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