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What Our Arts Reporters And Critics Are Listening To

Artists featured in our playlist include Daddy Yankee and Kendrick Lamar. (Courtesy photos; illustration by Eddie Cepeda for WBUR)
Artists featured in our playlist include Daddy Yankee and Kendrick Lamar. (Courtesy photos; illustration by Eddie Cepeda for WBUR)
This article is more than 3 years old.

At The ARTery, we often find ourselves discussing what we've been reading, listening to or watching.

Sometimes there are connecting threads. Other times, we're all on completely different wavelengths, as you'll find out with this playlist. But diversity improves everything, right?

Here are the songs our team is currently listening to. There are no rules for this playlist. This is not a survey of new music, though there are new tracks sprinkled in. Instead, this is a glimpse into what we're thinking and the soundtrack to those thoughts. We're interested in why people listen to any songs on a given week. Sometimes, we are seeking solace, or revisiting a specific time or feeling from our past, or a dance party! Enjoy! (Listen to the playlist on Spotify here.)

Maria Garcia, Arts Reporter: 

Violents + Monica Martin, "Spark"

I walk to and from work every day. This is when I do most of my music listening, at least without the interruption of my 3-year-old son. Lately, the weather has made me crave strong, affecting vocals. I discovered Violents + Monica Martin last summer and I was immediately struck by Martin's dazzling raspy voice over sounds that smoothly bridge electro-synth with string arrangements. The song I'm mostly playing is "Spark," which is the last song on the Tiny Desk concert (below). Martin's presence and voice are both gentle and forceful. The record is an exploration of varying emotional stages of a romantic relationship, from the airy days of initial courtship to the stage where it gets messy and dark. "Spark" comes from that stage, filled with disappointment and resentment. I've always loved songs that tunnel into the shadowy parts of ourselves, and yet illuminate our shared humanity by the music alone. Martin's voice is so graceful, I don't mind getting a little melancholy with her as a guide. "Unraveling" — the second song in the video below — is also amazing. In fact, just watch the whole thing, if you can.

Camera Obscura, "Tears For Affairs"

You know those first couple of years after you graduate from college? Camera Obscura, and particularly this song, brings me to that time in my life. I had my first big job out of college and my first grown-up IKEA-furnished apartment. I worked long hours, survived on shockingly little sleep, spent my evenings at the divyest of bars, seeing the most obscure of bands. I wavered between thinking I had my life really figured out and having major angst over feeling I had nothing figured out. Good times. I don't really miss that time, honestly. I like spending my evenings playing and reading and bathing a pre-schooler, instead of at sticky dive bars. I favor balance in my life, rather than working in manic spurts, fluctuating between exhaustion and frenzied productivity. But some of the music from that era has stuck with me. I'll love it when I'm 80, I'm sure. Some songs stay with you forever, even if the phases in which you discovered them are long gone.

Daddy Yankee, "Dura"

Reggaeton has been playing in our household a lot lately, mainly because my partner, a music writer, has started a new monthly column analyzing the genre's history and cultural impact. Up until a couple of years ago, I had such a limited outlook on the much-maligned genre. But he tuned me onto its rich history, fraught with battles against colorism, racism and classism in Latinx communities. I'm also just naturally defensive of art that's considered "lowbrow" and initially dismissed by critics, as was the case with Reggaeton in its early days. Now, it's a hot and massive commodity. Have you heard about Drake releasing a Reggaeton album soon? With "Despacito" reaching the top of the charts and stars like Cardi B collaborating with Reggaeton artists, the genre is having a major moment. This new Daddy Yankee song epitomizes just how mainstream Reggaeton has become. Even if the over-produced, big studio air horns and auto tune are completely unnecessary, "Dura" is a masterful pop song. Listen but beware that you will dance, or at least attempt to. No matter how much you resist.


Andrea Shea, Arts Reporter:

Liz Phair, "Exile in Guyville"

A week after the babe.net story about Aziz Ansari — and the following deluge of impassioned conversation about who did what — I found myself going back in time to indie-rocker Liz Phair’s spare, candid, raw 1993 debut album. She managed to craft narratives that reveal things that are hard to describe about being a young, sexual woman. I’d never encountered her brand of frankness before. Phair had titles like “F--- and Run” and “The Divorce Song” that just bowled me over with their honest-to-a-fault inner-turmoil and seemingly confessional reflections on femininity, masculinity and everyday gender relations. Apparently Phair gleaned the word, “Guyville,” from the Chicago band Urge Overkill, and word has it she was trying to capture the flannel-wearing dudes she encountered in the music scene there. While the lyrics ring with painful truth they are fictional, according to Phair. She calls the album observational, also saying it’s a riff on the Stones’ iconic, “Exile on Main Street.” I asked my younger colleague Amelia Mason if she knew Liz Phair — feeling that maybe she wouldn’t — but she did! And she agreed that the album has held up and remains relevant.

Sad side note: When I saw Phair in Boston a few years back I was one of the few women in the audience. And frankly, the men in the room seemed a little, um, creepy. Was it me projecting? Listening to Phair’s music in this cultural moment makes me feel the same way 's New Yorker short story, “Cat Person,” does. Like I’ve seen that tale before. Or heard it before. But was it fact, or fiction?

Thee Oh Sees, 6 albums on shuffle

Sometimes you just gotta rock out, right? I blame my dive down this rabbit hole on Boston Calling for booking one of my favorite West Coast bands for this year’s festival. The vitality, purity and shimmery textures Rhode Island-born lead man and guitarist John Dwyer ekes out of his guitar helps me shake off the spate of often hard-to-process news coming at us every day. I mean, Grandma the clown from the Big Apple Circus? Be warned, The Oh Sees (sometimes just Oh Sees or OCS) have 20 or so recordings! Some hedge toward garage rock, others veer into psych, plenty blend both. The lyrics are succinct and poetic. I’m looking forward to what Dwyer plays at the Harvard Athletic Complex in May. (Albums in my current rotation: "Carrion Crawler," "Drop," "Help," "The Master’s Bedroom Is Worth Spending a Night In," "Putrifiers II," "The Oh Sees Singles Collection, Vol. 3")

Cat Power, "The Greatest"

It’s not just the album’s title song, but one of Cat Power’s fan videos, that have been mesmerizing me this week:

So simple, so poignant, so devastating — yet it makes me happy! I feel like some sort of existential angst is permeating the air around us these days and, boy, Chan Marshall taps into it beautifully. Maybe it’s because I’m aware of her struggles, but my attraction is also spurred by her musical imagination and humanity. We could all use some of that these days, don’t you think?


Amelia Mason, Music Critic:

Kendrick Lamar, "Love Feat. Zacari"

Kendrick Lamar doesn’t usually tap vocalists to help him out with the hook — that’s something he can handle himself. But in this rare instance in which he cedes ground to a singer, the newcomer Zacari, we see a whole new side of Kendrick, a vulnerable side. “LOVE,” far from being saccharine, is exquisite.

Sidney Gish, "Imposter Syndrome"

I’ve been working on a feature about the singer-songwriter Sidney Gish, an undergraduate at Northeastern University whose two self-released Bandcamp albums have earned her accolades at home and even some national notice. She writes songs with playful, almost corny melodies and droll, slightly depressive lyrics. Depending on where you are in life, you’ll either find them deeply relatable or a charming-yet-painful reminder of your insecure early 20s. “Imposter Syndrome,” off of Gish’s latest album “No Dogs Allowed,” is one that speaks to me now as ever, even a decade out of college.

Lau, "Torsa"

Last year some friends invited me to join their ongoing monthly playlist exchange, and this track, by the Scottish band Lau, was brought to me (and now you) by my pal Gus, who always has his finger on the pulse of new instrumental folk. Lau’s music is rooted in old fiddle tunes and long-forgotten melodeon melodies, but the members of this acoustic trio are experimenters at heart. “Torsa” brings to mind the minimalism of Steve Reich and the bottomless textures of Bon Iver, even as it conjures a world of its own making.


Phaedra Scott, Arts Journalism Fellow:

Dispatch, "Only The Wild Ones"

I started listening to this song after interviewing Chadwick Stokes for my "Museum Without A Home" article. I feel like you get a sense of who a person is by the art they put out in the world, so it was pretty awesome to connect Stokes to his music in Dispatch.

Portugal The Man, "Feel It Still"

Once I heard this song on the Apple commercial, I was hooked and I've been listening to this song kind of nonstop since. I really love the beat, and how it reminds me of "Please Mr. Postman" by The Marvelettes.


Ed Siegel, ARTery Editor and Critic At Large:

Bob Dylan, "Ballad of a Thin Man (Live in London)”

To many fans, Bob Dylan’s born-again Christian phase between 1979 and 1981 was one of the low points in his career. Some were so turned off by the message that they didn’t realize what glorious music he was making, particularly on tour with a sensational band and five backup singers. The nine-disc “Trouble No More” sets the record straight. The real, sorry, revelation came in 1981 when he integrated his old songs with the new. They’ve never sounded so good as on the “Live in London” CD, exemplified by Dylan’s scorching “Ballad of a Thin Man.” His concert around that time at the Orpheum was one of the best I've seen, including his first electric concerts with The Band. Here’s a singer as confident of his phrasing as he is of his moral views. This song, and that tour, remind us that as he was emerging from evangelicalism he was returning to his rabbinical roots, and that his religion was turning from born-again Christianity to born-again hipsterism.

Anne-Sophie Mutter, Daniil Trifonov and Friends, Schubert's “Trout Quintet,” Finale

Deutsche Grammophon’s inspired pairing of the classical label’s latest wunderkind, pianist Daniil Trifonov, and one of its most established stars, violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter, results in a thoroughly delightful version of Franz Schubert’s “Trout Quintet.” What starts out as innocent flirtation in the final movement grows in intensity over nearly 10 minutes until it becomes a full-blown romance by movement’s end. The other three musicians are prodigies championed by Mutter, and hopefully we’ll hear more from Hwayoon Lee (viola), Maximilian Hornung (cello) and Roman Patkoló (double bass). But in this case it’s the youngsters who are playing chaperone to the parents.


Listen to The ARTery's Spotify playlist below, or click here.

*If songs on this list were not available on Spotify, we replaced them with other songs from the same artist.

Maria Garcia Twitter Managing Editor
Maria Garcia is WBUR's Managing Editor and the creator of "Anything for Selena."

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