Music

Hearing Things

Music that haunts, mystifies, or otherwise intrigues.

moresongsaboutbuildingsandfoodMore Songs About Buildings and Food
Talking Heads
1978, Sire / Warner Bros.

The title of Talking Heads’ sophomore album always troubled me. Like that phrase doesn’t make sense, does it? What are the other songs about buildings and food? But that’s the kind of suggestive excess that the band both revels and doesn’t revel in here; as over-the-top as frontman/songwriter David Byrne’s shout-singing can be, he is also remarkably restrained. Brian Eno produced this album and it shows: the songs are so warped and high-energy that nearly all of them will make you want to dance, but good luck figuring out how to. Everything here is cracked, fragile, booming, and so layered you’ll feel like you’re wearing faux fur over fleece over Angora wool over silk over cotton—musically (and metaphorically) speaking. The confusion is part of the experience. Is the line “we don’t need love” a threat, a bluff, a taunt, a lie, a confession, or all of the above? When we arrive at the end, we are treated to one of the greatest rock ’n’ roll pop songs ever made. In “The Big Country,” Byrne contemplates flying over the American heartland, mixing heavy contempt with undeniable longing: “I wouldn’t live there if you paid me / I couldn’t live like that, no siree / I couldn’t do the things the way those people do / I couldn’t live there if you paid me to.” Listening to Byrne say plaintively “I’m tired of travelling, I want to be somewhere” makes me feel such endless longing—but for what? I don’t know. And just when my heart is about to burst, he suddenly interrupts my POIGNANT MOMENT OF FEELING with baby noises: “Goo goo ga ga ga.” And then the album ends, and I want to start from the beginning all over again. —Jenny

Aaliyah - One In A MillionOne in a Million
Aaliyah
1999, Blackground / Atlantic

Aaliyah’s whole career was about sounding reticent and ghostly, partly because her voice was naturally breathy, and partly because she simply embodied je ne sais quoi. Her star power was largely due to the strength and beauty she seemed to radiate, qualities recognized by frequent collaborators Missy Elliott, Static Major, and Timbaland. Together, they made a whole catalogue of perfectly mysterious songs, but One in a Million is about mostly secret things, and a lot of it is written in sneaky minor keys. When people talk about (or remix) Aaliyah, they tend to focus on the pop singles, but it’s the deeper cuts that really burn your soul here. “4 Page Letter” is addressed to an unnamed suitor, and the whole song is focused on the slightly dangerous feeling of writing to a lover. “Come Over,” a track that was added to the 2004 re-release, is a whispered late-night phone call asking if she could do just that. Even “Never Comin’ Back,” a gospel-tinged song that details a fully relatable bad relationship, makes you feel like you’ll never 100% understand her pain. She’s in her shades on the cover like she often was, looking appropriately elusive. If you can’t see her eyes, you’ll never know what she’s thinking. —Julianne

PrintAnika
Anika
2010, Stones Throw

The first time I heard this record I wasn’t sure whether it was new or not—not because Anika’s music is retro, but because it sounded like I was putting my ear to a glass to a wall that magically transmitted messages from the past. Her voice is kinda monotone, like Nico’s, but there’s an undercurrent of weirdly upbeat reggae vibez. It’s the perfect music to listen to on Sunday morning while you lay around reconstructing the events of the previous, super-fun night. The record is also full of awesome covers of ’60s songs, like Twinkle’s “Terry,” which is about a boy that promises his love to his sweetheart and then dies in an accident and she’s all “please wait at the gate of heaven.” (And here I just said this was an upbeat record, but I really mean it.) Then there’s “Yang Yang,” a Yoko Ono cover with drums and a weird siren that gets you in a cool mood. On “No One’s There,” Anika sings, “Stop looking over your shoulder / No one’s there,” which always makes me think that someone IS there. The last track is a dub version of Bob Dylan’s “Masters of War,” complete with thunder sounds and drums that bounce around a little too much for comfort, and her voice sounds really far away and unintelligible until she comes on really loudly and clearly while singing “AND I HOPE THAT YOU DIE,” and it’s just perfect, man! This was all I listened to for like a month straight last year (sorry, but not sorry, coworkers). —Laia

real_issueIs This Real?
Wipers
1980, Park Avenue

In eighth grade, I went on a personal treasure hunt, searching for bands that either Nirvana had covered or Kurt Cobain had mentioned in interviews. This debut album by Wipers, a Portland, Oregon, punk band, was one of my favorite finds. It was catchier than the brash and heavy stuff I was listening to at the time, and almost reminded me of Talking Heads. But just from looking at the song titles (“Potential Suicide,” “Return of the Rat,” “Tragedy”), I could tell that this album was going to possess the thing the I was coming to love best about punk—brutal and honest lyrics. It did not disappoint. Every track raises questions that make you think about identity and perception, like “Mystery,” in which singer Greg Sage muses, “I’ve always tried to wonder / How it must feel to be real.” If you like the kind of punk songs that allow you to bop around your room and contemplate life’s questions in under two minutes, this album is for you. —Stephanie

220px-WarmjetsvinylHere Come the Warm Jets
Brian Eno
1974, Island

Sophomore year of college, I followed my then-boyfriend into his dorm room and asked him to play me something that would blow my mind. “I’m tired of not having my mind blown by music,” I said. He warned me that I might experience some resistance to what I was about to hear and proceeded to put on Here Come the Warm Jets. I did experience some resistance: the weird, strangled, warble-y vocals made me cringe. Years and years of pop-music indoctrination had taught me to distinguish between “good” singing and “bad” singing, opinions that were finally (and rightfully) being challenged by this PURE GOLDEN MAGIC. The sounds that were coming out of the speakers felt illogical, impossible, and yet so gutting and right. The opening song, “Needles in the Camel’s Eye,” launches with a full-on whine that isn’t quite human, but seems to belong to neither instrument nor machine. The images his lyrics evoke—burning babies, rich girls crying, memories as cold as icebergs? This shit is pure poetry: experimental and wild and careless and so, so careful. It has the sheen of candy-coated delight, but beneath the surface is so much adventure and invention. Jets was Eno’s solo debut after leaving Roxy Music, and he went on to release some of the most amazing, thoughtful, avant-garde albums ever made. The father of so-called “ambient music,” Eno is here with all his bravado, making me feel at once alive and strange and happy and lonely and confused. My mind was blown. —Jenny

220px-Corwood0742 (1)Chair Beside a Window
Jandek
1982, Corwood Industries

Jandek was a mystery until 2004. That year he played his first live show ever after having been self-recording and releasing albums since 1978. He has more than 60 albums to his name, which incidentally is not Jandek (it is Sterling Richard Smith, or at least that is widely believed to be his name and he has not denied it). Today we know a few more things about him: He is based in Houston. He is a “ginge” like Prince Harry. His music is a mix of blues, ballad, and brutal. His fans are obsessive—Kurt Cobain once said, “[Jandek’s] not pretentious, but only pretentious people like his music,” which is often structureless and atonal. He would be about 67. He has played with Thurston Moore (and I like Thurston Moore). And, finally, I suspect Pitchfork was invented because of him (and might be shut down thanks to Catnapped). In recent years, he has been performing and collaborating often, and seems happy to not be sitting alone in his house playing sad music by himself. (Few artist wants to do that forever.) I find his songs to be original and vulnerable and raw, which is a great quality in the menz. It makes me wonder if he hid his identity because he felt so exposed by his material. Listen for a moment, or check out Chair Beside a Window, which is like a weird existentialist poem. (If you would prefer a girl version of Jandek, see the Shaggs. And if you are curious about so-called outsider music, check out the book Songs in the Key of Z by Irwin Chushid.) In closing, I am a big fan of people who just do their thing, and Jandek is prime. —Sonja

B000002LMM.01._SCLZZZZZZZ_Soundtrack from Twin Peaks
Angelo Badalamenti
1990, Warner Bros.

There are a MILLION things to love about Twin Peaks, many of which Tavi touches on here, and a big one for me has always been the music. I don’t think any theme song has ever set the mood for a TV show as perfectly as Angelo Badalementi’s for Twin Peaks; it’s uneasy calm seems to say, “Things may seem OK, but they’re actually kind of tweaked.” Anyway, I bought the soundtrack for that alone, but fell just as much in love with “Laura Palmer’s Theme” (nothing is better for driving through a foggy night); “Audrey’s Dance” (in all of its finger-snapping glory, this is perfect for getting ready for a big night out and doing your makeup like this); and three non-instrumentals featuring lyrics by director David Lynch and sung by Julee Cruise, aka the blonde with the haunting voice who performs at The Roadhouse. You don’t have to be absorbed in the mystery of who killed Laura Palmer to appreciate these unsettling songs, but if you already are, owning this soundtrack takes the fan experience to the next level. It gets inside your head. —Stephanie

CS1775711-02A-BIGDedication
Zomby
2011, 4AD

This is a really lovely, soft electronic album dedicated to enigmatic producer Zomby’s father, who passed away unexpectedly as he was creating it. It doesn’t really have any lyrics (other than one rigid, eerie song with Panda Bear from Animal Collective). Instead, it sounds like a collection of thoughtful feelings and moods embodied by sorrowful synths and lonely drum clicks. Zomby himself is mysterious—he creatively covers his face in every picture and wears a mask while DJing, so no one ever really knows who he is. On Dedication, he’s trying to figure that out too. —Julianne

ChurchStarfishStarfish
The Church
1988, Arista

If ever there was a perfect circle, this is it. People used to make albums, and my 17-year-old self loved this one. When I drove a little Volkswagon Rabbit, this was my car tape (tape!), so it will remain forever in my top 10. The Church were an Australian alt-rock quartet of BOYS who wrote beautiful neo-psychedelic pop songs that were interesting and moody and mysterious and full of meaning and depth and so many feelings. Clive Davis, the man who orchestrated Whitney Houston’s rise to superstardom, signed the then-unknown band to Arista the same year this record was released, and the Aussies headed to Los Angeles to record it with producers Greg Ladanyi and Waddy Wachtel, two session dudes fresh from the success of Don Henley’s hit “The Boys of Summer.” But you know what? The clashing and slickness paid off, because they made a transcendent album. It is focused and perfect. The bottom line is this: what is truly near and dear to your teenage self will remain with you for the rest of your life. —Sonja

album-Green-Day-KerplunkKerplunk!
Green Day
1992, Lookout!

Before they were writing rock operas about politics and suburban angst (American Idiot, 21st Century Breakdown), Green Day were the snotty skate punks living the suburban angst. Few songs express teenage boredom and the urge to escape a lonely existence than “Christie Road,” “Who Wrote Holden Caulfield?,” and “2,000 Light Years Away.” And then there’s “Welcome to Paradise,” the ultimate song about escaping your childhood home. It became a hit when the band re-recorded it for Dookie, but you’ll find the original, faster-paced, and more lo-fi version here. Green Day have been through many phases as a band and I’ve gone through ups and downs with them, but this has always been my go-to album whenever I want to shake things up…or wallow in a state of ennui. —Stephanie

6AdoreHighResAdore
Smashing Pumpkins
1998, Virgin

“To Sheila,” the song that kicks off this record, begins so quietly that you might miss it. It’s a cricket-like noise that turns into a softly plucked guitar as Billy murmurs “twilight fades,” and you fade along with it, maybe to sleep or into your own thoughts. A lot of Pumpkins’ fans don’t care for Adore. They think everything started going downhill afterwards, and they may well be right—it’s not as rocking as their previous releases and there were some personnel changes (their drummer got replaced by—GASP!—a drum machine). But even so, going downhill has never sounded this decadently beautiful. The second track, “Ava Adore,” is so intense and violent with its jagged rhythm and sweeping bridge that it could be a love song for a vampire (and not, like, the sparkly ones). I always thought of this as a romantic record, but not in the happy, skipping-through-fields way; rather, a suffering sort of affair, one that changes you, one that you maybe know is wrong but have decided to deal with the consequences later. (“Pug,” my favorite love song ever, feels almost too sexy to listen to in front of parents even though there’s nothing NC-17 about it.) The rest of the record is a ride through melancholy, loss, and possibly regret. “Perfect” is about saying goodbye to someone, but smiling through the tears because it’s better this way. I fell asleep to this record every single night for years and now when I think about it, that seems a bit dark, but hey! That’s how I felt. —Laia

CS1199260-02A-BIGL’incroyable Vérité
Sébastien Tellier
2001, Astralwerks

I love this guy. He is a handsome, stylish multi-instrumentalist and composer who sings in French, English, and Italian, and this album varies beautifully between lo-fi electronica and bizarro cabaret tunes. (He suggests it only be listened to by candlelight.) The first track has some synth sounds that I can’t pinpoint, but they remind me of the Haunting of Julia soundtrack (one of my favorite things ever). The best song on the album is “Fantino.” An old boyfriend put it on a mix for me and I couldn’t listen to it for years without bursting into tears remembering a Valentine’s Day afternoon spent searching for a CD of Tellier’s Politics in a bargain bin that he swore he saw the week prior. (I found it. WHY was it even there?) All of his albums are perfect, and you can trust me because the great Sofia Coppola has used his songs in her films. —Sonja

downloadSmash Mystery EP
Smash Mystery
2011, Alien

I fell in love with Smash Mystery, an Australian band comprised of four teenagers (three girls and a boy) after hearing their uber-catchy single “Dolls,” which teems with as much girl power as my favorite early riot grrrl tunes. The standout track “Alice Hates Rabbits” takes Alice out of Wonderland and transforms her into a rebel rock star. “You Come Here Man” is an ode to Joey Ramone and Kurt Cobain that I think they would both love, because Smash Mystery is totally the next generation’s Ramones—or better yet, the Runaways. Discover them before everyone else does. —Stephanie

21106689;encoding=jpg;size=300Her Mystery Not of High Heels and Eye Shadow
Jonathan Richman
2001, Vapor

Do you know Jonathan Richman? He’s the proto-punk that most of us have forgotten about. He sang sweet little interludes in There’s Something About Mary. He led the Modern Lovers in the ’70s and ’80s. He’s a Romantic poet with a capital R. His songs are too sincere to be totally ironic, but they have too much of a wink to be totally sincere. Every time I’ve seen him perform live, he’s exuded a wonderful old-timey entertainer vibe, dancing during songs and just generally dazzling everybody. One time when my friends couldn’t get into one of his shows because it was 21 and over, he played a private set for them in a back alley. Another time, he took down the email addresses of a couple in the audience who wanted him to perform at their wedding. I have heard music aficionados describe the songs on this album as “slight” or “minor,” but those people don’t know what they’re talking about. Every single song on here makes me want to fall in love but also afraid to. The last four songs are in Spanish and remind me of summer nights with the window open, dreaming of what could be and what already is. This album asks us to find romance and mystery in everything because it’s all there, we just need the right soundtrack (this one). —Jenny ♦

14 Comments

  • Manda March 21st, 2013 11:11 PM

    Talking Heads <33333 I love them so much.

  • moose March 21st, 2013 11:15 PM

    Love this <3

  • iamrachii March 21st, 2013 11:34 PM

    I didn’t think this month’s suggestions would be for me but then you guys drop Green Day in there and everything is wonderful. Plus there’s a mention of the Runaways so I HAVE to check this Smash Mystery band out.

  • abby111039 March 22nd, 2013 7:17 AM

    Green Day! Yes! I never thought of Kerplunk! as being mysterious or anything, but I’ll have to reconsider now. :)

  • Bieb March 22nd, 2013 9:02 AM

    The whole of Julee Cruise’s album Floating Into the Night is amazing!

  • Melissa @ WildFlowerChild March 22nd, 2013 11:32 AM

    Amazing music picks, as always!! xo

    <3 Melissa
    http://wildflwrchild.blogspot.com

  • Mary the freak March 22nd, 2013 11:58 AM

    SMASHING PUMPKINS!! YAY!

    http://birdiewearsatie.blogspot.com/

  • rosiesayrelax March 22nd, 2013 1:50 PM

    Omg I love greendays old music! Sometimes their new stuff is just too heavy and ranty and full on, so I need to remind myself how awesome they really are and listen to this album

    http://rosieandthewolf.blogspot.co.uk/

  • katiebell929929 March 22nd, 2013 5:37 PM

    I’d like to add “Born to Die” by Lana del Rey, who is my queen <3

  • MabelEnchanted March 22nd, 2013 8:12 PM

    Talking Heads! That’s what I’m talking about <3

    http://mabelsmind.blogspot.co.uk/

  • HollinsCollins March 22nd, 2013 8:20 PM

    I adore Adore (haha that was bad).

  • kasmslo March 22nd, 2013 9:52 PM

    I can’t go a day without listening to Mr. Emo… I mean Eno… lol… watch some of his Youtube interviews… some of them are pretty funny. He’s deep.

  • caro nation March 24th, 2013 8:10 AM

    Nearly everything here is golden. I really want that More Songs About Buildings and Food poster Riff Randell has in her room in Rock N Roll High School. I have a crush on Jonathan Richman. And Jandek, for that matter. I had a dream he, Daniel Johnston and Roky Erikson formed a trio that was a lot of screaming and unstructured strumming. The Wipers….yes. The Church…even bigger yes. I’ve been trying to get them to play Under the Milky Way at school dances because it’s a great slo mo makeout song. I tried to make a Here Come the Warm Jets t shirt with just the photograph of him and the little rainbow Eno in the corner on it. I should get back to that. Finally, why didn’t the Roadhouse blonde get a backstory?

  • Cutesycreator aka Monica June 26th, 2013 2:45 PM

    I badly want to listen to practically all of these. Rookie’s music (and book and movie and TV, as a matter of fact!) recommendations are THE BEST. <3