1. Nina Simone – “Ain’t Got No – I Got Life”
Though I’ve annoyed a whole bunch of people over the years by saying this, I feel the need to repeat it in writing about this song: I really can’t stand the vast majority of musical theater. I would turn down a million dollars if the payout came with the condition of sitting through another godforsaken production of How to Succeed or (shuddering at the thought) Cats. All that said, though, Nina Simone’s medley of two songs from Hair is just outstanding. It showcases both the well-constructed musical foundation for James Rado, Gerome Ragni and Galt McDermot’s work, as well as Simone’s rafter-reaching vocal power.
2. Guns N’ Roses – “Right Next Door to Hell”
Use Your Illusion I is easily one of my “desert island” albums, and has been for longer than I can remember. People turn their noses up at Guns N’ Roses, perhaps rightly so. The band epitomized the stereotype of over-the-top, nauseating rock star antics. Their breakup seemed to stem from the most annoying guy in the band (Axl) treating the members with actual talent (Slash, Duff, etc.) like total garbage. And we won’t even talk about Chinese Democracy. But even with all the bad stacked against them, I fall more and more in love with their Illusion-era work every time I listen to it.
3. Grimes – “Venus Fly” feat. Janelle Monae
Grimes (Claire Boucher) released the digital version of Art Angels on Friday, and music journalism outlets have been in an extended synth-nerd freakout since. The album had a fair amount of hype preceding its release, and Grimes seems to have fulfilled most of that buildup. The album is riddled with catchy numbers, but is not afraid to alternate cheerier music with a frightening darkness. This track starts upbeat, but quickly turns to a bass-heavy gut punch, featuring the queen of intellectually fucking-with-your-sensibilities herself, Janelle Monae.
4. Thao & Mirah – “Eleven”
I remember listening to Thao Nguyen and Mirah’s collaboration when it first came out, and really enjoying it. But I never revisited the impressive album after the initial couple of listens, at least not until recent weeks. The whole album is fantastic, but this track from the beginning nicely summarizes the strengths that both women bring to the table (in addition to Tune-Yards’ Merrill Garbus, who sounds out pretty clearly from the background, and who also produced the album).
5. INXS – “Devil Inside”
Yeah I’m putting INXS in this Monday Mixer. Whatcha gonna do about it?
6. GRiZ – “It’s All Good” feat. Jesse Arlen
Like musical theater, I detest much of dubstep and rave music—not because of a “kids these days” attitude, but because most of it just honestly makes my brain think it’s listening to a computer self-destruct. But also like musical theater, there are a few outliers in electro-ecstasy-freakycolors music that I can groove to. GRiZ is one of those artists. His most recent album signals a clear evolution in his music, and is his most rounded release to date.
7. Marisa Anderson – “Just a Closer Walk with Thee”
I’ve been fixated on Marisa Anderson’s fuzzy lullabies for a little while now, and am starting to get really antsy waiting for another album from her. Her Traditional & Public Domain Songs album took about a dozen songs that have been completely played into the ground over the course of U.S. history, and succeeded in making them palatable again. Actually, more than palatable. She’s also one of a very, very small pool of musicians who can make me appreciate churchy music, like this song.
8. Titus Andronicus – “The Battle of Hampton Roads”
As time passes, I’m having a harder and harder time putting together a Mixer without including some bitter, dejected Titus screed. I’m done resisting. Here’s a gem from a couple albums ago. For anyone without the patience to sit through a fourteen minute rant: you’re missing out.