Tuesday, December 10, 2013

top ten Tuesday: songs from the Current.

Remember how I have a serious thing for NPR?

We’re going to delve a little deeper into my love of NPR – specifically, MPR: Minnesota Public Radio. I told you about how I didn’t discover MPR news radio until I moved to South Dakota and spent the first month of my new job driving an hour each way. However, MPR news wasn’t my first rendezvous with the MPR family. It all started with the Current.

I moved to Minneapolis in January 2010: fresh from New Orleans, I had taken a spring semester internship at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. James was finishing up his final semester of school, which meant that he was student teaching. His placement was in Buffalo, MN, so we found a place to live that was approximately halfway between Buffalo and Minneapolis: the friendly suburb of Plymouth. We lived in a teeny studio apartment that was once someone’s garage, but that’s a story for another time.

My morning commute was about twenty minutes – long enough to require radio entertainment. I located the Current on my very first day of commuting, and I don’t think I changed the station during the entire time I lived in the Cities. What I had found was pure gold: a station that played a mix of everything from local musicians to obscure 70s rock to a shameless “No Apologies” segment at 4 o’clock (which could be anything from Meatloaf to N*Sync to Peter Frampton). And what made it even better? It was public radio, so that meant the absence of those obnoxious radio commercials (seriously, why are radio commercials so much more annoying than television commercials?). No commercials + guaranteed to hear David Bowie at least once per day = new favorite radio station.

During the first eight months of my stint in Minneapolis, my time with the Current was limited to whenever I was in the car. However, a promotion at my job meant a move to an office where it was permissible – even encouraged! – to have the radio on all day. It was already set to the Current when I got there, and it remained set to the Current… except for the brief time where a ditzy blonde girl changed it to Top 40 before we all got there in the morning. Not that I have anything against Top 40, but there’s only so much Katy Perry you can stand. We changed the station back as soon as she left the room, and she eventually got the hint and just started listening to Pandora.

That meant that I could have at least eight hours a day of the Current – what joy! During the day, they had all sorts of fun programming: the 930 coffee break where the hosts would suggest a topic and wait for suggestions from the listeners (they’d ask for songs about zombies, or songs that are duets, or songs featuring banjos, etc), the “My Three Songs” segment at noon (where the host would choose a listener-submitted set of three songs submitted), and the aforementioned “No Apologies” track at 4 o’clock – and sure enough, the host never apologized.

Since the Current played pretty much whatever they wanted, I was introduced a whole bunch of brand new (to me) music. During my time with the Current, and I really filled out my iTunes collection. Sure, like all radio stations, the Current did overplay songs, and they placed a great deal of emphasis on local artists that I thought were “meh” at best (I’m looking at YOU, Jeremy Messersmith). On the whole, though, the Current opened up all sorts of musical doors for me. And all without commercials.

My music from the Current has carried me through countless roadtrips, and it’s given me plenty of hipster cred with my friends (which can be good or bad). It was awfully hard to choose my ten favorite songs from the Current, but I did it. My friends, these are the top ten songs introduced to me by the Current.

Mumford and Sons – “The Cave”
I had no idea who Mumford and Sons were until the day that the Current started playing them. “The Cave” was the very first song of theirs that I remember hearing, and it was just one of those songs that I immediately fell in love with. I think I can blame that on the banjo playing. But really, Marcus Mumford (the lead singer) puts so much feeling into his voice when he sings this song (when he sings anything, really), that you can’t help but get angry/sad/hipstery with him. Plus, you can hear his English accent when he sings, which means bonus points. (Side note: I liked Mumford and Sons a whole lot better before I knew what they looked like… especially Marcus Mumford. He looks like Hitler if Hitler had been a greasy hipster. Even so, I can’t help but love them.)

Cloud Cult – “Take Your Medicine”
Cloud Cult is a rare example of a local band that I actually enjoy. Unlike Mumford and Sons – who I would’ve heard eventually, as they are now HUGE – without the Current, I very easily could’ve gone my whole life without hearing Cloud Cult. “Take Your Medicine” is a bit on the angry side, but it’s got some fantastic instrumentation and a very enthusiastic lead singer. No complaints here.

Teddybears featuring Iggy Pop – “Punkrocker”
Iggy Pop is known for all sorts of disgusting things (look up him up on Wikipedia if you’re curious, but you’re not going to hear it from me), but let’s forget about that for a minute and focus on how AWESOME “Punkrocker” is. When you listen to it – especially in your car, as it is about a guy driving down the street – you can’t help but feel like a punk rocker yourself. (Or what I assume a punk rocker feels like. If anyone knows, it’s Iggy Pop.) This song (along with “Bizarre Love Triangle” and “Golden Years”) was one of the three songs I requested as a “My Three Songs” set on my 24th birthday, and wouldn’t you know, Barb Abney (the host) picked me! We were all listening at work, and she not only wished me a happy 24th birthday, but she pronounced my name correctly! NO ONE pronounces my name correctly! Barb Abney totally made my birthday that year – it’s been almost two and a half years, and I’m still happy about it!

Arcade Fire – “Modern Man”
I have to admit, I’m not a huge fan of Arcade Fire, as I find them to be generally whiny. However, “Modern Man” is light on the whine and heavy on the catchiness, so it makes the cut. Fun fact: the beat of “Modern Man” lines up almost exactly with how fast I walk. Therefore, it’s an iPod staple.

New Order – “Bizarre Love Triangle”
This song is a fine example of the Current playing a little bit of everything: “Bizarre Love Triangle” isn’t new by any means, but it’s a song from the 80s that I hadn’t heard before. It got me with its catchy electronic beat, and I’ve been hooked ever since. Listen to it and just try to tell me that you don’t want to dance. You won’t be able to resist.

Talking Heads – “Once in a Lifetime”
The Talking Heads are WEIRD – but good weird. They wouldn’t be the same without all the weird. Watch the “Once in a Lifetime” video for a good example. This was actually voted the best music video of all time. I was skeptical at first, but after a couple more watches, it grew on me. Now I can’t listen to “Once in a Lifetime” without picturing David Byrne’s crazy dance.

Temper Trap – “Sweet Disposition”
I feel as though “epic” is an overused word – not because people spend time talking about it in the literary sense (Homer’s Illiad and Odyssey = epics), but because nowadays (yes, I just said nowadays and am suddenly 50 years older), “epic” is synonymous with “awesome.” Example: I watched all seven seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer last week. It was epic. (I didn’t actually do this, but you get the idea.) Anyway, I tend to shy away from using “epic” in everyday speech unless it’s totally necessary. With this song? Totally necessary. The drums and the bass make it epic. Yes, even with the lead singer’s falsetto.

Magnetic Fields – “You Must Be Out of Your Mind”
Stephin Merritt, the lead singer of the Magnetic Fields, has this beautiful deep voice. The song is not too happy – it’s a rebuttal to his ex, who wants him back – but you almost forget while you’re listening to his voice. Throw in some clever lyrics ("you can't go round just saying stuff because it's pretty/and I no longer drink enough to think you're witty") and quirky instrumentation, and we’ve got a winner.

Tapes n Tapes – “Badaboom”
“Badaboom” is one of those songs that you can’t help but turn up. This one never failed to perk me up while I was working on timesheets at my job in Minneapolis – the Current always came through for me during the afternoon slump.

David Bowie – “Golden Years”
Have I mentioned that I love David Bowie? Lucky for me, the Current does too. Hardly a day went by that didn’t include a bit of Bowie on the Current, and you’d hear no complaints from me. While picking a favorite David Bowie song is like picking a favorite child (I’d imagine), if you made me choose, I’d choose “Golden Years.” I’m not too big on assigning slogans to my life, but the first line of the song has been a bit of a motto for me ever since I first heard it: “don’t let me hear you say life’s taking you nowhere.”  And you know what? You’ll never hear me say life’s taking me nowhere. 
I don't want to disappoint David Bowie.

There we have it: ten wonderful songs that I first heard on the Current. Since relocating from the cities, I don’t get to listen to the Current as much as I used to – most of my radio listening is done in the car, and unfortunately, a St Paul radio signal is a tad too far to pick up. The Current does stream online, so I just need to get better at remembering to actually stream it. In the meantime, I have all these old favorites to keep me company – and there are way more where these came from. Three cheers for the Current!

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