This week’s question comes from A.V Club alum Becca James:
What’s the best song or album you’ve made out to?
This is a solely sentimental pick, but when my husband and I were first dating, we would meet up every Sunday. Our euphemism for hanging out was “reading the paper,” i.e., “What time should I come over and read the paper?” We would go through it all section by section, and there was only one soundtrack album for these idyllic afternoons: Rufus Wainwright’s Poses. It’s not an overtly romantic album (although it does contain the line “All the sights of Paris dwell inside your iris”), but I think we both soon became addicted to the emotionality of it. If Rufus could open up about his vices (“Cigarettes & Chocolate Milk”), his own artifice (“Poses”), and his love for Big and Little Edie (“Grey Gardens”) and Norman Lear sitcoms (“California”), surely we could be just as brave and open up to the ever-more intriguing person in front of us. Because we were courting, this “newspaper reading” wound up in makeout sessions more often than not, and today, I can’t hear that album and not pine for empty afternoons with nothing to do but read the paper and kiss.
Making out, any contact with another person that says, “I like you,” can put one in a state of emotional vulnerability, feelings rising to the surface like a blush to one’s cheeks. On the Concretes’ 2003 self-titled album, singer Victoria Bergsman captures this shakiness in her sweet, crystalline voice, which forever sounds on the edge of breaking. The Swedish group’s instrumentation heightens the overall ache—from the swelling strings of “Lovin Kind” to the sighing trumpets and trembling tambourine of “Say Something New.” (I don’t care that it played in a danged Target ad. I’d make out to that Target ad.) The backing vocals of songs like “You Can’t Hurry Love,” “Seems Fine,” and the waltz “Warm Night” imbue a girl-group heartache, with literal “oohs” and “ahhs” on the latter; it’s easy to get lost in its swirling dreaminess. The whole thing’s so danged swooning, a romantic, love-sick record that, like its accompanying make-outs, has left me at once smitten and shaken, one that asks, “Isn’t falling in love amazing/awful?”
As a lumbering, neckbearded flesh mountain, I usually feel legitimately sexy about twice a year. But few bands can induce the feeling that my colossal, corpulent frame hides a prowling, first-base-hunting manbeast with more reliability than Metric. At the risk of being crude, Emily Haines’ vocals send a pulse directly to my id, while the lush optimism of the band’s melodies—especially “Gimme Sympathy,” off 2009’s Fantasies—put me in prime makeout mood. If I want something sweeter, meanwhile, I’ll put on the Zac Brown Band’s “Island Song”—a.k.a. the ending theme from Adventure Time—because nothing says sweet goodbye kisses like wistfully making up new numbers and a contentedly floating bee.
I don’t know what it says about me that when I think about “make out music” my mind immediately travels back decades to the halcyon days of the 1990s, when a sly hillbilly named Bill Clinton stole our hearts and Britpop and trip-hop were still all the rage among college kids. Accordingly, the album I most remember making out to, and associate most strongly with making out, is Portishead’s self-titled debut. There’s something about Geoff Barrow’s ominous, sinister soundscapes and the heartbreaking vulnerability of Beth Gibbons’ breathy, atmospheric vocals that to the college-aged me (who had just started writing for The A.V. Club) just oozed sex. Sure, the album is haunted and filled with weird vibes. If anything, that somehow made it seem even sexier, in a messed-up kind of way.
During my prime “making out” years (which I’m interpreting as “with multiple, ever-changing partners who might require something extra to get them in the mood besides the aphrodisiac that is committed monogamy”), I had a playlist loaded at the ready, filled with songs whose lyrics wouldn’t suddenly ruin the moment. That mostly meant a lot of My Bloody Valentine, Cocteau Twins, and other artists whose vocals are too blurry or ethereal to intrude, or downtempo electronic stuff like Air and Boards Of Canada. But I made sure that playlist always kicked off with the same sequence of songs from Massive Attack V. Mad Professor’s No Protection. The 1993 dub remix record takes the trip-hop band’s second album and stretches it out beyond all recognition, creating a slowly cascading, sensuous sound that seems to pulse and breathe around you, creating the ideal environment for getting intimate with someone you just met and who’s now perhaps understandably anxious about being in your apartment. To this day, I can’t hear the opening reverbed synth notes of “Radiation Ruling The Nation” without immediately getting a little wistful for those days of wine, women, and Napster-pilfered songs, or without my wife immediately making fun of me for it.
The first albums this question brought to mind are ones that I’ve had a lot of day-to-day use for: Let It Die by Feist, Youth Novels by Lykke Li, Moon Safari by Air. But my endorsement goes to Felt Mountain by Goldfrapp because it’s something I’ve listened to almost exclusively in romantic contexts. I have no concrete memories of these songs—they exist in my mind as one long James Bond Theme from a universe far sultrier than our own. Revisiting “Lovely Head” in the office just now, I was worried someone would overhear its after-hours outer-space exotica and report me to HR.
I guess it’s a question of what kind of making out you’re going to be doing. Intimate, tender, and soulful or two stray cats who cross paths for the first time. If it’s the latter, nothing gets those antagonistic feelings burning like The Kills’ “Hitched.” It’s a dirty and sharp, befitting a song on an album titled Keep On Your Mean Side. A druggy fever dream of want and waiting that culminates in the refrain commanding the nameless object of the singer’s incredibly fucked-up attention to “Get my name stitched on your lips / So you won’t get hitched.” The whole album is really sexy in that same simmering, impassioned way. For instance, you can apply the album’s anthem, “Fuck The People,” figuratively or literally as best fits the situation.