Still GIRLS, A review of music from the first season

16 Jan

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Before I even downloaded Music from Girls:Volume 1, something about the track list irked me. I like the television show Girls, maybe even love it, but when I tried to remember the music played over the course of the first season, all I could remember was that I probably found it vaguely annoying. Looking at the list of songs, I couldn’t tell exactly what it was that already bothered me about this collection of music before I even listened to it. In fact, I previously owned three of the songs, even legit paid money for one of them. There are many artists I recognize and have a relationship with.  I don’t mind the band fun. I feel as if I’m far too old for their neat, sweeping pop songs to charm me, but I can’t deny a well-crafted piece of pop that sounds nice when punctuating emotional moments in television or movies, which I feel most of fun.’s tunes are tailor-made for(let’s forget about their heinously annoying use of punctuation for the time being). I’ve put in my time with Belle and Sebastian, lord knows. “I Don’t Love Anyone” itself has made numerous appearances on self-crafted breakup playlists. I admired the Fleet Foxes for a time, I’ve always found them easy listening, and “White Winter Hymnal” holds the distinction of being marked a truly great song in my estimation.  Grouplove is another guilty pleasure.  They, like fun., make songs that are fun to drive around to on a summer night.  I like that. I’m not opposed to superficial music that makes you feel good in the moment. These groups have tracks next to other artists that I’m more peripherally aware of, Sleigh Bells(whom I’ve always thought I hated, but never actually listened to) Santigold, and Tegan and Sara, surrounded by quite a few artists that I’ve never heard of.  Knowing that I enjoy some of these artists and these bands, I was having a hard time discovering why I couldn’t fully get behind this soundtrack.  Then I gave it a listen.

I suppose if I had to categorize the music from this compilation I’d divide it into three groups: quirky acoustic, quirky electronic, and songs I like.  The quirky acoustic side kicks off with Harper Simon and a song called “Wishes and Stars.”  Knowing nothing about the artist previously, I found his cloying knockoff of a Simon and Garfunkel tune benign, almost borderline pleasant.  After a cursory googling, I discovered him to be the son of Paul Simon himself, which explains a lot.  Simon gives off an outsider-looking-in vibe, as he sings about how all the other people have their lives together and he can’t seem to make anything happen. “They all seem so sure they’re going far, they got more friends than they can use, except me ’cause I’m a fool,” he sings before musing, “there are more wishes than stars.” These lyrics are a good summation of the general mood of many songs on this compilation.  They don’t just desire, they pine.  The way in which they want is more passive than desire. Fun.’s song, comprised of sweet, romantic lines, sung by Nate Ruess, who has a voice that I can’t get out of my head, is upbeat and enjoyable. He pleads for a love to stay with him, singing “So if you gonna leave, if you gonna go, I can’t bare to sleep without you in my arms.”  The Fleet Foxes reminisce on the lives their parents built, with a refrain that implies a loss of self direction:  “Oh man, oh me, what I used to be.”  “On your Way,” the closing song by Michael Penn, starts simply with a singsong piano and vocals.  By the chorus, the dragged out vocals tell the assumed beloved that the memory of their time together and the hope of reunion will keep the singer optimistic.  These all speak to a general theme of these songs underlined by the quirky production values.  There’s something precocious and juvenile about them.

This feeling is reflected in the second category as well: the quirky electronic songs.  Many of these songs are ridiculously simple.  “Infinity Guitars” by Sleigh Bells is a girl repeat-yelling nonsense words. “Street wars, straight men, cowboys, indians, Red souls, Red friends, Infinity guitars, Your heart,” she screams. Any sophistication is entirely lacking. I really enjoyed the song “Same Mistakes” by a band I’d never heard before, The Echo-Friendly.  They nonchalantly sing lines like, “My friends are all adults, I’m still a teenage girl…They think I’m such a flake, they want to go to bed, I want to stay up late,” over a The xx-like track.  I think the reason this song resonated with me is that I find it so relatable at this point in my life.  But the fact is, that so many of these songs are great depictions of things I’ve felt and thought.  I’ve been lovesick, I’ve wanted things it seemed impossible to achieve.  So why don’t I like these songs more?

As Michael Penn’s non-confrontational dulcet tones closed out the album, I decided to give myself a break from his precious, jangly piano and switch over to one of my recent favorite songs, “The Full Retard,” by El-P.  As soon as El-P told me to “pump this shit, like they do in the future,”  I immediately walked a little taller and straighter.  “I’m a Rocky, run a hundred mile before my coffee,”  was so much more appealing to me than the “guess I’m missing out/I don’t know how to grow up” sentiment of the songs from the first two categories on this compilation.  Yes, they are songs I can totally relate to.   That’s the appeal of Girls, every girl has stories about not handling seeing their ex-boyfriend well, or showing up at a guys house in the middle of the night.  But those are things that girls do, not women.  Which brings me to the two songs from the Girls soundtrack that I actually love, tracks about being independent and strong adults. “Dancing on my Own,”  while also being a pop-dance gem, is an anthem for getting over someone.  Slightly creepily(which I love), Robyn watches her ex-boyfriend in the club with someone new, but never stops dancing.   The pain is still there, but the beat is triumphant.  “I Love It,” by Iconapop takes it even a step further.  This is not just an independent lady, but a lady not to be fucked with.  After describing the various ways she would destroy someone’s property(I know that’s not very grown up, but it’s the take-no-shit-attitude that counts) the chorus chimes in “You’re on a different road, I’m in the Milky Way, you want me down on Earth, but I am up in space, You’re so damn hard to please, we’ve got to kill this switch, You’re from the 70s, but I’m a 90s bitch.” These are confident, assertive women.

And I hope the characters of Girls can grow to be more like the women represented in these last two songs.  From the standpoint of a girl around their age, the reason the show is great is because the characters are so realistic.  I may not have been in exactly the same situations in Manhattan(Lord knows I’d love to, Donald Glover), but so many silly scenes from my life and the lives of my friends mirror things I’ve seen on that show.  Even on the second season premiere, the girls were stuck in a lot of powerless, lost situations; trying to sleep with gay guys, or married to someone they barely know.  But just like I hope I’m over some of the phases in my life that those songs represent, I hope the characters will be someday too.  I think that these girls growing up honestly is something that will make this show truly great.  Hopefully, when it’s time, the girls will become women.

-Caitie Hannan

IconaPop:

And for good measure, the terrific El-P video:

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