Happy Sunday, bibliophiles!
Here we are in May, and I’m very nearly done with finals (and my first year of college? how 😀), and now I’ve got a fresh batch of songs, brought to you by a wikipedia rabbit hole, a beautifully cursed mashup, and what happens when you absorb too many Twilight memes by osmosis without actually watching or reading it. The internet is a lawless wasteland.
Enjoy this week’s songs!
SUNDAY SONGS: 5/7/23
“Ain’t Got No – I Got Life” – Nina Simone
Like a lot of songs that end up on these posts, I stumbled upon this one fairly randomly—a Stereogum post on Instagram from a few weeks back commemorating 20 years since Nina Simone passed away. I just heard a snippet, and immediately went hunting for it on Apple Music—there was something so deeply captivating about it. And judging from the wikipedia rabbit hole I went on yesterday evening instead of writing this part of the post, it won’t be the last time. (“Sinnerman?” OKAY I DIDN’T EXPECT TO JUST…ASCEND THERE FOR A MINUTE HOOOOWHEE I’m gonna talk about that one in a few weeks at least, mark my words) But this one’s been on my mind a lot recently. From what I can tell, much of Nina Simone’s legacy is built from her more famous protest songs (see “Mississippi Goddam”), which damaged her career in the sixties but solidified her as one of the most important musical figures of the civil rights movement. This one slightly fits into that category—it’s a cover of sorts, mashing up two songs from the musical Hair (“I’m Black/Ain’t Go No” and “I Got Life” respectively). But even beyond the way Simone made these songs mesh together so effortlessly, there’s something more that she breathed into this song. Given the context of her life and her continued fight to help civil rights efforts in the U.S. and how much that affected her musical career, there’s something that she put into this song that nobody else could’ve. Even as her songs were banned from airplay and her career took a hit, she kept on producing this music, a commanding declaration of “I’m here, and there’s nothing you can do about it—You may have beaten my spirit, but here I stand.” Can’t get much more beautiful than that.
“Can I Go On” – Sleater-Kinney
There’s really no feeling quite like when shuffle digs up an old favorite from the depths of your music library. Unparalleled euphoria of remembering what it was like listening to a song for the first time…
That being said, I feel like I’ve lost Pretentious Gay Hipster™️ points since…this is only one of about three (tops) Sleater-Kinney songs that I actually like. Carrie Brownstein is great, don’t get me wrong—I love her work on what I’ve seen of Portlandia and in The Nowhere Inn, but Sleater-Kinney just rarely does it for me. I saw them live with Wilco a few years back, and…okay, I spent most of their set waiting for Wilco and hoping I’d like something, and I did like a few things. (There was also the secondhand embarrassment of them telling everybody to sing along during “Modern Girl” and very few people singing…oopsie) But I’ve never been a fan of either Brownstein’s or Corin Tucker’s voices—they work together, to a certain point, but they verge on grating for me. And other than this and “Modern Girl,” there’s nothing that’s really pulled me about most of their songs.
And admittedly, the minute that I found out that The Center Won’t Hold, which includes “Can I Go On,” was produced by none other than the woman, the myth, the legend, St. Vincent, it all made sense. I like this song because I like St. Vincent, not necessarily because I like Sleater-Kinney. There’s St. Vincent all over this song, from the plethora of effects on the guitars, which scream and shimmer in equal measure, to the chrome-like polish that doesn’t discredit the indie-ness of the band, but still makes it sound as smooth as ever. And even though I’m not a fan of their voices, the commanding harmonies of the chorus scream in perfect tandem, making for a rallying cry of a song that makes exhausted lyrics sound triumphant. A sprinkle of Annie Clark magic makes everything better.
“Supermassive Black Hole” – Muse
We know it. We love it. What is there to say about this song that hasn’t already been said? So I won’t bore you. I’ll narrow it down to it’s two biggest contributions to pop culture (I think):
- The Twilight baseball scene (I have never seen Twilight) (I intend to keep my exposure to scattered memes)
bask in the eternal glory of the supermassive bottom jeans. BASK.
“Wherever You Go” – Beach House
Beach House has been one of those bands that I really should be super into, given my somewhat shoegaze-leaning tendencies. The only reason is that I haven’t gotten around to listening to everything—I’ve loved the handful of isolated songs that I do know (“Space Song,” “Levitation,” “Woo,” etc.), and Bloom is on my
insurmountable album list thanks to a recommendation from, of all people, my 9th grade honors English teacher. (I really shouldn’t be surprised about that. I bumped into him at a Spiritualized concert not long before I graduated last year. Shoegaze recognizes shoegaze.) The Beach House awakening, or something along those lines, is bound to happen soon, but for now, I’ll stick to random songs found in random places.
Like this one. Of course the song that I happened to randomly find in the background of a video was on their B-Sides and Rarities album. Again: I don’t have the Beach House experience to necessarily back this up, but with their other songs, I’ve noticed a slight degree of intentional production polish to make their songs sound as spacey as possible—which they absolutely do. But this song has all the lo-fi feel of a demo without losing any of that enchantingly drifting quality, with every instrument cranked up to sound as starry as possible. Victoria Legrand’s vocals always make me want to close my eyes and levitate (no pun intended), as the best shoegaze does—taking its sweet time to sweep you off your feet and into the clouds.
Unlike something like The Kick Inside, I’m not sure, even though scattered Kate Bush songs like these have grown on me a ton, that I’ll go all in on The Red Shoes. The only other song I’ve heard is “Big Stripey Lie,” and…okay, to the disappointment of Kate Bush’s #1 fan (my brother), I really haven’t been able to get into it, now matter how hard I try (sorry 😭). I appreciate the weirdness, but…it doesn’t do anything for me personally. And I’ve heard that the rest of The Red Shoes isn’t the best of her work, but I’m not about to diss everything about her. This queen just got inducted into the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame, after all, I’ll put some respect on her name. Why wouldn’t I be, since this song stands before you? IT’S SO WEIRDLY CATCHY. I LOVE IT.
This seems like it leans more on the radio-friendly side of Kate Bush, but even she can make radio-friendly as oddball as she can. Her voice transforms from her ordinary singing tone to a velvety hiss to something as springy as the rubber bands she sings of. It’s a delightful trickster of a song—it still sounds firmly 80’s, even though it was released in 1993, but then it devolves into Bush saying “here I go :)” all innocently, and then dropping into the most wondrously weird and distorted “uhh-UHH-uhh-UHH” chorus I’ve ever heard at around the 3:40 mark. There’s a full horns section. You’ve got some Van Halen-y guitar solos sprinkled in. Under the reverb-y, 80’s polish, her weirdness has never ceased. Regardless of how you view the merits of the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame, you can see how much of a shoo-in she was.
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!