Wordsworth’s Muxed Bag is now playing at Prefix Magazine!
and listen along with Muxtape.
Wordsworth’s Muxed Bag is now playing at Prefix Magazine!
and listen along with Muxtape.
It’s 5 AM and you curse yourself for still being awake. Or maybe it’s noon and you’re peeling yourself from your damp bedsheets and rumpled dress shirt. It could be midnight, and you’re just eclipsing the hill at the top of your nightlong bender, staring down at the crash site on the other side. From the club scene to the recognition scene, the smoke before the fire to the smoldering embers, we present 10 songs about drugs, paranoia, and sleeplessness. Not that, you know, we condone that sort of thing.
(What’s a music list without the jams? Listen to this whole mix for a limited time at the Wordsworth Muxtape.)
1. Wolf Parade – “Language City”
Perpetual insomniacs Wolf Parade stay wide-eyed and twitching for all of their new record, At Mount Zoomer (as observed by Amanda Petrusich in her terrific review for Pitchfork). At times they’re kept up at night by the fluorescent hum of the modern world and an itch to travel, but singer Dan Boeckner tells us this song’s “about a coke party, where ‘language city’ is a metaphor for the pointlessness of staying up all night talking about nothing.” When he growls, “it’s crowded here, none of us leave,” he could be talking about his tweaked-out friends as much as the chatter that clutters the airspace around them.
2. Elvis Costello – “Pump It Up”
This hit from the philophobic Costello is mostly packed with combustible images about some high-heeled sexual dictator. But the drug-alluding chorus only hints at the other thing putting him “on tenterhooks” — he once told Rolling Stone that he wrote and threw out five verses of “amphetamine nonsense.” Anyone else think it was weird when the NBA used in their TV spots last season?
3. The Mountain Goats – “Letter From Belgium”
Stage makeup, sketch notebooks, and cake recipes lie strewn around some apartment, while someone’s bringing over a batch of electrical equipment. We’ve no idea what it’s all for, but each piece of flotsam hints at a halted ambition, a dozen schemes and inspirations aborted and discarded around a drug den. “Letter” is one of several songs about crystal meth on We All Shall Be Healed, as John Darnielle pens a languid scene of tweakers “chewing our tongues off.”
[To avoid monopolizing the market, the next Muxed Bag will include neither The Mountain Goats nor Elvis Costello. -Ed.]
4. Clipse – “Nightmares”
Drug use can lead to paranoia, but what about drug dealing? Success in the drug game — compounded by the materialism and braggadocio that fills Clipse’s verses — has rapper Malice questioning his friends’ loyalties: “When you see millions, there are many chameleons.” By the end of the track, Pusha T even fancies himself an assassination target, saying, “top off the coupe, that’s how JFK got shot,” though he manages to turn this into a boast by the comparison alone.
5. The Streets – “Not Addicted”
Ultra-detailed narrator Mike Skinner takes on an addiction less common stateside: sports gambling. His skill with specifics is on full display as he slips in a line about mid-match bets, but more subtle is the shift of the chorus’s meaning. At first “it’s his lucky day,” as in, he’s bound to win; by the end, Skinner’s just lucky he never made it to the betting shop.
6. The Clash – “Hateful”
Though it’s clear what Joe Strummer’s after in this song, he gets unambiguous with the most ambiguous words: “I got a friend who’s a man,” it starts. He’s in such a hurry to see his man for some more, the word “hateful” never even gets put into a sentence. Just “hateful,” a declaration.
7. The Hold Steady – “Hot Fries”
All your favorite movies, they ain’t all that funny
If you ain’t that high, and I ain’t that high
Craig Finn, whether lovelorn or scene-tired, can be counted on to weave drugs or drinking into his reminiscing. But while he’s usually the one doing the celebrating (or regretting), on “Hot Fries” he lays into another worn-out partygoer.
As narrator Finn is more sober than usual, offering life lessons such as “the things that make you high will make you die.” He’s also more hungover, shown in bitter accusations like “Elliott Smith seems like a mess to me / and you cry way too easily.” Watching his friend burn out on dilaudid and hook-ups, Finn isn’t reaching out so much as scorning an old version of himself.
8. Quasimoto – “Come On Feet”
Quasimoto, one of Madlib’s more blacklight-friendly aliases, tends to rap in fits and flits, pausing for knob-twiddling, other-worldly reflection, and the occasional toke. This beat is as sluggish as his plodding verse, as Quas watches his own steps, each movement a struggle: “I pick ‘em up and put ‘em down.” And if the lines “won’t catch me now / never put us in some cold-ass ground” don’t spell paranoia, then the horror-flick screams in the background will.
9. Of Montreal – “Heimdalsgate Like a Promethean Curse”
Chemicals are both friend and foe in this frenetic, paranoid dance single. The lysergic Kevin Barnes addresses his drugs like a wrongdoing lover: “Know you bait me way more than you should.” Barnes decries the sins wrought by his substance use, but the intro of “come on mood shift, shift back to good again” promises solace; he knows he’s in the valley of a sine wave, that it’s only a matter of time before the good feeling rushes back.
10. Phosphorescent – “Cocaine Lights”
Mathew Houck’s lyrics can get buried under Phosphorescent’s dusky atmospherics, but “Cocaine Lights” has several verses worth unearthing. After an electric night, Houck describes the hollow ache of the morning:
In the darkness
After the cocaine lights
I will miss you
More than ever
And to color my eyes into rose
Is to ask of my beaten bones
To be less of meat and stone
And more of feather
His body sagging into the bed, heavy as stone, Houck recalls last night’s transpirings, impossibly from the same bed: “There is light that pours sweet from new hips / there is beer that pours sweet through my lips.” He replays the fond parts of the night — a girl in a dress, a flirty joke before they collided — but in the end he returns to the new sunrise, sobering, humbling, and shaming.
I will recover my sense of grace
And rediscover my rightful place
Yes and cover my face
With the morning
Ahh, June … the month when spring stretches into summer, the sun yawns later each evening, marigolds blossom, and troubadours pen odes to their sweethearts. But for all the picnics and poetry, sometimes musicians profess their love in less, um, healthy ways — like slick-talking them into staying for another drink, or spying from the bushes as they come home. Thus, we present 12 songs for the angry, threatening, calculating, or desperate romantic in all of us. (Well, some of us.)
And don’t forget to listen along! Check out this whole mix for a limited time at the Wordsworth Muxtape.
1. Death Cab for Cutie – “I Will Possess Your Heart”
For all its 8 minutes of stalker glory, this single off Death Cab’s new Narrow Stairs is sparse on words — but then again too much singing will get you discovered if you’re peering through a night-lit window at a would-be lover.
2. The Decemberists – “We Both Go Down Together”
Colin Meloy’s tale of prince-and-peasant romance isn’t quite the star-crossed situation we first expect. Though the couple is sneaking around behind hubby’s aristocratic parents, he has his “tattooed tramp” almost incarcerated in the relationship. As they consummate: “I laid you down on the grass of a clearing / You wept but your soul was willing.” These descriptions (plus the bonus of working “veranda” into a rhyme) remind us that it’s not all Romeos and Juliets in Verona.
3. The Old Ceremony – “God Said I Could Have You”
The wordplay of The Old Ceremony’s Django Haskins can at times straddle Colin Meloy’s time-traveling narratives and Tom Waits’ decrepit characters. “God Said I Could Have You” doesn’t dance around the issue much, but Haskins really gets down to business toward the end with this nice couplet:
If you come for answers, you’ll have to wait in line
But if you come for earthly things, I’ll show you a good time
4. Fiona Apple – “Fast as You Can”
Apple fires one hell of a warning shot for potential suitors: “My pretty mouth will frame the phrases that will disprove your faith in man.” The song is full of similar portents, but the best part is that all this advice has just one purpose: to make her hunt more exciting.
5. Etta James – “Seven Day Fool”
A rarity on this list of aggressors, Etta James plays the victim on this one. She’s literally on her knees, scrubbing floors and doing the laundry to please her man. All we have to say is, Etta, you really didn’t have to.
6. Four Tops – “Bernadette”
More than any other Motown group, the Four Tops reveled in minor keys. “Bernadette” joins singles like “Standing in the Shadows of Love” and “Reach Out (I’ll Be There),” offering some ballast for all that “sugar pie, honey bun” candy. And when Levi Stubbs finally screams, “I need you to live!” it’s pretty damn believable.
7. Elvis Costello – “Hand in Hand”
In the second verse of this hate letter (just one of dozens in Costello’s catalog), the singer poses as a kind of thug who has his henchmen out “changing someone’s facial design.” So when he tells his girl, “you can’t show me any kind of hell that I don’t know already,” he’s steeling himself for taking the both of them down in flames.
8. Radiohead – “All I Need”
Arguably the centerpiece of In Rainbows, Thom Yorke imagines himself as a helpless animal, even a pest. He’s a dog trapped in a hot car; he’s a moth hovering close for warmth. Meanwhile the anticipation and imminence of the line, “I am the next act waiting in the wings,” makes it one of Radiohead’s sexiest songs.
9. The Mountain Goats – “Distant Stations”
I waited for you, but I never told you where I was
John Darnielle is so absorbed in being alone, waiting for a lover to discover him, he spends nearly half the song describing a rock he found outside his motel room. He waits everywhere, praying, watching the scenery, and singing “songs from nowhere.” In the end, when he’s at his love’s door and a car pulls up, it scares him into the bushes — and we’re left to wonder if he was expecting an empty house.
10. Screamin’ Jay Hawkins – “I Put a Spell on You”
“I don’t care if you don’t want me / I’m yours right now,” Hawkins sings in perhaps the quintessential creepy love song. It’s believed that this track gave the blues singer his title “Screamin’,” and we’re hard-pressed to disagree.
11. Dean Martin – “Baby It’s Cold Outside”
Another classic, this two-minute conversation is practically an exercise in sleaziness. Sweet-talking Dean Martin lays line after line, trying to get his lady friend to stay just a bit longer (or more). And while he’s no doubt smiling, Martin’s almost using scare tactics, warning about nasty weather and even pneumonia. But the highlight, almost covered by the orchestra, is the girl’s line, “Say, what’s in this drink?” Did Dean just slip her a Mickey?
12. The White Stripes – “Take, Take, Take”
Rag-and-bone bluesman Jack White sees 1940s sex symbol Rita Hayworth in a bar, and soon enough a friendly hello turns into asking for an autograph, a photo, a kiss on the cheek, and even a lock of hair. White’s lyrics are best when they’re short, tight, and structured, in songs like “Little Room” and “Effect and Cause,” and here his words are tailor-fitted to the song’s blues format. And even though it sounds like he’s halfway to making a voodoo doll, it’s hard not to feel a little sorry for the flabbergasted fanatic when he sings, “It’s almost as if she could not appreciate how cool I was being!”