by just using the beat, the first verse, and one chorus. The pseudo-rap, spoken word breakdown and troubling music video get left on the cutting room floor.

Kendrick Freaking Lamar

I was late to the party on Kendrick Lamar, but I am here now. While it works well in the context of the full album, “Backseat Freestyle” is (to me) one of the less interesting songs on his breakout good kid, m.A.A.d city. I know it’s one of the clear singles from that record, but it lacks the nuance and insight of Kendrick at his finest. That being said, “Backseat Freestyle” is the obvious choice to mash up with “Shake It Off”. While most of Kenrick’s songs could be described as downbeat, this isn’t one of them.