I wrote my last couple of albums by writing songs first and then figuring out what tied them together. I'd get five to seven songs written, find something they had in common, and then build the rest of the album from there. As such, the first two albums I wrote feel very tied to where I was in my life while I was writing them. They are highly autobiographical, but I think there's a sense of remove that comes from the fact that I'm purposely grouping them together.
The first song I wrote for All Our Heroes Drank Here, for example, was “Jordan Baker," which is either about New Year's Eve or the Apocalypse, depending on the day. As I wrote the rest of the music, it became clear that most of the songs were set in specific locations, so I wrote a song about being too sad to leave your house ("Biography of Cells") and moved the narrative through New York City from there. The first song I wrote for Cinemascope was “Smoke Is Rising," which is either about orgasms or self-immolation, depending on the day. I knew I wanted to write lyrics that described scenes rather than thoughts, so the "female stereotypes via film genres" theme followed naturally.
I'm taking a different approach with the new material - I have a general idea for a mood and I'm working backwards from there. I explained it to the boys in the band as “listening to old records in an abandoned house after society has collapsed." I want these songs to sound familiar and comforting, but warped somehow. I want them to feel like something you loved as a child and only fully understood as an adult. I want them to be the poppiest songs I've ever written, and then fuck them up at every turn. I want them to be - to borrow a catchphrase from my girl the Trash Queen - unsettling.
Since I'm not sure exactly where I'm going with this yet, I put together a playlist of songs that feel like I want this album to feel. I didn't want to think about it too hard, I just threw in anything I could think of that instilled in me the appropriate amount of dread. It's not about the lyrics, or the genre, or the production, it's about the visceral reaction I get when listening to the music. Here it is (Spotify is currently being the god damned worst, so here's a link in case the embed won't work):
Like the album, this playlist is a work in progress - you'll be devastated to learn, for example, that I originally chose entirely the wrong Arctic Monkeys song. Once I reached a stopping place I thought it would be interesting to find themes within the list that might inform the album moving forward. So far this is what I've got:
It’s All Over, Now What?
These songs are about endings: cities burning, violent deaths, despondent people mourning the better people they once were. The thing I find the most unnerving, however, is the lack of finality; it's as if they're saying that the worst part being finished is no reason to relax. Your alarm bells, they should be ringing.
Songs Only Hannah Would Find Comforting
I don't know guys, Bright Eyes makes me think of the bakery I worked at in college and I used to have a crush on this idiot who was super into Radiohead and "Under Ice" makes me think of riding in the car with my dad in the 80s. I like sad stuff, ok?
Hate Fucking: The Musical
Yeah, I'm not sure what's going on with me right now but I'll own the fact that including both "Closer" and "The Perfect Drug" is kinda weird. Maybe don't think about it too hard. Don't think about "Providence" either.
Death and Other Forms Of Isolation
I'm going nowhere. Tell her to come pick me up. Disappear here. I do nicely without you. Fade out. Why should you want any other, when you've a world within a world?
Bitches Out For Blood
"Get Out Of My House" is The Shining, written from the perspective of the fucking hotel. Tori Amos wants to smash faces and "Furnace Room Lullaby" is a female-fronted Tell Tale Heart. Again, let's all collectively try not to think about this one too hard. I promise not to murder anyone.
I'm sure I'll find more categories as I go, but there's two here that don't fit with the rest of the list at all: "Dust and Ashes" from Great Comet and "There Is A Light That Doesn't Go Out" by The Smiths. These songs are both about finding a future when things are at their very darkest, even if you're doing so begrudgingly. I don't know how these fit in with the rest of the concept, but I'm not ready to discount them either. To be perfectly honest, I'm not sure if I have it in me to write something completely bereft of hope.
One more thing - this list is called "Deflection Tracks" because the working title for the record is Nice Deflection, Future Corpse. That's a story for another post, I think, if it sticks. Hell, I might scrap this entire concept and write a wholesome musical instead. If this playlist has taught me anything, it's that nothing is ever truly finished.
Hans Christian Andersen once said “Where words fail, music speaks.” I know because I googled “music quotes” right before beginning this intro. Because my words failed me. Good thing this blog is about music! Each week, I'll try to decide who I am, what I like, and why on earth I like it with the help of Spotify's Discover Weekly.
The robots have a very shallow read on me right now. It's like when someone you think is a close friend says something about how you’d definitely kick a guy’s ass for looking at you wrong and you think “I would never start a physical altercation with someone, much less a stranger, but fine?” Spotify has sussed that I like showtunes, pop divas, and angsty indie, but the nuances between sub-genres aren't quite there yet. I don’t think Spotify knows me well enough to be making these kinds of judgements, to be quite honest.
For example: There are two - TWO DIFFERENT - live tracks from A Very Potter Musical on this playlist. I'm sure that many people out there find this thing enjoyable, but it is not a thing I personally want. Just because I listened to the Legally Blonde OBC every day last month doesn’t mean I require Harry Potter themed pop music. I know they're only robots, and likely working with some epic Musical Theater Nerd Venn Diagram, but if Spotify really knew me they’d know I’m more of a Hunger Games kind of girl.
This week's list wasn’t perfect, but as always there were a few glorious keepers. Let’s dive in, shall we?
"Pirates" - Jenny Owen Youngs
I know Jenny! Not personally, but she does co-host one of my favorite podcasts. I knew she played music that wasn’t about Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but had never encountered it in the wild before she showed up on my playlist. This song is wonderful; it has a sense of humor about heartache and an honesty about emotion that isn't present in a lot of music nowadays. The chorus absolutely bangs, and also rhymes "you don't make me better but you don't make me worse" with "numb's no good, but it sure beats the hurt". Have you been there? Yeah, me too.
Probably chosen for me because: Does...does Spotify know what podcasts I listen to? I don’t use Spotify to listen to podcasts. Are my apps colluding behind my back? Should I be looking forward to tracks from the mysterious Breakmaster Cylinder? DID YOU UNDERSTAND THAT REFERENCE?
"Vampire Money" - My Chemical Romance
Shit, do I like MCR now? I’ve always described MCR as being “too emo, even for me”, but this song might have converted me. Do they have more songs that sound like the 70s only more mad? This song became even more delightful to me when my friend Kayleigh (who loves MCR more than she loves me, probably) told me it was written in response to being asked to write something for the Twilight franchise. That would explain the title, I suppose.
Probably chosen for me because: My friend Michael asked me to sing backup in his cabaret last month and "Welcome To The Black Parade" was part of the set list. To be fair, the robots have no way of knowing that I did not listen to My Chemical Romance of my own volition.
"Fxxc Boyz Get Money" - FEMM
A lovely sentiment, as well as a nice break from the Wistful Indie Ladies Spotify keeps foisting upon me week after week. I have no further comments.*
*Nope, sorry, I'm back, I googled them and apparently they're a Japanese pop duo who claim to work for an underground agency fighting for equal rights for mannequins I have to go follow their tour now bye forever.
Probably chosen for me because: I'm currently indulging in an activity I've been referring to as "Boner Sabbatical" during which I am not actively trying to date/sleep with/be around men. If they show up, fine, but I'm not out here looking for them. Perhaps this lifestyle has been reflected in my musical choices? (checks recent history) Great Comet and Rainbow by Kesha. Huh.
“I Don’t Like You Or Your Band” - Kate Rhudy
This one might be more proof of App Collusion (band name, dibs) as my friend Joanna posted this same song on my Facebook wall two weeks ago. Joanna and The Robots were right; I DO like female country artists who write snarky lyrics about dumb boys! I particularly enjoyed her excoriating this gentleman for his "middle-class white boy blues," although perhaps my sad sack middle class white girl self should not be throwing stones.
Probably chosen for me because: Spotify correctly intuited that anyone who has listened to "Tiny Vessels" as many times as I have has dated Male Artists, Plural.
"Nothing Without You" - Emma Blackery
I leave you on a the poppiest of notes. This song is sweet and charming and made me smile on my commute. Apparently this person is a YouTuber? Her song makes me want to go out and find one of those will they/won't they type relationships from sitcoms/my twenties, and if it weren't for my responsibilities to Boner Sabbatical I might have done just that. Also her makeup in the cover art is adorable.
Probably chosen for me because: I'm not fooling anyone with my angry howling banshee punk; everyone knows I'm a hopeless romantic who has Much Ado About Nothing committed to memory. If anyone needs me I'll be over here with my VHS copy of Sliding Doors.
Apart from the above tracks this list was pretty lackluster. I don't think I can fairly give it a positive rating, therefore I will take ten house points from Spotify. I'm not mad, I'm just disappointed.