Songs I Want to Talk About
“Boys Will Be Girls” by We Are The Union (2021)
Every once in a while I put a call out to social media asking for music recommendations, and one friend suggested the album Ordinary Life by We Are The Union. The album as a whole is quite good, but whenever I put it it on I look forward to one particular track more than any other: “Boys Will Be Girls.”
There’s an exuberance to this track that just makes me happy, and it’s a vibe that’s hard to find outside of ska. (Did I tell you this is a ska album? Well it is!) I love how this song in a lot of ways has the same rebellious angst of punk rock, but yet it lacks the pain and anger. There’s something inspiring about how the band takes its “fuck you! We do what we want!” energy and channels it into something so joyful and fun. Give it a listen, and I dare you to be unhappy while you’re listening. You can’t do it, can you? That’s what I thought.
“Kiss Me Hello” by Naked Eyes (2021)
I mentioned in my April roundup that I always have room for another ’80s pop-rock anthem in my heart. Well… let me double down on that by swooning over the Naked Eyes song, “Kiss Me Hello.”
“But Anne? It says the song is from 2021!”
Yes, that’s right! However, Naked Eyes is probably best known for their 1983 hit “Always Something There to Remind Me.” Personally I think it’s fantastic that an actual ’80s band who hadn’t put anything out since 2007 looked at the current ’80s-flavored music landscape and said “well shit, I can teach these kids something.”
“Kiss Me Hello” is a masterclass in how to do a pop hook that still has some kind of feeling behind it. It’s the kind of song that makes you want to run through the streets and declare your undying love for someone as though John Hughes authored your life. Cheers to you Naked Eyes, keep making good music.
Albums I Want to Talk About
Southern Curiosity by Fancy Hagood (2021)
Have you ever wondered what Paul McCartney’s music might’ve sounded like had Paul McCartney been a millenial gay man from the American south? No? Yeah, me neither but I sure am glad I got to experience it by way of Fancy Hagood’s Southern Curiosity.
Southern Curiosity is a great album for anyone who likes their pop with a little bit of musical theater influence. Think the last couple Panic! at the Disco albums, or that Ben Platt album I talked about back in January. Yet it’s not heavy-handed about those more theatric elements either. It’s not an album that’s asking for attention, but is content just to make good, timeless pop music.
The track “Mr. Atlanta” first caught my attention on one of the “Discover Weekly” lists Spotify made me. It’s a super upbeat song that’s a lot of fun, and I couldn’t stop singing it to myself for a few days after discovering it. Yet as I’ve gotten deeper into this album, I’ve also found that Fancy knows his way around a ballad. One standout is “Either” which reflects on a high school fling with a boy who didn’t self-identify as gay. Despite it being about a relationship that happened years ago, it still makes the heartbreak feel as fresh as ever.
Southern Curiosity manages to feel familiar and comfortable, yet special at same time. I know intellectually that Fancy Hagood is using a lot of the same formulas that have worked for decades, but there’s such a great energy here that it still feels like something only Fancy could have made. The album explores a man who can still get excited to fall in love no matter how many times his heart has been broken before. The emotional authenticity keeps Southern Curiosity living squarely in “timeless classic” territory rather than “derivative and unoriginal” territory.
Ancient Dreams in a Modern Land by MARINA (2021)
MARINA (formerly Marina and the Diamonds) has been an artist I’ve enjoyed and respected for years now, but I rarely find myself listening to an entire album of hers. Ancient Dreams in a Modern Land makes me feel like that’s a mistake. This is everything you could possibly want in one of her albums: catchy hooks; pertinent social commentary that more mainstream pop stars don’t have the guts to do; vocals that wax and wane between sassy and angelic at just the right times.
Somehow this album gets quite dark and sinister at times, yet never stops being fun the way that we expect pop music to be fun. The album’s title track, which is also the opener, is perhaps the best embodiment of that but “Purge the Poison” is right up there as well. So much of pop is very introspective right now (which is fine), but that makes these songs about the greater world and what Marina would change about it really stand out from the pack.
Don’t get me wrong though, there are more personal songs too, and they’re just as good. The album ends on “Flowers” and “Goodbye,” two breakup ballads that still hit all the same emotional notes as the earlier tracks. Around the middle of the album is a genius track that ties it all together, “Highly Emotional People.” The song is about inner feelings… but also society’s tendency to suppress them. Its placement in the track listing makes for a smooth transition between the earlier, angry tracks about the world falling apart and the later tracks about Marina’s personal struggles. All in all a great album for anyone who’s been listening to Marina for years, as well as a great crash course in her strengths and artistic identity for anyone new to her discography.
Artists I Want to Talk About
Obviously, I’d heard of Cher before. However, that’s precisely the problem. When someone has been a part of the musical landscape since before you were born, it’s easy to become blind to their amazingness. It’s the same way that looking at the New York City skyline is more thrilling for people who don’t actually live in New York. The sky is blue, and Cher is good at singing. Why dig any deeper?
However, one of my favorite music podcasts, Mark and Sarah Talk About Songs, recently did an episode ranking Cher’s biggest hits, and that prompted me to go back and revisit some of her other songs outside the 3-4ish that have epitomized her career for me thus far. I’d never given Cher credit for her deep bench of well-crafted story songs. So many of her songs tell complete narratives in roughly 3 minutes, and sometimes less. Some of my favorites that I hadn’t heard before include “Train of Thought” and “Dark Lady” (both from the album Dark Lady). These are songs that you really have to listen to in a way you don’t when they’ve been playing on oldies stations since childhood. They grow into proper climaxes by the end with exciting plot twists along the way. It’s a refreshing change of pace from overly repetitive verse-chorus-verse-chorus lyrics.
For that reason, I wanted to take a moment this month to say that if you haven’t delved into Cher’s discography, you should. There’s so much more to her than the small handful of songs most younger people know her for.
Also, “Believe” freaking slaps, but then we all knew that one, didn’t we?