Mishka Shubaly’s Overlooked Artist Playlist

Mishka Shubaly’s Overlooked Artist Playlist

“I thought there would be more people here” is a phrase I hear from fans all the time. I love it because it’s both a weird compliment and also just a bottomless fountain of disappointment: they’re disappointed that the world at large doesn’t love the artists they do, they feel that they’ve somehow disappointed me by not providing me with a sold-out show, I feel like I’ve disappointed them by not being more popular.

For them, for you, for me, here’s a sampler of songs by artists who merit greater success. My album, When We Were Animals, is out May 2.

* * *

HEELS, “Christ the Ozarks”
When you fall in love with a song, it ceases to be about the songwriter’s experience and instead feels like it’s written about your life. When Brennan Whalen croons about “cigarette burns/on my arms,” it really shouldn’t comfort the listener, but it absolutely does.

The Means, “The Last Days by The Means”
I’m big on meaning. In everything, but especially in song lyrics. “Figure it out, look at your wrist, looking right back at your arm” — I’ve been listening to this record for 15 years and I still have no idea what that means. Later in the song, Jason Frederick abandons language completely, just screaming rhythmically along with the band. You don’t have to understand something in order for it to be utterly compelling.

Publicist UK, “Levitate the Pentagon”
I quizzed Zachary Lipez about his new band’s name as the project was coming together and he said, “We were trying to think of something lower than a bottom feeder. And then we put ‘UK’ after it.” Great way to endear yourself to the music industry. Lipez is a brilliant lyricist, one of my favorites of all time: “Like a self-help book in the STD clinic, that ship has sailed, that ship has sailed, all ships have sailed.” Yes, it is possible to live in NYC for too long.

Star Anna, “For Anyone”
If there were any justice in this world, Star Anna would be a huge star. Great musician, fantastic writer, fearless and unhinged performer. And her voice — when she lets loose, she makes the windows shake.

Beat the Devil, “Raging Bull Blues”
I played bass in this band with the incredibly gifted Shilpa Ray for a couple of hellish years. This EP we made has nearly been lost to the ages, but this is still a monster jam. She’s too smart and too angry for pop success, but I think time will be kind to her work.

The High Strung, “The World’s Smallest Violin”
Great song by a great band of great dudes that have had a huge influence on my life. A brilliant lyrical premise by Mark Owen and, yes, this song was the inspiration for my song by the same name on the new record which is, er, slightly different.

Nicole Atkins, “A Little Crazy”
I met Nicole Atkins in 2005 when she was just a wee Jersey sprite with an outsized voice and a growing songbook. I’m selfishly glad that she hasn’t achieved massive stardom because I think the struggle has been good for her writing and I know firsthand that it’s a real treat to see her tear the roof off small clubs.

Mark Lanegan, “Old Swan”
Mark Lanegan is the best lyricist and singer to come out of Seattle in the ’90s. If you disagree with me, meet me in the parking lot after class. At an age when most rock artists are rehashing their youthful successes, Lanegan is blossoming at an alarming rate. This album sounds like the soundtrack to a Batman movie where Batman is played by Robert Mitchum and he dies at the end. I played this song for my writing workshop last year and, when it was over, they all just sat there in stunned silence.

Grand Mal, “Cold as the Stars”
Bill Whitten is an artist so gifted that trying to choose just one of his songs for a playlist can derail an entire day. These songs have gotten me through so many hard times that now it’s almost too painful to listen to them. Almost.

Michael Dean Damron, “Diabetes Blues”
Mike Damron is who I want to be when I grow up. Seeing him live is a transformative experience. I’ve been on tour with the guy and still wept at his songs nightly.

Creston Line, “No More Heroes”
I hate the myth-making of alt-rock fandom bands like the Hold Steady sometimes engage in. We weren’t unionizing coal miners, we were getting messed up and going to rock shows, man. It was fun and it was memorable and it was important to us, but in no way was it heroic. This song by the Creston Line, though… it’s like Raymond Carver writing about a couple of music fans who drink too much: sad and human and somehow both pathetic and dignified.

Clipse, “Young Boy”
Yeah, I’m not going to pretend to be on the cutting edge of hip hop. This is from 2002. But it’s flawless and nearly forgotten. If I ever wind up on The Tonight Show, I’m totally requesting this as my walkup music. Something tells me The Roots already know this one…

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