Weird New Pop, Vol.5

Photo: Stephen Mejias. Design: Todd Steponick, Nice Looking Designs

Track 21

Mrs. Little is often amused by my complete inability to understand even the simplest lyrics to even the poppiest of pop songs—lyrics that are to her, and, I assume, so many others, as clear as a September sky.

For instance, if it weren't for the song's telltale title, I would have no doubt that in "Sweet Nothing," Calvin Harris is excited to be living on a sexy dolphin. And, even now, more than two years after the release of her critically acclaimed album, 1989, I remain absolutely convinced that Taylor Swift has a lot of Starbucks lovers.

And why shouldn't she? She's Taylor Swift and she can have whatever she wants.

Track 22

"I Used To," the third track of LCD Soundsystem's triumphant return, American Dream, is Echo and the Bunnymen's "Lips Like Sugar," is Information Society's "What's On Your Mind," is something by Duran Duran, is not quite any of these other songs.

What is it?

Whatever it is, it'll come to me in time, but only if I try hard enough or if I completely stop trying to figure it out.

"I Used To" is exceptionally similar to some other song that I can't quite recall and it's driving me crazy and it has absolutely nothing to do with the lyrics (not that I would know), but everything to do with cadence, tone, phrasing, and inflection—these subtle, intangible things that express feeling through sound, without logic or sense: a grunt, a growl, an extended vowel.

It's especially frustrating because it's not like you can do a quick Google search for this stuff in the same way that you can do a Google search for "Jackie Chan" or "jackfruit" or "Jack Black" or "Jack Daniels" or "jacksepticeye" without actually having to know exactly what you're trying to Google because Google fills in the blanks for you. If you know the words, you can successfully find just about anything. But when it comes to only sounds? I know just enough to be annoying. I even tried humming the song to Shazam, and, though Shazam pulsed and blinked and told me it was listening, it came up with no result: "We didn't quite catch that. Try again."

I tried again. Still nothing.

Track 23

It's strange, this problem I have with lyrics. You might think that someone who generally cares as much as I do about sound and its dear sibling sense would have a better grasp on lyrics, but, no, not me. In fact, more often than not, I hear lyrics as only sound—the voice as instrument rather than container of logic or story. I don't sing songs as much as I hum their melodies and drum their rhythms.

I've always been like this. When I was younger, the lyrics to pop songs often left me absolutely baffled. I couldn't have expressed it this way then, but I now know that I was unable to recognize the underlying thematic relationships between various choruses and their accompanying verses. Rather than complementary parts, these things seemed like total strangers. Like, I pretty much understood that Pat Benatar was sad about something when she confessed, "many times I cried alone," but what did that have to do with belonging to the night?

"We belong to the sound of the words we've both fallen under," she cried again and again, as though she were trying to tell me something.

But what?

In "Mishearings," the late neurologist Oliver Sacks contrasts accidental expressions of repressed feelings—Freudian slips, the power of unconscious urges—with "the power of neural mechanisms." He writes: "One's surroundings, one's wishes and expectations, conscious and unconscious, can certainly be co-determinants in mishearing, but the real mischief lies at lower levels, in those parts of the brain involved in phonological analysis and decoding."

Our hi-fi systems use digital-to-analog converters to reduce various types of noise and distortion that damage the audio signal and prevent our deepest enjoyment of music. Could it be that our nervous systems similarly use lyric-to-logic converters?

Maybe I need an upgrade? How much does a good LLC cost these days?

Track 24

I have absolutely no idea what Sharon Van Etten is saying in "Omnion," the title track of Hercules & Love Affair's wonderful new album, but I do know that her voice hurts me in the best possible way. It pulls down my eyelids like blinds at night, moves my entire body from side to side like helpless clothes on an old rack, shoves a toothpick through my heart as though my heart were a little stuffed olive.

"Over the years, my heart has hardened," (I think) she says! Her words revealed themselves as I typed my own! This is magic.

I'm almost positive that it was Art Dudley who first introduced me to the concept of explicitness in an audio component. He probably used the term to describe a quality of a loudspeaker, and he probably balanced it against potential brightness or excessive cleanliness or sterility, something like: "The speakers were well balanced and pleasantly explicit" [my italics], or "The speakers were explicit without being clinical…"

After reading Art's words, I began to search for this quality in the loudspeakers that I had at home. I found it in the KEF LS50s. I wrote: "The KEFs were far bolder, clearer, more musically explicit than any speakers I'd ever heard in my home, without exhibiting the slightest bit of unwarranted edge or aggression."

Just like Art. But what the hell was I talking about exactly?

With the very capable KEFs, I could now clearly understand the words in Lorde's hit single, "Buzzcut Season." The young phenomenon wasn't saying, "I remember when your haircut fame hissed your sculpting harness stain." She was actually saying, "I remember when your head caught flame, it kissed your scalp and caressed your brain." Which made so much more sense.

You get what you pay for.

Track 25

When Mrs. Little gets home from work, I barely give her enough time to put down her bags before I blurt out, "There's a song on the new LCD Soundsystem album that reminds me of some old pop hit and I can't figure out what it is and it's killing me it's killing me I'm literally going to die it's killing me."

"What does it sound like?" she asks.

"Uhwannanoyonaaaaame, baby," I try.

"Oh, that's Dead or Alive's ‘You Spin Me Round,'" she says without hesitation. And she's right, of course.

Weird New Pop, Vol.5

  1. LCD Soundsystem: "I Used To"
  2. Show Me The Body, featuring Princess Nokia: "Spit"
  3. Nanna.B, featuring Hodgy: "Golden"
  4. Cornelius: "If You're Here"
  5. Hercules & Love Affair, featuring Sharon Van Etten: "Omnion"
  6. Ibeyi, featuring Kamasi Washington: "Deathless"
  7. Cosima: "Un-Named"
  8. Buscabulla: "Tártaro"
  9. Maria Usbeck: "Isla Magica"
  10. El Guincho: "Waterpark Immersion"
  11. Helado Negro: "Come Be Me"
  12. Jamila Woods: "HEAVN"
  13. Rejjie Snow, featuring Pell: "Virgo"
  14. Alex Cameron: "Runnin' Outta Luck"
  15. Maroon 5, featuring SZA: "What Lovers Do"
Weird New Pop: The Mega-Mix (Tidal Version)

The Tidal version of Weird New Pop is now 100 tracks strong and includes everything found in the latest Spotify playlist, except for El Guincho's "Waterpark Immersion."

Anton's picture

I can listen to a song, sing along for every word, and when my wife comments on the song's meaning, I will reply "Say what, now?"

In addition to not being a lyrical gangster, I also get big surprises, like you, sometimes!

I always wondered why that guy in Piano Man was 'making love to his tiny can Jim.'

Sometimes, I simply imagine a better lyric...

My version of the Garth Brooks song is, "I've got high friends in low places."