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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: “The Queen’s Nose” by Slow Club

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.

I have a weird relationship with good singing. My official stance is that it’s unnecessary. When American Idol became the biggest TV show in the country and a few of its winners or runners-up became big (or at least medium-sized) stars, I was confused: didn’t we all sort of agree around 1960 or so that technically impressive singing was, if not entirely outmoded, at least somewhat limiting? Obviously there were exceptions like Mariah Carey or Whitney Houston, but in the American Idol universe, there was mainly Mariah Carey or Whitney Houston, and this wasn’t the world of pop music that I recognized. Maybe it was because when I was growing up, I didn’t really know anyone who listened to Mariah or Whitney, beyond the occasional parent — and not even cool parents, parents who seemed sort of at a loss for how to respond to the question mark of new music made after 1975 or so.

So generally, yes: I pledge my allegiance to Bob Dylan and the wonderful range of voices who are allowed to sing rock-and-roll type songs. Trilling and melisma and whatever else fall far behind the idiosyncrasy of the voice, the smartness of the songwriting, the catchiness of the melody — almost anything but Broadway-style singing quality.

And yet: sometimes, when I’m not expecting it, big vocals really hit me. The marathon of key changes that close Beyonce’s “Love On Top,” for example, much more a technical feat than a songwriting one. Or take Slow Club’s “The Queen’s Nose,” a track off their recent record Complete Surrender. It has a lot going for it, but then, so do most Slow Club songs. The group’s core members, Rebecca Taylor and Charles Watson from Sheffield, UK, work together beautifully as a duo: they trade off songwriting and vocals, drifting apart for some tunes and snapping back together for others. But there’s something especially massive about “The Queen’s Nose” that I never could have expected from listening to the sweet strains of “When I Go,” the first song off their debut.

Maybe it’s that exact progression that makes it so thrilling: Slow Club started off as a strummy, excitable folk-pop act and each progressive album has moved further away from that while retaining their generally clean, earnest, often-rueful songwriting style. The song itself progresses, too. It starts with simple, slowdance-y guitar-playing and a plaintive if soulful vocal from Rebecca. Horns kick in, and the vocal gets a little louder, but it’s two minutes in before Rebecca is holler-singing with the horns swelling in the background, and the song keeps strategically dropping out instruments before sliding them back in. It’s halfway done before you realize it’s becoming a girl-group-style torcher, and the final build to Rebecca’s climactic, almost Broadway-level cry of “I can’t go on/living these songs,” with horns and guitar blasting behind her voice like fireworks, is an unlikely candidate for my favorite minute of music this year.

When the band performed “The Queen’s Nose” this week at the Bowery Ballroom in Manhattan, they didn’t have those glorious horns at their disposal. But they did have Rebecca Taylor, and she confirmed — all night but especially during this song — that she sometimes is, as Karen O sang, bigger than the sound. I don’t mean to discount Slow Club’s collective acumen as musicians (both Rebecca and Charles play multiple instruments). In fact, Taylor uses her voice as an instrument, and just like you don’t want your guitar constantly squalling with feedback or engaged in elaborate fingerpicking, you (by which I mean I) don’t want your big-voiced singers using every opportunity to vocalize with precision. On Complete Surrender, “The Queen’s Nose” is preceded by the aching balladry of “Number One” and the girl-group-at-the-disco title track. Live, it was followed by a rollicking “Our Most Brilliant Friends.” Everything made everything sound better.

TRACK MARKS: “Can’t Hardly Wait” by the Replacements

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 first time I heard The Replacements I was not cool. It was 1999 and I was a shy, lonely twelve year old who had just rented Can’t Hardly Wait on VHS to watch at her grandmother’s house in Michigan. The movie itself was fun but forgettable and, I realized once I’d actually started high school, completely divorced from any of my own experiences. But I’ll always remember the second that opening chord progression hit over the closing credits, warm and inviting as a friend’s arm slung over your shoulder, the drums kicking in soon after, as the images of fake good times and memories scrolled by.

It’s a fairly straightforward song and, given its general upbeatness including the use of some funky horns, a bit of an anomaly in the Replacements catalog, something I learned the hard way after checking out Tim from the library not long after seeing the movie. Young me was unprepared for the more raucous, caustic side of the band but tastes change as we grow older and by the time I was in college I had discovered the pleasures of Let It Be and Pleased to Meet Me, on which “Can’t Hardly Wait” appears. As far as instant nostalgia goes, its Pavlovian effect is unparalleled for me. It’s about another time, sure – nobody has to worry about writing a letter tomorrow or borrowing a stamp when there’s text messaging. But it’s much more than that and it’s all in the title, which also provides the only lyrics to the chorus. “Can’t wait” is tossed-off excitement but “Can’t hardly wait”? That’s pure teenage ecstasy.

This Friday I will be seeing The Replacements in concert for the first time. I’m still not that cool and the show will likely not live up to whatever idea I have of the band from the old records I’ve listened to and loved. They’re not what they were, any more than I am what I used to be. But even so I can’t, well, you know the rest.


The Replacements play Forest Hills Stadium in Queens on Friday. Young old people and old young people will be there.

Track Marks: “STOP FUCKING BUNTING” by Puig Destroyer

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

Grindcore* is a narrowly defined genre with limited appeal. An extreme permutation of metal, the songs are loud, short, and incomprehensible. On top of that, a lot of grindcore acts title their songs for maximum shock value to make sure you get the point if you can’t understand the shouting. Gruesome lyrics aren’t requisite and one Grindcore band actually widened their appeal by narrowing their subject matter to just baseball.

Enter Puig Destroyer, a portmanteau of Grindcore luminaries Pig Destroyer and Los Angeles Dodgers phenom Yasiel Puig. Cuban defector Puig blasted onto the scene last year, skipping a level of the minor leagues to plug a hole in the Dodgers’ outfield and became if not baseball’s most talented player, certainly its most exciting.

I'm showing real restraint by limiting myself to one Puig gif
I’m showing real restraint by limiting myself to one Puig gif. Seriously, check out those reflexes.

He was celebrated by Puig Destroyer, a metal supergroup of baseball fans that took this joke of a band from conception to viral hit quickly; their first single “ONE MAN, FIVE TOOLS” was featured on Deadspin just ten days after Puig had made his Major League debut.

The idea of the band my be a joke, but Puig Destroyer often has something more perceptive to say about baseball in a sixty-second song than some crusty old managers will say in any post game press conference.  Co-founders Ian Miller and Riley Breckenridge also host The Productive Outs Podcast. THE PRODcast showcases Miller and Breckenridge as my idea of the 21st Century baseball fan: willing to think about the game without being mired in dogma, interested in things besides baseball, and lovers of what’s great about the game without taking it too seriously. I call them Fire Joe Morgan Fans.

This brings us to “STOP FUCKING BUNTING”. Why highlight a song from Puig Destroyer’s first EP when they’re promoting their first full length? In short, because they won’t stop fucking bunting.

Continue reading Track Marks: “STOP FUCKING BUNTING” by Puig Destroyer

TRACK MARKS: “I’ll Have to Dance with Cassie” by God Help the Girl

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.

God Help the Girl is not quite Belle and Sebastian, not least because it’s not quite an actual band. It resides in the more nebulous region of “project” and qualifies for any number of typical project modifiers — side, pet, dream, or all of the above. It shares with Belle a chief stakeholder in the person of one Mr. Stuart Murdoch, primary (though not only) singer and songwriter in the band and more benevolent Svengali (is that a thing?) of Girl/Girl/”Girl.” The first publicly available incarnation was an album released in 2009, featuring songs written or (in the case of a few that first appeared on the 2006 Belle and Sebastian album The Life Pursuit) reproduced for female vocalists of the girl-group style, which would become an even more prevalent indie-rock flashpoint over the next couple of years. Murdoch made no secret of his ambition that this album eventually become the soundtrack to a musical film, and after several more EPs and singles and another Belle and Sebastian record and some touring and Kickstarting, lo, the film itself did appear, one of those things that seems as if by magic to viewers, and probably seemed more like an arduous, shoestring-budgeted undertaking to those who actually worked on it.

In some ways, the songs of God Help the Girl are a lot like Belle and Sebastian: wistful, retro, witty, melodic. But switching from the occasional third-person female point of view (sung by Stuart) or the implied first-person female point of view (sung by others in the band, and/or Carey Mulligan) to mostly female narration does change the alchemy of the band (much of B&S did play on the original 2009 album) in interesting ways. The most immediate of the God Help the Girl songs is probably “I’ll Have to Dance with Cassie,” which told a clear story long before the sequence was filmed for one of the best moments of God Help the Girl: The Feature Motion Picture. The narrator wants to dance, and the various boys around her and her friend Cassie aren’t up to the task. It makes sense that Murdoch wrote this in 2009, as Belle and Sebastian continued to get peppier and dancier. “Cassie” combines their newfound verve with the character-driven point of view Murdoch perfected early in their career; it’s an even more compatible combination of the two aesthetics than recent-ish up-tempo numbers like “Sukie in the Graveyard,” maybe because the first-person female narration brings us closer to the action than Murdoch’s empathetic but slightly more distanced portrait of Sukie, or maybe because it expresses such a heedless sentiment in such a wry, Belle and Sebastian-y way.

Though the God Help the Girl soundtrack album that accompanies the film features many of the same tracks as the original 2009 record, the songs, including “I’ll Have to Dance with Cassie,” got makeovers for the occasion, re-sung by the movie’s stars (in this case, Emily Browning — backed by some of the original band’s singers). There’s something more electric about the soundtrack version, and that goes double for seeing it in the movie itself: like the film’s other numbers, the scene looks handmade while mainlining the bold joyfulness of classic movie musicals. Emily Browning and Hannah Murray (Cassie here, Cassie on Skins, Cassie forever) and Murdoch (directing them) all bring the song, the whole Belle and Sebastian thing, to vibrant life. The original version is good, but the movie, like the best musicals, further elevates its songs. It’s the original 2009 version in the YouTube audio below; the musical number as it appears in the film is actually on YouTube somewhere, but it’s in a squished aspect ratio and suboptimal audio mix and anyway, you should see it in the context of the movie for maximum delight.

TRACK MARKS: “Love U Forever” by Jenny Lewis

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.

I get impatient with songs about how things are going great. So many sad, ambivalent, or complex songs already use upbeat melodies or a fast pace to make themselves sound more rousing than they would be based only on lyrical content that so many fully upbeat songs — like, say, Jimmy Eat World’s “The Middle,” if one wanted to continue picking on a catchy and harmless decade-only song that one might still kind of loathe — sound like empty overkill. It takes a deceptive amount of skill to write a song about something happy that doesn’t sound kind of insufferable or empty-headed. That goes double if the happy thing is something beyond the heedless rush of love or triumph that informs say, early Beatles songs, or Japandroids. That goes triple, at least sometimes, if an artist used to sing about heavy-duty angst, then got happier as he or she aged, and wants us all to know how serene, centered, and balanced his or her life is now.

Jenny Lewis used to sing about heavy-duty angst, with Rilo Kiley and on her solo records. She still does, on her latest and possibly greatest record, The Voyager. But her songs have taken on a rueful, sometimes slightly detached quality that in no way diminishes their storytelling emotional pull. She also manages to let some light in, both musically and, on “Love U Forever,” lyrically.

“Love U Forever” is a song about being in love. Even the title is spelled out something like a yearbook inscription. In the verses of the song, Lewis sings about stuff that might sound, if not inane, perhaps not material rich in poetic potential: easily identifiable, relatable stuff like getting together with her girlfriends, drinking burgundy wine, getting “a little high” and reminiscing.

Beyond a bouncy intro guitar riff that promises impending rollicking, what makes this song work so surprisingly well are the nuances J-Lew brings to her narrator’s happiness. At the end of her list of things to do, she keeps adding: “I can’t believe I’m getting married in May” — and we might assume her disbelief is wistful, but it’s hard to say for sure. Then, in the chorus: “I could love you forever.” The key word here is could. This is in no way a break-up song; it’s not (as far as I can tell) about the narrator realizing she’s about to make a huge mistake or leaving her intended at the altar, or wanting to change him just a little bit. She gives no directives for how “could” might become “will.” But there is a sweet tentativeness in turning her love hypothetical. The narrator is engaged to be married, and she’s still saying: this could be it. The final verse adds even more ambiguity, observing: “But there are some things money cannot say, like the feeling of hell in a hallway.” So many love songs sound like fantasy; “Love U Forever” sounds like the act of fantasizing.

If it sounds like I’m saying this upbeat love song is great because it’s secretly not all that upbeat, well, I might be kinda-sorta saying that. I’m also saying, though, that this upbeat love song is great because it finds notes and subtleties beyond YES! and YAY! It’s not vital that Lewis express doubt or ambiguity so much as it is that she make this experience sound more specific than just a rush of excitement over seeing old friends and talking about a wedding. It reminds me of Liz Phair’s “What Makes You Happy,” which also approaches being in love from such a specific angle, with such a clear authorial voice, that it makes some old sentiments seem brand new. That’s what listening to Lewis is like these days: hearing an old, familiar friend rephrase and reposition herself as she continues to grow up.

TRACK MARKS: “Mississippi Goddam” by Nina Simone

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

Song of the Week is a feature where SportsAlcohol editors, staffers, friends, and other assorted experts write a bit about a particular song that they love or hate or respect. Sara kicks this feature off with a song to cap off the real bad August our country has just experienced.

“The name of this tune is ‘Mississippi Goddam’,” Nina Simone says at the start. “And I mean every word of it.” It’s a sentiment that must have startled the largely white crowds who came to see her perform in 1964. The previous year had seen the murder of Medgar Evers and the deaths of four girls in the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing. Race relations across the country were roiling and many feared a long road ahead for both sides of the divide. Simone, though, was never afraid to be confrontational, even explosive, with her listeners and the live recordings of “Mississippi Goddam” have a righteous urgency, punctuated by uncomfortable audience laughter, that is still impossible to brush off even fifty years on.

Simone wrote the song in an hour but it contains decades of suppressed anger. The bouncy piano melody she chose provides an ironic underline to the caustic lyrics of pain and strife. After name-checking the Southern states that were the sites of major oppression and violence, she devotes several lines to mocking the legacy of black subservience. “You lied to me all these years,” she fumes, “Told me to wash and clean my ears. And talk real fine just like a lady. And you’ll stop calling me Sister Sadie.” It builds to a call and response with her singers as she rattles off the demands of the movement (“Mass participation/Desegregation”) and they shout back, “Too slow!” — inciting action over caution. She performed it both for the civil rights marchers at Selma and in concert at Carnegie Hall. While many protest songs of the era aimed for uplift, Simone’s remains arresting for its undeniable fury. She isn’t blowing in the wind; she’s the wind itself.

To listen to “Mississippi Goddam” now, in the wake of the clashes in Ferguson, among countless other injustices, is to face simultaneously how far we’ve come and how much work is still left. “You don’t have to live next to me,” Simone proclaims at the song’s end. “Just give me my equality.” Now that the latter has been won, it’s up to us to do the rest.

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