New Songs to Quarantine (and Count Votes) To, October 2020

Making mixes for people has always soothed me. Something about the challenge of finding just the right songs, and putting them in just the right order, makes me feel like I have some level of control in this chaotic, ever-expanding universe. And as a form of communication, it suits me better than the art of conversation. My wife is my soul mate for a thousand reasons, and one of them is that, amazingly, she has always intently listened to, and given feedback on, the mixes I’ve incessantly made for her. As they have progressed from tapes to CDs to playlists, they have only deepened our bond, as celebrations of how our tastes, and hearts, align.

So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that on day 3 of the 2020 election, I have taken a break from refreshing the The New York Times Pennsylvania tracker to make a mix of my favorite songs from October 2020. I hope listening to it gives you a similar respite.

Love you Jen.

1. Wynonna – “I Hear You Knocking”

As Wynonna Judd reminds you what a force of nature she is on this stripped down cover of a ’50s R&B classic, let’s all fantasize about being able to say this to Donald Trump, very, very soon:

I hear you knocking / but you can’t come in
I hear you knocking / go back where you been

2. Stevie Wonder (feat. Rapsody, Cordae, CHIKA and Busta Rhymes) – “Can’t Put It In the Hands of Fate”

An uplifting, timely, harmonica-sweetened ballad from the master of the form, who is most definitely not calling just to say he loves us.

You say that you believe in all lives matter
I say, “I don’t believe the fuck you do”

3. Tierra Whack – “Dora”

“Please have common sense,” pleads this Philly singer, rapper and pop visionary over a post-Rugrats beat that features synthetic voices harmonizing in a charming, reassuring way.

4. The Mountain Goats – “Picture of My Dress”

Inspired by a tweet from poet Maggie Smith, John Darnielle gives us an opportune story-song about how good it can feel to come to terms with a bad decision. As a divorcee drives cross-country, taking pictures of her old wedding dress at various locations along the way, Darnielle writes about Burger King bathrooms like Shelley wrote about the wind.

5. Cakes da Killa – “Don Dada”

An absolute beast of a club rap single from an emcee who always seems to have adrenaline to spare.

6. War on Women – “Her?”

This Baltimore punk juggernaut gives us a space to pour all of our feminist rage, be it from 2016 or the entirety of recorded history.

7. Sturgill Simpson – “Life Ain’t Fair and the World Is Mean”

A year after dropping his ’80s hard rock Camaro album, Sturgill Simpson has pulled a 180, releasing an LP of bluegrass versions of songs from his back catalog. And it slaps harder.

8. Busta Rhymes (feat. Q-Tip) – “Don’t Go”

If ’90s Native Tongues rap is your nostalgic safe space, get ready to feel cuddled.

9. AC/DC – “Shot in the Dark”

The rock-solid 4/4 drums. The high-powered but simple riff. The gloriously mindless mosh chorus (“A shot in the dark beats a walk in the park”). The overwhelming feeling of celebratory camaraderie. We missed you, mates.

10. Tom Petty – “Hung Up and Overdue (Home Recording)”

This previously unreleased demo of a song from the She’s the One soundtrack is a highlight of the fantastic new Wildflowers and All the Rest box set. And while it is a somber breakup ballad in line with the tone of Tom Petty’s mid-’90s post-divorce period, its chorus rings true today in an utterly uplifting way:

We’re overdue / For a dream come true

11. The Avalanches (feat. Leon Bridges) – “Interstellar Love”

In 1977, while working together on NASA’s Voyager Interstellar Project, astronomer Carl Sagan and writer/creative director Ann Druyan fell in love. The project involved sending two spacecraft into the great beyond, carrying recorded evidence of life on Earth, including the sound of a kiss, Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode,” and greetings in 59 languages.

Also included are recordings of Druyan’s brain and body functions, captured at Bellevue Hospital in New York City. While the tape was rolling, Druyan meditated on “the wonder of love, of being in love.”

In December, the electro-pastiche experts The Avalanches will release its third LP, and it’s heavily influenced by Druyan and Sagan’s romance. On “Interstellar Love,” the group uses a soothing Alan Parsons Project sample to create a nurturing cocoon of synths, which slowly launches into an exhilarating expanse, the voice of Leon Bridges showing us the way to transcendence:

Spirit guide
Love provides
Spirit guide, spirit need
Love provides all that we need

February’s Bestest Songs

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Here are my favorite tracks from the February that was. It was so cold, it should work at Friendly’s.


1. Lizzo – “Cuz I Love You”

Lizzo reminds us that love is the best kind of devastating, singing with real, visceral, mascara-streaked joy. An instant classic.

2. Benjamin Earl Turner – “Ja Rule”

If Mega Millions branded their winnings as “I don’t give a fuck money,” I’d buy a ticket every day.

3. Jessica Pratt – “Poly Blue”

My wife perfectly described this gentle folk song as music to put on while taking a nap with someone you love. She was totally talking about me, right???

4. Ex Hex – “Rainbow Shiner”

Mary Timony’s shit-hot band is back after five years, writing riffs that make me search for used El Caminos on Craigslist.

5. Serengeti – “Dust”

Over a playful Wurlitzer loop that would make MF Doom jealous, this Chicago MC shows off his knack for describing professional failures: “Wanted to be a food stylist / Ended up at Little Caesar’s.”

6. Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers – “For Real”

A previously unreleased gem about artistic authenticity, from one of rock’s most authentic voices.

7. Tierra Whack – “Only Child”

Current lyric of the year: “You done turn my heart so cold / I should work at Friendly’s.”

8. Kero Kero Bonito – “The Open Road”

If you didn’t believe this delightful British trio had hooks to spare, remember that this is a fricking B-side.

9. Maxo Kream – “Meet Again”

This gifted Houston rapper pairs heartbreaking rhymes about an imprisoned friend with a beat that’s as smooth as a summer cocktail. This dissonance is brilliance.

10. Spellling – “Haunted Water”

Vintage horror movie synths, torch song vocals, and a shout out to “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey” = a formula we didn’t know we needed.

11. King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard – “Cyboogie”

If our robot overlords could groove like this, John Connor would be out of a job.

12. Mountain Men – “Take Me Home, Country Roads”

One of the purest songs ever written, sung with reverence and warmth? It doesn’t make me cry at all. It’s just getting a little dusty in here, what with all the country road travel and such.