For this fourth installment of the Indie Playlist, contributors were asked to pick songs that are imperfect in some way. Perhaps they were recorded live. Or the singer’s voice breaks at an emotional moment. Or the rhythm is strange or uneven. But, somehow, this makes the song more beautiful. As we transition from virtual to live concerts, imperfection is something we’ll be hearing more — and reveling in. Listen on Spotify at tinyurl.com/rkzp669c.
‘Forget About Georgia,’ Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real
This singer’s distinct, wistful tone might feel frustratingly familiar. That’s because Lukas Nelson sounds uncannily like his father, Willie Nelson. The younger Nelson, however, is a talented songwriter in his own right, and “Forget About Georgia” is proof.
From the poignant melody to the guitar solo finishing out the second half, Nelson teases a story out of the lyrics and notes in a way that both keeps you relishing the moment and wanting to hear what’s next. It’s not perfectly polished: there are moments of improvisation, or moments when Nelson’s voice cracks or sounds more like speaking than singing. But these make the song all the more memorable and real.
Just like the night in the song, “so perfect I try to forget about it now,” the earnestness in Nelson’s voice will keep you thinking about this song long after it’s over. —Sophie Hills
‘Makumba Rock,’ Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry
This standout track is from Rainford, reggae icon Lee “Scratch” Perry’s 2019 collaboration with legendary British sound sculptor Adrian Sherwood from On-U Sound. Their work together dates back 35 years, but this latest effort from the 85-year-old Perry sounds as inspired as when they began.
Over a driving rhythm fed by a propulsive bass, Sherwood phases and pulls the soundscape apart like taffy while Perry overlays his non sequiturs of psychobabble, including a convincing turn as a petulant child. There are a least three versions of this track, including an “extended discoplate version,” as well as a dub mix featuring contributions from producer extraordinaire Brian Eno.
When you learn that the word “Makumba” refers to a potent strain of cannabis, it all starts to make sense, or non-sense, depending on how you look at it. All versions are completely bonkers, but in the best possible way. —André van der Wende
‘Rumors,’ Lindsay Lohan
Not to pile on, but Lindsay Lohan cannot sing. The celebrity has been through enough already: she was thrust into the spotlight at age three, when her parents signed her with Ford Models. This spotlight would be her undoing, which would, in turn, place her more frequently in the spotlight. Paparazzi documented Lohan’s DUI charges, stays in rehab, and “squandering” of her talent.
In 2004, Lohan responded to the paparazzi with her debut single, “Rumors.” The song was a commercial success but a critical nightmare — many wrote that this girl who breathily croaked out lyrics rather than sing them had no business making music.
But the “talentless” part of “Rumors” was a statement in itself: The entertainment industry was already exploiting Lohan outside of her trade (as a genuinely talented actress) and making a buck off her name. Why shouldn’t she also be on the trading floor?
“Rumors” added to Lohan’s reputation as an uninsurable diva: there’s an abrasive and cocky sound to the song. But, when that’s stripped away, the lyrics reveal a young woman making a heartbreakingly simple request: “I would love if you would take the cameras off of me/ ’Cause I just want a little room to breathe.” —Paul Sullivan
‘Poet Tree,’ David Allred
Spotify has a mysterious way of working sometimes. One day, I was notified of a song recommendation. Because Spotify is like an eager friend who pays overly close attention to your musical tastes, it was incredibly spot on.
It was a melancholy solo piano track reminiscent of Erik Satie. But, modernizing it, you could hear all the inner workings of the piano. Hammers hitting the strings. The clicking of fingernails on the ivory keys. A constant sound of rustling, as if someone had placed to the microphone too close and failed to edit out the extraneous noise.
The only catch: the song title was mere dots and dashes — Morse code. The album title: also Morse code. And introducing the track, at the very beginning: a string of annoying long and short beeps.
I fed the song title, which is “.–. — . – – .-. . .” by the way, into an online translator. It spat back at me: “Poet Tree.” Through some cross-referencing, I was able to find out that the song is by a composer named David Allred, part of an anonymous release by independent record label Erased Tapes, which represents artists such as Penguin Café and Nils Frahm.
I “liked” it immediately, knowing that if I didn’t, it might disappear. Though titling songs in Morse code sounds unbearably hipster, it does serve a purpose: approaching a song without any expectations creates a unique listening experience. —Saskia Maxwell Keller
‘The Tea Song,’ Michael Hurley
My first thought, when presented with this prompt, was Bob Dylan, only because it was his birthday the other day (the big 8-0), and everyone loves to champion Bobby’s voice as an organ of imperfect perfection. But, instead, here’s a song by Michael Hurley, another songster from the same Greenwich Village scene, a guy with a little less notoriety but with a similarly peerless, “imperfect” voice and irregular guitar technique.
In “The Tea Song,” Hurley takes us through a blues epic — a haunting quest for a cup of hot tea — and he sounds almost possessed (by caffeine, possibly) as he sings and hums his way through verses about craving the hot beverage, longing for a lost lover, and the petrification of “poor old Buddha.” Hurley’s jagged guitar playing sustains and deepens the pathos of his emotional predicament — a thirst not only for tea but for a moment of peace and quiet. Highly recommended listening for tea drinkers, folkies, and the emotionally distraught. —Will Powers
What are you listening to? The Indie wants to do a playlist initiated by readers. Send a song link and 150-word write-up to [email protected] by July 1.