Valentine’s Day can be a tricky affair, but when it comes down to it, no roses, chocolates, or wining and dining can compare with how you set the mood once you make it to the bedroom. If your special someone finds comfort in the woozy romanticism of James Blake or the lush surreality of Beach House, you may want to casually flip this playlist on. Clocking in at just over an hour, it’s got a little bit of old and new as it eases into its seductive spell with the sexy skulk of FKA twigs and Massive Attack, then gets straight to the point with Lana Del Rey’s silky confession “Fuck it I love you” and Billie Eilish’s hesitant heart-tugger “i love you.” Just before the mood gets too serious, though, we kick back into a throbbing groove with The xx, Caribou, and Four Tet, wrapping it all up with a wistful indie lover’s anthem that offers up the most apt of final words: “I like it all that way.”
Trent Reznor has been soundtracking the end of the world for decades now, and somehow—no matter what is dominating the news cycle—it always feels appropriate. Coming out of the bowels of Cleveland, Ohio, as a fan of Skinny Puppy, Gary Numan, and Nitzer Ebb, Reznor brought his blackened synth-pop to the masses with 1989’s Pretty Hate Machine. On that album, between the seething industrial dance anthems “Head Like a Hole” and “Sin,” he bared his soul for “Something I Can Never Have,” a minimal piano elegy that dares to dangle its feet over a great black hole of hopelessness. Each succeeding NIN album would include at least one such devastating dirge: The Downward Spiral’s “Hurt,” The Fragile’s “The Great Below,” With Teeth’s “Right Where It Belongs.” Even the highly underrated Still, a 2002 set of instrumentals and stripped-down songs, was completely dedicated to the concept.
Now a prestigious Oscar-winning composer, Reznor has long mastered the art of eliciting emotion from the subtlest of sounds and drawing out our deepest-seated anxieties from the space between those sounds. Just see his haunting scores for films like The Social Network and Gone Girl with Atticus Ross, the darkly ambient Ghosts series, and more recent doom-stricken dirges like Add Violence’s “This Isn’t the Place.” As any NIN fan understands, there’s something sinisterly seductive about allowing yourself to slip into your own shadow, to slide further down the spiral, to soak in the dreariest of drones. But what’s kept the band evolving—and what makes you keep listening—is the profound realization that darkness can’t exist without light. To that, Reznor’s most powerful compositions manage to radiate and resonate with the slightest sense of solace (see: “Leaving Hope”).
The good guys will always grab our hearts, but it’s the bad guys who fascinate us the most. There’s usually a hint of charm in the villain, and we can’t help but at least be a little bit wooed by their brazenness. In the world of pop music, “being bad” has served many artists well, especially the good girls who’ve embraced their dark side (Rihanna), the evil gals who will “fill you with misery" (Aretha), and the seductresses who always get what they want—and then immediately regret it (Lana Del Rey). Other artists have touted their bad image right from the get-go, like Joan Jett, whose iconic “Bad Reputation” broke open her solo career, and Billie Eilish, who kicked off her big debut with the sinister earworm “Bad Guy” (duh). This playlist celebrates the bad girls (and a few guys), and even the straight-up monsters.
"Everywhere started out as this simple acoustic love song," the then 18-year-old Michelle Branch modestly told MTV back in 2001, when her debut single was quickly climbing the charts. In fact, "Everywhere" could be heard just about anywhere, as it captured the spirit of both moody post-grunge rock and breezy Y2K pop. At the time, Branchs guitar-fueled confessions were something of a savvy response to the sexed-up pop of Britney and Christina, and while she electrified with some Alanis-like sass, she did so with with a youthful, innocent optimism. Still, "Everywhere" isnt such a simple love song. Branch is not pining or pouting. Her lyrics are bold and vivid and maybe even a little abstract: "Youre everything I know/ That makes me believe/ Im not alone." Is she talking about a boy or something grander? Either way, her delivery is empowering—shes confident while still vulnerable, and she ties both together in an instantly undeniable hook. A new generation of female singer/songwriters was most certainly listening. Here are five ways "Everywhere" made its mark on the music scene.It signaled the true end of 90s angst.Gone was the dark, disillusioned edge of grunge; the cool, canny pop star who could rock hard and still radiate a touch of sunniness had arrived. Soon after the release of "Everywhere," Vanessa Carlton was pounding her piano with the same balance of sass and sincerity in "A Thousand Miles." Sara Bareilles would later do the same with the deceptively defiant "Love Song."It inspired a new form of passionate pop-rock.In 2002, Kelly Clarkson would claim the first American Idol title. Shed soon use her newfound fame to propel cathartic, hard-rocking pop hits like "Since U Been Gone" to iconic status. KT Tunstall also came blazing through, wielding her guitar and commanding just as much respect with her infectious, soulful rock. It helped bring femininity to emo. Branchs influence would even stretch to emo hero Hayley Williams, whod inject the pop-punk scene with some much-needed feistiness and femininity with her band Paramore. It pushed country music in new directions. You can even thank Branch for helping reinvigorate country music in the mid-2000s by not only co-starring in her own country-pop project The Wreckers with friend and singer Jessica Harp, but also inspiring one precocious singer/songwriter by the name of Taylor Swift. "Youre one of the first people who made me want to play guitar," Swift once told Branch.It still can be heard just about … everywhere.Even now, traces of "Everywhere" still echo through pop, rock, and country, especially in the spunky yet candid songwriting of newer artists like Meg Myers and Kacey Musgraves. In a way, this once "simple acoustic love song" continues to make its imprint just about everywhere.
She was a tragic character from the very beginning—Lana Del Rey was Born to Die. And yet, half a decade later, her story continues; her myth still grows. The pouty princess who once served as Hipster Runoffs lifeline has made her way to the (literal) top of Hollywood with a renewed Lust for Life. "Were the masters of our own fate," she coos with confidence on the albums title track. Its a well-worn cliché that sounds downright profound coming from a woman who has meticulously created and refined a persona that is far more than meets the black-lined eye.Lana is not the tortured seductress we first assumed her to be. No, she is a true and shrewd 21st-century star. She glorifies outdated stereotypes, while challenging outdated perspectives on sex, race, youth, beauty, power, fame, and the American dream. She then neatly fits these ideas into classic archetypal figures that come alive in noir soundscapes as silky and sumptuous as her bed sheets surely must be. Here, we break down Lana Del Rey into her four most distinct roles and unpack the influences behind them.THE FEMME FATALE
Lana got plenty of heat back in 2014 for telling The Fader, "The issue of feminism is just not an interesting concept." The fact that she opens a song with a line like "my pussy tastes like Pepsi Cola" doesnt help her cause, but shes hardly proven to be a powerless woman. In fact, Lana is arguably at her best in her most infamous role: the femme fatale. Her idea of feminism is using and abusing the power of femininity, not unlike strong sex symbols before her, from the slithery slyness of Nancy Sinatra and Brigitte Bardot to the overt eroticism of Madonna. Of course, the femme fatale can be as lethal to herself as she is to the opposite sex. When her own dangerous games of sex, drugs, and intrigue turn against her, self-awareness becomes crucial. When Lana admits that she wants "Money Power Glory" and that "prison isnt nothing to me" (on "Florida Kilos"), she takes on the gall and grit of proud bad girls Rihanna and Amy Winehouse.
Lana will break an endless amount of hearts, but will forever find true love elusive. She can lure the boys in but never quite let them go. She is the hopeless romantic, much like "Lust for Life" collaborator The Weeknd, who once said, "she is the girl in my music, and I am the guy in her music." On her big, symphonic ballads, shell sweep you up in every intimate detail with the pained quiver of Antony Hegarty, the vivid imagery of Leonard Cohen (whose "Chelsea Hotel #2" Lana has covered), and the brooding intensity of Chris Isaaks sultriest unrequited-love song, "Wicked Game." All the while, she associates youth and beauty with romance ("Will you still love me/ When Im no longer young and beautiful"), believing that none of these things will ever last—but it doesnt mean shell stop falling in love.
Behind every calculated move and every shade of cool is a sad girl "crying tears of gold." This is the fate of a tough temptress with a soft soul. Lana wallows in her sorrow as much as she does in her drugs, booze, and boys. Her most indulgent torch songs are draped in infinite sadness, starting with the obvious "Sad Girl," with its dark, dusky swing in the style of Twin Peaks enchantress Julee Cruise, or "Million Dollar Man," in which she echoes the most "Sullen Girl" of all, Fiona Apple. She even finds a kindred spirit in Mr. Lonely himself with her stunning cover of Bobby Vinton’s "Blue Velvet." Still, through all that misery, at least she knows that shes pretty when she cries.
Lana embodies the American dream as every bit of the illusion that it is. The American flag is her most provocative symbol, whether shes standing proudly before it (mischievously winking) or suggestively wrapping herself in its stars and stripes. She finds money, fame, and all that dream promises—but never happiness. She sings of Springsteen in "American"; portrays herself as both Marilyn Monroe and Jackie O in the video for "National Anthem"; and even gets political on "Coachella – Woodstock in My Mind." Her vision of America starts and ends on the West Coast. She paints the Golden State as both scandal and savior with hints of EMA and Courtney Love; tells sordid tales of "Guns and Roses" like only Guns N Roses could; and finds her fellow California "Freak" in video co-star Father John Misty. All together, she is America the Beautiful, the Cunning, the Miserable.
Lana Del Rey promised us everything from the start: "Its you, its you, its all for you / Everything I do," she sang on 2011s "Video Games." Since then, shes remained completely committed to that line, doing everything in her power to continue to shock and seduce us with her purrs, her pouts, and her pen. As a songwriter, Lana Del Rey is utterly fearless. Some have even suggested she may just be the American Morrissey. Sure, shes just as romantic and melodramatic. But shes also crude and brash, sexy and sincere, and her sardonic side is vastly underrated. Though her tragic tales may be rife with clichés, her evocative telling of them remains her most intoxicating trait. Her fantasies and failures come alive in every vivid color, but what keeps us coming back for more is her unabashed openness: Shell tell you exactly what she wants, when she wants it, and how shes gonna get it. Here are 10 of Lana Del Reys sultriest, most biting lines.
Dont fall for it. Shes not unhinged—this girls completely in control.
This is our "gangsta Nancy Sinatra" playing it coy.
Lana 101: Anytime you want to tease and provoke, you can always debase religion…
…or multinational corporations.
We wonder if she recommends dosing daily?
The femme fatale finds her weakness.
She knows self-denial is never a good look…
…neither is holding on to a low-down loser.
Only Lana can get away with tying you up then setting your hot summer fling on fire.
On August 20, 2002, NYC was a much different place than it was just a year previous. Post-9/11, the air hung heavier, thick with apprehension and paranoia—exactly the type of environment ripe for an album as stunningly devastating as Interpols debut. Looking back 15 years, Turn on the Bright Lights remains the chiming centerpiece of 21st-century post-punk because it so acutely reflects its time and place of origin, while capturing a deep-seated malaise that would extend well past that time and place.Some 20-plus years before that, post-punk rose and fell with a sound that was so sharp and brutally real, there was no chance it could survive long. like PiL would invent it; bands like Joy Division would fully embody it. Their songs—tightly wound and always teetering on the edge of catharsis without ever fully realizing it—articulate that maddening clench in the pit of the stomach that refuses to ever completely let go. Its a similar feeling that Interpol intricately conveys on tracks like "PDA" and perfect album opener "Untitled," with its thick bass and quivering guitar jangle streaked in wavering drones. It doesnt hurt that Paul Banks stoic baritone fluctuates at the same low, dolorous tremble as Ian Curtis did.But where those pioneers stripped punks fiery brutality down to its starkest essence, Interpol also paint it in varying tones of goth and grey, echoing gloomy sonic architects like The Cure, Bauhaus, and Echo & The Bunnymen, whose seductive atmospherics, pounding rhythms, and damaged guitar jangle haunt slow-burning ballads like "NYC" and "Hands Away.”While Interpol may have found influence from dreary 80s England, their debut is purely rooted in early 00s New York. But youll never have needed to experience either time or place to wholly absorb the myriad shades of discontent—the disillusionment, dread, isolation, and alienation—rendered so achingly intoxicating on any one of these songs.
When I was a 13-year-old girl completely oblivious to the immense power of femininity, Tori Amos "God" struck something within me. "God sometimes you just dont come through / Do you need a woman to look after you?," she trills with a mix of steeliness and sass. Perhaps its the blatant heresy she so coolly savors, but that line continues to sting so good, as long as religion and patriarchies continue to dominate our existence. Over two decades and some 15 albums later, we expect nothing less from Amos, who keeps writing, recording, and touring relentlessly; slipping in and out of personas; and crafting her art on cosmic concepts that intricately break down life here on Earth in all its bliss and terror.Amos is a carefully constructed contradiction: a classically trained musician and provocative pop star; a ministers daughter with an angelic voice and a wildly wicked sense of humor; an independent woman who respects tradition as much as she subverts it. For this Family Tree feature, we honor her musical lineage, whose roots stretch back to Lennon and Led Zeppelin, then branch out to Fiona Apple and PJ Harvey, and continue to flourish through artists like St. Vincent and Lorde.
At the ripe ol age of two, Tori started playing piano. Soon, she was on scholarship at the Peabody Conservatory of Music in Baltimore. But she found her greatest muses in the rock records her older brother would sneak into the house. Led Zeppelins sticky, swampy pagan rock would leave an impression, especially those Robert Plant wails that effortlessly ooze with sex. So would the fabulous flamboyancy of Freddie Mercury—you can see his histrionics channeling through her when she works two pianos at once in concert. In fact, shes even claimed Mercury wrote her To Venus and Back track "Sugar" from beyond the grave. Shes said the same about John Lennon, whose ghost may or may not have helped write the Boys for Pele song "Hey Jupiter," whose chords mirror another rock god: Prince.Of course, there are plenty of rock goddesses tangled among Amos roots as well. Her most ethereal proclivities bring on constant comparisons to art-pop auteur Kate Bush, who can draw sensuality out of the steeliest synths. Stevie Nicks is another one of her spirit animals, and Tori covers her Rumours material often. But perhaps her most striking trait—her raw, vulnerable songwriting—draws from the beautifully raging poetry of Joni Mitchell and punk priestess Patti Smith.
Tori Amos released her debut album Little Earthquakes in 1992. At first blush, her flowery, flowy piano rock seemed a far cry from the testosterone-fueled grunge blowing in from the Pacific Northwest. But her songwriting and delivery, stripped bare of pretense and posturing, shared much with that genres tortured confessionals. At the same time, her music felt like an antidote to all that muscular angst, even though anger and pain very much powered her own cathartic cries. This potent femininity would quickly seep its way into the alternative-rock consciousness through prolific artists like PJ Harvey, Liz Phair, and Ani DiFranco.Songs like "Silent All These Years" would help give voice to equally strong, immensely gifted women armed with a piano or guitar and a helluva lot of thick skin. On “Sullen Girl,” Fiona Apple channels her own trauma as a rape victim into one of pop music’s most hauntingly elegant depictions of the terror, depression, and isolation that comes with such hell. And, like Tori, her words flow so eloquently, so naturally, with every little waver in her voice holding infinite emotion. But it wasn’t just women who felt her allure. Trent Reznor was also a fan, and the two were often linked. Tori’s “Caught a Lite Sneeze” references Pretty Hate Machine, while “Past the Mission” features Mr. Self Destruct himself on backing vocals.
Twenty-five years after her solo debut, Tori continues to reinvent herself as she navigates a contemporary landscape rife with musicians influenced by her. These artists capture her passion, her freakiness, and her luminous grace in their own lucid tales that often shift and warp modern ideals of love, sex, power, and gender. The weird, snarling dance mix of Tori’s "Raspberry Swirl" could work as a rough template for St. Vincent’s wacky, whimsical compositions. Traces of her most mystical odysseys weave through the dark, eerie dream-pop of Bat For Lashes and Zola Jesus. Provocative piano women like Amanda Palmer take a bit of Tori’s unapologetic fire and let it loose themselves, too—heck, Palmer is even married to author Neil Gaiman, the subject in a few of Tori’s songs. And even some of pop’s biggest stars embrace Tori’s insatiable need to articulate the immensity of being a powerful woman. Just take it from Lorde: “I’m 19 and I’m on fire.”
"I just wanna feel everything," Fiona Apple softly quivers on "Every Single Night." She repeats this line with just the slightest bit of hesitation, as if it were her biggest confession yet. And it is—those simple words boil down her entire existence: In moments when many of us would rather escape our skin, Fiona wants to soak up every granular sensation within it, even when, in her most brilliant poetry, "the pain comes in, like a second skeleton."There are few artists that can express such visceral emotion with such vivid eloquence—and even fewer who can deliver it all with a voice that carries the weight of every word as if it were the world. Because of this, we can forgive Fiona for only releasing four albums in the past 20 years. Still, that too-small catalog is overflowing with some of musics boldest, bloodiest imagery and rawest, most ruthless lyrics. Here, we highlight 10 of her fiercest lines—lines that could come from no one other than Fiona, a woman who knows the infinite beauty in feeling everything.1. "This mind, this body, and this voice cannot be stifled by your deviant ways / So dont forget what I told you / Dont come around / I got my own hell to raise"—"Sleep to Dream"The precocious teenagers introduction to the world is the best kiss-off ever.2. You fondle my trigger, then you blame my gun"—"Limp"In which she follows with another killer jab: "It wont be long til youll be lying limp in your own hands."3. "Nothing wrong when a song ends in a minor key"—"Werewolf"Perhaps the most important lesson, in music and in life.4. "Youll never see the courage I know / Its colors richness wont appear within your view."—"Never is a Promise"For every man who insists he understands.5. "How many times do I have to say / To get away / Get gone / Flip your shit past another lass humble dwelling"—"Get Gone"The second best kiss-off ever.6. "I think he let me down when he didnt disappoint me / He didnt always guess right, but he usually got my gist"—"Get Him Back"Every girl can perfectly understand this one…7. "All that loving mustve been lacking something / If I got bored trying to figure you out"—"Periphery"…and this one.8. "Do you just deal it out, or can you deal with all that I lay down?"—"To Your Love"The ultimate comeback.9. "My feel for you, boy / Is decaying in front of me / Like the carrion of a murdered prey"—"Carrion"Being dead to Fiona is worse than being actually dead.10. "My pretty mouth will frame the phrases that will disprove your faith in man"—"Fast As You Can"Dont ever underestimate the power of a woman and her words.
Right in the wake of Kurt Cobains tragic death in 1994, Billie Joe Armstrongs rascally sneer became a regular fixture on MTV. Green Days stoner punk was ripe to flourish in such a bummed-out climate—they channeled the angst and malaise of grunge through scrappy, jittery old-school punk, threw in a little sardonic silliness, and knitted it all together with some undeniably delicious pop hooks. Throughout the 90s, the Bay Area trio embraced the idea of being rebels without a cause (and with nothing to do: see "Longview"), but by American Idiot—released just prior to the 2004 presidential election—they again captured the cultures growing unease, this time in a nation that looked and felt vastly different than it did a decade prior. "American Idiot" may be their greatest rebel anthem ever, but it certainly hasnt stopped them from unleashing more seething, politically-charged pop-punk that has been just as timely. -- Stephanie Garr
The ’90s have never sounded better than they do right now—especially for modern-day indie rockers. There’s no shortage of bands banging around these days whose sound suggests formative phases spent soaking up vintage ’90s indie rock. Not that the neo-’90s sound is itself a new thing. As soon as the era was far enough away in the rearview mirror to allow for nostalgia to set in (i.e., the second half of the 2000s), there were already some young artists out there onboarding ’90s alt-rock influences. But more recently, there’s been a bumper crop of bands that betray a soft spot for a time when MTV still played music videos and streaming was just something that happened in a restroom. In this context, the literate, lo-fi approach of Pavement has emerged as a particularly strong strand of the ’90s indie tapestry, and it isn’t hard to hear echoes of their sound in the work of more recent arrivals like Kiwi jr. or Teenage Cool Kids. Cherry Glazerr frontwoman Clementine Creevy seems to have a feeling for the kind of big, dirty guitar riffs that made Pacific Northwestern bands the kings of the alt-rock heap once upon a time. The world-weary, wise-guy angularity of Car Seat Headrest can bring to mind the lurching, loose-limbed attack of Railroad Jerk. And laconic, storytelling types like Nap Eyes stand to prove that there’s still a bright future ahead for those who mourn the passing of Silver Jews main man David Berman. But perhaps the best thing about a face-off between the modern indie bands evoking ’90s forebears and the old-school artists themselves is the fact that in this kind of competition, everybody wins.
It may be that 2019 was the best year for ’90s metal since, well, 1999. Bands from the decade of Judgment Night re-emerged with new creative twists and tweaks: Tool stretched out into polyrhythmic madness, Korn bludgeoned with more extreme and raw despair, Slipknot added a new drummer (Max Weinberg’s kid!) who gave them a new groove, and Rammstein wrote an anti-fascism anthem that caused controversy in Germany (and hit No. 1 there too). Elsewhere, icons of the era returned in unique ways: Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor scored a superhero TV series, Primus’ Les Claypool teamed up with Sean Lennon for some quirky psych rock, and Faith No More’s Mike Patton made an avant-decadent LP with ’70s soundtrack king Jean-Claude Vannier. Finally, the soaring voice of Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington returned for a moment thanks to Lamb of God guitarist Mark Morton, who released a song they recorded together in 2017.
Taking a look at the playlists for my show on Boston’s WZBC might give the more seasoned college-radio listener a bit of déjà vu: They’re filled with bands like Versus, Team Dresch, and Sleater-Kinney, who were at the top of the CMJ charts back in the ’90s. But the records they released in 2019 turned out to be some of the year’s best rock. Versus, whose Ex Nihilo EP and Ex Voto full-length were part of a creative run for leader Richard Baluyut that also included a tour by his pre-Versus outfit Flower and his 2000s band +/-, put out a lot of beautifully thrashy rock; Team Dresch returned with all cylinders blazing and singers Jody Bleyle and Kaia Wilson wailing their hearts out on “Your Hands My Pockets”; and Sleater-Kinney confronted middle age head-on with their examination of finding one’s footing, The Center Won’t Hold.Italian guitar heroes Uzeda—who have been putting out proggy, riff-heavy music for three-plus decades—released their first record in 13 years, the blistering Quocumque jerceris stabit; Imperial Teen, led by Faith No More multi-instrumentalist Roddy Bottum, kept the weird hooks coming with Now We Are Timeless; and high-concept Californians That Dog capped off a year of reissues with Old LP, their first album since 1997. Juliana Hatfield continued the creative tear she’s been on this decade with two albums: Weird, a collection of hooky, twisty songs that tackle alienation with searing wit, and Juliana Hatfield Sings the Police, her tribute record to the dubby New Wave chart heroes (in the spirit of the salute to Olivia Newton-John she released in 2018). And our playlist finishes with Mary Timony, formerly of the gnarled rockers Helium and currently part of the power trio Ex Hex, paying tribute to her former Autoclave bandmate Christina Billotte via an Ex Hex take on “What Kind of Monster Are You?,” one of the signature songs by Billotte’s ’90s triple threat Slant 6.