A Story in Song

While talking to my friend Marie, she mentioned listening to a classic song with her mom and dancing around. She highly recommended this song, (“Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress” by the Hollies) to me, and because I’m not one to turn down a song recommendation, I looked up the song on Youtube.

Marie’s taste in music is a little different than mine. I would say in general she’s more appreciative of the “classics” than I am, but that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy it whenever she throws an older gem my way, and this time was no different. However, I made the terrible awful mistake of scrolling down into the comments, where I found this gem.

YoutubeComment

And, unsurprisingly, I was peeved. My problems with people like this is one of the biggest reasons I’m not more into classic music. I’m no stranger to music elitists. One might call me one, to be honest. But as far as I’m concerned this commentor has never even heard a modern song before.

See, I’m a huge fan of music that tells stories. And, as a caveat, I should say, most songs tell a story. Even your cookie cutter radio hits tend to follow some sort of plot. I mean, just cherry picking from the current Billboard Top 100, the so-called scourge of music according to classics fans like this person, “That’s What I Like” by Bruno Mars tells a distinct story of the narrator wanting to shower their lover in luxury goods and experiences, “Shape of You” by Ed Sheeran recounts the singer’s physical attraction to their lover and tells the story of their first date as well as several sexual encounters… I mean, even the most vapid 2008 pop has some kind of story. Ke$ha’s “Tik Tok” is a clear story about the singer’s lifetime devotion to partying! To say modern songs don’t tell stories is ridiculous because all songs have to have some sort of story, or else they’re just incomprehensible gibberish.

But, okay, I’ll bite. Maybe what this commentor means is that no modern music tells such a romantic story as the one in “Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress”. And not romantic in the love, coupley, sense, but more along the lines of a novel put to song. And even then, this commentor is wrong, as I will prove today.

I’ve mentioned a few times that I really love lyrics. They’re probably my favorite aspect of music. Whenever I get into a song, I like to delve into the lyrics and discover their meanings and the story behind them. So, why not talk about some of my favorite musical stories? So, here we go, five songs that tell fascinating stories… true or not.

In Another Life – Vienna Teng

I’ve touched briefly on this song before in my Women in Music post, but I didn’t get to focus specifically on what it is that makes this song magical. Vienna Teng uses her usual theatrical style to tell the tale of two lovers over the course of many different lives. The song traces these two lovers through various points of history and through various occupations. I think the story is told just beautifully, with some really poignant images, and even though the song never directly states that the two subjects of the song are in love, it is clearly conveyed through the tiny details in the way they interact.

I love the tone of this song. It’s really disconnected, very objective. You get the feeling that although the singer of the song identifies themselves as living all of these very tragic lives, they are happy and distant enough from the tragedy to describe it objectively. Even when this song gets morbid, the narrator remains disconnected and simply describes the scenes.

And the subject matter of this song gets… well, really morbid. I mean, we go from mine shafts caving in to Tiananmen Square to stillborn children yet the same up-tempo style continues, which really drives home the bittersweet message of the song. Even through the death and suffering these two lovers experienced over the course of their many lives together, the song is ultimately a positive one. Ultimately, the lovers end up happy and together in modern times.

The Mariner’s Revenge Song – The Decemberists

The Decemberists is no stranger to fantastical stories told through song (part of the reason I keep meaning to familiarize myself with more of the music). I also considered discussing their equally fantastic song “O Valencia”, but I decided this one fit the song storytelling category in a more straightforward way.

This song is a shanty fit for a pirate ship, and that makes sense considering the subject matter. The story is told at the end first, with the narrator stuck in the belly of a whale. From there they go into the tale of how they arrived there. What follows is a tragic tale of revenge after the singer’s mother is cheated by a rakish young man and left to die penniless and heartbroken. The singer follows this man all the way to sea, where the two are ultimately swallowed by a whale, bringing the song back full circle.

I think this song is an absolutely beautifully told story. The instrumentals always match the emotion of the story. Plus, I think the story itself is loaded with some great dramatic irony. I mean, the fact that the singer’s quest for revenge leads him to dying himself alongside the man he swears revenge on, in the belly of a whale, a tried-and-true symbol for hopeless and self-destructive quests. (Think Moby Dick). Plus, the repetition of the mother’s voice, and her sweet, singsong tone contradicting the violence she wishes upon the man who did her wrong… it’s all so great. I always get chills at the end.

Jenny Was a Friend of Mine – The Killers

This song is actually one of a three-part series of songs, all of which describe a man murdering his lover. Yep, some real happy stuff, I know, but trust me, this song is really fascinating. While the other two songs tell the story leading up to and during the murder, this song recounts the questioning of the murderer afterward. It’s a fascinating look into the mind of a murderer, and the way he justifies his actions and proclaims his innocence.

Paired with the police sirens at the beginning of the song and the tense, dark instrumentals, the repeated admission of the man that his lover Jenny was a friend of his becomes sinister and chilling, and that’s the mark of a really well-told story. This song always gets me singing along and then feeling bad about it because the lyrics are just that twisted.

Unfinished Business – White Lies (Mumford and Sons Cover)

I always feel bad recommending the Mumford and Sons version of this song because it’s not the original, but to be honest, the jangly banjos just fit this song so perfectly that I have a hard time with the original. The title is a play off of the idea that ghosts remain on earth because of unfinished business – in this case, the narrator is the confused ghost of someone who has just been murdered by their lover (… yeah there’s a bit of a pattern here, I know).

The interesting thing about this song, though, is the narrator is completely unfazed by their own demise. Instead, they seem more concerned about their lover, noting their fearful oaths to God and urging them in the chorus to “get off their low” so they can “dance like they used to”. This song is tragic and also somewhat beautiful – the murdered lover vows to wait for the one they love in the afterlife.

The reason I recommend the Mumford and Sons version over the White Lies version is I think the upbeat instrumentals match the ultimately positive tone of the song better. Sure, the situation described is dark, but the real interest of the song is the singer’s positive attitude over their own demise, so I think the jangly banjos fit this perfectly. But hey, to each their own.

Cleopatra – The Lumineers

And finally we arrive at one of my favorite songs of all time. This song took my number one spot in my top 30 songs of 2016 list, and that’s hugely because of the beautiful and tragic story told within its lyrics. Based on the real life of a taxi driver the lead singer met, “Cleopatra” is the story of a woman who refuses to marry the love of her life and how she lives with the regret. It’s told as if the woman is telling the story herself, and hits that perfect combination of tragedy and hope as the woman struggles to live her life to the fullest despite her sadness over the loss of her lover.

The song is warm and nostalgic, and I’ve yet to find a single person who isn’t touched by the real-life story behind the lyrics. I have a hard time describing it here, so I’ll just advise you to give it a listen and read through the lyrics yourself.

But this isn’t even the half of all of the songs out there that tell poignant stories within their lyrics. I advise people like that youtube commenter to give more songs a chance – to really read into their lyrics. You’ll find some fantastic stories there.

 

The New Idols on the Block

I like to think I have a fairly refined taste in all things media. The truth is, though, we all have things we love even as we also acknowledge they can be, at times, silly and maybe even a bit problematic. Such is my love affair with rhythm games Love Live and BanG Dream.

I’ve been a fan of Love Live since my sophomore year. It’s a bit of an institution in my life and the lives of many others, I think. It was my introduction to the world of addictive rhythm mobile games, and it remains an important part of my life to this day. I’ve watched the anime all the way through and cried several times throughout. I’ve logged hours and hours into the mobile game.

(For those wondering, best girl from μ’s is Nozomi and from Aqours is Yohane. Best subunits are Lily White and Guilty Kiss respectively, obviously. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, don’t worry about it.)

BanG Dream is more of a recent favorite. It was introduced to me by a good friend of mine, and I had to jump through a few hoops to download it from the Japanese app store. Since then, though, I’ve been hooked with this game. It’s relatively new, and currently only has a Japanese version. (I had to enlist the help of my friend and a few guides to figure out what all the buttons do because… well, I don’t read Japanese.)

(And, once again, for those wondering, best girls are Misaki, Kanon, and Kokoro, and obviously best band is Hello Happy World)

And sure, it’s comparable to Love Live, but there’s something about it that has distracted me from returning to Love Live for a while now.

Because both BanG Dream and Love Live are made under the same parent company, Bushiroad, they get compared a lot. These comparisons aren’t always completely fair – true, they’re similar games, but they’re made by different teams and they have a lot of key differences. Actually, I think there’s a lot Love Live can learn from BanG Dream, and that’s what I want to talk about today.

First off, let’s get a little more in depth about what each game is.

Love Live is a rhythm and card-collecting mobile game. It involves “scouting” for cards of the eighteen main idols and a large collection of side characters. These cards are of different rarities and can be leveled up, strengthened, and put on teams to play “lives”, or songs where the player has to tap along with the rhythm of the music. Each card can be used to unlock small stories about the girl. These stories usually involve the girl just talking, although there are overarching stories about the eighteen main idol girls that are unlocked as the player levels up. These follow a loose story similar to the anime (I’ll go into the story a bit later).

BanG Dream is similar in that it employs the card-collecting rhythm game format and uses a combination of small single-character stories and larger overarching unlockable stories. Like Love Live, BanG Dream also features options to strengthen your cards and put them on teams. However, unlike Love Live, BanG Dream also features a relatively large world that is inhabited by the characters. Players can explore this little world and watch the girls talk or buy songs and powerups. In addition, BanG Dream features a multiplayer option that allows players to play alongside each other in order to increase their points and rewards. Finally, the biggest and most important difference between the two games is in their events.

Both Love Live and BanG Dream have events – these events coincide with the release of new cards, and participating in these events allows players the chance to earn these cards instead of hoping to randomly draw them in a gachapon. Love Live actually has several types of events, some allowing players to compete against each other directly, some making them play long strings of songs for points, and some simply adding on a chance to earn event points alongside their normal rewards for playing songs. BanG Dream has only one type of event, and it’s the most similar to the last event I mentioned in Love Live. However, and this is important, BanG Dream’s events are pivotal to the game.

Yes, events are fun and change things up in Love Live, but the reality is that they’re not always very worth participating in. The event card that is available is of the third-highest rarity in the game, and most seasoned players, unless they particularly like the look of the card, will probably have cards that are more powerful than the event one. In addition, Love Live events are notoriously brutal. A lot of success in events depends on playing near constantly in order to fully maximize the time given. If you look at guides on how to succeed in Love Live events, you’ll find instructions like “set an alarm to wake you up every few hours in the night so you can make sure you’re playing as much as possible!” And that’s… that’s ridiculous. I’ve never found the motivation to devote myself so fully to an event, and as such I’ve never been very successful in them.

In addition, events are just sorta… extra. The event cards are separate from the cards released into the gachapon “scouting box”, so a player who is looking only to get specific cards from that box might find more success avoiding the event entirely to focus on working towards increasing their chances to draw their desired card.

And that’s all fine and good, but it means that gameplay in Love Live can get really stale really fast. There is basically one good way to get love gems (the most valuable currency and the one used for scouting), and that is to build three of the strongest teams possible and to play lots of songs all by yourself. That can be fun for a while, but the game never challenges the player to change everything up. In fact, consistency is rewarded in this game. The players that continuously play in the most efficient, constant possible manner are the ones who tend to earn the most love gems… or least that’s what I’ve seen in my experience.

On the other hand, BanG Dream’s events are pivotal to the gameplay. All cards that are released into the gachapon are released in conjunction with an event. In addition, each event has specific girls and specific traits of each card that give multipliers to the amount of event points you earn. This means your best team for one event will most likely be wildly different than your best team for the next event. So, the most successful, efficient player has to change up their play style every so often.

In addition, and this is important to stress, multiplayer is always an option in BanG Dream. In Love Live, multiplayer modes are restricted to one type of event that rolls around every so often. In BanG Dream, it is always a good idea to play with other players… and maybe it’s silly, but that adds even more to the constantly changing feel of the gameplay. When you have to constantly collaborate with others to be the most successful, it keeps things fresh and interesting.

Don’t get me wrong, Love Live is a great game and has a lot of things going for it. For one, it has a lot more years under its belt. There’s way more cards available. Plus, as an English speaker, it’s far more accessible. And I’m not really talking about the animes, but the Love Live anime is like… way better than the BanG Dream anime. Like waaay better. Although, interestingly, I find the overall plot of BanG Dream to be a bit more fascinating and complex than Love Live’s plot. (That might sound kind of weird, but… like, stick with me here.)

The Love Live anime is a simple story but it’s enjoyable because of the lovable characters, the music, and the fun and mostly high-quality package. The BanG Dream anime, on the other hand, is the same simple story but in a far worse package… or at least, that’s how the anime is. In the game, each of the five bands get their own unique story, and these stories can get surprisingly dark and complex. I enjoy it.

But I’m getting off track. Love Live is a great game, but I think it has a lot to learn from the likes of BanG Dream. Sure, the formula has worked for Love Live, but I think it could benefit greatly from the ways BanG Dream diversifies the gameplay experience. Love Live should add a constant multiplayer mode, or perhaps make use of the same sort of “certain characters and certain attributes give bonuses in the events” system that BanG Dream has. This could encourage changing up play style and would keep the game from getting stale, as it often does.

And maybe, just maybe, Love Live could wrench me back away from BanG Dream’s addictive clutches.

(Oh, who am I kidding, I’ll go back to Love Live again someday. I can never fully escape idol hell.)

 A Lyrical Analysis of “Sometime Around Midnight”

I went through several possible blog post ideas for this week, but the one I finally settled on came to me in a flash of inspiration after my AP Government test. (Okay, maybe not a flash of inspiration, more like a cascade of boredom. The essay questions did not take up the full 100 minutes allotted…) Anyway, this song was stuck in my head, and I came to ruminate on the lyrics, and how expertly written and deep they are… and well, here we are.

“Sometime Around Midnight” by Airborne Toxic Event is one of my favorite songs, and it has been for years. It’s so simple, so beautiful, and drags you into its emotion so effectively. This is due in part to its structure. The song has no chorus, and instead relies on verses that constantly build upon each other. The melody itself is pretty simple and repetitive, but the constant addition of new string instruments into the sound builds up the emotional intensity in tandem with the story told in the lyrics. I’m no expert in music, so that’s the best analysis I have in that particular area, but there is a lot to dissect in the lyrics, so that’s what I’m going to do today.

So let’s all put on our analysis caps and dive in!
“And it starts sometime around midnight
Or at least that’s when you lose yourself for a minute or two”

The beginning line of the song sets the scene. And yes, the scene is vague. A really important thing to remember about this song is that it’s incredibly general. You get the feeling that this song is not describing one particular person and situation, but rather hopes to draw the listener in by allowing them to substitute the vague descriptions with their own personal experiences.

For that reason, the exact time of the scene presented in this song is just “sometime around midnight.” It’s not an exact time or place, and that is continued in the second line with the vague subject of “you.” The song is presented as something that has happened to the listener personally, which may also explain why the descriptions are so vague, so as to apply to as many people as possible.

Finally, these first two lines introduce the idea of “losing oneself.” This is a motif that will come back several times throughout the song, but in this case it furthers the attempt of this song to put the listener in the shoes of the situation it describes. The time the song takes place relies on when the listener themselves imagine they most “lose themselves.”

“As you stand under the bar lights
And the band plays some song about forgetting yourself for a while”

Once more, we come back to this idea of losing oneself. These lines makes the subject of the song seem disconnected from the setting. They’re not doing anything, just standing there, apparently alone. All of the emotion they’re experiencing is not their own – it’s being supplied by the band playing, and even in that case the band is suggesting forgetting your emotions and troubles.

“And the piano’s this melancholy soundcheck to her smile
And that white dress she’s wearing you haven’t seen her for a while”

And here we are introduced to the conflict of the song, the subject’s ex-lover. I love the juxtaposition of the melancholy music and the ex-lover’s smile. It serves to further this idea that the subject of the song is disconnected with what is happening, and plays with the idea of mixed emotions. The subject is happy to see her, but is also filled with a rush of sadness. It also serves to set up the difference between the subject and the ex-lover. While they ruminate on the sad music, she is smiling and apparently happily moved on from the relationship. 

Finally, the first image of the ex-lover cues the listener in on understanding that the story of this song is being presented in a stream-of-consciousness way. The speaker notices her white dress and then ruminates on the last time they saw her with no connection between these two ideas – we’re simply witnessing the thought process of someone who has just run into their ex-lover.

“But you know that she’s watching
She’s laughing, she’s turning, she’s holding her tonic like a crux”

That stream-of-consciousness perspective is important to remember when looking at these lines. The story is being presented in the unique, unfiltered perspective of the “you”, the subject, and as such the events presented are very biased. This explains the confusing way the ex-lover is portrayed here, simultaneously watching the subject of the song while also apparently enjoying her time at the bar in a carefree, happy way. The fact that it’s the subject that “knows” that she’s watching suggests some degree of projecting on the speaker’s part – they want to believe their ex has noticed them and is watching them, but it seems that the reality is she’s simply enjoying herself on a night out.

Once more, the inner thoughts of the subject and the objective reality of the situation is placed at odds.

“The room’s suddenly spinning, she walks up and asks how you are
So you can smell her perfume, you can see her lying naked in your arms”

And here the subject goes again, their inner thoughts conflicting with the reality of the situation. Nothing about the actions of the ex suggests any sort of intimacy in these lines – quite the contrary, in fact. She simply walks up to them and asks how they’re doing, an action which suggests distance between the two of them. She is no longer involved enough in the subject’s life to know how they’re doing.

And yet, and yet, the subject flashes back to memories of intimacy, of being incredibly close physically. It’s clear that this is no longer the reality of the situation, but the subject clearly cannot move on.

“And so there’s a change in your emotions
And all these memories come rushing like feral waves to your mind”

Remember that emotional distance we established early on in the song? Of “losing oneself”? Yeah, here’s where that all comes crashing down. That is the “change in emotions” described. Where the subject of the song could once spend their time at the bar in blissful denial of all of their problems, here their ex is, making their problems tangible, real. And this conflict is feral, wild and uncontrollable.

“Of the curl of your bodies like two perfect circles entwined
And you feel hopeless and homeless and lost in the haze of the wine”

The most important aspect of these two line is structure – not of the lines themselves, but rather the idea of structure within. The subject’s memories compare their intimate moments as two “perfect” circles – two exact, quantifiable shapes. Now, without their ex, the subject feels unstable. They have lost their structure, and in this exact moment it causes them to feel listless and lost. They’re shapeless where there once was form.

“Then she leaves with someone you don’t know
But she makes sure you saw her, she looks right at you and bolts”

Once more, it’s important to remember that we’re seeing this scene through the eyes of an unreliable narrator, imposing their own bias. The fact that the ex is leaving with someone the subject doesn’t know establishes that she’s moved on enough from their relationship to already have friends (or possibly lovers) the subject doesn’t even know. This is obviously not a positive thing for the subject, who seems to impose a degree of vindictiveness on their ex. It’s very likely the ex paid no mind to the subject of the song as she left the bar, but to the ex the very act of leaving without them is an insult, and they present it as such.

“As she walks out the door, your blood boiling, your stomach in ropes
Oh and your friends say ‘What is it? You look like you’ve seen a ghost'”

Remember how I mentioned before that the subject of the song seems alone in the bar? Here we have the first mention of any other person with them. I think this is important – it establishes a certain degree of selfishness in the subject that they didn’t even think to note their friends before now. The subject is too consumed with their own internal emotions to note anyone in the bar other than themselves and their ex. I also think it’s interesting how this line and the line where the ex asks the subject how they are are both never answered. It continues to emphasize this point that the subject is all alone in their thoughts, never responding to anyone else but themselves.

Also, I love the double meaning of “ghost” here. While, yes, it’s a common idiom to say those who look pale or frightened appear to have “seen a ghost”, in this case it’s almost literal. The subject has seen a ghost. A ghost of their past, someone visible but untouchable. There and gone, like a specter. Excellent symbolism.

“Then you walk under the streetlights
And you’re too drunk to notice that everyone’s staring at you”

Finally, the strings have reached the highest point of the crescendo that is this entire song. There’s a definite disconnect between this line and the line before it. As I mentioned before, this song is very stream-of-consciousness, so I think the lack of connection between the subject being in the bar with their friends and them being outside of the bar following their ex suggests a lack of thought between these two events. It’s pretty heavily established that the subject is drunk, and very little rational judgment was used in the decision to leave the bar and go after the ex.

“You just don’t care what you look like, the world is falling around you”

There’s an almost fatalistic lack of care in this last line, as well as a continuation of that selfishness we’ve seen so many times throughout this song. No longer is there any rational thought driving the subject, all they can focus on is their own inner sadness. They see this event as so catastrophic that the whole world is crumbling, even though, to an onlooker, they would appear to just be a sad drunk.

(Yup, that’s that dichotomy between reality and the inner thoughts of the subject.)

“You just have to see her
You just have to see her
You just have to see her
You just have to see her
You just have to see her
You know that she’ll break you in two”

These are the only repeated lines in the entire song, and they serve to further the point I was making earlier – that the subject is no longer employing any rational thought. The only motivation driving them at this point is their desire to see their ex again, and this is shown through the repetition of “You just have to see her.” What’s interesting, though, is the last line. It’s the final thought of the song, this contradictory statement. Considering that the lyrics of this song are the inner monologue of the subject, though, it makes sense. Even as their mind is consumed with the desire to follow their ex, there’s a tiny thought in the back of their mind that holds onto the reality that seeing the ex won’t actually do anything to heal the subject. In fact, it’ll hurt them more.

And with that, the song winds back down, returning to the simple instrumentation of the beginning. Whether or not the subject catches up with their ex is left up to listeners to decide on their own, but ultimately I feel it’s not important. We know from the last line that it won’t lead to anything but more heartbreak.

Anyway, thank you for indulging me in a bit of lyrical analysis. I hope to do this sort of thing again in the future… it’s my favorite part of listening to music.

At Last – “Humanz” Review

It’s a good time to be a music fan. Fall Out Boy is pushing their new album, “Mania”… Walk the Moon is back in the studio… and the band that taught me how to love music finally released a new album.

It’s been seven years since Gorillaz last released an album, and in that seven years I had more or less lost all hope of ever seeing them again. I’ve definitely mentioned how important they were to me in my formative years before, but it’s worth restating. It was in a car listening to Feel Good Inc. when I decided to ask my dad why there were people cackling maniacally in the background. My dad had no idea, but he did know that the band was made up of cartoon characters, which was the CRAZIEST THING EVER to my small brain. I went home and immediately looked them up.

Several days of Wikipedia and Youtube surfing later, I was a dedicated fan. I familiarized myself with the lore and fell in love with the fictional 2D, Noodle, and Russel. (I wasn’t too fond of Murdoc. I’m still not.) And there was something about them… maybe it was their off-kilter style, something different than what I usually heard on the radio. Maybe it was Damon Albarn’s characteristic mumble that drove me to take pride in figuring out the lyrics and their meanings. Maybe it was the fact they were the first band that was all my own, something I discovered for myself and enjoyed on my own terms. Either way, Gorillaz has stuck with me for years.

And then, “Humanz” came out. And I’ll be honest… I was a little worried. It’s always hard when something you loved as a kid comes back. Nostalgia can really change the way you view something. I figured there was no way this new album could ever rival the band I fell in love with when I was younger and full of wonder. And, yeah, I was right. My first listen through of this album didn’t excite me except when it reminded me of “Demon Days”, which is my favorite album of theirs.

But then, I kept listening to it. And I gave it a chance on it’s own. And I realized… “Humanz” is really good. It’s really, really good. Its got a voice all it’s own, but it also really stays tuned to some of the things that made Gorillaz really great. I’ll talk about this specifically for each track, but if you hear people putting this album down for not living up to the hype, don’t listen to them. This album deserves to stand on its own.

Also, I wanted to address two other major criticisms I’ve seen floating around around this album. One, that it’s too feature-heavy. To that, I’d argue that Gorillaz has always been a collaboration. None of the members are actually real, and the only consistent contributor music-wise is Damon Albarn. So to say a Gorillaz album is too feature heavy… I mean, dude, just go listen to Blur or something. Plus, Damon/2D gets lots of great parts on this album!! In almost every song!! Chill!!

Second, that it’s too political. Which… ugh. I don’t even really want to argue against this point, because it’s idiotic. Gorillaz has always been political. ALWAYS. They’ve done songs about gun control, about urban decay, about the dumbing-down of media… hell, their entire last ALBUM was about global warming! It was called “Plastic Beach”! What else would it be talking about?

Too political… god. The complete idiocy…

Uh… where was I? Oh yeah, Gorillaz! “Humanz”! The new album! I’m sorry, I’ll actually get to the review. What follows is a quick little track-by-track review. I skipped the interludes because they’re mainly just quick flavor or sly little statements, and there’s not much for me to say about them. (But, The Non-Conformist Oath is hilarious and I adore it, and I can’t help but give it a shoutout)

(((But, hey, if you’re not super familiar with Gorillaz yet, that’s cool! Before I dive into the new album, why not take a look at some of their old stuff too? It’s all really good. There’s of course their three hits, Feel Good Inc., Dare, and Clint Eastwood. They all deserve their popularity, of course (I love Dare with every fiber of my being, and of course Feel Good Inc. was the song that started it all for me), but I’ll just give you a quick little list of my other favorites in case you’re interested: The SwaggaEl Manana, Broken, Empire Ants (***MY FOREVER FAVORITE***), To Binge, and 19-2000 (Soulchild Remix).)))

Ascension (Feat. Vince Staples)

“Ascension” is a deep, scathing commentary on the state of police violence in America. It’s angry, it’s desperate. And… that’s all I feel I can really say about it. See, firstly, this song is very rap-heavy. Gorillaz has always had a pretty solid rap presence, but I’m not the most knowledgeable about rap. I enjoy this song, but I don’t feel like I have the language or knowledge to criticize it. Plus, it’s not made for me. I’m a white girl living in an affluent society, and Vince Staples is a young black man who has had to deal with racism, hatred, ignorance, and violence I will never have to deal with.

For that reason, this song is worth listening to, and reading in on the lyrics. But as far as my own personal commentary goes, there’s not much I can (or should) say.

Strobelite (Feat. Peven Everett)

Now we get into the songs I actually feel capable speaking about. (Well, mostly.) “Strobelite” is an upbeat, funky little number about the unpredictability of life. So dance!!!

Jokes aside, this song (and really most of this album) is surprisingly hopeful despite its heavy focus on the end of the world. It’s borne of a world where things are going really bad, yet people feel the need to cling to hope and keep fighting. It’s a message I really appreciate from this album, and something I found myself resonating with again and again.

Shoutout to Peven Everett, who adds his really gorgeous vocals to this track. Vocal-wise, I also really like the subtle backup singers.

Saturnz Barz (Feat. Popcaan)

Before I say anything else, I wanted to talk for a second about how much I like the “z” motif in this album. HumanZ, SaturnZ BarZ, MomentZ, etc. etc… it’s a cute little nod to their name, and I love cute things like this. I’m possibly overthinking this, but what if it’s also a reference to the end of the world this album is so focused on? Z is the last letter of the alphabet, and this album is about the last gasps of humanity, joyous or no, before the end of the world… Yeah, I’m definitely overthinking this.

“Saturnz Barz” is a real auditory shoutout to the sound of “Demon Days”, and for that reason it’s like a familiar friend to me. If you’re an old fan of Gorillaz, this is a good track to hop back on board with, since I think it pays homage to their old style while also having a certain unique polish they’ve picked up through “Plastic Beach”.

The tone is somber and slow, and possibly even a little creepy. (I mean, after all, the music video features a haunted house.) Plus, 2D’s part is so gorgeous and subtle, adding to the ethereal quality of this track, like it’s pensive. And while Gorillaz certainly isn’t a stranger to reggae, it’s always a nice style to hear from them.

Momentz (Feat. De La Soul)

Speaking of shoutouts… I know I said I wanted to give this album a chance to stand on its own… but it’s De La Soul! You know, De La Soul, those guys from Feel Good Inc.! They’re back! And once more they’re here to make you dance.

This song has a great beat and I mean… what else does it really need to have? It’s got that swagger-y “I’m the best” type of lyrics and it just makes you feel good.

The ending is somewhat confusing, I’ll be honest. If you had told me that an upbeat party song where De La Soul returned to chill with Gorillaz again, I would not have guessed it would end with a tongue-in-cheek KKK joke… but hey, this album is full of surprises??? I’m all for belittling a white supremacist terrorist group, of course.

Submission (Feat. Danny Brown and Kelela)

Rather unsurprisingly, my favorite Gorillaz member has always been Noodle. For that reason, whenever “Noodle” takes over the vocals of a track, I’m instantly in love. “Submission” is the latest in a long and prestigious line of Noodle songs. Kelala’s voice is smooth and pleasant, and although Little Dragon will always and forever be my favorite Noodle, she holds the mantle really well.

This song is sad and pensive, but never loses a certain drive. It grabs you from the very beginning with the gorgeous vocals and keeps you along with it with the subtle electronic instrumentals. It’s not a large or bombastic song by any means, but it leaves a lasting impression. Probably one of my favorites off this album, for sure.

The rap part… kind of threw me off though. The somber, powerful tone felt kind of thrown off by Danny Brown’s unusual pronunciation in his rap bridge. But, you know, I’ve listened to it a bunch of times now, and I think I’ve grown used to it.

(At least he’s not Shaun Ryder in “Dare”)

Charger (Feat. Grace Jones)

This is a super weird song. And yet… I really enjoy it? I’m unclear on what exactly this song means, but I’m fairly used to Gorillaz’s lyrics being puzzling so that’s not too horrible. I could make a guess that this song is about the all-encompassing effects of technology on our lives… but that’s a guess.

It’s one of those Gorillaz songs that makes you really confused on the first listen, intrigued on the second, and absolutely hooked on the third. It’s relatively simple, mostly just a guitar riff, some electronic noises, and 2D’s and Grace Jones’s vocals echoing off of one another. The lyrics certainly don’t reveal anything about why this song exists, and yet, it works. It fits, as a catchy, oddball little track.

Andromeda (Feat. D.R.A.M.)

This is a really cool song. Has a nice, fast, walking beat, and a pretty strong focus on 2D’s vocals. I know I talked earlier about how much I appreciate the featured vocalists, but I’ll always love 2D, and it’s nice to see him prominently featured here. I think it’s a great song to match his subdued, smooth tone.

The instrumentals focus on an atmospheric tone, to match the astronomical title, and it’s a sound that just really works for Gorillaz. They’ve done clean electronica, dirty rock, reggae, rap, hip-hop, and even beach-side tunes… but once more they’ve found a new style to fit their music seamlessly into. A style I’d best describe as futuristic? Stellar? Who knows, words are hard.

(I also just really like the background vocals. But then, I always do.)

Busted and Blue

And finally we’ve arrived to the single, solitary Gorillaz-only track on this entire album. And god, is it ever beautiful.

It’s quiet, and features nocturnal sound effects, as well as some sort of strange beeping sound that could be a rusty windmill or an alien spaceship… and beyond that it’s up to 2D’s quiet vocals, the backup singers (always killing it), and some minimal instrumentation to carry the listener through.

I can’t help but read into the choice of having the one non-featured track be this slow, wistful ballad. I’m not sure whether it’s confirmed that this album will be the last for Gorillaz, but if it is, I’ll feel satisfied, I think. This band has had such an incredible impact on my life, and this album, while standing on its own, is also a beautiful homage to everything I love about Gorillaz. The collaboration, the bold political statements, the slightly off-kilter music, the odd and memorable lyrics… and I think “Busted and Blue” is a poignant illustration, at least to me, of all this band has done for me.

Carnival (Feat. Anthony Hamilton)

I’ve been pretty complimentary of most of the other tracks on this album so far, but don’t worry, there are some duds coming, this one included. Okay, fine, this one isn’t bad so much that it is forgettable for me. The hook is kind of uninspired and Anthony Hamilton is just alright. There’s nothing here for me, to be honest. Skip!

Let Me Out (Feat. Mavis Staples and Pusha T)

I first heard this song performed on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert, and I was honestly a little disappointed hearing it on the album. I felt like a lot of the raw power and emotion from the live performance was absent from the album version. I’m gonna assume this is just the sort of song that is better performed and enjoyed live! There’s nothing wrong with that at all, and it doesn’t take away from the powerful lyrics and delivery.

Sex Murder Party (Feat. Jamie Principle and Zebra Katz)

Another weird song, but this one didn’t work quite as well for me as “Charger” did. I think it’s mostly that I didn’t really get it I guess? It’s kind of catchy, but I’m not really sure what the point of having this song stuck in my head would be? It’s mostly just the title whispered over some drum beats. It also feels a little too “trying to be edgy” for me, which is not something I usually feel about Gorillaz. 2D has a nice enough part, I guess, but he’s had better parts in other tracks on this very same album. Forgettable. Skip!

She’s My Collar (Feat. Kali Uchis)

Hey, don’t worry, we’re back to tracks I really like. So nice of this album to arrange all of my duds into a little group like that so they don’t detract too badly from the rest.

2D gets some fast-paced, clever lyrics in this song, and next to the upbeat and and catchy hook, this is the sort of song I could see as a minor radio hit. I also really like Kali Uchis! Her voice has the same kind of sleepy quality as 2D, but with a clear and loud tone that makes her stand out from him as well. I’m also a big fan of the bouncy little 8-bit noises in the background. Too fun.

Hallelujah Money (Feat. Benjamin Clementine)

Ahh, “Hallelujah Money”. The first real listen I ever got to this album was when they dropped this song. The excitement of opening up YouTube to listen to a new Gorillaz song for the first time in seven years…

And yeah, this song is weird. But it’s also such a powerful criticism of the culture of the rich that dominates politics nowadays that the more you begin to understand the lyrics, the more Benjamin Clementine’s wandering, wavery tone starts to change from strange to beautiful. It’s a call to arms, a rallying cry against the corrupting power of money. I’m also crazy about the way 2D’s “When the morning comes / How will we know we are still human?” weaves in with the rest of the song, like an overarching question, asked again and again. It’s a question that is never truly answered, not by the song itself, but the next song is probably one of the reasons I love this album so much…

We Got the Power (Feat. Jehnny Beth)

And the answer to 2D’s repeated question from the last track comes in this unabashedly optimistic track about the power of unity and togetherness when faced with seemingly insurmountable odds. I’m so happy this song exists. Much of this album struggles with despair as the world around it seems to crumble, to end, and yet this is the song that the album ends with! (Well, the non-deluxe version, that is).

And this song preaches unity. Optimism. Believing that with hard work and perseverance, things can turn out alright in the end. And really, that’s an idea worth singing about.

Is it naive? No, I don’t think so. I think “Humanz” isn’t copping out in answering its gloomy questions with this rallying cry, rather, giving the only answer that has a chance to fix anything. We can talk about how the world is burning all we want and it doesn’t do a thing to extinguish the flames. No, the answer is to get up, join forces, and put it out ourselves. We got the power. It’s inspirational, it’s beautiful, and it’s the perfect ending to this album’s philosophical questions.

The Apprentice (Feat. Rag’n’Bone Man, Zebra Katz, and RAY BLK)

And so begins the five bonus tracks available on the deluxe version of this album. I’ll be honest, I raised an eyebrow at Rag’n’Bone Man being on this track, but it actually really works. I’ll be honest that I’m not too impressed with his song, “Human”, but his appearance on “HumanZ” is pretty enjoyable. (Haha, see what I did there?)

The best way to describe this song is “clean”, I think. It’s really catchy, too, probably one that will get some repeats on my playlists. Beyond that, though, I don’t have much to say about this one. It’s a strong, likable track.

Halfway to the Halfway House (Feat. Peven Everett)

Hey, who is this Peven Everett guy? I’m serious, I really like him. “Strobelite” is beautiful and so is this song. This is my own note to self that I need to go check him out, for sure. I love how this track constantly seems to build on itself, and how the discordant noises in the background play with the beautiful choral harmonies. This song has a really gospel feeling to it.

And mostly because I was curious as to why this song sings about “Cherryade” so much, I went and looked it up, and it turns out it’s a reference to the phrase “drinking the kool-aid”, meaning going along with a doomed or obviously dangerous plan. It’s a pleasant little statement on the status of our society, everyone going along with something that is clearly doomed. In that vein, the “Halfway House” mentioned in the title refers to a place after prison where those with physical, mental, or emotional disabilities go for rehabilitation. I can’t decide whether being “halfway” to a place of rehabilitation is a positive statement or not… I suppose that’s up to the listener to decide.

Out of Body (Feat. Kilo Kish, Zebra Katz, and Imani Vonshá)

If you ever thought to yourself “I wonder which track off of this album is Gillian’s favorite?” congratulations, we’ve made it. I’m honestly kind of obsessed with this song. It’s simultaneously a fun party song and also a weird thematic track and that combination just tickles me.

I really like Kilo Kish’s vocals. They fit the weirdly mysterious tone of this song while also keeping up the fun danceable beat. I’ve seen a lot of people compare her to That Poppy, and yeah, I love That Poppy. Plus, shoutout to 2D! His vocals are really fun in this one too.

I love the framing of the seance being related to a party. I’ve heard millions of party songs but I’ve yet to hear it believably and cleverly related to some sort of supernatural ritual, and it’s amusing and clever. I think this song just really encompasses what I love about Gorillaz – they’re unafraid to take on tons of musical genres and make them completely unique and fascinating. This is a typical party dance song, and yet it’s made unique by the interesting supernatural motif and the way it seems to question itself, and the usual “who cares let’s party” mentality of most songs of its ilk (“Where am I going? What am I doing?”)

Also… I can’t stop listening to this song. It’s in my head constantly. Help.

Ticker Tape (Feat. Carly Simon and Kali Uchis)

“Ticker Tape” is a really traditional Gorillaz song, with a heavy focus on 2D’s vocals. I’m a big fan of this one for it’s smooth, slow sound. I like the simple role Carly Simon’s vocals play, and the touch of complexity in the outro as Kali Uchis’ vocals overlay 2D’s.

This song mainly concerns itself with technological progress and the possible negative effects it has on society. I feel generally iffy about this sort of commentary, because I believe a lot of these social statements blame the younger generations and call them brainwashed. I think this criticism is completely useless because it takes the blame completely off of older generations who are also just as responsible for abusing technology. That’s not the whole reason I dislike this sentiment, but it’s a big one, I guess. Thankfully, this song doesn’t fall into that trap and instead focuses on media’s integration into technology and how easy it is to remain inactive in our modern age. That’s the sort of criticism I can get behind – specific and not pointing fingers.

Circle of Friendz (Feat. Brandon Markell Holmes)

The last track off of the deluxe version! We’ve climbed this whole mountain together, haven’t we.

I like how the discordance of the breaking glass and sounds of destruction in the beginning with the repetition of the lyrics “circle of friends” is… surprisingly earnest, actually. Similar to “We Got the Power”, this song doesn’t really seem ironic about its insistence that with teamwork any problem can be overcome.  It’s a short track, and really repetitive, but seems to drive home the point I made earlier about “Hallelujah Money” and “We Got the Power” that this album is ultimately optimistic about the state of society. Even as it critiques where we are and compares it to the end of the world, it isn’t bleak. And at risk of repeating what I’ve already said, I really appreciate that. This song isn’t really a great one on its own, but as a wrap-up for this album, it works.

Overall, I love “Humanz”. I know a lot of people were disappointed, but honestly that’s not too surprising to me. Gorillaz could have churned out the most flawless album in the world and people would still be upset. After all, it’s been seven years since we’ve seen them last, and that sort of a gap makes the nostalgia wall difficult to scale. Personally, I think it’s a worthy successor to “Plastic Beach” and has reignited my love for this band. For real, I’ve spent a lot of time rediscovering all of my old favorite Gorillaz songs thanks to this album, and that alone is enough for me to give two thumbs up to it.

So, whether you’re a Gorillaz fan or not, I strongly advise you overall to check this album out. It’s solid, it has a great message and motif, and it’s just a lot of fun. Or, you know, check some of their older stuff out too. Fall in love with them the same way I did so long ago, I promise, it’s fun.

 

A Spring Break in Songs

For the last week, I, like the rest of the population of Carmel, Indiana, spent my Spring Break in sunny Florida. As with every year, it was a week of good food, relaxation, shopping, and music. And it is with that last aspect that I come to you to today. Here’s a quick little review of my Spring Break in the songs I listened to.

Green Light – Lorde

It’s a Spring Break tradition for all of the members of my family to choose songs and compete to see whose song shows up the most on the radio on our drive down to Florida. My pick this year was Lorde’s newest track, the dynamic and beautiful “Green Light”. I actually talked about it a bit in my Women in Music post, but it’s so good it deserves me discussing it again. I’ve been a fan of Lorde since she first popped into the scene in 2013 and her sound has only gotten better since then – more mature and emotional without losing that simultaneously real and artsy view on the world.

It didn’t really… win our annual competition, but I contend it won a moral victory, since I picked it out of pure love. (And the winner was my Mom, who picked some awful ZAYN/Taylor Swift song she didn’t even like…)

That’s What I Like – Bruno Mars

Dad didn’t win the competition with this pick either, by the way. But still, whenever it came on, despite the anger at seeing my dad get a point, it was immediately mollified because gosh do I ever love this song. Listen, I know I’m a hipster, and this isn’t the sort of music you’d expect me to love, but listen to me… Bruno Mars transcends genre with his charm. He’s just such a good dancer, and his voice is beautiful, and his songs are always so fun and danceable… and yeah, this music video makes me grin like an idiot whenever I watch it, what of it? I know all the lyrics to this song and belt it whenever it comes on, so? I guarentee there’s not a sane person in this world who would disagree with me.

Don’t Take the Money – Bleachers

Still, even as we’re competing for glory with our own picks, we always discover a few new favorites on the road trip down to Florida, and here’s the first of the few I’ll mention here.

It’s always nice to hear new songs from old favorite bands, and Bleachers didn’t disappoint with this summery track. I can practically picture a scene from a saturated teen romance movie set to this song. Not to cheapen the impact of the emotional strength of this song, of course, but it’s a good time.

We Got the Power – Gorillaz

And speaking of old favorite bands, there is no older favoriter band out there than Gorillaz for me. Gorillaz is basically the reason I have the music taste I do today (long story short, I thought the idea of a band of cartoon characters was the coolest thing ever when I was in middle school, which led to me becoming obsessed with their, erm, eclectic discography).

The car ride to Florida was not the first time I’ve heard this track off of their upcoming album, “Humanz”, but it was when this song really started to gel with me. I’ve never really thought of Gorillaz as the sort of band that makes perfect sense on the very first listen, but rather takes a few listens to fully grasp the concept of this song, and this one is no different. It’s definitely very bubblegum in its optimism, but that’s honestly one of its best features. It’s happy and hopeful and unashamed of neither of these facts, and that’s refreshing in a world of cynicism and criticism. The only issue with this song is its criminally short. Just a bit over two minutes…. give me more!

Watershed – Vienna Teng

Now, I have a confession to make. It’s a personal tradition that every spring break, I pick an artist I like and familiarize myself with their entire discography over the course of the week. In years past, this has been very successful (three years ago, it was Arctic Monkeys, two years ago it was Walk the Moon, and last year it was Saint Motel, all incredible bands I love). And I have loved everything I’ve heard from Vienna, (I talked about her in my Women in Music post as well, actually), but I unfortunately only had time this break to listen to one of her albums all the way through.

I absolutely intend to listen to everything of hers, and I’ll do a post on my favorite tracks of hers once I do, but as a nice little sneak preview, I want to share this incredibly haunting track off of “Inland Territory”, the album I listened to. This song is very different from the rest of the songs on this list, because it’s quiet and pensive and honestly… kind of creepy. But this is what I love about Vienna – she’s a storyteller. This song tells the story of mankind’s folly in the eyes of some sort of ancient power – a Gaia or a Cthulhu or something of the like. The quiet, withheld power of this song illustrates the dormant power of the narrator perfectly to a listener, and the lyrics are beautifully and terrifyingly written. I’m a huge fan.

Feel It Still – Portugal. The Man

But hey, it wasn’t just old favorite artists and bands returning for a glory lap this Spring Break, there were some new favorites too! My dad and I had a field day with the band name of this artist (Why the random period? What does it mean?), but neither of us could deny how gosh darn catchy this song is. It’s bouncy and driving and gets lodged in your head and tortures you for weeks at a time. It’s driven by a simple beat, and that’s all it needs to get rolling and never stop. I’m obsessed. Give it a listen.

Mexican Jackpot – Flagship

A song that got a surprising amount of airtime this break despite being by a band I’ve never heard of before, I nonetheless came to really enjoy this song. It’s calm and atmospheric, and undoubtedly pleasant. I can’t say I see much in the future for this band, since they sound exactly like about fifteen other alt bands, but that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy this pretty track.

Pork Soda – Glass Animals

And we return to an old favorite band. Oh Glass Animals, how you continue to amaze me with the weird stuff you can pull in your songs and totally get away with it. And yeah, this song is weird, from title to sound effects to lyrics, but there’s a strange sort of method to the madness. If you look into the lyrics (beyond the obvious nonsense lyrics), you’ll find a surprisingly tragic and poignant look into the decay of a once loving relationship. Perhaps the odd and nonsensical nature of this song plays to the idea that when relationships decay, it can seem chaotic and may make no sense? Or maybe I’m being too analytical about this fun song. Ah well.

Along Came Jones – The Coasters

One of these things is not like the others~ yeah, okay, I couldn’t talk about my spring break without mentioning the solid amount of 50s hits I listened to in my Grandma’s car. She always cracked jokes and apologized about forcing me to listen to her music, but hey, it’s kind of fun. I am a fan of all things vintage, even if that’s not necessarily the music. But it’s hard not to remember super, uh, unique songs like this one, and it sparked some interesting conversation with my Grandma about the nature of music throughout generations as we looked for thread to match my prom dress at the craft store. She and I might not see eye to eye regarding music, but no genre or generation of music will ever be perfect – all have their duds along with their masterpieces. So it’s pointless to be an elitist to someone else for liking a different type of music than you.

(Also, I think this song is funny, and it’s the only one I remembered the title of, to be honest.)

So there you go, a little auditory taste of my spring break. I hope everyone is returning from their breaks relaxed and rejuvenated, and even if that’s not the case, I hope some of these songs can help do the trick.

And I’m Part of the Problem Too – Concerning Women in Music

I’ve been spending an embarrassing amount of time watching Top Ten videos on Youtube lately. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s my obsessive love of lists and analysis. They just hit a certain place in my soul that’s very satisfying.

And of course, in line with my own sensibilities, a lot of these Top Tens have to do with music. Top Ten Stupidest Lyrics, Top Ten Saddest Songs, Top Ten Most Controversial Musicians, Top Ten Most Interesting Music Facts… name it and I’ve probably watched a video on it. Music is a vast ocean of interesting facts and I’ve learned a lot from these videos, but I’ve also noticed some… disturbing patterns.

It’s not as if I didn’t already know that women are vastly underrepresented in pretty much all genres of music. But these Top Tens all too often make this fact so obvious that it’s PAINFUL. All of the Top Ten bests seem filled to the brim with dudes, while all of the Top Ten worsts seem to feature every female pop star you could possibly fit. It happens over and over and over again, and I’m really sick of it.

Of course there are exceptions. There are always exceptions, but that’s all there is… exceptions.

And the more I think about it, the more upset I get, because I start to realize… I’m part of the problem too.

You see, my personal favorite genre, Alt Rock, is a genre of music I myself have praised as diverse and interesting. I’ve thought to myself often in a sort of giddy reverence that I’m just so pleased that I’ve found myself a fan of so many open and accepting bands, bands that address real-world issues and open their arms to fans of all types. I often shun other genres like rap and pop and country for being backward and misogynistic, or racist… but then… wait a minute…

How many popular diverse alt rock bands are there really? Okay, let’s quantify this by taking a look at my personal favorite radio station – Alt Nation – and its current Top 18 and its demographics.

  1. Silvertongue – Young the Giant 5m
  2. On Hold – The xx 2m 1f
  3. Down – Marian Hill 1m 1f
  4. Love is Mystical – Cold War Kids 5m
  5. Middle Fingers – Missio 2m
  6. Wish I Knew You – The Revivalists 7m
  7. Send them Off!  – Bastille 5m
  8. Cocoon – Milky Chance 3m
  9. Believer – Imagine Dragons 4m
  10. I Don’t Wanna Dance – COIN 4m
  11. Blood in the Cut – K Flay 1f
  12. Good Morning – Grouplove 4m 1f
  13. Radio – Sylvan Esso 1m 1f
  14. Pork Soda – Glass Animals 4m
  15. Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales – Car Seat Headrest 4m
  16. Born Again – Saint Motel 4m
  17. Heavydirtysoul – twenty one pilots 2m
  18. Rhythm & Blues – The Head and the Heart 5m 1f

And the results are… disappointing. Of the 68 total performers represented in that top 18, only six of them are female. That is not even ten percent of the total! I checked! I did math!

Yes, there’s a problem with misogyny in popular music but… that problem is everywhere, and is worse in places not under popular scrutiny. The genre of music I had always through was so open and diverse was really… not at all. Maybe in meaning, it was open and inclusive, but in practice, there is just as much of a lack of female presence as anywhere else. In fact, it’s probably worse.

But that’s not exactly my fault, is it? I mean, I’m just listening to music. I don’t actively seek out all male bands all the time to listen to, do I? It’s not like we’re actively discriminating against female artists, this is just what’s popular within one genre, right?

Well, yeah, I guess. But the problem with that mentality is that it leaves the question of why there is such an unbalance unanswered. Technically, there should be no reason why only ten percent of performers in Altnation’s top 18 is female. There is nothing about alternative rock that says it’s inherently more difficult for women to be successful at performing, except… it clearly is. If it wasn’t, why is there such an inequality?

This leads me to examining my own personal music tastes, where I think there’s a far more even split. Yeah, I listen to a lot of male singers (Walk the Moon, Arctic Monkeys, Saint Motel, etc…), but there’s also a ton of great female musicians I love! And I think the biggest problem with them is that I don’t talk about them enough.

So, why not? Here’s a list of my favorite female artists, along with a few of my favorite tracks of theirs. This women’s history month, let’s take a minute to celebrate them.

Marina and the Diamonds


When I set out to write this, Marina was absolutely the first artist who came to mind. And that’s what Marina is – an artist. All of her albums are statements, incredibly put-together with such a cohesive message and aesthetic that it’s almost magical.

I was introduced to Marina through her album, “Electra Heart,” and the thing about that album is, if you just listen to one or two tracks off of it, you might be fooled into thinking Marina’s aesthetic is just there for aesthetic’s sake. However, take a listen to the whole album and you’ll find it an incredibly insightful deconstruction of the various stereotypes placed on women. From the Homewrecker to the Heartbreaker to the Housewife, Marina shows an incredible insight into the downfalls and shortcomings of every false image she takes on.

Not to mention, looking past the social commentary and artistry of every song she’s ever created, Marina also has an incredibly powerful voice to back it up. I’ve yet to find a song of hers I don’t like – from the beginning of her career to now.

She’s a unique voice in music, and one I will continue to return to, time and time again.

Grimes

If ever there was a renaissance woman in music, look no further than Claire Boucher, otherwise known as Grimes. She’s not only the face of her musical act… she’s the writer, the producer, the performer. She directs all of her music videos, and illustrates all of the art that goes on her album and track covers. Basically anything you see or hear in any of these videos – yep, that’s Claire Boucher.

Sure, yeah, her particular style and aesthetic can be a little hard to swallow at first. Believe me – it took a bit of listening to get used to her slightly off-kilter approach to music.

But really, all it took me was a few minutes to read the lyrics and meanings of all of the songs on “Artangels” (her newest and honestly most incredible album), to completely hop on board with every strange image she creates. Gorey or adorable or creepy or beautiful… I love it all.

Her lyrics are incredibly in-depth, her songs are unique and authentic… I couldn’t recommend the music of the one and only Grimes more highly.

Vienna Teng

I’m a casual fan of Broadway, but I usually find my specialties and tastes lie more in musicians rather than musicals… but Vienna Teng melds the positives of both styles. Each one of her songs tells a different story in such a meaningful way.

Vienna’s voice is warm and calming, but her lyrics are poetry – mixing gorgeous language with incredible storytelling. Plus, she tends to opt for classical instrumentation, clarinets and strings and sometimes just a simple piano.

It’s maybe contradictory to talk about Vienna’s Broadway appeal in the same breath as her subtlety, but trust me, just give it a listen. She doesn’t need big boisterous numbers to sell the drama of the stories she’s telling. All she needs is her incredible skill with the written (sung?) word.

This is possibly my nerdiest review of a musician yet, but come on. Vienna melds all the things I love together: stories, an attention to detail, and incredibly-written lyrics. Give her a listen, you won’t regret it.

Regina Spektor

I feel like I’ve loved Regina Spektor for as long as I’ve loved music. That’s maybe a bit of an exaggeration, but there’s just something about her that has appealed to me from a really young age all the way until now.

Certainly, she has a beautiful voice. But it’s what she does with it – the frank, earnest lyrics she performs and the sometimes goofy vocal effects she uses so often to make her point. Regina has the talent and the looks to stand and sing ballads all day long, but she doesn’t.

Instead, she brings a real energy to every song she performs – a dose of humor alongside her sometimes blunt portrayal of life. There’s a lot more to her than meets the eye – and she constantly proves it with each new song.

Regina Spektor has been one of my favorites for years, and I suspect she’ll remain there for a long time.

Haim

A relatively new favorite, Haim is that cool, super chill indie band made up of all sisters that you never knew you needed in your life.

With a really great sound with a foot in both rock and pop, the girls in Haim use their crisp, clear voices perfectly. Listen to those harmonies! Just beautiful.

Plus, and this is very important to me, a lot of their songs are awfully relatable – down-to-earth lyrics. These girls don’t sugarcoat anything, and their tongue-in-cheek views comes through in all of their songs.

And I mean, come on. Next time you need the name of a super cool indie band to drop to impress all your friends, why not try Haim?

Halsey

Halsey’s music just oozes style. Is her music a little angsty? Sure, but it’s in a way that makes me feel like I’m the coolest kid ever, even if I’m also apparently the saddest.

All jokes aside, though, Halsey’s lyrics are beautiful and the music in her songs is beautiful and her voice is beautiful and everything she does is beautiful. She’s got this unique style of singing that’s so hard to describe – but it’s warm and really pleasant to listen to.

Plus, every one of her songs is bursting with meaning and artistry. I’ve spent some time just parsing through her often deeply personal lyrics and they’re all so gorgeous.

So, embrace your deep inner angst and spend some time listening to Halsey. You won’t regret it.

Florence and the Machine

If you want to talk about powerful vocals, look no further than Florence Welch of Florence and the Machine because good GOD can she sing. Every note that comes out of her mouth is 100% pure and perfect and I can’t stress enough how amazing she is.

If her gorgeous voice wasn’t enough, though, she also creates such grand, sweeping tracks to back her vocals, and it’s an experience. Every single one of her songs is a journey, almost gospel-like in its grandeur.

And Florence herself is almost goddess-like. I mean, it’s no surprise, with vocals like that. But still, I have to love the ethereal image she evokes in all of her music videos – such an absolute joy to see.

Florence and the Machine is another one of my old favorites, and just sifting back through these songs has reminded me once again why I love her so much.

Lorde

Did you know Lorde was only sixteen when her big hit, “Royals”, hit the US Top 40s? Isn’t that 100% crazy? When I was sixteen I could barely stand up straight, much less write and perform hit songs…

Lorde has such a unique tone to her voice, and such a unique, relatable perspective in all of her songs. It’s hard not to pay attention when someone that young has such raw talent, and it’s amazing how she just keeps getting better and better.

(Also, I must confess, I’ve listened to her newest song, “Green Light”, so many times in the past 48 hours and oh my GOD is it ever the most beautiful thing and I suspect I’ll never grow tired of it…)

The hype is real, Lorde is amazing. I can’t wait to see where she goes with her career – I expect great things.

Sara Bareilles

I end my list with a feel-good favorite. I’ve been a casual fan of Sara Bareilles for years, and I always find her music bringing a smile to my face. Well, except for one song, “Gravity”, which brings a tear to my eye, but that’s a good thing.

When she’s not singing gorgeous yet tear-jerking ballads, though, Sara Bareilles has the kind of music that makes you want to hop up on your feet, grab someone you love, and dance for like three hours without a care in the world. She inspires such joy and fun.

There’s something so wholesome and good about her music, and it’s something I just love. Deep, tragic meanings are fun in music, but sometimes you just want a feel-good number, and Sara Bareilles delivers.

So, with that, my list of favorite musical ladies comes to an end. This list is by no means all-encompassing, of course. If I had to list every female musician I’ve ever liked, we’d be here all day. But I hope these few musicians will help you find a new favorite to add to your collection this Women’s History month.

I Tell the Story of “Hamilton”

This weekend marks somewhat of a culmination of over a year of hype for me.

Yes, a little over a year ago, I was sitting in my AP U.S. History class, discussing the Federalist/Anti-Federalist debate, when my teacher put on a NPR documentary about a peculiar little musical soon to hit Broadway, “Hamilton.”

At the time, I regarded the segment with mild interest. Even though I wouldn’t consider myself a history or musical buff, I have a passing interest in both topics, and even though I’m very much not a fan of rap, the melding of these three ideas was so out there I couldn’t help but pay attention. The video sparked an interesting conversation regarding the differences and similarities in ideology of the Federalists and Anti-Federalists, and also, unknowingly, a curiosity in the back of my mind.

Several weeks later, while browsing Twitter, I noticed a great deal of hype surrounding a familiar name. It seemed that NPR had uploaded the entire soundtrack of “Hamilton” to its website as an early look. I was assured by many sources that, since almost the whole musical is in song, I could hear the entire story just from listening to the soundtrack. Remembering the video clip from class and how it intrigued me, I pulled the NPR page up on my phone and set myself to listen to all of it.

It did not click immediately for me, in all honesty. On my first listen I was confused about whose voice was whose and didn’t understand a lot of the story. (For example, I thought Angelica and Eliza were the same person, making “Satisfied” an incredibly confusing first experience for me. Didn’t she just get married to him? Why is she complaining about giving him away now?)

Yet, when I reached the end I found myself oddly moved by this modern take on the life of Alexander Hamilton, and some of the songs appealed to me enough on the first listen to persuade me to listen through a few more times. Suddenly, I found myself texting a few friends in something like confusion, lamenting why this “Silly rap musical about Alexander Hamilton” had so neatly taken over my thoughts and time.

Goaded on by the first group of enthusiastic fans of the musical, I tried to convert a few of my friends. It was easy enough for me, honestly, since I know a lot of people who love musicals. For one friend, I played the soundtrack for her on the bus to one of our marching band competitions, and it soon became a tradition for the two of us to share earbuds and loudly sing along to the entire soundtrack. For another friend, it was just a matter of constantly talking about it and pointing out how much it would appeal to him as a fan of both history and musicals. For a few others, it was rambling to them over text about the musical and constantly talking about it – it wasn’t hard, because it was a singular obsession of mine for an extended period of time.

Suddenly, it seemed all of my friends had come over to the cause of “Hamilton.” We would spend hours at parties quoting the lyrics, discussing the story, and starting impromptu sing-alongs. We would assign certain characters to each person so that the parts were split evenly for songs featuring a large cast. We even had a short-lived but surprisingly serious plan to do a “Hamilton” group cosplay.

And of course, I told the teacher who showed us all the clip in class about the entire soundtrack being available on NPR, and I was the reason she became a huge fan of the musical too. That was me, even if she would later give the credit to a certain someone.

And then, just as our personal hype was dying down a bit, it seemed the rest of the population of the world caught on. Every social media site was filled with excitement about it, and I got to feel the smug satisfaction of being one of the first to call myself a fan. The Tonys rolled around, and I organized a fancy dress party with a few close friends. We snacked on fancy hors d’oeuvres and watched as “Hamilton” took home nearly every Tony it was nominated for. It seemed fitting that a musical that had taken over our lives was recognized on such a national platform.

And this weekend, I finally got to go see it.

Me and two close friends took a weekend trip to Chicago, getting a hotel, shopping, and checking off one of the things on my bucket list. And for this momentous occasion, I couldn’t help but take a moment to talk about how important this musical has been not only in my life but in the lives of clearly so many others.

I haven’t really talked much about politics on this blog – partly because it stresses me out pretty heavily and partly because I don’t feel like I’m enough of an expert to say anything particularly new or productive on it. But I don’t think it’s out of my comfort zone to say that it’s hard nowadays to consider myself proud of my country. There’s too much conflict and petty drama and injustice to feel anything but cynicism about America. Plus, I’ve had years of U.S. History classes to convince me that there’s nothing in our past to be proud of. With every small step forward we have taken as a country, it seems there are twice as many avalanches backwards. And to make matters even worse, most of the “movers and shakers” of the past are hard to connect with now.

Yet, each time I listen to “Hamilton,” I feel something that almost seems like patriotism. For a little while, the “American Dream” is in reach. In the fast-paced, frenetic beats of the music, between each beautiful performance from the talented actors, I can understand exactly what country our founders were picturing. And maybe that country looks different to me than it did to them – maybe there’s a bit more diversity, a bit more innovation, a bit more globalization – but the feeling is the same. A feeling of hope, that there’s something for us all to work towards. A feeling that I am capable of helping the progress toward that shining image.

It’s that feeling that has had such a profound effect on my life. It’s that feeling that drove me to share this musical’s message with all of my friends. It’s that feeling that made me so excited to finally see it performed in the flesh.

I don’t think I’m wrong to think that it’s that feeling that has propelled “Hamilton” to success. In this time of conflict and division, of fear and sensationalism, that feeling is so important to so many people. We need that kind of hope and drive if we are to move out of our current sad state of affairs. For that reason, I expect to see this musical go down in history as something that united and inspired a nation. I am proud to be a part of that history.

(…Even if the show totally made me cry in public.)