It’s that time of the week again, but not actually! I’m coming to you from the distant past, as I’ll be in Wyoming digging dinosaurs by the time the fifth rolls around. That unfortunately also means no Movie Friday again this week… sort of. I’ve never claimed to be consistent, and as such, I ended up watching Nope in theaters this weekend, and may be watching the Evil Dead movies while I’m gone, so we’ll have to file those under “bonus movies” on my next Movie Friday post. We’ll call it a double double feature. With all that out of the way…
SIMULATION SWARM | Big Thief Only three posts in, and I already feel like a broken record, but let me just set the record straight and say that, for the record, I’ve been pretty hard on folk as a genre. It can be easy to baselessly pick on any genre of music, and I never want to fall into that trap, but I also don’t want to discount the fact that much of the popular folk I’ve been exposed to has already been done in a Portlandia sketch. Folk aims to take listeners back to their roots by evoking raw, human spirit with no extra trimmings— something which may seem rough around the edges, but which wears its heart for all to see, reminding us of a time when we made music communally around the campfire. Unfortunately, most people I’ve met that use the words “raw, human spirit” to describe themselves are just as much performers as the rest of their peers, and it gets real obnoxious real fast. Sometimes, too, it just makes me sad— if it’s truly honest, that much emotion can be overwhelming, which is great and healthy but can sometimes be a lot to feel all at once. But! Lo, Big Thief! My lovely girlfriend brought me to Big Thief shortly after we both found out that the other listened to Shakey Graves, another borderline-folk musician who I mentioned last week and who I will not be shutting up about this week. Unlike Shakey, the stripped-down acoustic sadness of Big Thief’s earlier albums overpowers their creativity, in my experience, and I find them difficult to listen to, but take that as the word of a sad, sensitive snowflake. That said, their newest release, Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You, has creativity in spades to burst through the melancholic folk funk (though the title certainly isn’t beating the Portlandia allegations). While “Simulation Swarm” sits between the album’s warm crests like “Certainty” and heartbreaking troughs like “Promise is a Pendulum,” it still carries a powerful emotional pulse that weaves in and out of the song’s already steady momentum. While the emotional swell is what usually draws me to a song, this one’s lyrics are what hit me first— not to get all English teacher here, but the diction is so strangely sci-fi in this song in particular that it enriches the bare (but still strong) instrumentation. I can’t pretend to understand it yet, but it’s poetry just as much as it is music, so I’d be happy to hear anyone’s interpretations of this song in the comments. Coupled with Adrianne Lenker’s haunting voice, this song really sticks with you, especially on repeat listenings.
PANSY WALTZ | Shakey Graves I’ve already gone on about Shakey Graves in extensive, maybe even lurid detail, and I could go on again, but I’ll spare both your time and mine and just link to last week’s songs in case you’re curious where to start or you’re just dying to read more. Another folky pick, “Pansy Waltz” is a great demonstration of Shakey’s range (although the unquestionably greater demonstration is his acting career, from Spy Kids 3 to Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2022), neither of which I am lying to you about). The official version, off of his folkiest (major) album And the War Came, is an energetic and bittersweet waltz with endearingly romantic lyrics, all in Shakey’s trademark voice, which I cannot sing enough praise for. However, for the 10th anniversary of his first (major album) Roll the Bones, a 2-disc version called Roll the Bones X was released on all streaming platforms that included a demo of “Pansy Waltz” that is distinctly more heartbroken. I don’t claim to know any music theory, but shifting this song into a different key and stripping back the instrumentation suddenly turns the song more desperate, lost, and almost congested— and maybe this is just that good old sensitivity rearing its head again, but the sadness even pervades the funny little noises that he sings at the end. They’re… well, I’m not even gonna try and describe the Steamboat Willie-ness that this version descends into, but it somehow stays sad, okay?! Though I prefer the key of the demo, I think that the final version matches the lyrics closer and is undeniably an easier listen if you want to stay in a good mood (or if your mood isn’t so easily swayed by music like it is for me). Either way, another incredible (pair of?) song(s) from Shakey Graves.
DARKNESS FOREVER | Soccer Mommy While a departure from Soccer Mommy’s earlier releases (which I can’t speak much on at all— my sister would know where to point you more than I would), her newest album Sometimes, Forever steers her 90s-influenced rock into a distinctly spookier direction, and if you ask me, that’s perfectly welcome. While her previous music fell in line with singer-songwriter rock like the fantastic Snail Mail and Phoebe Bridgers, many songs from this album fall more in line with the likes of some of my favorite adjacent artists like Chelsea Wolfe and (someone I haven’t admittedly listened to a lot of) Feist. Like, put this song and another of my favorites from this album, “Unholy Affliction,” next to Chelsea Wolfe’s “Carrion Flowers” or “Deranged for Rock & Roll” (another folk influence this week?) and, if you ask me, they’re a seamless fit. I only compare these because I love finding potential threads of influence, and also because it’s fun to see when songs fit together, but I don’t mean to diminish Soccer Mommy’s music on its own; rather, I think the fact that one of these songs is not like the other displays this best. While still undeniably spooky, “Darkness Forever” still bares Soccer Mommy’s sadgirl roots (oh gosh sorry there’s no good way to say that is there) in its vocals while ominously building to a bout of eerie synth screams and grinding guitar. It’s a seriously awesome song that delivers an atmosphere of disaster… but, like, in a fun way?
DAYDREAM IN BLUE | I Monster One of my pet peeves that I’m now going to zoomerly refer to as the worst thing ever is when you’ve been listening to a cool song forever, only to realize that its very foundation is just a barely-adjusted sample from another song that did 90% of the legwork. Most recently, while watching the INCREDIBLE show Severance (watch it if you’re a fan of existential corporate dystopia but you’re tired of tuning in to real life), I found myself hearing the Beta Band’s song “Squares” at the end of episode two, when in reality, my world was about to fall apart. Listen. The Beta Band is great. “Squares” is great, as is its music video. “Squares” was used incredibly in one of my favorite episodes of Legion. But “Squares” is a lie. It always has been, because it always has been “Daydream in Blue” by I Monster. It’s no wonder this was sampled— it’s a strange blend of lilting and creepy, sung repetitively in gentle voices backed by a strings section that somehow transitions into a robot-voice chorus. Like, we’re talking an iMovie filter robot voice, none of this fancy-schmancy Mark Hamill impersonator kind of software. It’s weird. Go check it out.
YOUR MIND IS ON VACATION | Mose Allison Hey, speaking of Severance, how about that fuckin’ finale, right? Maybe I’ll talk about needle-drops someday (probably when I can figure out if it’s hyphenated or not), but in the meantime, I’ll stick to cryptically saying people always use them wrong because they think they need them after Guardians of the Galaxy. Severance, for as much as I love it, did not use this song well beyond a thematic standpoint (you know, get it? Your mind is on… vacation?? and??? the show is about???? splitting your mind into work and life selves??????? get it?????????). Luckily, that doesn’t take away from the show or the song, because I came away loving both. If you thought I didn’t have the vocabulary to describe folk, then I certainly don’t for Jazz, so I’m just gonna stumble through this one. All I know is to say that this sounds like the 70s, and maybe it’s just the album cover, but it reeks of slower Schoolhouse Rock!, which is high praise as far as I’m concerned. Its restrained but complex piano (that’s just jazz, isn’t it?) is complemented by the unsubtle sass of the lyrics, which, to be fair, are sung pretty smoothly. This song is relaxing on the surface, but still deceptively demands your attention— not to mention it’s pretty funny. Not as good as Lambert, Hendricks, & Ross in my book, but I for sure enjoy it.