The Sara Bareilles composition, “Seriously,” written at the behest of the formidable public radio show This American Life, imagines the thoughts Barack Obama might have been thinking as the 2016 presidential campaign came to a climax. Hamilton star Leslie Odom, Jr. sings. It speaks for itself, and demands to be heard, maybe even more so now than in October.

But hey everything feels political right now, doesn’t it? Seeking the meaning of life, trying to stay grounded in love, honoring a rock’n’roll icon, even just grooving to a retro beat, anything done mindfully feels like a defiant gesture when the occupant of the White House is so willfully ignorant, so apparently devoid of empathy, so blind to both beauty and mercy. The world doesn’t owe us a thing but each individual human being owes any other human being a recognition of their inherent dignity. Well, what goes up must come down. I have no idea what becomes of us collectively with this awful specimen of human being daily defacing the office he holds, but I know that in the end, he will personally fail, and fall, hard. Gravity is an implacable mistress; may we all fly forward into the light, sooner than later.

Full playlist below the widget.

“I’m Happy But You Don’t Like Me” – Asobi Seksu (Asobi Seksu, 2004)
“Seriously” – Leslie Odom, Jr. (2016)
“What Is Life” – George Harrison (All Things Must Pass, 1970)
“The Universal Song” – Kim Carnes (Café Racers, 1983)
“Tennessee” – Arrested Development (3 Years, 5 Months & 2 Days in the Life of…, 1992)
“Nadine” – Chuck Berry (single, 1964)
“There Isn’t One Way” – Patty Griffin (Servant of Love, 2015)
“Oh Really” – Goldheart Assembly (single, 2009)
“United State” – Daryl Hall & John Oates (Voices, 1980)
“I Love You” – John Coltrane (Lush Life, 1957)
“Gravity” – Terri Hendrix (Wilory Farm, 1998)
“Public Image” – Public Image Ltd (Public Image, 1978)
“Aviation” – The Last Shadow Puppets (Everything You’ve Come to Expect, 2016)
“Alone Again Or” – Love (Forever Changes, 1967)
“Slave to the Rhythm” – Grace Jones (Slave to the Rhythm, 1985)
“No Need To Cry” – Neko Case (Furnace Room Lullaby, 2000)
“Hall of Tragedy” – Linnea Olsson (For Show EP, 2017)
“The World Don’t Owe You a Thing” – Freda Payne (Band of Gold, 1970)
“Miss America” – David Byrne (Feelings, 1997)
“Tomorrow on the Runway” – The Innocence Mission (Befriended, 2007)

This is the 33rd playlist in the Eclectic Playlist Series; there are only three artists in this month’s mix that have been featured here before, in one of the other 32 lists (and each has been featured only once previously). There’s really that much music out there, folks. That so much of it is squandered by the relentless reductionism of internet algorithms…well, let’s just say it’s a shame, and that if you’re reading this you’re in luck because it doesn’t happen here. This month’s playlist is another case in point, ranging reasonably far and wide in genre and decade, but also dancing through some serendipities of sound, feel, and outlook. The segues are occasionally challenging but I did my best to have the songs make sense even if they initially seem to be bumping into each other. And it’s all okay in the end because of the twin, Spector-ish culmination: the Ronettes into “Just Like Honey.” First we get an epic with as heart-rending a resolution, musically speaking, as has pretty much ever been written; then we can float off, Scarlett-Johansson-ly, to the indeterminate tones of The Jesus and Mary Chain. Everything, in the end, is lost in translation, most of all our heart’s desires. But it’s alright. Everything is everything. We make contact. The building may be burning but it’s we who are ablaze.

Full playlist below the widget.

“Around the Bend” – Martha Wainwright (Goodnight City, 2016)
“Everything is Everything” – Lauryn Hill (The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, 1998)
“Victim of Love” – The Eagles (Hotel California, 1976)
“You as You Were” – Shearwater (Animal Joy, 2012)
“Don’t Leave Me This Way” – Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes (Wake Up Everybody, 1975)
“This Is The House” – Eurythmics (Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This), 1983)
“Moving to L.A.” – Art Brut (Bang Bang Rock & Roll, 2005)
“But It’s Alright” – J.J. Jackson (single, 1967)
“Ablaze” – School of Seven Bells (SVIIB, 2016)
“Girls Talk” – Dave Edmunds (Repeat When Necessary, 1979)
“Contact” – Brigitte Bardot (Show, 1968)
“Lover’s Waltz” – A.A. Bondy (American Hearts, 2007)
“Mia & Sebastian’s Theme” – Justin Hurwitz (“La La Land”: Original Motion Picture
, 2016)
“Dim” – Dada (Puzzle, 1992)
“Jerry’s Pigeons” – Genya Ravan (Urban Desire, 1978)
“Nothing Burns Like Bridges” – Penny Century (Between a Hundred Lies, 2007)
“Let X=X” – Laurie Anderson (Big Science, 1981)
“Go, Hippie” – Fountains of Wayne (Utopia Parkway, 1996)
“I Can Hear Music” – The Ronettes (single, 1966)
“Just Like Honey” – The Jesus and Mary Chain (Psychocandy, 1985)

Billy the Zombie Kid

“Golden Rainbows/Diamonds in the Fire” – Billy the Zombie Kid

Every now and then a song comes along that’s as shiny and pop-saturated as can be and, somehow, all the things that bug the shit out of me when it comes to a lot of 21st-century pop just melt away. It’s often kind of a mystery but with “Golden Rainbows/Diamonds in the Fire” let’s see if we can puzzle out why.

To begin with, the cold a capella opening is not only a nice touch but quickly demonstrates some harmonic sophistication—take a listen to how that wordless countermelody snakes around the main melody, complicating what you’re hearing so that you are given the song’s central hook while also having it partially hidden. This allows it later to feel both familiar and new at the same time.

When the song kicks in (0:18), we get an upbeat dance vibe, but only sort of: there’s something patient and easygoing in the air, despite the beat, a feeling reinforced by those measured, four-note synth lines that we hear before the vocals start, with their sly three-notes-off-the-beat rhythm. The ongoing sensation that a little more is going on here than standard-issue pop is reaffirmed by that little wah-wah comment we first hear at 0:42—entirely unnecessary and as a result indicative of a guiding intelligence that isn’t just about formula and expectation.

Before we are led at last back to the big hook of the chorus, we are set up at 0:52 by a pre-chorus that adheres more or less to one note and stays almost completely on the beat. This, to my ears, makes all the more satisfying the incisive melodic leaps of the chorus, as well as its adroit alternation between two measures of singing on the beat and two off the beat. And I don’t mean to make too much of this on/off-the-beat distinction, but in the context of 21st-century pop music, which has been simplified and compressed into oblivion, I applaud any evidence of ear-pleasing songwriting craft. And applaud even further any pop song that saves room for a serious guitar solo (2:48, don’t miss it!).

Billy the Zombie Kid is a four-piece band from Borlänge, Sweden, an industrial town 130 or so miles north and west of Stockholm. The band began in 2013 as an unnamed solo project from singer/guitarist Stefan Altzar. Acquiring members and a name over the course of the year, Billy the Zombie Kid released four songs online in 2014, began playing locally, and started recording in earnest in the latter part of 2015. The end result is the album entitled We’re Always Right, which was released on the label Alternative Alien Baby in July 2016. You can listen to the whole thing and download it for free via SoundCloud. Thanks to the band for the MP3.


“I’m Not Ready to Go Yet” – Winchester

Now this is how to start a slow song: with a stately, centered, melodic line, via a deep but elusive synth tone, in unhurried 6/8 time. Add, without fuss, some subtle digital noise, and then a piano (acoustic or electric, can’t tell, but it sounds acoustic, which is the important thing)—and then, unexpectedly, an acoustic guitar, strumming crisp chords. We’re already a minute and twenty seconds into the song, there is still nothing but introduction in sight, but I am on board. (I’ve heard much shorter introductions sound boring and pointless.)

The singing starts, with a subtle lead-in from some shivery cymbals, at 1:58, a clean female voice, emerging so organically from the instrumentation that it’s hard to discern exactly when she starts. The song’s steady pace, measured out in deliberate triplets, becomes its anchor, its defining core, but don’t be so lulled you miss the turning point at 2:36, when a deep electronic pulse promises some as-yet unimagined transformation. Jittery synths supplant the piano around 3:15, and the digitalia accumulates as a preface to: guitars (3:54). Silvery, siren-y guitars, putting me in the mind of Explosions in the Sky, but here, initially, matched against the background acoustic rhythm guitar. Until the next turning point, at 5:14: the trembling electric guitar (maybe it’s just one after all) goes into full solo mode, joined at long last by the drums. Had you missed the drums? This is the first we’ve heard them, which I’m pretty sure illustrates (if everything else hasn’t already done so) how carefully this song was constructed. It’s easier to aim for epic than to get there but “I’m Not Ready to Go Yet” makes the journey and, to my ears, comes out the other side.

Winchester is the Toronto-based duo of Lauren Austin and Montgomery de Luna. “I’m Not Ready to Go Yet” is a track from their forthcoming debut EP, If Time is Not Linear Why Can’t I Forget the Past? (no release date set at this point). Thanks to the band for the MP3.

p.s. While I resist typographic idiosyncrasy here, you should know for the record that the band officially spells its name with capital letters and spaces, like this: W I N C H E S T E R.


“Never Wrote a Diver a Poem” – Auditorium

Last heard here in January 2015, Spencer Berger is back with his unique, theatrical take on 21st-century rock’n’roll. “Never Wrote a Diver a Poem” is brisk and elusive, ending before the cavalcade of mysterious lyrics can quite register—before, it might seem, the song has truly taken full flight.

But boy what an incisive little piece this is, with its mix of arcane pronouncements (“Never helped a builder learn the dirt’s a liar”) and aphoristic gems (“‘Kindly’ is a word that makes me doubt my deeds”), set to a rolling melody that spikes almost astonishingly with a one-off hook (the “once in generation” segment, starting at 0:54) before cuddling back into its determined groove. And even while barely reaching 1:40, the song is concise enough to first offer up a wordless melody in the introduction and then, at the end, bring that motif back into the song, now with lyrics (1:24).

Above and beyond all this remains the singular allure of Berger’s singing voice, which is tinged with exotic drama, bearing little resemblance to anything you’re normally streaming in the 2010s (unless you happen to be a Bat Out Of Hell fan; I must inescapably join in with others who hear Meatlovian elements in Auditorium vocals). One would guess Berger’s distinctive sound has something to do with his unique background, having been a professional opera singer from the ages of nine through 12; as a child, he literally sang with Pavarotti. Based in Los Angeles, he began recording as Auditorium in 2011. His new album, The First Music, was released in January; you can listen to the whole thing and buy it via Bandcamp. It’s a real one-man-band effort, as Berger not only sings all the vocal parts and plays all the instruments, he also recorded and mixed it himself.

(Note that the song I featured here two years ago, “My Grandfather Could Make the World Dance,” has also ended up as a track on the new album.)

Thanks to Spencer for the MP3.

photo credit: Liza Boone