the #20tracks time machine
A gentle dip back into the waters of songs that bring me pleasure, music of my twenties and all that neural and bodily responses and that one song that keeps playing on and on and on.
(A few months back, I managed writing the first part of this post after coming out of a big family crisis. You can read it here)
(i) our joyful Top 40s list to fire up them ‘musical memories’
Not too long ago, my better half told me of a Twitter/X trend that was going around in which folks were sharing a list of twenty songs that brought them ‘instant joy the second you hear the first note’ tagged as #20tracks.
This exercise in strict selection sat with me for a few days as I made a loose list in my mind. Five or six songs came immediately and the rest had to be filtered through a few questions. Can sad songs be included? Songs that make me cry are always the top of my own list of favourites to repeat but is this considered joyful? And how about the “stirring of the soul?” What if my soul was stirred by a mind-blowing song structure, or a sticky melody or lyrics that squeeze my insides in ways that only a poem could depending on my mood?
I am not really one for lists ever. But songs lists have always been a staple. My spotify library is full of songs encapsulating each szn, when I feel up to it, and I would listen to the same set of songs until a new szn begins. At times when I am feeling a wee bit sentimental, and a lot time-travellish, I pick a list at random and listen to it on a walk with my kid, or on a solo cycle; feeling up all those feelings during that szn with some kind of translucent clarity, or paper thin vividness. A musical memory.
Musical memories apparently remains unaffected in people who suffer from neurodegenerative diseases such as dementia. This is probably because music activates different parts of the brain that are more resilient to cell death, such as the amygdala, which plays a key role in encoding the emotional qualities of memory. Music can also be the key to unlocking memories and many forms of music therapy contribute to the treatment of both neurological and behavioural illnesses such as depression and anxiety, chronic pain, addiction, Parkinson’s and even autism. I imagine in my old age rapping hard word for word to Doja Cat’s Paint the Town Red and singing she’s a bad little bitch, she’s a rebel loudly in some dusty nursing home.
On another tangent, the songs I’ve ‘acquired’ at a younger age seems to stay for a bit longer, or which I keep returning to. Apparently, this falls under procedural memory, things we learn as children and find joy in, like dancing, or riding a bicycle (though this is only done indoors on a stationery bike for those already afflicted with neurodegenerative diseases as navigating requires other parts of the brain that may already be affected), music, swimming. Memory for events, knowledge, and reasoning, known as Explicit Memory (EM), gradually disappears as dementia worsens. The last bits that remain are the first bits of who we
are were </3
Anyway as I was making my list, a lot of the songs that came to me were from my twenties. This phenomena has a pretty cute name and it’s known as the reminiscence bump, where essentially the period of recall happens between the ages of 10 to 30. Here’s a little explanation:
Over half of the songs chosen by the guests had also been important to them during the time when they were between the age of ten and the age of 30. The researchers say this period is commonly known as the 'reminiscence bump," although they like to think of it more as a 'self-defining period,' as it is a time when we develop our sense of who we are. It's also a time when we connect music to important people, places, and moments which gives us long-lasting memories.
I struggled with keeping the list to twenty at first (I had like about thirty over songs) and then as I began to carve out my own additional parameters, I found myself stuck with only twelve songs. Unlike my monthly spotify list where I go by the feels of the cosmos, this list really put me at hard at work, haha. But it kinda paid off because this list encapsulates all that I need to get through shitty periods in my life, songs that make me dance, and cry and laugh, that still give me waves of goosebumps and transport me across time and spaces, of verses, in a complex fold. And yes, if I do end up requiring for the dying switches of my brain to be flipped back on, this list would be it.
So here it is (with a
little liner or more, on why these songs were selected):
Stillness is the Move - Dirty Projectors
With an off-beat melody, this song was on repeat at the start of my mid-twenties where there’s like a stall in time and dreams of my youth are slowly dying and “maybe I get a job, get a job as a waitress”. The hook repeats in the same way except in one stanza and this is my absolute fav part.
“After all that we’ve been through
I know that I will always love you
From now until forever baby
I can’t imagine anything better”
Under Pressure - Queen and David Bowie
This is my absolute life track. I dedicated an entire section about it in the later part of this post.
Galaxy- Bruno Pernadas
I stumbled across this particular track after another track on the same album appeared in Spotify algorithimised weekly selection and I know how this feature is so problematic BUT this song is a daydream. Full orchestra, mad progression and sweet in its core. This is the track I cycle home to, every single time.
Rehat - Kunto Aji
What can I say, your girl loves these sweet tunes that make the heart ache. This one in particular magically appeared during the pandemic when I was thinking a lot about rest and these lines are honestly damn uuf, especially the last part of asking the universe to do its work.
Semua ini bukan salahmu
Yang kau takutkan takkan terjadi
Kita coba lagi untuk lain hari
Kita coba lagi
Yang ditunggu, yang diharap
Biarkanlah semesta bekerja untukmu”
Canned Heat - Jamiroquai
I listened to this as kid. This song is dated now but I don’t care because:
“Dance, nothing left for me to do but dance
Off these bad times I'm going through just dance
Got canned heat in my heels tonight, baby"
After the Storm, Kali Uchis Feat Tyler the Creator & Bootsy Collins
If i need a pick-me-up to say fuck, i’m worth it, this one is it. Because, hell no one will save you now, so you gotta save yourself. Such a well-written song too.
It’s Not up to You - Bjork
So there was a period in my late twenties where nothing was going my way. Couldn’t get a job, was depressed, you know all that return of the saturn bullshit that cuts deep but this song was and still is a balm especially the lines, if you leave it alone, it might just happen…anyway… </3 Also this live version beats everything else hands down. Get ready for goosebumps and some tears
Sinaran- Sheila Majid
We had our friend Eli sing this live at our wedding reception. This is my penultimate love song like how A Thousand Years, Sweet Disposition or Just Like Heaven is to most people
Escape Velocity + Another World - The Chemical Brothers
Ok so your girl cheated a bit but these tracks plays seamlessly as one damn track. I put this on and disassociate because it’s really cute. I have like the plot line, always involving a spaceship or some unidentified vehicle (that feels like a bicycle) AND zoom myself off to another world, bye!
Perbatasan - Nova Ruth and Filastine
So I met Nova and Grey at a dinner about four years ago maybe. And in that time I was writing a lot of micro fiction on a more gritty and unruly notion of futures (Not the shiny East Asian hypertech future but like within the region) and I checked out their band and this song in particular was screaming so much of that and this track was what I was writing these pieces to. Now the duo is on a ship organising floating performances somewhere out at sea and it’s all really cool.
Myth - Beach House
I am truly a depression cherry gworl but this song, i don’t know what about it, it just is the song. But not like in are we, are we not way but like in this city (Materilise, or let the ashes fly) where a lot of things get named (to be controlled) and unnamed (to be forgotten) this is the completely taken out of context track I listen to on my photo walks.
Layar Impian - Ella
I listen to this a lot growing up, and now that I’m growing old, this song hits pretty hard.
Sextape - Deftones
Will always be a Deftones stan. If you realise, most of their songs have some kind of water imagery, drowning, swimming, bathtub, choking on water, waves colliding and the melodies too are always so watery… Being a pisces sun and cancer rising…I cannot.
Idontknow- Jamie XX
I put this on and it’s a mad spell. Truly.
Here Comes a Thought - AJ Michalka and Estelle
As I hit my lowest low two years ago, and started therapy for the first time, I made a list of songs I listen to after I finish my sessions. This one is a gem. Also Steven Universe right? I mean…Lifesaver of a song for sure.
Pigeon - The Psalms
I vividly remember watching this performed live, during the heydays of Night Fest at Substation, at a small indie space called Pigeonhole by a band I love with all my heart. And much like my twenties, all of these remain as beautiful ghosts of a time long ago. Also the last time I heard this, I was seven months pregnant which makes listening to it now kinda bittersweet.
Take on Me - Aha the acoustic live version
That line: You’re all the things I’ve got to remember. If you have listened to the faster pop version and like yeah I know this track, go listen to this version. It feels like a heartache and being deeply in love, not necessarily with someone, but with some..mmm time…all at once.
The Diamond Sea - Sonic Youth
We played this at our wedding reception. Yes all twenty minutes of it. It’s a kind of morbid reminder that we may never always be the same person. All the members play a part in this song, like a solo of sorts, in three parts and I love every bit of it.
Hey Ya! - Outkast
This song is a fucking sad truth wrapped wonderfully into one of the best pop bop every written. In essence how folks stay together not because they love each other but they don’t wish to be alone. </3 and to top it off, Outkast made us all sang to shaking our polaroids which is not something one should be doing (because it can damage the image) but we do it anyways. Genius much?
This Must Be the Place - Talking Heads
I am a sucker for songs about home and this is my ultimate fav. It’s a campy tune I silly dance to all the fucking time and this:
I'm just an animal looking for a home
Share the same space for a minute or two
And you love me till my heart stops
Love me till I'm dead
Eyes that light up, eyes look through you
Cover up the blank spots
Hit me on the head ah ooh ohhhh ohhhh….
I mean how is that not one of the best lyrics ever written.
And that concludes my #20tracks. I thought it’d be a fun thing to mix up my list with my partner’s list and voila we give you our top 40s. We listened to it together when we were out cycling last few weekends and take it from us, this makes for a great date idea. It was a nice throwback to our earliest dates where we would just sprawl ourselves out, earphones stretched between us, listening to all sorts of music in the middle of nowhere for hours. Go try merging your #20tracks with someone close and have a listening party of sorts. It’s a great way of getting to know each other.
Also, I found out the whole history behind top 40s is based on the number of songs one can fit in old jukeboxes in the early days (and then the number of songs that can be played during a radio show), where the limitless and massive bandwidth of accumulation is not a thing yet. This makes this whole thing of a 20 songs limit more precious because not everything can make the cut.
(ii) Love Dares You to…
Some songs keep coming back to you in the strangest of ways. I was only five when the catchy bass line played non-stop on radio. My sister even bought the cassette tape just for this particular song, a one hit wonder that was safe to say the earliest foray into rap music during the nineties. I had to look up the song to find out what it’s about but then we knew all the words and would see who could keep pace and go at it without stumbling. Same year we were doing it to MC Hammer’s You Can’t Touch This and then Snow’s Informer. It became a game for the kids of the neighbourhood and we all had no clue, or did not care about the meaning of the songs.
I was of course referring to Ice Ice Baby that broke rap into the mainstream (well, kinda) in Singapore at least. It was also ironic that this was a song written by a white man and even less surprising that it happened again in my teens with Eminem haha. Anyway, Ice Ice Baby was super catchy and one of the earliest ViRaL tracks in memory next to of course Macarena which was just as catchy and just as bad on hindsight. But that bass line was such a staple. All of us who were kids during that time knew it, recognised it immediately.
It was many years later, when I was twenty. Back flat on the cold floor in the wee hours of the morning after a session of Molly and K. Body aching but the music continued. S was still playing tracks and it was a selection of coming down tunes that he had stacked up in a tower of plastic cases right next to the full ashtray and that old CD player. By now, I’d recognised some of these tracks and had my favourites but he would selit a little surprise once in a while. I remember the rubbery bass lines hitting hard and I caught myself being five again, and I glanced with disbelief at S for picking something so mainstream. Not what you think, he said
Then I heard some mad scats and then the first li
ne, Pressure, pushing down on me…as I had the yo who the hell is this expression on my face. I recognised Bowie of course, although at twenty the only track I knew from him was Heroes and thanks to S I knew a little bit more. And then there was this other voice, the one with the mad scats. Who is Bowie singing with I asked S and he as always gave this mocking tone that he did for all the music I’ve never heard off and went, you don’t know Queen? You never heard Freddie sing? Of course in this first listen all I got was a feeling, and none of the words.
It was this warm feeling one can catch from a smile of a stranger who helped you in some way or other and was walking away and you did not manage a thank you because everything happened too fast but the smile is like a don’t mention it or no big deal or it’s alright kinda smile. I still remember when the bridge hits and I was getting goosebumps and got a little emotional with the chemicals still in my body reacting a little, giving a final charged before fizzling out.
Of course this song played many times. Sometimes upon requests but only during our house parties. I remember on one of the come downs, it was the four of us, W and R a girl W was seeing and S and I. R talked a lot when she was high and when my favourite part hit just like it did the first time and “Keep coming up for love but it’s so slashed and torn…”, I grabbed her chin slightly moving towards the laptop we had on the floor, and us circling around it a bonfire of sorts in the middle of that living room, and said, listen, listen to this part and sang that part to her, as W and S laughed at my nonsense.
Under S party rules, we are not allowed to repeat songs because you do not want to wear them out, he said. But there was that one time when I did not get my school loan renewed, and my dad had outrightly refused to fund my studies the moment he knew I was going to take a part-time degree saying I’d probably fail and I had gone to the an MP session and was rudely told that I should have read my loan terms carefully. To cheer me up, S bought some mollies and we had a session just the two of us. He played this song twice and I remembered being high, and feeling sad yet hopeful that someone was still looking out for me and that I’ll be alright.
Under Pressure was born, in the snowy Swiss mountains, in Mountain Studios fuelled by a bag of cocaine and copious amounts of wine, and two legends crossing swords all night. Bowie, who was recording for the soundtrack of a film, Cat People (and was the one who brought the cocaine) decided to pay Queen a visit just to have a chat and just fooled around. But after playing a few covers, they all decided to record an original track.
Apparently, the song was locked by that same sticky bass line that got everyone hooked to Ice Ice Baby, one that the bassist John Deacon had according to him “lurking” in his head. They stopped the session, went to grabbed food, came back and almost forgotten the riff. And then when they finally managed to get the entire song down, it was time for Bowie and Freddie to get their vocal parts in. Of course, both of them would not back down and had to be in separate rooms to record their parts. Freddie did those brilliant scats and Bowie hated it so much, which was how it was almost removed in the final cut.
It’s really hilarious the amount of tension (and pressure) the whole process was for a song that was all about caring for one another. But I guess that’s what make this track so brilliant. Even in the lyrics, you can hear this tension getting punctured by the escalation in their voices, bold proclamations that love will always triumph and love dares us to break these pressures down even though we are already broken. And so that was how Under Pressure was made, and was almost not made. (Also Bowie and Freddie never got a chance to perform this live, can you believe that?)
I imagine a friendship outside of the making of this track, between Bowie and Freddie and I think about S and I and our fraught friendship over the years, the number of times was fell out and reconnected, and how we have stopped talking for almost two years now. I think about all those times we have saved each and how we have also hurt each other again and again.
21st December 2019
Farhan, bani and I organised a Kritikal Karaoke session with The Observatory for their fundraiser thingy. The room was full of friends and loved ones all having end of year blues (“watching some good friends screaming ‘Let me out’” and we had selected contestants to belt out their chosen track as part of a friendly competition. K and I decided to be the icebreaker performance, starting first with of course Under Pressure. I did all the Freddie parts and K did Bowie and it was a beautifully butchered up version (as Karaoke should be). We belted our hearts out in a kind of earnest campy hybrid that only the two of us could pull off.
2019 was such a huge year of kinship and collaborations in the arts. We wanted to cultivate healthy working relationships that support personal growth. We wanted to witness each others wins, have each others backs, be different from the older art folks who were always backbiting and viciously competing with one another in ways that’s super damaging. I sang this song to celebrate this feeling, a revitalisation that disrupted my own distrust with words like communities and collectives, with group dynamics, with friendships in the arts. And to sing this with K meant a great deal because he was a dear friend and collaborator in so many aspects of my practice.
I’ve come to know now that romanticised ideals are pretty short-lived. It was indeed our last dance. People are not meant to grow together in that exclusively feel good manner. We swept all our shortcomings under the rug, looked away at bad behaviour, and then started falling into the same patterns we tried very hard to avoid. The year was followed by reports of SA that K had committed and I became involved in ways I failed to manage. I was supportive of K and wanted to assist him in his accountability processes. But it was misconstrued as victim blaming and blown out of proportions. It got so ugly, the year of 2021 and many bridges were burnt. I even faced the possibility of legal action and was so traumatised that I could not recognise myself for a really long time. I could not listen to the song for a really long time either. It hurt too much because no one cared hard enough when it was the most crucial, when it was the most necessary.
Of course that period felt as if time had stopped but things start to ease up slowly and we heal in ways that we can. K and I are still close friends and we survived all that has happened almost the same, but not quite. Not as close I guess, but it’s ok. I’ve learned about how caring is confrontation, but with kindness. And that it takes a while to react and that it’s ok to not be supportive all the time. And it’s ok to disagree. I learned about capacities and tensions as necessary dynamics in relationships and should not be seen as bailing out or abandoning ship when it’s sinking. I learned too, that proximities are fluid and closeness should not be based on having to constantly be there, especially when it takes a huge toll on me. Glad all that’s over now and the friendships I have currently are nourishing and true to what I can give and what I wish to receive.
This year, I was having my seasonal depression and came up with a list of new sad films I have not watched. Each time seasonal D came along, I find it hard to cry. It’s like my body just go into full protection suit mode and nothing can come out (or in), in case I may not survive it. That morning, I sat watching Aftersun for the first time, and the song came on, at the last part. I have put the song aside for so long and trust me when I say, the moment I heard it I bawled so hard, I was shaking in my seat. The film itself, dealing with depression and a coming of age daughter-father holiday/bonding at a Greek resort set in the 90s, was super heartbreaking in such subtle ways.
There was so much space in that film that I felt I was inserting myself in the silences, or the spaces of the rooms, or the spaces between these two wonderful characters. How they are trying so hard to understand one another, how they love each other deeply and still struggle to truly understand the hurt each of them is going through. Anyways, go watch it. It’s so beautiful.
So when Under Pressure came on, I realised I had not heard this song in a long time and I thought about S and those long nights until late afternoons at his house and how we were always at odds with each other, and I think about 2019 and my friends who are no longer my friends, and I think about all the other hard relationships that had failed but not because the love was not enough but because it was too much. And somehow along the way we shut down and stopped wanting to keep learning to love each other.
Came across this small snippet of an interview with bell hooks and it rang true. “We recognise conflict will be a part of trying to have a relationship with somebody who is not you. And we don’t recognise that when it comes to difficult issues and often that is when we start censoring and shutting down.”
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Writing this, been thinking a lot about the last three stanzas of the song. And that lines about giving love and ourselves one more chance and it’s always going to screw us up again and again and maybe thats how it’s always going to be. And I think about how love dares us always to keep changing our way of caring about ourselves again and again and again, because it’s never that one way, that only way that you know how, you know?
Anyway thank you for reaching this far my loves. Like, share and subscribe. Until next time. <3 Also if you have the means, buy me a coffee or something like that.