ERIN INCOHERENT – Album Review: “Déjà Vu”

I’ve featured scores of artists on this blog over the past five years, and one of the more interesting and unique among them is singer-songwriter Erin Cookman, who goes by the wonderful artistic moniker Erin Incoherent. Originally from Fort Collins, Colorado and now based in Philadelphia since late 2017, the self-described “singer, musician, poet, writer, mental health advocate, model, artist, makeup junkie, loudmouth and strong woman” is a hyper-talented songwriter, vocalist and guitarist. She’s also a fiercely passionate and outspoken champion for mental health and issues like domestic violence and sexual abuse, topics that often appear in her powerful songs. Erin’s music style tends mostly toward folk/indie rock with strong punk and grunge elements.

I last wrote about Erin two years ago, in December 2018, when I reviewed her album Medusa, a brilliant 11-song manifesto addressing anxiety, trauma and pain. Now she returns with her new album Déjà Vu, which dropped November 30th. The album was co-produced by Erin and Bill Nobes, and recorded and mixed by Nobes at The House of Robot studio in Wrightstown, New Jersey with assistance from Vincent Troyani. Erin sang all vocals and played guitar and bass, with help from a number of musicians, including Chris Olsen on drums and additional percussion, Nikki Nailbomb on cello for “Of Roaches & Roommates” and bass on “25” and “The Fog”, Skelly on upright bass for “Harvestman”, and Joe Falcey on drums for “Of Roaches & Roomates”. The album was mastered by Jason Livermore at The Blasting Room in Fort Collins. Bill Nobes also did the photography and cover art for the album.

With Déjà Vu, Erin continues to explore themes of disillusionment and pain stemming from emotional trauma, the loss of loved ones, and relationships gone bad. She’s a very fine singer and acoustic guitarist, but it’s her unflinching and profound lyrics that impress me the most. Each song is laid out like a deeply personal story told though a lengthy poem, and her lyrics are so good I’d like to quote them all for every song, but will control myself. The opening title track “Déjà Vu is a shining example of how she skillfully uses tempo and melodic changeups to reflect the different moods expressed by her lyrics. The song starts off with Erin’s gently-strummed acoustic guitar and soft breathy vocals, then both turn more aggressive and harsh as she coldly proclaims that she’s done with the relationship: “I never wanted all of this / Neglect is cold as snow / And now I don’t care where you went because I’d rather be alone.” 

On the bluesy “The Fog“, Erin bitterly laments to a lover whose drug addiction has destroyed their relationship. I like how she uses the words ‘heroine’ and ‘heroin’ in the song to great effect. In one stanza, she sings “And I will never be your heroine / Not for my lack of, lack of trying / You left me, I was broken / No longer, your trophy / Why would I wanna be the habit you’re always kicking?“, then in another almost identical stanza, she sings “And I will never be your heroin…” “The Storm” is a great kiss-off song, with Erin telling the man who broke her heart that he’ll be facing dark times ahead: “And I hope that when the rain comes for you, you’re a little too late, just a little too late to find your way back home / And away you are swept with the hurt, and the pain, and the grief, and the shame that you left me.

25“, with it’s chugging guitar-driven melody and Erin’s gentle, heartfelt vocals, has a haunting Americana vibe. The introspective lyrics seem to speak of being overwhelmed by anxiety and self-doubt: “I think I’ve bitten off more than I can chew / I’m scared of dying but I’m scared of living too / I’ve never really felt like I belonged / I don’t feel like people listen, or ever really wanna talk / So now I’m always dreaming of a life that feels like home / Somehow I must make it on my own.” She drastically changes the mood with “Aculeus (The Sting)” a provocative and sensual song that seems to speak to bisexual desires. First she seductively croons ” Hey, oh yeah, alright boy you’re looking like you want it. Cause I like it hot, I like it cold. Unpredictable and bold / And I think that part of who I am is part of what’s driving you mad.” But then she later sings “…alright girl you know I fucking want you. Cause I like it hot, I like it cold. Unpredictable and bold / My favorite part of who I am.

Perhaps the most poignant track on the album is “Of Roaches & Roommates“, a heartfelt tribute originally written for her friend Bonnie who died of a drug overdose, but now dedicated to friends Erin has lost to addiction-related struggles, as well as those fighting to remain clean in recovery. “So now we’re smoking in the basement drinking Old Crow / And we tuned up the Ibanez so we could sing every song we know / Cause Bonnie didn’t have to die man but she shot up / Slug said he didn’t have the narcan but we can’t trust that fuck no, we can’t trust him.” With the help of videographer Shad Rhoades, Erin has produced a video featuring interviews of people who’ve lost friends or loved ones to drugs, interspersed with footage of her and her fellow musicians Joe Falcey and Nikki Nailbomb performing the song.

The next several songs deal with emotional pain and the struggle to heal and feel ‘normal’. On “The Plan“, Erin resolves to learn to love herself, warts and all: “One day I’m gonna wake up in my someday / Cause if I don’t, I’d rather not wake up at all / The hardest thing that I’ve learned is to love me even though it hurts / Cause not being able to love me just seems worse.” Continuing on a similar vein, the rousing “The End of the World (again)” sees her feeling overwhelmed by self-doubt and wallowing in her emotional pain: “I can’t seem to live my life with consistency, no matter how hard I try, and I don’t know which is worse – Feeling like ‘I shouldn’t hurt’ or living so comfortably with pain, that it’s all I feel, and all I look for.” But then she resolves to not let it defeat her: “No, it’s my turn, give me time / Piss off, I’m gonna be fine Yeah, it’s my turn.” And on the hopeful and comforting “The Edge of September“, she vows to emerge from her mental breakdown as a stronger person: “I’m pinning my hope on the edge of September and praying the payoff’s not too far away / I’m trying to focus and change for the better / Breakdown’s cause breakthroughs, I’m reminded each day.”

The Coal” seems to speak to the pain each partner in a dysfunctional relationship is going through, with each of them trying to heal without also hurting the other in the process. Erin sings “Maybe it’s your time. Time to fight, time to feel. To do not just what’s right, but what will help you heal / Cause now that the storm has lifted, it’s left you with this view / What the hell will you do?” But then she points out that their actions are detrimental to her own well-being: “And I think you try to make your words hurt. Yeah, I think you like knocking me down. You’re daft if you think that it’s working. You’re not an anchor, I’m not gonna drown. No, nobody ever held me back.

The track “Harvestman” is a bit of an outlier on the album, both musically and lyrically. The song has more of an ethnic folk vibe, with a jaunty Latin guitar-driven melody and lyrics in both English and Spanish. I’m not certain as to the meaning of the spiritual lyrics, but I’m guessing that the harvestmen is a metaphor for death: “The harvestman comes now for me, as fire greets the stars / And I could not grieve, for silently, I knew just where we’d go.” The forest sounds and chirping birds at the beginning and end of the song are a nice touch. The album closes with “Déjà Vu (Reprise)“, a brief track featuring Erin’s lilting and rather haunting a cappella vocals pondering what it all means: “No, you’ll never get it back / Where you’ve been keeps what you’ve lost / Yeah, there is no real conclusion Are we memories, or thought?” To me, it serves to end things on a somewhat upbeat and optimistic tone, while acknowledging there’s not necessarily a ‘happily ever after’.

I’ll admit that it took me a couple of listens to fully grasp and appreciate this rather intense album, as the melodies aren’t immediately catchy, nor are the lyrics the kind you can quickly sing along to. But once I delved more deeply into those meaningful lyrics, as well as discovered the many nuances contained in the music and Erin’s emotive, wide-ranging vocals, I’ve come to realize that Déjà Vu is another brilliant work of musical art by this amazing storyteller.

Follow Erin on Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream her music on Spotify / Apple MusicSoundcloud
Purchase on Bandcamp / iTunes

100 Best Songs of the 2010s – #29: “Bad Bad News” by Leon Bridges

The song at #29 on my list of 100 Best Songs of the 2010s is “Bad Bad News” by American singer-songwriter and producer Leon Bridges. The talented Ft. Worth, Texas-based artist is like a breath of fresh air with his throwback R&B style that echoes some of the great soul singers of the 60s like Sam Cooke, Marvin Gaye and Otis Redding. It’s a reflection of my advanced age perhaps, but though most of his songs are mellow and low-key, they excite me because they remind me of so many of the artists and music coming out of Detroit (Motown), Memphis and Philadelphia from the early 60s to the mid 70s that I loved.

“Bad Bad News”, from his second album Good Thing, is fantastic, with jazzy guitar, gorgeous brass, crisp percussion and a deep bass groove set to a soulful, hypnotic beat. Add Bridges’ smooth vocals that go from sensual to plaintive, and the result is sonic heaven. He sings about overcoming others’ lack of faith in him, and making it on his street smarts, honesty and belief in himself: “Ain’t got no riches, ain’t got no money that runs long. But I got a heart that’s strong and a love that’s tall. Ain’t got no name, ain’t got no fancy education. But I can see right through, a powdered face on a painted fool./ They tell me I was born to lose. But I made a good good thing out of bad bad news.

Though none of Bridges’ songs have appeared on the stinking Billboard Hot 100 nor even the R&B chart – which is a shocking travesty! – both of his albums have made the top 10 on the 200 Album chart, and two of his singles, “Smooth Sailin'” and “Bad Bad News” reached #1 on the Adult Alternative Chart. “Bad Bad News” spent three weeks at #1 on my own Weekly Top 30 in early summer of 2018.

The sexy video for the song was directed by Natalie Rae, and shows scenes of a woman following a man who she thinks whistled at her through an empty underground subway station and out into the streets at night, when she suddenly becomes overtaken by the song’s sensual grooves. Scenes of her are interspersed with footage of Bridges walking into an auditorium where he encounters a group of musicians jamming, and he then dances around them as he sings the song. At the end, the woman finally catches up to the man and silently confronts him before walking away.

100 Best Songs of the 2010s – #30: “Social Cues” by Cage the Elephant

We’ve now reached the rarefied top 30 of my list of 100 Best Songs of the 2010s, and the song at #30 is “Social Cues” by American rock band Cage the Elephant. With their wonderful bluesy style of alternative/indie/garage rock, they’ve been one of my favorite bands of the past decade. My love and devotion for them became even stronger when they liked several of my tweets and then actually followed me on Twitter!

“Social Cues” is the second of three songs by them on this list, with “Trouble” already having made an appearance at #78. Originally from Bowling Green, Kentucky and now based in Nashville, the band currently consists of lead vocalist Matt Shultz, his brother Matt on rhythm guitar, Nick Bockrath on lead guitar, Matthan Minster on guitar and keyboards, Daniel Tichenor on bass and Jared Champion on drums.

The title track from their fifth studio album Social Cues, “Social Cues” was released in July 2019, and now ranks among my favorites of their many great songs. The bouncy tempo is incredibly catchy, with a terrific bass line and guitars, and those chirpy synths are irresistible. But what I love most of all are Matt Shultz’s wonderful distinctive vocals that always sound so genuine. The rather poignant lyrics speak to the anxieties and insecurities of being a rock star: “Hide me in the back room, tell me when it’s over. Don’t know if I can play this part much longer. I don’t know if it is right to live this way, yeah. I’ll be in the back room, tell me when it’s over. People always say, ‘Man, at least you’re on the radio’.” The song’s production and arrangement are flawless.

100 Best Songs of the 2010s – #31: “Starboy” by The Weeknd ft. Daft Punk

The song at #31 on my list of 100 Best Songs of the 2010s is “Starboy” by Canadian hip-hop/R&B singer-songwriter The Weeknd. The second song by him on this list (“Can’t Feel My Face” is at #90), “Starboy” was the title single from his third album of the same name. The song features music by French electronic music duo Daft Punk, who along with others, co-wrote the track with The Weeknd and collaborated on the album. It was a massive worldwide hit, reaching #1 in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Denmark, France, Norway, Sweden, and New Zealand.

It’s a haunting and moody but beautiful R&B song with electro-pop elements and a captivating melody. The lyrics are somewhat ambiguous, but generally speak to various trappings of celebrity life, including references to some of the expensive cars owned by The Weeknd, including his McLaren P1, Lamborghini Aventador SV Roadster, and a Bentley Mulsanne: “I’m tryna put you in the worst mood, ah / P1 cleaner than your church shoes, ah / Milli point two just to hurt you, ah / All red lamb just to tease you, ah / None of these toys on lease too, ah / Made your whole year in a week too, yeah / Main bitch out of your league too, ah / Side bitch out of your league too, ah.”

Many of The Weeknd’s videos tend to contain violent scenes, and the one for “Starboy” is no exception. Directed by Grant Singer, who also directed the videos for “Can’t Feel My Face” and “The Hills”, it has been described as The Weeknd’s attempt to murder his former persona, a sign perhaps that he was reinventing himself with his new song and album. It shows a masked figure, eventually revealed to be the Starboy incarnation of The Weeknd, killing his former self, and destroying posters and awards for his previous album Beauty Behind the Madness.

Top 30 Songs for November 29-December 5, 2020

  1. IS IT TRUE – Tame Impala (1)
  2. BLOODY VALENTINE – Machine Gun Kelly (2)
  3. ARE YOU BORED YET? – Wallows featuring Clairo (4)
  4. MARIPOSA – Peach Tree Rascals (5)
  5. DOWNS – Roadkeeper (3)
  6. MOOD – 24kGoldn featuring iann dior (8)
  7. IDENTICAL – Phoenix (9)
  8. VISITOR – Of Monsters and Men (13)
  9. CAN I BELIEVE YOU – Fleet Foxes (14)
  10. GIANTS – Dermot Kennedy (7)
  11. COME & GO – Juice WRLD featuring Marshmello (10)
  12. CAN I CALL YOU TONIGHT? – Dayglow (6) 20th week on list
  13. VIRUS – Vanity Fear (15)
  14. BURN THE VISION – Amongst Liars (16)
  15. FIRE FOR YOU – Cannons (17)
  16. THINK I’M CRAZY – Two Feet (18)
  17. LETTER TO YOU – Bruce Springsteen (19)
  18. THE LET GO – Elle King (12)
  19. SKIN AND BONES – Cage the Elephant (23)
  20. TROUBLE’S COMING – Royal Blood (26)
  21. TANGERINE – Glass Animals (11)
  22. NERVOUS – Au Gres (25)
  23. SHAME SHAME – Foo Fighters (28)
  24. DIRTY – grandson (29)
  26. AMOEBAS IN GLASS HOUSES – Moonlight Broadcast (20)
  27. MY OWN SOUL’S WARNING – The Killers (21) 20th week on list
  28. FEEL YOU – My Morning Jacket (22)
  29. IT’S YOU – The Frontier (24) 22nd week on list

100 Best Songs of the 2010s – #32: “Take Me to Church” by Hozier

The song at #32 on my list of 100 Best Songs of the 2010s is “Take Me to Church“, the debut single by Irish singer-songwriter Hozier. This is one of two songs by him on this list, the other being “Nina Cried Power”, which appeared at #68. The darkly stunning song was released in September 2013 as a free download, as he was a struggling musician at the time, performing at open-mic nights in and around Dublin. He wrote the song while living with his parents, and recorded a rough demo in their attic. The song first caught the attention of independent label Rubyworks, where producer Rob Kirwan overdubbed the original demo with live instruments, played by Hozier and drummer Fiachra Kinder.

Raised as a Protestant Quaker, Hozier now identifies as agnostic, and was inspired to write the song by his frustration with the Catholic Church, which he saw as a negative dominant force on social and political life in Ireland. He told Rolling Stone, “Growing up, I always saw the hypocrisy of the Catholic church. The history speaks for itself and I grew incredibly frustrated and angry.” (As a still-recovering Catholic myself, I completely agree.) In another interview with New York magazine, he stated: “Sexuality, and sexual orientation…is just natural. An act of sex is one of the most human things. But an organization like the church, through its doctrine, would undermine humanity by successfully teaching shame about sexual orientation – that it is sinful, or that it offends God. The song is about asserting yourself and reclaiming your humanity through an act of love.

Hozier uses religious terminology in the lyrics to describe his feelings of romantic and sexual obsession with his lover, while also condemning church dogma: “My lover’s got humor. She’s the giggle at a funeral. Knows everybody’s disapproval. I should’ve worshiped her sooner. If the Heavens ever did speak. She is the last true mouthpiece. Every Sunday’s getting more bleak. A fresh poison each week. ‘We were born sick’, you heard them say it. My church offers no absolutes. She tells me, ‘Worship in the bedroom’. The only Heaven I’ll be sent to is when I’m alone with you. I was born sick, but I love it. Command me to be well. Amen, Amen, Amen.”

The darkly disturbing black and white video produced for the song was conceived by Hozier, Brendan Canty and his writing partner Emmet O’Brien. It was directed by Canty and Conal Thomson, and filmed on location at Inniscarra Dam in Cork, Ireland. The video, which is at times difficult to watch, tells the story of a gay relationship in Russia and the violent homophobic backlash that ensues when the community learns of one of the men’s sexuality. Upon its release in September 2013, the video quickly went viral, leading to Hozier’s subsequent signing with Columbia Records in the U.S. and Island Records in the UK.

“Take Me to Church” became a massive worldwide hit, topping the charts in 12 countries and reaching #2 on the Billboard Hot 100. It reached #1, however, on the Alternative, Adult Alternative, Adult Top 40 and Hot Rock Songs charts, where it spent 23 consecutive weeks at the top. It was also nominated for a Song of the Year Grammy, and has sold over five million copies in the US.

For those too squeamish to watch the video, here’s a Spotify link:

SKAR DE LINE – Single Review: “Satisfied”

Skar de Line is the solo music project of singer-songwriter and composer Oskar Abrahamsson, a talented, charismatic and creative young artist born and raised in Sweden and now based in London, England. He’s also front man and lead vocalist for London electronic rock band Heist At Five, who I just featured two weeks ago when I reviewed their latest single “Faceless”.

Fascinated by the concept of boundaries and the human obsession for self-understanding, Skar de Line explores them through the creation of his dark and unconventional music. Drawing on his love for cinematic soundtracks by composers such as Hans Zimmer, Junkie XL and Ramin Djawadi, he fuses those stylistic elements with hip-hop, rock and electronic metal to create his own unique sound that excites, pushes boundaries and gives us a lot to think about.

In October 2019, he released his superb debut single “In Charge”, which I also reviewed. Now he returns with his latest single “Satisfied“, which drops today, November 27. It’s a darker, more intense song than “In Charge”, while still featuring many of his signature cinematic and electronic elements and complex melodic song structures that I love. He uses a swirling mix of dramatic industrial synths and ominous sounds, set to powerful dubstep-style beats, to create an intense, almost menacing soundscape. As always, his deeply emotive vocals are wonderful, going from sultry croons that seduce us one moment to impassioned cries that bring chills the next, and all delivered in his charming Swedish accent.

Lyrically, Skar de Line ponders what is it that satisfies us, specifically, do we get satisfaction from being right, or merely by the act of searching for what we think we want? He elaborates: “‘Satisfied’ deals with the power we have over our own perception of ourselves, and on the contrary, the alienation we feel around people we don’t understand, the loss of control we have over someone that doesn’t have anything left to lose. It’s about the disorientation we get when we accomplish what we set out to do, when we no longer have a purpose.” Taking this idea further, it would seem that those who generally get most or all of everything they desire – like super-wealthy people for instance – would never be totally satisfied.

 Satisfied, feeding a legend, feeding the myth 
 Feeling safe, staring down into my own abyss
 Can you push, a man who has lost the sense of his gravity?
 Please try, and tell me now, now tell me how
 I’m not really human to you
 I don’t feel people as you do
 I have a fucked-up way of seeing the world I’m living in
 And you know, what if you were right?
 And people like you they are making me feel alive
 Keeps me satisfied
 Then how does it feel to know you’re completely right?
 Does it satisfy?
 You believe that I still can be saved
 That I’m too profane for this place, you're a god, 
 Come to save, the human race, from my blood 
 As a fulltime martyr now
 It’s a fascinating religion you’ve come to give your whole life for 
 Come on and tell us how
 I’m not really human to you
 I don’t feel people as you do
 I have a fucked-up way of seeing the world I’m living in
 And you know, what if you were right?
 And people like you they are making me feel alive
 Keeps me satisfied
 Then how does it feel to know you’re completely right?
 Does it satisfy?
 I wouldn’t ask you to do anything I wouldn’t do myself
 I’m your bat, you’re a dog, you’re my fuel, I can’t stop
 And it touches my heart that you run for me
 Cause I’m the splinter embedded deep inside of your mind
 What itch would you scratch when you got me out?
 I don’t wanna stay alive, I wanna feel alive
 Will it satisfy when you’re satisfied?

Skar de Line will be premiering a new cinematic music video for “Satisfied” on December 4th. Filmed in London, and directed and edited by himself, it’s his most ambitious film yet.

Follow Skar de Line: Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream on Spotify / Apple MusicSoundcloud
Purchase on  Amazon

100 Best Songs of the 2010s – #33: “The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness” by The National

The song at #33 on my list of 100 Best Songs of the 2010s is the gorgeous “The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness” by American alternative folk-rock band The National. The group have been putting out consistently good and well-received music for over 20 years, and one of their finest works was their critically acclaimed and Grammy-winning seventh studio album Sleep Well Beast. The lead single from that album, “The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness” is a phenomenal track, and one of the best of 2017. I was shocked to learn this was the band’s very first single to ever appear on any Billboard chart, going all the way to #1 on the Adult Alternative chart.

The song opens with a dreamy a cappella female vocal, then lovely piano chords and gnarly guitars ensue, propelled by an urgent drumbeat. The band uses a palette of richly-layered instrumentals, including a subtle trumpet fluttering over propulsive percussion to create a dramatic backdrop for singer Matt Berninger stunning and heartfelt baritone vocals. Aaron Dessner’s blistering guitar solo in the bridge, unusual for The National, is a highlight of the song.

The band has never been afraid to express their liberal political views in their songs, and while “The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness” is not political per se, it was inspired by the political mood in America and the election of Trump. In an interview with Pitchfork, Berninger stated that the song is generally about “the strange way our world and our idea of identity mutates—sometimes overnight, as we’ve seen recently. It’s an abstract portrait of a weird time we’re in.”

Maybe I listen more than you think
I can tell that somebody sold you
We said we’ve never let anyone in
We said we’d only die of lonely secrets

The system only dreams in total darkness
Why are you hiding from me?
We’re in a different kind of thing now
All night you’re talking to God

I thought that this would all work out after a while
Now you’re saying that I’m asking for too much attention
Also no other faith is light enough for this place
We said we’d only die of lonely secrets

The system only dreams in total darkness
Why are you hiding from me?
We’re in a different kind of thing now
All night you’re talking to God

I cannot explain it
Any other, any other way
I cannot explain it
Any other, any other way

The song’s surreal video features digitally-altered imagery in mostly black and blue colors.

100 Best Songs of the 2010s – #34: “Set Fire to the Rain” by Adele

At last, British superstar Adele makes her first of two appearances on my list of 100 Best Songs of the 2010s with her stunning anthem “Set Fire to the Rain“, which bows in at #34. Born Adele Laurie Blue Adkins, the remarkable singer-songwriter first came to prominence in 2008 with her debut album 19 and hit single “Chasing Pavements”, for which she was awarded Grammy Awards for Best New Artist and Best Female Pop Vocal. In 2011, she released her second album 21, which became one of the biggest-selling albums of all time, setting numerous chart and sales records, and topping the album charts in the U.K., U.S., and around the world. It was the top-selling album on the planet both in 2011 and 2012. As I write this in November 2020, 21 has spent 492 continuous weeks and counting on the Billboard 200 Album chart. That’s nearly nine and a half years!

The album’s third single, “Set Fire to the Rain”, was also her third consecutive single to reach #1, and is one of my favorites of Adele’s many songs. The song was co-written and produced by Fraser T. Smith, and it’s a sweeping, piano-driven anthem, with the kind of lush orchestration that I love (though a few prickly critics called it ‘over-produced’ and a ‘misfire’, and to them I say fuck off!). The dramatic arrangement creates a cinematic wall of sound befitting Adele’s soaring, emotionally-charged vocals. The lyrics speak to the contradictions that occur in some relationships, how a partner can seem so wonderful at times, yet awful at others: “You and me together, nothing gets better. But there’s a side to you that I never knew, never knew. All the things you’d say, they were never true, never true. And the games you play, you would always win.”

100 Best Songs of the 2010s – #35: “Safe and Sound” by Capital Cities

The song at #35 on my list of 100 Best Songs of the 2010s is the wonderfully ebullient “Safe and Sound” by Los Angeles- based electro-pop duo Capital Cities. Consisting of singer-songwriters Sebu Simonian and Ryan Merchant, they seem like nice, down to earth guys who’d be fun to hang out with. They formed their music project in 2010, a few years after Merchant responded to a Craigslist ad by Simonian, who was looking for music production jobs. Their lineup includes other musicians who assist in the recording of their songs and for live performances.

A sleeper hit, “Safe and Sound” was originally released in January 2011, but didn’t chart until 2013, when it was included on their terrific debut album In a Tidal Wave of Mystery (the album title is from a lyric in the song). The song reached #1 on the Billboard Alternative chart that June, and was the #2 song of 2013 on that year-end chart. The song has a catchy synth-driven melody with an infectious dance beat, but the real highlight is the exuberant trumpet line that gives the track incredible texture and energy. The guys’ vocal harmonies are pretty great too.

In a 2013, interview with USA Today, Simonian explained that “‘Safe and Sound’ is an ode to humanity and all living things. We want people to recognize that life can be good, things are getting better.” Though the lyrics are quite simple – “I could lift you up / I could show you what you wanna see and take you where you wanna be / You could be my luck / Even if the sky is falling down I know that we’ll be safe and sound” the song is just so damn upbeat that it brings me immense joy every time I hear it.

The delightful official video, directed by Grady Hall, was filmed in the historic Los Angeles Theatre, and shows Capital Cities performing on stage as dancers emerge from pictures on the wall and film clips from different time periods in the theater’s history, and compete in a dance-off. Simonian and Merchant took lessons so they could dance in the video. It received a Grammy nomination for Best Music Video.