Music and nightlife

Spin Doctors’ Chris Barron on break ups, break downs, and the group’s new music

Spin Doctors are back — and they're happy to play you “Two Princes”! Photo by Lucy Onions

Spin Doctors’ frontman Chris Barron can easily flash back to his first time playing San Francisco.

It was 1991 and his neo-hippie jam band was between touring its first EP Up For Grabs, a live recording that captured its predilection for musical improvisation — with some tracks lasting upwards of 10 minutes —  and the release of Pocket Full of Kryptonite later that year.

But Barron didn’t know if he could take the stage at DNA Lounge for even one second after a friend of the band took him to Haight Ashbury and gave him a hit of Owsley LSD as they sat on the front steps of the famed Grateful Dead house.

“He was like, ‘Oh, don’t worry, it’s very pure and not that strong,” the singer told 48 Hills. “But when it was time for me to go on, I was in this jungle of neon color that I could barely find my way through.”

Chris Barron on his first SF gig: “I was in this jungle of neon color that I could barely find my way through.” Photo by Jesse Dittmar

Not trusting that he could sing in pitch, he went to the back of the tour bus, and finding the band’s drummer Aaron Comess, he laid down on a bench and put his head on his bandmate’s lap and said in a panic that he didn’t think he could hear pitches and therefore sing that night.

Comess had him test out his theory by playing their rock track, “Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong” on guitar, and once the two were confident that the singer could perform in perfect pitch, they took the stage with Barron still tripping.

“It was like singing in this cave on an alien planet,” Barron said. “If you’ve ever seen the bar scene in Star Wars, imagine being the band onstage and seeing all these people with googly eyes and trunks and long necks and just vaguely being able to see these strange faces out of the gloom. Then I spilled some water onstage and stepped in it, and it was like globules of mercury flying everywhere. So that was my first time playing in San Francisco.”

Six studio albums and 2,000 shows later, the band is still best known for the five times Platinum LP Pocket Full of Kryptonite, high-charting rock hits “Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong” and “Two Princes,” and for sparking the ‘90s jam band movement alongside Blues Traveler, Phish, and Widespread Panic. The Spin Doctors will return to the Bay Area for a special 30th anniversary show (Sweetwater Music Hall, May 17, 9pm) featuring the hits, favorites, and deep cuts.

48 HILLS I’ve always thought of Spin Doctors as a San Francisco band, but you first formed in New York City in late ‘88, after John Popper left your then band Trucking Company to found Blues Traveler. What drew you to guitarist Eric Schenkman, drummer Aaron Comess, and bassist Mark White?

CHRIS BARRON We always had incredible chemistry together as musicians. I just thought that Eric was the most incredible guitar player I had ever heard, and I still think he’s one of the most incredible guitar players.

Everyone in this band is such a cool musician. Each of us thought that the other guys were the best guys for the job. It was musicianship, and when we play music even today, there’s still this special chemistry where groove-wise we’re in each other’s pockets.

48 HILLS Speaking of pockets, what stands out most when you think back to the recording of “Pocket Full Of Kryptonite”?

CHRIS BARRON For me, overall, it was that childlike dream-come-true kind of moment that sadly not a lot of people get to have. The band always had contentious chemistry as people, so we were in the studio and there was a lot of friction. But for the most part, we were walking on air. We couldn’t believe we were making a record.

At the same time, there was a bit of I was six years old watching our little Sony black and white television. Shirley Temple came on. It must have been 1974, I was six years old, and I took one look at her and thought,  “I’m gonna marry her and we’re gonna sing and dance.” I didn’t know she was older at the time. I just thought she’d come out of the TV and marry me. My wife, Lindsay Nicole Chambers, is a grown-up Shirley Temple in a way. She’s a genius theatre actress.

But I’ve wanted to do this my entire life, so making “Pocket Full Of Kryptonite,” there was partly a sense of I can’t believe I’m doing this, and part of me felt like it was inevitable and probably going to happen all along.

There’s been ups and downs, but the Spin Doctors made it through. Photo by Lucy Onions

48 HILLS You had five charting singles off that album. I have to ask about the two that your band is most known for: “Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong” and “Two Princes.” So I always thought that “Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong” was a diss track about an ex. But you admitted more recently that it was actually about your former stepmother?

CHRIS BARRON Yeah, I lived with her from age nine to 18 until my parents split up. She had a lot of problems and did a lot of screaming. She had a borderline personality disorder with malignant narcissistic tendencies. She was a tough cookie.

48 HILLS One of the things that always touched me about that song is the part where you soften toward her at the end. She caused you a lot of grief, but you still clearly have some sensitivity toward her.

CHRIS BARRON Yeah, she actually passed away a couple of years ago, I heard. I haven’t been in touch with her since my parents split up.

48 HILLS Now, as far as “Two Princes,” I have to ask about that now iconic neo-hippie outfit you wear in the video. To a lot of people, you’re probably as associated with that Guatemalan hat and long knit sweater as you are with the song, itself.

CHRIS BARRON I bought the Guatemalan hat on the street in New York City because I was broke and it cost $6.

As far as the sweater, that shoot, which took place in December, went until two o’clock in the morning, and that night it dropped down to below freezing. So I had been sitting in the trailer with the hair and makeup ladies just trying to stay warm and drinking a cup of tea.

Then Rich Murray, the director, came in and said, “Alright, we’re ready for you guys.” I was freezing, so the hair and makeup lady gave me her long knit sweater to walk out in.

Rich was like, “What the fuck are you wearing?” And I was like, “Dude, I’m freezing.” And he was like, “What the fuck is that sweater supposed to be?” And I said, “It’s two o’clock in the morning, and I’m freezing.” And he was like, “I have no time for this. Everybody’s on overtime. We’re going to go over budget. Get the fuck in front of the camera. I don’t care anymore.”

That’s how that look came to be, completely because I had a $6 hat on and a lady’s sweater.

48 HILLS Shortly after the release of your follow-up LP Turn It Upside Down, in 1994, Eric Schenkman left the band pretty abruptly by walking offstage during a show in Berkeley.  White followed in 1999. What happened?

CHRIS BARRON We had been just crazily overworked, and we went straight from the long slog of getting the first record to take off, killing ourselves on the road — back into the studio. The label sent us down to Memphis to work with an amazing producer, Jim Dickinson, but we needed some rest and maybe some group therapy.

We always cared about each other and would hurt each other’s feelings in certain ways and never really resolve it. So at that point, there was a tremendous amount of tension and the band was a seething cauldron of mutiny and resentment. And Eric cracked and left the stage, and after that, we ended up splitting up for seven years.

48 HILLS Then in 1999 you suffered rare vocal paralysis and your entire musical career was in jeopardy after doctors told you that you had a 50/50 chance of ever singing again.

CHRIS BARRON That was a nightmare. I lost my voice for about a year and I could only whisper, so it was a lot of me writing things down on pads. People thought I was deaf and started to mime things, and it was like, “No, I can hear, but I just can’t talk.” So it was really kind of a shitshow and looking pretty bleak, but thankfully I came out on the right side of it.

48 HILLS Two years later, the Spin Doctors reunited and two more studio albums followed. 2013’s critically acclaimed If The River Was Whiskey, was more of a blues record, and the rumor is your next album will be more of a rock and funk record.  

CHRIS BARRON We definitely came at If The River Was Whiskey as a blues record, but we always approached the blues from a personality place rather than a genre-based place. I think each guy in this band sees American music along this spectrum, from field songs through the blues through Dixieland, country, and jazz all the way to bebop — and rock ‘n’ roll is somewhere in the middle. And you’re just picking the notes and the motifs that are going to serve the music the best.

Chris Barron: “making ‘Pocket Full Of Kryptonite,’ there was partly a sense of I can’t believe I’m doing this, and part of me felt like it was inevitable and probably going to happen all along.” Photo by Jesse Dittmar

48 HILLS How do you balance the need for hits with the urge for experimentation?

CHRIS BARRON We’ve always come at music from a more authenticity perspective, and the older we get, the more we do this. It’s about virtuosity, and virtuosity is not about doing some kind of musical gymnastics. It’s about being so well versed in whatever you do that you can authentically present your personality with your art.

When you do that, you’re going to make something good, and sometimes it’s commercial and sometimes it’s not.  But it’s not like we come at each record going, “We’ve got to write a couple of hits or the record’s a failure.”

48 HILLS Do you still enjoy singing “Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong” and “Two Princes”?

CHRIS BARRON We got lucky with a couple of songs on Pocket Full Of Kryptonite that got really big and they’re most of the tunes we’re known for and people still enjoy listening to after all these years, so we do enjoy playing them.

You know the song that kept us out of number one was Billy Ray Cyrus’s “Achy Breaky Heart.” I would always say that I would rather have a song like “Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong” go to number two than have to sing “Achy Breaky Heart” for the rest of my career.

SPIN DOCTORS – A SPECIAL 30TH ANNIVERSARY SHOW
May 17, 9pm, $32/$27
Sweetwater Music Hall, Mill Valley
Tickets and more info here.

A stellar Mutek.SF refreshed spirits weary of tech’s cynical slide

DÖKK by fuse* at Herbst Theatre. Photo by Jon Bauer

We descended on last weekend’s MUTEK San Francisco festival drifting through a massive digital space station, orbiting weightless above a radiant earth, which soon dissolved, revealing something underneath: structures even more fundamental than matter itself. The dome of the Morrison Planetarium at the California Academy of Sciences was remapped for the next hour with patterns of mathematical and scientific beauty: a cellular organelle scanned by an electron microscope, hypothetical geometries positing fractal landscapes in higher dimensions.

‘Sphere’ by Robert Koch and Mickael Le Goff opened Mutek.SF at Morrison Planetarium. Photo by Jon Bauer

This was Robot Koch and Mickael Le Goff’s Sphere, a show they designed especially for such a space. Artist collective Susy.technology, took this notion and went even further out, projecting a mutating dimension of images, the paranoid dreams of an uploaded mind unraveling without physical context. These opening shows jump-started the four days of MUTEK programming and projected its central thesis deep into space for all to see: The future of dance music will be limited only by how well we functionalize the interface between artist and machine.

Oakland’s Piano Rain at the Academy of Sciences. Photo by Jon Bauer

Headquartered at record store and local musical institution RS94109, MUTEK unfolded this past weekend across the city in venues both familiar to and uncharted by the local dance music scene, primarily in North Beach. The venue choices were excellent and often contributed much to the proceedings: Lawrence English instructed the audience Saturday to lie on our backs in the beautiful converted cathedral at the 906.World cultural center and gaze at angels on the ceiling bathed in fuchsia spotlights as low, powerful vibrations rippled through the foundation like a manufactured earthquake, activating subliminal fields of regeneration buried deep in the mind.

Dopplereffekt played Herbst Theatre on the second day of Mutek.SF. Photo by Jon Bauer
Dopplereffekt at Mutek.SF. Photo by Jon Bauer.

The programming progressed through three categories on the first day, kicking off with free Digi Lab sessions which encompassed more laidback music demos and panels on topics like the future of hardware instrumentation. Afterwards, the A/Visions sessions instantiated these ideas through performances in which visual art and sound design interacted symbiotically, on an even playing field. Kelly Moran demonstrated this Friday evening through phosphorescent and occasionally disorienting eddies of color and sound in the Herbst theater. This was followed by the truly groundbreaking DÖKK performance by Italian production company fuse*. A dancer, suspended on wires, swam through a projected 3D galaxy— apparently calculated using actual redshift information—to generate a realistic galactic flow, her hands parting streams of light like a celestial Moses.

DÖKK by fuse* at Herbst Theatre. Photo by Jon Bauer

While this is only MUTEK’s second outing in San Francisco (the “festival of digital creativity” started 19 years ago in Montreal), the economic and social climate of our city places it in a special context, especially now. While tech giants might ignore or even attempt to distract us from the potentially disastrous and dehumanizing outcomes of our seemingly unchecked sprint towards a technological singularity, these artists are daring to imagine the consequences of our hubris.

Abandoned Footwear played 1015 Folsom. Photo by Jon Bauer
Smerz played 1015 Folsom on day 2 of Mutek.SF. Photo by Jon Bauer

This concept was obvious at Friday night’s Nocturne show at 1015 Folsom, where the often aggressive, jagged sounds of breakbeat and post-industrial music dominated. Artists like Amnesia Scanner pushed synthesizers to their absolute functional limit, blending a tachycardic bassline with dystopic visuals and sloganeering to create protest music for a future uprising of industrial machines against their creators.  Kode9 teamed up with Japanese animator Koji Morimoto to present his show “Digging in the Carts,” a dispatch from some alternate Japan ruled by dark magic.

Alkahest at 1015 Folsom. Photo by Jon Bauer

In a city where fortunes are amassed in solely by the analysis and transformation of data, it’s nice to be reminded that algorithms are capable of more than the relentless pursuit of the coveted IPO. In the right hands they can elucidate raw information, reveal patterns, even fight back. A panel on the future of musical instrumentation warned against our devotion to algorithms altogether, stressing the importance of the haptic feedback of a real synthesizer; that the occasional nondeterminism of modular hardware could be leveraged to maintain originality in a musical landscape clogged with downloadable, prepackaged production loops.

Freeka-Tet at 906.World Cultural Center on day 3 of Mutek.SF. Photo by Jon Bauer.

Afterwards, at the 906.world cathedral, Freeka Tet mutated and transformed an image of his face on a giant projector set up in place of the lectern, as though proposing design upgrades to God himself—in one hilarious moment faking a software failure, composing a tweet to Elon Musk, and then forging on.

This kind of intimate work, a demonstration of the extraordinary human capacity and appetite for experimentation, seemed on its face far removed from the late night dance floors of the second iteration of the Nocturne party, held under the hanger-like ceilings of Broadway Studios. But Halal and Relaxer brought a live set full of dark, undulating rhythms peppered through with anxious acid sounds that maintained a danceable tension. One rarely gets the chance to hear such adventurousness in this kind of environment.

SF’s Sepehr played a live set at Broadway Studios. Photo by Jon Bauer

MUTEK.SF finally merged the high-level concepts of its daytime programming with more accessible fare at closing party The Experience, which took over the Midway on Sunday for more than 10 hours. The atmosphere was casual and exploratory and perhaps most importantly, not overcrowded. Veronica Vasicka energized the misty outdoor patio with beefy industrial techno, followed by the Hacker whose pioneering electro sound, optimistic by comparison, reminded us of the dream of the future we used to have when technology seemed like a force for good. Legowelt closed out the weekend indoors with a genre-spanning set that left the dance floor visibly fatigued, in front of a screen of indecipherable images—like some Rorschach test for a future cybernetic intelligence gone rogue.

Oakland’s Nihar & Subset at The Midway. Photo by Jon Bauer

In a cynical world of mostly bloated, cash-hungry festivals, MUTEK.SF stands out as the obvious product of a genuine love for the genre and form by organizers and artists alike. The festival offers something fresh and even reconstructive in a city desensitized to constant technological hype, inundated by apps that no one needs which profit off the very feelings of inadequacy they engender in their users. While it’s important not to allow the significant artistic achievements on display here to be overshadowed by the deeper implications they suggest, I have to note that MUTEK.SF is among the few organizations carving out a way forward for genuine artistic innovation—in a city where “technology” has become little more than a hollow and devastating engine of greed—and managing to be a hell of a good time while it forges ahead.

Who can ask for anything more? A review of Tony Bennett in San Jose

Tony, tell us; is San Francisco's love here to stay? 2017 photo from London's Royal Albert Hall via Wikimedia Commons

Dear Mr. Bennett,

I rarely dress up. Outside of a funeral, you’d never see me in a tie. So when I found out you were coming to The Civic National Theater in San Jose I got a ticket for my best friend and I. I grew up listening to your album Tony Bennett’s Greatest Hits, Vol. III, which is among my father’s favorites. I can still see the cover, a gray background with you donning a white shirt with high collar, your hands gesticulating anguish, yet pleading the power of the voice to inevitably triumph over the odds — come what may. A mutual friend saw me in my light blue shirt, blue tie and blue sport coat. He was taken by it. After all, I am an activist whose standard attire is a t-shirt and a hooded sweatshirt. 

“You look quite dapper”, said my friend.

“I’m going to see Tony Bennett”

“The singer?”

“Is there any other Tony Bennett?”

“You look … different … all dolled up.”

“This ain’t Justin Beavers I’m going to see”, I replied, “I’m going to see Tony Bennett. You dress accordingly — with class, respect.”

“Justin Beavers?”

“Yeah, and toss Justin Timberlake and Justin Herman in there too.”

“Justin Herman didn’t make music.”

“Yeah, I know,” I replied, adjusting my tie.

I had waited a long time to see you in person. Now my wait was about to end.

My friend and I entered the theater. We were in the fourth row. In front of me a woman with towering blonde hair. I would be craning my neck for sure, I thought. The lights went down. Enter Antonia Bennett and the Tony Bennett quartet. Antonia has inherited your charisma, with a unique voice. She has clearly taken in the pages of the song book written by the great composers, with sassy versions of “Old Black Magic” and “Someone to Watch Over Me.” Her version of “From this Moment On” cast a shadow of reflection over the packed audience: 

For you’ve got the love I need so much
Got the skin I love to touch
Got the arms to hold me tight
Got the sweet lips to kiss me goodnight

She intimated to the audience that you taught her much about being a singer, about being a human being, and dedicated Billie Holiday’s “You’re a Lucky Guy” to you. Finally, she belted out a passionate song of lust for life:

From this happy day, no more blue songs
Only whoop-dee-doo songs, from this moment on

To me, her voice was like the fragrance of a flower I’d never smelled before. Her resemblance to you is strong and she very capably set the tone, along with the quartet for your entrance.

I looked around the theater. It was packed with mostly older folk — some with metal walkers but spry nonetheless — with a generous helping of middle aged folk, sprinkled with young folks who appeared to be in their early 30s. Sartorially, the scene was everything I expected — made-up hair, sequins, leopard prints, shawls, floral prints, a cowboy hat, and an aloha shirt tossed in for good measure. 

Then, enter Frank: The voice of Frank Sinatra over the PA saying something to the effect of, “This cat, Tony Bennett, is the best singer in the world today.” And then: enter you.

Applause, standing ovation — you in a gray silk suit, arms wide in a gesture of embrace.  Enter your voice, familiar and still powerful at the age of 92. Songs sung, heard, felt; songs that move us through the cycles, the conundrums of this life. You: enter us.

In Love: It amazes me what she sees in me … Steppin’ out with my baby

In Loneliness: In my solitude you taunt me with memories that never die

I sat in the audience and through the songs you interpret, bring to life, refuse to let die — I think of my city and of the lives and isolation of its people. Your songs echo their feelings, articulate the despair as in the “Boulevard of Broken Dreams.”

The joy that you find here you borrow
You cannot keep it long it seems
But gigolo and gigolette
Still sing a song and dance along
The boulevard of broken dreams

The author James Baldwin said that it is the artists, the poets, ultimately, that show us what it means — not only to live in this world, but to survive it. The singer’s is the voice to the human interaction, the condition. In a melodious movement of molecules, in the form of sound that becomes one with the living parts of our being and to the world. The writer Ralph Ellison, in Shadow and Act, tells us that “One of the chief values of living with music lies in its power to give us an orientation in time. Timeless songs are the ones that are the most powerful.”

A medley of your hits included your rendition of Hank Williams’s “Cold, Cold Heart.” The ensuing years since then one in which you recorded it (1951) have brought an even deeper meaning in the current state of the world, our country, and in my city, San Francisco, where the heart has grown not only cold, but freezing. And in the audience I can see them, the seniors who have been evicted and displaced. They are here, their spirits somehow one with the music — Carl Jensen, Iris Canada, Ron Lickers — and countless others who our city forgot but who many of us, holding on to the hope of our city refuse to forget, holding on to shadows:

The shadow of your smile
When you are gone
Will color all my dreams
And light the dawn

And, of course, there was, in homage to Sinatra, “Fly me to the Moon”, “The Way You look tonight” and “One for My Baby (and One More for the Road)”, complete with shot glass.  I took those songs as homage to your audience, here in San Jose and worldwide, who are surely the source of your longevity. And again, your timeless voice:

Love is funny or is sad
A good thing or its bad

The Tony Bennett Quartet kept up with you at every step with ripe guitar riffs, piano solos that were reminiscent of the great Bill Evans, up-tempo, mid-tempo — every tempo that reached into our hearts with understatement both seductive and jubilant, like a tide under a quiet moon that illuminates the world on its darkest nights.

My friend, who accompanied me to your show, was very moved by your rendition of “In My Solitude”, bringing up the memory of his father, the passing of his father’s wife of more than 50 years. William and Blanca, both joined somewhere else while my friend feels their presence in this theater, and in all places and spaces their spirit and memory sure to enter.

In my solitude
I’m afraid
Dear Lord above
Send back my love

Mr. Bennett, I think of the seniors in SF who are isolated, who are threatened with homelessness. I think of the fight for deeply affordable housing going on right now in our city. Are your songs political? It is for the listener to behold and take in the meaning. A line in one of your songs pierced my mind and still resonates: “Our love is here to stay.”

Thank you for a wonderful show. And as we continue to fight for the heart of the City of San Francisco, we can’t forget the words you sang on Friday, “How do you keep the music playing?”

In spite of everything, we must continue to try. Who can ask for anything more?

Tony Robles is a San Francisco native, writer, storyteller, and housing advocate for Senior & Disability Action. Read his first letter to Tony Bennett on the occasion of Tony’s 90th birthday here

Win tickets to see disco legend Cerrone, Fri/26

Disco-jazz-funk legend Cerrone is coming to Public Works Fri/26 for a show that is sure to be out of this world. And we’ve got three pairs of tickets to give away to lucky dancers.

To win tickets, please send an email to marke@48hills.org with the subject line “Cerrone” and your full name in the body. Winners will be chosen at random on Tuesday night and notified by email, good luck!

Need a refresher on one of the seminal figures of the international dance scene? We couldn’t;t put it any better than legendary writer Michaelangelo Matos in the New Yorker:

Few figures sum up the lavish sonic excesses of seventies Euro disco like Marc Cerrone. The Parisian drummer and producer’s classic albums, “Love in C Minor” and “Supernature,” displayed his facility for airy grooves and carnal themes—the side-long title track of the LP “Love in C Minor,” for example, is about Cerrone being seduced by a trio of women. He’s since eased up on such overt libertinism, but a pair of recent EPs, “Afro” and “Afro II,” retain his lithe bounciness of old.

See you on the dance floor.

 

Contemporary fado queen Mariza comes to SFJAZZ

Fado, the mournful and soul-stirring music of Portugal, is coming to San Francisco this week. Whether you’re a fado fan or new to the genre, it’s time to hear Mariza, one of the world’s great fado singers. (She’s here April 12-14 at SFJAZZ.)

Rooted in the early 19th century, fado draws on some of the same inspiration as American jazz and blues.

“Fado was born almost the same way as blues because of the slaves and what they were singing,” Mariza explained to me during an interview in Barcelona, Spain and in a subsequent email. “They were singing about feelings of life. Fado explores those same feelings.” 

Like the early days of jazz in the US, fado was a popular urban music style distained by the countries’ elites. The Portuguese upper crust considered fado to be the music of pimps and prostitutes.

“Fado was born by the sea, produced by the sailors and African slaves,” said Mariza. “It’s a music from the working classes.”

Fado, which translates as destiny or fate, combines European melody, African rhythm and Arabic cadences into a unique musical form. It’s a stripped-down musical style usually featuring a singer, one musician playing the round-shaped Portuguese guitar and another playing classic guitar. The singer carries the plaintive melody while the guitars provide rhythm and some melodic interludes. 

Mariza explained that in the early days, fado lyrics served as a “newspaper with singing. People didn’t know how to read. So they used music to spread the news.”

Of course conditions are different today. She reads a lot of poetry to gain inspiration for new songs. “I work with composers and writers who compose for me. Then I choose what I think is the message.”

Mariza, whose given name is Marisa dos Reis Nunes, was born in 1973 in what was then the Portuguese colony of Mozambique. She moved to Portugal with her family at the age of three.

Mariza, who is of mixed Portuguese and African descent, periodically visits Mozambique. “I always go there when I can to get in touch with my family, to be in touch with my roots. With age I feel more this African side calling, it [is] part of who I am.”

Mariza started singing fado in Lisbon when she was five years old. “My parents had a little tavern. In the neighborhood where I lived fado was a kind of living school of music.”

Then as a teen she started listening the popular rock bands of the time such as U2, Supertramp and the Rolling Stones. She wanted to sing rock. “I was trying, but my English wasn’t very good. I didn’t understand it. Fado was always my first love.”

In Argentina, tango lost popularity among the youth for many years until undergoing a revival in the 1980s. To this day some young Brazilians consider bossa nova old geezer music. So it’s not surprising that fado his seen popular peaks and valleys in Portugal.  

Fado luminaries such as Amalia Rodrigues (1920-99) brought legitimacy to fado and modernized the art form. But the next generation listened to more rock and roll than traditional Portuguese music.

Now the young generation shows their emotional support for fado, said Mariza, part of their appreciation of Portuguese culture. “They are trying to protect this music, trying to pass the message.”

“You don’t’ have schools to learn this music,” she continued. “You learn on the streets. It’s passed down from older generations.” 

Mariza noted that fado is part of the Portuguese culture, an urban music that expresses emotion and true feelings. “Even if you don’t speak a word of Portuguese it is difficult not to be touched by the intensity of fado.”

For non-Portuguese speakers, fado can sound uniformly mournful. While there are happy, up-tempo fados, the genre does indeed feature a lot of lament and longing. In fact, the Portuguese concept of saudade (longing) plays a central role in the music. 

For example, Mariza sings “Ja Me Deixou” (He Already Left Me). The song’s protagonist suffers a lot because of a love who left. He says the “saudade walks with me.” But suddenly the lover returns and the longing goes away. “It has a happy ending.”

Fado has become one of the most popular musical styles in Portugal, and has spread throughout Europe and the Americas. But for Mariza, who regularly plays large jazz clubs and concert halls, fado always takes her back to her parent’s small bar.

“If you go to Lisbon, to a taverna, you see people commemorating life with a bottle of red wine. Sometimes you listen to a very sad fado. But they are enjoying life. They are cleaning the soul. Then everyone is smiling and happy.”

Mariza
April 12-14
SFJAZZ 
Tickets and more info here. 

While best known as a foreign correspondent, journalist Reese Erlich has written about jazz and blues for over 25 years. Listen online to his Jazz Perspectives podcasts.

Outside Lands 2019: What’s good? Welp…

Surreal-rap star Tierra Whack performs at Outside Lands 2019.

ALL EARS The monster that is Outside Lands (August 9-11, Golden Gate Park) coasts less on San Francisco’s rock ’n’ roll reputation these days than when the music festival was new—which means on the one hand the music is more youth-oriented, and on the other we get a lot of the same artists who’ve been making the festival rounds for a few years. 

Last year’s fest was dull aside from Janelle Monàe’s usual extravaganza and an astonishing but poorly-attended Janet Jackson set. This year’s lineup, its 12th, was just announced: It finds a happy medium, with some predictable perennials—Childish Gambino, Hozier, The Lumineers, Twenty One Pilots—and a nice cast of oddities.

Only two real ’60s icons show up. Expect a hell of a sing-along from Paul Simon, retired and now freshly un-retired. And Mavis Staples, who’ll perform not long after her 80th birthday, is still a fearsome presence and has made some of the best music of her career in the last decade (check out 2010’s You Are Not Alone). 

Nineties nostalgia is in vogue, hence sets by Counting Crows, Edie Brickell & New Bohemians, and, of all the bands in the world, Blink-182. The Killers, so dull at 2014’s fest, were a distressing early rumor. Blink might be a cheap nostalgia ploy, but at least they’re a fun one.

Outside Lands has fixed its former rap problem and gives us but a few prime picks, most notably Lil Wayne. He’s unpredictable live, and G-funk polymath Anderson.Paak is likely to put on the better show, even if I prefer the bemused wit of Weezy’s best tapes. 

Denzel Curry put on a fantastic set at L.A.’s defunct FYF fest with Badbadnotgood in 2017; I’m excited to see how he does on his own. I’m hesitant to promote Harlem shouter Sheck Wes after allegations of domestic violence against him emerged this year, but at least bros will show up to his set for “Mo Bamba” before bouncing to Flume or Kygo. 

DJ Koze might be the decade’s best dance-music album artist, a psychedelic sentimentalist who makes vocal samples cry the same way yesteryear’s guitar heroes did with their strings. He and hip-house wunderkind Yaeji represent the cream of underground dance music’s crop. 

Flying Lotus will bring his immersive 3D experience to the fray. When I saw him at FYF, he sent a 3D starship rocketing over the audience, then chuckled like a demon as the crowd recoiled in shock.

The artists I’m most excited about are Kacey Musgraves and Tierra Whack. Musgraves is a cosmic cowgirl who broadcasts the vistas of her mind outward from a down-home vantage point. Whack is a killer wit who writes better than anyone since Joni Mitchell about how the multitudes of her mind go unnoticed because she’s a woman—a mistake no one who hears her poignant, eccentric art-rap should make.

The fest is far too Solange-free, and I’d trade at least five of the headliners for a Seun Kuti & Egypt ’80 set. But even as Outside Lands falls victim to the homogenization of the American festival, at least it’s focusing on now rather than then. 

Outside Lands takes place from August 9 to 11 in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco. View the full lineup here:  

The sun hasn’t set yet on Sonny Smith’s SF

Sonny Smith

ALL EARS As the decade began, all eyes were on San Francisco’s rock scene. Sic Alps, Thee Oh Sees, White Fence, and the Fresh & Onlys found adoring fans and astute imitators. Pitchfork wrote a love letter to “San Francisco’s new garage rock” and gave big red Best New Music stamps to Mikal Cronin’s MCII and Ty Segall’s Slaughterhouse. 

In 2014, Pitchfork published another article: “Why So Many Musicians Are Leaving San Francisco for LA.” You probably already know why: tech money’s coming in, DIY spaces are drying up, artists are getting priced out.

Sonny Smith is one of a few holdouts from the old, weird SF. He’s lived for 12 years in the Sunset: appropriate, as his band is Sonny & the Sunsets. And though it may seem like tech killed the city’s last DIY cells, Smith says San Francisco is very much alive.

His new label Rocks In Your Head will debut April 1. The label’s name comes from a record store Smith visited in New York once. He remembers it as a certain type of store “where you go in and there’s record covers all over the walls and you gotta dig around,” as opposed to the boutique record shops prevalent in San Francisco, which Smith compares to “galleries.”

An Indiegogo campaign spilled well over its $15,000 goal. Smith will inaugurate the label with a new Sunsets album, Hairdressers from Heaven, with production from the Shins’ James Mercer and instrumental contributions from fellow SF holdout Kelley Stoltz. Then he’ll release a compilation of mostly little-known San Francisco bands, Hot Sick Vile & Fun: Rocks In Your Head Records Volume 1, on July 25.

Among the bands on the compilation Smith is most excited about are the Gonks, fronted by a teenage singer, and Galore, whom he compares to the Velvet Underground. 

He’s also pumped about the Balboa Theatre across the park, whose young staff has been booking hip acts like Harmony Tividad, Thou, and Tony Molina between movies.

“The narrative became so much about SF being dead and being over and being, like, not interesting anymore,” he says in the same sleepy, slightly old-mannish voice in which he sings. “I thought that was a little heavy-handed and disrespectful.” 

Maybe it’s easier for a musician than a music journalist to think small. The music news is so much about what’s new and what’s rising rather than what’s simply there.

“I don’t know if my ultimate intention is to put [San Francisco] on the map,” Smith says. “But it has been my desire to just embrace what’s around me rather than put out some band from Australia or something like that. It’s been really gratifying to embrace what’s actually happening in the community. Whether or not it’ll garner national attention I have no idea—that’s not my main mission.” 

Despite featuring an instrumental called “The Bad Vibes From LA Are Killing Me” on his great 2011 album Hit After Hit, Smith doesn’t really think about that city too much. “I’ve never had any interest in Los Angeles,” he says. “I don’t know how Los Angeles became a thing in the last few years.”

Smith speculates a lot of musicians who moved weren’t priced out but simply wanted to be with their buddies. But he seems to be making plenty of new friends. “I’ve met more musicians in the Sunset than anywhere else in the city,” he confides. “I don’t blame anybody who was living in the Mission and finally had enough of it and left, but the Sunset has been somewhat unscathed by tech.”

The eerie quiet, yawning skies, and salty sea air of the Sunset seem like they belong in a different world than the dystopia of downtown, where security robots roll past people who had homes five years ago.

“I honestly don’t have some totally great objective like a lot of people do,” he says. “I’m just in my own little world over here.” 

Finding out why ‘All Your Favorite Music is (Probably) Black’

Mark Montgomery French

ALL EARS This is the first time I’ll be making this presentation, but I’ve been preparing for it all through my career,” composer and musician Mark Montgomery French told me over the phone. He’s giving an immersive, multimedia talk at the Museum of the African Diaspora Wed/20 called “All Your Favorite Music is (Probably) Black” which investigates how and why so many Black music pioneers have been erased from the standard American music narrative.

“I’ve led two parallel lives. I’m a musician who’s played in bands and composes film scores, which I’m currently doing with my partner under the name Spiky Blimp. I’ve also been a creative director in the Bay Area site the late 1990s, back when the Internet was called the Information Super Highway, so I’ve made presentations for clients around the world. This combines both of my loves into one thing.”

Beyond his bona fides, however, Montgomery French is telling a vital story: Even today, people are amazed that black people invented rock and roll, let alone techno. I had a lively conversation with him that touched on topics like music stereotyping, the Grammys, and Spotify’s almighty (and biased) algorithm.

48 HILLS Can you give us a little taste of what to expect from “All Your Favorite Music is (Probably) Black”? 

MARK MONTGOMERY FRENCH There’ll be lots of music, and moving graphics. It’s sort of like a minor Ted Talk in terms of style, but I find that talking about music is rather dull unless you’re actually playing some. [Laughs.] In terms of content, I start with rock, but then rock subdivides. In 10 years, you get into other subcultures. I also get into country too, which is pre-rock in a sense.

This is what I want to audience to think about: Imagine you’re in school and you see two different groups of people who aren’t talking to each other. There might be the stoners on one side of the cafeteria listening to metal, and the art school kids on the other side listening to Kate Bush. And they don’t like each other, so they ignore each others’ music. At least not until later, when they all get Spotify. [Laughs.]

But there’s a whole image that goes with the music that defines these groups, from the way they dress to the way they act. And much of the time, that image has been packaged for you by someone at a record label, and their rationale is to maximize profit as much as possible. The way for them to do that is to basically take everything out of it that could be “questionable.” And that’s how you get something like Pat Boone singing rock on TV in the ’50s, because he’s much more “presentable,” relatable with a certain audience that’s permitted to buy his records and image. This principle extends to race, and to all genres. The music gets sanitized by the marketing. And if you control this narrative, you control the history.

48H Previously you did an online series called “28 black music documentaries in 28 days” … 

MMF Yes, and it was one of those things where you had to ask, “Why has no one done this? I guess it’ll be me.” It was such a great excuse to watch a great number of music documentaries. An you also realize how many there aren’t. You would think, after 68 years in the game, there would be a comprehensive Isley Brothers documentary. There is none, I’ve looked!

48H What germinated the idea behind “All Your Favorite Music Is (Probably) Black”?

MMF Part of it goes back to being in a band in the ’90s. I would walk in with an acoustic guitar and the booker at the club would go, “Oh, blues!” and we’d say, “Uh, no.” And then my drummer would walk in with dreads and they’d say, “Oh reggae!” And we’d say, “No…” And this would happen every club, every booker. The band’s name was Endangered Species and we played what was called progressive funk, but it was definitely rock and roll. That was never the assumption, however.

Everyone knows Jimi Hendrix, but Hendrix was an anomaly. And there have been others, like Living Color, Lenny Kravitz, who were big. But for the most part, if you’re a Black guy with a guitar, you’re anything but rock. You’re probably a ska guy—well, maybe! And I knew enough about history to think, “Well there were Black people doing these things. In my parents’ lifetime! The first 10 acts who got into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame were Chuck Berry, James Brown, Ray Charles, Every Brothers, Buddy Holly, Little Richard, Sam Cooke, Fats Domino, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Elvis Presley. That’s 60 percent Black people. This year? There’s one: Janet Jackson. That’s not because Black people stopped making music. There’s an erasure.

Even from behind the scenes, it’s the same thing. Tom Wilson was a producer: He produced the first Frank Zappa record, he produced the first Simon & Garfunkel record, He took “The Sounds of Silence” and expanded it from being just voice and guitar to the song that we know. He produced “Like a Rolling Stone” for Bob Dylan. His career is completely erased, almost no one know who he was, one of the major Black guys working in rock and roll at that time. And then there’s the offshoots. On of the biggest names in rock is Led Zeppelin, and Zeppelin basically started by raiding Chess Records. It’s things like this that inspired me to put this together.

It seems like step by step the deck chairs are moving to the right, and suddenly there’s no Black people in country, there’s none in pop… there’s none in techno, started by three Black dudes in Detroit, and now the face of techno is a European white guy with a giant mouse head mask.

48H Right now I’m watching people on my Twitter feed discover that Ariana Grande is a white girl. And then we just had the Grammys … 

MMF I wish that the Grammys had as much gravitas as the Oscars. One can look at an Oscar awarenesses, especially in the technical categories, and for the most part say, “That person rocked. That really was the best of the year.” I’ve always found the the Grammys, because they don’t go out of their way to get more of the unpolished but brilliant musicians into the voting categories, you’re going to get a more super-shiny group of nominees, much less winners. So if you do get someone who wins who deserves it, it’s a miracle. Stevie wonder won Best Album three times in the ’70s, and everybody agreed, “Yep!” Those were the best albums.

Was Cardi B’s the best rap album of the year? Not for me, but I wouldn’t take it away from her, especially since she’s the first woman to win it since Lauryn Hill won 20 years ago! Was “This is America” the best song of the year? I don’t know, but I’m impressed that something that uncompromising managed to get the voters to agree. It’s very hard to write a song that’s actually of the moment and good. Usually you have to pick one or the other.

48H You mentioned Spotify earlier. How do you feel about the new environment of streaming music, where almost everything is available, and does it help or hinder the rediscovery of the Black roots of a lot of music?

I’m of two mind. If I could only tell my impoverished high school self, “One day, for $10 a month, you can listen to just about anything until you pass out…” That to me is fantastic. One summer recently, I committed to listen to every Miles Davis album in order—because I could! There’s no way I ever could have afforded that. After a while I sort of bailed, I mean he did like 50 albums. [Laughs.]

But there is still an inherent bias in the algorithms that present things to you. For example, Prince is a rock star. We all know this. It’s in the way he dresses, and he plays crazy shredding guitar. But if you go onto his Spotify and you hit “Fans Also Like,” everybody in that category is an R&B person. It’s Rick James, it’s Gap Band… Who I love, but if you like Prince, it is possible you like Carlos Santana. It is possible you like Stevie Ray Vaughn. It is possible you like Eric Clapton. But none of those people show up. Prince himself loved Joni Mitchell, you can definitely hear the influence in him. But good luck seeing her name pop up. So you can see that even the most faceless technology is biased when it comes to music and who makes it.

“ALL YOUR FAVORITE MUSIC IS (PROBABLY) BLACK”
Wed/20, 6:30pm, $10. 
MOAD, SF.
More info here

Slain SF club kid Bubbles’ legacy lives on in ‘Bohemian Berlin Disco’

“Defender of androgyny and living life at the top of your lungs!” 

Anyone who came into the chaotic, inspiring, often obnoxious but ultimately priceless orbit of perennial club kid Bubbles will recognize this as a perfect encapsulation of their mission here on Earth. It’s been over a year since Bubbles was gunned down near their Tenderloin home—despite the police issuing a warrant for a suspect, no justice has been served and a lot of questions remain unanswered.

Nevertheless, the puckish spirit of Bubbles lives on—now in new track “Bohemian Berlin Disco,” which they conceived before their death with SF dance music duo Thrillhammer, freshly released on legendary label Hardkiss Music, with some nifty remixes to boot. Other signature lyrics include “I got cum in my hair” and “Don’t leave San Francisco for some Bohemian Berlin Disco.” (At the time of their death, Bubbles had been looking for funds to return to Berlin, where they had spent a recent, tumultuous summer). The track will officially be released this Friday, Feb. 8, but you can have a listen below.  

“I heard a demo of Bohemian Berlin Disco from [Thrillhammer member] Duserock and thought that it had an energy and bravado that reflected Bubbles’ aesthetic,” Hardkiss label head Gavin Hardkiss told me. “Plus the lyrics spoke to the current state of San Francisco—”DON’T LEAVE SAN FRANCISCO.” I started working on a remix and then thought that the single should be released on Hardkiss Music. Why not keep it in the family?

“Bubbles was a fanboy to all of us DJs,” Hardkiss said. “He’d show up to every gig and kick the dance floor into gear. As as artist, he used Facebook like Andy Warhol would have, trailing us all along on his messy adventures and absurd debacles. I see Facebook as a broadcast channel that few people took advantage of (other than the Russians). He seized the opportunity to broadcast his life in all its gory detail and twisted reality.  

“Now we have this song, which will be played in bars in the Castro, Tenderloin, and Marina long after we all leave San Francisco.”

I talked to Thrillhammer members Coltorious and Duserock about how the track evolved from a late-night Whip-Its-fueled jam session into an endearing tribute. (I also got a sneak peak of the forthcoming supercuts video, when Thrillhammer filmed last Thursday at the Stud—stay tuned to my Party Radar column for its release.) 

Filming the “Bohemian Berlin Disco’ video at the Stud. Photo by Gavin Hardkiss

48 HILL I’m listening to “Bohemian Berlin Disco” and thinking, This is so quintessentially Bubbles. How did the track come together, and how did you know Bubbles? 

COLTORIOUS  I heard Bubbles coming before I saw them. Seven years ago, I was the night manager of a little hotel on the Tender-Nob border. My days were free so, I was wandering down Geary Street when I began to hear Nancy Sinatra echoing off the buildings. Then, I saw them; hot pink high heels with matching sunglasses and classic cat eye sunglasses, matching mani-pedi, Daisy Dukes, a sleeveless Rolling Stones half-shirt, and a blonde beehive wig to top off the ensemble.

I stopped them and said, “Wow, you are amazing! Who are you?!

“Hi, I’m Bubbles, cutie!”

“Of course you are, wow, we are going to be friends. This will not be the last time we see each other!” Three months later I was at Public Works running the photo booth at 3am. Guess, who walks in? Uh huh, Bubs! We were friends from that moment on. When a guitar my mother had given me was stolen, Bubbles gave me their electric guitar. It’s guitar I used to record the track and is my regular love show guitar.

Once Bubbles announced they were leaving for Berlin, I had been attempting to write the “swan song of Bubbles” for a year or so. I wanted something that captured their ultra unique attitude and style, but couldn’t settle on a topic or story line.

One night in August after a raucous session of karaoke in Japantown with Bubbles and company—side note, Bubbles brought their own PA system to the karaoke bar!—we ended up at my place doing Whip-Its and sometime around 4am I showed them where I was at with the song. We scrapped everything I had except for “smacked with a rubber d-cup,” because I love that imagery!

The goodbye San Francisco, hello Berlin theme was settled on pretty quickly, “I don’t care, I don’t care, I got cum in my hair” was an immediate keeper, and the rest flowed from there. The lyrics and basic arrangement are completed that night.

Two weeks later, they were gone… Not much had happened with the song since that karaoke, Whip-Its, songwriting night but, when I heard the news I knew the song must be completed.

This is where Ryan enters the story. A mutual friend of ours reintroduced us, because even though we had met each other, we were the kind of friends you make at an afterparty at 3am. It takes a few times and possibly even meeting sober during the day to really be friends who remember each other’s names.

We got together and I showed what I had worked out. Some guitars riffs, a vocal melody, and what Bubs and I had done to the English language. The puzzlemaster Ryan started piecing it all together and before you were know it, we had a song.

Thrillhammer filming the video for ‘Bohemian Berlin Disco’ at the Stud

DUSEROCK As Coltorious mentioned, we had met several times over at the Red Vic on Haight. I was heavily involved with another project which was becoming problematic. As that situation was on its last legs, the woman I was working with brought Colton over and he pitched the Bubbles track idea to me. I immediately liked it and wanted to work on it with him.

I had known Bubbles for eight-nine years already and thought it would be great to shine a light on gun violence, Bubbles, the LGBTQ community and San Francisco. Colton laid down the lyrics and guitar riff and I started formulating the direction of the song. It came together pretty quickly, we enjoyed working together and a solid friendship began to form.

Shortly after we started working on more songs and decided to make a whole project out of it, spawning ThrillHammer. So, not only did Bubbles co write “Bohemian Berlin Disco”, technically he is responsible for spawning the group. I then spoke to Jenn Stokes, who manages the SF Pride main stage, and she thought it’d be great to have us perform live and do a tribute to Bubbles. We teamed up with Conn Cianci-McGraw and Trent Berry from Dreamrack studios as well as Andy “Ammo” Schneider to fully flush out the songs and live performance, as well as create the visuals for the backdrop. You can view the performance here: 

48H The track really captures Bubbles’ glam-rave-apocalypse-Beat-poetry aesthetic. Did you feel Bubbles’ spirit hovering over you as you put the track together? 

COLTORIOUS Definitely yes, Bubble’s is and has always been my goddess of debauchery, androgyny, and rock n’ roll. 

DUSEROCK The spirit of Bubbles was definitely important to the creation of the song. Bubbles wasn’t just one thing. There was so much going on with them, that we felt the track needed to be a bit of a melting pot. Disco, punk and rock and roll with a hint of house. Once we had the initial demo done, I shared my enthusiasm for the track and the track itself with Gavin. He liked the concept, agreed to do a remix and than we enlisted other close friends/SF luminaries to round out the project with more remixes, thus becoming a family affair. We are very proud of what’s been created and hope to spread the legend of Bubbles and overall message far and wide. Having the release on Hardkiss Music 100% tightens the whole family vibe.

48H  It’s been more than a year since Bubbles’ horrible murder and there’s still been no justice. How do you hope the track helps keep Bubbles’ singular legacy alive?

COLTORIOUS Anyone who needs to know that it’s OK to be a “Bubble’s”, or whatever form your mind, body, and soul conspire to create. The message is, Don’t be afraid to explore your depths because it’s not as dark down there as some may believe. It is a tunnel to a brighter part of yourself and only those who are brave enough to tread the path will discover the light on the other side. And if you get lost along the journey, this song is your beacon in the darkness to show the way. There is a Bubble’s waiting to be discovered by anyone willing to explore the depths of themselves.

DUSEROCK Again, our goal is to shine a light on San Francisco, Bubbles, the LGBTQ community, the current state of gun violence, and the injustice of hate crimes and murder. Where Bubbles was certainly notorious and a polarizing figure, there is absolutely no reason for murder. If we can get our message out to a larger platform, ideally we can open up the conversation more and lessen this type of situation. People absolutely have the right to become who they are and express themselves accordingly, providing it’s not directly harmful to another. If we can achieve this, possible we make some good out of this tragedy.

An alternate ‘Best Songs of 2018’ list

Music critic Daniel Bromfield lists some of his favorite songs of the year—which you may or may not find on Pitchfork or Rolling Stone

 The Internet, “Come Over”/”It Gets Better (With Time)”/”Hold On” 
The Internet’s 20-year-old boy genius Steve Lacy was the talk of the town this year, but the funk crew’s most stunning talent remains founder Syd, who dares to be Aaliyah and Timbaland at once. This year’s Hive Mind album contains three of the most gorgeous funk ballads ever written, all built around the union of Lacy’s scratchy, precise chords and Syd’s impossibly tender voice (notice how the low note acts as the emotional crux of “It Gets Better”). 

Prince, “International Lover”
By subtracting lyrics rather than adding, the Purple One reimagines 1999’s airplane-sex ballad as an affirmation of desire that echoes to the heavens. Rather than a playboy flashing diamonds and pearls, he’s an awkward kid asking his crush to prom. There’s not even a plane in this version. 

1010 Benja SL, “Tragic X” 
A young American takes the Drake-Weekend aesthetic of feeling alone in an endless city to the extreme, wailing like a claustrophobic madman as a hallucination of a radio announcer declares him “the avatar.” This is R&B in hell.

Lonnie Holley, “I Snuck Off The Slave Ship”
One of the most visceral depictions of human suffering ever committed to record, a trail of bodies leading us from the Middle Passage to the far future.

Tierra Whack, “Pet Cemetery” 
It seems like a goof until you realize she’s not singing about a dog.

DJ Koze, “Moving In A Liquid” 
No one can make a vocal sample cry like DJ Koze. Here, he introduces a snatch of looped chipmunk, then lets it fade away—then, as Eddie Fummler’s vocals come back, the loop bounds back into the frame with enthusiasm, like a dog greeting its master. It’s heartwarming.

Teyana Taylor, “A Rose In Harlem”
The Grace Jones-channeling singer gives us year’s best pop song as affirmation of self, with a surreal and hilarious line: “So many fake smiles/These chicks musta just came from the dentist.”

The Carters, “Summer” 
No album this year boasts such a royal opener. “Summer” is all red carpets and royal fanfares, inviting you cordially to the Carters’ endless penthouse champagne party.

Ariana Grande, “thank u, next”/Ryuichi Sakamoto, “Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence” 
With Sakamoto’s sappy piano under her voice instead of the spry snap of the original, the titular chorus of Grande’s tabloid-pop blockbuster sounds less like a subtle flex (i.e. “I never have to worry about a man”) and more of a bemused observation on the transience of life. 

Ashley Monroe, “Paying Attention”
Here just for the lyric “I remember your birthday/now that you’re gone.” Ouch.