The Boston Calling Mixtape, Side One

In a first of its kind for Front Row Boston, our contributors put together a mixtape of Songs You Should Know for Boston Calling, taking place this weekend on City Hall Plaza.

Every week at Front Row Boston, we give you a Song You Should Know. This week we give you a full-on buffet of Songs You Should Know by artists performing at Boston Calling. Our contributors rounded up tunes by the artists they’re looking forward to hearing, and they’ve offered a verse or two on those tunes. Like any good mixtape, this one isn’t comprehensive. And we’re sure you can call us out on the omissions. But if we had to pick the songs that we just can’t miss this weekend, they’re here. We think you’ll dig them, too.

Side one (artists performing Friday and Saturday) runs today with side two (those from Sunday) coming to you tomorrow.


Side One – Friday and Saturday

Sufjan Stevens – “Futile Devices”

Sufjan Stevens moves effortlessly from large, complex orchestrations like the boisterous “Chicago” to  intimate, acoustic songs like “Should Have Known Better” from his latest album, the understated Carrie & Lowell. This duality makes his albums feel large in scope, but they still allow for the feeling of listening to someone play in your living room. Though an obvious choice for an introduction to Sufjan Stevens would be the entirety of his masterful Illinois, my go-to Sufjan song is more personal.

Having ended a long-term relationship recently, I was looking for some music to reflect my post-breakup wallowing when Stevens’ “Futile Devices,” off his 2010 album Age of Adzshuffled up. I was struck by the simplicity and universality of the opening lyric. Stevens sings “It’s been a long, long time since I memorized your face.” This short song is not necessarily about lost love, but that line captured my thoughts and feelings unlike other music to which I’d been listening during that time. And it doesn’t hurt that the lyric is sung to a beautiful melody, accented by a muted guitar. It may not be his greatest song, but I can’t imagine a life without it. – Jason Turesky

Palehound – “Cinnamon”

With every performance and every new release, Boston’s own Palehound offers a vital reminder of the diversity of sounds that gets buried beneath the broad category of “guitar-driven rock.” Though Palehound’s roots lie in the city’s often 90’s-inflected DIY community, singer/songwriter and guitarist Ellen Kempner’s complex melodies veer closer to jazz structures and unexpected harmonies. “Cinnamon,” from 2015’s Dry Food, is the perfect example of everything that sets Kempner’s songwriting apart, from the thoughtful imagery and loved-lost-learned feeling that permeates the album to the dizzy arpeggios that punch up her chord progressions. – Karen Muller

The Vaccines – “Post Break-Up Sex”

Beginning their first U.S. headlining tour with a show at Boston’s own Paradise Rock Club in 2013, The Vaccines are returning with what is sure to be a brill set on Saturday. Hailing from West London, The Vaccines have cultivated a post-punk-inspired brand of indie rock, drawing comparisons to some of the greats (The Ramones, anyone?). With 2011’s single-stacked album What Did You Expect from the Vaccines? came the group’s jangly tune “Post Break-Up Sex,” a hit the’ve included in every live set since. Frontman Justin Hayward-Young delivers the lyrics in a guilt-inducing manner, scolding those of us inclined to jump into bed after a relationship-gone-wrong: what were we to expect from post break-up sex? Taking a pause from the break-neck pace they normally play, The Vaccines dole out a midtempo, saccharinely sweet helping of “I told you so.” Oh, and if you’re so inclined to call up your ex after these boys from across the pond complete their foray of shame… I do apologize. – Christine Champ

BØRNS – “10,000 Emerald Pools”

BØRNS, an up and coming psychedelic pop artist, released his first studio album Dopamine back in October of 2015. Replete with upbeat tempos and, dare I say, “groovy” tunes, BØRNS’ debut was a pleasant surprise. “10,000 Emerald Pools” — which was actually first released on his 2014 EP Candy — opens the album with tranquil instrumentation, most markedly the bass’s relaxed and rhythmic thrum. The lyrics, on the other hand, hit home for past, future, and current lovers who have ever felt the bliss of being immersed in their partner’s everlasting affection. The enchanting song is hard to match in providing ambiance for an approaching summer. – Prachi Gupta

Courtney Barnett – “Pedestrian At Best”

To describe Courtney Barnett as “understated” would itself be an understatement. The recipe of her sound appears simple: from her sing-songy, lucid, effortless Australian drawl to her stream-of-consciousness lyrics, Barnett is uncomplicated by disguise or pretense. Yet when combined, the ingredients yield much more than the sum of their parts: her style is complex, thought-provoking and humorous.

On (the anything but) “Pedestrian At Best,” Barnett’s first single from her debut, the 28 year-old singer-songwriter delivers a no-nonsense/all-nonsense perspective on her relatable neuroses. In the video, she’s painted herself as a sad clown, wandering through an amusement park. In the lyrics, she’s painted herself in a similar position, meandering along, comfortably uncomfortable: “Put me on a pedestal and I’ll only disappoint you/Tell me I’m exceptional and I promise to exploit you/Give me all your money, and I’ll make some origami, honey/ I think you’re a joke, but I don’t find you very funny,” Barnett sings.

The song leaves us feeling like Barnett at the end of the video, sitting on a merry-go-round wearing her clown costume and a forlorn expression. Somehow, she’s enchanted us with her lethargy, and we want nothing more than to come along for the ride. – Tori Bedford

City and Colour – “The Girl”

The Canadian singer Dallas Green, known as City and Colour, released “The Girl” almost seven years ago, but it remains one of his most notable tunes. Green, using a few simple chords on acoustic guitar and banjo to accentuate his calming vocals, expresses his deep infatuation with “the girl” who has stolen his heart.  Midway through the piece, the tempo quickens and the texture thickens as Green repeats the same lyrics. This repetition and these lyrics prove to be the focal point of the song, a fact recognized in his win as Songwriter of the Year in the 2009 Juno Awards. – Prachi Gupta

Miike Snow – “Burial”

At its inception, Miike Snow didn’t really work on paper. A collaboration between Manhattan alt-rock vocalist Andrew Wyatt and Swedish production duo Bloodshy and Avant (best known for Britney Spears’ megahit “Toxic”), the synthpop supergroup formed before the spike of synth-focused collaborations we’ve seen over the past few years. However, the Swedes managed to tone down their pop sensibilities to work more in sync with Wyatt’s vulnerable lyrical style, making for a product that ably switched between maximal and moody while never feeling at odds with itself. On the moodier end of things, “Burial” features Wyatt, over fluttering chimes and driving piano, considering the pain and regret of aging. Despite its generally dark theme, the song retains an unexpected sense of comfort and a welcome sense of irony, with the swelling chorus lyric “Don’t forgot to cry at your own burial” inspiring more a grin than a tear (or, frankly, an eye-roll). Miike Snow may better known for gleeful singles like “Animal,” but “Burial” typifies the band’s deeper cuts. – George Greenstreet

Odesza – “Say My Name”

Odesza’s massive spike in popularity — moving from opening slots at 500-cap venues to headlining festivals in seemingly no time flat — was one of the biggest music stories of last year. The Seattle indietronica duo’s second album, In Return, hit upon notes that resembled both the intricate-but-accessible construction of Flume, as well as the summery vibes making tropical house (and mainly Kygo) such a phenomenon. Their style is best typified on “Say My Name.” The atmospheric production, dominated by a punchy synth and pulsing rhythm line, demonstrates both the beauty and angst typical of the song’s lovelorn subject matter. It also shows the duo’s remarkable ability to work with vocalists, with little-known singer Zyra’s vocals feeling very much in line with the beat, both on a sonic and emotive level. Most importantly though, as with any Odesza song, it never loses its sense of fun. – George Greenstreet

Robyn – “Dancehall Queen”

Circa 2010, “Dancehall Queen” was released right on the cusp of Swedish popstar Robyn’s massive resurgence in popularity (headed by the inescapable “Dancing On My Own”). Featuring a Dancehall style that’s somewhat atypical of her output, which tends toward a synthy, Europe sound, the song nonetheless acts as a perfect example of her considerable vocal talent. With a braggadocious style, Robyn gives a spirited account of a one-woman night out, focused on killing the dancefloor instead of meeting a man or socializing in general. Her pitchy vocals work well with the dubby beat, produced by Diplo (before his current bout of being insufferable) while the slower tempo makes for a track better suited to grooving than getting wild. A true hidden gem in an impressive pop catalogue. – George Greenstreet