its the summer so i'm back to blonde

I wondered when I would write about Frank Ocean. His music looms over me, but I had been hesitant to write about it because I have been hesitant to listen, nervous for the associations my brain has made with his music.

But alas, along with the summer heat came the craving to soothe it. The simplest way I know how to do that is to listen to Blonde.

In August of 2016 and I was mid-Southwest Pacific sojourn (complicated way to say New Zealand) when Blonde was released. There are few things that can make me feel truly alone more than not being met with equitable excitement at the news that after a four year gap Frank Ocean had dropped a new project.

I loved the album immediately. I’ve never believed in love at first sight, but love at first listen? That’s my religion.

It can be difficult to holistically interpret a Frank Ocean song, in a reductive way they sometimes feel less like songs and more like riddles.

I’ll never forget hearing Self-Control for the first time. The isolated vocals abruptly started and hit me like a wave and just when I thought I was in the clear, the strings came in like their larger, stronger wave friend, to knock me right back down. Not so fast, bitch, settle into the melancholy. Gladly. I listened to the album on a perfect loop in the darkness of our hostel room and I felt at peace, like I was 3,000 miles away but somehow still at home.

It encapsulated all the different nuances of loneliness my dumbass twenty-six year old self had actually experience so far: wanting to be close to someone even if you don’t want to be with them, getting your heart broken by someone you had never actually been with, breaking the heart of someone who didn’t really deserve it, not wanting to disappoint your parents but praying they have faith in your dreams, indulging in the fleeting happiness expensive items can bring, etc.

Against all odds, these are the exact same feelings I grapple with now…three years later. Not embarrassing at all.

Blonde is known for its lachrymose undertones but the arc of Self-Control makes for my favorite kind of sad song, despondent yet somehow liberating. While the song is a retelling of a doomed couples’ history through their drug and sex filled nights (aspirational, but more on that in a later post), there are lyrical moments throughout the song that send a message of hope and acceptance. Though maybe they both didn’t want their thing to end, there was an expiration date, and they’d like to take advantage of the time they have left together. There is both truth and hope in that.

The song ends on a cliffhanger. Maybe some day down the line these characters can give it a shot but if not, that is the bittersweetness of life at play. There is romance and love in knowing you cannot be with someone but still taking comfort in their companionship. For me this has proven impossibly difficult for various people that have come and gone from my life, but for others it comes naturally, and can be a beautiful way to cope through heartache.

On my birthday this year, as the dance floor closed down the DJ played Self-Control, and wow there are few things that can make you feel less lonely than a room full of strangers all singing the same words about lost love.

follow these instructions very carefully

I love the nights where spring creeps closer to summer and its 7 p.m. on Friday and its cool enough to sport your favorite denim jacket, saunter down Houston without even the slightest hint of sweat beads gathering to stain the back of your shirt or attempt destruction on your hair but still warm enough that you’re shielded against the subtle chills that sneak up the spaces between your arm and the inside of your sleeves.

I won’t apologize for not posting in a bit but I’m Jewish so the guilt doesn’t evade me. I haven’t felt all that inspired these past few months until recently which feels sad to say. Music helps me both rationalize events and escape them and writing about music forces me to confront feelings and events and parcel the nuances of them and I guess I just haven’t felt like doing it really. Maybe at a later date.

Because of this, I’ve created a guide of sorts detailing the perfect times to listen to the below tracks and albums.

Mac Miller, Swimming - on a plane if you have a window seat
Drake, So Far Gone - driving through your hometown
Tegan and Sara, The Con - upstate New York on a fall day but NOT when apple picking. God, no.
Rosalía, PIENSO EN TU MIRÁ - Saturday morning errands, or on your way home the Morning After
Frank Ocean, Blonde - When you feel invisible (its okay it happens)
Bad Bunny, X100PRE - a humid Saturday evening, windows down on the LIE
Troye Sivan & Ariana Grande, Dance To This - when you miss someone and you are also horny
Kanye West, Violent Crimes - alone in your bedroom on a Thursday night (it matters)
Megan Thee Stallion - after a great date or whenever you feel powerful or when you need to remind yourself of your power, basically most times are good times except maybe at a funeral although I would definitely be down for playing Megan Thee Stallion at my funeral, remember that for me will ya?

Anyway, I’ll probably keep doing this every so often!

an ode to inconsequential pop songs

I was in a dirty club in the North Country ablaze with underage drinkers when I heard Pitbull’s, “Give Me Everything” for the first time. In what I am certain was a very poetic and romantic proclamation, I announced to my friends, “oh my god this is my favorite song!!!” It was my junior-ish year of college and for a good few minutes, my social anxiety and self-consciousness dissipated.

There are countless studies done, articles galore depicting what happens to your body when you listen to a pop song. But what happens to me feels like it goes beyond science. Pop music makes me feel limitless; as though I can do anything, achieve anything, be anyone. The kind of person who has an ever circulating roster of temporary companions but in this roster isn’t representative of a larger, gaping hole just the kind of person who loves fun for fun’s sake.  

Each song of the genre is anthemic in nature, they are choose-your-own-adventure listens. Is the scorned lover going to offer that second chance, are they going to pick themselves back up and learn how to be alone, or are they indulging in the unhealthy high induced by being around their crush?

Artists like Carly Rae Jepsen, Ariana Grande, Lorde, Dua Lipa, Kelly Clarkson, Maggie Rogers even newcomers Alessia Cara and Billie Eilish and so many others give me perspective when I feel like there is none to be drawn from especially when I feel a loss of control or lack of closure from life’s pushes and pulls.

And while I’m here, might I say there’s nothing that gratifies my existence and personal growth more than being a twenty-nine year old still able to fully relate to a teen.

Alaska literally makes me feel like a phoenix, rising, Sweetener is a 12 track recovery plan on how to bounce back from life’s lowest moments, The Louvre has the power to transform a winter season into summer again; a season in which I feel alive and am romantically involved with everyone when in reality it’s twenty degrees and a grey film has covered both the city and my heart. Too dark?

This also isn’t limited to contemporary pop. Throw on any Joni Mitchell track and suddenly its 1974 and I’m smoking inside a piano bar, eyes glazed over with a listless look reflecting on all my past torrid romances, whiskey also in hand.

I consider the different themes depicted in pop music representative of the varying parts of my personality. It’s melodramatic, it’s sometimes too vulnerable and other times too skilled at withholding feelings, it offers second chances to those who don’t deserve it, it wallows in the aftermath of failed attempts at love, and it’s too big of a sucker for the songs made by bad people; and sometimes it just needs a wild night out with its friends. 

As a kid, I felt shameful for loving pop music this much, especially around boys I liked. I feared my tastes would be perceived as uncultured, undeveloped, even stunted when juxtaposed with more refined interests like wrestling and porn.

I was terrified of being perceived as a perpetual teen girl living in an intricately fabricated world (I am). It makes me sad that I would diminish something I loved so much but thankful for realizing that people who look down on anything someone else loves with pre-judgment are typically boring. 

Recently, it’s felt like the music along with its artists have slowly evolved into something more mature and sophisticated that I often feel like the songs were written by my therapist (would be a cool past time). They help me find confidence when I’m not sure where to pull from, and remind me of the reasons why I love myself, as well as the comfort and excitement that being in love can bring. 

I’ll be eighty years old singing along to “Give Me Everything” at my granddaughters bat-mitzvah and there will be nothing shameful about that.

a new, new york rom-com starring kehlani

One of my biggest fears is getting sick of the things I love. It’s a fear that follows me in relationships, when I watch movies, when I go shopping, and when I listen to new songs. I know I unequivocally love a song because when I do, I also get a little sad at the possibility of tiring of it.

On a chilly Sunday evening the scene in my apartment could be described as frothy New York romcom where the main character’s arc will inevitably take them to Europe to find themselves and love! There’s warm lighting, big oversized winter sweater, chicken thighs crackling under the oven light. Are we watching the same rom-coms? While some French cafe music would fit the scene perfectly, this fantasy is instantly shattered when I realize I’ve instead been playing R&B’s sleeper agent Kehlani’s new mixtape While We Wait on a near constant loop.

As a devotee to the Bay area songstress, I was surprised that the expectation of While We Wait didn’t occupy and consume my entire brain last week. It’s been a couple of years since she dropped her first album, SweetSexySavage and a lot has changed in myself, the world, and Kehlani. She had been so vocal about not identifying with those songs anymore, I was nervous I wasn’t growing in the same direction as one of my favorite artists and that I’d be left not connecting with the new music.

Then While We Wait was released and all my worries floated away but the fears that I would overplay the tape to the point of exhaustion came in their place. A good sign!

There’s an unwavering authenticity to Kehlani’s music that I don’t get from other pop artists that have been creating more vulnerable music lately. When she sings, it’s like she’s learning the hard truths about life and people in real time; resisting the toxicity of the world though her heart may be wanting to pull her in that direction, to poke the bear just a little. She writes most of the songs entirely on her own so when I listen, I feel like I’m also being taught.

It’s the same feeling when a friend gives you guidance you already know. When it comes from them, it just sounds…different. Smarter?

I’m very independent. I love that about myself but it makes finding a significant other a lot more difficult. I revel in romantic companionship but have a crippling fear of codependency. The belly of it being that when or if it’s taken away, I’ll be left with an overwhelming amount of negative space to fill as though an entire city will need rebuilding.

Through and through the mixtape is a mature analysis of modern relationships or my most currently hated phrase, “situationships.” There’s an understanding of why the explorations of the latter failed but an appreciation for the attempts to build something with someone even when the foundation was weak. At the same time, it celebrates autonomy of oneself while recognizing the parts of us that find joy in caring for and being cared for by others.

By the end of the first listen I knew that Kehlani had indeed grown in a new direction but I did too.

Loosey Thoughts

  • I think she’s R&B’s sleeper agent because she goes dark for quite a while to not just working on music but also live her life. When she releases new material it honestly feels like she physically fine tuned both lyrics and production to a perfect cohesiveness like they’re parts of a car so when she resurfaces you’re wondering how everyone is not talking about her all the time.

  • Haven’t found confirmation but I think Snoh Alegra’s, “Time”, in addition to being sampled on Drake’s, “Do Not Disturb,” is also sampled on Kehlani’s, “Feels".”

  • I think it’s really impressive that she’s still relatively young but writes with the insight of an ancient shaman.

Visit a Friend and Revel in So Far Gone

 
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I remember standing in my friend Daniela’s dorm room during one of my countless visits to UMass Amherst. I would routinely plan these brief sabbaticals from my hometown to escape the swallowing depression staying home for college had brought on.

Replacement Girl was playing from her thick black (I think) Dell laptop. We listened intently, verklempt that the best (hottest) actor on Degrassi was also pretty good at making music.

There was a connectivity I had never felt before, that came when I listened to Drake for the first time. For all the love and appreciation I had for Jay-Z, Mos Def, Common, etc. those artists music never felt for me - and it wasn’t. I was a little white girl from the suburbs of Queens, I wasn’t exactly the target demo but I still listened. I loved it all and the window it built into an experience entirely different from my own.

But something about Drake’s music fit like a missing puzzle piece, like I had searched my entire life trying to envision or hear the music I would always be in the mood to listen to and finally, there it was.

There was also the fact that he was the first artist I started listening to who wasn’t funneled through a recommendation from a boy I had a crush on, and THAT. FELT. HUGE. I acquired a sense of ownership. He was all mine and no unrequited love or elusive crush would ever taint my relationship with his music.

And ya know sure, he’s also half-Jewish, and having not grown up in the Beastie Boys era, this was the first time I was witnessing a part of myself actually manifest in the hip-hop world. I felt included. Years later, I would come to terms with the fact that Drake is probably just like all the boys who have broken my heart in the past but guess what bitch: predictably, I’m still here.

This week, February 13th to be specific, marked the 10 year anniversary of Drake’s third mixtape So Far Gone, the tape that changed the course of his life and if you’ve been reading this blog (thank you) you know how big a sucker for nostalgia I am. Can’t get enough of the stuff!

Some of the most vivid memories I have from my late teens/early 20’s are driving around my hometown by myself or with friends, with SFG echoing in the background. I use the term ‘friends’ here very loosely as some of them had short lived arcs and were exclusively people I would smoke weed with. I was desperate for some small semblance of companionship because all of my real friends had made the smart decision to go away for college while I hung back for what are positively imbecilic reasons.

It’s a happy ending though, I transferred to a school upstate after two years and now my life is perfect.

Music was a way to fill the silence with these non-friends when I felt too socially anxious or self-conscious. This mixtape felt like a lottery ticket of endless conversation. Something I had in common with people I had nothing in common with.

It feels a bit challenging to articulate my feelings on this specific body of work, a project that ushered me into adulthood and carried me through the first experience I was aware of having with depression. The mixtape, especially when played all the way through, gave me reassurance that the vision I had for my life and who I was going to grow into would eventually come to fruition.

It’s fascinating to listen to the mixtape now because of how I have developed and how both easy and difficult it is to remember who I was in 2009.. A lot of the topics discussed on the mixtape are still things I relate to and understand but because I carry myself so differently, it feels like So Far Gone was my therapy before I had a therapist. For so long I was under the guise that my default setting was sadness and during that time, this was one of the few things that brought me organic joy.

The melancholia of So Far Gone touched on all the lows I was experiencing, but moved me through them and evoked the thought that even though people can be fleeting, so are feelings; and even when it doesn’t feel like it, some thing at some point will work out if you just keep going, whatever that means.

Loosey thoughts

  • The blog thumbnail is from when my friends and I saw Young Money at SPAC in Saratoga. So Far Gone had been released but Drake wasn’t big enough yet to be given a full set.

  • My little pea brain did not know Houstatlantavegas was about a stripper until a few years after I had heard it and I connected it with it SO HARD.

  • So Far Gone has some of the most insane Weezy lyrics.

  • I learned about so many other artists just because of this mixtape alone.

  • Most of this project aged really well except for a moment on The Calm that I won’t go into any further because this is not an album review.

  • Now, when are Room for Improvement and Comeback Season coming to streaming services?!

  • Sooner Than Later…I always forget, but my god.

sip of whiskey then leave quickly

I’ve been seeking refuge at my parent’s house as I’ve battled an unforgiving virus this week. Truth be told, it’s the only aspect of the week I’ve been enjoying. Despite any tensions or differences I have with my parents, going back to their house is soothing. There’s something about laying in my childhood bedroom, letting my brain superimpose the memory of old Seth Cohen and Leonardo DiCaprio posters on the now empty walls as my mom scream-talks to my aunt on the phone in the background, that makes me feel whole.

At any given moment my head is usually bathing in nostalgia, imagining how things used to be; how before the local Kohl’s it was a K-Mart, how one of my after high-school hangouts was perplexingly an Arby’s, or how one of my old crush’s screen-names was ‘Switchblade Dildo’. Ah, what sweet innocence.

That’s exactly what I love and hate about music: how it heightens my already intense penchant for nostalgia. But when the memories warp or deform into fantasy I start dreaming of things that never happened, it can feel like emotional quicksand.

The excitement of my birthday this year was met with the album releases of some of my favorite artists: James Blake, Maggie Rogers, Toro Y Moi, and Future. This year, like New Years Eve, my birthday felt like another day. I was worried it was a symptom of some lurking sadness but I think the opposite is true.

Every year I look to events like my birthday, the aforementioned New Years Eve, holiday parties, as things that will define my happiness as the cold sets in and the loneliness amplifies.

This year though, I feel a calmness. I feel more at peace than I’ve ever been during the winter and because of that, I felt less pressure to host a huge birthday blowout that I would inevitably put unrealistic pressure on to define the tone of the upcoming year.

This same calmness also influenced how I listen to music. It is exceptionally liberating to listen to a James Blake song and relate to the sadness and miss people or things while still understanding why they didn’t work out.

In 2018, I was the most vulnerable I had ever been in my entire life. Some things worked out, others didn’t (most didn’t) but I felt proud and happy for proving to myself I can be honest about my feelings when it matters most and pick myself back up when it feels hardest.

For all the unrequited-es James Blake and Toro y Moi‘s music makes me long for Maggie Rogers’ music compensates equally with feelings of independence and resilience. It felt symbolic to have all these records come out both on my birthday and to listen to them while taking a brief sabbatical in my childhood home.

Nostalgia can be a dangerous thing for me, sure but the empowerment that comes from lessons learned allows me to indulge in whatever fantasies my imagination paints.

I never realized one of the main streets in my hometown is titled ‘Utopia Parkway’.’ Perfectly fitting when on most days, my hometown is my only true paradise.

Here are my favorites from each of those artists newest albums:

Toro y Moi, “Outer Peace” - Laws of the Universe, Miss Me ft. Abra, New House, Monte Carlo ft. Wet
Maggie Rogers, “Heart it in a Past Life” -
Overnight, Alaska, Say It, On + Off, Fallingwater
James Blake, “Assume Form” -
Mile High ft. Travis Scott, Can’t Believe the Way We Flow, Are You in Love, Where’s the Catch ft. Andre 3000, I’ll Come Too
Future, “Future Hndrxx Presents: The WIZRD” -
to be honest, it all blended together.

Eating Dumplings, Listening to Mothxr

Eating leftover dumplings, staring at an IKEA shelf that I’m a bit intimidated to continue installing on my own. I can just imagine one attempt at drilling into the wall and a web of cracked lines emerging from that spot and my entire wall coming down exposing my neighbors having sex in the middle of this weekend afternoon. I’d be happy for them but not sure they’d see that when the catastrophe initially unfolds.

I watch too many movies and listen to too many songs. In fact if I’m being honest dear reader, (hi, Dad) every time I sit down to write an entry here I paint a picture of myself as the protagonist in a coming of age film introducing myself with a thoughtful, precocious voiceover.

God, you ever just get sick of yourself?

This week I’ve been engrossed in the former Lifetime, current Netflix show, You. It’s been a great cushion while finishing The Sopranos and feeling like I’ve been severed from my entire murderous family. However, good or bad (bad, probably) You is for society, it’s a thrilling and entertaining watch and really makes a case for Penn Badgley’s acting skills.

It also brought me back to a few years ago when I listened to his band, Mothxr, religiously. I even saw them live once at a very cool venue whose name I cannot remember, very helpful I know. My friend and I were backstage and I got to hand Penn a beer from the cooler. I know what you’re thinking, and you’re correct, fame IS exciting but you know, it’s also a lot to shoulder so I ultimately had to go home and revert to my life of normalcy as a regular civilian.

Anyway, I can only describe the music as moody-sensual-electronic. There’s a lot right now that tries to be that but they were doing it long before and it actually works for them without sounding manufactured and meaningless. While many might find it easy to scoff at what started as a passion project of the Gossip Girl lead, the band is so good!

I remember the live performance being magnetic and so consistent with what I had been listening to on my various devices and after rediscovering them all over again, I find myself only wishing that they had more to their catalogue.

Alas, I have to return to my dumplings and shelf (good excuse for ending a bad date early, if you ask me) but I encourage you to listen to what Mothxr does have to offer.

Treasure in a Trash Filled World

This post is late and the guilt over the too rapidly achieved inconsistency will haunt me forever, probably. It’s always difficult to reconcile how the good can happen in tandem with the very bad. Typically, when I get too overwhelmed with trying to understand things or figure them out (which is often because I feel cursed with this obligation) I try to focus on what I don’t have to work to understand, like my friendships.

Throughout any hardship, heartbreak, or rite of passage my friends and I always show up for each other. I’m sure there have been times when we were younger when maybe that wasn’t always the case but as we’ve grown up we are each other’s constants.

I don’t really believe in luck, but for whatever reason I was lucky enough to have found these people in a city of millions and we have stayed friends ever since we’ve met.

I think what I love most about our friendships is how our taste in some things vary but ultimately it doesn’t matter because our values are all the same and that’s the glue.

Here are some songs that remind me of my friends partially stolen from our road trip playlist that one of us made but a couple of these just remind me of specific memories:

The Dandy Warhols, We Used to be Friends
Toploader, Dancing in the Moonlight
Queen, Best Friend
The Rolling Stones, Beast of Burden
Bon Jovi, I’ll Be There For You
Usher, OMG

Hope everyone is having a great New Year. Hug your friends!