Curated Playlist: Sleeping Lion’s “Listening Lion” with annotations

It’s still legally November so it’s valid to post the collaboration I promised you guys for this month. Following the vote from last month, I invited Nate Flaks from Sleeping Lion to make a playlist for you and he delivered — not just making a playlist but writing about why he picked every song for Set List’s patrons.

That is one of the reasons why this my favorite Set List collaboration yet. If you want to know the other reasons, I recommend doing the first listen enjoying each song and each transition, the second listen while reading every annotation and from that and beyond, you’ll find your favorite way to enjoy this playlist.

I hope you enjoy this playlist as much as I did. I’ve said enough and now I leave you to Nate’s commentary.

“Into The Unknown” by Panic! At The Disco
This year a new friend group budded from watching “Frozen II”, so this song holds a special place in my heart. Not to mention Brendon Urie absolutely goes off in this (& the drums in the bridge are massive)!

“Conversations With My Wife” by Jon Bellion
While it’s impossible to pick just one Jon Bellion song as a “favorite”, this song has always struck me with its hard-earned honesty & measured production (not to mention, the acoustic version is incredible).

“Tokyo Narita” by Halsey & Lido
This song, I feel, marks the peak of Halsey & Lido’s collaboration, with powerful & dark off-grip production, and incredibly candid lyrics that remind you just how deft of a poet Halsey can be (I’m excited to read her recently released poetry book as well). Both of these artists had a major impact on my life & career, so this song has always been important to me.

“Did I Get It Wrong” by Dora Jar
Dora is a friend we recently wrote with, but she’s also an artist that I’m incredibly excited about. Her voice & writing makes this one of the most unique new songs I’ve heard in a while.

“The Love You’re Given” by Jack Garratt
I first heard this song while on tour with Miette Hope (prior to the start of Sleeping Lion) and it absolutely floored me. I had never heard production like this & it really opened my eyes to what this new wave of “electronic” pop could sound like.

“stockholm’s a ghost town” by sad alex
sad alex is without a doubt one of the best songwriters we’ve ever been lucky enough to work with. Her command over tight lyricism, gut-punching concepts, and subtle hooks is straight up unmatched. When I first heard this demo I practically begged her to let us produce it & I’m so grateful we had a chance to add a little production to this one!

“not ur friend” by Jeremy Zucker
Jeremy Zucker’s production really opened the door for us to start exploring more organic elements (like acoustic guitars & drums) alongside electronic atmospheres. Not to mention I love anything with gang vocals in it.

“Pink Snot” by Say Anything
Say Anything is one of my favorite bands and I’m so happy that even after all these years Max Bemis still manages to write catchy yet poignant songs like this (where other pop-punk bands have strayed from what made them so great). While I don’t think this is the intention of Max’s writing I feel like the chorus could be interpreted as taking mental health medication (& taking care of yourself), thus transforming this song into an indictment of the damaging idea/stereotype that you have to be fucked up & drugged to be an artist.

“Overkill” by Holly Humberstone
Holly Humberstone seemed to come out of nowhere with an EP of incredible songs. Existing in the world of Maggie Rogers, but carving out her own space, Holly’s one of those artists destined to blow up in the new year.

“Enough” by Miette Hope
One of my first friends in music, Miette Hope has always made songs that smashed while staying true to her unique sound & style. We wrote a song together called “Balance” that’s on our most recent EP & it’s one of my favorite songs on it because it showcases her distinct talent! “Enough” is a collaboration with our mutual friend Ariza & also highlights his one-of-kind production technique.

“Happy” by Julia Michaels
The pre-chorus of this song is perfect & wrecked me the first time I heard it.

“Me The Machine” by Imogen Heap
Imogen Heap has always been a pioneer for expressive electronic music and I’ll never forget the first time I heard this song. I was just starting college & she was doing a virtual panel at a nearby audio convention, explaining how she created this song entirely with a glove she invented. I was floored & it was the first time I really considered the capital-A art behind electronic music.

“Come Clean” by Hilary Duff
This was on the first CD I ever bought for my portable CD player (am I dating myself?) and was honestly the first CHORUS that really hit me. Years later, this song still holds up.

“I’m With You” by Avril Lavigne
The “Let Go” era of Avril Lavigne changed pop music forever, bringing in a punk element that still ripples through the 2021 Grammy nom list. Between “Sk8r Boi”, “Complicated”, “Nobody’s Fool”, etc. it’s impossible to choose a favorite from this record, but there’s something really impressive about how Avril managed to make a punk ballad that feels both emo as hell & empowering. I once asked Lauren Christy (co-writer of “Complicated”) if she knew it was going to be a smash & she said, “Well, we certainly hoped so!”

“Big Black Car” by Gregory Alan Isakov
Gregory Alan Isakov is one of my all time favorite folk artists, and while it’s difficult to pick a favorite song of his, I’ve always been moved by the concise poetry of this song in particular. Honorable mentions go to “Stable Song”, “If I Go I’m Goin”, and “Saint Valentine”.

“First Defeat” by Noah Gundersen
I’ve been a Noah Gundersen fan for a minute, but this song stands out as one of the saddest songs I’ve ever heard in my life, full stop. It’s sung with so much pain and honesty it’s hard not to be absolutely bowled over by emotion (and rattled by how well he flips the chorus lyric at the end). Honorable mentions go to “Cigarettes”, “The Sound”, “Wrong Side”, and “Lover”.

“Graceland Too” by Phoebe Bridgers
Not to be this guy, but I’ve been a fan of Phoebe Bridgers well before she was a Grammy nominated “Best New Artists”. Her new album “Punisher” is a masterpiece and this song in particular (while not as widely appreciated as “Kyoto” or “I Know The End”) is pure poetry with intricate arrangements, heartbreaking writing, and (I believe) a vocal cameo by Julien Baker. Honorable mentions go to “Smoke Signals”, “Funeral, and her cover of “Iris” with Maggie Rogers.

“Loved the ocean” by Emilia Ali
Noah co-write (& produced) this song with Emilia and it remains one of the saddest (and one of my favorite) songs of the year. Emilia’s vocals are perfect and the lyrics are beautifully biting. Honorable mention to Nick Smith’s cover of this song (which captures some of the anger implicit to this song).

“Cemetery” by Say Anything
And we’re back to Say Anything! This is my other favorite SA song because of how well the lyrics flow between themes of life, love, death, suicide, and redemption with a candidness that manages to never quite cross the line into emo.

“All Too Well” by Dan Campbell
I’m an absolutely sucker for pop-punk/acoustic-punk covers of pop songs and this checks every box. I swear I got chills the first time Dan drops the f-bomb on the “this thing was a masterpiece…” line and I can almost promise you will too.

“Feathers” by Coheed & Cambria
I standby that pop-punk artists thrived in the mid-2000’s while regular pop artists were figuring out what they were doing. Despite being a high-concept heavy band (for real, there’s a whole comic series around their albums), they still knew their way around a hook & chorus (and OUTRO) in a way that rivaled the great mainstream artists of the time.

“Thnks fr th Mmrs” by Fall Out Boys
Who didn’t start a band after the first time they heard FOB? Catch me at 14 attempting “Sugar We’re Going Down” in my drummer’s basement and attempting to sing those little trill-riffs like Patrick Stump. Also this music video features Kim Kardasian getting steamy with an actual chimpanzee. What a time.

“Say When” by The Fray
While this song didn’t get the same attention as other sophomore-record favorites like “You Found Me” & “Never Say Never”, I standby this is not only one of the best songs on the self-titled, but one of The Fray’s best songs, full stop. Isaac Slade absolutely goes in at the end and the writing is a non-stop cascade of disquieting lyricism. This song deserved more love then and still holds up now.

“Ain’t It Fun” by Paramore
This is a perfect song by a perfect band. That’s all, send Tweet.

“Dance Anthem of the 80’s” by Regina Spektor
This is a tough song to get through, but I promise it’s one of the most rewarding of Regina Spektor’s off-center discography. It’s so strange and then in an instant snaps into powerful focus – I’ll never forget the first time I heard this bridge.

“At the Airport Terminal” by Bill Wurtz
If you don’t know Bill Wurtz (outside of his “History” videos) it’s worth checking out his music. At first it sounds like a campy Casio fever dream, but the more you listen the more you realize there’s nothing but 100% sincerity behind these songs and a genre-bending, boundary-expanding producer creating unique feel-good music.

“Look At What The Light Did Now” by Flo Morrissey & Matthew E. White
If you haven’t seen the video of Little Wing & Feist playing this song in a ravine, I strongly recommend checking that out first, if only to appreciate how well this cover manages to transform the original song while maintaining the same beating heart.

“Slow It Down” by Charlie Puth
The first time I heard this song, I was so upset that a song could be this good that I didn’t notice I’d run out of gas and stalled out in the middle of Hollywood. I’m a big fan of how he uses the pre-chorus melody in the post-chorus.

“Splinter” by MYRNE & salem ilese
I wrote this song with salem the first time we met and it’s always stuck with me. I’ve always been impressed with salem’s talent as a writer and hearing this always brings back memories of that first day. I’m so grateful “Splinter” came out this year & I’m so proud of salem (& how the world has finally caught on to how awesome she is)!

“Better” by Caracara
I grew up listening to a band called W.C. Lindsay which evolved recently in Caracara. I swear there isn’t anything out there like this band and I’m a lifelong fan. I will be shouting out Caracara from the rooftops until I lose my voice!

“Towers” by Bon Iver
Like many artists/songwriters, Bon Iver was hugely influential to me when I first started making music in high school. While the whole self-titled record is perfect, this remains one of my favorites from it.

“Hum and Roar” by W.C. Lindsay
This is the aforementioned W.C Lindsay! Pre-Caracara, but with the same heart, stellar writing, and killer vocals! Screaming along to their record “Easy Victim, Charitable Deception” while they performed in a packed, sweaty basement in Yonkers is part of who I am as an artist.

“Moon” by Yoste
I first heard this song during a bad breakup and reached out to Yoste to tell him how much “Moon” helped me through that time. Thus began a wonderful friendship with one of the kindest & smartest (& most Australian) artists I’ve ever met!

“715 – CREEKS” by The Nor’easters
The original version of this song absolutely shattered me, but hearing an a capella group emulate a vocoder packs a double punch. This one makes me time travel.

“Simple and Clean” by Mree
One of my favorite artists covering the theme of one of my favorite games? It doesn’t get better than this!

“Re: Stacks” by Bon Iver
This album changed music & put Bon Iver on the map and while the whole record is perfect, this song has always been my favorite. It’s so simple, yet balances powerful imagery with straightforward lyricism.

“She Traveled With Me” by The First Law
When I was in high school I started a folk project called The First Law. Following a 40-day camping trip (and a resultant break-up) I made a record with some of my closest friends called “She Traveled With Me”. This song is a reminder of what it was like to make music before it was a job, how fun it was to collaborate with my friends, and how no matter how bad an experience might be it can always become a good song. I listen to this whenever I need to be reminded why I started doing this music thing.

“We’re Fine” by Sleeping Lion
While this song came out recently, we actually started it back in 2015. No matter how many times we gave up on it, it kept haunting us and eventually we were able to revisit it with new perspective, new skills, new collaborators, and new ideas to make this song feel the way we hoped it would five years earlier. Sometimes a song asks you to be better than you are at the time, but that just means it’s always worth revisiting older material to see what you can do with it now.

“First Impressions” by Edgar Meyer & Yo-Yo Ma
This is one of my all-time favorite pieces of music. I listen to it whenever I need to calm my mind a bit. I think it captures the feeling of building a relationship with someone – there’s the first encounter, the harmony of the thing, the development (which, of course, introduces conflicts & dissonance), only to arrive at the recapitulation, that’s completely stable & familiar yet different (& evolved) because of everything it’s gone through. I like ending the playlist here because I feel like the song works as a reminder of how life moves – how we have these first encounters, find familiarity, but one that always changes with time. No two listens of the same song will ever feel the same.

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