Weekly Charts

Chainsaw Charts 3/22

1STANGARIGELNa Severe SrdcaSelf-Released
2JOHN CANDY, THE28 Samples LaterRad Dudes
4ANATOMY OF HABITEven If It Takes A LifetimeSelf-Released
6RUNDGARDStronghold Of Majestic RuinsSignal Rex
7SPIRIT BOXEternal BluePale Chord
9ZETARDevouring DarknessSpirit Coffin
10EYEMASTERCharcoaled Remains / Festering Slime [EP]Caligari
Music Education

Three (Unintentional) Feminist Anthems

I’d like to tell you of three songs that have, over the years, come to occupy the same space in my mind of “Ironic anthems about #gender.” These three are “Stand by Your Man,” by Tammy Wynette, “I Am Woman” by Helen Reddy, and “Keep Young and Beautiful,” by Winston Churchi- I mean Eddie Cantor. These songs date from the 30’s to the 70’s and are bound together by gender commentary so dated it’s almost kind of surreal. I do not use the word “camp” lightly, but these three songs are some of the campiest things I’ve ever heard before in my life, and all three have seen renewed interest as kind of ironic feminist anthems. They are all also absolute bangers, and honestly some of my favorite songs to loudly belt with the passion of a theater kid at Waffle House after the show. The very theater kid nature of these three songs will come up a lot. So, let’s have some fun shall we.

Stand By Your Maaaaaaan

True anecdote: when I was a kid, I had heard that clip of Hillary Clinton saying “I’m not some Tammy Wynette standing by my man,” somewhere and mentally assumed that Tammy was some politicians wife who stayed with her cheating husband. Then, when listening to county classic “Rhinestone Cowboy,” at the behest of a friend, this song came in my recommendations. I listened to it, and absolutely lost my mind over the fact this song was real. Asking my parents, who were alive and in avid Country music households in the 70s, they assured me that this song was 100% unironically advising women to stand by their husbands.

The message of this song is, I suppose technically, a bad message, but it’s delivered at such over the top heights of passion and melodrama I have a hard time imagining someone being genuinely upset by it. The song assures women that, while it’s hard living with the no good guys of the world as they cheat, it’s best to let love and forgiveness reign and just let them do it.

The backdrop here is obviously some kind of backlash to the second wave feminist movement, and a look at Tammy Wynette’s back catalogue reveals as much. She has such classics as “D-I-V-O-R-C-E” and “I Don’t Want to Play House,” which are woeful laments to the death of the traditional family. However, “Stand By Your Man,” is set apart from these mediocre odes by being an absolute banger. Seriously, Tammy Wynette has the voice of Broadway diva and she knows how to use it.

The song has seen a few cover versions, all banking on combining the song’s musical luster with ironic feminist ire. Among my favorites is the live version cover by the Dresden Dolls on their album “A is for Accident.” Amanda Palmer has the same ‘I can’t quite tell how seriously you take yourself’ energy as Wynette, though on the opposite end of the political spectrum as an avowed feminist. Palmer is the archetypal theater kid, performing the song in her typical Cabaret-meets-Rent fashion atop a din of dive bar patrons loudly ignoring her. The irony poisoning makes the cover less impressive, but it’s a combination of styles and artists so perfect it can’t be ignored.

I Am Woman

In surveying my parents about “I Am Woman,” I found out that this is truly one of my mother’s least favorite songs. While younger listeners may find this to be objectively delightful, my rad-fem mother felt just represented enough by the song that it becomes unbearably cringey. That’s an understandable response, but god do I love this song anyways. If I wasn’t so afraid of getting an organic chemistry textbook thrown at me, I would play it for my women-in-STEM friends during finals week to see their reactions.

This song is the definitive “You’ve Come a Long Way Baby” anthem. If that term is unfamiliar to you, it has approximately the same meaning as “Buzzfeed Feminism” does. An epithet used by militant feminists to decry what they see as a commercialization of the women’s movement. Any further historical analysis should be saved for a far less lighthearted venue, but let’s just say that on paper, this song should be insufferable.

However, similar to “Stand by Your Man,” the solid musical fundamentals of “I Am Woman” allow its questionable lyrics to shoot the moon and loop back around to being awesome. The difference being that, while you have to detach yourself from all good sense to find “Stand by Your Man” appealing, “I Am Women” is far easier to love. The message is ultimately positive, and you can tell Helen Reddy really believed that this was an urgent message the people needed to hear. It’s maybe a B-tier Carol King song, but most people are doing good to make it on the alphabet at all when compared to Carol King, so props to Helen for having some strong musical instincts.

The song has been picked up since Reddy’s recent death as a kind of historical curiosity. I haven’t seen any major cover versions, but there’s definitely some warm sentiments for “I Am Woman” floating around out there.

Keep Young and Beautiful

This is perhaps the most theater kid song on the list in that it’s a literal showtune. Written in 1933 for a mostly forgotten movie musical, the song is about how women should always pay extreme attention to their appearance if they ever want to be loved by a man. I honestly can’t tell you whether this song was ironic at the time, as even my great grandmother was a small child when this song was made. However, after learning that “Stand by Your Man,” was where we were at as a culture in the early 70s, I’m inclined to say this song is serious.

The track has some appeal to it, if you like that old style of musical number mastered by Cole Porter and Rogers and Hammerstein. It was reportedly a favorite of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and I’m unsure whether that reflects worse on Churchill or the song. It is, at the very least, kind of catchy.

The original song may be fine, but the cover version by Annie Lennox on her debut album “Diva” (I’ll give you three guesses as to the target demographic for that album) is much better. Lennox doesn’t so much subvert the song as she does perform it in all its Victorian glory. Coming from the mouth of gender-bending, queer feminist queen Annie Lennox, the song is impossible to take seriously, and it becomes less about the actual content and more about the cognitive dissonance evoked a mere 60 years after the song’s release.

These songs go back 90 years in the past and capture very thin slices of how women were viewed at their respective times. The fact that we can barely take these songs seriously now is really a testament to how different our world is now after the second wave feminist movement has come and gone. At least the music underlying them remains strong enough that we can have a lot of fun with these songs in retrospect.

New Album Review

Jazmine Sullivan “Heax Tales, Meux Tales,” Album Review

The name of this album is actually “Heaux Tales, Mo’ Tales,” but I couldn’t resist the opportunity. The album is a deluxe edition of the most recent Jazmine Sullivan album “Heux Tales,” which came out at the very beginning of 2021. In a year where a lot of albums just ran right through me, “Heaux Tales” was one of the few that grew on me across 2021. Led by the R&B hit “Pick Up of Your Feelings” and built around a compelling concept, the album was killer. The concept is executed effortlessly without sacrificing the quality of a single song. I was pleasantly surprised to see it topping more than one publication’s top albums of the year, and even more pleasantly surprised to see it get such strong radio play for a independent release.

Around a year later, Sullivan has come out with a deluxe edition. So-called “Deluxe Editions” published incredibly soon after an album’s publications for streaming optimization are a trend that has worn thin incredibly fast. Lil Uzi Vert, who started the trend, did alright by effectively releasing a double album, but since then I’ve started instinctually tuning these out. I’m glad I broke that rule for Sullivan, because “Mo’ Tales” is an excellent exception to the rule.

The main album is built off of interwoven songs with testimonials from various women talking frankly about their sex lives. The extended edition is more rigid, with each new track having exactly one spoken section that reflects the topic of the song quite directly. This makes a direct front to back listen a little tiring since around a third of the new runtime is spoken word, which is presumably part of why the tracks were cut. The new songs are worth it though, each one feels like it was cut from the full album not because of its quality, but because it would interrupt the flow of the album. Seeing the incredible restraint Jazmine Sullivan used when building the track list really does inspire a new appreciation for the strength of the main album, which is an incredible thing for a deluxe edition to do.

Some songs were clearly cut for thematic clarity. While the song is a nice counterpoint in the extended edition, including “A Breux’s Tale” (I did not change that one, that’s the actual name of the song) and the intentionally callous song from Sullivan that accompanies it on the main album would have distracted from the overall progression. Anderson Paak’s brief feature was all the counterpoint needed on the original album. Same goes for songs like “Tragic,” which while fine in this context, wouldn’t have worked out as well on the main album.

 If you listened to “Heaux Tales” and haven’t really returned to it, this deluxe edition is an excellent excuse to give it another listen. And if you’re entirely unfamiliar with Jazmine Sullivan, give the main album a shot, it’s an album that really appeals to everyone.

New Album Review

Uhhh…… Kim Petras? Are You Okay?

In my last article covering Kim Petras in September, I made the comment that I hoped to hear something riskier and less polished from her. In what is not the first instance of my articles on the websites acting as a monkey’s paw, she’s released a new ep titled “Slut Pop” that, well… it’s definitely less polished.

I’m the editor here and even I’m confused as to whether I can post the lyrics to any song on this album here, so here’s my attempt at a NCSU appropriate version of some lyrics, just so you get a feel for this ep’s tone:

“Treat me like a [redacted]
Little [redacted], I love to [redacted] I wanna go harder
I wanna [redacted] faster
I wanna [redacted]
I wanna [redacted] it, [redacted] it, bite it, get [redacted] it
Come on, touch my body”

Yeah the whole “Slutpop” theme is not just an aesthetic choice for the album cover, this whole ep is a concept album of “trashy, but make it self-aware.” The model for this style of music, especially in the concept of dance and electropop, is clearly Ke$ha, which brings us to the other notable feature of this album, it’s produced by Dr. Luke, a man most famous these days for alleged abuse against his signees, Ke$ha in particular.

This association would probably overwhelm the ep’s reception even if it was Kim Petras’ best work, but either fortunately or unfortunately depending on your perspective, this is far from her best music. The album seems almost like unintentional parody of Dr. Luke’s M.O. in the 2000’s: taking a generally likeable and intelligent female singer and decking her out in enough misogynistic tropes to make her persona insufferable, except when he did it to Ke$ha, the music was actually good.

As to why Petras decided to make an entire ep with Dr. Luke, I can’t begin to tell you. Her career was doing well before his involvement, and considering her main single at the moment is the bright and cheery “Coconuts” it seems unlikely that this is a drastic image change. The ep’s relative commercial failure is a saving grace as well, while #freeKesha has made some waves in response to this album, it’s so far been too small a blip to meaningfully hurt Petras’ reputation. All I can say is I hope this whole debacle will end Dr. Luke collaborations for good, at least then we will have gained something from the album.

Band/Artist Profile Blog Playlists

African American Cultural Center: “HERMonies: Black Sounds, Black Voices, Black Movements”

Our neighbors in Witherspoon at the African American Cultural Center have debuted a new musical exhibit “HERMonies” that features songs from 10 black woman who have used their music to advance social movements. The full playlist can be found at the above link, but here I’d like to take a more historical look at the two oldest songs on the playlist, “Strange Fruit” and “Mississippi Goddamn.”

Band/Artist Profile

Old School PJ Harvey

So y’all know PJ Harvey right? The folk singer who did “Let England Shake” about 10 years ago, really popular with the British hipsters? I always assumed that was a pretty representative album for her career. It fits into a category of Folk that I respect in the abstract but don’t actually care for all that much, acts like Richard Dawson who write poncy medieval ren fair music with an ironic edge that’s always without fail about capitalism or the decline of the British Empire or something. The style is very popular with British indie critics like The Quietus and tends to get lots of Mercury Prizes. There’s nothing wrong with this music, it’s just not personally to my tastes, so I never really checked out PJ Harvey’s back catalogue. Recently that changed, and I’d like to take you on a tour of two of her more popular songs that got me hooked on 90s-2000s PJ Harvey.


Sheela-Na-Gig is an excellent example of what Harvey does right in folk music, but translated back into a fairly boiler plate alt rock sound. This is a track off her debut album “Dry” and it has a kind of general appeal while still showcasing what makes Harvey unique. If you listen to as much 90s chick rock as I do, the lyrical themes here will be quite familiar: it’s a feminist angst anthem about being slut shamed by some random dude at a bar. The metaphor is a reference to an Irish architectural grotesque that depicts a woman with a greatly exaggerated vulva. The chorus uses this comparison as a term of abuse, “He said, Sheela-Na-Gig, Sheela-Na Gig, you exhibitionist.”

This would make for a fairly good, if somewhat disposable, 90s alt rock single, but it’s Harvey’s lyricism that really sells the track. She has a flair for creating a single vigniette, and using perspective shifts to create double entendre. The Sheela-Na-Gig is a mocking hyperbole from the man’s perspective, but in the opening passage she uses a pre-Christian icon as a way to symbolize her motivations, “Look at these my child-bearing hips, and look at these my ruby-red, ruby lips, and look at these my work strong arms.” The central issue of female exhibitionism is given two different meanings through the same symbol, interpreted from two opposing perspectives. It’s a really neat literary flourish, but the song isn’t brow beating or pretentious in the slightest, it has a focused ‘Don’t bore us get to the chorus’ approach and a high octane performance.

The other major aspect of Harvey’s songwriting on display here is her referential approach. The second verse uses the line “Gonna wash that man right out of my hair” from South Pacific, giving one instance of a woman cleaning herself because of a man. This is, again, reversed by the unnamed man’s referential line in the third verse “He said, wash your breasts, I don’t want to be unclean, he said wash your breast, take those dirty pillows away from me,” with “dirty pillows” being a reference to a similar line from Stephen King’s Carrie. The contrast between both the lines and between the works they call upon really supports the perspective contrasts within the song, using references as shorthand for more complex themes.

Rid of Me

After the debut album’s success, PJ Harvey could have rode into a wave of hits and mainstream success on the rock charts. Instead, she chose to go in the opposite direction, working with legendary hardcore and noise rock producer Steve Albini to make one of the most ugly and brooding rock albums of the era. “Rid of Me,” is the album name, and the title track is in some ways a repeat of Sheela-Na-Gig with a far more intense approach.

The track is a slow burn, building from a bassline and drum fill into a thrash and burn banger over the course of several minutes. The narrator begins from the position of groveling ex-girlfriend begging not to be abandoned. However, as the extended first verse build, the imagery becomes gradually more violent. PJ Harvey delivers this in a very frail tone, making the lyrical contrast more subtle than it would be coming out of the lips of say, Courtney Love. A line like “I’ll make you lick my injuries,” has a double meaning in reference to the lines directly before and after. In the context of the previous verse, it seems love sick, while in the context of the chorus where Harvey breaks open into a violent scream of rage, it seem like a threat. The song also features charged and uncomfortable imagery, “lick my legs, I’m on fire,” is an innocuous 6 word sentence that creeps the hell out of me in the context of the song.

A compelling aspect of Harvey’s early career is the folky-ness of it all. Punks have a long history of going into folk rock when they get old, but Harvey merged the two in her early years as well. And not in the gimmicky Violent Femmes way either, her music is not a slapdash fusion. The blues rock riffs and chord progressions go almost unnoticed except when she calls explicit attention to it by say, covering “Highway 61 Revisited,” in a pitchy wail. She has a compelling back catalogue, and I encourage you to use these two songs as a sample.


FKA Twigs “Caprisongs” Album Review

Alright well if no else else is going to talk about this album for WKNC, I guess I will. FKA Twigs is a art pop and alternative R&B artist from England who has made some serious waves in the Indie scene as of late. Her persona is that of a mercurial and unpredictable songwriter known for mixing in unconventional sounds and ideas into mainstream adjacent sounds.

I put off listening to her new mixtape “Caprisongs” for almost a month, partially due to personal fatigue, but also because I’ve had trouble getting into FKA Twigs for some time. This new album was the latchkey for me. The mixes feel just a little cleaner, the experimental elements are a little more seamlessly integrated into the rest of the sound, and the songwriting is just the tiniest touch more personal. While the tape is hardly a leap forward for the singer in any one regard, she has refined her established sound just enough that the music finally popped for me.

The album, on a granular level, is a whiplash inducing cross between depressive and wistful ballads and high energy sexual bangers. It’s a tightrope that has no business working as well as it does, but through the very specific lens of FKA Twigs it makes a lot of sense. One of her lyrics on this album is literally “beautiful and sad” which feels about as on the nose as Post Malone releasing a song called “Rich and Sad.”

The title is something of a self-effacing joke. The meme from a few months ago of “Astrology girls will really hit your car in a parking lot and say ‘Sorry, I’m a Capri sun,'” is inverted here to rib FKA Twigs’ “feminine mystique” inflected persona. The joke is mostly advanced in interludes, but it strangely becomes a thematic element of the album. The album sees FKA Twigs stop romanticizing and spiritualizing her life so aggressively, and wake up to the realization that the men in her life aren’t good enough for her to waste her time on. And yet, she never gives the wistful Astrology girl energy, she, in her own words “Is still mysterious.”

A duet with the Weekend was the album’s single for fairly obvious reasons. However, the highlight of the album for me is actually the track with Shygirl, “papi bones,” which if you can’t tell from the name, is a pretty brazen sex jam. The electronics are nowhere near as off the wall as something you’d find on a solo Shygirl record, but still just heavy enough to make the song pack a punch. To give you an idea of the tone for the song, the lyrics are entirely clean and PG, and yet the song was still flagged as explicit by my streaming service. FKA’s soprano moans may be entirely above board, but they evoke a dirtier image than any Cupquakke song ever could.

If you were already into FKA Twigs, this album might not be a whole lot to write home about. But if, like me, you weren’t already aboard the hype train for this artist, give “Caprisongs” a chance, it might finally make this artist click for you too.

Band/Artist Profile

Say a Little Prayer for Dionne Warwick

Does anyone remember Dionne Warwick? This feels like a ridiculous question to ask about one of the 40 biggest hitmakers of the 20th century, but I think it needs to be asked before we start. Nowadays, most discussions I can find online of Warwick are not about her music, but about her wonderful Twitter presence or appearance on The Masked Singer. I’ve never heard her music on oldies stations, seen it on a friends Spotify playlist, or seen the glowing retrospectives that surround her contemporaries. She was initially billed in a league with Aretha Franklin (a name that, for reasons that will become apparent, is going to come up a lot in this article), but comparing her fame with the queen herself seems absurd, as most people I’ve checked in with for this article have no idea who Warwick is. I think that’s a shame, as everyone’s life would be a little better with her music, so I’d like to introduce you: everyone, say hi to Dionne.

Warwick’s story is a typical major label career track from the 50s and 60s. She was discovered as a backup and group vocalist, noticed for her considerable talent, signed to a standard one-sided contract that would leave her bankrupt, and started pumping out hits at breakneck speed. Her style is more, let’s say, traditional, than the Motown and funk that fills our memories of late 60s R&B. Her instrumentals are urbane, orchestral, and of a time before the upheavals of her day. I could easily imagine my 99-year-old great-grandmother turning up to Dionne Warwick in the 30s. This was the type of music that actually dominated the charts in the 60s and 70s, as opposed to the hippie anthems and provocative funk and soul we remember. This rather uncontroversial sound is a big reason that Dionne Warwick has not been beaten into our heads like most boomer music of her day.

But that’s only one reason for our generation’s ignorance of this classic artist. The more obvious reason is her voice. She’s an incredible singer, but not in the way that takes up a lot of oxygen. Discussions of what it means to be a “good singer” bias towards belting into the stratosphere or singing pitches that would shatter glass. Warwick is hardly going to compete with memorable performances of that type like “Respect” or “Gimmie Shelter,” but her voice casts a mystical spell in a more subtle way. To demonstrate this, I’d like to show you a song you might remember from another artist “Say a Little Prayer for You.”

I’ve heard the Aretha Franklin version of this song a million times, but I would never rate it as one of my favorites. I didn’t realize or understand why that version didn’t work for me until I heard Dionne Warwick’s original recording. Some songs call for belting, but some call for agility and clever enunciations. Warwick’s skill is in how she pronounces words, her control over which syllables pop and which slur into the next note. Even when she pushes into a higher and louder voice she always sounds completely in control, never as much as breaking a sweat. This allows her to find new melodies and counter melodies in every line, making each realization of the chorus shine in a slightly different way.

If you have a little bit of patience and a nostalgia for traditional pop stylings, then give Warwick a chance. You won’t be disappointed. Also, if you have a strong tolerance for contemporary Jesus Hip-hop, check out her latest single I guess because it’s a trip.

Band/Artist Profile Classic Album Review

Diamanda Galas: The Masque of Red Death

We’re starting the New Year right at WKNC with death, sadness, and AIDS. If you’re tired of the general malaise and continued pandemic of 2022, let’s throw it back to the bright shiny 80s, a time of general malaise and a pandemic that continued for far longer than it should have. Today, we’re taking a look at one of the few musicians to tackle this weighty subject head on, Diamanda Galas and her avant-garde classic, the Masque of Red Death.

New Album Review

Illuminati Hotties: “Let Me Do One More” Album Review

Illuminati hotties first came to my attention through a genius stealth marketing campaign. Releasing an unannounced album on a blank Bandcamp page, the band was only promoted by two cryptic tweets from Lucy Dacus and the drummer for the band Pup. The music, now released as “FREE I.H This Is Not the One You’ve Been Waiting For,” after being deleted from record for several months. Now, it seems, we have the one we’ve been waiting for.

“Let Me Do One More” is, as you might guess based on her friends, a pop-punk singer-songwriter album. This particular genre mashup is suprisingly not explored all that well, but the Hotties make it feel natural, layering hooks on top of hooks until the songs get quite wordy and obtuse. On the faster songs, lyrics clash and bleed together fast enough that it often borders on free word association. The common refrain of “The DNC is playing dirty; I’m so sad I can’t do laundry,” is a good example, as it makes no sense on any level, but it sure does *feel* right.

Its the album’s ballads that really shine though. While high-energy pop numbers are what hook you in, the album takes you to sad emo boy hours pretty early in the tracklist. Normally the “emotional tracks” on any given pop-punk album are the worst part, but this is where that key endorsement from Lucy Dacus begins to make sense. Frontwoman Sarah Tudzin may be able to light things up with her energy, but you can tell melancholic indie chick is her true form, and so her ballads never fail to tug at my heartstrings.

There’s very little more to analyze about Illuminati Hotties, everything that’s great about them is right there on the surface. The band wears their hearts on their sleeves, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.