Happy Sunday, bibliophiles! I hope this week has treated you well. 💗
Not to worry, folks: the inevitable Boygenius Breakdown™️ is scheduled for next week to allow for some time for everything to sink in. As per the never-stated-but-generally-just-implied agreement, however, this week’s Sunday Songs meets the required Queer Quotient™️ that every Bookish Mutant post is required to pass before entering the blogosphere. I’m running a tight, gay ship over here, and I’ll see to it that it stays that way.
Enjoy this week’s songs!
SUNDAY SONGS: 4/2/23
“Born on a Train” – The Magnetic Fields
In the span of about a week, “Born on a Train” sprung from just being downloaded to my third most listened-to song of this year, according to Apple Music. Maybe that says more about my penchant for wearing songs into the ground than it does about the song itself, but I swear there’s an infinite magic woven into every note of it. Snugly fit in The Charm of the Highway Strip, a loose concept album about traveling and roads, this third track gently chugs along like the train the chorus speaks of. (And another example of the band’s generally wry humor—I haven’t listen to Charm in full yet, but the fact that “Fear of Trains” is only four tracks away from this song always cracks me up. Duality of man.) The drums and muted, acoustic guitar strums throughout recall the machinery of a train, in contrast to the ringing chimes as Stephin Merritt finishes out each chorus. And as with most Magnetic Fields songs, it’s laced with bittersweetness to the core; there’s a sense of the narrator grappling with their own nature, knowing that they’re bound to leave everyone that they love, that same lonely, fleeting, twilight feel as the “ghost roads” that Merritt describes in the first verse. Merritt’s voice has the same resonance that you feel inside a cave, reverberating through your bones—it was easy to feel, hearing this song live at a smaller venue, which I still count myself incredibly lucky to have experienced.
On that habit of riding songs into the sunset, I think I get sick of only about half of them—”Born on a Train” feels like one of the ones that’ll stick.
At this point, all that’s keeping me from listening to more Palehound right now is the fact that A Place I’ll Always Go is too complicated of an album cover to draw on the door whiteboard on my dorm (wait, I forgot about posting those…maybe once school’s out? Don’t hold me to it), and for some reason, even though I can listen to any other artist’s discography out of order, I’ve stubbornly decided to do so with them. (With the albums, at least—I didn’t know this EP existed until recently…oops…) But…Dry Food was just so good. I couldn’t get enough of the whole album. Something about El Kempner’s talent for letting every instrument go loose and reining them back in just as quickly keeps me listening over and over again.
So I ended up finding and promptly listening to her very first musical outing as Palehound, 2013’s Bent Nail – EP. The decision to make “Drooler” the first track was a clearly calculated one—it lulls you in with Kempner’s brightly-toned guitar notes that seem to gently roll like a loose wagon wheel, but drops off just as quickly, breaking into a bluesy, catchy groove, strangely accented at times with the sounds of pots and pans clanging against each other. All the while, Kempner’s voice does similar gymnastics, slipping into lower tones and spiking airily high in the space of seconds. It’s hard to keep that balance—something that she frequently tests on songs like “Pet Carrot” (which works on the EP, and bafflingly maintains on her performance of it on her Tiny Desk Concert), but “Drooler” toes the line with ease. And just like that, everything that Kempner builds devolves into riotous fuzz at the end, a skidding, spark-flying crash to a perfect piece of guitar-driven indie-rock.
So I’ve got another De La Soul album to add to my never ending album list, huh? I’m not complaining. Anything for another experience of wonderful, creative music, that Pos, Dove, and Mase seem to exude from their very pores, or something…
Two albums after their breakout Three Feet High and Rising, De La Soul had made a point to shed the sunshine-colored, mislabeled hippie image that had followed them everywhere, but even though that image was a major point of resentment for Plugs 1, 2, and 3 after the album’s release, listening to songs like “Eye Patch” leads me to believe that, at least musically, that spirit never quite left. Backed by the endlessly catchy samples of Jimmy Reed, the Outlaw Blues Band, and the same French language learning program that they sampled for Three Feet High and Rising, it’s another earwormy patchwork that, even from my limited experience with the band, feels like their trademark. It’s smooth, rolling like waves over your skin, the perfect walking soundtrack for a movie, or just walking to class and feeling the sun on your skin. And despite the more serious undercurrent that emerged in everything post-De La Soul is Dead, there’s still samples of sheep and children laughing—there’s no denying of the original, three fresh-out-of-high school friends making music in the basement ethos that have made De La Soul so lasting.
“Crocodile Tears and the Velvet Cosh” – David J.
Part of what I love about this song is that there will never be another song called “Crocodile Tears and the Velvet Cosh.” If there is, I can guarantee that it’ll be ripping this title off.
I can never claim to be fully goth (even though I can and will go overboard with the black eyeliner, without hesitation) partly because both Bauhaus and Love & Rockets (a.k.a Bauhaus – Peter Murphy) have historically been hit or miss for me. I’ve still found some of the latter that are already classics for me (“Holy Fool,” “Bad for You,”…why do I keep putting off listening to Lift?); the solo careers have been similarly hit or miss, though I’ve been hoarding a small handful of songs from Murphy, Ash, and David J., respectively as of late. Strangely, even though I’ve only heard two songs of his (the other being “I’ll Be Your Chauffeur”) David J. has been the one that I’ve liked the most consistently. As much as I love and respect the eclectic spirt of Love & Rockets (okay, scratch that: I can’t forgive them for “The Purest Blue,” there’s NO excuse for that nightmare fuel), sometimes you have to sit back and linger on the gentle side of things. That’s exactly what “Crocodile Tears and the Velvet Cosh” feels like for me: it slings a reassuring arm over your shoulder, and lets you relax while the breeze tugs at your hair. Filled with tiny packets of clever wordplay (“I read you like a book/Seeing through/without ever losing my place”), it’s an unassuming, acoustic piece with hidden bits that glisten in the dark.
I finally got around to listening to Home Video last week, and although I wasn’t as wowed as I was with her sophomore album, Historian, it still exists as an insect trapped in amber. The album chronicles Dacus’ childhood and adolescence in Virginia, grappling with her latent queerness in contrast to her Christian upbringing, as evidenced in “VBS,” a slice-of-life recounting of church camp. Musically, Home Video wasn’t as expansive and vast as its predecessor, but Dacus’ lyricism throughout the entire album is as strong as ever—I can’t stop thinking about the lines “Sedentary secrets like peach pits in your gut/locked away like jam jars in the cellar of your heart.” For such an unassuming-sounding song (in the beginning), there are so many tiny layers to peel back, from the underlying seeds of questioning everything she’s known to the explosive burst of guitars as Dacus describes, “There’s nothing you can do, but the only thing you’ve found/playing Slayer at full volume helps to drown it out.” The latter makes me wish for more of the guitar work that Dacus displayed on songs like “Timefighter,” but that moment as a self-contained piece, like the glass butterfly boxes that form each song, makes the storytelling even clearer and cleverer than ever.
Since this post consists entirely of songs, consider all of them to be today’s song.
That’s it for this week’s Sunday Songs! Have a wonderful rest of your day, and take care of yourselves!
2 thoughts on “Sunday Songs: 4/2/23”
Love the bit about the sparks flying in the crash!
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thank you!! so sorry I thought I’d replied to this comment wow