Current Obsession: Anais Mitchell

My obsession this week, Anais Mitchell, is redolent with reference so let’s get some things out of the way here. Mitchell’s father, Don Mitchell, authored the 1970s psych-paperback Thumb Tripping which was heralded as “the new novel that says all there is to say about the Marijuana Society.” Don named his daughter Anais, for Anais Nin–best remembered as an evocative diarist whose brief affair with Henry Miller is the stuff of literary dreams, and less well known as a major influence in my collegiate early-twenties existence. This already looks promising, doesn’t it?

Beginning in 2006, songs came forth from Anais Mitchell that fully formed as a folk opera titled Hadestown based on the mythical tale of Orpheus. Teaming up with Justin Vernon of Bon Iver, indie icon Ani DiFranco, and A Prairie Home Companion alum Greg Brown, the tale of Orpheus becomes accessible through song much like Shakespeare was more easily understood from the lips of Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes under direction of Baz Luhrmann. As a whole, this 2010 album is mesmerizing: enthralling in its epic proportions (to use the term “epic” correctly, for a change). Yet, individual songs are able to stand alone on their own merit and are equally enjoyable in their solitude–songs such as the soothing introductory track, “Wedding Song” (which pairs Mitchell with Vernon), and the knee-slappin’ hullabaloo of “Way Down Hadestwon” (which features DiFranco). My favorite singular, however, is “Why We Build The Wall” with Brown as Hades. Brown’s voice is simply unforgettable in its theatricality and paired with Mitchell’s Depression-Era aura this song takes on greater import as a discussion of poverty and privilege that finds relevance in a discussion of any epoch but is certainly present-prescient.

Mitchell’s other music is equally well-written, and steeped in American hunger. Her albums The Brightness and Young Man In America are easy to drink in, down to every last drop–that voice driving you to drink in all the more. This is a woman to take note of, so raise your pen and find paper.

Dum Dum Girls, “Coming Down”

The Dum Dum Girls are one of my favorite bands. Self-possessed, bad-ass chicks who play New York-tough tunes with a Los Angeles filter–that sort of hazy smog overlay that softens the punk edges into a 60s infused journey through 1980s femininity; throwback music that is purely of the moment. Sure, they sing about bedroom eyes and heartbreak–typical fare, but Dee Dee Penny’s strength as a singer and incredibly intimidating I-Want-to-Be-Her stage presence stabilizes the music and pushes it forward.

These songs may have been done before, but not like this. Well, maybe they have been done like this but the Dum Dum Girls are awesome, and the music is relatable precisely because it doesn’t try to be obscure. It synthesizes the childhood of an 80s baby into sound, which ends up being supremely cool. This is how they attract Academy of Art kids and the newbies at San Francisco State simultaneously.

If I’m being honest, I sing my heart out to “Coming Down” every time–all the while imagining myself to be an actor at the end of a John Hughes movie. Every time. It’s just that kind of music.

Eat your heart out, Molly Ringwald.