Welcome to the 5th Artist Picks feature. To refresh your memories, let me recap what this feature entails. We are asking people, be they artists, listeners, or fans, what they would do if they were stranded on an island with an iPod that held only 10 songs. Which songs would they pick and why? Up to bat: Bret Rodysill, better known in the music world as The Record Summer.
Reading back through this, there are more contemporary, and sometimes even cheezy or overwrought songs on this list than I might have expected. But when I really thought about which songs would make me okay, if truly stranded on a desert island–the things that have the strongest memories, heartbreaks, and summers that were, well, great fucking summers–these were the songs I’d personally most like to listen to for better or worse if I had nothing else, and that was the question I was asked. These are the songs that could put me somewhere in the world if I was nowhere in the world.
One January I was sitting in this bar around Brick Lane in London, where there are all these curry houses and rock clubs, and this song came on. I went up to the DJ, asked him what it was, and afterward I was playing it for weeks. That guitar riff is so simple and shrill, but works so well with the melody. It’s a great example of a song with very few changes that sounds bigger. Shows the power of melody, I suppose. I included this song because it always pulls me out of where I am and just makes me want to move around ridiculously, which seems okay in the context of the song. Just Youtube the video and you’ll know what I’m talking about. Plus the lead singer looks a little like Rick Astley. Just saying.
This was an easy one for me. I’ve always loved this song because it’s absolutely sinister, like everything is on the verge of going wrong, like someone just looked across the room at someone he knows he shouldn’t screw, but he will, and she knows it too. It’s about the good parts of the dark parts. There’s something to be said for those parts. The title of the album, “Let it Bleed,” is fitting; sometimes you just have to let go, even if it’s really, really going to hurt later.
This may appear to be an odd choice, and it is, but I couldn’t do without it. An older friend of mine got me into these guys early in high school, and I really started to dive in deep around the time I got my driver’s license. My birthday is at the end of May, so it was perfect–I got my license, and I chose to use it by dicking around with a friend all summer in the car during the hours when I wasn’t at my job at another friend’s pizza restaurant. These were a lot of hours. The Low End Theory was on constantly in the background. Oh, and by the way, this was in Minnesota, the whitest place on earth (according to Chris Rock). He’s probably right. Everyone lost their fucking minds when they heard us pulling up to a stoplight. But we weren’t blaring the bass or anything. We just loved the music.
I chose this for two reasons: (1) because it’s a great song to remember how a simple two piece can be devastating and (2) because I remember hearing them play out at Coney Island a couple of years ago, and when Jack White ripped into this, it was probably the best live display of letting yourself run as a performer I’ve ever seen. Something like when he played Son House’s “Death Letter” at the Grammys and just lost it. You see Quentin Tarentino standing up in the crowd thinking, “He does with music what I try to do with movies.” I normally play and write pretty restrained music, but it’s great to know I could rip the strings off my guitar if I wanted to. I’d just never be able to do it nearly as well as Jack White.
Surprised? I’m not. I’m not saying Will Smith is a good musician, or really even a musician at all, but this song came out when I was eight years old, and holds a certain place for me off in the distance. It always reminds me of times when I didn’t have to worry, as if everything were alright because nothing that went wrong could possibly be my fault, as if I was too young and stupid to know any better, and at the time I was. There’s nothing wrong with pleading ignorance every once in a while, and that’s in a way what this song is for me; I’ll always plead ignorance on this one. This song is a guilty pleasure, and I find nothing wrong with that.
After I had moved to New York and started college, I went to Thanksgiving at this girl’s house in Connecticut. It was wild and strange–her older brother and sister came in drunk the night I got there, and the sister threw a high heel at the brother and split his nose open. The girl was leaving for some work-related thing a few days later, and was preparing for that, so I felt slightly on my own, and everything was just all over the place around me. But, I remember the second day I was there, in that bizarre afternoon pause before you go eat the Thanksgiving meal, she and I were sitting in her study and she put this song on. It was so mysterious to me for some reason, just the sound of it. It made sense. I felt like everything around me was mysterious. It confirmed something fundamental in my mind, and I always still put it on when I want to have some reason to open my eyes up a little at what’s going on.
Mostly to remind me of vocals–the impact of a good vocal break. This is clearly a hip hop song, and most of it is pretty linear, but there’s this pre-chorus (“can’t drive me out of my mind”) where he just kills it, and when I was a young kid sitting upstairs with a collection of three tapes–this, the Top Gun soundtrack, and Roxette’s Joyride (yeah)–I could not get over it. I sang along over and over. I still sing along with it.
The main riff throughout this song just cuts into you like knives. It’s raw and unrestrained. It’s absolutely wild. That’s what I love about it. The guitar tone is about as exposed as it could be. You can hear every little crack in it, and it works. When I record electric guitar tracks for my next record, I’m going to try to go for this tone, exactly, as I’ve always loved it. It just sounds how an electric guitar should sound.
9. Kreuzberg–Bloc Party
I can’t think of a more beautiful song. I never expected to say that about a Bloc Party song, but it’s true. Every time I listen to it, I get uncontrollably sad, and I like that for some reason. Maybe it’s because sadness is an extremely strong emotion for me, definitely stronger than anything close to happiness. But I’m alright with that, as awful as it is. The song sounds like the season’s changing and you’re getting ready for one hell of a winter to come. I had broken up with the first girl I was probably in love with around when I first heard this song, and I related it to that, to the sadness stemming from that, which may have been an obvious reference in retrospect, but still, it was a perfect metaphor for what was coming. And, as it turns out, I was right. That next year was a shitty year.
This is such an abnormal song. There are all kinds of Eastern elements in it, these bends and sighs, and it’s fitting for the subject matter. We’re all always sighing when we’re growing up, always getting over something. In fact, I think I’m still growing up, still bending, still sighing, still getting over something. This song is probably meant to memorialize the specific time and place of that experience–growing up in suburbia–but it sweeps wider. We’re all still growing up in one way or another.