Mononymous Chicago oddball Jay released Ball of Yarn last month.

A Reader staffer shares three musical obsessions, then asks someone (who asks someone else) to take a turn.

Leor Galil, Reader staff writer

Jay, Ball of Yarn I love trawling Bandcamp because I’m not sure how else I’d come across an album like Ball of Yarn (though its mononymous creator, Jay, allegedly lives in Chicago, so who knows). Accompanied by kitschy synths and drum machines, with the occasional guitar adding arpeggios or florid string bends, Jay sings in a breathy, faraway voice, warping notes till they seem to drag or roboticizing his melodies with vocoder-like processing. The results are delightfully off-kilter and unmarketable, and remind me of something I might hear on a decades-old oddball private-press LP selling for hundreds of dollars—but Jay’s asking just $8 for a CD.

Nelson George, Hip Hop America It’s shameful I waited so long to open this book, originally published in 1998. If you don’t know the crucial role Nelson George has played in shaping our culture’s understanding of hip-hop and pop music, Hip Hop America lays it bare in its second chapter. It includes a 1978 story he wrote for Amsterdam News that details a DJ Kool Herc party outside a Bronx high school—by George’s account, one of the first pieces of journalism on hip-hop.

Trinidad James in Uncut Gems Before I watched the Safdie brothers’ ballyhooed film Uncut Gems, I’d heard about nearly every cameo in it—every cameo, that is, except the one by rapper Trinidad James. So much work went into making this period piece exemplify its era, but to me nothing said “2012” as perfectly as the brief appearance of a rapper who was catapulted into fame that year.

Leor is curious what’s in the rotation of . . .

The cover of the posthumous Arthur Russell collection <i>Iowa Dream</i>
The cover of the posthumous Arthur Russell collection Iowa Dream

Mia Joy, singer-songwriter

Ana Roxanne, “I’m Every Sparkly Woman” Los Angeles-based Ana Roxanne is the next ambient sensation gifted from up above. Her voice is pleasantly acrobatic, sensual, and warm, cooing gently along with her angelic drones. Ana recently finished a tour with Weyes Blood, and her 2019 debut album has moved me to tears—on any given night, it quiets my anxiety. I highly recommend watching her otherworldly performances on YouTube!

Sandii, “Zoot Kook” If you love Japanese disco-pop as much as me and also fall deeply into YouTube holes, this 1980 track might be for you. Produced by Haruomi Hosono (of Yellow Magic Orchestra fame), it’s an absolute banger. Sadly, I can’t find this anywhere other than YouTube—it’s not to be missed!

YouTube video

Arthur Russell, Iowa Dream If we’re friends, you already know about my love for prophetic disco-folk king Arthur Russell. Released in November, Iowa Dream is one of many posthumous Russell releases, leaving us wondering how many more magical tunes are left in the vaults. Iowa Dream gives us glimpses of his early heart-wrenching folk ballads, akin to those on Love Is Overtaking Me. There are a few funkier tunes (“I Kissed the Girl From Outer Space”) and eccentric spoken-word tracks (“Barefoot in New York”) that display his range and his transition from folk to avant-garde and disco. What kills me are his piano ballads, like “In Love With You for the Last Time,” which feels like a song you’ve already loved—it’s so effortlessly simple, but you know it could only come from the mind of a genius.

Mia is curious what’s in the rotation of . . .

Australian singer-guitarist Cash Savage with her band the Last Drinks
Australian singer-guitarist Cash Savage with her band the Last DrinksCredit: Joshua Braybrook

Cory José, singer-songwriter and front man of Laverne

Bent, “So Long Without You” Every shared-living space has a “song.” When I was 20, we obsessed over Duck Sauce’s Four Loko-house jam “Barbra Streisand” (oooh). I think back to a time between now and then, when I lived with two people who are practically long-lost family members—two people I still see from time to time but also miss very much. I’ll skip the details, but the song we all very quickly became enamored by was the twangy downtempo track “So Long Without You” by UK duo Bent. It elevates the sampled vocals of 1970s country singer Billie Jo Spears into a summer anthem for an Ibiza club. It caught us all during romantic tiffs, so it’s ingrained in our achey breaky hearts.

Interpol, “NYC” I hate saying things like “This song saved my life, yada yada,” but “NYC” by Interpol really meant a lot to me as a lonely, divorce-proxied 13-year-old. I got it from a record shop that had a free compilation called Yes New York. I was lucky to find such a cool CD at a very rough time.

Cash Savage & the Last Drinks, “Better Than That” Let’s talk Aus-pop: A must-listen is the gorgeous “Better Than That” by Cash Savage. She has such a soulful, husky voice, but she uses it smoothly here—like Joan Armatrading or Bryan Ferry. I’ll be a disciple for the overlooked the rest of my life, and to me, Cash should be as big as her Australian contemporary Courtney Barnett.  v