Milelong Mixtapes: Ep. #5

“Mile-Long Mixtapes”: Ep. #5

Getting Older & Feeling Younger

by Kellie M. Beck

 

“Woke up, I’m in the inbetween, honey.

All the hope I had when I was young, 

I hope I wasn’t wrong.”

 

Jack Antonoff’s Bleachers sophomore album, Gone Now,  begins with a whisper and grows quickly to a roar; Dream of Mickey Mantle sounds like the kind of song that starts off a coming-of-age movie with teen heartthrob, “Enter White Suburban Male Name Here”, but it echoes throughout the rest of the album as a call to arms– a call to let go and accept our past selves.

 

I guess that’s what I’ve been trying to do lately. 

 

In isolation for a year, facing college graduation, and hoping and praying that theatre gets back up on its feet in time for my Brooklyn move this August, I’ve been thinking about who I’d be if the pandemic hadn’t happened. I know we’re all sick of it– sick of talking about it, sick of dealing with it, just sick of this sickness. But anniversaries are nostalgic, and I’ve been hungry for an explanation of how I’ve changed over the past year– maybe if I can define it, I can live with it. 

 

Gone Now came out in 2017, three years after Bleachers’ debut Album Strange Desire. Antonoff has been candid about his first pass at an album– he has explained in several interviews that the album has a lot to do with learning to accept and cope with his sister’s death. But Gone Now, despite its recognition of grief, feels optimistic. I’ll take a crack at Gone Now’s thesis– growing up means accepting that things– sometimes horrible things– will happen to you. Growing up is accepting that who you are is who you’ve always been. And that most of our life will be an attempt to undo the ugly habits that those horrible things have caused in us. But if we can accept the horrible things for whatever they are– that is, random and inevitable, and yes, often quite painful, then they don’t have to become a part of us. 

 

It helps that Bleachers gets this message across in a series of anthem-esque, 80’s reminiscent tracks. Everybody Lost Somebody is, in my opinion, one of the albums strongest tracks in terms of concept. 

 

I think pain is waiting alone at the corner,

I’m trying to get myself back home, yeah,

Looking like everybody,

Knowing everybody lost somebody. 

 

The undercurrent of Antonoff’s album is a deep desire to move on. I think it’s important to differentiate the difference between wishing to start over, and wishing to move on. Perhaps that’s the biggest difference between his two albums. Strange Desire wishes certain things never happened. Gone Now wishes to not be hindered by them. 

 

So how do we accomplish Antonoff’s lofty goal?

 

He offers us a hint in the above excerpt, and in just about every track on the album. Despite our current isolation, it is important to remember that the human condition is something we have all lived. And although the details of our lives may differ, everybody has lost somebody, something. Every problem we have has likely been had before, by someone, at some point. Let’s Get Married says it plainly (over and over again, in the chorus): “don’t wanna walk alone”. 

 

The long winter’s ending. A terrible thing has happened to all of us over the past year. Whatever comes next, I don’t wanna walk alone.

 

I’ve been walking circles

Lost on Sunday morning

Tryna find my way back home

‘Cause I know I’ve been a stranger lately

I’ve been a stranger lately

I know I’ve been a stranger lately

Everybody passing

Can’t make out their faces

I’m tryna find a way back home

‘Cause I know I’ve been a stranger lately

I’ve been as tranger lately

I know I’ve been a stranger lately. 

 

 

“Milelong Mixtapes”: Ep. #4

“Mile-Long Mixtapes”: Ep. #4

Happy Birthday CHIKA’s “Industry Games” & Also… the Pandemic? 

by Kellie M. Beck

 

The Friday after the University shut down classes for the remainder of the Winter 2020 semester, recently acclaimed rapper CHIKA released her debut album. My roommate and I listen to this album relentlessly– no one skips CHIKA in my house. 

 

Her Industry Games EP is a pure, ultra-concentrated dose of her finest work yet. “Intro”, the minute-long prologue to the piece, introduces soaring piano and string sections, and tells listeners “I hope this music makes you think,” only after a tight and dense verse with near-Grecian level drama. But the sentimentality is quickly tossed aside for the EP’s titular track to take center stage. 

 

CHIKA reveals to her audience over the course of the EP her struggle with her recent flux of fame. In “Industry Games”, CHIKA identifies herself as the literal “antithesis” of the rap industry, claiming that other top rappers aren’t invested in their work the way she is.The song segways neatly into “Songs About You”, a four-minute legacy track– arguably her finest song on the EP. “Songs About You” turns to criticizing haters, and both says and shows that CHIKA is hitting her prime, and on the way to becoming a household name. Even though CHIKA does her fair share of bragging about her (rather evident) skills, an underlying current of dissatisfaction runs through her lyrics– it begs the question, “if I’m already miles ahead of everyone else, what’s next?”

 

Over an angelic chorus of her backup singers singing “talk”, CHIKA rips the Band-Aid off in her track, “Balencies”. What’s the point of all this success, if the money and fame don’t bring me anything other than more problems? A church organ drops at the end of the second verse, the overwhelming pressure of the audio weighing down on the listener, only for it to drop into the sugary sweet intro of “Designer”. What’s the point of all this success, if she has to enjoy it alone? “On My Own” attempts to address the balance between love, and a relationship, with her fame with soft, velvety vocals, and her repeated promise: “I’m on my way.”

 

It’s CHIKA’s finale track, “Crown”, that contextualizes the album for me. CHIKA opens her story up to her audience, and asks them to connect with her story and her strife– “chasing the impossible takes some courage”, she tells listeners. Gospel vocals and rich layers of harmonizing vocals sing in pure joy– CHIKA chooses to celebrate strife as something that defines us. To survive, is to thrive. 

 

The pandemic is almost a year old. But on the horizon, is a promise of its end, while the sun begins to shine and the earth begins to thaw in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Listening to CHIKA’s Industry Games, I think we might owe ourselves a celebration of epic proportions someday soon. 

Mile-Long Mixtapes: Ep. 3

“Mile-Long Mixtapes”: Ep. #3

New Beginnings

by Kellie M. Beck

 

Can we ever really start over?

 

Today, (the day I’m writing this) is oddly enough the Lunar New Year. While it may not be traditionally celebrated the same as the calendar new year, January 1st, it is a celebration of newness. 

 

From what I can tell, we, as human beings, really, really love newness. We celebrate every new year, every new age we turn. We celebrate our times with our families over the holidays by giving one another new things. Every new school year, we buy our children new jeans, new shoes, new clothes. And while some of this serves a distinct purpose, (I mean, c’mon– kids outgrow their clothes at the speed of light!) newness has become a trait of modernity that I can’t help but feel at odds with. 

 

Why? Because newness, in the largest sense, doesn’t exist. 

 

I’m sure it can’t be just me– the idea of starting over is borderline seductive. And maybe that’s just because we never really get to start over– it evades us as does perfection. A fresh start is a version of perfection. But if we spend all our time pretending to start over at every new job, new semester, or every new year– when will we ever give ourselves the chance to grow? 

 

What if we all agreed that newness was impossible to achieve? I think of Walter Benjamin’s idea of what he calls “the aura”. The aura describes the appeal of aged things– how they have been altered by time is what makes them beautiful to us. I think of the old houses of Ann Arbor, or on a grander scale, the cathedral of Notre Dame. We find them beautiful for their aura. 

 

I genuinely hope the same concept can be applied to you and I. 

 

When we relinquish our desires to be new, what is left of us? The only other option for change, if we cannot start over, is to grow. I think about it like a great painting– if we throw away every canvas in which we make a mark we do not like, we will never have a masterpiece. But if we choose to stay, and reckon with what marks we have made on the page, we have the ability then to move past them. 

 

“Mile-Long Mixtapes”: Ep. #2

“Mile-Long Mixtapes”: Ep. #2

Screenshots of November

by Kellie M. Beck

 

Smooth Sailin’ // Leon Bridges

 

Attic floorboards sing along to voices like velvet. Sock-footed, freshly showered, we know the winter is nipping at our heels– so we dance faster to evade its grasp, razor-thin November edges, frost on the skylight crystallized in the dawn. We light fires inside till our cheeks grow rosy and we sweat our brows. Pick up the pace and ride out the light of the year. 

 

Cigarettes and Coffee // Otis Redding

 

She had grown beautiful in the approachable way we all wished we were– the beauty that comes when someone realizes just how lovely they are. She had grown teeth over the fall, the trees turning to flames in her mere presence. 

 

Sunday Kind of Love // Etta James

 

The window nearest to my bed can’t close completely. In the summer, when the heat of the day suffocates the attic, it’s more than welcome. Now the cold emanates off of it and gnaws at my ears in the morning. My roommate thinks we should put a blanket over it at night. Tucking in the cold. 

 

Bring It On Home // Sam Cooke

 

Growing up, my family never had a real kitchen table and chairs. It was a folding table that was a little bit broken, both sides of it dipping towards the middle hinge. We crowded six folding metal chairs around it. We had a dining room, but we mostly used the room to put things we didn’t know what else to do with there. 

 

My mother just bought a proper kitchen set and chairs. Last spring, they redid the front garden of the house. New trimmings for an empty nest. 

 

Jealous Guy // Donny Hathaway

 

They whisper briefly to each other, two planets orbiting throughout the room on different axes, briefly crossing each other’s way and sharing in a brief conversation, only to move away from each other once more. 

 

She can feel the heat of his gaze on the nape of her neck. A blithe passing hand on her waist, a fresh drink, a secret in her ear.

Mile Long Mixtapes: Ep. #1

“Mile-Long Mixtapes”: Ep. #1

The Missing Piece of Pop Carly Rae Jepsen Brings to Light

by Kellie M. Beck

 

My old boss is actually the one who introduced me to Carly Rae Jepsen. I was working at Aeropostale at the time– yes, that store, and yes, there were so, so, SO many graphic t-shirts. When I first got the job at 16, Jeremy terrified me. He was this tall, super-built guy; the kind that carries around gallons of water with them no matter what. He was notoriously adored or despised at the store by the associates. He was snarky, and quick-witted, and if I’m being honest, a little mean. I wanted him to like me, but I was freakishly intimidated by him. So when he asked me at work one night if I liked Carly Rae Jepsen, I lied through my teeth and said yes. I stumbled through a conversation about her album Emotion until Jeremy was pulled away by a soccer mom. That night, I listened to Emotion three times through so by my shift the next day, I’d be able to string a sentence or two together about her music. 

 

Three years later, when I finally left the job, Jeremy and I were friends. Coworkers, sure, but friends. At least once a week, we closed together to Carly Rae Jepsen’s Emotion, or Emotion B Side, her newly released EP. The music was fun, peppy, and flirty. I was nowhere near the fan that Jeremy was, but I had to admit, CRJ sure could write an earworm. 

 

I would hear a handful of singles throughout my time at college– my best friend would play her occasionally. She released her junior album, Dedicated, and I got to know the singles. But I haven’t devoted much time to her music since I left Aeropostale, until I saw on Jeremy’s Instagram that he was finally leaving his position as store manager there. On my drive this week, I listened through both of her albums and discovered that Carly Rae Jepsen doesn’t get anywhere near the credit she deserves. 

 

There’s a really great short story that gets studied pretty frequently in creative writing classes here, called “The Frog King” by Garth Greenwell. The content of the story isn’t really what’s important here, but rather, the ending. It’s a happy ending, and not a cheap or shallow one. The takeaway taught oftentimes is that happy endings are often the hardest to write. Tragic endings are easier to pack with meaning and morals, and are therefore mistaken as “better”. 

 

Looking at pop music today, songs written about love and passion are rife with heartbreak– and even when they are not, they often lack depth and nuance. Artists write all the time about falling in love. It’s a universal human experience that most audiences have had, or at least have come close to. But rarely do these artists go beyond the surface level to explore what these feelings really mean for us as people, or how our experience of love changes as we grow older. Carly Rae Jepsen is the exception. 

 

Her junior album, Dedicated, is perhaps the best example. Carly’s sound has matured, and no longer drowns in sticky, pop production like her debut album, “Kiss”. Out of fifteen tracks, almost all of them explore the beginning of relationships, the depth of them, and eventually, their happy endings. 

 

The undercurrent of Dedicated fights to affirm that happy endings can still be about people of strength. Looking at her track, Happy Not Knowing, Jepsen explores the hurt of past relationships seeping into her hope for new ones. But it goes beyond that, painting an arc throughout the song that our past experiences are things we learn from in new relationships, and sometimes, it really is best to not know where a relationship is going and to live in the moment of it instead. 

 

In a culture that seems to be hurtling towards the next great thing at all times, Carly Rae Jepsen urges audiences to believe in great love– the kind that can span years and define our lives, and that even when the world spins too fast around us, it is worth looking for, fighting for, and hurting for. 

Mile Long Mixtapes: Ep. #0, Introductions

I usually pull off onto State St. from my house on Catherine, drive south through campus, past Briarwood Mall and the Ann Arbor Airport, and keep driving till I hit downtown Milan. From there, I’ll loop around on Saline-Milan Rd., take Whittaker back north until it turns into Washtenaw, Arborland, and campus all over again. It’s the perfect route because it’s essentially a gigantic square, and for the most part, it’s wide-laned, grassy country roads, the kind where the sunset bleeds crimson through the trees no matter the season. The square manages to encapsulate the majority of my life within its limits– I grew up in a rural area between Ypsilanti and Milan, technically Ypsilanti Township. It’s right around the Washtenaw/Augusta county lines. There’s not a lot to do around here; my high school years were spent frequenting the Tim Horton’s and the Aubree’s Pizzeria. Late at night, after extracurriculars ended for the day, the only thing to do to avoid going home was to drive around and park in driveways and lay on the roofs of our cars and look up at the night sky. The stars are a lot brighter out there than they are here on campus. 

 

I take this drive probably once a week. It takes around an hour and a half to make the round trip; conveniently the approximate amount of time it takes to listen to two complete albums. The driving is just enough for my brain to focus on, but not enough to fill it up– driving frees up space in there, I think. That wasn’t why I started though. Considering present circumstances, I, for one, just wanted to get out of the house. But aimless driving isn’t really aimless, for the most part. This route, besides being easy to drive, passes by my parents’ house, my old elementary, middle, and high school, my ex-girlfriend’s house, and my old favorite coffee shop. The square, in its entirety, is a topographical etching of any significance I’ve found in my life so far. So every week, for the past few months, I’ve traced it, around and around and around. 

 

There’s nothing I love more than an album– a playlist is great, sure. But one complete story, a series of motifs and callbacks looping through the tracklist, one person’s experience– somehow, by being more singular, it feels more universal. Over the next few months, I’ll be writing about the albums I’m listening to on my weekly drives– the memories it reminds me of, and the stories behind the albums themselves. And maybe, if I’m lucky, someone reading this will feel a little closer to me and the universal human experience.