"Half Breed" by Big Brave
I’m at-home with solitude and usually approach isolation as an opportunity for introspection, but during the pandemic I was in almost total lockdown alongside my elderly parents (who live with me) and my 2yo son. Trying to work remotely while being on-call as a caregiver virtually 24/7 left me feeling completely drained—not to mention the daily bombardment of news about fascistic power grabs, viral death spikes, and the world literally being on fire. The winter got dark. Then Montreal-based Big Brave dropped their tremendous new album, Vital. It swept through me, ancient as a first breath, and tossed me into spring’s giddy abyss. It’s hard to pick a favorite track off this minimal, heavy and layered album, but “Half Breed” has it all—and the lyrics are actually taken out of Alexander Chee’s book, How to Write an Autobiographical Novel. Put on some headphones, close your eyes, and be stunned.
Janaka Stucky is the Publisher for Black Ocean, and the author of four poetry collections including Ascend Ascend (Third Man Books, 2019). Janaka incorporates esoteric influences & occult rituals into his work to develop a trance poetics, which he has taught or performed in over 60 cities around the world. He has also collaborated with a variety of musicians, including cellist Lori Goldston (Nirvana), Jim Jarmusch’s group SQÜRL, and the iconic doom metal band Sleep. His writing has appeared in a variety of publications, and his creative work has been profiled in The Believer, Vice, and BOMB Magazine.
"Big Exit" by PJ Harvey
As a baseball fan, I often wonder what I would use for my walk-up song if it were to take the plate. I can never hear Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train” without thinking of Chipper Jones, and as a Cubs fan, I appreciate Kris Bryant’s use of Kriss Kross’s “Warm It Up Chris.” As for me, the closest I’ve come to an athletic feat is flexing my biceps while balancing a towering stack of books week after week from the University of Georgia library to my car parked somewhere atop the parking deck during my first year in graduate school. I played one song on constant repeat each time I made that trip, a big voice from a similarly small in stature female body: PJ Harvey’s ”Big Exit,” with its unmistakable opening guitar that mirrored my own heavy footsteps. Ain’t it true / I’m immortal / when I’m with you.
Carrie Olivia Adams loves baseball on the radio and very heavy books. She lives in Chicago where she is the Promotions and Marketing Communications Director for the University of Chicago Press and the poetry editor for Black Ocean. Her books include Be the thing of memory, Operating Theater, Forty-One Jane Doe’s, and Intervening Absence in addition to the chapbooks “Proficiency Badges,” “Grapple,” “Overture in the Key of F,” and “A Useless Window.” When she’s not making poems, she’s making biscuits.
"Chelsea Girls" by Nico
I wanted to pick a song that would make me seem cool and disguise the fact that I mostly listen to ‘lofi hip hop - beats to relax/ study to.’ Listening to this song again made me realize that I don’t sit on my bed and zone out and listen to songs anymore, I’m always doing the dishes or packing to move or unpacking or waiting for the insurance claim handler to pick up or drawing the floorplan of my new apartment to take to Ikea while I’m listening. So I’m either listening to something energetic, to keep myself excited about a boring task, or I’m listening to something that isn’t very dense and doesn’t take up a lot of room in my mind. I miss listening to songs like this. But I also want to have clean dishes. I don’t know how to have both.
Hedgie Choi is the translator of Pillar of Books by Moon Bo Young. She also cotranslated Hysteria by Kim Yideum. She recently received her MFA in poetry from the Michener Center.
"To Here Knows When" by My Bloody Valentine
Loveless is one of those albums I can’t live without. I bought the cassette on a whim at Sam Goody’s in the Woodfield Mall in 1992 and wow, it expanded my sense of what music could sound like. I listened to it in my walkman non-stop that summer on a weird family vacation, driving around northern Wisconsin in a camper with my parents and four sisters. “To Here Knows When” comes in the middle of side A. I love the doppler effect on the guitars. They whirl back and forth, right to left, at their own pace, seemingly independent of the barely audible drum and bass lines. And there’s a playful keyboard line--or is that another guitar? not sure but it sounds flute-like, dancing, sparkling, in that gray area between the guitars and the drums. Bilinda Butcher’s vocals are, as usual, otherworldly. Rumor has it she’d wake up at dawn to record so she’d sound woozier, dreamier, half here, half who knows when. God knows what she’s singing about, her voice is an instrument, tuned a few steps away from speech.
Nathan Hoks is the author of Reveilles, The Narrow Circle, and Nests in Air. He teaches in the Creative Writing Program at the University of Chicago and in the MFA Writing Program at the School of the Art Institute.
"Living Room" by Grouper
Grouper’s “Living Room” is one of the songs I carry with me through this life on the inside. I’m always listening to it, like how I’m made of water, and drinking water. I’m made, too, of a frequency, and this song’s that frequency. Years ago, I’d mishear Liz Harris’ lyric “all of us at this ill-fitting party” as “all of us, peripatetic, hearty” but now I sing it the right way.
Zachary Schomburg is the author of six books of poems on Black Ocean, of which Fjords vol. 2 is the most recent. He is also the author of a novel, Mammother (Featherproof 2017), and the publisher of a small poetry press, Octopus Books. He lives in Portland, OR with B and Y.
“Vremya yest, a deneg net” by Kino
The first song of the first album is how a band announces itself, a mouth to the body of work. For the Cars—the shiny Chevys of American New Wave—it’s “Let the Good Times Roll,” tonguing cheek at freedom, the highway, its chewable promise. For their Soviet counterparts, Kino, it’s a lament trapped in the exhale of a Belarussian cigarette: “Vremya yest, a deneg net” (“Got time, my money’s gone”) emerging from a flutter of nylon strings. A train more than a car this song, with an engine of bass and drum-machine, with overdriven guitar like the squeals of the breaks on the rails. The narrator another in a line of post-revel wanderers: drifting alone in the rain, broke, “no lighter, no smokes, no one to let me in.” Kino’s first stroke is neither a party, nor the freeways leading to it; it’s the spiderweb in the ashtrays afterwards.
Mark Gurarie is a poet, writer, and musician living in Northampton, MA. He's the author of the poetry collection, Everybody's Automat (The Operating System, 2016), and released "Filo Built a Goth Robot," the first album of his solo project, MG & the TV, in April of 2021. Find him on Twitter: @emgeeteevee.
"Runaround" by Helado Negro
“No love can cut our knife in two,” goes Helado Negro’s "Runaround," a line lifted from an Isaac Asimov story with the same title. It’s a literary trick without an agreed upon name, as far as I can tell: a kind of half-chiasmus, or whole-word spoonerism. I think of Lorrie Moore’s “headlights caught in the stare of a deer” or Lynn Hejinian’s “The quiet is air, the setting is sun.” When it works, it’s a powerful rhetorical device, subverting expectations and breaking open new possibilities of meaning. In Asimov’s "Runaround," a robot is confused by a conflict between two rules of its programming: to always obey orders and always avoid harm. Caught in this hopeless Catch-22, the robot sings out the garbled line as a signal of its spiraling malfunction. The distress is deepened in Helado Negro’s "Runaround," written in the aftermath of the death of Michael Brown, as it became clear the police officer who killed him would go free: Obey orders or avoid harm; Hands up, don’t shoot. I’m in love with this song’s heartbreaking, strange, defiant response.
Graeme Bezanson's writing has appeared in or is forthcoming from BOMB, PRISM International, CAROUSEL, and The Puritan. He lives in France.
"Cattle and Cane" covered by Jimmy Little
Over the past year-and-half, I spent significant time revisiting songs and singers that draw me back and prompt me to wonder, “What is it about this voice, this melody, harmony, time signature?” I can’t fully answer that question about the song I have in mind, and I don’t usually listen to it to find answers; my listening to it happens when I need to get lost.
The Go-Betweens’ “Cattle and Cane” has always been a reverie to me. Recently, I heard Jimmy Little’s version, particularly his 1999 performance on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s The 10:30 Slot. The song’s pace, slowed from the original, calls up a steam train’s motion. There’s a guitar, dobro, double bass, whisks on a snare, and claves that cut across it all while a spellbinding joy in Little’s voice arcs through the song to its last words, "Alone…so at home," before trailing off into a hum.
Shannon Tharp lives in Denver. Her most recent writing can be found at/in Blazing Stadium.
"Deeper Understanding" by Kate Bush
In 1989 Kate Bush recorded a song about finding love and companionship in a computer program. Except for the bits about ordering the program from a magazine, it feels prescient enough to be uncomfortable. Bush decided to re-record the song 2011 and release a music video featuring semi-famous British comedians, silly graphics, and a harmonica solo. All of which is fine and completely within her rights. But what I want to talk about is how in the 1989 version, the computer is voiced by a trio of Bulgarian folk singers and Kate herself. When they sing “Hello, I know that you've been feeling tired / I bring you love and deeper understanding,” I find myself entirely helpless. The world is different than it was in 1989. There are six laptops and three smartphones in my house, but the idea of love and deeper understanding is still far too intoxicating.
Christine Kanownik is the author of HEAD and King of Pain and will gladly talk to you about Kate Bush anytime.
"Death is a Star" by The Clash
I skip over Djavan in my playlist as I cook a lentil soup. We fell in love to his live album. It’s hard to listen to many songs. Finally, I arrive on The Clash. Tuneless humming. He recites the warbled tale. Piano flutter like it’s something pretty. It just occurred to me. I never shampooed your hair. Now you are gone. Not gone-gone. But moving on. My heart is fragrant with loss, fat blooming flower dusted yellow. You went back home. Yesterday you sent a video over WhatsApp of your garden. A Beija-flor seeks to empty all the flowers, suck the nectar from their open space. Why do I love its flitting body — its long, blade-like beak? The plants are tangled shades of green and the birds are loud. Like children in a playground shouting over one another. A breeze blows through. I almost feel I’m there with you. The air smells of lifetimes — the ache that swells in a molecule. Where you are it is spring. Here it is fall. Trees erupt in brilliant color. Soon the days will be dark by four. Death is a star.
Leila Quinn Ortiz is a poet who lives in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn.
"Differences" by Ginuwine
I am lying on a table after my abortion, speaking a mixture of nonsensical English and Portuguese. Five months before this, I fell in love. He lived in a small studio apartment in Fort Greene with light flooding through the windows. When we looked out, we saw a brick wall with a mural of wild-flowers painted on it. The radio played a constant stream of R&B. A song that was very real to my in-love-heart was “Differences” by Ginuwine, with its tender harmony and laid-back beat. The un-ironic lyrics were true: “My whole life has changed / Since you came in.” I cried and comforted the doctor during my abortion. I could sense he needed me to be calm. The radio is playing in the recovery room. “Differences” comes on. Drugged-out on sedatives, I start singing and tell the nurse, “This is our song.” He couldn’t come with me to the clinic. He’d been deported and was back in Brazil. My girlfriend Tiana is in the waiting room. The nurse smiles and offers me cookies on my way out.
Leila Quinn Ortiz is a poet who lives in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn.
"You're Not the One" by Sky Ferreira
I am down for any breakup song, any time. My favorite is “You’re Not the One” by Sky Ferreira. The song is a cutie pie, and it is a banger. You can absolutely dance to it.
Insistent and propulsive, there’s something industrial about the sound of the drums that comprise the track’s backbone. Acidy guitars clear the way for Ferreria’s message: this ain’t it, and its okay.
Like any standout in the genre, there is longing: It's the middle of the night and I'm so gone, but the way she sings: And I'm thinking about how much I need you / But you really want somebody else is so bouncy and energized that following up with a resigned, I won't even bother to fight /I know you're not the one, signals relief. It is the song I turn to when I’m ready to get over someone by getting under someone else.
Jane V. Blunschi holds an MFA in Fiction Writing from the University of Arkansas. Her collection of stories, Understand Me, Sugar, was published in 2017 by Yellow Flag Press, and her work has appeared in Paper Darts, SmokeLong Quarterly, MUTHA Magazine, and Foglifter. Originally from Lafayette, Louisiana, Blunschi lives in Fayetteville, Arkansas.
"Black Is the Colour of My True Love's Hair" by Nina Simone
Nina Simone’s live album of 1970, Black Gold—a recording of a performance at New York’s Philharmonic Hall on October 26, 1969—opens with a solo piano arrangement of the folk ballad “Black Is the Colour of My True Love’s Hair.” Here especially, Nina’s androgynous timbre subverts the division between masculine and feminine pitch—the vocal range impossible to categorize without a visible body.
As though confessing a secret, Nina croons and warbles; that the true love, who is called “he,” has black hair suggests another, more legitimate but less preferable lover’s hair is not black—a clandestine desire.
At three-minutes-twenty-three-seconds, Emile Latimer plucks his guitar. Nina rejoins on piano, and an androgynous timbre continues to croon and warble—now regarding a lover who is called “she.”
It’s Emile Latimer’s voice, indiscernibly similar to Nina’s. If a listener doesn’t realize that he’s the vocalist of the latter portion of the seven-minute performance, the listener may assume Nina switched pronouns. Now, for this moment, Nina addresses both pronouns. Disembodied, the voice has unfettered choice of gender to embody and desire.
Zachary Pace is a writer and editor who lives in Brooklyn.
"Ghost Hardware" by Burial
Pasts and futures circulate the present, clouds of pure atmospheric potentiality. From those clouds, drizzles blur streets, hardware crepitates, eerie angelic-ghost frequencies set up new-old zones. “Euphoria trapped in a vial” as Burial said in an interview with Mark Fisher. Walter Benjamin’s snow globes. Wandering. After-during-near a rave. A cloud holding divinatory weathers.
After sunset when the blue is here: “Ghost Hardware” works by (dis)assembling voices, sputters, ambient evidence that works on the mind-body like a familiarly evasive scent. Can’t capture it. Euphoric vial spills then gathers itself up, animate.
Burial’s crackles and hisses make me remember I’m listening to sounds made by humans, machines, and their collaborations. “Ghost Hardware” cracks open a space which highlights the faux split between inside and outside. I’m in the song, wandering through its daze as the song seeps into me. From the buzzing cloud and/or ground: “Love you” looped.
Emmalea Russo is the author of G (2018), Wave Archive (2019). Recent writing has appeared in Artforum, American Chordata, BOMB, The Brooklyn Rail, Granta, Hyperallergic, Los Angeles Review of Books, and elsewhere. A new chapbook, Great Mineral Silence (2020) is out from Sputnik & Fizzle. She lives at the Jersey shore.
"The Traitor" covered by Martha Wainwright (with Leonard Cohen’s commentary)
“The dreamer’s rise against the men of action... The poison sank and paralyzed my will."
Under the marled air, the scent of iodine crawls across the gorge. The flow of blood leaves my body. What foreign intersection arrives. I catch a glimpse: the sun under the trees, the redbirds vanish. I want to belong to their candor, the blush they bear, my faint memory before the edges swallowed you. I’m cursed by what I believe to see. A reflection lays over me: traces of my killing, or doing. I can’t go back. I don’t protest. Leonard Cohen’s songs carry me each time to a soulful other world where a connection opens something new. No matter how often I play this song I cry each time I hear these words: “I could not move to warn all the younger soldiers that they had been deserted from above.” This is grief, betrayal, remorse, fear, anger, love, a thousand emotional layers.
Maureen Alsop PhD, is the author of five poetry books including Pyre (forthcoming with What Books Press). She presently lives on Magnetic Island.
"Hounds of Love" covered by Andrew Weathers
I keep writing and deleting a direct message to Andrew Weathers, a musician whose digital thoughts I read, and to whose songs I listen. In my message, I indicate that I have been repetitively listening to his cover of Kate Bush's "Hounds of Love.” You wrote that you repetitively listened to the original song, and my mind continues returning to this feedback loop: your living inside the song, and my living inside your cover of the song. I once lived inside Kate Bush's original version of the song too. That summer, I ran around the Prospect Park Lake while listening to it. Sometimes I cried as I ran. Always I thought about taking off my shoes and throwing them into the water. I love your cover. I reread my message. It feels strange, obtrusive, porous. I consider unsolicited correspondence. I do not send it. I write this instead.
Claire Donato is the author of Burial and The Second Body. In addition to composing books, she writes songs, takes photographs, and makes illustrations. She lives by herself in a psychic medium’s building in Brooklyn.
"Met You" by Morgan Wade
Morgan Wade’s debut album, Reckless, has been described variously as rock, alt country, and rural pop, but it’s clear from the opening notes that Wade can’t be defined. With a voice that embraces her Appalachian accent and climbs in ways both tender and defiant, Wade’s entire album blows past the ordinary. The final cut, “Met You,” has reached an obsessive level on my Spotify rotation this year. Plaintive guitar, moody intermittent keyboards, and a throat that belts the anguish of lost love, Wade writes and performs the most thoughtful hell out of her songs. “I’d write you a love song/ But I don’t know how that feels...,” “Met You” begins, and it ends having been a love song, its last two notes a capella and echoing, like we are left wailing at an otherwise empty crossroads of disappointment and possibility, and then it’s up to us what comes next.
Lynn Melnick is the author of three collections of poetry, including Refusenik, forthcoming in February 2022. I've Had to Think Up a Way to Survive, a book about Dolly Parton that is also a bit of a memoir, will be published by the University of Texas Press in fall of 2022.
"Jackaroe" by Joan Baez
“Jackaroe” is about a girl who dresses up like a boy to board a ship to find her lover. It’s not only that though; she dresses like a soldier. “Jackaroe” is a traditional song that goes by many similar names and this might be because it’s a song about similarity. Will Jackaroe pass as soldier so that she can find her own beloved soldier? She says, “I know my waist is slender, my fingers are neat and small, but it would not make me tremble to see ten thousand fall.” She doesn’t appear strong, but she is. To search for her beloved “among the dead and dying,” she must be very courageous. When my mother sings this song to me, we are both afraid, having already become soldiers in our way, and we love each other fiercely like a couple who has found one another after being separated by war.
Anna Vitale is a poet training to become a psychoanalyst. She is the author of Detroit Detroit.
"Music" by Sean Nicholas Savage
Years ago I visited a potter in the exurbs of Seoul in whose foothills, he said, was a plant endemic to Korea his father had taught him to tap. Diffuse— almost holographic in its depth— what appeared to be a watery gloss, after dozens of applications, accrued to a lacquer whose value (both in pigment and in price) outshone the purest gold. Luminous, elaborate,Sean Nicholas Savage’s “Music” (like so much music for music), is like his vases, increasing in beauty with each subsequent coat of sap.
Savage, like those other wild ones who write such songs of songs doesn’t make music—like a drug: he does it. The effect is a Pythagorian panic of the senses in which the cosmos is composed of The Big Music and the DJ’s a deity to pray to, kill, or overthrow. And when you storm that temple: you gotta do it to music.
"I'm Moving On" by Larry T. and the Family
Forward motion - this song is forward motion. Transitioning time and crossroads, watching a pandemic year spill out messy into summer, this song beats that forward momentum, sonic stank face y ese campana bien chingón.
Chakra (Live & Unreleased Recordings Archive Recordings 1981-1983)
One stoned Discogs wormhole led me to this Japanese jamband’s 14 minute masterpiece. Good for a long drive, no traffic, windows cracked at the 3:10 mark.
"Adventure.exe" by Owen Pallett
I have replayed this on loop and won’t quit doing it.
"Eyeshadow Fallout" by Ariel Zetina
A great song to kiss, cry, and dance to.
This music evokes the energy in my studio while I was working through the winter. There's emotional rawness and intensity, but the effect is often playful. It's a casual list of songs: The Raincoats show up more than once. It's more like a vibe. All of this music loves music and revels in what music can do. That kind of music always gives me the feeling that I'm eavesdropping on people having a really good time.
Sara Magenheimer is an artist, writer, and musician based in New York. Recent solo exhibitions include the New Museum, NY; Portland Institute for Contemporary Art, OR; The Kitchen, New York. Her videos have been screened at the Flaherty Seminar, Oberhausen Film Festival, International Film Festival Rotterdam, Brooklyn Academy of Music, the New York Film Festival, Images Festival, Anthology Film Archives, EMPAC, Troy, NY, and the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. She was the recipient of a 2014 Rema Hort Mann Foundation Grant, 2015 Artadia Award, the Prix De Varti at the 2015 Ann Arbor Film Festival and a grant from the Foundation for Contemporary Arts in 2020. Magenheimer authored “Notes on Art and Resistance A–Z” leading up to and following the 2016 U.S. presidential election. In 2019 Wendy’s Subway published Beige Pursuit, Magenheimer’s first book length work of writing. Magenheimer is an Assistant Professor of New Media at SUNY Purchase College.
Taylor Swift, “Hoax”
Joni Mitchell, “Blue”
Lianne La Haves, “No Room for Doubt”
Mitski, “Come into the Water”
Taylor Swift, “Epiphany”
Dean Moore, “Trickle”
Cold Specks, “Send your Youth”
Cold Specks, “When the City Lights Dim”
Snigdha Koirala is a poet and writer based in New York City. Her works have appeared in Wildness, Gutter, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, and elsewhere. She is a graduate student at NYU’s Centre for Experimental Humanities, where, amongst other things, she explores the sedimentation of history and violence in the English language.
Funkadelic, “Back In Our Minds”
Lady Lamb, “Billions of Eyes”
Sevdaliza, “The Language of Limbo”
the Digable Planets, “Agent 7 Creamy Spy Theme/Dial 7 (Axiom of Creamy Spies)/NY 21 Theme”
Be Steadwell, “Greens”
The Space Lady, “I Had Too Much to Dream Last Night”
Julia Jacklin, “Body”
Japanese Breakfast, “Soft Sounds from Another Planet”
Mallika Singh is a poet, cook, and facilitator who writes about environment, surveillance, and intimacies. They are from many places and currently frolicking in the high desert of New Mexico. Mallika is the author of the chapbook, Retrieval (Wendy's Subway), and is pursuing a certificate in Community Herbalism from the People’s Medicine School.
“I love you with all of my soul / u know I wouldn't tell u if I didn't mean it tho" it's a gun joke so deep and sincere it turns right back into human limerence—his singing exceeds the metaphor so that what I feel listening is something like true love, in it's wooze, pivot, lo-fi slur and mumble. While writing the poems that would be part of Glaring I picked up Jalal Toufic's Forthcoming from codex books—it opens with a brief piece called "l'avertissement a l'écrivain"—warning to the writer. There are writers and filmmakers "rare, who address the one who, for whatever circumstances, is in a state of depersonalization—they accompany someone even when he has deserted himself. Since these instances of depersonalization are rare, and since one often does not wish to be reminded of them, the latter writers and filmmakers, books and films are not popular." I said I was disassociating, a serious joke, and the person I was going with said maybe it's time to reassociate. so I had to ask myself, am I just witness to a cosmic crime? Can I make a writing dense, quick and gathered enough to spiral out and upward from the hole we're kicked down into? These are lonely songs, they accompany someone who has deserted themself but, I think, see association as a serious task of making. Burial, "I want to find true love, I know it's [a lie? alright?]"—and the rinse announcer chimes in to pull the music from the vacuum. "From young man I knew what I wanted, never inside weren't watching no marvel" Nito NB. Lust for life, 10 mins of close mic'd organ from Kali Malone, cosmic claustrophobic euro church music, feel my mood slowly disperse and congeal. But "we sing a song, especially to you" too, god (Robert Vanderbilt), please hurry and find us. "God knows I need to see you, but it takes so long, my Lord...nobody has taught us any patience...and by now it's too late...I hope it's not too late but I think it's too late" (Nina Simone)—the last lines of the last poem in Glaring are "love is coming from me, love is streaming / from me . it's there , but there's no time ." I hope it's not too late ! I'm so impatient. I think it's not too late. I'm overcome, I'm badly mixed . I had a vision last night that we got the killing to stop and the storm picked up and the plantations burned and the dead patina over living just crept up and crackled. Writing in a spiral pattern, "I've never seen a night so long" (Cassandra Wilson via Hank Williams), but the night makes matter happen. I said it and it's so.
Burial, "True Love VIP"
Nito NB + Loski, "Lies"
Triad God, "so pay la"
Cassandra Wilson, "I'm so lonesome I could cry"
Duwap Kaine, "Choppa"
Kali Malone, "Spectacle of Ritual"
Robert Vanderbilt & The Foundation of Souls, "A Message Especially From God"
Nina Simone, "My Sweet Lord / Today is a Killer"
Benjamin Krusling is a writer and artist working in language, sound and moving image. He is the author of Glaring (Wendy's Subway, 2020).