"Earworm" is a monthly feature wherein I detail my thoughts on the most popular and provocative songs in my rotation over the past month. This will mostly manifest as an amalgam of genres and disparate thoughts on those styles, songs, albums, bands and the personal experiences I've had with them.
“Leave a Trace” CHVRCHES
Seeing this Scottish trio earlier this month, I spent the whole show waiting for this song to be performed. It ended up closing a very pleasant show that touted Lauren Mayberry’s awkward stomp-dancing – perhaps a result of her large boots. “Leave a Trace” was the first track released in anticipation of Every Open Eye and it promised a logical step ahead of The Bones of What You Believe. It’s become my walk-to-work song, or the perfect song for an instant kick of perfect hook-laden pop. Not only are CHVRCHES songs catchy, but can coexist as politically charged - this is one of their best to date.
“Out of the Woods” Ryan Adams
Enough ink has been spilled admonishing those touting Ryan Adams’ record length cover of Taylor Swift’s incredible 2015 record as a legitimization of a female populist. And just in general, Adams’ LP has nothing on Swift’s. But there’s plenty to love about his covers, especially as a supplement from the hands of an occasionally great recording artist. Although the first couple minutes of his “Out of the Woods” drag a bit, his repurposing of the chorus and second verse (which builds on its momentum) gives fans a new lens to appreciate Swift’s lyricism. Adams refracts the song to punctuate its hopelessness. After all, she is asking.
“Change Locations” Drake & Future
I tried my hardest to like Future, and I thought this Drake collabo would do it for me. But it just doesn’t. I’ll admit, he makes some club bangers, but I've found nothing to really get into headphone-wise. Listening to DS2 and What a Time to be Alive on my own, I haven't been able to focus on anything but Future's shortcomings (save for Drake’s contributions). But I must be the only one, because I can’t escape Future fandom; I hear it in cars or see people singing his verses on TV or see people banging to it before a hip hop show. His lyricism is emotionally flaccid and uninspired; it’s 100% posturing and production, and I can't ignore it. "Change Locations" houses the stark contrast between the two artists: Future's braggadocio (regarding things like "sixty naked bitches - no exaggeration") is offset by Drake's inherent vulnerability and confliction. Unfortunately, Drake's presence isn't enough to make this song or this album noteworthy.
"Well You Better" Yo La Tengo
My entry point to Yo La Tengo’s expansive oeuvre was Summer Sun. I loved it; it was easy, fun, interesting and paired perfectly alongside its titular star. 2013’s Fade is the closest thing the trio has made to that 2003 album. Like Summer Sun, Fade was more or less received as underwhelming by critics and others who hate joy - its marketing campaign and public interest matched the critical reception. Friends and I saw the band during the tour and ended up heckling the boring Milwaukeeans that joined us. But Yo La Tengo is probably used to being perennially, and criminally, neglected. Ira can run their own merch table without a peep from patrons. Maybe they prefer it this way. Digression aside, “Well You Better” showcases one of my favorite quivers of Yo La Tengo; it’s a heavy dose of adorable sweetness as Ira’s boyish vocals compete for center stage with Georgia’s effervescent organ. It’s quick and fun and could be perfectly comfortable on side B of 1960’s 45.
“Sparks” Beach House
On the first couple listens of Cherry Depression – the first of their recent back-to-back releases, “Sparks” seemed lackluster, almost skippable, which in the Beach House world just means “not as amazing as everything else.” How foolish of a longtime Beach House fan to take any song of theirs for granted. After headphoning the album a couple times, “Sparks” emerged as one of the more interesting tracks on the album. More than ever before, the Baltimore duo sounds like My Bloody Valentine. Beach House have mastered the idea of experimenting while remaining entirely on-brand.
“Beechwood 4-5789” The Marvelettes
Doo-wop music is one of the most beautiful art forms I’ve encountered in my life. And, it’s exceeding simplicity makes articulating its greatness even muddier (although I tried here). Doo-wop classics are the crystallization of visceral, cathartic and accessible pop music, and The Marvelettes’ “Beechwood 4-5789” – co-written by Marvin Gaye, who also appears on drums – is as good an example as any. It’s literally just about a girl telling a boy to call if he wants to go on a date. Too many indie films have tried (and failed) to convey in 90 minutes what The Marvelettes do in two.
“Wilhelms Scream” James Blake
This 2011 track has sneakily found its way into my personal canon of modern pop songs. I think I have the HBO show Togetherness to thank. The song stands on its own merit, but I can’t remember a more poignant use of music and visuals in recent history than Blake’s “Wilhelms Scream” over the heart wrenching season one finale. The song is nuanced in production but straightforward in concept, like marriage – the HBO show’s central focus. Blake takes a simple structure and muddies it with odd, dissonant sounds that emulate a loss of hope.
"Saturday Night" The Blue Nile
Last year, listening to The Blue Nile’s 1989 record Hats on a titular Saturday night while working on my thesis in a Milwaukee coffee shop, it all made sense, of course. After all, coffee shops are where we go to figure things out – at least I like to think I look like I’m figuring things out. The Blue Nile’s discography seems fated upon us purely to make lonely weekend nights tolerable, even life affirming. The closing track of the Scottish sophisti-pop group’s sophomore record more than holds its own against Phil Collins’ most affecting ballads.