Playlist on Spotify at the bottom of each page.
”Even the Dylan Thomas line, there was randomly a Dylan Thomas book lying on the coffee table of the studio, I walked by it and it made the song…”
60. Better Oblivion Community Center “Dylan Thomas”
(from Better Oblivion Community Center)
Phoebe: ”I was reading up about a conspiracy theory I heard about. I had been recording with boygenius all day but then Conor and I were setting up to record for the next couple of weeks. This was two nights before we started recording and we came to the studio talking about the conspiracy theory. Conor said ‘I like that’ while we were going through voice memos of mine. He gravitated towards one melody and started writing words. We wrote it really fast, it was the last song we wrote.”
Conor: ”Yeah, it was cool that it was the one we made the video for, if there is a single or whatever. I feel that we labored more over a lot of the other songs, worked on them for a while and came back to them a couple of months later. Because we wrote the album over the course of a year. But that one happened really fast. Even the Dylan Thomas line, there was randomly a Dylan Thomas book lying on the coffee table of the studio, I walked by it and it made the song. I think there was a shitty Netflix remake of Psycho I had watched recently which inspired the line about showering at the Bates Motel. That song got written so quick that a lot of the images was what happened that day.”
– Phoebe Bridgers and Conor Oberst
59. Jade Bird ”Uh Huh”
(from Jade Bird)
58. Son Volt ”Devil May Care”
57. Yeasayer ”Crack A Smile”
(from Erotic Reruns)
56. Black Belt Eagle Scout ”Run It To Ya”
(from At The Party With My Brown Friends)
”…’Big Softy’ began with the chorus line ‘it is sometimes hard to go on’. We would sing it over and over, in circles. The verses develop images of futility, hopelessness. This song was recorded in our home studio in Sydney…”
55. Middle Kids ”Big Softy”
(from New Songs For Old Problems)
”‘Big Softy’ began with the chorus line ‘it is sometimes hard to go on’. We would sing it over and over, in circles. The verses develop images of futility, hopelessness. This song was recorded in our home studio in Sydney and mixed by Jake Aron in New York. We tried to add beautiful textures with the slide guitar and organ. We also played an accordion on this track because it felt wheezy and exhausted, like the character in the song.”
– Hannah Joy, Tim Fitz and Harry Day
54. Kito feat. Empress Of ”Wild Girl”
53. Maria Taylor feat. Adam Duritz ”Waiting In Line”
(from Maria Taylor)
52. Noah Gundersen ”Robin Williams”
51. Sampa The Great ”Final Form”
(from The Return)
”…so I did the backing vocal myself, and had Rob pitch it up so it sounds like i’ve just consumed a balloon filled with helium. It worked! I really like how synthetic and fake it sounds…”
50. Pictish Trail ”Turning Back”
”This song came to life towards the end of the writing process, and is probably the most ‘pop’ moment on the album. The sentiment is deliberately quite camp – the album needed a romantic, hedonistic track like this. It’s about replaying the moment you meet someone, and wanting to live it over and over again, on repeat. There’s a refrain – “Hours turning back / I was turning back” – imagining the clock hands spinning backwards. I was thinking of a real-life version of this, at the end of Daylight Saving Time, where the clocks go back an hour on a Saturday night, giving you the opportunity to relive an hour of the evening together.
One of the album’s central themes is examining the extent to which our lives are controlled by our thumbs, on a touch screen – and I was imagining a parallel to Daylight Saving Time, in which someone is constantly reliving a moment by watching a replay of it on their phone. In a sort of Black Mirror-esque tribute, the reveal is that the other person is also controlling the moment, rewinding and rewatching. ”You and me trapped inside a device controlled by each others thumbs & minds … i was turning back to the moment that we met in slow motion, rolling it over, and over, and over”.
I did a really rough demo on my 8-track machine up on Eigg (where I am based, in the Scottish Hebrides), and then travelled down to Kinver in the West Midlands of England – where my producer, Rob Jones, lived at the time. I think this was at the end of 2018. We took the ideas and built on them, and developed the track. The song wasn’t totally finished at this point, it needed something else. There’s a high-pitched vocal refrain that goes “make it last” in the second half of the song. I had been considering getting a female vocal on there, but that felt too forced. I approached Joe and Alexis from Hot Chip to do backing vocals at one point, but they have been so busy this year that it didn’t work out. So I did the backing vocal myself, and had Rob pitch it up so it sounds like i’ve just consumed a balloon filled with helium. It worked! I really like how synthetic and fake it sounds. One of my favourite albums is Into The Woods by Malcolm Middleton, in which all the backing vocals are just his own voice pitched up, so it sounds like an android. Beautiful.
There was a lot of electronic stuff going on in the track, and both Rob and I decided it needed some live drums to give it that extra oomph. We sent the song over to Alex Thomas, who played drums on my last album, and he immediately got the feel of the track. Alex currently plays with Anna Calvi, and has been live drummer for Air and Squarepusher, so the guy is a total pro. His drum take really gives the track the muscle and power that it needed.
I was unsure about this song being a single, as it is really quite an obvious disco tune, but the response from people has been so great. We play this as the closing number in our live set, and it sounds immense – i really love getting to sing like Jimmy Somerville at the end. Bronski Beat are a huge influence, of course.”
– Johnny Lynch
”I was trying to sing about having a connection with someone that is instant and makes other things in the world pale into the background, causing a shift in perspective…”
49. Spinning Coin ”Feel You More Than World Right Now”
”Feel You More Than World Right Now is a song that I had recorded on my own a long time ago, and now we have recorded it as a full band for our album ‘Hyacinth’. The original didn’t really have any discernable lyrics, it was all mumbling and stream of consciousness. I was trying to sing about having a connection with someone that is instant and makes other things in the world pale into the background, causing a shift in perspective, like an ecstatic feeling.
For the full band version I knew that the lyrics would be clearer so I wrote about how previously before meeting this person the world had been getting me down, but after meeting them the world had seemed like a better and more hopeful place, and it had all hinged on meeting them, hence the line ‘feel you more than world’.
The band recorded the song to tape with Peter Deimel at Black Box in France close to the end of a tour. We were playing really fast as a result of being so well rehearsed and the recording shows that. I think it suits the song. ‘Feel You More’ was mixed by Remko Shouten at Ijland Studios in Amsterdam. He treated it with a nice reverb that makes it sparkle, and we’re really happy with the finished recording.”
– Sean Armstrong
”I try to think of it in terms of themes because that’s what a lot of my favourite composers do. Even in a crazy piece that goes everywhere there’s one recurring theme…”
48. Robert Ellis ”When You’re Away”
(from Texas Piano Man)
“One of my struggles is to write and still have it accessible. Maybe not in a commercial sense but just as a listener. That song has some really tricky changes, key changes and all of this musical stuff. One of the challenges is to still make it listenable so somebody who’s not a music person would dig it. That’s probably why you don’t hear songwriting like that all the time because it’s fucking tough!
You have to do a lot of math to work it out, it just doesn’t reveal itself very quickly. It has to appear that it’s going somewhere, like revisiting a chorus or a theme. I try to think of it in terms of themes because that’s what a lot of my favourite composers do. Even in a crazy piece that goes everywhere there’s one recurring theme that might be in a different harmonic context or in a different key but you still recognize it as that strong them. That’s a classical trick that you hear a whole lot.
When I play ‘When You’re Away’ I don’t ever feel that it feels complicated, I don’t forget it. A big part of my musical education has been to transcribe other people’s music. Especially when it comes to jazz, if you play enough Duke Ellington songs you get a really good feel for how to make a bridge that is completely in another area. Ellington bridges are always seemingly unrelated to the rest of the song harmonically and yet they work so well. You remember them just as much as you remember the melody. So, playing jazz has definitely helped.
The falling sequence is a very common thing, especially in TV theme songs. It happens three times in the song and I think the last time, the qualities of the chords change underneath. It’s very subtle but the melody stays the same. It’s one of those things when people sub for me and they’re not in my band they’re like ‘fuck, I’ve got to remember that it does that one time different’, ha ha! I don’t know why I named it ‘When You’re Away’ when the chorus goes ‘when you’re here’, maybe because it’s the first line of the song. But it’s definitely about the contrast. The verses are meant to be lyrically and harmonically dark and then the chorus is the opposite, you know, how you feel when you’re actually with the person.
Interestingly, I started writing it in Florida on tour, I’d just started dating the girl who’s now my partner that I have a kid with. I wrote the song about her but I was staying in this house with Johnny Fritz and Cory Chisel and they went to the Croc shoe outlet store that day. I woke up in a bad mood and didn’t want to go. Those are just hilariously the worst shoes ever but they really wanted to go buy them because they’re funny and they wanted to get pairs. When they got back after driving for an hour to get so many pairs of Crocs I showed them what I’d written and they said ‘you wrote this about us because we left you at the house’, ha ha!”
– Robert Ellis
47. J.S. Ondara ”Television Girl”
(from Tales Of America)
46. Black Pumas ”Fire”
(from Black Pumas)
45. Weyes Blood ”Andromeda”
(from Titanic Rising)
”Actually there was already enough material and no need for more songs, but I felt like I wanted something that pulled in a slightly different direction than the rest of the album…”
44. The Tarantula Waltz ”Life Won’t Wait For Us”
”This was the last song I wrote for Kallocain. Actually there was already enough material and no need for more songs, but I felt like I wanted something that pulled in a slightly different direction than the rest of the album. It came to me in one piece and was written very quickly. The lyrics are a reflection upon the everyday treadmill, where days flash by rapidly and how they’re so much more valuable when you have someone to share them with. Before recording began we’d only rehearsed the song once or twice but nailed it straight away. Hanna Ekström from Stockholm Strings along with Anna Dager created magic with the string arrangement.”
– Markus Svensson
”I started the song with the first thing you hear which is vocals going through a delay designer and created a setting which splits the voice into some weird spectrums of pitch…”
43. Dog In The Snow ”Dual Terror”
(from Vanishing Lands)
”A lot of the album Vanishing Lands is based on some intense dreams I had back in late 2017, and so this song is no different, the main description I have around it is that:
I had a dream that I met a different version of myself, one that I met alone in an abandoned house. The song parallels that with the paranoia of the end of the world, and our obsession with the apocalypse.
‘Jessie’ by Scott Walker is a song that bares some influence on the themes. I started the song with the first thing you hear which is vocals going through a delay designer and created a setting which splits the voice into some weird spectrums of pitch, I built the song around that essentially. I then took it to my co-producer Rob Flynn who helped bring out the intensity in some of the sounds (like guitar, synth bass) and then we recorded some real drums to mix in with what I had programmed with my friend Ed Riman (who plays as Hilang Child in his own project).”
– Helen Ganya Brown
”…the last Midlake show that we played in Monterey. That was the final show we played off of that album and at the time there were mixed emotions with the whole band…”
42. E.B. The Younger ”Monterey”
(from To Each His Own)
”It’s a literal song and meaning about the last Midlake show that we played in Monterey. That was the final show we played off of that album and at the time there were mixed emotions with the whole band. But the song tries to express how I was feeling myself of why we were taking a break as we had decided to put the ship in the dock. Stop and maybe return, maybe not. We didn’t know, but I knew that we were in a place where things just weren’t that healthy. Even though some of the band disagreed I just knew if we were going to preserve our friendship and any subsequent record we needed to stop. It’s basically just saying that this is the place where this is going to happen.
There was a festival in Monterey and our families came out. It was a very poetic way to say communally ‘This is what’s important and this is going to be our end of this chapter’. Whether we pick it back up, I don’t know. The lyrics say ‘If you believe me in the fate that eyes us all’. Jonathan Tyler produced that song. Matt Pence and myself were the executive producers, but Jonathan definitely has more of a southern folk rock background and he did that song and a song called ‘Down And Out’. We those two in the matter of two or three days. I think at the beginning of that song we really… It seems kind of odd maybe, I lose objectivity now that I hear it. I love Paul Simon and there was a kind of vibe, not in a world music way, but like Paul Simon or Peter Gabriel. Something that encompass a little bit more of a bigger sound. It’s a song about Monterey, so it has the west coast type of thing as well. I was probably pulling from a lot of references, but it was a song which I didn’t know if I liked or not at first. Stan added a keyboard part during the pre-chorus and that made it for me ‘cause I was really struggling with parts of the song.
Regarding the little riff in the intro, I’ve always liked voicings that go up and down the fretboard. There are some great songs that do that; End Of The Line by Traveling Wilburys, Led Zeppelin does it, I think Supertramp has some. I just wanted to have a motif before it went into the song. With that drumbeat I thought it would be cool to present my own chordal motif going up the deck.”
– Eric Pulido
”I was thinking about the late nineties when the phone wasn’t ringing. I was living in Ravensburg, I didn’t have a record deal and was a long way from the action. There was no spotlight on me…”
41. Robert Forster ”Remain”
”I had written the music and was looking for ideas. Sometimes I put down lyric ideas in my book, I have a diary. When I was playing with Peter (Morén), Jonas (Thorell) and Magnus (Olsson) in September 2017 we played the Copenhagen Jazz House, 300 people, a great gig. I was riding with some of the band in a taxi through the streets of Copenhagen late at night. I was feeling fantastic and I started to think that it hasn’t always been like this for me.
I was thinking about the late nineties when the phone wasn’t ringing. I was living in Ravensburg, I didn’t have a record deal and was a long way from the action. There was no spotlight on me, it was complete darkness. My wife and I had left Brisbane right at the beginning of 1997, gone back to Germany to have children, my record label Beggars Banquet dropped me, I just found out I had Hepatitis C so I stopped drinking. There were many changes in my life and I was living in this beautiful town but it was a long way away from everywhere. There was no sort of Internet yet, really.
But then I thought ‘I was writing good songs then’ and I was always thinking that even at other times in my career when there was not much attention to what I did, I was always happy with my work. Something kicked into me that said ‘Okay, no one cares anymore. It’s over. Now I’m just going to write ten great songs. I’m doing it for me and I’m just going to write the best I can write. Do the best I can do and someone will give me the money to make this record’. That was my plan, but then Grant and I went on the road to promote a Go-Betweens greatest hits when Grant asked me if I wanted to start the band again. Part of my reason for saying yes was because I had ten really good songs that I’d written in those years of darkness.
So when I got back to the hotel that night in Copenhagen in 2017 I just wrote down a couple of these thoughts, like ‘It wasn’t my time but I did good work’ and I had this idea of ‘I could do magic to turn back’. No one could be looking but I could still do magic. A couple of months later, in December, I wrote this tune. Some people think the song is written ‘now’, but in my mind it was always just thinking about that time in the late nineties.”
– Robert Forster