Some songs tell you how to feel. Others admit they haven’t quite got a grasp on how anyone should feel.
Let’s just say the selections for this week's mix tend toward uncertainty. Which makes the assurance of Ex Hex’s “Cosmic Cave” all the more compelling. But I’m getting ahead of myself here….
Lana Del Rey – “Hope Is a Dangerous Thing for a Woman Like Me to Have”
Maybe Sylvia Plath and Slim Aarons are all-too-appropriate namechecks, but I bet you didn’t have a haunted iPad on your LDR bingo card now, did you? Anyway, the obviousness is, as always, her point, expressing the horror of recognizing that you’ve succumbed, once more, to emotional caricature—just as the upwardly phantasmal waft of the melody expresses the pleasure of recognizing that... well, yes, you’ve succumbed, once more, to emotional caricature. She revels in the humor of her melancholia, which, as always, doesn’t dispel it, and if the title is a setup the punchline isn’t “But I have it”—it’s that she never makes clear whether she’s a danger to others or herself. Or, I suppose, both.
Ex Hex – “Cosmic Cave”
It’s been five years since the last (and first) Ex Hex album, but you think such memorable unpretentiousness comes easy? (Of course it sounds easy—that’s the hardest part.) The pleasures here are pure Go-Go’s—the tunefully unfolding inevitability of the verses, the way Mary Timony’s guitar drops out to let the rhythm section prevail, the chorus of “come on and dance with me” that’d have sent Joey Ramone rifling through his 45s to find its source, a coda that tumbles head over heels into a guitar part that refuses to quite announce itself as a solo. Or, better yet, like impure Go-Go’s—pop pleasure recalled from a distance and refracted through an indie trio’s idiosyncratic gestalt.
Kehlani feat. Ty Dolla $ign – “Nights Like This”
Kehlani’s conversational melody lines start simple, then sprawl with increasingly improvisational indirectness, almost but never quite too far, all the better to set up the contrasting simplicity of the way she repeats “You gon’ get my hopes high girl” for devastating effect.
Todd Snider – “Just Like Overnight”
Too honest a guy to trust himself when he’s indulging in Music Row trickery, Snider outed this wistful glance backward as a songwriter’s exercise of sorts: “It’s a list of things that are gone disguised as a story.” But all songs are masquerades—what varies is the effectiveness of the costume. Here, over a leisurely spread of finger-picked patterns, Snider impersonates a man coming to terms with a painful truism of maturity—how life seems static in the moment even as colossal changes are underway—and so credibly I’m not so sure the story he isn’t quite telling isn’t honestly his own.
Priests – “The Seduction of Kansas”
Straining to peer into the mysteries of middle America from distant D.C., Katie Alice Greer evokes a jumble of shopworn Kansan products—Applebee’s, Superman, the Koch Brothers, Dorothy Gale—as though reworking a Wikipedia entry into a mystic incantation. And once her spell is cast, she hears, from within “a drawn out charismatic parody of what a country thought it used to be,” voices calling “I’m the one who loves you/It’s true” to... her? Us? Some rough beast slouching toward Wichita?
Deerhunter – “Plains”
Don’t let the way the verse’s bobbly beat ascends confidently to the forthright glide of the chorus fool you—“I was listening to the trains/I was up all night” is how Bradford Cox reveals himself as the latest indie rocker too stumped to make a statement, hoping instead, like Greer and Priests, to hear what the America of his imagination can tell him.
Every week, City Pages music editor Keith Harris scours the vast musicscape for six worthy tracks to include in the Monday Mix, and to add to this 2019 playlist.