Thirteen Great Songs: December 2018

Foreword: I continue to belatedly write the posts in my “great songs” series from 2018. Happily, December was less than a month ago so I’m confident I’ll be able to more clearly capture their personal resonance!

Anderson .Paak – “6 Summers”

I have something like an eye-roll/dismissive response to most “humorous” “takedowns” of president Trump for his individual failings. Despite his obvious repugnance and my unspeakable disdain for the man, his policies, and his very existence, the jokes at his expense simply don’t work. Yes, the dude’s an utter piece of shit, but starting a song with “Trump’s got a love child!” is simply a facile joke in the face of evil. It’s akin to making fun of the emperor for his new clothes–though it may feel good to take him down a peg, we’re still all serfs and he gets to go home to his palace after a minor humiliation.

All that to say that I was predisposed not to like song with such a superficial political angle like “6 Summers.” But I love the song! It’s my favorite from Anderson .Paak’s Oxnard. Most of that is due to the undeniable chorus: “this shit’s gon’ bang for at least six summers” is such a great hook. And the rest of the song’s political message is slightly more nuanced than that first line hints at, which works in its favor.

Wished Bone – “Pollinate Me”

Banger alert! (Cue the siren emoji.) This quiet, lo-fi love-into-loss song is so my thing it’s unbelievable. The vocalist’s hushed vocals, the happy-sad guitars, and the lyrics all work in perfect unison, it all coalesces into some kind of sad-lensed sex anthem. I just love that line, “I found your book of poetry, don’t know why it made me so horny.” And the chorus is so delightful: “I’m a flower and you are a bee, honey won’t you pollinate me” is such a sweet line!

Weakened Friends – “Blue Again”

The vocal delivery of the verses is what gets me going on “Blue Again.” Instrumentally-speaking it’s a relatively straightforward guitar-driven indie rock song, but those vocals elevate it into transcendence. The quivering warble and the wild swinging between pitches within a single sentence are just incredible. The way the opening verse leaps right into the unique singing style makes “Blue Again” incredible and a fascinating joy to listen to.

lowly loverboi – “Graveyards in Space”

A month can’t go by without me falling in love with a fun lil’ track like “Graveyards in Space.” I like the languorous guitar noodling in the verses and the warm drum machine loop driving the whole thing. The choruses are great fun, too–“I want to be at peace” is a great line both in the way it’s delivered and in the way it’s at odds with the peaceful instrumentation.

Diva Sweetly – “Detox Island”

The verses are really fun on “Detox Island.” I’m a sucker for vocals that harmonize with the instrumentation and the snappy delivery of Diva Sweetly’s singer feels comfortably matched with the guitars’ and drums’ quick pace. Plus that bridge into the final third of the song where everything accelerates is executed so perfectly, it’s a dream to listen to.

Adrian Tenney – “Slow It Down”

Appropriately for a song titled “Slow It Down,” every aspect of this track has a glacial feel to it. The instrumentation is chilled-out and calm, and there’s a lovely guitar motif that recurs throughout. The lyrics are heartfelt and paint a picture of some kind of slough of despond the narrator cannot escape. “I think I learned some real bad habits with you in how I treated myself”–oof, what a line.

Advance Base – “Dolores & Kimberly”

Casiotone for the Painfully Alone’s hyper lo-fi early releases were literally formative for me. I prattle on constantly in this blog about how much I love poorly recorded sad music; Casiotone for the Painfully Alone and early the Mountain Goats are the reason why. So imagine how happy I was to get sad listening to the new album from Advance Base, Owen Ashworth’s current musical project!

“Dolores & Kimberly” is such a deliciously sad narrative. The story of the titular characters meeting (after some kind of online relationship?) and making a new life together is so sweet. I love the in medias res approach, the way it’s all told as a beautiful new chapter in a life with great sadness in the past. Despite the apparent tragedy of a recent divorce in the narrator’s life, there’s a proud defiance to the song. The narrator doesn’t dwell on the sadness, it’s merely remarked upon as something that happens almost outside of their “midnight world.” And lest I forget, the simple loop of climbing tones and bass beats and claps undergirding the song perfectly reflects the lyrical mood of the song: it evokes a faraway sadness. I love this song.

The Sonder Bombs – “Twinkle Lights”

The Sonder Bombs dropped an incredible album with MODERN FEMALE ROCKSTAR! I had real trouble choosing which song to catalogue in this here blog post. “Twinkle Lights” is pretty emblematic of their sound in that it’s perfectly-executed guitar-driven indie rock with female vocals. It’s fun music to listen to.

The 1975 – “I Always Wanna Die (Sometimes)”

This song is kind of silly–I get the feeling that The 1975 take themselves super seriously–but I can’t deny that it is an utter jam. The whole thing is like a refined execution of some 90s radio dreck by The Verve (I mean, there’s even a string section at the end…). All I can say is there’s just something about the high-pitched, echo-laden delivery of “I always want to die” that gets me every time.

Tierra Whack – “Black Nails”

The whole Whack World project was such a slam dunk. The EP had a lot of great tracks as a result of the central conceit: Tierra Whack made a 15-song EP that was 15 minutes long. Distilling down a great idea into a 60 second track must’ve been a challenge, and doing it 15 times is incredible–especially given how many of the songs are great. “Black Nails” barely edges out a few other songs as my favorite, just for the vocal lilt within the final word of every line.

Chance the Rapper – “The Man Who Has Everything”

Chance has been dropping a few tracks at a time lately (potentially leading to some kind of bigger release?) and at least one of the songs in each drop has been excellent. “Everything” is yet another example of a great Chance song. His sample style is consistently great–it’s like a less-glossy approach to the Kanye school of sampling, and it works well with his friendly, laconic vocal style.

Phoebe Bridgers – “Christmas Song”

Thanks, Phoebe, for a Christmas anthem for the sad generation! I love the “brick through the window” metaphor as sadness being something that can’t even be addressed or fixed during the holiday season. Musically, too, this song is perfect in its bleak saditude.

Modest Mouse – “Talking Shit About a Pretty Sunset”

Any song that begins, “Oh, noose” is going to be a song. “Talking Shit” is a good song, and it’s a great song for the first half. (The extended instrumental outro doesn’t really build to anything or go anywhere worthwhile for me.) The half of the song with the lyrics are devastatingly good. The theme of not knowing oneself is one part relatable and one part dire. There are a couple of great lines; I’ll highlight “And I claim I’m not excited with my life anymore, so I blame this town, this job, these friends, the truth is it’s myself” as my favorite.

Afterword: December was a good month. Unlike some of these other catch-up blog posts I’ve written this January about last year, I remember December well and I know it was a good month. List month always is a good month, after all–it’s a great time to catch up on any music I may have missed during the year. Plus, the holidays means more leisure time and togetherness. For this blog in 2019, I plan to try to write a few 2018 wrap-up posts of some of my favorite media of the year. Moving forward in 2019, my goal is to scrape out more time to devote to posting on more than a monthly cadence.