This week: mostly excuses for prancing in the rain.
UNDISCOVERED FIRST | Feist The first of a few new but now familiar faces from this week’s picks (I’m still at the point in my writing career where I prioritize alliteration over comprehensibility), Feist has become an unexpected hit for me in 2023. Between discovering her from a Mastodon cover, arriving late to the party for “1234,” and branching out a bit with “A Commotion,” I’m pretty used to finding Feist beneath rocks I thought I’d already flipped, and fittingly, “Undiscovered First” is no exception. This stark, trudging song—windblown by Feist’s own signature vocals—had me swept away this week. In a five-Minute crescendo, “Undiscovered First” rises from only dull thuds on drums to defiant horns and guitar, a cinematic climax that I’ll admit had me jumping in puddles on my nighttime walks (look, it was tearing rain in town this week, and there were no cameras, and sometimes, you gotta make a big splash, okay?). More than anything, though, this ragged, belligerent beat is begging to back a slow-motion scene, and wouldn’t you know it, writer-director Noah Hawley thought the exact same thing and stole my idea… six years before I had it. That’s right, after all of my wishy-washy Dark needle drop commentary, I can finally show a fantastic example of a song symbiotically influencing a scene, and from my darlingest Legion, no less:
At this point, my Feist blindness is so transparent that I’m not even embarrassed to admit I didn’t recognize her voice after perhaps my fifth or sixth rewatch of Legion‘s fourth episode. The real surprise to me is that I hadn’t looked into this song sooner, considering how much I love this scene—in fact, I know I always talk about choking up a little bit (I honestly don’t cry all that much, I just won’t shut up about it when I do), but this simple action scene’s unabashed emotion cuts straight to my heart. Many—myself included—have noted the almost haphazard choreography here, highlighting how this climactic fight is all bark and no bite. It’s no secret to fans of Noah Hawley’s work that the man doesn’t care for action scenes—to be honest, I can’t blame him—but, strictly in technical terms, he’s executed far better fights than this. I’m almost always a believer in emotional resonance over logical consistency (I have worked long and hard to purge the CinemaSins from my body and mind), but even after muzzling the nitpicking Redditor reading over my shoulder, my suspension of disbelief falls flat in a number of moments here—how our three heroes dodge the almost comical volley of bullets from a whole firing squad, how Kerry jumps out of a second story window unarmed to take on said machine gun-toting soldiers, how these soldiers then proceed to fight her hand-to-hand with assault rifles visibly strapped to their backs. Like, I know they need to bring her in alive, but then why bring in the guns in the first place? I think what bugs me about this is that there are so many easy ways to justify these inconsistencies—I’ve long thought that Kerry, for example, should have some super-strength or durability in addition to sharing a body with her mutant twin Cary, as it would reflect her characterization as the brawn defending Cary’s brains. Like, it wouldn’t have to be anything crazy or overpowered—just one line or even one demonstration of a bullet glancing off her shoulder and leaving a little bruise would simultaneously demonstrate her capabilities and her limitations, while also giving us a reason for the soldiers from Division 3 to use a combination of guns and, in desperation, hand-to-hand. Alternatively, one malicious line from the D3 soldiers demeaning Kerry as “mutant scum” (or whatever schlocky comic book slur would make sense here) might even imply that they’re deliberately putting their guns down to toy with Kerry. I digress—the point here is that this isn’t, technically speaking, a brilliant fight scene… and yet, like, wow, right? Hawley has always described Legion as an “experience” rather than an intricate narrative, and as an experience, this scene is immaculately made. With “Undiscovered First” punching out the tempo, the song’s every emotion is mirrored by the chaos onscreen—Kerry grins almost wolfishly, a wildness in the whites of her eyes that flashes Feist’s defiance, while Cary echoes the blows of his sister’s beating with each muddied drum hit. Even if it doesn’t all make sense, it’s a perfect blossoming of this song’s soul into a whirlwind story that puts viewers through the rush and the pain of what was previously a pair of background characters, all danced to by Jemaine Clement’s chef’s-kiss air guitar from the astral plane, as though the ripples of music transcend reality itself. There’s so much personality to love here—I can’t find a place to squeeze in Cary’s similarly animal-like glance around the lab chair as he blocks a nonexistent blow, but it’s one of my favorite expression shots ever—and I think it’s this seamless synthesis of so many elements that I resonate so strongly with. Cary’s silent but unrestrained scream—maybe a war cry, maybe physical pain, or maybe the hurt of knowing his sister and best friend is being beat to a pulp—definitely tugs at the heartstrings, too, so that may have something to do with it. Either way, Legion and Feist have created something to be proud of here—and one I know I’ll watch again.
Alright, I know this one’s already lengthy, but I just want to say that Jack White’s “Sixteen Saltines” is a killer transition song after this if you’re looking for something to, like, re-energize the playlist, but I wanted today’s pairings to reflect this song’s build, so that’s the only reason it didn’t make the cut. Okay, that’s it, I swear.
Pairs Well With: “The Daily Mail” (Radiohead), “In the Woods Somewhere” (Hozier), “Brostinn Strengur” (Lay Low)
OOM SHA LA LA | Haley Heynderickx Well, well, well, look who actually came crawling back to a new and risky artist? I’m not sure I’m sad enough right now to top what I said about “The Bug Collector,” but content and clout and Max Todd Dot Com Views (Max! Todd! Dot! Com! Views!) aside, I do want to just say how much I enjoy “Oom Sha La La”—a very different kind of song (especially live). That’s right, because my girlfriend is a lovely person, she found us tickets to see Heynderickx and co. alongside the humbly wonderful Esmé Patterson and the definitely tipsy LéPonds at Denver’s Globe Hall. This isn’t a post about venues just like it isn’t about criminally underviewed FX shows, but with that disclaimer out of the way, Globe Hall seems to be like… primarily a barbecue joint? I know seedy bars and indie bands are as tight as Mike Pence and his horse, but I don’t know, this setup was totally new to me. By the way, I don’t know how much fried okra any of you expect to receive in a $6 side plate, but if you’re anything like me, expect like, three times more. Please know that I think this is a major plus, just come prepared. So anyways. “Oom Sha La La,” right? Perhaps as an antidote to everything forlorn and somber about “The Bug Collector,” “Oom Sha La La” is a simple, straightforward mantra of positivity, even if it’s clearly born from an antsy and exasperated explosion. Though the drums and almost bored recitations of “Oom Sha La La” may seem easygoing, there’s an itchiness to the lyrics that evokes greasy hair and unbrushed teeth just as much as it does the speaker’s larger existential restlessness. This itchiness stops being an undercurrent quite quickly as the disaffected “oom sha la la”s slowly start to speed up with the soft drums (which was fantastic live), and culminate in one of the most cathartic, weird screams I’ve heard that earns itself the album title: “I NEED TO START A GARDEN!” (repeat as needed). It’s a chant that reminds me so much of shaking off lockdown blues well after quarantine was lifted. Perhaps even more, it reminds me of my girlfriend—much like “The Bug Collector,” though in a very different way. Like her, this song is a reminder to the earthiness and the thriftiness that so many of us lose touch with when we dissociate from our bodies and routines during online jobs. Embrace the beauty of the tangible, of rediscovering yourself—even if you need to scream about it.
Pairs Well With: “I’m No River” (Esmé Patterson), “Queen of the Bees” (Jack White), “Iron Man” (The Cardigans covering Black Sabbath)
KAMITSUKITAI | Kaneko Ayano Uh oh! Max liked a J-pop song! I have my issues with genre in general (you know the drill), but one thing I’d say is convenient about pop is that, no matter where across the globe it hails from, it will always be predictably unpredictable. If we treat the pop genre like a biological taxonomic group (hear me out), it would be polyphyletic—in other words, a clade lumped together from totally unrelated critters with superficial similarities. So far as I can tell, “pop” works better as a modifier for music than it does a standalone genre for every single song that’s ever tried to be catchy and marketable. Every genre created under capitalism (I’m going there) will always have its pop variant—even metal, though none of the ‘heads will come clean about that. Of course, even up here on my high horse, I’m prone to forgetting pop’s many faces, so much so that I wrote off J-pop completely. In fact, if I hadn’t seen “Kaitsukitai” labeled as such, I’d have assumed it was genetically closer to 50s pop than the high-drama, high-vocals, and high-stimulation sounds I’ve heard from J-pop in the past. With hairs of barbershop quartet in the low, bopping, backup vocals, it’s undeniable that there’s something old-fashioned about “Kamitsukitai,” though it’s balanced by an almost lo-fi sensibility. While this sounds like a criticism, I really do enjoy the cute and cozy predictability of “Kamitsukitai”‘s rhythm—like so much of pop’s best, its sad, sedated lyrics are themselves balanced by its lullaby sound. Even the swelling chorus, somehow both ragged and sweet, is squeezed into a breezy indie rhythm. Much like Kero Kero Bonito’s viral lockdown hit “I’d Rather Sleep,” it’s a great little pearl of a song, though it’s far enough outside my comfort zone that I’d have to be talked into exploring more of Kaneko Ayano’s catalogue. We’ll see how well that ages, though.
Pairs Well With: “I’d Rather Sleep” (Kero Kero Bonito), “All I Want For Christmas” (Kishi Bashi covering Mariah Carey) “Mr. Blue Sky” (Electric Lights Orchestra)
IT’S ONLY LIFE | The Feelies Ironically, there’s not much to immediately feel about the flat uptightness of the Feelies, which I guess is probably the joke, knowing them (clever bastards). I suppose that’s why I’ve had such mixed responses to their music—unlike their namesake, the synapse-stimulating “Feelies” that replace movies in Aldous Huxley’s chilling Brave New World, no unambiguous, flashing feeling washes over me when I listen to a song like “It’s Only Life.” In fact, much as I’ve always loved this song’s sarcastic message and concrete imagery, it used to annoy the hell out of me—probably, I think, because of how dry and drab it felt as a third grader. I’ll never claim to know exactly what “post-punk” is, but its jangling, nervous quality can feel incessant at worst, and I still find it almost overstimulating at times, like a gnat jackknifing far too close to my ear. Don’t leave, though—I can assure you that “It’s Only Life” is nowhere near dry and drab, and not just because of some Stockholm’s Syndrome side effect of having it stuck in my head intermittently without actually hearing it for years. Like the frenetic work of Television, Brian Eno, or Nels Cline—anxious to the point of sometimes veering fully avant-garde—the skittering rhythms of The Feelies are so strictly repetitive that they create the staying power of pop without, at worst, manufacturing dopamine doses. Even with the witty and anti-nihilistic message of this song’s lyrics, I still can’t assign any particular emotion to “It’s Only Life” beyond its near-spoken sentences, and yet there’s something so captivating about such a tightly-knit jam. While a lot of this may sound backhanded, I have come to really love this prickly, circular piece, and hope I can afford the same patience to more Feelies in the future.
Pairs Well With: “See No Evil” (Television), “Needles in the Camel’s Eye” (Brian Eno), “Prove My Love” (Violent Femmes)
RACHEL’S SONG | Vangelis So, if it wasn’t clear, I’ve been soaking up the rain like some kind of roadkill earthworm lately. For those outside Colorado’s granola circle, something that becomes alarmingly clear after only weeks in the state is how much we love to make jokes about “Colorado Weather” even though, last I checked, we have the highest percentage of sunny days in the US. I know, I know, I’ve been saying “um, ackshully” since the stars tried to assign me a Scorpio instead of a Libra, but it’s only funny once before you realize it’s just “working hard or hardly working” wearing a drug rug. So, when it started pouring rain at my graduation after being in the seventies just days earlier, the fog that wasn’t snow or sun felt almost magical.
By the way, a little peak behind the Max Todd Dot Com Curtain (Max! Todd! Dot! Com! …Curtain? A little fun fact Max lore: when I was a five-year-old whose favorite color was staunchly green, my Jedi self-insert had a green astromech droid named Shade. All cool, except I was also morbidly fascinated by the prospect of droids being impermanent beings that could be reduced to lifeless machine components [I know] and the idea that it is no one ragtag group but instead a lineage of protagonists that are born and slain on the battlefield make up a continuous lattice of cyclical history in not just Star Wars, but in all mythology [I know] and so I decided that, canon, when Shade died, Jedi Max got a new astromech. Less cool, except instead of a synonym for Shade like “shadow,” I chose the synonym for Shade… Curtain? So later on in the Jedi Max canon timeline, my new astromech was… Curtain. Betcha didn’t know that, but that wasn’t even where i was going with this, so moving on…): if a song is suddenly stuck in my head and I have to think a little to figure out why, that means it is almost guaranteed to be in Songs of the Week. The Feelies did it first, and next, in the rain that preceded my classified Feist puddle-jumping, I suddenly found myself looping an unused track from Vangelis’s iconic Blade Runner score, “Rachel’s Song”—weird, considering the original Blade Runner is sort of blacklisted for me. I know, I know, but watch the Pop Culture Detective video on belligerent romance in Harrison Ford movies and come back when you’ve learned about consent. It’s okay, I still adore Denis Villeneuve’s 2049, I’m not totally uncultured. No matter what might be royally dated about Ridley Scott’s original film or the Philip K. Dick novel upon which it was based, Blade Runner‘s influence and iconicity cannot be ignored, thanks to Vangelis’s score in no small part. That magical ethereality of the rain on a day where I was officially untethered from a system I’d spent my life working through was perfectly captured in the levitating sounds of “Rachel’s Song.” The heavy synths, combined with Mary Hopkin’s incredible voice evoking the wavering of a theremin, seem both accidentally and deliberately dated, but this track somehow soars despite skimming so close to cheesiness. Though I doubt I’ll ever be able to recreate that day’s inimitable atmosphere, I know I’ll be returning to “Rachel’s Song” again and again for the mystique it exudes no matter its context.
Pairs Well With: “2049” (Hans Zimmer & Benjamin Wallfisch), “Waves” (Carolina Eyck & Eversines), “Crash Site” (Simon Chylinski)
Who better to illustrate the Sandman 30th Anniversary covers than creepy king Dave McKean?? I’ve only recently started to dive into Neil Gaiman’s, frankly, literary masterpiece The Sandman, which, with all due respect to previous illustrators, has yet to live up to the mythic scale that these stories otherwise effortlessly occupy. Something feels so comic book-y about those early issues despite being wildly different from anything else on shelves at the time, and I think McKean’s incredible art brings Morpheus and his Geiger-esque helm the presence it deserves. I really can’t get enough of all the folds in his cloak, either.
totally forgot about that legion scene—and so well said on your part!! I’ll have to check out oom sha la la too, thank you!
Never forget a legion scene
hey man I haven’t rewatched it as many times as you give me some slack 😭
Thank you for that Legion scene! I love that show. Solid song too. I also like that Oom song, thanks.
Me too, I always come back to it. Good stuff.
love that sandman cover so much!
Me too, it gets better every time I look back!