Some songs come and go – sweet pleasures, but fleeting ones.
Others, they linger, wearing a groove in heart and brain that runs down the intersection of comforting and challenging.
These are some of those songs.
Off My Mind, Ryan Ross: It’s the plucked string at the beginning, I think. The insistent whang whang whang that reaches out to hook your attention just before the other guitars muscle in, rumbling and grumbling and trying to start a fight. And then about half-way through they settle down and start hammering out a quasi-hypnotic rhythm. I both do and do not want to know what the words are supposed to be; I’m curious, but also suspect context might ruin it.
If You’re in New York, The Grahams: I have more to say about Riverman’s Daughter, their most recent (and most amazing) record, but this is one of the songs I have been listening to obsessively. I have danced to this on subway platforms from Harlem to Brooklyn, and hummed along everywhere from the center of a swirl of autumn leaves on Central Park West to a rapidly thickening blanket of snow on 1st Avenue. It’s a country song, but it’s a got a city heart, and the city heart is full of joy.
Have a Cuppa Tea, The Kinks: From Muswell Hillbillies, but driven by the spirit of Village Green Preservation Society this is indeed an entire song about the role of tea in British society. I like to listen to it on my way to work while, yes, drinking a cup of tea.
Boys on The Radio, Hole: When Courtney Love is down, she’s down; but when she’s up, she’s radiant and ascendent and nothing can stop her. I am not going to lie, I wasn’t really a Hole fan back in the ’90s. But I’ve come to have an abiding love for Courtney Love in general, and this song in particular, and how it encapsulates how some of us are doomed to always love the boys on the radio, even if they are rotten to the core, and don’t love us any more. I also like to contemplate it as a counterweight to the Felice Brothers’ Radio Song; the other side of the coin, the darkness their romantic light chases away.
All My Things, SWiiiM: I like the build-up to the drops, the way the synths sparkle and shimmer, and then, whub whub whub, here it comes, trouble in paradise. I would have given all my things to you / I would have bought diamond rings for you. It was good, maybe, but now it’s gone bad. Maybe it was always a losing proposition, a missed connection that should have continued to be missed. It was better that way. Maybe.
I Don’t Recall, Lavender Diamond: I just wrote about them last week, but I am bringing it back because the crystalline purity of Becky Stark’s voice is just that beautiful, and because this is another song I like to use to start the day. It is both wrenching and lovely, and – I am realizing just now – a song about heartbreak that is meant for grown-ups. If you’ve ever rolled over and realized half of you – your life, your plans, your feelings about important things like breakfast foods and appropriate places to sit at the movies – was abruptly missing, but you still had to fumble through your day and weren’t quite sure how to do it, here is a song to listen to while you figure it out.
Storm and Stress, Field Report: Go to a car. Put this on. Crank it up. Sit in the parking lot, watch the sun rise or set or the rain fall or the snow slowly pile up, and let it roll over you like a majestic steamroller.
We All Come to the Same Place, Rhubarb Whiskey: Because my people are the traveling kind; the ones who wander; who may or may not be lost, and if they are lost they probably like it that way; the ones who send me snippets of streetcorner moments, flashes of foreign trees, sunrises around the world, and more; the ones whose feet will never be wholly still; the ones for whom the roving dies hard.