Album Reviews: Destroyer, The Head & the Heart, Shearwater

Five Spanish Songs

Destroyer- Five Spanish Songs EP

Grade: B+
Release Date: 11/29/2013

Five Spanish Songs doesn’t contain any new Destroyer songs, rather it’s entirely composed of covers of a spanish artist named Sr. Chinarro. The purpose of the EP is to be a gesture of respect and market Sr. Chinarro’s music to an audience who otherwise wouldn’t have been exposed to them in likelihood, and it proves to indeed be very fun and melodic. The opener “Maria de las Nieves” is a soft and paced track which showcases extremely calm, narrative vocals by Dan Bejar (a member of the New Pornographers, it often gets forgotten in the U.S. how successful these musicians are outside of the supergroup). “El Rito” is the most fun and danceable one on the EP and a personal favorite, and the closer “Bye Bye” is a slower, soft and thoughtful track. Of course all of this is solely based off of the sound of the music and the manner in which the lyrics are stated because by all accounts the spanish courses I attended during schooling were unsuccessful in creating a fluent speaker out of me, and the title of this EP isn’t just an homage to what was translated. That’s probably for the better as some songs can lose their beauty in the process of translation (and some can become hysterical, like “Komm, Gib Mir Deine Hand“), but it’s still frustrating to listen to a line and only be able to recognize the words “Franz Kafka”. Still, this is a very good listen that I recommend listening to even if you don’t understand the lyrics, because good music can be universal.

Track Pick: “El Rito”

Let's Be Still

The Head and the Heart- Let’s Be Still

Grade: C+

Release Date: 10/15/2013

The main word that come to mind is generic. Folk rock seems like a plague in the modern music scene with artists like Mumford & Sons (now on hiatus) and Of Monsters & Men actually rising to national attention with it. I don’t intend to point to those two as examples of poor artists, but I’m a believer that they are artists who got over glorified for an enjoyable but unspectacular sound. The Head and the Heart struggle on this album struggle to bring up interesting topics and consistently seem to end up writing about clichés over basic rhythms. Simplicity can be beautiful in music when used correctly, but we’re at the point where it’s the last thing which there’s a need for within the genre, and it would be sad to see folk rock become redefined in the same unfortunate way that country music has grown to be.

Track Pick: “Homecoming Heroes”

Fellow Travelers
Shearwater- Fellow Travelers

Grade: B-
Release Date: 10/08/2013

The second release in this batch of reviews which is composed of covers, with Fellow Travelers it’s difficult to even tell though. The band set their eyes on songs by Xiu Xiu, Coldplay, St. Vincent and Wye Oak among others, but they don’t really bring the band to a place where they’re easy to relate to at any point. There’s a level of respect from me for the band’s continued attempt to be meaningful and write sadder, softer songs, but the songs have to differ more than they do. This seemed like a prime opportunity to do that with the range of artists they covered, but they all still ultimately blend into each other within the same Shearwater sound that’s been frustrating myself and other listeners on their recent releases. You can sense the talent of people in the project, but I would say they’d be better off separated from each other so that they could try to find other artists to work with, ones who would do a better job of highlighting their strengths and hiding their weaknesses.

Track Pick: “Tomorrow”

Most Viewed Year in Airwaves’ History

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Our blog is still eyeing progression, but one of the primary goals of the year has just been accomplished. 2013 is officially the most viewed year that Airwaves, WCDB Albany’s official blog, has ever had, and we haven’t even entered December yet! Stay tuned in the upcoming months in order to see

  • The finale of Kyle’s Favorite 100 songs countdown. Expected Arrival: Sunday
  • The End-of-the-Year lists our DJs come up with. Expected Arrival: Early-Mid December
  • WCDB’s congregate Album of the Year list. Expected Arrival: Late December
  • A special, and eagerly awaited ‘Top 100 Alternative Songs’ from a more historical perspective, provided by my dad Thomas Ryan (author of American Hit Radio and host of radio show “American Hit Network”). Expected Arrival: January

There will also likely be the addition of more ‘Essential Albums’ posts under different parameters, more DJ surveys, more album reviews, and possibly a new segment to cover artist’s discographies from album to album. Thank you to all the readers for helping make this our best year so far, we’ll continue working hard to improve our product.

Kyle’s Favorite 100 Songs: 20-11

Here are numbers 20-11 on my countdown of my 100 favorite songs.

20. Daniel Johnston- True Love Will Find You in the End

But how can it recognize you unless you step out into the light, the light?

Daniel Johnston is a difficult musician to familiarize yourself with because, in honesty, there is a lot of bad music in his discography. The reason why he’s important is that Johnston, the manic depressive and schizophrenic, has moments in his music which reach absolute beauty. “True Love Will Find You in the End” is a song which begs it’s listener to not give up the belief that you will find the one…eventually. It’s a song to represent the hope that if you stay open and yourself for long enough, one day luck will turn your way and you’ll find the perfect person for you; and that’s the point of everything. You can build up barriers and try to send off a false message, but if you continue to be yourself and look for love then it will find you in the end. “True love is searching too, but how can it recognize you unless you step out into the light”? It’s a discouraging quest (“Don’t be sad, I know you will”), but he believes in the promise of the reward.

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19. Bright Eyes- A Song to Pass the Time

“Now I have locked my actions in the grooves of routine/ So I may never be free of this apathy/ But I wait for a letter that is coming to me/ She sends me pictures of the ocean in an envelope

It’s not a part of “A Song to Pass the Time”, but the interview that precedes this song at the end of “An Attempt to Tip The Scales” is a very good introduction to this track. “A Song to Pass The Time” is told in a manner similar to what Dylan would do, in that they wrote down their observations and described real human interactions rather then trying to conjure a story with a point in mind. The difference between Dylan and Oberst is that while Dylan would say what was there due to his confidence and experience, the younger and depressed Oberst seems to focus on what he thinks is missing. Why does he love the mexican children kicking rocks in the street? Why are all the businessmen and suburban mothers so emotionless and repetitive? Why isn’t my desperation to stay close to the people who I’ve formed a close relationship with shared? I love the verse above because it shows Oberst’s hope that at some point love will just save him from all of this, and she’ll be able to help him understand everything that tortured him before.

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18. The Postal Service- We Will Become Silhouettes

“We become silhouettes when our bodies finally go.”

I love tragic songs that sound happy, and “We Will Become Silhouettes” is the poster boy for that category. Death is still a certainty, in fact it seems to tell the story of an explosion which will is going to kill us all, but it’s become a celebration because that’s when our bodies will finally become silhouettes! We shall become immortalized once “our shells simply cannot hold all our insides in and [then] explode”. Tamborello’s music is cheerful and stuffed with simple, melodic rhythms to represent the joy of the song in it’s own beautiful way, only one example of how well these two worked together on the album.

Continue reading Kyle’s Favorite 100 Songs: 20-11

DJ Survey: What’s Your Favorite Concept Album?

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We went back to our DJs to conduct our first DJ survey in a while, this time with the question being: What’s Your Favorite Concept Album?

Lisa BrownKid Cudi’s Man on The Moon I & II
The first album is an autobiographical track series that takes listeners on a journey into the dark world of substance abuse, night terrors and feelings of isolation. With a gloomy feel, the different acts of the story are an inside into his lonely mind, nightmares and use of drugs to calm fears and escape reality.
The second Man on The Moon brings listeners into Cudi’s reality–both good and bad. Showcasing who he is as a person, he acknowledges his addictions, emotions and dealing with fame.Both albums embrace a psychedelic spacey sound with blending elements of hip hop, electronic and rock.
Gow Mosby: Breezly Brewin – Prince Among Thieves
The concept follows the story of an aspiring young emcee named Tariq, played by emcee Breezly Brewin, who needs to collect money to record a demo tape before a meeting with Wu-Tang Clan leader RZA. The story follows a desperate Tariq, who quits his low-paying job and turns to his friend True, played by emcee Big Sha, who plugs him into the world of drug dealing. The two make their way through the drug world, a police ambush, jail, and, finally, a deadly showdown.

Eric BennetSufjan Stevens’ Come On, Feel The Illinoise! and Greetings from Michigan, the Great Lake State

 I’ve always thought the concept of these two albums written about states was very cool. I love the idea of studying State histories and cultures separately from the nation, and doing it through song is a great way to get a feel for them. I deeply wish Sufjan hadn’t given up on the 50 States Project. 
Taco Party Box: I am going to list two, so deal with that!!

1. The Streets- A Grand Don’t Come For Free
His second album under The Streets moniker is a concept album basically about the life of grime/crime. He looses a grand, finds out his best friend is sleeping with his lady and eventually raises himself back up. Not the “danciest” of his albums, but it tells a really good story, and it has a happy ending.
2. The Game- Jesus Piece 
This is another album about a life of crime, but it is about also having God in your life. It doesn’t tell a story in the same way as “A Grand Don’t Come For Free” but it still tells a story about overcoming hardship. This was in my top 10 for 2012 for sure. There are so many great tracks on this album and so many awesome guest appearances. It also saw The Game get back with Dre in production.
I realize that these are both not albums people would listen to as the are not “alt-rock” but you should listen to both of them. they are both great!!!
Want to give mention to another album? Feel free to use the comments below!

Album Reviews: Robert Pollard, Cass McCombs, and We Are Scientists

Blazing Gentlemen

Robert Pollard- Blazing Gentlemen

Grade: B

Release Date: 12/09/2013

Robert Pollard has always put forth an incredible amount of effort to contribute to the music scene. He’s most well-known as being the singer-songwriter for Guided By Voices, but Pollard has also branched out to have that same role in numerous side projects (Circus Devils, Mars Classroom and The Lifeguards to name just three) and he’s released an impressive twelve solo albums since 2008. One of the really nice things about Pollard is that even though he releases his music at such a frantic rate the quality of his music never seems to suffer because of it. We’re past the era where we’ll hear Bee Thousand or Alien Lanes-esque tracks from the man, but some of the classic qualities of Guided By Voices’ sound live on today thanks to Pollard’s efforts. There’s still incredibly urgent songs (16 songs take up a total of 33 minutes here) and the choruses still come early and often, and he rarely stops the music to re-set itself. That has to be appreciated as a fan when there are so many artists taking the misguided approach of stopping to introduce each song individually, destroying any hopes of a coherent set. If you like Pollard/Guided By Voices then you should check out Blazing Gentlemen, but if you’re unfamiliar with him than there are probably better starting points for you than this.

Track Pick: “Extra Fool’s Day”, “Tonight’s The Rodeo”

Cass McCombs
Cass McCombs- Big Wheel And Others

Grade: C+

Release Date: 10/15/2013

Cass McCombs shares a quality with Brendan Benson on this album, where both are talented artists who sing about easily enjoyable topics but aren’t overly interesting when they do it. Everything that is present on Big Wheel and Others tends to blend into itself as time progresses,  and it’s a bit perplexing why McCombs chose to keep so many of the songs present to release it as a double album rather than trying to be more selective. Big Wheel and Others contains some genuinely good tracks like “There Can Be Only One”, “Brighter! (Featuring Karen Black)”, and the title track “Big Wheel”, but these seem to get overtaken by the plethora of songs which aren’t noteworthy. There are many instances on this album where points get stated in a disappointingly usual way, and the spoken samples featuring four-year-old Sean are an uncomfortable listen. Sean is a four year old kid whose youth was covered in a 1970 documentary named after him, and McCombs sampled segments of it where Sean tells stories about drug use, lack of belief in god, and how he would attack a policeman. It leaves me unsure about whether an awful person gave this kid a script to exploit him or if his parents really were messing with their kid’s life as much as it seems, but I’m not convinced that it was a necessary addition to the album as none of the songs seemed to run parallel to Sean’s storyline.

Track Pick: “Brighter! (Featuring Karen Black)”

We Are Scientists
We Are Scientists- Business Casual

Grade: B-
Release Date: 10/15/2013

We Are Scientists is a very fun pop group, and if you ever get a chance to see them play live I’d highly suggest seeing them for the banter between Chris Cain and Keith Murray. Whether on stage or in interviews these two prove to be very fun personalities with great senses of humor, but it’s tough to view We Are Scientists as a legitimate artist when their best quality is making jokes. There are good, high-energy pop songs which can get stuck in your head scattered around their discography (and even surprisingly genuine tracks like “Courage” on this newest release) but it’s tough to envision them releasing an album which would say something new and not be limited to it’s time period. They’re the band who makes you laugh because of the obviously incorrect subtitles they inserted into the music video for “Nice Guys”, and they’re the band that decided to end this EP with a cover of “Take My Breath Away” by Berlin, but I don’t think they’re the band to turn to for recorded music.

Track Pick: “Courage”

Kyle’s Favorite 100 Songs: 30-21

Here are numbers 30-21 on my countdown of my 100 favorite songs.

30. Sufjan Stevens- Casimir Pulaski Day

All the glory that the Lord has made/ And the complications when I see His face/ In the evening in the window.

There is a fantastic breakdown of this song right here. Stevens makes it the most genuine and sad song that he’s ever made in my opinion, and the storyline proves to be absolutely tragic. Death takes on a whole new level of sadness when it takes the life of a young girl, and this song shows the scene unfurl from the perspective of a young boy who was experiencing his first love with her. The sadness hits everyone, and it makes what was once a devout christian boy question why a good christian girl hasn’t started to feel better yet, and he fully loses his faith once he realizes that she’s actually dead and looks for God for an explanation only to see his own reflection. Now for every year there will be a chance for the entire city to remember the girl that he lost tragically, but nobody will be aware of it’s significance as anything more than Casimir Pulaski Day with the exception of the narrator.

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29. Guided By Voices- Tractor Rape Chain

“Parallel lines on a slow decline/ Tractor rape chain.

“Tractor Rape Chain” is a song about a relationship, and it’s failures which are never going to end. The opening stanza shows that the couple can’t even trust each other anymore when they communicate, but they know that they’re still destined to spend the rest of their lives together. The song then moves into the bedroom of the couple where the husband struggles with the notion of divorce, but it’s something that he refuses to even consider, represented by a “ghost in [my] room and he says [he] better run”. The narrator can see the ghost, he can hear the ghost, but his entire life he’s told people he doesn’t believe in ghosts, so he just pleads for it to go away. Let him continue as his part of the “parallel lines on a slow decline” until his death arrives.

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28. Okkervil River- Black

“You should wreck his life the way that he wrecked yours/ You want no part of his life anymore.”

Another incredibly sad plot line here as the narrator’s currently in a relationship with a girl who just revealed to him that something awful happened in her past (“Amy in the White Coat” style awful). Her father destroyed her life, and he didn’t get any repercussions for this. In fact he left to move on to a new wife, a new kid, and a new life where he trashes his old kid at any chance he gets (“You should say his name the way that he says yours”). The narrator gets furious at this story and what this man has done to her, and tells her that he’s going to rip this guy’s throat out, that he’s going to go to his new family and destroy his life by telling them what he’s done, but she tells him not to. In order to ruin his life she’d have to acknowledge him again, and she’s rather just have “no part of his life anymore”.

Continue reading Kyle’s Favorite 100 Songs: 30-21

Album Reviews: Los Campesinos!, Ducktails, and Peace

No Blues

Los Campesinos!- NO BLUES

Grade: B+

Release Date: 10/29/2013

A new album by one of the premiere alternative pop groups, Los Campesinos! This is a group which can produce upbeat danceable singles like the one which gained them fame in a Budweiser commercial in “You! Me! Dancing!”,while also surprising you with their consistently genuine tales. Recurring song topics for the group are references to their regretted residence in Wales, stories of late drunken nights, and painful past relationships. There are some things that you could complain about within their music for sure, as Los Campesinos! tends to get stuck writing tunes about Gareth’s exes and have occasionally built a song up to  a lyric which swung and missed, but the sound throughout their career has remained extremely fun despite these slight annoyances.  No Blues is a good album to listen to, but don’t expect songs with the kick of “Straight In at 101″ or “Ways to Make It Through the Wall” because those aren’t really present here, as the more calm version of the band seems to be present.

Track Picks: “A Portrait of The Trequartista As A Young Man” and “Let It Spill”

ducktails4
Ducktails- Wish Hotel EP

Grade: B-

Release Date: 10/21/2013

Ducktails is the solo project by Matt Mondanile, the current guitarist for the band Real Estate. This is something which gets mentioned in nearly every review of the band that I’ve ever read, and will probably remain true for all future releases as well. This is probably true because although the music in Ducktails can be a pleasant listen, it is a textbook example of a side project which wouldn’t have received attention if not for the success of a band where the artist plays a less integral role in. This music doesn’t feature anything overly significant, a comment that some people would argue also holds true for Real Estate as well, but Mondanile’s solo project gets a decent amount of exposure due to his role in Real Estate. Still you can’t bash the release to much because most people would agree that the soft pop sound produced is consistently enjoyable and there are situations where it would be a good play. In reference to their other work, Wish Hotel is a bit less enjoyable for me than the album released earlier this year in The Flower Lane (which actually contained a great track in album closer “Academy Avenue”).
Track Pick: “Wish Hotel”

peace-in-love-album-leak

Peace- In Love

Grade: B
Release Date: 10/01/2013

Late grade on this one as it was released originally on March 25 in the UK and just got it’s American release featuring extra tracks on it on October first.  It’s getting reviewed here because I listened to an EP of theirs last year named Peace, and I enjoyed it despite not being able to find a ‘true single’ on it. This had me intrigued for the album because not having a true single on an EP seems like a lot bigger of a deal than not having a true single on an album, and there was a lot of potential for for this band to create an enjoyable sustained vibe over a full album. In Love does a good job of taking the qualities which created a good EP and expanding them into an album, and while I still don’t see a true stand-out track they do seem to have made progress with tracks like “Lovesick” and “Toxic”. This music can either be fun or relaxing, and they’ve shown themselves capable of writing good lyrics early on in their career. One complaint that I do have is that they’re in a bit of an odd genre area within the alternative scene, even if it is early in their career to define them. They’re not really an alternative pop group, but there are enough pop elements present to make their fit into alternative feel a bit awkward. Maybe they’ll find themselves more comfortably in one of those groupings as they continue to release music, but for now In Love can be viewed as a pretty good debut for a promising group.

Track Pick: “California Daze”.

WCDB PRESENTS:
CROCODILES AND SKI LODGE
AT VALENTINE’S MUSIC HALL, MONDAY NOVEMBER 18TH
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On Monday, November 18th 2013 at 7 pm, Valentine’s Music Hall  will host Californian indie noise-pop band Crocodiles and the up-and-coming Ski Lodge for WCDB’s fall show. Opening will be Albany based Slowshine and Party Boat from Saratoga Springs.
Crocodiles’ fourth and latest LP, Crimes of Passion, is full of sentimental lyrics accompanied by fuzzy reverb and plenty of guitars.  Produced by Sune Rose Wagner of The Raveonnettes, this Crocodiles LP has kept to the sound they’re well known for, described by CMJ as “… Sonic Youth and The Velvet Underground swirl with a cocky come-ons and inspired sadness.”
“Tracks like ‘She Splits Me Up’ hit that mark just about on the bullseye, managing to convey emotion through shimmering guitar tones and a swift drum beat.” – Consequence of Sound
“Despite Crocodiles’ unabashed lyrical rawness, ‘Crimes of Passion’ is absolutely artistic, though, and at times they are beautifully poetic.” – DIY 
Big Heart, the first album from Brooklyn-based Ski Lodge, was produced by Lewis Pesacov, the producer of Best Coast’s debut, and contains the same instantly catchy, summer poppy hits. 2013 has seen Ski Lodge gaining lots of buzz, with KCRW naming them an ‘Artist You Should Know’ and Paste Magazine loving their CMJ set. 
“…anyone with a predilection for catchy guitar pop songs that make you want to dance and cry at the same time might find that spinning through Big Heart is a quite satisfying experience” – All Music 
Party Boat has continued to be a favorite local band of WCDB, opening countless shows on an energetic and upbeat surf pop/rock note. These Saratoga Springs natives will be debuting songs from what is sure to be a great new release. Comprised of UAlbany students, Slowshine is a brand new post-punk/emo band including WCDB’s very own general manager, Noah Bondy.
Tickets are $11 in advance, $13 day of show and are already on sale via Brown Paper Tickets: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/495348

Kyle’s Favorite 100 Songs: 40-31

Here are numbers 40-31 on my countdown of my 100 favorite songs.

40. The National- All the Wine

I’m in a state/ I’m in a state/ Nothing can touch us my love.

There’s an nice double reality going on in this song. In the present, this man is a danger to everybody around him as he drunkenly stumbles his way through the city, but that’s not what’s going through his mind at all. For him this is the point where he’s finally become what he’s always wanted to be, he’s reached a state where he can view himself as the protector for his family, but he doesn’t realize that he’s currently one of the psychos he swears to protect them from. He’s in a state, but his interpretation of that is that “nothing can touch us my love”.

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39. Bright Eyes- Take It Easy (Love Nothing)

“Someone might get hurt, but it won’t be me/ She’ll probably feel cheap, but I just feel free, and a little bit empty.

There’s more meaningful Bright Eyes songs out there, but not many more which you could relate to as easily as “Take It Easy (Love Nothing)”. It goes into the first time that you have a sexual encounter with someone and find out that they didn’t want it to mean anything, and the changes that come from that. You end up doing the same thing to other people because you desensitize yourself to the act when it seems that the only real solution to avoid getting hurt is to love nothing. It ends up just being a phase, but it’s a tough one and I like hearing it be described so well in this track.

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38. Beirut- Elephant Gun

“If I was young I’d flee this town.”

I recently made the decision that I wanted to leave New York in order to put myself into a situation where I can actually live, but this song was placed on this list before I’d even flirted with that notion. I like the mindset of wishing you still had youth on your side to afford making a drastic change, and in reality I’m fortunate that I can still claim mine. The whole song is very pretty and paced, and I love the continuous re-introduction of the horns that Beirut does to continuously re-build the energy of the song.

Continue reading Kyle’s Favorite 100 Songs: 40-31

I Don’t Like Receiving Song Requests

strfkrRegardless of where music is being played, there’s usually a good amount of people prepared to suggest which song should be played next. This can be a fun communal process where everyone gets to learn a little bit about the other music tastes in the room and possibly get introduced to great new artists, but in my experience that’s a pretty rare happening unfortunately. That’s not to say that everybody has bad tastes in music, because most people I end up hanging out with have awesome music tastes, but whenever somebody takes over the next track it’s usually because a song’s been stuck in there head and they need the relief of it being played. I’ve been there too, this weekend I played STRFKR’s “Pop Song” at a friend’s house, not because it fit in with the set list or mood of the party but just because I wanted to change the music to a sound that I thought was more fitting for the environment.

I stand by the fact that it was a good song choice for people hanging out to listen to, but the fact of the matter is that it’s not a fair mentality to carry to attempt to change the sound of the room to whatever you want to hear. For one it’s a selfish act since not everybody there is going to like what you will, and it leads to the problem of everybody trying to get priority on the next track choice so that they can change the sound of the room yet again. What this leads to is a playlist full of awkwardly arranged songs that don’t really go together but were selected for individualized purposes, or a sound that’s disjointed and therefore not pleasant.

This is actually not that big of a problem at parties because the music should be primarily in the background anyway and no one really ends up minding to much if the music isn’t fantastic (though I love gatherings where it is), but the problem actually can carry over into radio shows too. Sometimes we’ll get awesome requests of what to play, for example: I was playing a ton of 90’s rock on my show one day and as I was playing an early Modest Mouse track I got a request to play Built To Spill. Two artists that have very comparable sounds and can segue into each other pretty damn easily, and a song request to help me because I’m still not nearly as familiar with Built to Spill as I should be (which sucks because I know that I am going to love them some day). If there’s a request which lets me know a track that fits into my set really well, especially for an artist which I don’t play to often, then that is extremely appreciated and one of my favorite parts about making radio shows. That’s not usually the case though, as most song requests I’ve seen are closer to the previous mindset where somebody just had a song stuck in their head and wanted that song to get played on the radio. It doesn’t matter what was playing, and that mindset drives me nuts as someone who always pre-plans what I’m going to play on the radio.

 

If I still do decide to play the song then it becomes a challenge of how to actually work my way back to what I was doing before, usually solved by an awkwardly placed PSA (thanks FCC) and a quick re-introduction to what was going on before. I think most people actually feel the same way about this, but the mindset is a bit funny because there’s a mentality out there that DJs love receiving song requests. That’s not really true though, I only like them if they fit.