On Discovering a Perfect Song Late at Night

On Discovering a Perfect Song Late at Night

As much as I wish that every pivotal first listening experience would come with a fittingly breathtaking backdrop, that's rarely the case. Who's vacationing through the Alps on a glorious spring day thinking, Time for some new music discovery? More often than not, transcendence pierces through the mundane, opening a portal from your couch, your kitchen, the sidewalk your feet pound every day, a seat on the train. It doesn't whisk you away from the everyday setting so much as it momentarily levitates you above it.

On Tuesday night, or rather early Wednesday morning, I'd just gotten home from work. I made myself a salad, unwrapped an uneaten half of an Italian sub, plopped down on the couch, and put on the latest installment of Shōgun. My initial plan was to watch the entire hourlong episode—the show is, after all, very good—but after I finished eating, the voice in the back of my head that'd been nagging me all day to start working on this week's newsletter reached a fever pitch. I clicked the Gmail icon and began the ritualistic dance:

  1. scan for eye-catching subject line
  2. open email
  3. highlight artist name
  4. paste artist name into search bar
  5. press play on artist's newest song
  6. repeat steps 1-3 while listening to song
  7. determine whether to save song or exit window
  8. jump back to step 4
  9. repeat until 12 or more songs are saved

This sounds dispassionate, but it isn't always. It certainly was when I began the process on Tuesday night. It didn't take long to find two or three songs that you'll see on the list that closes out the newsletter, which lifted my spirits a good deal more than it would have had I spent 30 minutes to achieve the same result.

It was the fourth song I listened to that didn't just check a box. It didn't just relieve the burden of having to agonize over a "track of the week" pick. It didn't just put a smile on my face. It didn't just lift my right hand, place it on the "volume up" key, once, twice, three times. It didn't just immeasurably improve my night, my day, my week. It made me scold myself for treating this work so begrudgingly.


After writing those four paragraphs and that one numbered list, I spent the next two days wondering if I should actually write about the specific song I heard for the first time on Tuesday night, or if I should save that for the "Track of the Week" section and continue to ferry this essay through the abstraction that initially sparked it. My writing comes in bursts like that. It makes focusing on a single time-sensitive project difficult, but it's great for spreading myself thin and completing work in a more piecemeal fashion. This newsletter lends itself to the latter approach—while agonizing over this essay, I sought refuge in the comfort of discovering, listening to, and writing about the 10 tracks below. What initially felt like a chore became fun once it provided a place to hide from a more frustrating, pressing task.

It's been unseasonably booty-butt-ass cold the past few days, so I haven't had much reason or motivation to take the song in question—let's call it "NewFavoriteSong.mp3" for shorthand—out on a field trip to see how it sounds in more picturesque or exotic locales. This hasn't dulled it on my many relistens. It might be a different case were it, say, "Clair de lune," or Sigur Rós' Ágætis Byrjun, or New Order's "Your Silent Face," all pieces of music that demand blindingly gorgeous landscapes to magically appear the second they come on. "NewFavoriteSong.mp3" is more intimate than that.

Scratch all of that, though. I've had intimate first listens of songs that beg for big canvasses, like when I put on Caribou's pastoral In Flames while making a late night sandwich in college, taking so long while soaking up the album that my friends wondered what kind of gourmet snack I was concocting. I've had first listens of intimate music in the most spectacular settings, like when I cued up Destroyer's louche, late-night classic Kaputt while driving British Columbia's Sea-To-Sky Highway at sunset. The psychedelic concept of "set and setting" as prerequisites for a good time certainly applies when digesting music for the first time, but I've found that it's more of an enhancer than an arbiter of quality.

Solitude is an interesting variable to throw into the mix. I've always found communal first listens to be hit-or-miss: throwing on Chief Keef's Thot Breaker with my partner and both of us having our minds blown (hit), convincing four friends that Watch The Throne was gonna be a great start to a road trip (miss), huddling around a shitty weed vape with three friends to hear Kid Cudi's debut album (hit, at least at the time), bragging to a friend about getting an advance stream of the last Deafheaven album and then forcing him to sit through it with me (miss). Making someone else grant 45 minutes of their time to experience something that you're unsure will be even remotely decent is a big ask. Save that for the second listen.

So I return, as I do most nights, to the couch. The couch gets a bad rap. It's a stand-in for complacency, for slothfulness, for junk food and binge-watches. It's where I nap, but also where I work, where I watch movies and read books and listen to music. Art leaves its impression on me while I leave my impression on the couch.

Searingly hot lightning strikes like the one I'm writing about now are less common than they used to be—that's the downside of having a fully-matured brain with closed-off nodes. There's a reason the average person connects most to the music they loved in adolescence, and try as I might to fight it, I get it. But I'm heartened by the realization that a careful assortment of ones and zeros, beamed into my ears by forces unseen, can still awaken childlike joy in me. You know what, though? It's more than that. It's somehow existing in a moment that contains my current self and my youthful self, both looking at each other in wonderment, disappointment, pride, jealousy. Music is the connective tissue for me. Music is infinity.

Plug One

Hey look, I published something outside of the four walls of this newsletter! My review of Devon Welsh's album Come With Me If You Want to Live may appear on Pitchfork Dot Com, but it was largely inspired by previous work I did here, namely discovering a single from the album in my inbox and naming it Track of the Week last month. The rest of the album didn't live up to my expectations, but I still had fun writing about it.

BOI (Best Of Inbox) #22

Bibi Club - "L'île aux bleuets"

Genre: "living room party music," per the artist // RIYL: Stereolab, Stars

Nine out of 10 other weeks, this would be my #1 pick. Montreal duo Bibi Club make catchy, late-night post-punk, and their upcoming album explores every possible corner of that sound, from the Strokes-adjacent to the Suicide-adjacent, from the angular to the jangular. This single whisks us away to Blueberry Island (that's the title's English translation) on the back of brisk, brittle production and velvety melodies. Feu de garde is out 5/10.

Cakes Da Killa & Dawn Richard - "Do Dat Baby"

Genre: hip-house // RIYL: Azealia Banks, Le1f

Brooklyn's Cakes Da Killa has been doing this a long time. By "this," I mean "making clubby rap heaters." On the final pre-release single from his new album, he does that alongside the absolute legend Dawn Richard. "Do Dat Baby" is produced, like most of Cakes' material, by my old pal Sam Katz, who nails the age-old warm house keys sound without going overboard with it. Cakes' Black Sheep is out today.

Chanel Beads - "Embarrassed Dog"

Genre: lo-fi pop // RIYL: ML Buch producing an Mk.gee song

I guess it was less than five years ago, but it feels like an eternity has passed since one of my old Portland bands, Heart Lake, played a very fun show with two Seattle bands, Yufi and Chanel Beads. Back then, the latter was a quiet, mostly acoustic duo who contrasted with our loud, sappy indie rock and Yufi's glitched-out, breakcore-tinged emo (they covered 100 Gecs at that show). The primary force behind Chanel Beads, Shane Lavers, recently relocated to New York, and his music's undergone a similar sea change, now taking on a warped, post-Alex G boldness. Your Day Will Come is out 4/19.

Ibelisse Guardia Ferragutti & Frank Rosaly - "DESTEJER"

Genre: groovy, semi-free jazz // RIYL: mid-'60s Sun Ra, Tortoise

This collaboration between singer/multi-instrumentalist Ferragutti and drummer Rosaly draws on the "sounds of their respective ancestral roots in Bolivia, Brazil, and Puerto Rico," according to the album bio. Marrying cumbia and bomba rhythms with Farfisa-heavy jazz-funk, they craft something that's equally catchy and mind-expanding. Their album MESTIZX is out 5/3.

Knocked Loose - "Blinding Faith"

Genre: metallic hardcore // RIYL: Harm's Way, Year of the Knife

You ever wish Code Orange were able to incorporate all of those shiny, electronic bells and whistles without going full Warped Tour? Well, look no further than the clangorous lead single from Knocked Loose's upcoming third album. "Blinding Faith" has the Louisville band tapping into a similar heavily digitized assault that Vein.fm did on their modern classic Errorzone, but keeping it dirtier and lower to the ground. You Won't Go Before You're Supposed To is out 5/10.

Lightning Bug - "Opus"

Genre: ominous indie folk // RIYL: Hannah Frances, Beth Gibbons

I know I spent the first half of this newsletter arguing that there's no perfect instant to hear a song for the first time, but on a walk to the grocery store earlier this week, the wintry "Opus" hit just as I rounded a corner and was met by a gust of unseasonably frigid wind right in my face. This is primo "wrap a scarf around your face and brace for a blast of cold air" music. Weird timing IMO, but No Paradise is out 5/2.

Magazine Beach - "Turnaround"

Genre: emogaze // RIYL: Cloakroom, Greet Death

D.C.'s Magazine Beach put out one of last year's most underrated emo releases in Constant Springtime, and now they're back with a double single that somehow tops that album. The best way to experience Vacuum / Turnaround is to hear both songs in succession, as they bleed into each other enough to sound like a two-part track, but if I have to pick one, of course I'm gonna choose the louder, slower, shoegaze-ier one.

Selbst - "Chant of Self Confrontation"

Genre: progressive, depressive black metal // RIYL: Harakiri for the Sky, Enslaved

Selbst is a black metal project that began as a two-piece in Venezuela in 2010, later moved to Chile, and now seems to be predominantly a one-person project by vocalist/multi-instrumentalist N (the only other credit on this album is "drum session by Jonathan Heredia"). "Chant of Self Confrontation" reminds me a lot of the few European groups that I enjoy who work within the "depressive black metal" subgenre: very anthemic guitars, a healthy mix of harsh and cloyingly clean vocals, a ton of drama. The perfectly named Despondency Chord Progressions is out 4/19.

Tracei - "I Said"

Genre: unsure if dark and menacing rap or catchy and fun rap // RIYL: Project Pat, Baby Keem

Initially I found this song's hook repetitive and obnoxious but after one verse of Tracei's unhurried-but-dextrous flows, I got into it. As soon as she said, "They like, 'Where you from?'/I'm from the wish a n**** woods," I was sold. I love the way producer Maxmizacion alternates between the chorus' bright keys and the verses' dark churn of strings. Uncomplicated, not striving to be cutting edge, but it's a banger.

Track of the Week

Shabason, Krgovich, Sage - "Bridget"

Genre: freeform ambient singer-songwriter // RIYL: it's either iLoveMakonnen writing a Phil Elverum song or Elverum writing a Makonnen song, I can't decide

Well, here it is. This is the lilting run-on sentence of a "song" that floored (or more accurately, couched) me. My interest was piqued by the first two surnames that form this trio's moniker. I featured a Joseph Shabason song in the first issue of this newsletter; I've loved a few Nicholas Krgovich songs over the years ("Along the PCH on Oscar Night" is perfect). But my connection with both artists goes beyond their solo work.

As a horn player, Shabason has contributed to some of my favorite music of the past 20 years, namely The War on Drugs' Lost in the Dream (which turned 10 this week) and a few Destroyer albums (including the aforementioned Kaputt). I grew up seeing Krgovich play at local venues in my hometown, first as a member of the bands P:ano and No Kids, then backing Phil Elverum in the Clear Moon-era incarnation of Mount Eerie (the 2011 What The Heck Fest show absolutely blew my mind), and finally as a solo act. I couldn't believe that they were making music together, much less that they'd been making music together for four-plus years and I hadn't heard about it.

"Bridget," a single from their upcoming album with ambient artist M. Sage, blew the barn doors off of my already-high expectations. Krgovich's airy baritone takes the lead here, breathlessly reciting something that's half tone poem and half a melodic, rap-adjacent "no hook" freestyle (kind of akin to the wildly underrated "To The Ground" single he and Elverum released 12 years ago). It's hyper-personal in a twee way, but muted and classy in a decidedly un-twee way. He sings about friends, about an inability to throw a spiral that stretches back to his childhood, about the seasons, about Alice In Chains' "Would?" and Patrice Rushen's "Feels So Real," about Cats the musical. It's hypnotic in a way that most other stream-of-consciousness-style deliveries aren't.

The instrumentation (not sure who's doing what) is deceptively subtle and never stagnant, blooming whenever Krgovich hits a particularly choice turn of phrase. I've typed out, and then deleted about four of those turns of phrase, because I think it'd behoove you to listen to this for yourself rather than have me throwing contextless one-liners at you.

What I like best about "Bridget" is the "time is a flat circle"/"now only" feeling that I was hovering around at the end of this week's essay. The distinct sense that all moments exist at once, that random things reappear to us at random times, that there's a hidden power in what we think of as mundanity.

All Inbox Infinity picks are available in playlist form via Apple Music and Spotify.

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Jamie Larson