Bully ‘Just for Love’ is an angry cry for self-love (I think?)

“I would never talk to anyone the way I talk to myself” is a line from the newest single by alt pop outfit Bully (mainly Alicia Bognanno but now and then also a few other people) and it cuts through the angsty garage anthem “Just for love”. I wonder whether it’s supposed to be a nod to “I’d do anything for love (but I won’t do that)” by the late Meat Loaf but if it is kudos to being so timely. I can’t 100% say what I think the song is about since lyrics are scarce (and riddled with question marks on Genius.com) but my initial interpretation would be someone who slowly realizes that they’re in an unhealthy relationship and need to cut ties for their own sake.  

(You’re invited to correct and discuss in the comments)

What’s to love about this song is this throwback to 90s/early 00s garage punk, the perfect combination of sneering at someone whilst also shredding a guitar and feeling all your emotions. Not that I would ever want to go back to that time of teen angst but I do like music that reminds me of it. The song was initially written as part of the sessions for the most recent album “Sugaregg” but didn’t make the track list, so here it is to give our seasonal depression a little kick. It’s appreciated.

No Party for Cao Dong ‘還願’- Dreamy post rock for dreamy post rockers

I recently watched a Lets Play of the Taiwanese game “Devotion” (partly horror, partly drama) and this song played at the end and it’s the kind of song that immediately grabs me, because it starts like dream pop, then turns into an singer/songwriter-ish guitar ditty and suddenly erupts into dizzying post rock and all this happens in 3:45 minutes but it feels like 10 seconds because it flows so easily, it’s like a perfect train journey.

The song is – as far as I could tell from the translation given within the game – about a bittersweet ending or seeing some beauty in something ending because you decide to see the light in it. According to Wikipedia, the song was specifically written for the game, so I won’t go deeper into the meaning because I don’t want to spoil it for you in case you want to look it up or play it yourself.

No Party for Cao Dong are a Taiwanese band founded in 2014 and currently being on hiatus with the remaining members Wood Lin (vocals and guitar), Sam Yang (bass) and Judy Chan (guitar).

If you want to find out more about the band, there’s a lovely article on them on asianpopweekly.com.

Sadly, the drummer of the band, Fan Tsai, died in October this year. She had been with the band since 2016 when they met at university.

Favourite Song: Richard & Linda Thompson “The Calvary Cross” – the things you do for love

So, I recently watched “The Night House”, a horror movie about grief and how far you would go to protect someone you dearly love and this song was playing in the background a few times. I actually thought it was a modern song but lo and behold, this song is from the album “I want to see the bright lights tonight” by Richard & Linda Thompson from 1974. Goes to show that the term “timeless” really can describe songs that feel at home across decades.

The lyrics are – typically for the 70s – covered in myths and therefore a little difficult to grasp but I personally interpret it as a song about death. It’s about a pale-faced lady and her one green eye and how she’ll hurt the protagonist till he needs her. And how everything the protagonist does is for her. Which is somewhat a metaphor how so much we do in life eventually leads to death but also is shaped by death. What we want to achieve, how much we want to take in, experience, who we want to meet, how we want to grow, all before it finally gets us.

The Calvary Cross or “Cross’ of Cal’vary” is a cross with steps beneath it, apparently a representation of the structure on which Jesus was crucified. It is used as an emblem to Christianity. This could give the song a Christian meaning but the pale lady with her green eye makes me thing that the cross is more a symbol of dying or maybe sacrificing everything for something or someone.

Which in turn fits The Night House. If you like horror movies that not necessarily get to the bottom of the spooks, feature weird architecture and a bit more psychological horror, this might be for you. I am not yet sure I think it’s a great movie but it was quite unique in some ways that is always interesting and I am sure some of the visuals will stay with me. The idea of specific architecture achieving some sort of protection or deceit that the movie touches upon is just incredibly fascinating and as someone who loves all things spooky/impossible spaces, I loved the premise.

Favorite Song: Spencer Krug “Winter Sings to Fall” – to fall for Fall

I have a deep fondness for love songs that voice the many whirlwinds of emotion, to not just show the saccharine sweet aspects but the anxiety, the feelings of being overwhelmed by all of it, this maelstrom of everything.

“Winter sings to fall” is such a song if you like to read it this way. This could be a song about someone who is being loved but nearly unaware of the amount, the intensity of this love. It might even be the love of someone who puts too much on this loved one (“while a bitter winter watches”) and who seems to nearly wish it weren’t so or at least wants just as much love in return (“you owe me for how much I love you”) which sometimes is not granted.

And if “Winter sings to Fall” is the title, then maybe it’s about an older person being in love with a (somewhat) younger person? Or maybe it is very literal, well, as much as it can be if winter sings.

Therefore, it could also be a song about the change of seasons and how winter watches as autumn gracefully moves through the world. Krug’s mentioning “Spider Season” which is apparently the time between September and October when all the spiders look for warm places inside houses and scare all the people “on top of our chairs”. A song about how autumn is this beautiful grace, the leaves in love with the wind who takes them for a dance. How winter watches, yearning, bitter even, because where the leaves are dancing for fall, they only lie dead for winter.

Who knows. Maybe I am completely off. But isn’t it a nice song?

Favourite Song: Bad Nerves ‘Baby Drummer’ is a juicy throwback

Favourite Song: Bad Nerves ‘Baby Drummer’ is a juicy throwback

This meta song is about yearning for a band, a song, an album or a baby drummer to really excite you. As someone who used to listen to tons of bands, I can tell you that there isn’t necessarily something like too much music but listening to a lot of bands from the same genres can easily soften all the edges of every new song you listen to and it takes a lot more to get you really excited (weirdly, I have not found this with 80s/retro 80s pop – yet).

So, color me happy and surprised that Bad Nerves actually, ironically are somewhat my Baby Drummers because their frantic, self-titled album is a beautifully catchy, glam-inspired speedrace through tight rock songs that light up the disco, electrify your tape deck and get your heart pumping.

At first glance, I was a bit surprised that they are from Essex, since they could just as well get noise complaints from a grumpy New York neighbour but especially the melodies do indeed have that Britrock glamour that is always a bit more playful than their American counterparts. In fact, there are instances when T.Rex or the Sweet peak around the corner and this album is all the better for it.

I am a little less enamoured with the songs that lean more into the pop punk direction such as “Radio Punk” but the great thing about a short album is that it’s less than a cigarette break till the next song (which in this case is “Bored of Babies” that I like for its frantic vibe but am not really not agreeing with since it’s about “losing” friends who start a family, like, dude, not everyone can and wants to be a punk rocker till the end of time).

Anyways, all in all I really love this album, there’s enough for any playlist, dancefloor and summer night.

Favorite Song: The Replacements – Answering Machine

A beautiful thing about the Replacements was, that they went through different styles of punk music but with a spirit that fit their legacy: trying things out and trying to have fun and trying to avoid rules, even those hiding in the anarchist punk movement. Playing pop and glam cover songs during a show full of hardcore punks to piss them off is a beautiful thing because it shows that dogmatic rules on what is and isn’t punk were counter to what the scene actually wanted to be.

The Replacement’s “Answering Machine” is the perfect example how melodious punk really was (and still is). And how much emotion it could convey. It’s teenage angst perfectly distilled in 3 1/2 minutes. Admitted, The Replacements where in their 20s when they released “Let it be” in 1984 (and their harder punk style had been softened a lot) but a song about how difficult it is to put raw emotion into a letter or – worse even – on the silly little tape of an answering machine is basically every 80s and 90s teens woes.

I also want to mention “Androgynous” which is a beautiful love song about two people who love each other.

It’s a little bit sad reading lines like “kewpie dolls and urine stalls will be laughed at the way you’re laughed at now”, when nearly 40 years later, today’s trans rights are being threatened with – of all the things – a weird disturbed horror scenario where trans women roam bathrooms to attack cis women. But maybe that’s just the weird, off-putting hurdle we have to get away with (soon, please)? Eh, I could live without those hurdles, honestly.

As to not end on such a super bummer note, here’s an adorable cover of the song by my problematic face Miley Cyrus, punk icon Joan Jett and punk icon Laura Jane Grace. What a holy trinity of not giving a fuck right there!

Favorite Song: Willy Mason ‘Outwit the Devil’ – I can’t, I am not smart enough!

In my fantasy, this song is the older, nerdier brother of Laura Mvula’s catchy “Church Girl“-song (which has the line “how can you dance, with the devil on your back”) and given that Willy Mason even dances in the devastatingly charming music video makes me believe that these two songs are soulmates, destined to be tied together as the two songs that will guide you through the Summer of 2021.

The song is beautiful, even without its little sister. It’s the kind of cute, slightly sinister ballad about evading the devil that will come for you because in a moment of weakness you made a deal and now you have to get out of it, clear your soul, make things better. Although, to be quite honest, it is unclear via the video, whether it actually was supposed to be “outdance the devil.”

It’s coincidentally also a great song for the game “Mundaun” which is about a sinister contract with a devilish creature that you as the player have to undo. And no, I have no idea why so many things in my pop cultural life are currently revolving around the devil, it’s surely a coincidence and has nothing to do with the pact I made with that strange looking fellow on that crossroads in March …

Anyways, Mason will release a new album soon (just like Laura Mvula), so get on it!

Lets Play Mundaun: A Swiss horror folk tale that is everything I ever wanted

Michel Ziegler’s and Hidden Field’s gorgeous game “Mundaun” has been my biggest surprise of the year when it comes to horror games, so far. Set in the isolated municipality of Mundaun, somewhere after the first world war, we play as the lovely and kind Curdin who comes back to Mundaun after his grandfather died in a barn fire. Well, guess what, this is a horror game, so the fire was no accident and there is a big old curse on grandpa but also the entirety of Mundaun. Since Curdin is just a super nice bloke, it’s up to us to find out what happened and lift the curse.

Play the Game yourself and get it on Steam or for your Playstation. FYI: I played it on the PC and it played smoothly and without any glitches or hiccups.

Mundaun is entirely hand-drawn and looks gorgeous. If you go on the Steam page of the game, you’ll find some amazing videos of how Michel Ziegler did his research and how he adapted actual houses, art and a gorgeous church to the screen. Admitted, it took me a while to get used to the slightly crude drawing style and the sepia tones but they fit the game’s atmosphere which is always a little bit oppressive, like it’s not just the mountains looming over you. And they offer some moments of true beauty (and horror).

The gameplay is diverse, easy to adapt and a lot of fun. You have different ways to interact with the world, you can fight with different weapons (don’t worry, this is no shooter, so it’s just a few to chose your own fighting style) and you can even cook coffee which usually offers a great moment of zen.

Mundaun is an open world environment that is not too overwhelming but invites you to explore, level up (yes, that’s an option and it’s fun!) and solve puzzles, fight folklore monsters and take the story further.

Swiss folklore makes for a unique story

The story itself should be especially unique for non-European players since it is deeply embedded in Swiss fairy tales and folklore where devils can take on any form, animals might talk and humor is always part of a deal with the devil. The storytelling is stellar in Mundaun with every single detail adding to either the world or explain more about the story. Everything you find, hear and read has its place and makes it all the more enjoyable putting together all the pieces to solve the mystery. I would also wager that this makes a replay quite worthy since it will be interesting to see how the game’s storytelling puts everything into place when you know where it’s headed.

Opposed to many other indie horror games, you actually get to meet people and interact with them and be happy: not everyone dies a horrible death immediately after they met you (looking at you, Amnesia, Outlast and Resident Evil). The people of Mundaun are eccentric but not annoyingly so and provide plenty of charm and humor to the game.  

Well-earned scares and plenty of beautiful enemies

Oh, but I was also mentioning monsters, wasn’t I? At the beginning I wasn’t sure whether the monster design really worked for me but since we don’t just get one enemy design slightly differing in size (something that horror games really like to do), we get a whole diverse range of weirdos who want to harm us in different ways. Each and everyone moves and acts differently which is a genius way to make sure that there’s a scary monster for everyone. Personally, the beekeepers took 20 years of my life but chose your own nightmare fuel.

Speaking of scary stuff: Mundaun is not just diverse when it comes to gameplay options and enemies but also when it comes to its atmosphere and scares. From sound effects, to a (gorgeous) soundtrack to creepy cutscenes, shadowplays up to horrifying imagery – Mundaun managed to scare me over and over again because it knew how to divert expectations, surprise me at the right time and create tension. It’s exemplary on that account because it is just as scary when you try to evade creepy hay monsters as when you follow shadows and sounds in the tight corridors of a bunker.

Last but not least, let me tell you why I don’t just like but love Mundaun: it has heart.

It makes a difference and it is noticeable when the writers/developers of a game really care for each and every character, when the protagonist doesn’t just act out of fear or purpose but out of kindness and when the humor is not sarcastically mean-spirited but offers actual release from the oppressing atmosphere of a cursed mountain village with charm and wit.

I loved Mundaun to bits and I can’t wait to revisit it at some point to discover new details and try out different ways to play the game.

If you want to see me bumbling, laughing and shivering through Mundaun, here’s the start of my Lets Play.

Pop goes: Laura Mvula ‘Church Girl’ could be your Summer jam

I LOVE LOVE LOVE a musical evolution. I only recently mused how impactful Laura Mvula’s “Make me lovely” was for me and here she is with the amazing single “Church Girl” with the absolutely genius line “how can you dance with the devil on your back”.

Also, that suite is one big David Byrne-moment and I love it

Ok, so can we talk about this song? That Prince meets Janet Jackson dance glitter bomb? It’s basically a song about shedding self doubts and limitations and free yourself. According to Mvula, she wrote it after she started to realize that her self image was too tied up with the things that happened to her and the things she did. It’s actually quite transcendal how she talks about it (read it here).

“Church Girl” is the second single after the equally fantastic “Safe Passage” and leads the way to the album release for “Pink Noise” which will come out July 2nd.

I secretly hope that those jackets will become bigger and bigger with every single.

Nation of Language: Synthful pop for melancholic hours on the dancefloor

Listening to Nation of Language’s album “Introduction, Presence” and then hearing that they are from Brooklyn is like eating something amazing and hearing that it’s fried: of course it is, of course they are. The debut album of the band (which was formed in 2016) is a lovely ode to 80s dreamy synth pop, the kind for the 80s kids with impeccably starched shirts, sharp eye-liner and a cloud of sexy melancholy surrounding them at all times. The kind that dances like they’re caught inbetween time and space and the kind that you imagine only drinks wine from intricate silver cups.

I also love that of course the bass player Michael Sue-Poi is the only one who smiles in the video because bass players are the only ones who are allowed to break the melancholic 80s vampire character of any wave band on stage and in music videos, that’s like, the law.

Honestly, I am kind of obsessed with this, the lyrics that are full of rain and broken hearts, those sad gazes over to someone who left you or never even stayed to begin with. Those clean synths (Aidan Noell hitting the keys like early Depeche Mode), those incredibly warm vocals (Ian Richard Devaney who also nails the charismatic lead singer dancing) and those luring beats.

I am not quite sure the album works as a complete album because it gets a teeny bit repetitive towards the end but this might dissolve once you listen to it a few times more until you find those gorgeous details in each and every song that sometimes take their time to emerge.

However, each song is an amazing single, the melodies and incredibly catchy choruses are a sight to behold. I am quite sure you can dance through the whole album without missing a beat. Nation of Language are absolutely mesmerizing if you love 80s synth and guess what* – I do.

*chicken butt