I’ve been pretty much only thinking about one thing lately and I am not enjoying that this is all I can think about, in fact it is disturbing me at a deep psychological level. Talk about transcendental blues. And I am trying not to personalize it and say there’s just this one man I’ve been thinking about pretty much all the time because in the end it’s not him. It’s not him. It’s the people who believe him. This is the freaky place we’re alone in, you and I, though not entirely alone. We are alone together, wondering who these freaky people are, are they our neighbors, are they our friends, our family?; what world are they looking at that they see what they see, believe what they believe?; how far have we come from where we thought we were heading all this time? We are alone together, you and I and all of us who understand that we are humans together, that being darker or lighter or thinner or fatter or from one place or another place doesn’t add up to trouble and stupidity but to strength in our amazing diversity. What ails these people, how afraid and wounded and uninformed have we let our fellow citizens become? And how certain they now are in their unseeing, in their not-knowing, who accuse the tolerant of intolerance, the wise of ignorance, the compassionate of depravity?

And yet. Think of the good that exists, think of the positive energy we have here on the side of humanity and respect, on the side of love and understanding. Sometimes I think that the terrifying energy we’ve seen unleashed by the amoral swindler currently doing business as the Republican candidate for president of the United States is somehow required by the universe as a kind of balancing out, yin-yang-ishly, for all the amazing progress we have made, interpersonally, in so many gratifying ways, over the last few decades. The trick is not to lose sight of the light, even as the dark persists, and wants to yell at us and call us names and beat us up and keep us down.

Here is a playlist for listening to alone but together, a group of songs that for mysterious reasons are stronger together. Just like us.

Full playlist below the widget.

“The Magnificent Seven” – The Clash (Sandinista, 1981)
“Longer” – Lydia Loveless (Real, 2016)
“Autumn Sweater” – Yo La Tengo (I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One, 1997)
“Les Filles C’est Fait Pour Faire L’amour” – Charlotte Leslie (single, 1967)
“Mr. Understanding” – Pete and the Pirates (Little Death, 2008)
“You’ve Been in Love Too Long” – Bonnie Raitt (Takin’ My Time, 1973)
“Bodies” – Farao (Till It’s All Forgotten, 2015)
“Since I Held You” – The Cars (Candy-O, 1979)
“T.H.E. Cat” – Al Hirt (The Horn Meets the Hornet, 1966)
“John Paul’s Deliveries” – Nathan (Key Principles, 2007)
“Christine” – Siouxsie and the Banshees (Kaleidoscope, 1980)
“To a Forest” – They Might Be Giants (Phone Power, 2016)
“Leavin’ This Town” – Terri Binion (Leavin’ This Town, 1997)
“To Be Someone” – The Jam (All Mod Cons, 1978)
“I Got a Feeling” – Barbara Randolph (single, 1967)
“The Opera House” – The Olivia Tremor Control (Dusk at Cubist Castle, 1996)
“Transcendental Blues” – Steve Earle (Transcendental Blues, 2000)
“Kimberly” – Patti Smith (Horses, 1975)
“Don’t Let It Trouble Your Mind” – Rhiannon Middens (Tomorrow Is My Turn, 2015)
“Everybody Knows” – Leonard Cohen (I’m Your Man, 1988)

The Burgeoning

“Beautiful Rampage” – The Burgeoning

Instantly likeable, and it only gets better. Guitars like you haven’t heard in a long time, first of all: an adept, introductory one-two punch of scratchy atonal rhythm and keening lead. It’s a four-piece band and you can hear the four pieces, there’s space in the mix, and there’s order and authority, but expressed in the most casual manner. There’s something that almost doesn’t compute here, this sense that these four dudes from Philadelphia have figured out some new way to make old-fashioned rock’n’roll. There are hooks, there are the good chords, there’s a lead singer who takes charge without showing off, there are some squiggly moments nearly beyond earshot.

And those guitars, which get an invigorating chance to stretch out, as the lead guitar’s solo at 1:50 burns directly into the rhythm solo (2:07), now a lead in its own right, and what a searing and inventive and expansive solo this turns out to be, all the way to 2:40. So much territory we seem to cover in a song that still manages to wrap up at 3:25. And I mentioned hooks, didn’t I? Check out the chorus (which doesn’t sound like a chorus) sprung upon us, casually, at 0:55, with improbable, melodic leaps that stick in your head because maybe you’ve never heard them before, or maybe you have and have just forgotten because most pop songs use the same friggin’ chords over and over and over. And few operate with such a tight and creative rhythm section, because too many rhythm sections these days are digital afterthoughts. Music has been suffering. But not here.

Founded in 2011, The Burgeoning features brothers Logan (vocal, rhythm guitar) and Alex (bass) Thierjung, Mark Menkevich (lead guitar), and Brandon Bradley (drummer). “Beautiful Rampage” is a song from their debut EP, Loud Dreams, which is due out in late October. Check it out on Bandcamp when the time comes.

Sara Melson

“El Matador Beach” – Sara Melson

Gentle and elegant, “El Matador Beach” unfolds slowly. Melson has an arresting voice, at once very direct, in a Jenny Lewis sort of way, but also with a subtle, engaging quirkiness to it, a muted theatricality of tone. Her voice feels particularly central to the developing song since it proceeds without percussion for 1:45; the most concentrated sound we hear during this slow build-up is Melson’s self-harmonizing in the chorus (1:12), and the effect, over the song’s oceanic sway, is angelic.

When the drumming starts, syncing beautifully with the melodic bass line, the tidal feeling expands out of the lyrics directly into the music, accentuated by the way the hypnotic chorus expands to fill most of the song’s second half. It almost prompts inexplicable laughter, a kind of bittersweet spiritual delight, to hear a song this committed to beauty in this most un-beautiful year.

Sara Melson is a singer/songwriter based in Los Angeles. Following her graduation from Harvard she became a successful television actress in the ’90s, appearing on shows like Frasier and Beverly Hills 90210. But over time, stifled by the cliched characters she was playing, she found music to be a more fulfilling way to be an artist, happily trading mainstream success for the chance to express herself authentically. (And what a better place the world might be if everyone felt this way.)

“El Matador Beach” is the first track on Melson’s new album Safe and Sound, her third full-length recording, released earlier this month. You can listen to it in full as well as buy it via Bandcamp. MP3 via Magnet Magazine.

Work Drugs

“Roll” – Work Drugs

“Roll” tosses you onto a featherbed of chill without so much as mussing your hair. And yet the song also quivers with a fidgety unease, and therein, to my ears, lies the depth and distinction. It’s easy enough (although not really) to lay down a smooth beat and offer up some whispery vocals and call it a day. “Roll” starts there but heads into more stimulating corners. An initial hint is found in the bass line, in the way its staccato bursts at the beginning of each measure melt into mellower iterations at the back end. It’s a nuanced, subtly unsettling effect.

Then there are lyrical phrases, which, when rising to the listener’s awareness, do not exactly say “Let’s party,” for instance, the opening salvo: “If you want to take me out, shoot to kill,
You better burn this city down.” And probably best of all, there’s a saxophone, and the kind that sounds like the player is standing underneath a streetlight on a moonless night. Notice how it slips all but unnoticed into the background at 0:42, initially providing only muted accents before, one-third of the way in, the signature riff is blown (1:15), instantly turning the song’s introductory motif, originally laid out on synth, into something nearly heroic. Of course this was made to be a sax riff. And yet who would have anticipated that at the beginning?

Work Drugs, previously featured on Fingertips in March 2015, is the duo of Tom Crystal and Ben Louisiana (although live the band expands to four or five). Based in Philadelphia (second Philly band of the month here; go Eagles), these guys are awfully hard-working for being so mellow: “Roll” is a song from their eighth full-length album, Method Acting, released in August. Their first album came out in 2011; you do the math.

You can check out their entire catalog on Bandcamp. Alternatively, you can listen to a whole bunch of Work Drugs songs on their SoundCloud page; many of them are available there as free and legal downloads.


“Love This Feelin'” – Cheshires

Buried in the substructure of this ramshackle forkful of indie rock goodness is a full-fledged classic rock song that’s just kind of messing with us. The melody is casually awesome. The same-note harmonies accentuate the song’s effortless catchiness. The chorus does that half-time thing that is as pleasant as it is elusive. There are not one but two off-kilter a capella breaks. There’s the way that the titular lyrical phrase scans properly for speaking but awkwardly (in an endearing way) for singing.

Best of all, there’s that gut-level, lower-register guitar riff that introduces the song and then waits its turn for reappearance. And waits. It partially returns in the chorus, first at 0:45, but in slightly altered, truncated form. The third time around we hear it nearly fully formed, at 2:26, enough to feel like an old friend, but still mixed down and incomplete. And so somehow this beefy, ’70s-tinged guitar riff is at once the backbone of the song and its missing piece. Nice trick!

“Love This Feelin'” is a song from Cheshires’ self-titled debut album. The L.A.-based trio is billed as a kind of resurrection of the ’90s indie band Remy Zero, as it features Remy Zero himself (birth name Shelby Tate), singer/songwriter Louis Schefano (original Remy Zero drummer), and multi-instrumentalist Leslie Van Trease, who put time in with Remy Zero when they toured. The album was released earlier this month. You can listen to it via SoundCloud and buy it via iTunes.