This is the first installment of a weekly series where we take a look back at music which caught our ears for the last week, as well as dig deeper into the perfect song at the perfect time.
Baskets and Sabina Sciubba’s Cover of TLC’s “Waterfalls”
On Baskets — a show full of rude, bitter, interrupting, oblivious characters — Penelope, the manipulative, perennially detached and derisive French wife of Chip Baskets, is the absolute worst. She demands money from Zach Galifianakis’ sad clown, banishing him from the hotel room for which he pays; meanwhile, she invites shirtless farmers for lazy liaisons, ever dismissive of any of his hurt feelings. However, in a dreamy, brilliant fourth episode, Chip is sharing a cocktail with his grizzled boss when he is drawn to another room by a certain siren song.
Of course, it is Penelope, randomly there, owning Karaoke as she croons a hauntingly boozy, heavily accented version of TLC’s “Waterfalls.” As its lyrics spin their cautionary tales of being drawn to flashy treasures, or to people who will never love us back [aka Penelope herself], he seems to have an epiphany as the performance bookends a near-perfect episode of revelations, pain, and forgiveness.
Sabina Sciubba, who plays the devil-in-sexy-disguise Penelope, has herself sung in front of much larger crowds while lead singer of the Brazilian Girls, an acid-funk-tinged band from NYC who earned national notoriety in the mid-’00s. Far from her resigned-to-hotel-lounging drab outfits on Baskets, Sciubba was particularly renowned for her flamboyant fashion sense, redolent of the city’s 1970s art-punk scene, yet updated with a modern pop theatrical flair. Below, behold Brazilian Girls’ 2005 single “Don’t Stop” complete with fez-boasting shriners blowing cigar bubbles.
And for good measure, let’s hearken back to TLC’s shining moment. I’ve never had much passion either way for the three-woman melodic-R&B band — now, if I were a couple years younger and still a pop fiend in the ’90s, I’d probably go on forever about their polished-hyper catchy songs. However, I have always dug “Waterfalls” for its weirdly genuine vocals, and commitment to its grave tales of dashed dreams over a mellow horn-y groove.
Broad City Gets Its Montage On To Minneapolis’ Lizzo & Caroline Smith
Broad City loves to start its seasons on a bang, and this week’s entrance from its third season has some critics calling it their best opening yet. A split-screen flashes through the high points of the moments between when we last saw them philosophizing under a blanket on St. Mark’s and whatever today’s misadventure will take them (as it would turn out, a disastrous series of Stooge-level crane accidents and wardrobe malfunctions as the pair traveled to a friend’s gallery). The brilliant montage takes place entirely in Abbi & Ilana’s respective bathrooms and is backed by an insanely catchy, upbeat and empowering dance-pop tune about doing your own thing, and of doing with haters what you always should — ignore every word that they say.
That song is “Let ‘Em Say,” a 2014 collaboration between Minneapolis indie music institutions Lizzo and Caroline Smith. Lizzo — born Melissa Anderson — is an inventive hip-hop artist in the Kelis/Andre 3000 genre-bending mode whose acrobatic narratives have earned her local accolades and some amount of national underground buzz. Caroline Smith fronts her own band, The Good Night Sleeps, who play the rootsy sort of energetic folk perfectly matched to her dark jazzy vocals — a voice you might suspect emanates from an old Victrola. I’d say the two meet in the middle, but in actuality, both seem to slip their comfort zone to create some blistering dance-pop with that sort of ’80s ultra-produced soul made famous on tracks like “New Attitude” and “Ain’t Nobody.” There’s also a healthy dose of modern club groove. Here’s their video from two years ago which fittingly features the unabashed, and undeniably cool, pair strutting like the Beasties, or Richard Ashecroft, or, well, like Abbi & Ilana might — except instead of St. Mark’s Place, the stroll is down Lake Street in Minneapolis.
Better Call Saul Opens On A Wistful Country Classic Note
As with the opening sequence of the Breaking Bad prequel, Better Call Saul‘s second season starts in James McGill’s post-Saul Goodman, post-BB days as the balding, porn-mustachioed Gene assistant manages a Cinnabon in an Omaha, Nebraska, mall. Our weary-ex-conman (played by Bob Odenkirk) endures a series of indignities in black-and-white, culminating in getting stuck in a garbage room, hemmed in by the fear that the emergency exit summoning the police.
Setting this somber tone is a familiar song — a standard normally associated with its songwriter, the venerable Red-Headed Stranger himself, Willie Nelson. However, “Funny How Time Slips Away” was first recorded by fellow Texan Billy Walker in 1961. The stirringly gentle recording was Walker’s first single, and was a minor national country hit. The ode to putting on a false facade while faced with lost love is a fitting theme for the re-introduction of a man whose past and multiple lives have caught up with him, for a soul who yearned for everything but now finds himself trapped in a netherland of garbage as he wiles away his days with zero apparent prospect before the ultimate end. If that doesn’t remind you of someone, well, it’s all good, man!
Love Weaves A Trio Of Heartsongs As Greek Chorus
As the first episode of the Netflix series Love (produced by Judd Apatow, and written by Paul Rust and his wife Lesley Arfin) wends its central characters, Gus and Mickey, away from their breakups and winds them towards their awkward meet-cute, the soundtrack shifts subtly. If you listen (and look) closer, the lyrics in the background are anything but subtle, as is the case throughout the troubling, but excellent program. That music is an integral part of the series (as it is in love, the passion) is little surprise considering Apatow’s general history and Rust’s past in long-running novelty band Don’t Stop or We’ll Die (with fellow comic-writers Michael Cassady and the late Harris Wittels).
As Gus stumbles into an amazingly ill-advised three-way encounter with two young college exchange student neighbors, “That’s the Way of the World” by Earth, Wind, & Fire plays on the stereo. It’s a disco-era hit that sets a super-sexy tone, while its lyrics depicting highest form of enlightened, transcendent love set a perfect contrast to a booze-fueled orgy. That said sex is aborted when he recoils in horror to find out the girls are sisters just adds to the musical irony. The tone then shifts again (but soft) to the standard indie-folk vibe familiar for these sorts of love story meetings, as Gus and Mickey walk to their sleepy destiny to the tune of Tom Brosseau’s “We Were Meant To Be Together” (what did I say about “anything but subtle”). Brosseau, by the way, is a regular at Largo, the Los Angeles indie comic landmark frequented by Apatow.
Mickey enters a convenience store, where in an attempt to desperately caffeinate, she is thwarted by a lost wallet and pitiless clerk. Gus steps in to stave off her nervous breakdown, they meet, and, voila! — we have a series. While in the shop, the Muzak system is playing Ambrosia’s 1979 smash “Biggest Part of Me,” the essential yacht rock love song classic if there ever was one. Its overblown lyrics of a lived-in love, cast over massive production with an undeniable melody and hook that both our protagonists would surely make fun of, but secretly love. It’s also a perfect foreword to the overarching passion the pair will repeatedly swing for and often miss.