It wasn’t too long ago that I had all but given up on finding new music to listen to. I hated the crap that spews forth from radio speakers–the same songs every day, sometimes three or four times per day. Even songs I enjoyed were (and are) ruined by being overplayed. Almost nothing that was new was good, and I had grown weary of trying. The radio and I were through. I figured I would buy older albums from artists I already liked, and that would be the end of it.
Then, as I discussed previously, I received the magazine Paste as a gift one Christmas, and via its music sampler I encountered artists that were (1) talented, (2) unknown to me, and (3) not on the radio. In the two years or so that I’ve received Paste, I’ve stumbled upon many excellent musicians that would otherwise be absent from my life; some of the artists have become staples of my music listening. In order to share the joy, dear reader, I’ve decided to list the songs from Paste that led to the discovery of an excellent band or artist.
This is a top ten list, but it’s not the ten best songs the magazine has sent me; there are many songs J and I love that have not resulted in the purchase of an album and/or further exploration of a given artist’s music. Rather, this list consists of songs that opened doors to rooms where unfamiliar and enrapturing music was playing. Perhaps this humble list will lead you to a new band or artist to love.
10. “People Got a Lotta Nerve” by Neko Case. When Neko Case’s wan face and vermillion locks graced the cover of Paste, two things were quite clear: Paste thought she was a big deal, and I had no idea who she was. The wife and I loved “People Got a Lotta Nerve” with its playful tune and Case’s unmistakable alto belting out lyrics with imagery and wordplay. The singer is a man-eater, and she warns the boys by comparing herself to other lovable, dangerous creatures: “You know, they call them “killer” whales / But you seem surprised when it pinned you down / to the bottom of the tank / Where you can’t turn around / It took half you leg and both your lungs.” Love it. We purchased Cyclone shortly thereafter, which is a good album but is still growing on me.
9. “Violet Stars [sic] Happy Hunting!” by Janelle Monáe. Any song that begins with “I’m an alien from outer space” grabs my attention, and when the drumbeats kick in, we couldn’t help but love “Violet Stars.” The tune is off of Monáe’s LP Metropolis–The Chase Suite wherein she takes on the guise of an android who has fallen in love with a human. It’s supposed to be a concept album, but she seems to drop the persona at times. In any case, the song was so infectious that we had to get Metropolis. Monáe is definitely a talent, and she is slowly becoming a media darling to boot.
8. “All the Pretty Girls” by Fun. All right, so they have a period in their band name, and that is most definitely annoying. However, “All the Pretty Girls” is so fun, clever, and musically unique that it had to make the list. The drums, piano and guitar are great, but it’s the three-part harmony that escalates this song into greatness. The song features a narrator who can’t find anyone he wants to date when he goes out on Saturdays: “I wish all the pretty girls were shaking me down / But not you, you still wear boots and your hair is too long / And then this one doesn’t want to admit she’s falling in love / Oh come on, come on, what’s a boy to do / when all the pretty girls don’t measure to you?” If all of that weren’t enough, the song also features the epic line “please don’t make me face my generation alone.” I hear you. Aim and Ignite (the disc the song is from) is an excellent buy.
7. “Chicago” by Lucy Wainwright Roche. I enjoy this song, which is a light commentary on human behavior, but we bought her first album 8 Songs rather than 8 More on which this song appears. Roche’s soft, lilting soprano infuses her songs with life and emotion. She does a lot of covers and folk tunes on 8 Songs, and she does them all well. “Bridge,” “Next Best Western,” and “Everywhere” are standouts.
6. “My Only Offer” by Mates of State. This piano-based pop song was one of our first loves from Paste, but it took us a while to purchase Re-Arrange Us, which is a good album. Mates of State is husband-and-wife group with unpredictable music which is a delight to listen to. “My Only Offer” ended up on just about all of our playlists.
5. “Belated Promise Ring” by Iron and Wine. I don’t think I liked Iron and Wine before we received the sampler with this brilliant song; J was already a fan. For me, though, “Belated Promise Ring” was the draw to Iron and Wine’s whispery folk music. The song is about Rebecca, the quirky woman the narrator loves, and all of her eccentricities. It’s the details of the song that make it superb: “I once gave to my Rebecca a belated promise ring / And she sold it to the waitress on a train / I may find her by the phone book with a fashion magazine / She may kiss me when her girlfriends leave again.” This focus on suggestive detail would make William Carlos Williams happy, and it makes for lovely song that rewards repeat listens. We own Our Endless Numbered Days, and I’m planning on picking up more Iron and Wine soon.
4. “Dream” by Priscilla Ahn. Here is a soft, lovely song about childhood and growing up voiced by the talented Priscilla Ahn. I love the picked acoustic, the evocative strings, and slow build of the song. As good as it is, “Dream” is hardly the best song on A Good Day; Ahn is sassy in “I Don’t Think So,” sweetly shy in “Wallflower,” offbeat in “Astronaut, “and funny in “Opportunity to Cry.” I dare you to listen to her without liking her. Go ahead. Try.
3. “Broken” by Tift Merritt. Our very first issue of Paste featured this number as the first song on the sampler. A couple of notes, some rhythm guitar, the opening riff, and then, “Once you were a straight shot / A shiny quarter in a new slot / Night would keep the dreams that you’ve got / Till afternoon.” Rhyming triplets?! No one does rhyming triplets, and even fewer people do them well. Yet here is Tift Merritt, with her country influences and captivating soprano singing about what happens when life is shattered by lost love, using rhyming triplets. The best lines have to be: “So close your eyes for this long / Something’s mixed up and something’s gone / Only fingers can you count on / When one leaves two.” Brilliant. We purchased Another Country, which is a lovely album that you should check out.
2. “That Moon Song” by Gregory Alan Isakov. The music of Isakov is one of the more recent loves of our Paste life, and it is a fervent affection I assure you. As usual, it was J’s superb taste that showed me the value of Isakov’s imagistic lyrics, acoustic sound, and rough, drawling voice. The artist is a native Coloradoan, and–this may seem odd–he sounds like the mountains. His music is lovely but earthy: “You came on strong like some running wave / Your beauty left me broke and hungry / Left me begging to the birds for a bone or offering / Left me saying nothing, nothing, like I always say.” This Empty Northern Hemisphere is a superb album. True, his baritone isn’t always right on the pitch, but his descriptive lyrics more than make up for that fault.
1. “Hideaway” by The Weepies. All right, I’ve written about Deb Talan and Steve Tannen’s band quite a bit already, so I won’t spend too many words here begging you to give them a listen. “Hideaway” is characteristic of the band in its simple instrumentation and intelligent lyrics, and it led us to purchase their LP Happiness, which we adore. After that, we had to get Hideaway and then Say I Am You (my personal favorite), all of which are excellent albums. Still not sated, we downloaded The Weepies iTunes sessions LP, which features a couple of songs from Deb and Steve’s solo careers. One of these songs, “How Will He Find Me” (one of my favorites) is also on Deb Talan’s album A Bird Flies Out, which we also acquired. Now I’m salivating over the band’s new album Be My Thrill, which is out in August. In the meanwhile, I think I’ll pick up Something Burning–another of Deb’s albums–to tide me over. The Weepies are my favorite band, and I can listen to them anytime, anywhere, no matter the mood or situation. They are that good.
So there you go: some of my favorite music from our various Paste samplers. Naturally, I had to make some cuts to pare the list down. Here are the honorable mentions and their albums: The Avett Brothers, I and Love and You; State Radio, Calling All Crows; Anathallo, Canopy Glow.