What Are You Listening To? is a weekly run-down of what A.V. Club staffers are streaming. Listen to these songs and more on our Spotify playlist, updated weekly with new stuff.
Blues Traveler, “Run-Around”
Honestly? What I’m listening to is Blues Traveler’s “Run-Around,” a song that my 3-year-old daughter heard… somewhere, then brought into our house like a filthy word. She requested it recently—or specifically, she requested “The Run Around Song.” Which in retrospect, I suppose could have referred to something else. Maybe there’s some song they play while they run around in a circle at her tea party ballet fairy pixie class or whatever, and she was simply asking to hear that song when I opened my stupid mouth and said, “You mean Blues Traveler’s ‘Run-Around’?’” and she replied, “Yeah!” What the hell does she know? She’s 3! The day before that, she enthusiastically agreed that she wanted to live under the overpass.
So it’s my dumbass fault that I pulled out my phone and played “Run-Around” for her, and even if that weren’t what she was asking for originally, of course she fucking loved it—what toddler wouldn’t? It’s got that bouncy, jangly backbeat; that whole fizzy, trailer-for-a-late-’90s-rom-com vibe; and most importantly, that harmonica, an instrument all kids love because it sounds like a cartoon train farting. So we’ve been listening to “Run-Around” on repeat, just like when she accidentally got hooked on Kanye’s “Lift Yourself” (“The Scoopity Poop Song”) and The Psychedelic Furs’ “Love My Way” (that one I didn’t mind).
Anyway, I’m just giving you an honest answer this week, not an endorsement. I was never a fan of “Run-Around,” nor Blues Traveler, nor its whole genre of roots-y, hacky-sack pop. And I’m still not, although I suppose repeated exposure forces the mind to find some way to break it down and live with it, which has led to me mentally taking “Run-Around” apart and trying to appreciate its components—respecting the just-one-shade-of-dirty production on that harmonica sound, for instance, which at least musses up the way-too-pristine acoustic guitar that sounds like it should be kicking off a commercial for allergy medicine.
And you know, John Popper’s pinched, nasally vocal style is not really my thing, and that one lyric about being “Like a game show contestant with a parting gift / I could not believe my eyes” is still really lame, especially in context. (You’re talking about discovering the betrayal of a close friend, and you’re putting it in terms of getting a board-game edition of Wheel Of Fortune? And are you really in “disbelief” about what is, in fact, standard game-show procedure? Had you just never seen this hypothetical show before agreeing to appear on it?)
But I have to admit, he’s got a distinctively catchy cadence that carries you through even some of his more groan-worthy wordplay and stabs at similes, and it lodges them deep in your brain even against your will, and before you know it you find yourself humming along even when it’s not playing and then it’s there in your head when you wake up and OHHH I LIKE COFFEE AND I LIKE TEA / I’D LIKE TO BE ABLE TO ENTER A FINAL PLEA. I can appreciate these things from a detached, scholarly remove, I guess, while I listen to this song over and over at my daughter’s behest, in between her sister sing-shouting, “Let It Go.” At some point, the pop culture that you consume becomes just as much about your children as every other hour of your free time. I get it. Nothing profound there—just something annoying you have to live with. Like “Run-Around.” [Sean O’Neal]
MIKE, “Comfort A Joke”
It’s been easy to overlook the fact that there was another seven-track, 21-minute rap record released last Friday: the latest by New York’s boldly named MIKE, whose woozy, beautiful May God Bless Your Hustle was one of last year’s best rap LPs. The new set is another bleary sound collage, full of faded tape loops and dreamy samples that sound more Boards Of Canada than anything else. It’s almost as packed with ideas as Pusha’s diamond-tight Daytona, climaxing with the “Comfort A Joke,” which is as close as this dude gets to pop. He orbits the beat with his usual remove, his full-bodied voice finding weird rhythms and melodies to bounce off of. It’s not nearly as flashy as a lot of other stuff going on in rap right now, but it’s empowering, intelligent stuff, as warm and healing for your ear drums as it is gently provocative. [Clayton Purdom]
Now that it seems like summer will actually arrive, it’s time to dust off my annual warm-weather music. One album I continue to pull out every year is Caviar’s 2000 self-titled debut. Formed by a few members of broken-up Chicago band Fig Dish, the band specialized in retro-heavy samples with forward-looking axes and synths, all resting on an undeniable pop sensibility. The whole record is great, although the band kind of hit one-hit-wonder status with the hilarious “Tangerine Speedo.” But I have Caviar’s “Sugarless” on almost constant replay this time of year, as a bizarre, lacy sample swerves into an earworm hook latched onto an impossible-to-ignore guitar line. Best played in a speeding convertible along a seaside highway if you have one handy; otherwise able to send you poolside after just a few repeats via earbuds at work. [Gwen Ihnat]