Monthly Archives: July 2012

A Playlist of Olympic Proportions – Part 1

There’s nothing like thousands of athletes coming together to remind me to stay away from sports and get back in my comfort zone. And of course, few things come more naturally to me than throwing together a themed playlist. Some sports weren’t as conducive to good music as others – believe it or not, there aren’t too many songs about badminton out there – but I found some sweet tunes that definitely deserve the gold.

Without further ado, I bring you the Playlist of Olympic Proportions, Part 1.

Image from



  • Basketball – Lil Bow Wow – This song makes even me like sports. [Lil] Bow Wow is much more than a class-D rapper, he changes lives.




Check back for part 2 tomorrow for shooting, sailing, rowing, and more!

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Marina and the Diamonds – Electra Heart

I first heard of Marina and the Diamonds sometime in high school. A boy I went out with put a song of hers on a mix CD for me. Amidst all the Death Cab and Radiohead, the Marina song stood out for being especially full of wailing, but either I thought the song was no good or not memorable – I must have deleted it from my iTunes some time ago.

Image from the artist’s website.

I saw a Marina video on TV the other day and was curious to hear more this time around. As much as I tried to re-evaluate from a fresh perspective, however many years later it is now after that first wailing song I heard, I just couldn’t. I listened to Electra Heart all the way through twice, and I was underwhelmed.

I can handle wailing – Florence Welch is one of my favorite female singers – but I can’t handle the uncontrolled wailing and falsetto-to-crooning thing that Marina does way too frequently. A combination of Katy Perry’s poppiness and spunk and Lana Del Rey’s allure and soulfulness, Marina has all the right ingredients but didn’t do the recipe quite right for me. “Primadonna,” the single I saw on TV, is one of the few winners on the album, while “Lies” sounds so much like “E.T.” by Katy Perry that I nearly forgot who I was listening to. More than anything, I think it’s disappointing that this album so clearly is aiming for a new sound but ends up sounding like typical pop these days. I appreciate that Marina’s vocals are so powerful compared to those of many factory-produced pop stars out there, and some of the music on this album is super catchy, but I wish I could just separate the two and listen to two different albums. However, if I were to hear the track “Bubblegum Bitch” on either, I would probably start going absolutely crazy from the stupid lyrics. They make me embarrassed just to belong to the same gender as Marina, and she should be embarrassed because her song sounds like it was written by Miley Cyrus right after she got another tat to boost her “street cred.”

Who knows. Maybe later I’ll warm up to Electra Heart, but for now, it’s back to Miriam Makeba all the time.
AMPlifiability: I’ll keep it playing, but I won’t be happy about it.

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Vanilla Squared meets Mama Africa

Vanilla Squared. That is the nickname I have been given by some of my coworkers at the cupcake shop. Vanilla cake, vanilla frosting, topped with a single flower. It is by far the lightest, whitest, flavor we offer. And apparently, I am the lightest, whitest, person in the shop.

That being said, it may come as a surprise that I am as obsessed as I am with this lady, Miriam Makeba, better known to many as Mama Africa.

Miriam Makeba – image from

This spring, my college radio station, WGTB, hosted a screening of Under African Skies, a documentary about the recording of Paul Simon’s Graceland and the celebration of its 25th anniversary. I went to the screening because I felt obligated to do so as a board member, not because I knew anything about Graceland or even much about Paul Simon beyond his work with Art Garfunkel. I was even confused by the promotional posters. Africa? Paul Simon? I’d actually thought there’d been a misprint.

For those of you who, like me, weren’t raised on Graceland, it’s an album Paul Simon recorded in 1986 in South Africa during apartheid. Because cultural exchange was boycotted by the rest of the world at that point, it was a huge to-do that Simon had entered the country, let alone made music there. Under African Skies sheds light on the significance of this album’s creation and features footage of Simon’s return to South Africa to perform once again with some of the original musicians from more than two decades before.

It was in Under African Skies that I first saw and heard Miriam Makeba. Turns out she was one of the most famous African musicians of all time, but I soon forgot about her amidst final exams, work, my internship, and life. So when I saw her self-titled album from 1960 at my local public library last week, of course I had to check it out and take it home and really give Mama Africa my ears.

I first listened to the album while on the train. I’m not going to be so dramatic or presumptuous as to say I was transported to South Africa, but I was no longer there on the train, I can tell you that much. The novelty definitely had something to do with it, but there’s also this shameless passion, a pure sincerity in her voice, a rare find both in current music and in American music in general. Or maybe I should just stop listening to so much music to which people tend to dance by folding their arms, nodding occasionally, and tapping one foot. Whatever the problem is, Mama Africa’s music was somehow recorded in a way that I can’t not pay attention to it. It’s like there’s actual sunshine or darkness or any number of things actually in it. If I were to see a live performance of her, I would split my time between my outrageously dorky (and white) dance moves but also just not knowing what to do with myself. I don’t think they make music like this anymore. If you know of any, give it to me.

Part of me wishes I could describe Mama Africa’s music in more detail, analyzing lyrics and chord progressions and studying African instruments and vocal technique in order to better convey exactly why this music is so good. The bigger part of me, though, doesn’t want to spoil the magic. There’s something you just need to hear for yourself. Listen to her most famous “Pata Pata,” “The Naughty Little Flea,” or my personal favorite, “The Click Song,” and you may come to realize a few things. First, that some of the catchiest music out there is never going to be on top 40 radio. “The Naughty Little Flea” has been stuck in my head for the past week as much as “Call Me Maybe” has probably been stuck in many other people’s heads all year. Second, you will find yourself moving your hips ALL the time. Just try to listen to Mama Africa while cleaning. Your productivity will decrease in the most glorious way due to your dancey treks around your room. And even better, you’ll give as much of a shit about it as the honeybadger.

I don’t know how else to say it – if you don’t know Mama Africa, you should. Just give some songs a try, and I can bet you’ll be trying to find more.

AMPlifiability: CRANK IT UP. This music should be shared with the world. 

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Metro Tracks – July 19, 2012

Surprise, surprise – I had not been looking forward to my commute at all today. Since finishing the god-awful chick lit book I’d been reading, I’d been caught in this pathetic, bookless, music-less void, sick of listening to the same Robyn and U.S. Royalty on repeat, my usual go-to metro music. Clearly the stars aligned or something, and my iPod playlist of 4,201 of my favorite songs cranked out some of the very best, even when I left it up to fate, or as most people call it, shuffle mode.

So if you want to be cured of a boring commute, throw together a playlist of these “Metro Tracks” that were such a pleasant surprise for me today, and maybe you won’t notice the B.O. or the elbows shoving into you or the squish of the people who are more than a little too big for that open seat next to you.

  1. Libertango – Yo Yo Ma et al. Think cello music won’t wake you up? Pair it with an accordion and more strings, and give them a gloriously seductive Argentine tango to play, and yes, you will change your mind. I posted this as I listened to "Libertango"
  2. I Got You (I Feel Good) – James Brown This needs to explanation, just a warning: May cause intense urge to move one’s hips while standing on a metro platform. Not that this actually happened or anything.
  3. Days Go By – Keith Urban – For those of you who have ever called me a hipster, you may now take it back. I don’t like much country, but this is an undeniably catchy, poppy song. It made me wish I’d worn my cowboy boots today.
  4. Betcha Nickel – Ella Fitzgerald – A slightly tamer song to aid recovery from the fast pace of Keith Urban. And with words like, “You can fool some of the people some of the time/But you can’t fool all the people all of the time,” you’ll be reminded to be yourself during your day at work.
  5. Gatekeeper (full mix) – Feist – It’s worth finding the version of this song from her album Open Season for the gentle but captivating beat in the background and the general increase in energy compared to the original. Granted, the original is just lovely and the only acceptable version if you’re listening to Let It Die as a whole, but for a morning commute, you’ve just gotta have more oomph.
  6. Dum Dum Must Hai (remix) – Band Baaja Baraat There’s nothing quite like Bollywood in the morning, I can tell you that much. There’s also nothing like running into your boss at a crosswalk, him asking you if what you’re listening to is good, and kind of being stuck speechless because you don’t even know how to explain how or why you know this music from half a world away or why you once danced to it in front of hundreds.

My evening commute was about twice the time, so I’ll only burden you with half the songs from that.

  1. My Girl – The Temptations – The definition of a feel-good song, whether you’ve ever had someone sing it to you or not.
  2. Song for the Fields – Fields – Much darker than anything else I’d listened to today, but when I was stuck at Metro Center tonight for way too long, it was an appropriate soundtrack to my frustration.
  3. All for You – Sister Hazel – If you don’t know what song this is from the title, just go listen to it. Undoubtedly one of the best songs of the 90s.
  4. Everybody (Backstreet’s Back) – Backstreet Boys – Did I say that was a good song from the 90s? I’m sorry, I meant that this one was better. And only about 500 times more embarrassing when a cute guy asks you something you can’t hear because you’re listening to this song. Not that he could have heard, but the fact that I knew was enough. The rest of the time though, I felt like I was on top of the world.
  5. Black Mirror – Arcade Fire – And now we’re getting back into normal Allie music mode. This is perfect for walking up giant hills or escalators or whatever. It’s just the right combination of anger and self-pity and semi-inspirational sounds. You’ll feel like a hipster when you listen to this, so there’s that.
  6. Go Do – Jónsi – There’s nothing like some flowery, hopeful, chilly Icelandic music to accompany you as you sweat the final stretch to your house and walk in the door. Except maybe “We Are The Champions,” but my iPod didn’t like that today.

Depending on whether or not the shuffle/fate mode on my iPod continues to be up to par, “Metro Tracks” may or may not become a regular feature. At any rate, I hope you’ve found or been reminded of a song or two that might ease the pain of your commute.

Check back soon for a feature I’m thinking of calling “Whitest Girl Alive, Meet Mama Africa.”

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Robyn, a dancer on her own. Literally.

From when I was pseudo-goth and obsessed with them at the age of 13, I know that A.F.I. have a song called “The Great Disappointment.” I almost brought it back out in order to mourn in despair over Robyn’s performance as an opener for Coldplay on Sunday night.

“Call Your Girlfriend” and “Dancing on My Own” have launched Robyn into American stardom in recent months. Forgive me for being all “I knew her first,” but at least in comparison to many people I know, I actually knew Robyn first. Her music was the soundtrack to my freshman year of college, not my sophomore year (though it’s so good that I’ve brought Body Talk back out). I played her at a DJ battle hosted by my college station and got a very cool audience reaction. I have a feeling that this wouldn’t happen if I did the same thing this year. My possessiveness of my familiarity with Robyn aside, she was almost the opposite of Coldplay in terms of how her live performance compared with her recorded music.

People who don’t know her well might think that Robyn is trying to be Lady Gaga, but since they are from such different backgrounds and have different agendas, I’d argue that. Robyn generally isn’t political – she’s there to entertain, and even though she’s apparently famous among grandpas in her native Sweden (according to an old WaPo article), as far as I know, she doesn’t have hoards of “little monsters” clawing at her ankles. Robyn is consistent in her style with her blond bowl cut – sometimes modified with extensions toward the front – her platform shoes, and her of 90s-galactic clothing. You won’t see her in a meat dress or Louboutins.

Now that we’ve reviewed  Lady Gaga and Robyn, just imagine Robyn as I described her, only 10 times more bizarre than Lady Gaga. You might ask how it’s possible for Robyn to achieve such a high level of freakdom without a troupe of leather-clad backup dancers, being borderline sacrilegious, and writhing around in fake blood after being attacked by a mechanical monster, all parts of Gaga’s Monster Ball tour. It’s easy. Just give Robyn some space, and she will dance on her own. I’d seen in all the live videos I’d searched that Robyn was a crazy dancer, but none of it prepared me for how she would be when I saw her right before my eyes. Think of that girl/guy at any party or club you’ve ever been to – you know, the one blackout drunk and dancing alone in the corner – and Robyn was infinitely weirder, but also being that girl in front of thousands. My parents, both doctors, told me about Saint Vitus Dance  a few weeks ago, and judging from the YouTube videos we watched of people with the condition, I would say that’s the closest example I can find of  how Robyn danced. It wasn’t in an ironic or charming Katy Perry way either. It was just…weird.

As for the music, I don’t know what Robyn or her show managers were thinking. She played very few of the danceable hits from Body Talk, and instead opted for the ones that required minimal actual singing on her part, like “We Dance to the Beat,” and “Don’t F*cking Tell Me What to Do.” If her goal was to get the audience pumped for Coldplay, she failed hugely, save for her cover of the band’s “Every Tear Drop is a Waterfall.” If, on the other hand, she was trying to make Coldplay look that much better by comparison, she gets a gold medal. When my friend and I weren’t sitting with our mouths hanging open at the fact that this performance actually cost money, we were trying to figure out what all of those non-Robyn fans in the audience must have been thinking. Clearly her music didn’t move them, as only a few people were dancing. Robyn plays club music – I get that. In fact, she DJed sets at U Street Music Hall over the weekend after the Verizon Center  shows. Maybe she was out of her element in such a huge arena, but that’s no excuse for delivering a truly boring and freaky performance. It pains me to admit that one of my favorite artists was such a disappointment in concert, but not as much as it would pain me to have to watch her again.

In the mean time, I will keep listening to Robyn as I traditionally have been – in headphones, on the metro, as I subtly move my feet and dance on my own.

AMPlifiability: I listened to this (and saw this) once. Once was enough.

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