The Boston Calling Mixtape, Side Two

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) ran yesterday, with side two (those from Sunday) below.


Side Two – Sunday

Michael Christmas – “Look Up/Save The Day”

The local opener slot at Boston Calling usually breeds a tepid crowd of early wanderers, die hards trying to monopolize a good spot for later in the day, or people that haven’t decided whether they really want that first beer before 1 PM. I’ve never been more hopeful for a townie to bring a jolt to the slot more than when rapper Michael Christmas takes the stage.

Say what you will about his “tick tick” adlib or cutesy shoutouts to Michael Cera; Christmas is becoming Boston’s most beloved nice guy with a hell of a resumé to back his charisma up. After dropping his West Coast-influenced What A Weird Day LP last year, Christmas celebrated by selling out the Middle East Downstairs with fellow rising local Cousin Stizz and opening for Mac Miller on his national tour. His talent is clear on Weird Day, supplanting stoned odes to Hot Pockets with… well, odes to loaded burritos, but the end product is meatier and far more filling. Fitting in battles with self-worth, incarcerated family members, and living on the underrepresented “crime side” of Boston, “Look Up” is the kind of half-smirking, half-serious anthem that could very well lift Christmas from “local opener” to icon of hometown pride. – Tim Gagnon

Christine and the Queens – “Paradis Perdus” 

French singer and songwriter Héloïse Letissier, better known by her stage name Christine and the Queens, has differentiated herself via bilingualism, effortlessly switching mid-verse between an endearing, lilted English and her entrancing native French. The singer managed to outdo herself with the release of her 2015 self-titled album, though, which included “Paradis Perdus,” a mash-up of two covers: Christophe’s “Les paradis perdus” and Kanye West’s “Heartless.” The song features an electronic backdrop and raspy vocals, both characteristic of much of Christine and the Queens’ repertoire, yet “Paradis Perdus” stands out; it’s not an upbeat pop ditty like much of the rest of the album’s tracking. It’s robotic, devoid of emotion: the thoughtless, routine monotony of waiting for that person to come back… to take you back. But all the same, it’s a forlorn, morose, and heart-wrenching lament.  It’s magical. It’s mesmerizing. Its meaning fails to be lost in translation. – Christine Champ

Unknown Mortal Orchestra – “Can’t Keep Checking My Phone”

Half-American, half-Kiwi, Unknown Mortal Orchestra have established themselves as the Bee Gees of the modern era, their music an ode to groovy, disco-inspired dance beats. And “Can’t Keep Checking My Phone” — off of the group’s 2015 Multi-Love, conceptualized around a new kind of polyamory — is no exception. Opening with uneasy Spanish-influenced guitar and horns, the track seems fitting for a Kill Bill: Vol. 2 moonlit desert fight scene. But with the fading out of the horns comes a disarming, funky bassline, immersing the listener in a vibrant swirl of psychedelia. Penning grave songs with a lighthearted tone, Unknown Mortal Orchestra manage to get your mind churning as well as your feet moving with their alternative dance sets. And if you decide to check them out at Boston Calling? Just try and stay off your phone. – Christine Champ

Vince Staples – “Norf Norf”

After a memorable bit role in Dope and turning out one of the most quotable interviews in recent memory last year, I’m certain I’m not the first person to suggest Vince Staples use his deadpan humor for a second career. Alas, it’s hard to pick comedy over rap considering Summertime ’06, Staples’ sucker-punch of a debut LP, released last year. Operating as an anti-hero to Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, Staples picks apart years in gangs, the death of friends, and his tumultuous coming of age in Long Beach with equal parts venom and nihilistic wit. Album standouts like “Norf Norf” come with Vince effortlessly contorting himself around woozy production, but it’s a line as blunt as “I ain’t never ran from nothing but the police” that prove Staples is at his best when there isn’t a joke in sight. – Tim Gagnon

Charles Bradley and his Extraordinaires – “Why Is it So Hard”

Charles Bradley didn’t record his first album until he was in his 60’s. For most of his life, he was poor, experiencing troubles that many poor, marginalized black men deal with in this country. Bradley was discovered while performing as a James Brown impersonator. He has been on the road and recording music since. Bradley’s inspired soul music is undoubtedly great, but knowing his story pushes an appreciation of his music over the edge. The heartache and soul in his music are real.

“Why Is it So Hard” off Bradley’s debut album No Time For Dreaming (recorded with the Menahan Street Band) encapsulates his struggle and speaks for the millions of Americans who know so much pain, yet don’t get a break like Bradley. The song details his life story and for the listener, knowing the song is autobiographical makes it a powerful message about resilience. The lyrics feel hopeless, but you know his life has taken a turn for the better. Keep pushing though, and sometimes you can make it out on top. It’s hard to beat a song that makes you dance while simultaneously doling out a life lesson. – Jason Turesky

The Front Bottoms – “The Beers”

Matching laid-back acoustic strumming with cheerfully off-kilter vocals, The Front Bottoms sound like a musical interpretation of that sweet spot right before a party gets out of hand: everything’s just a little bit out of control, but everyone feels better for it. In “The Beers”, the New Jersey four-piece is at its best, mixing a bittersweet cocktail with all the ingredients of a hit summer song (young love, premature nostalgia, a debaucherous edge) in the space of a single chorus: “And I will remember this summer/ as the summer I was taking steroids/ ‘cause you like a man with muscles/ and I like you.” While the band’s latest LP, 2015’s Back on Top, is decidedly more produced, “The Beers” finds the group at its most singalong-ready — and that’s saying something, since this is sure to be a set that’ll encourage participation with every word. – Karen Muller

Janelle Monáe – “Come Alive (War of the Roses)”

It’s a bit obvious to go with what is likely Janelle Monáe’s most well-known song, and a tune that’s become a traditional set closer. But damn the torpedoes, we’re going with something obvious because this particular something is just too good to skip, particularly for those who may not be familiar with Janelle Monáe’s body of work. “Come Alive,” from her masterful 2010 debut The ArchAndroid, opens to a rollicking swing in the rhythm section à la Cab Calloway. Monáe’s breathy vocals huff below the surface, eclipsed by a strafed and striving guitar line, echoing Hendrix. A quick upward swipe, and Monáe belts the song’s title on a boisterous early crescendo. Live? That’s when Monáe comes alive. That’s when the band comes alive. That’s when the crowd comes alive. That’s when the complete city comes alive. – Donald James

HAIM – “Falling”

For a band that landed in both the indie gatekeepers Pitchfork’s good graces and pop juggernaut Taylor Swift’s friend squad in the wake of their debut album in 2013, it’s surprisingly hard to imagine the Haim sisters showing any sign of stress with the follow up.

To be fair, their near-constant festival spots since Days Are Gone have proved formative for the California pop rock trio, boosting them from cheeky openers soliciting phone numbers from fans to internationally respected (but still lovably crass) direct supports. Boston Calling might prove to be a bit less of a casual affair as Haim have promised to play new songs from their as-yet-announced second full-length. If 2013’s phenomenal Days Are Gone can serve as a sort of benchmark, expect some variation of their Fleetwood Mac-raised, R&B-fortified sound, but with the added vote that Stevie Nicks herself is now a vocal fan. Forgoing the hype and forming pack of rabid fans, though, Haim’s set is a must see for what is assured: a joyous, dance-filled, bass-faced return of one of America’s most promising acts in rock. – Tim Gagnon

Disclosure – “F For You (Remix)”

In every way the breakout artist of the recent house revival, Disclosure is one of the biggest dance acts on the planet. While poppier singles like “Latch” and “White Noise” caught the most radio attention, the deeper tracks from their debut album Settle (and, to a lesser extent, its follow-up Caracal) better explore the stripped-down, UK Garage style that makes up the foundation of the band’s sound. “F for You” is a perfect example. The simple 4/4 meter, alternatingly pointed and swelling synthlines and clapping drums combine with member Howard Lawrence’s R&B-inspired vocals for a track reminiscent of material that dominated early-90s London dancefloors. The remix’s addition of the legendary Mary J. Blige add an honest-to-god chorus, giving what was more of a club track credibility as a single without sacrificing any of what made the original work. A true jam, “F for You” is a staple of Disclosure’s live sets. – George Greenstreet