Foreword: I’m certain I’ve written this before, but the amount of music I listen to in a month is directly correlated to the time and type of gaming I do in a month. I listen to tunes while I play, so if it’s a game where I’m able to split focus between the gameplay and music, I end up consuming more music than a more total-focus game might allow. As I’ve spent most of January playing Dragon Quest XI, I’ve been able to enjoy a lot of music this month while I play through the sometimes-rote RPG battles!
Rosie Tucker – “Hindsight”
Happy tunes paired with sad lyrics are, of course, a perennial fave of mine. This song is an example of that framework being taken to an extreme point: the opening line is “Jesse killed himself” backed with an uptempo guitar motif that drives the rest of the song in its exploration of what it means to know someone who commits suicide.
Modern Life is War – “Indianapolis Talking Blues”
Another perennial fave is talksongs, and besides being a great listen, this Modern Life is War song introduced me to the “talking blues” term. I didn’t realize there was a name for these talksongs (or, at least, a name for one stripe of talksongs). This one is a nice lil’ screed against the miserable condition of existing under the boot of modern consumer capitalism. “Countless broken backs for countless useless products.” Incredible. The lyrics are rife with dismal imagery.
Jordaan Mason – “Grief Poem”
I almost didn’t add this song to the monthly list because I had gotten bored of it. It’s basically another example of “talking blues” (hey, how fun it is to use new terms!) and musically it’s not particularly interesting. But listening to it once again for the purposes of this monthly list I’m reminded why I found it notable to begin with: the ideas the lyrics get at are meaningful and important. The dehumanization of vulnerable groups in modern American politics is grotesque, and J. Mason rightly calls that out. Surprisingly, he hits on those subjects without being too sanctimonious. That said, these are subjects where sanctimony is totally justified, but the slightly obtuse way Jordaan M. addresses the subjects at hand makes the song and the writing feel more artful.
Benjamin Tod – “Using Again”
Whew, this song is a dark one. Tod sings about deception and needles and self-hatred. It’s heavy stuff, and it pulls no punches. Musically I can say the same: the plucked guitar has this barren, stark feeling that perfectly matches the lyrical content. You can practically trace a direct lineage from Hank Williams through to Benjamin Tod.
Ruby Gill – “Your Mum”
God, I love this song. This is real shit. R. Gill writes the lyrics in this apologetic, fearful way, desperate to impress a significant other whom she cannot seem to satisfy. These lyrics perfectly capture that common human experience of the fear of not living up to expectations, and any piece of art that can take a universally-relatable idea and expand it out into a perspective that I share no commonalities with–and thus giving me an understanding of another’s life–is True Art, by my reckoning. And that’s just how much I love this song lyrically–the music is fucking incredible, too! Ruby Gill’s voice rising in volume to the peak during the verses to belt out the “where were you when” lines are just incredible. I adore this song.
Sir Babygirl – “Everyone is a Bad Friend”
Sir Babygirl makes their requisite appearance on my monthly list. (Expect to see more here next month–the debut album drops in February!) “Everyone” goes away from the hyperactive indiepop sound I’ve grown to expect and instead takes the SBBG sound into a more melancholic direction. It lands on this monthly list solely for the sonic perfection that is the first half of this song–that minor-chord riff paired with Sir Babygirl’s elusive vocals is incredible. Unfortunately, for me, the song falls flat when it changes its approach halfway in–the second half is the kind of song I’d expect if you had told me there was a sad and faraway-sounding Sir Babygirl song. This is one of those songs I’ll leave on the playlist forever but skip once the first half comes and goes.
Little Kid – “Frozen Cola”
I’ve been digging through the Little Kid stacks for the past few months, but I don’t believe any of their songs have made it into one of my monthly lists. (Mostly due to oversight on my part–Sun Milk blows me away to this day.) “Frozen Cola” is a good distillation of everything that makes their sound great: intriguing lyrics, a mix of electronic and acoustic instrumentation splashed with fuzz. This song has a great hook with that “fucking holy roller” line.
T-Rextasy – “Girl, Friend”
T-Rextasy’s 2016 track “Gap Yr Boiz” is an all-time favorite of mine. Like, a top 50 of all time song. I can’t emphasize enough how much I love that song. So to hear the band had a new album meant I had to give it a listen. The album is… all right. It’s OK. “Girl, Friend” is the closest the new songs come to the heights of “Gap Yr Boiz,” and for even coming close to to that celestial peak, “Girl, Friend” lands on my monthly list. Lyrically, the song is a lot of fun and the music matches that upbeat cheeriness. “Girl, Friend” has the same silly, plainspoken approach to lyrics that made “Gap Yr Boiz” great. Honestly, though–I’m having trouble writing about “Girl, Friend” because now I’m just thinking about how much I love “Gap Yr Boiz.” Clearly I can’t get past the comparison. My god, what a song that is!
Keaton Henson – “Party Song”
“Party Song” is a sad, acoustic whispersong. Need I say more? Of course I was going to love it. This one stands out a little more than average by virtue of the descending guitar motif that repeats throughout the song, and for that touching quiver in Keaton H.’s voice. The lyrics are artful in their depiction of an ex-lover moving on. I also quite like this music video, the grainy found footage perfectly matches the tone of the song and the icy, wintry images depicted tickles some teenaged sadness that lingers inside of me.
The Pretty Littles – “Don Dale”
“I reckon he’s a coward.” What a great line. This song is quite fun to listen to, despite the subject matter being (what I interpret as) a tale of police brutality coming down hard on a teenager. Musically, “Don Dale” is a charging romper that’s a blast to listen to, and there are some lines that pop out on every listen–“this cunt’s doing UFC!”
Black Country, New Roads – “Athen’s, France”
This is such a weird, phenomenal song. It’s a long rambler that goes all over the place and never settles into any type of typical verse/chorus structure, as far as I can tell. It wildly references all sorts of other music (Ariana Grande, Phoebe Bridgers) and features tons of uncomfortable moaning. It’s incredible, a truly fascinating and unpredictable song. I love every minute of it.
Afterword: I was going to include one more track (Active Bird Community’s Unwind With Me, a nice little jam) but after “Athen’s, France” I couldn’t get out of a loop of listening to that song. It’s too fresh and original to follow up with something more standardized. Apparently an entire album of Black Country, New Roads is due to drop in March–2019 is shaping up into what should be an excellent year for music!