I didn’t plan it this way but I see now that this month’s playlist, reacting to the anxiety and insecurity of the current moment, has been populated by many familiar names. Good, solid ones they are: The Smiths, Emmylou Harris, U2; Björk, Depeche Mode, Fiona Apple. The Monkees, for crying out loud. The Zombies, the Cars. Led Zeppelin! The gang’s all here. Not that there aren’t a couple of curveballs too. And in any case, as always, few songs you’re likely to hear on any kind of radio station or playlist at this point, certainly not gathered in one place like this. Do the restrictive policies of mainstream radio stations make any sense at all? Or today’s playlist norms, for that matter? Life may actually end up being literally too short for mindless capitalist repetition, not to mention algorithmic blunders. Which is all to say: join the humans while you still can. Tell another human while you’re at it. Such great, accessible music out there, decades and decades of it, and at best it’s been consigned to playlist silos, and winnowed down to the usual suspects via the web’s mindless, click-based leveling impulse.
All that aside: just as I was finishing this mix, the awful news about Adam Schlesinger sprang onto the internet, further attacking our already beleaguered psyches with a gut-punch of targeted sadness. While I cannot claim expertise in all things Schlesinger—the guy was super-prolific, and worked in a wonderful variety of settings, with a wonderful array of collaborators —I have long since counted Fountains of Wayne among my all-time favorite bands. The lilting, literate dirge that closed the band’s final album provides an apt coda to this month’s playlist. I wish strength and fortitude to Adam’s family and friends following this inconceivable turn of events. Alas, I guess we are all going to need such attributes with us as we move slowly through the grim days that yet lie ahead. Lean on music as you can; it seems unusually able to provide solace. Stay safe and keep the faith….
Full playlist below the widget, and the widget is below the following random bits of explication:
* In among the name brands this month, don’t miss the 21st-century power pop gem that is “The Devil and the Jinn,” from the redoubtable Joe Pernice, and his most recent go-round as The Pernice Brothers, 2019’s Spread the Feeling. All I can say here is wow. And warn you that the song is likely to stick semi-permanently in your head.
* I feel that Portishead’s uncanny take on the old ABBA standard “SOS” went oddly unnoticed, at least here in the U.S. It was recorded for the British film High-Rise, directed by Ben Wheatley and starring Elisabeth Moss and Tom Hiddleston. The film, based on a J.G. Ballard novel, is billed as “dystopian,” which maybe you can ascertain from this version of what had previously been pop fluff. To date this is the last thing this mighty band has released.
* Björk’s Vespertine was released not long before 9/11, and, for me, its gentle, isolated soundscape seemed icily soothing in the uncertain weeks and months that followed. I go back to it here intentionally, given this new crisis, and the ongoing need to find solace and resilience where one can.
* “Cloudburst”: a bit of joy in the middle of it all. I love it when it’s not words but the music and performance itself that brings a smile to the face. We can still allow this to happen, and must.
* Oh and let me once again extol here the awesome talents of the Australian band Middle Kids, who make songs so well-built they all but bring happy tears to my eyes. After a brilliant debut album in 2018 they came back last year with an EP that was just as good. Please check them out if you haven’t yet.
* More tears prickle in the corner of the eyes, for me, at the sheer beauty of Emmylou Harris’s “Michelangelo,” which never fails to move me deeply, that combination of glorious melody and indelible voice. The iconic singer/songwriter turned 73 this month.
* And then just the sadness, as Fountains of Wayne close us out for the month. This piece in the Guardian is one of the best tributes I’ve seen so far.
“This Charming Man” – The Smiths (single, 1983)
“He Gets Me High” – Dum Dum Girls (He Gets Me High EP,2011)
“Friends of Mine” – The Zombies (Odessey and Oracle, 1967)
“It’s Not Up To You” – Björk (Vespertine, 2001)
“Enjoy the Silence” – Depeche Mode (Violator, 1990)
“The Devil and the Jinn” – Pernice Brothers (Spread the Feeling, 2019)
“As The Wind Blows” – Christina Rosenvinge (Frozen Pool, 2000)
“Out of the Blue” – Roxy Music (Country Life, 1974)
“Cloudburst” – Lambert Hendricks & Ross (The Hottest New Group in Jazz, 1960)
“SOS” – Portishead (single, 2015)
“Gimme Just Another Try” – Betty Wright (Wright Back At You, 1983)
“Love Is Only Sleeping” – The Monkees (Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones, Ltd., 1967)
“Acrobat” – U2 (Achtung Baby, 1991)
“One Fine Summer Morning” – Evie Sands (Any Way That You Want Me, 1970)
“Needle” – Middle Kids (New Songs For Old Problems, 2019)
“Hots On For Nowhere” – Led Zeppelin (Presence, 1976)
“Michelangelo” – Emmylou Harris (Red Dirt Girl, 2000)
“Be My Baby” – The Cars (Panorama [outtake], 1980)
“Fast As You Can” – Fiona Apple (When The Pawn…, 1999)
“Cemetery Guns” – Fountains of Wayne (Sky Full of Holes, 2011)