Playlist on Spotify at the bottom of each page.
40. Caroline Rose ”Soul No. 5”
39. Drenge ”Before The War Begins”
”…recognising your own despair at times when the world is really letting you down. I know a lot of queers and people of colour who feel like that at the moment…”
38. Shopping ”Asking For A Friend”
(from The Official Body)
”We wrote the song whilst we were on tour in Leeds. We had a day off, so we booked a practice space and the song was written in that 3 hour session, it came out really fast and organically. ‘Asking For A Friend’ is about how institutions and governments can tokenize us and use our identity as cultural capital whilst simultaneously destroying queer spaces and pushing out the people that built the community that we come from. It’s also a song about queer resilience and positivity though. “You got it, and I think you know it” it’s about owning our fierceness and our radical spirit because especially living in a capitalist society, there is always power in knowing our worth.
The last line, ‘Why’s it so hard to know what I need? Why is it never enough to satisfy me?’, is about recognising your own despair at times when the world is really letting you down. I know a lot of queers and people of colour who feel like that at the moment – and are turning to this sort of Instagram ‘self care’ solution. I’m not dismissing the concept, I just think it can put a lot of pressure on people to know how to care for themselves and when there are so many reasons not to be okay right now that seems a pretty tall order. Being desperate and frustrated is a huge part of being alive in a capitalist world and i think it fuels a lot of us to create, to party, to freak out but also to get together and build communities.”
– Rachel Aggs
”…it speaks to me about some emotions I struggle with at times. I write to challenge myself and deal with things that are maybe not so easy to bring up in a conversation…”
37. Kendra Morris ”Nothing”
“’Nothing’ was initially conceived in my old keyboard player’s practice space in Brooklyn one afternoon. I played a scattered melody I was hearing on my guitar and then he elaborated on that. We forgot about it for a little while and then I showed the idea to my longtime producer and co-writer Jeremy Page. He heard something in that idea as well and developed it sonically even further adding some elaborate dualing tones.
I felt really connected to the soundscape he had created as soon as Jeremy began developing the production. I kept imagining floating in a warm ocean in the middle of nowhere and strange comfort of having nothing on every side. As I kept writing I was coming up with more of these images and places we sometimes go to in our minds and realized that the song itself was about that unsettling and yet so familiar feeling of feeling ‘Nothing’. This song is one of my favorite songs I’ve written as it speaks to me about some emotions I struggle with at times. I write to challenge myself and deal with things that are maybe not so easy to bring up in a conversation. Writing ‘Nothing’ helped me to find my own beauty in what can be a scary place.”
– Kendra Morris
”…HBO never came knocking. All of this is to say ‘Agree’ has an Agatha Christie feel or a ‘who done it?’ vibe; like ‘who broke my heart?’…”
36. POLIҪA and s t a r g a z e ”Agree”
(from Music For The Long Emergency)
”The original version of ‘Agree’ was supposed to be on Poliça’s United Crushers but once we started hanging with s t a r g a z e it seemed it needed them. Drew (Poliça drummer) often hoped the song would be the theme music for True Detective season 2…but HBO never came knocking. All of this is to say ‘Agree’ has an Agatha Christie feel or a ‘who done it?’ vibe; like who broke my heart?
The final version of ‘Agree’ that ended up on Music for the Long Emergency was recorded at April Base, Fall Creek Wisconsin where Poliça and s t a r g a z e huddled up together for a few days recording and walking through the trees.
The lyrics are about love that snuffs out reality; I suppose it’s also referred to as lust. But at the moment when the spark is ignited it seems like true love coming from a pure place of fate and dreams and Shakespeare; and like Shakespeare in the end it’s about selfishness and our faulty desires.”
– Channy Leaneagh
”There’s not a word on this record that isn’t extremely important. Every sound, every bit of the art…”
35. How To Dress Well ”Nonkilling 6 │ Hunger”
(from The Anteroom)
”I started to make a song inspired by Todd Terry’s club remix of Everything But The Girl’s ‘Missing’. That song is really intensely sad for me, it has always been. I was a little kid when that song was popular, I must have been ten or something, and I remember hearing this lyric ‘Could you be dead, you always were two steps ahead’ while thinking ‘man, that’s intense!’. Then I was going through a really intense break-up from a very long relationship when I started making this record. The song took on a whole new level. It’s a very deep song, she[Tracey Thorn] is one of my all-time favourite lyricists. Top three of all time; it’s her, Joni Mitchell and maybe Jamie Stewart from Xiu Xiu.
I had written this ambient thing over piano and this bit that ends ‘where did I go wrong” in the ‘Nonkilling 6’ portion of the song. Lyrically, that’s about this thing that has obsessed me for over a decade since I first discovered it, this book by symbolist poet [Stéphane] Mallarmé called Tomb for Anatole. I have a song out already called ‘Tomb for Anatole’. For some reason, for the last ten years every time I sit down to work on art, Tomb for Anatole is floating in my head as a concept, as an aesthetic ideal.
I had the ‘Nonkilling 6’ lyric [from Li Young-Lee’s poem ‘The Cleaving’] and thought that piano thing would be cool to build into ‘Hunger’. The song just unfolded from there. In a way it’s a song that’s connected to the stuff I always write about. I think about when I started remembering, when I became a subject. This idea that you have a baby and eventually they get folded into this disastrous world and I ask myself this question ‘is it when one or another word takes shape in the mouth of the child that they become part of it? That’s why I sing this lyric ‘I remember snow, I saw it fall’. I sing about myself.
There’s not a word on this record that isn’t extremely important. Every sound, every bit of the art. It was important to me to take what I call a value rich approach to everything. Just because I feel the pressure of nihilism, especially being an American, it’s just so monumental and life is just being thrown away. I needed to figure out how to give life a value.
The explanation behind the song title is purely biographical. The line ‘there’s singing still left to be done’ comes from an idea I came up with to record my mother singing every word I’ve ever written. She’s deeply invested in poetry and she told me there’s an endless proliferation of words in endless languages, but ‘hunger’ is actually the only word. So ‘hunger is first’, that was an anchoring thing.
Another aspect that the title comes from is that the scraping sound, ‘kssch-kssch’, is a sample from the movie about the [1981 Irish] hunger strike called Hunger, starring Michael Fassbender. The sound is the janitor cleaning the hall. Again, just like Tomb for Anatole, that hunger strike to me is like humans striving to make value in this nihilistic world.
The single version [chosen by the record label] of the song has been doing really well on Spotify, but artistically speaking, the single doesn’t make any sense to me. You have to have this long, slow, whole build with ‘Nonkilling 6’. The song titles on the album make it look like I did a collaging of things. That is part of the process in the aesthetic, but it’s not just shit stuck together, it’s real collage. The parts necessitate each other.”
– Tom Krell
34. Lindi Ortega ”Lovers In Love”
33. Tirzah ”Go Now”
32. Let’s Eat Grandma ”It’s Not Just Me”
(from I’m All Ears)
”Steeped in themes of transformation, the song depicts a bold young woman defiantly determined to rebuild herself and reclaim her own story…”
31. Odetta Hartman ”Sweet Teeth”
(from Old Rockhounds Never Die)
”‘Sweet Teeth’ opens with the crash and clamor of a construction crew renovating a haunted, hundred year old church into an epicenter of creative energy. Decay develops into decadence. Steeped in themes of transformation, the song depicts a bold young woman defiantly determined to rebuild herself and reclaim her own story. As such, ‘Sweet Teeth’ is an anthem for independence, self-acceptance, irreverence, and letting go of that which no longer serves you.”
– Odetta Hartman
”…I wanted it to be relatable to people’s different situations. It’s about saying goodbye, and at the same time entering a new phase…”
30. Ladytron ”The Island”
“I was in a dark but reflective mood when I wrote ‘The Island’, but I wanted it to be relatable to people’s different situations. It’s about saying goodbye, and at the same time entering a new phase.”
– Helen Marnie
”My girlfriend was away in Japan at the time so the ‘Your 6AM’s my habit’ line comes from staying up all night making music then speaking to her on the phone and ‘stepping out of sync’…”
29. Makeness ”Stepping Out Of Sync”
(from Loud Patterns)
”This was the first proper song I ever wrote, something that I had wanted to try and do for a while. It took me ages to get right. My girlfriend was away in Japan at the time so the ‘Your 6AM’s my habit’ line comes from staying up all night making music then speaking to her on the phone and ‘stepping out of sync’ with everyone around me. I was also feeling quite ‘in-between’ at the time and this idea of being stuck in perpetual limbo came out in this track. I think it has quite an uplifting feel to it but with a lilting melancholy under the surface.
I remember the drums being really tricky to get right. It was initially a drum machine but I wanted to try live kit on it. The live feel was great but I ended up missing the original programmed sounds. I ended up just recording a live hi-hat over them. Top tip, ha ha!”
– Kyle Molleson
”I started writing the song sitting in a sandbox with my kid in Ottawa of all places while on tour with the band there. At that point it was just before the US election….”
26. Peter Bjorn and John ”Dark Ages”
(from Darker Days)
”John thinks it sounds like a Finnish tango set to surf twang guitars. I think of it at as one of my ”Kinks” songs. I have several of those even though they don’t really sound like Kinks at all. More like my own sub-category. It has a spooky quality with the organ and echoes. We slowed down the tempo of the whole live-band-take in the computer ‘cause it sounded too ‘up’. There’s a hint of ‘old english’ in the lyric here and there. Like a bit of medieval poetry to go with the title. I like that juxtaposition with lyrics concerning the now but still telling it like a troubador ballads tale of a dark past where we spread a disease (like a black death, a plague or capitalism?) and kings (or presidents) are corrupt.
I started writing the song sitting in a sandbox with my kid in Ottawa of all places while on tour with the band there to play the Blues Fest in 2016. At that point it was just before the US election and the gloom and doom of Trump. So I didn’t sit down and think that I was gonna write a song to fit a concept of ‘Darker Days’, ’cause at that point that title wasn’t set or anything. I just wrote what was on my mind and what I thought about right then. But I knew before I wrote both this and other songs on this record, that I wanted to paint on a larger canvas, songs that weren’t just for me but with a larger perspective. Also I didn’t want to have any classic ‘love songs’ on this record from my pen. And I kept that part of the deal.
We, the rich and wealthy and the system and lifestyle we support, willingly or not, ARE the problem here. We can’t deny it. We buy and produce too much shit, we earn too much money, we eat too much meat, we fly way, way too much. Me included, just in my work. 82 percent of the world population have never set foot in a flight so we can’t blame them. The system has to be changed. But will that happen? It looks like it won’t. That scares the hell out of me.
Choices are hard, people do tend to focus on their own pleasures for the moment and block out the big picture. We all need guide and help in this. Like the song says ‘lend a friend a hand’ and ‘we’re stuck in the dark, no light and no way out’. People generally don’t look outside of their own tiny little bubble and see how EVERYTHING is connected. Like in our old song ‘Dominos’. One fall and then does all. Egomaniacs won’t save the planet. And if you vote for leaders that you THINK might help you based on one or two details that applies to only yourself and your closest neighbours, you might in the end just kick yourself back there. Like people voting for lower taxes when they already earn tons of money just out of sheer ego. I just don’t get that. We need to distribute the diminishing resources of the planet more even all around.”
– Peter Morén
”I started writing and recording this song at home several months before we went into the studio. The synth drum beat was what initially made me excited about the song…”
27. Wild Pink ”There Is A Ledger”
(from Yolk In The Fur)
”I started writing and recording this song at home several months before we went into the studio. The synth drum beat was what initially made me excited about the song and then when I laid in the arp bass it began to flesh out. Ultimately, we replaced that first arp bass in the studio with one of TC‘s synths and it sounded way better so we went with that. After a few days tracking at home I made stems and eventually brought them into the studio and from there we really got started.
Recording with Justin Pizzoferrato is really exciting. We recorded both records with him and he has a knack for bringing ideas to life in a very pragmatic way: the way he mics everything, the endless amount of gear, and his willingness to try anything. So at the point in the song where the drums and bass go from synth to actual instruments it started to feel really good – he breathed a lot of life into the song. As it started coming together we just continued to layer more and more until we were satisfied. Everyone brought interesting ideas to the table and the track benefitted. Lyrically, its up to interpretation though it is inspired by Florida quite a bit.”
– John Ross
26. BC Camplight ”I’m Desperate”
(from Deportation Blues)
25. ZHU ”Coming Home (feat. Majid Jordan)”
(from RINGOS DESERT)
24. The Milk Carton Kids ”Younger Years”
(from All The Things That I Did And All The Things That I Didn’t Do)
23. Black Honey ”I Only Hurt The Ones I Love”
(from Black Honey)
”There was an open call to write songs for one of the later Twilight movies. I hadn’t seen any of them but I sort of wrote something that was like a 6/8 waltz time, gothy, Nick Cave kind of song…”
22. Okkervil River ”Pulled Up The Ribbon”
(from In The Rainbow Rain)
”That song started a long time ago, actually. There was an open call to write songs for the movie Twilight. It wasn’t the first one, it was for one of the later ones. I hadn’t seen any of the movies but I sort of wrote something that was like a 6/8 waltz time, gothy, Nick Cave kind of song that made me think of those aerial shots of pine trees that I saw on the trailer. I wrote it really quickly while thinking ‘there’s something to this’ but didn’t think too much about it. I sent it to them and I never heard anything back. Maybe they didn’t like it, maybe they didn’t hear it, I don’t know.
But it continued to stick around and when we were working on I’m Very Far we did a version of it that was 7-8 minutes long where we had two drummers, two bassists, two pianos, four guitars, two acoustic guitars. It felt really cool to me, but again it wasn’t quite right. We ended up recording strings, woodwinds, tympani and all this stuff on it. A big orchestral, Scott Walker kind of thing. That still didn’t work.
Meanwhile, I never liked the lyrics. They were very dark in a way that felt a little unbalanced. I started thinking ‘what does this song want to be?’. I had this moment when I saw that I was addressing this force in the world that was both creative and destructive, having a narrator travelling through that space at some speed. Having done that I felt really great about the song, I tweaked the lyrics a lot. But I felt like this long waltz was not working for me so I put it into 4/4, sped it up and started to do it like ‘Nowhere To Run’ by Martha & The Vandellas. So we recorded a version like that which was the best one so far, but still not right somehow…
I just couldn’t let go of this thing! Will Graefe, our guitarist, was playing one line that stuck, among a lot of other things on the song. So I said ‘let’s try it again, strip it all out and make it real breezy’. I asked Will if he could do something with that guitar line, so he fleshed it out and that became the main riff. I said ‘that’s it, that’s the hook!’, then I took that line and added a bunch of synthesizers doing it an octave below as well as an octave above, making it really big.
Later, when I took it to Shawn Everett, he said he knew exactly how to mix the song. He basically stripped out all the stuff I had put in except for that big guitar line and the rhythm section, making it the way it sounds on the album. So that song took a long path to get to where it finally ended up!”
– Will Sheff
”I felt like I wanted the fans to see this other side of me where you can hear all my influences, like if you came to my house and went to this certain part of my record section…”
21. Sharon Van Etten ”Comeback Kid”
”’Comeback Kid’ is about that feeling when you go back home to visit your family and you have those mixed emotions of feeling like that kid again, like you’re always going to be a kid in your parents’ eyes. You walk around in your hometown and run into people you used to know who have in their minds who they think you are. I go home and I’m in the bedroom where I grew up, with all these memories around me, but I’m an adult now. I’ve come very far, but sometimes you get back in that spot and feel like a kid all over again.
I knew when I finished the record that there would be some people that would have a hard time with it. Even though I won’t feel bad if there are fans that don’t like this record I also wanted to challenge people. I’m multi-dimensional, I’m not just that one person that they’ve heard before.
One of the challenges was that I wrote all these songs on keyboards, a lot of synthesizers, piano and organ. An overall darker sound and I wanted to embrace that for the first time. I felt like I wanted the fans to see this other side of me where you can hear all my influences, like if you came to my house and went to this certain part of my record section that maybe people don’t know that I listened to.”
– Sharon Van Etten