Most of you know I’m an inveterate music diarist — for years I made a mix tape diary for every semester of school on cassette. This year, because it is modern times and everything is d-i-g-i-t-a-l, I’ve been keeping a monthly playlist online that reflects the songs and music that both captures my heart and drifts in the background during those lovely, fleeting moments in life that I want to remember. This is September’s playlist: a harvest month, full of Indian summer sunshine, the smell of fresh cider donuts, the warmth of bundling up for the first time in a much-missed sweater you haven’t worn for months. September is warmth, the energy of fresh endeavor, reaping what you’ve sown, watching leaves fall onto the ground in the clear, brilliant sunshine.
This was my favorite song of the month: it is pure ethereal ear candy. People love or hate Grimes: I often explain to people who’ve never heard her before that her music is like if aliens discovered a time capsule of TLC, Aaliyah and Aphex Twin records that was blasted into space during the late 90s. But being aliens, of course, they have no idea about music genres, so if they started their own band based on the examples of human-made music in the capsule, something like Grimes would come out of their oddly-shaped noggins. I not-so-secretly love a lot of electronic music and R&B and I am strangely comforted by the idea of aliens, so of course I am a fan. And have you seen the video for this song? I think it’s my favorite this year — there’s something really oddly beautiful about it, with the lyrical cinematography capturing jock and athletic culture. I spent a lot of time in football stadiums at night during high school as a cheerleader, so this takes me back but in a way that is abstract and almost poetic. But I think it’s hypnotic even without the patina of nostalgia I have for the milieu.
Also: I ran 5 miles on a treadmill listening to this song on repeat, and it did not let me down. Alien lady jock jam, for sure.
Cat Power, “Silent Machine”
I’m really stoked to see Chan Marshall releasing records as she heads into her forties — I think a lot more about how to sail into that decade than I used to, I admit, since I’m on the dark side of my thirties. That she’d release a record as jubilant, left-of-center and experimental as Sun when she could just keep releasing more stark, sad, spare songs about ghosts and heartbreak — to me, that’s a beautiful progression, and it’s great to hear her sound so forceful and even optimistic.
One thing I’m discovering as I get older, your sense of sovereignty over your life and your world grows and grows — and Sun is a truly sovereign record, full of energy, direction and purpose. It may not be my favorite Cat Power album — I think I’ll always be partial to the haunted, dark Moon Pix — but it’s sort of like receiving a sun-worn, travel-weathered postcard from a dear friend telling you about the amazing trip she’s been on and how she wishes you were there with her. You’re just glad she’s doing so well, out in the world having adventures and living her life.
Grizzly Bear, “gun-shy”
I remember seeing Grizzly Bear in tiny crappy clubs when I was still living in NYC, and I think of them oddly like neighbors in my mind, even though they’re big enough now where Jay-Z likes them and they appear on national talk shows and stuff like that. So I feel proud of them when a new record of theirs comes out, in this kind of homebody/neighborhood way that makes no sense, really, because I didn’t ever live in Brooklyn except for half a summer. For awhile I’d been feeling like their music had become more and more beautiful, but also more remote and distant — like their songs were just carapaces for beautiful sonic textures that full-bodied melodies would try to poke out of every now and then. But there’s something nice and immediate about Shields, their latest. I’ve been in a phase where I’m trying to be more open and not be so guarded or cryptic, so it’s nice to hear emotional immediacy reflected elsewhere in my life.
Bob Dylan, “If You See Her, Say Hello”
Sometimes I just can’t make a decision. This month: Neil Young or Bob Dylan? They’re both playing in Chicago this fall, so whose concert should I go to? Who should I shell out for? I admit, I’m a Neilers girl at heart, but Tempest is freaking good. But Neil! But Bob! But Neil! But Bob! At this rate, I’m likely to miss both because I’m paralyzed with indecision. (And, it’s so expensive to see either! Wah!) For awhile I was revisiting my favorite Dylan record, Blood on the Tracks, trying to sway myself one way or the other. Sometimes I think Dylan can be such a jerk about girls, but “If You See Her, Say Hello” is such a wistful, sweet song that I forgive him again and again.
The Warpaint record came out awhile ago, but I still love it so much — it hits that kind of mysterious, witchy spot that I like so nicely. Sometimes I’ll have my iPod on random and a Warpaint song will come on, and I have to stop what I’m doing and have a moment of reverence. Sometimes I say stuff like “Warpaint’s The Fool is to 16-year-old girls now the way PJ Harvey’s Dry was to teen girls in the early 90s.” That’s me being lofty about records, but I honestly really believe that: there’s something really wraithlike, feminine and yet entirely ungirly about both albums.
Blondie, “Heart of Glass”
Imagine, if you will, a tiny moment of dancing in the car on the highway to “Heart of Glass” after a day of watching sloths stuff themselves into tree trunks and turtles swimming and having very slow sex — what could be better?
Tina Turner, “Private Dancer”
I heard this in a restaurant recently, and it made me think back to listening to Tina Turner as a child. My first exposure to Tina was during her big Private Dancer comeback in the 80s. As a kid I was fascinated initially by the idea of being a “private dancer,” feeling like it was this weird, forbidden thing for a woman to do — maybe it was my first conscious exposure in pop culture to the virgin/whore dichotomy that feminists rail against. I listen to it now, however, and I’m struck by the longing for family and domesticity that creates the undertow of melancholy in the song, and how cleverly it endows a kind of subjectivity to a loaded stereotype.
In a way, no one else but Tina Turner — with her aura of experience and, yes, sovereignty — could do a song like this without becoming a victim of its complexities. I mean, can you imagine Gaga or Katy Perry or Rihanna doing this song justice? Not really. Those ladies, as great and fun as they are as pop stars, are all essentially brands, and you get the sense that underneath their shells, they’re struggling with demons and slightly out of control. (Or too much in control, as the case may be.) But Tina’s pop stardom came after her struggles, and it gave her an aura of authority and power that helped her stake a place against much younger pop stars at the time, like Madonna and Cyndi Lauper and others. Is there kind of an equivalent to Tina now, a grande dame who can stand alongside pop ingenues, who can keep current but not become imprisoned by the drive to stay relentlessly contemporary? I don’t know, and it makes me a little sad that there may not be.
Spoon, “Stay Don’t Go”
This song is part of my housecleaning jams playlist on my iPod. Yes, I have a housecleaning jams playlist. Sweeping, wiping and tidying up would be so boring otherwise! Everything on it is very bounceable and singable — it’s like the Tigger of domestic soundtracks. IF any of you having personal housecleaning anthems, please comment and let me know — I need to add them to my roster. You can never have too much bounce when you houseclean.
Lil’ Bob & the Lollipops, “I Got Loaded”
This Louisiana soul classic was playing on the radio during a drive in the countryside. We’d just gotten apple cider donuts and other delicious autumn treats, and the sun was bright and mellow — an archetypal beautiful fall day. This song came on and I thought it was kind of hilarious — it’s such a freaking happy song about getting drunk! He just sounds so jubilant and optimistic and life-affirming about spiraling into alcoholism! What a strange thing to sound so joyous about! Still, the song has such a bounce that it’s hard not to love it at first listen.