Songs To Grade Papers By

The lifestyle of a humanities academic is generally pretty good. You get a flexible schedule, and lots of time "off" (i.e., to read, do research, and worry constantly about the progress of your career!). And needless to say, you definitely don't have to spend all your days "in a little cubicle" (caution: music).

But one of the hardest parts is grading at the end of the year. The weather is nice, lots of things are happening, and motivation is hard to come by. My fascination with electronic music seems to have blown over, and these days I tend to turn to pop music, especially vanilla-flavored indie rock and upbeat pop anthems. Here are some of the highlights on my playlist lately:

1. Seu Jorge, "Rebel Rebel." The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou was a surealist metafilm rather than a movie. Its most arresting image (after Waris Singh Ahluwalia swimming underwater with a camera, of course) was Seu Jorge doing covers of David Bowie with an acoustic guitar at more or less completely random moments. The Bowie covers are so good, they've released a CD of just those songs, The Life Aquatic Sessions. "A must for all people who like acoustic Afro-Brazilian covers of British classic rock in Portuguese." Three of these songs can be listened to here.

2. Belle and Sebastian, "Get Me Away From Here, I'm Dying." A classic, whose relevance at this time of the year speaks for itself.

3. Aqualung, "Brighter Than Sunshine." I'm not quite sure about Aqualung as a whole, but this song has that nice emo, pop-anthemic sound. (Might be a little too syrupy for some people.) You can listen to it here.

4. Rufus Wainwright, "Instant Pleasure." From the lyrics:

You in the traffic for all eternity
How could that speed be where you want to be?
Said don't you really want instant pleasure
Instant pleasure, instant pleasure

Ouch, that hits a little close to home. Still, an immensely entertaining song. (Not that I'm endorsing everything he says here!)

If you're looking for an instant Rufus Wainwright fix, try "Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk" at his Myspace page.

5. Snow Patrol, "Open Your Eyes." More anthemic pop. Some songs at Myspace (not this one, unfortunately). They are on the same British label that Belle and Sebastian are on.

6. The Decemberists, "The Legionnaire's Lament." This is the greatest Paris song in the English language, bar none. (And yes, I'm including "April in Paris," which has to consider itself to have been bumped.) This song makes me nostalgic for a century I didn't live in (the 19th), and for a series of bloody continental wars I never fought in. You can hear some of The Decemberists here.

7. The Spinto Band, "Oh Mandy." You can listen to this triumphant, euphoric bit of power pop here.

8. Michael Stipe and Chris Martin, "In the Sun." This is a song Stipe wrote in response to Hurricane Katrina. It's brilliant -- as good as the best downtempo songs REM ever recorded. Proceeds from the sales on Itunes go to the relief effort, so it's well worth your $.99. Start here.

9. Allen Toussaint, "Yes We Can Can." Speaking of Hurricane Katrina, I gather this funky rhythm and blues song (think 1960s rhythm and blues, not contemporary R&B) has become a bit of a New Orleans anthem. I think it's a good anthem for lots of things, actually. Incidentally, I first heard about Toussaint on NPR.

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What's the best song on your playlist this week?