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About Zoe Cordes Selbin

Zoe Knows Instrumentals

September 20, 2013

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Have you ever realized that there were just no words? That no matter how many lyric booklets you combed through, how many lyrics websites you clicked on, sing alongs you sang, there just weren’t any lyrics that explained how you felt?

I think that we’ve all been there, and that’s why instrumental music plays such an important role in my life. Sometimes you need to be left alone with your thoughts to understand your thoughts. Instrumental music can help me sort things out. The instruments may have a very specific “feel” to them, but the lack of specific words is what makes these songs so easy to fit to your needs. Unsurprisingly, some of these songs are from movie soundtracks, so you may have already heard them and not realized it. I fear trying to write about instrumental music in any sensible way might be a bit of a challenge for me.

However, I will say this; you will see themes in these songs. There will be a lot of piano. Some of them fall into the category of quieter, more morose — I find that I am most drawn to instrumental music on my more challenging days. However, To West Texas gives me more hope than any song I’ve ever heard. I’ve always imagined that Gymnopédies is what museums sound like at night after everyone has left. The upbeat, fast-paced Music For a Found Harmonium (points if you know which movie the song is from) never fails to make me smile.

The violin in Movement IV makes my heart race. Nick & Norah’s Theme is the perfect auditory representation of the stomach-butterflies of a crush. La Valse D’Amelie feels like the wonderment of fast city streets. Divisondero feels like meeting an old friend for coffee the first time in years. There Is No Goodbye, Chunky Rice (an excellent companion to an amazing graphic novel) expresses the pain and release of the goodbye that it’s protagonist is trying so hard to deny.

Variation XIV is off of an album I’ve written about many times, and every single song on that record sounds like a waterfall to me. And I had to return to Yann Tiersen once again, because Comptine might truly be the ultimate song about sorrow. And yet – no instrumental song or album has touched me more than the grandness, the all-encompassing, the unspoken words of Sufjan. And thus, In The Countenance of Kings must close us out.

:Explosions In The Sky – To West Texas:
:Erik Satie – Gymnopedies-No 2. Lent et Triste:
:Patrick Street – Music For a Found Harmonium:
:Graham Reynolds – Movement IV – Late at Night-The Astronomer:
:Mark Mothersbaugh – Nick And Norah’s Theme:
:Yann Tiersen – La Valse D’Amelie (Orchestral Version):
:Balmorhea – Divisondero:
:Bill LePage – Finale – There is No Good-bye, Chunky Rice:
:d’Eon – Variation XIV:
:Yann Tiersen – Comptine D’un Autre Ete – l’Apres Midi:
:Sufjan Stevens – Movement I – In the Countenance of Kings:

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Zoe Knows The Ladies

August 16, 2013

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If there’s one thing I love, it’s ladies who rock. Trying to pare down a list of my favorite female vocalists was extremely painful, but I think I’ve put together a solid list. This doesn’t even count the incredible ladies of hip-hop and straight up pop/dance, although some of these women veer into the pop/pop-rock category. It’s all up for discussion – but what isn’t is that these women have some PIPES.

:Joan Jett - Bad Reputation:  How could you not start it off with the woman with the most ‘tude in the 50 states? Classic, pure rock n roll, with a devil may care attitude to match.

:Cults – You Know What I Mean:  Speaking of vintage, that’s exactly Cults’ sound. While they may be relative newcomers, their songs are classic. While the tunes are deceptively sweet, take a closer listen to some of the lyrics.

:Ida Maria - Oh My God:  This track is explosively awesome. The frantic beat and the badass bursts of guitar will keep this fast paced song in your head for weeks.

:Cat Power - Sea Of Love:  While she certainly has much more rockin’ songs, I can’t help but always come back to this one. It’s ethereal and haunting, gorgeous and simple. I challenge you not to tear up.

:Tegan And Sara – Closer:. A list of rockin’ women would never be complete without the most dynamic of duos. This track has some fun synth lines, and sends shivers down your spine with the memories of those bubbly young crushes we’ve all had.

:Lana Del Rey - Gods And Monsters:  Sorry I’m not sorry. While I’m well aware that Lana Del Rey is essentially one big marketing ploy, she’s a successful one. I’m buying in, because her sultry voice is incredible, and whoever writes her songs is a genius.

:Garbage - Only Happy When It Rains:  Speaking of moody women, Garbage always makes my day. Gotta respect the old school stuff, a celebration of being the weird girl, back before it was cool to be a quirky manic pixie dream girl.

:Lily Allen – LDN:  Zoe, you say. Stop right here. You’ve already been pushing the envelope. But Lily Allen? Surely she cannot be classified as rockin’. And yet I disagree wholeheartedly – this song reminds me so much of Blondie. All the cool horns and her biting sarcasm – that’s some weird experimental punk stuff right there. Although punk has never sounded quite this sunny …

:Rilo Kiley - Spectacular Views:  Jenny Lewis breaks my heart time and time again. Somehow a normal rock song about a failing relationship gains so much more depth with her emotional voice. There are no bad words for the coast today …

:Patti Smith - Pissing In A River:  The truth is, while I love all the other songs on this list, this has to be the crown jewel. This song is Patti in a way we rarely see her – vulnerable. Yes, her signature bite is there, but she’s also at the end of her rope, and dramatic piano helps accentuate her angst. Every young woman should own a copy of this song.

:Dum Dum Girls - Always Looking:  If I had to name a successor to the Joan Jett throne, I’d nominate these ladies. Their sass is out of bounds, and their guitars are sharp. IF you’ve ever heard someone say women aren’t talented musicians, I recommend just rolling your eyes and turning a Dum Dum Girls record on.

:The Hush Sound - Break The Sky:  RIP The Hush Sound. Consistently incredible vocals + excellent pop rock. This is another one in the heartbreaker category, but it’s the declaration of independence that makes it standout.

:Blondie - Heart Of Glass:  Can’t argue with the most classic of all classics. Her dreamy voice packs a punch and somehow she sounds so perfectly bored throughout the entire thing.

:CSS - Left Behind:  The funny thing about CSS is that I’m not a giant fan of the band, but I’m absolutely obsessed with this song. There’s something so perfect about it – the straight up rockin’ synth, her accent, the fact that a million pounds wouldn’t even tempt her to look into his face. It’s female badassery at its finest.

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Zoe Knows Quiet Contemplation

July 19, 2013

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Have you ever had a heart to heart with your dearest friends? I am coming off of a string of those. It’s probably a byproduct of being 20, but soul-searching is on my mind lately. I’ve been delving into the last 5 years of my dating history (yeah, I’m a baby, get over it) which has led to a lot of, wait for it, quiet contemplation. And for me, quiet contemplation soundtracks, especially when it comes to making sense of past relationships, are not about love songs, or angry songs. They are about songs, on both sides of the spectrum, that have a certain yearning. The expression of that certain thing that is just missing. So I present to you, my favorite songs to quietly contemplate to.

He War starts us off with a bit of a vindictive slant; it’s good to get angry sometimes, and even the guitars sound snarky. Then, The Magnetic Fields chill us out with manic confusion – this is the 7″ version of I Don’t Believe You, which I’ve come to love more than the original. I think that the bleeps and bloops in the background are much better suited to the lyrical questioning of love. But don’t let these songs lull you into a lighthearted state–The National are here to bring us back down to cold reality. I really could have just made the playlist this song 15 times over, it’s so perfect for the theme.

Why? are my go to for such times; even their name is an existential crisis. This ethereal tune captivates me because he simultaneously seems to be in love and care less about the same person, a state I’ve found myself in many times. Also, “you’re the only proper noun I need” is one of my all time favorite lines, ever. But if we’re talking about yearning, Death Cab For Cutie has the market cornered. Transatlanticism consistently breaks my heart every single time; the soft, piano driven sounds crescendoing into Gibbard’s pleas never get old.

But if we’re going Transatlantic, we’re gonna fly over some oceans. Best Coast, back in their fuzzy days, have many a song about ex-boyfriends, but I like this one because it’s usefully vague – you can use it for any brand of angst. And if you’re feeling angsty, then Father John Misty is right there with you–he opens the song with “Oh, pour me another drink and punch me in the face.” This song was sort of my theme for a while, and I don’t even drink. But perhaps my love for these song stems more from the simple acoustic backbone, made even more beautiful by symphonic flourishes.

I once listened to this Deerhunter song over a car stereo while the sun rose, and that’s a pretty ideal environment for the spacey sounds. This song sounds how I imagine it feels to float on a cloud. But don’t fall asleep yet — because Delta Spirit still have to deliver the ultimate sassy kiss-off. While this might be a bit too rambunctious for quiet contemplation, I think it still qualifies because the yearning leans towards the extreme. And besides, quiet sounds are best left to Joanna Newsom, the woman who can always make so much out of so few sounds. Another excellently vague song that can you make you feel a range of emotions; who knew harps were so deep?

I hope your heart hasn’t healed yet, cause Jens Lekman is about to break it again, straight up. “Mama told me I was born a liar / Mama told me I was born with a heart to rely on” and the piano line will probably haunt me till the end of days. Speaking of haunting, I think this Wilco tune has etched every note of itself into my heart. I don’t even entirely understand what this song is about, I just know that the quiet words and simple instrumentation make this one ideal for aimless window-gazing and life questioning. And there’s something just so comforting about Jeff Tweedy’s voice.

But at the end of the day, we can’t use others emotions and words as a crutch. So I find myself returning to an old favorite; Joe Hisaishi’s Summer, a instrumental tune from the Kikujiro movie. Ironically, I’ll always associate this song with the winter of my senior year of high school, when I first heard it, but despite seasonal confusion, the power of the song will never wane. The ups and downs of the song can be interpreted however you wish; it’s time to turn that contemplation into conclusions.

:Cat Power – He War:
:The Magnetic Fields – I Don’t Believe You (7″ Version):
:The National – This Is The Last Time:
:Why? – Simeon’s Dilemma:
:Death Cab For Cutie – Transatlanticism:
:Best Coast – Over The Ocean:
:Father John Misty – Nancy From Now On:
:Deerhunter – Helicopter:
:Delta Spirit – California:
:Joanna Newsom – Bridges & Balloons:
:Jens Lekman – Jens Lekman’s Farewell Song To Rocky Dennis:
:Wilco – One Sunday Morning (Song For Jane Smiley’s Boyfriend):
:Joe Hisaishi – Summer:

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Zoe Knows Life

June 21, 2013

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“Life.” Sometimes life is great; like when Thundercloud Subs opens up just a few blocks away and you eat delicious avocado sandwiches. Sometimes like is rough; like when the Spurs lose and you see Tim Duncan’s sad, sad face. It’s been a week of highs and lows; it’s been a week of saying life in that way so that you can just hear the quotation marks around it. Life is, unsurprisingly, a popular song topic, so here I have compiled a playlist of songs so varied, yet all united by their use of life … it’s a mix that can only be called “Life.”

:Okkervil River – Your Past Life As A Blast:  An excellent, upbeat tune from Austin’s golden boys. Okkervil is known for their incredible lyrical storytelling, and this is a great example – and includes one of my all time favorite lyrics “cause no one, no one is gonna stop me from loving my brother, not even my brother.” If you’ve ever been close with a sibling, then you know that sentiment exactly.

Life Lyric: “Your life, back in a banner year”

:The Sounds – Mine For Life:  A selection from the Swedes’ debut album; a perfect slice of early/mid 2000s indie rock. I often find myself drawing parallels to them and Metric in terms of sound and general feel. Powerful female vocals + synth riffs = a win in my book.

Life Lyric: “No, I could never leave you, cause you are mine for life”

:Morrissey – Sing Your Life:  How could I assemble a playlist without King Moz? His dark, moody voice contrasts with the jumpy, light nature of the song. A wonderful song to feel tragically sarcastic to…

Life Lyric: “Sing your life / All the things that you love / And the things you loathe”

:Jens Lekman – It Was A Strange Time In My Life:  There’s no one quite like Jens Lekman. His unique use of sampling in indie pop music is unmatched and brilliant. This is one of his quieter, more contemplative songs, at times going with a solo vocal track. Lyrically, Jens also has a gift for the cinematic, and his memories of age 17 are poignant and fun.

Life Lyric: “I turned 17 and I swore to never to speak a word again / But then someone came along and ruined everything / It was a strange time in my life”

:Kanye West – Good Life:  Pure pop rap fun for days with the windows down and nights shaking booty in the club. Nothing more, nothing less.

Life Lyric: “Welcome to the good life”

:Kurt Vile – Life’s A Beach:  I think I’ve forced everyone in my life to listen to this song at least a million times. It’s the perfect laid back strung out garage rock song. Vile’s voice feels like that perfectly torn pair of vintage Levi’s, and the guitar is that plain white fruit of the loom 5 pack t shirt that fits with it.

Life Lyric: “I’m so out of reach / Life’s a beach”

:John Ralston – Haven’t Missed You All My Life:  Well if you thought I could do a playlist without a song that features strings, you’d be incorrect. Ralston’s intentionally quiet, understated vocals are sweetly complimented by a lush range of instruments. This song feels like it could (and should) play in the background of many, many movie scenes — I feel epic whenever I listen to it.

Life Lyric: “And I was never scared / And I haven’t missed you all my life”

:Best Coast – My Life:  The first time I heard this song is the first time I realized that Bethany Cosentino had really matured on Best Coast’s sophomore album. If you are a young woman, especially a young woman who travels a lot and/or has romance problems, this song is probably your life – I know I’ve certainly felt very connected to this song. I love that it’s so simple musically, but so powerful lyrically. And just as it gets complex, it finishes out, leaving you with no one to confront but yourself.

Life Lyric: “My mom was right / I don’t wanna die / I wanna live my life”

:R.E.M. – Imitation Of Life:  Lest you get too positive, R.E.M. is here to do what they do best; bring everyone down, but in a demure and beautiful way. I first came to this song via the music video, a frequent topic of music trivia (it’s the same 20 seconds over and over!), but the real magic lays in the quiet strings and the line “like a Friday fashion show teenager / freezing in the corner / trying to look like you don’t try” thus encompassing the entire adolescent experience in one turn of phrase. If you wanna zone out on the words, just enjoy the typical jangly R.E.M. guitars.

Life Lyric: “Water hyacinth / Named by a poet / Imitation of life”

:Bright Eyes – First Day of My Life:  I know it’s cliche, but I have a hard time not crying every time I hear this song. It’s so devastatingly beautiful! Oberst bears his heart, knows he’s winning tons of hearts in the process, but manages to back up the goo with a strong, simple tune. If you don’t tear up the first time you hear this, you probably don’t want to carry on a conversation with me.

Life Lyric: “This is the first day of my life”

:The Beatles – A Day In The Life:  Finishing out strong with a classic. I almost left this off because it seemed too blatantly obvious, but it’s actually one of two Beatles songs that I keep in my music library. Yes, I’m not a big Beatles fan. However, there’s something about this song that I really enjoy, most due to the absurd tune change around 2:15. It’s really two songs in one; and I’m very partial to the second second. The first half is a bit overdramatic (yes I realize I just over-dramatically proclaimed my love for Bright Eyes, but that’s a blog, not a song) but the second song hits all the right notes and then devolves into strangeness…just like life. And there it is, folks.

Life Lyric: This song does not include the word life in it … typical contrary Beatles.

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Zoe Knows Party Jams

May 10, 2013

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FINALS. By the time you read this, I’ll be in my last final. And as of that, I’ll be halfway done with college–whoa. So on the last two years, I’ve gotten pretty good at the post-finals triumphant jams. It’s pretty pop-heavy, but I think a good collegiate celebration playlist should include some booty shaking.

We start and end with Biggie, because he always seems to do the triumphant vibe so well. While Biggie begins the party (and bullshit) with his tales of honeys and hard life, Miley Cyrus chimes in with her own catchy requests to get the party going … plus this song is a more credible way to enjoy the guilty pleasure that is Party In The USA. Next up, perhaps the polar opposite of Ms. Cyrus, M.I.A. comes in to remind you that now that your finals are over, it’s time to live a little faster. I don’t think I’ve ever met a woman that didn’t feel badass while listening to this song. Can you hang with M.I.A.? Probably not, but it’s fun to pretend with this song anyway.

Then we go decidedly more pop-rock with Passion Pit keep that sickly sweet melody that makes you wanna fist pump like it’s ACL 2009 all over again. The chorus is great for screaming along to, and perhaps a walk would be nice to relax after all that studying. But lest you get too calm, prepare for Flo Rida to bring you back to party central. While he may not be known as a musical genius, I think Flo Rida has been making some of the best mindlessly enjoyable pop music my generation has seen. And if you’re looking to let some good times roll, this guy has got you.

But then indie rock pops its cute little head in for a cameo via The New Pornographers. This super cute and upbeat song just makes me wanna jump around. Plus you can feel pretty cool singing along “it was crime at the time but the laws have changed now.” Even if you’ve never committed a crime, just roll with it. Because you know who rolls with it? Kanye. And yeah, when finals are done, you probably do feel like you’ve touched the sky. Because you are extra fly. And truly, copping the horns from Curtis Mayfield’s Move On Up just may be the best thing Kanye West ever did.

Another fist pumper / party jumper comes courtesy of Grouplove. The cuteness of a crush is relived through this track, which sounds like it was definitely made with reality TV kissing montages in mind. And I do mean that in the best possible way. Of course, no college playlist would be complete without THE song of the moment, Daft Punk’s Get Lucky. I’m pretty sure they composed this song with college parties in mind, and for good reason–it’s the weekend anthem. But guess what–it’s summer now. So every day is like a weekend. So LET’S DANCE ALL NIGHT TO DAFT PUNK.

While “party jamz” and “Arcade Fire” may not seem synonymous, I beg to differ. Because now you’ve danced for a while. And it’s time for that 1:30am Whataburger run for a HBCB (Honey Butter Chicken Biscuit for the sadly uninitiated). And there is probably nothing greater than rolling your windows down and blasting this song. And that total arrogance of being young is beautifully reflected– cause us kids, we know the place, where no cars go (HEY!). And of course, we full circle with Biggie. Because damn, Cali is a great place. And even if you’re not actually going back there, or have ever been there, you can appreciate the sentiments, and the badass steel drums that kind of make you feel like a hyphy Little Mermaid. I’m going back, back to Texas?

:Notorious B.I.G. vs Miley Cyrus – Party and Bullshit In The USA:
:M.I.A. – Bad Girls:
:Passion Pit – Take A Walk:
:Flo Rida –  Let It Roll:
:The New Pornographers – The Laws Have Changed:
:Kanye West – Touch The Sky:
:Grouplove – Tongue Tied:
:Daft Punk – Get Lucky (Radio Edit Featuring Pharrell Williams):
:The Arcade Fire – No Cars Go:
:Notorious B.I.G. –  Going Back to Cali (Viceroy Jet Life Remix):

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Zoe Knows Sleepy Songs

March 22, 2013

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I’m in college, so I just don’t sleep. I mean, technically I sleep. But it doesn’t happen often enough. I used to need complete silence to sleep, but a year and a half stint living in West Campus has made my ideal sleeping conditions involve the soft garbled sounds of partying. So I sometimes I fall asleep to songs, just to create some sound, but there’s an art to sleepy songs. They need to be appropriately soft and lovely.

See, you start off by brushing your teeth to a song that’s soft but still has some pump up moments so that you can stay awake for hygiene. WHY’s Against Me is the perfect track–plus it gives you intense life questions to ponder while you sleep. John Ralston transitions you into PJs–an upbeat song but still a sleepy vibe. Then, you’ll finally crawl into bed, so we enter into prime sleepy songs with ultra-dreamy Slipaway, all the twinkly bits encouraging you to turn the lights off.

Yo La Tengo covers Daniel Johnston’s Speeding Motorcycle = sleep heaven. The simple solo guitar is comfortable and the raw honesty of the song will put you at ease. I had to do a shout out to dearly departed Jason Molina, and surely his Two Blue Lights will bring you to REM sleep. The dual male-female vocals are soothing and the harmony is incredible.

Once you’re in the REM state, you want to ensure excellent dreams. So Rufus Wainright will remind you of your past loves. There’s an extremely soothing quality to piano that makes this song a shoo-in for sleepy playlists. But then maybe you’re having a bad dream, so you need Iron and Wine to calm you down. Sam Beam’s voice could probably stop wars with it’s rich qualities. And yet, no one could get more classic than The Only Living Boy In New York. By this time, you’re way asleep, so maybe you’re not consciously aware. But your subconscious will appreciate the chill vibes, and after all, you really DO get all the news you need from the weather report.

The Strokes aren’t usually known for being a sleepy band, but this demo of You Only Live Once, titled I’ll Try Anything Once, is an excellent sleepy song. Julian Casablancas’s voice has a really careless vibe that says “hey. you could sleep. you could not sleep. it’s cool. you do you.” But now, you’re getting close to the end of the night. The sun is rising, and waking up is nearing. Transition with a 12 minute Wilco track, because is there anything better to wake up to? While 12 minutes might seem indulgent, Tweedy and Co fill every minute with the most excellent of sounds. And finally, if you’re anything like me, you’ll wake up a little grumpy. Mornings are not my time. But mornings can become my time, when I wake up to the sweet sounds of d’Eon reconfiguring Blink-182. Variation V takes the main riff of What’s My Age again and somehow turns it into the prettiest classical music I have ever heard.

GOOD MORNING!

:Why? – Against Me:
:John Ralston – I Guess I Wasted My Summer Now:
:Some Say Leland – Slipaway:
:Yo La Tengo – Speeding Motorcycle:
:Songs Ohia – Two Blue Lights:
:Rufus Wainwright – The Art Teacher:
:Iron And Wine – God Made The Automobile:
:Simon And Garfunkel – The Only Living Boy In New York:
:The Strokes – I’ll Try Anything Once (You Only Live Once Demo):
:Wilco – One Sunday Morning (Song For Jane Smiley’s Boyfriend):
:d’Eon – Variation V:

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Zoe Knows Love Songs

February 15, 2013

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Oh, my loves, it is the month of love, and I do love love! I am not one of the bitter single people; no, I relish the chance to listen to my favorite love songs and stuff myself silly with all manners of candy. So I present to you, my wonderful valentines playlist. Or it could be a galentines playlist, or a guyentines playlist. It’s always great to bro down with some love songs, right?

You have to start off with the classic; God Only Knows what we’d do without the Beach Boys. Then Ben Gibbard comes to win our hearts; The Postal Service is known for their sad songs, yet here Gibbard delivers a sweet serenade to a lucky someone. Not indie enough for you? Real Estate is here to bring that sunny Beach Boys vibe right back. But soaring melodies wouldn’t be complete without their kings, Wilco. Few Wilco songs are as beautiful as California Stars, which benefits from Billy Bragg joining in. California Stars is a quilt pattern, but it’s also a lovely song for those who left their heart on the West Coast.

But just as you feel like snuggling up with a lover or Netflix in a big quilt, in comes Andrew Bird to mess with your head. His signature strings don’t just pull at your heart, but also remind you that you shouldn’t listen to the lyrics too closely, lest you question why he wants to swap your blood with formaldehyde. But I want to get even cheesier. I want to tap into chocolate fountains flanked with baby cupids. So where do I run? To R.E.M., of course, who deliver a piano line so deeply touching that it’s almost sweeter than the lyrics themselves. But would I be a real Texas girl if I didn’t pledge my heart to The Old 97s? Although Rhett might be chasing after some Buick City girl, surely Texas is his real valentine.

No love list would be complete without some vintage charm, compliments of the gentlemen of the Reflections. These gentlemen just want to find a job to take you datin’ at the drive in, and will probably ask your father for your hand in marriage after 10 chaste dates. I love it!! Continuing the oldies trend, Paul Simon gives us a silly, carefree song that can be used for ro or bro mance. I’ve spent many a teenaged sleepover dancing around to this song. And finishing out our well-aged trifecta, the Everly Brothers sing to someone who may or may not be an imaginary girlfriend. Their voices sound as young and sweet as a box of Russell Stover’s crème mix.

But snapping us back into the rougher side of young love is the Arcade Fire’s masterpiece of teenage love, all crawling through windows and intense emotions. However, would love be love without the sexier side? And who does sexier side better than Justin Timberlake himself? If you haven’t been seduced by JT by the end of this song, you may not be human. Or maybe you’re under the influence of Strange Powers. A true Stephin Merrit accomplishment, this song recalls the early days of a relationship when kisses can feel like lightening bolts to the soul.

Cat Power takes us to a softer level with Sea Of Love, where she beckons her beloved to come away with her. It’s really just a set up to get you ready for the ultimate ballad—who better to finish us out than Elton John. Maybe it’s just because I always think of that great scene in Almost Famous, but there is something so magical to me about Tiny Dancer. Hold me closer, tiny Side One Track One readers.

:The Beach Boys – God Only Knows:
:The Postal Service – We Will Become Silhouettes:
:Real Estate – It’s Real:
:Wilco – California Stars (Featuring Billy Bragg):
:Andrew Bird – Fake Palindromes:
:REM – At My Most Beautiful:
:The Old 97s – Buick City Complex:
:Reflections – (Just Like) Romeo and Juliet:
:Paul Simon – You Can Call Me Al:
:Everly Brothers – All I Have To Do Is Dream:
:The Arcade Fire – Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels):
:Justin Timberlake – My Love (Featuring T.I.):
:The Magnetic Fields – Strange Powers:
:Cat Power – Sea Of Love:
:Elton John – Tiny Dancer:

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Zoe Knows Infinitely Sad Songs

January 18, 2013

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There are few things more universal than sadness. If, you’re human, you’ve been sad, and chances are that you’ve got a song to go along or help you through it. I’m so enchanted by the concept of excellently sad mixes, because when I am sad, I do not want to be cheered up. No, I am a deep wallow-er. I want to lie alone in my bed eating and immersing myself in the saddest possible songs. It was in this vein that, years ago, I made The Infinite Sadness Mix. I’ve been reworking the mix a lot over the years, adding and subtracting songs as my music tastes have changed, but the basic concept stays the same; what do I want to listen to when I am at my worst?

I like this mix as an introduction to my new (!) monthly mix feature, because it showcases my “emo” roots. I’m sure I’ll produce many proper indie rock mixes, but I like throwing in reminders here and there that my little heart still beats like a 2003 skate and surf teenybopper. Yet, the majority is still “credible”; although I suppose Modest Mouse’s stint in the Top 40 doesn’t make them a poster boy. But the melancholy tone that their initial horn riff sets is almost as heart-lurching as the lyrics “If the world’s at large, why should I remain?”

The National make an appearance, of course, although it was hard to narrow it down to one track since they are basically the crown princes of sadness. But Green Gloves go beyond the obvious angst of newer offerings (such as High Violet’s soul crushers), and explores alienation. Stars show up twice, thanks to their paired songs that play so well together. You get the first blow; then, just when you’ve forgotten, they pop back up with further tales of relationship horror. And only a couple songs in, we get that throwback emo style started with Dashboard Confessional–I don’t know how people have a proper cry without them, anyway.

Dear & The Headlights and Manchester Orchestra have the same depraved vibe, both seeming to beg to women in their lives for some sort of salvation. Bon Iver shows up between the two of them to do his electronic thing–remember that phase?!–which is used to great dramatic effect in this eerie track. About halfway through the mix, Yann Tiersen shows up for the first time, and then finishes things out, both times with instrumental tracks. Both tracks are taken from the soundtrack to Amelie, and I love them for their ability to communicate such intense ennui via the piano. Ben Gibbard’s The Postal Service side project was basically a receptacle for all his leftover misery; the drawn out beat of this song perfectly communicates the numbed brain. The inclusion of Something Corporate will probably provoke more than a few laughs, but Andrew McMahon is one musician I have stood by for 10 years and counting. This isn’t even his best sad track; but I think it’s one that captures teenage angst so perfectly. This song was on repeat during a break up at age 16, so that should tell you something about the mindset you’ll want going in.

And for all you total weirdos who prefer to listen to happy music when you’re sad (psh, what’s cheering up even mean), I’ve included a bonus track that you can tack on for a more hopeful ending.

:Modest Mouse – World At Large (Horn Intro Version):
:The National – Green Gloves:
:Stars – Your Ex-Lover Is Dead:
:Dashboard Confessional – So Long, So Long:
:Dear And The Headlights – Mother Make Me Golden:
:Bon Iver – Woods:
:Yann Tiersen – Le Moulin:
:Manchester Orchestra – Where Have You Been?:
:The Postal Service – The District Sleeps Alone Tonight:
:Something Corporate – Walking By:
:Stars – One More Night (Your Ex-Lover Remains Dead):
:Yann Tiersen – Comptine D’un Autre Ete: l’Apres Midi:
:Regina Spektor – Eet:

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Zoe’s Top 2012 Release

December 13, 2012

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See, here’s the thing. I am consistently several years behind on music. I try keeping up, but I never seem to like any albums until they have been out for a long time. And I tried explaining this to John; I tried telling him that the only things I listened to this year were Patti Smith and Black Flag and Nicki Minaj.

And I went to this Sufjan Christmas show at Emo’s, and it was amazing, and … well … his latest Christmas collection is made up of 5 EPs. And honestly, they are probably my top 5 albums of 2012. I know this may seem like cheating, but otherwise I don’t really have 5 albums that I have consistently listened to this year that were released this year. So, here it goes:

5. Let It Snow: Songs For Christmas, Vol. IX

It feels like the sappy ending to a 1950s movie when Sufjan tells us that I’ll Be Home For Christmas in a grandly orchestrated way. Cat Martino’s crystal clear voice is put to excellent use on The Sleigh In The Moon, which feels like a floating trip to the great evergreens above, yet somehow retains an oddly traditional sound. Martino pops up again for a wonderful Ave Maria that stays largely true to the original spirit. Sleigh Ride starts out almost country, but devolves once again into an odd electronic medley. There are definite weak points on this album, but X-Mas Spirit Catcher is not one of them; although I would like it better with slightly different percussion, it feels very tradition Sufjan, and the repetitive and layered vocals towards the end make the listener feel as if they are getting wrapped up in a holiday present.

:Sufjan Stevens – X-Mas Spirit Catcher:

4. I Am Santa’s Helper: Songs For Christmas, Vol. VII

I don’t usually associate Christmas and jungles, but somehow Sufjan’s track Christmas Woman makes me feel like Santa is salsa-ing through the Amazon. It’s a dance party itself. Sufjan does a pretty incredible chorale style Break Forth O Beauteous Heavenly Light. Happy Family Christmas is another silly dance jam that almost seems better suited to a kids album, and then Jingle Bells actually utilizes children, but also gets a bit of a rock n roll edge. The track list for this one is by far the longest, but other favorites include Behold The Birth Of Man, The Face Of Glory, and Mysteries Of The Christmas Mist, two instrumentals that feel nothing short of ethereal. The record ends with Even The Earth Will Perish And The Universe Give Way, another instrumental that sounds like what I imagine holding the moon would feel like.

:Sufjan Stevens – Mysteries Of The Christmas Mist:

3. Christmas Infinity Voyage: Songs For Christmas, Vol. VIII

Sufjan’s reworked Angels We Have Heard On High starts the album off on a brilliant foot. That man uses banjos to make the most wondrous sounds! This album features Sufjan’s first dips into synth jams, leading with one of the weirdest moments of the album, the intensely electronic Do You Hear What I Hear?, that feels almost Daft Punk. Christmas In The Room is a love song that has brought me to tears; a quiet declaration of adoration that provides gems like “I’ll dance with you / I’ll laugh with you / Until it’s Christmas in the room.” An excellent Prince cover of Alphabet Street lends a fun vibe for a moment, but the somber-then-odd typical Sufjan vibe closes out the EP with the 15 minute long The Child With The Star On His Head. The electronic spike may turn some off midway through, but it’s worth the continued listen to ride the roller coaster of sounds that entails.

:Sufjan Stevens – Christmas In The Room:

2. Christmas Unicorn: Songs For Christmas, Vol. X

Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas has never sounded so stoner, but in an excellent, laid back way. The arrangement of Up On The Housetop seems almost hip-hop, but in a way that is more fun than cheesy. Angels We Have Heard On High reappears (it’s on an earlier EP that I have below since it’s ranked higher in my mind), this time as an instrumental that does not impress as much. Happy Karma Christmas is a slow burner that grows on one after multiple listens, and would not have seemed out of place on Age of Adz. The majority of the album isn’t that remarkable, but the last two songs are the saving grace. Justice Delivers Its Gift is an incredibly beautiful track, both instrumentally and lyrically. The entire song feels like a Christmas dream, a deep questioning from Sufjan that culminates in a repeated Silver and Gold; and all the sudden that phrase is heavy with meaning. Christmas Unicorn, on the other hand, is one big old silly love fest, with some gentle ribbing towards America and religion. It’s an anthem for my generation; although it harkens back to an older generations with the absolutely inspired jaunt into Joy Division’s Love Will Tear Us Apart. I will be extremely disappointed if this song is not in the alternative Christmas canon in ten years, a la Christmas In Hollis.

:Sufjan Stevens – Justice Delivers Its Gift:

1. Gloria: Songs For Christmas, Vol. VI

This is the first EP of the collection, and it starts off with a fairly traditional rendition of classic Christmas carol Silent Night. Immediately after, things get kicked into Sufjan style with the upbeat, tongue in cheek standout track Lumberjack Christmas / No One Can Save You From Christmases Past. But I think my favorite is the seven-minute Barcarola (You Must Be A Christmas Tree), which feels like it could have been at home on Sufjan’s record Avalanche. Indeed, the opening vocals of “ohh” immediately reminded me of the beginning of Sleeping Bear, Sault Saint Marie. It’s a lazy, simple beginning that showcases Sufjan’s incredibly emotive vocals. Further instrumentation comes in for a minstrel-ish touch, and he delivers perhaps my favorite line of the entire collection; “You must be a Christmas tree / You light up the room.”

:Sufjan Stevens – Barcarola (You Must Be A Christmas Tree):

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The Cure, Frank Sinatra, Daft Punk (Zoe)

November 7, 2012

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Last night was a nail biter till the end. But I ended up celebrating; and even if you didn’t hopefully you could at least find a local race to enjoy. So, since I tend to lean towards the lists, here are my favorite songs to celebrate to.

:The Cure – Just Like Heaven:  Can you find a much more upbeat song than this? The 80s synth line carries us into a world where people run away with each other, like every damn excellent rom-com ever. Has there ever been a band that sounded so different from how they looked? “You, soft and only, You, lost and lonely” – it’s a total goth love song. And if there’s one thing I loved about the Obama campaign, it’s how it engaged even little 666 punks like myself. There’s something contagious about this song; and as a sidenote, seeing Dinosaur Jr cover this song last month at Mohawk was absolutely incredible. You haven’t really heard Just Like Heaven until J. Mascis shreds it.

:Frank Sinatra – I’ve Got The World On A String:  This song is classic, and a little big band puts a spring in everyone’s step. It starts out intense and dramatic, before settling into that vintage swingin’ rhythm. Everything in this song is pure happiness – what a world, what a life, Frankie’s in love! The instrumentation alone is a treat to listen to – they just don’t make em like this anymore. There’s several versions of Sinatra doing this track, but this one is off of The Capitol Collectors Series, and you can hear the youthful exuberance in his voice. Speaking of swing, the joy in these song really reminds me of the joy of Obama winning some swing states. See that? See what I did there? Hah.

:Daft Punk – One More Time:  I mean … .duh. It may be cliche, but this is the party song. Bros love it, aforementioned goth punks love it, everyone wants to dance to this. Daft Punk is always appropriate, especially if there is a situation where fist-pumping is called for. The important trick with this song is knowing when to fade down. See, there are few things better than this song coming on a party. You all start jumping up and down, and yelling along. However, due to the repetitive nature, people get worn out and bored of this song very easily, so it’s not recommended to actually play the whole track. For the real quitters, you can fade out around 1:47. For regular partiers, fade out around 4:18. But if you really wanna go hard, rock the whole 5:21.

Oh, and as for Obama … One More Time = one more term! Did I really have to explain that one?

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Stars, Rufus Wainwright, Tegan And Sara (Zoe)

October 24, 2012

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Oh, ACL. You were such fun! I got to see so many great bands, and hang out with a tipsy John Laird – what could be better?

The best of lists have been posted long ago, but due to the every two weekish (sorry John!) nature of this column, I’m a little behind. Instead of writing about bands, I’m gonna write about songs. Here are my top three favorite songs that I saw performed at ACL.

:Tegan And Sara – Walking With A Ghost:  The minute these energetic ladies hit the stage, they burst into this song. Walking With A Ghost regularly battles with Nineteen as my favorite T&S song, and they played both, but this song is just so much better suited to a live show. It’s a powerful sounding indie rock tune that begs for a sing-along sesh. And as long as you’re singing along, you might as well just air guitar this entire song, home alone, in your pjs. Not that I’ve ever done that.

:Rufus Wainwright – The Art Teacher:  I think this was the most poignant moment of the festival for me. The solo piano is an excellent accompaniment to Wainwright’s incredibly rich voice. Listening to Rufus Wainwright always feels to me like eating an indulgent, creamy dessert. Although I’ve never been in love with a teacher before, the song is easily applicable to any first-love situation. Or you can just tune out the lyrics and relax into the smooth keys.

:Stars – We Don’t Want Your Body:  Before you relax too much, have a dance party to this song. The entire crowd for Stars at ACL certainly did! The dual vocals on this song provide a badass contrast, and the upbeat synth line masks some seriously dark lyrics. It’s an anthem for the good girls and boys – and we’ve all been in the position of getting bummed out on someone. It’s signature Stars complexity, but doubles as a party jam!

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Top 5 Music Videos (Zoe)

September 26, 2012

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As you may have noticed from the last post, I’ve been really into lists lately. I’m not sure exactly why, I’ve just been in a very High Fidelity mood these days. So today I bring you my Top 5 Music Videos. It was a very hard list to make, and I know I’ve left out some classics … but this is my desert island VJ mix.

5. Madonna – Like A Prayer
Okay, I wasn’t even born when this was released, but even my generation is still aware of the scandal. This does what many great music videos strive for and fail at; making a statement, but not preaching. Sure, the message of Madonna sexing up an African-American Jesus may have been a little shocking to some, but there’s a great message about racism if you pay attention to the actual storyline. Plus, young Madonna looks radiant and beautiful, and the choir is awesome. And in the end, it’s all a play, so no one was actually hurt.

4. UsherConfessions Part II
The first 1:20 really seal the deal for me; you almost don’t need to watch further. The dramatic phone call, as you watch his reactions; the singing passionately while walking around; and finally, the best of the best, his dramatic turn around in the car at 1:13. “I know you hate me. I know I hurt you. But there’s more. Listen” and then the darkness ushers (see what I did there? Eh? Eh?) you into the the actual song. Sure, the rest of the video is great, especially if you’re into attractive men looking pained (spoiler alert: the sweater AND the tank definitely come off) and getting slapped by jilted lovers. There’s some pretty sweet baby mama drama, oh and Usher shatters an entire mirror wall just by looking at it … Usher, why you gotta be so unintentionally hilarious?

3. Beastie BoysSabotage
Three dudes. Fake mustaches. Bad wigs. Extreme silliness and crazy hijinks. Could you ask for anything more? This is the ultimate embodiment of the Beastie Boys attitude towards life … you can’t not have fun watching it. There’s just not much more to say than “enjoy!”

2. Blink-182All The Small Things
This one is in a similar vein of three dudes having fun. The great thing about Blink-182 is they were equal opportunity offensive; they made fun of everyone. The particular target of this video is boy bands, and although some of the references now seem woefully outdated, the spirit of the gags live on. All the guys are great, but Tom is really the star of this one, from the camo pants and bustier to the dancing, and the toilet, and just every damn facial expression. Say what you will about their music, these guys know how to do a video right.

1. REMFurry Happy Monsters (Shiny Happy People)
Okay, I know this is not technically the official music video for this song. But has there ever been a better pairing of music and video than this one? Sesame Street is known for having hosted many great musical guests, but this one is by far my favorite. I think part of it is how truly happy the band looks; a genuine Stipe smile seems so rare. And that yellow monster, shouting! And the monster version of Kate Pierson! So fantastic, truly.

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Songs For Singing Along (Zoe)

September 12, 2012

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One of my all time favorite activities of absolutely ever (say that 5 times fast) is singing along to songs. I sing loudly, with deep feeling. I sing with interpretive dance moves. I sing with great abandon, and rarely in tune. And I encourage everyone to do so as well; it just makes you feel better, no matter what. For those of you who may be shy, I present to you my top three fool-proof sing along list. If you can resist these songs, then our friendship probably wasn’t meant to be.

:Paul Simon – You Can Call Me Al:  Even if you’ve never heard this song, it’s pretty easy to pick up the chorus immediately. It’s fun and silly, and an excellent best friends or relationship song. Talk about interpretive dancing … it’s pretty much a crime not to make large theatrical dance moves to this song. Bonus points for dramatic facial expressions.

:Death Cab For Cutie – Crooked Teeth:  It may not be a traditional choice, but once you bust it out with similarly Death Cab obsessed friends, you’ll get it. An upbeat tune and totally depressing lyrics, it’s great to bust out when someone needs commiseration. It’s also just a great, catchy tune. My friend Maurice and I once led a small crowd of friends and strangers in a sing-along to this song in a gas station parking lot at about 1am in Denton, TX.

:Elton John – Tiny Dancer:  Do I even need to explain this one? For further info, see: only the best scene in Almost Famous. The song has healing properties. It just does.

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Prince (Zoe)

August 29, 2012

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It’s rare that I write a post about a single song. However, there is a single song that has consumed my entire summer. It is called Raspberry Beret, and it is one of many excellent singles by the androgynous pop king, Prince. Why has a song from 1985 suddenly entranced a girl in 2012? Is it because it’s timeless? Or is it just that it has a great hook? Probably all of the above.

When I was growing up, Prince was not an uncommon background to daily home life. My parents had lived in Minneapolis for many years, and my mom had developed quite the liking for Prince. Because of this, I thought of Prince as “my parents music,” and nothing too special. I barely cast a thought towards Prince, until one day earlier this year when I heard Raspberry Beret on the radio. I turned it up. Then I turned it up some more. And then I immediately pulled out my phone and bought the single.

Many Prince-related musical purchases later, I can still safely say that Raspberry Beret is my favorite. It is my song of the summer. So much so that I even enjoy the almost 7 minute extended version, which I have included here for similarly obsessed weirdo fans. I must say, in its defense, that there is some excellent instrumentation in the extended version, and any music fan might enjoy it.

In the end, I think my love for Raspberry Beret stems from it’s complexities. On the surface, it’s a happy little pop song about a cute girl. But the opening hook never fails to take my breath away because there is such a fascinating strain of melancholy. The strings, which come back in to play several times, have such a hint of sadness. Perhaps the mysterious girl with the beret in more mystical than available. Perhaps she leaves him. While none of this is expressed, and thus purely my own projections and wonderings, but the emotion of the actual instruments leaves me with so many options. And that is why the excellent hook is tied in with the timelessness; because unlike most pop songs, it leaves you with questions.

:Prince – Raspberry Beret:
:Prince – Raspberry Beret (Extended Edition):

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Bright Eyes (Zoe)

August 2, 2012

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There’s a time in every modern indie rock teenagers life when they discover Bright Eyes and must decide whether they love or detest the gloomiest dream boy. The man behind the music, Conor Oberst, is such a cult icon of the scene, his striking black hair and pale face reminding us that it’s okay to be emotional. He gave, and gives, boys and girls alike the “ok” to cry. I came down on the love side of the conundrum; I’ve long enjoyed “emo” music, and Bright Eyes has always seemed like the perfect combo of indie and emo. Today I’m highlighting two of my favorites that showcase two sides of Bright Eyes.

First, probably *the* song that most people think of when they think of Bright Eyes: First Day Of My Life. The simple solo guitar chords slowly, sweetly compliment Oberst’s lo-fi, soft vocals. His voice wavers every so often, convincing the listener that Oberst is in love with them, and only them. The lyrics are so sweet it borders on cloying, but there’s such an honest quality to the song that I can’t help feeling that Oberst really does just love someone that much. The song also includes one of my all time favorite lines from a love song; “I’d rather be working for a paycheck than waiting to win the lottery.”

:Bright Eyes – First Day Of My Life:

My second favorite song is another one of Bright Eyes more well-known efforts, Four Winds. Even though he hails from Northern climes, I’ve always thought that this song felt very “Texas.” This is after Oberst took a slightly more countrified turn. Those who are used to singer-songwriter Oberst may be surprised to hear a full band sound, and such a rich one at that. The fiddle is the star of this tune, but there are definitely a couple different layers at work here. The song is so versatile; sometimes it makes me wanna dance, and sometimes it makes me wanna cry. There is such a palpable yearning in his voice that is mirrored only in the slight whine of the strings.

:Bright Eyes – Four Winds:

I’ve definitely met my fair share of Bright Eyes haters. And sure, Oberst can be a little trite at times. But if you give it a chance, you might be rewarded with some of the most heart wrenching (you know, in a good way!) music you’ve heard in a long time.

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