Chance the Rapper has been a collaborator since the start of his career. Kids These Days, an indie hip hop group from Chicago, includes among its members Nico Segal (later known as Donnie Trumpet) and Vic Mensa, both of whom frequently collaborated with Chance after the band split in 2013. “Wasting Time” features Chance crooning between horn interludes with typical emotional eloquence, “Damn I love you/ Don’t know what the means now/ but I love you.” The sobering lyrics and rich variety of sound and tempo make the track incredibly potent.
For some reason Neil Young’s piano riffs are often a kind of muted cornflower blue. That, combined with the rhythm and his cream-colored voice, makes this song wonderfully soothing (and, since it’s Neil Young, melancholic). It makes me feel like I’m rocking back and forth in a hammock. Listen before you go to bed for peaceful, restorative, Neil Young-filled sleep.
“Multi-love” is the colorful title track of Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s latest album. It’s about a polyamorous relationship, a subject that intrigues me but is rarely explored (from what I know) in music, or even generally talked about. Lead singer and songwriter Ruban Nielson articulates the confusing challenges that polyamorous love poses to his concept of conventional relationships and gender roles with lines like “She don’t want to be a man or a woman/ She wants to be your love” and “We were one, then become three,” singing with an anxious sense of urgency in spite of his playful lyrics. I also love his voice, which is a sort of terra cotta brown and has the consistency of wet clay.* Give it a listen!
One of my favorite sounds in the world is that of the vibraphone, a lesser-known jazz percussion instrument. When I hear it I see* small, luminescent, neon green (a color I’ve never seen in any other sound) orbs that tumble over each other like marbles and constantly swell and contract.
“Bag’s Groove,” composed by vibraphonist Milt Jackson and first recorded in 1952, is a 12-bar blues track with a catchy head comprised of descending notes. It features lively solos by Milt Jackson, alto-saxist Lou Donaldson, and pianist John Lewis. I personally go for the first and less famous recording because it’s concise, its pace is brisker, and (of course) because it has more vibraphone.
For the famous version, check out the Miles Davis Quintet’s recording. This track feels cleaner and more spacious in contrast to the rushed vibe of the original recording, probably because it’s eleven minutes long and has a more laid-back pace. And while Milt Jackson (who was part of the quintet) has a strong presence, it’s definitely more horn-heavy.
Here’s a rough illustration of the song:
If I ever go on a road trip, this will be the first track on my playlist. “Me & Magdalena” fills me with nostalgia and makes me think of wide open spaces. The lyrics are gorgeous, especially the two-line chorus (And I don’t know if I’ve ever loved any other/ half as much as I do in this light she’s under). Play it while walking across campus at sunset for a full listening experience.
Being a Porches fan is a struggle when you’re not crazy about electronic style music. Before I discovered “Scrap and Love Songs Revisited”, an album consisting mainly of stripped down guitar tracks, I had to search around Youtube for acoustic versions of my favorite Porches songs. “Peach Pit,” a bonus track, is about as stripped down as you can get. The simple, repetitive melody and soothing acoustic guitar motif makes it feel sort of like a lullaby. But despite its sweet, childish lyrics, its tone is mature and melancholic, and at times comes off as worn down, emotionally weary. Give it a listen!
Radiohead’s fifth and often-overlooked album, Amnesiac, boasts a hidden gem. “Life in a Glasshouse”, one of my favorite songs, opens with a heavy, discordant piano riff that sets an anxious tone. Yorke, accompanied by horns, sings the first verse with palpable strain and exhaustion, using the metaphor of the glasshouse to communicate his struggle with the media and the maddening lack of privacy that comes with fame. If Yorke seems to be on the verge of a mental breakdown during the verse, by the chorus he sings as though he has been pushed off the edge. As the horns burst in at full volume, both his voice and his lyrics become crazed, forceful, and bitingly sarcastic. The jazzy, New Orleans-esque big band sound distinguishes this track form the rest of the album, and helps to build an emotional intensity that never fails to impact me.