Click the song titles to hear the tracks.

1. The Felice Brothers — “Hey, Hey Revolver”

A man singing to his gun, listing off all the failures in his life while the track pops and crackles behind him. The metaphor is clunky and broad, but the details make the song work. Tracking the inner monologue of a father abandoned with his pregnant daughter, the Felice Brothers find the right angles to prevent this song from toppling over into parody — “The blue Burger King signs / remind me of her mother’s eyes.” With the stories I collected in All We Want is Everything, I wanted to grab those rare moments of grace we might find in the middle of decay and dissolution, the loose sparks outside the fire or bits of glass still clinging to the flesh. The Felice Brothers are experts at extracting these shards from our wounds — they examine each one until every facet starts to glow again.

Story: “The Week Football Stopped”

2. Songs: Ohia — “Farewell Transmission”

There ain’t no end to the sands I been trying to cross.

Jason Molina is dead, so that just makes this song that much heavier to carry around with you.  Seven and a half minutes to wallow in the very act of creation, the slog so many people want to blog about, document, archive, advise you to conquer. There are entire industries dedicated to profiting from people who believe there is a formula to putting words together, to finding the perfect story, song, whatever it is they are pursuing as a final product. To make all this discovery painless. Molina cuts through all that bullshit. He knows it’s meant to be a struggle. He knows how the lessons get learned — “the real truth about it is / no one gets it right.”

Story: “In a Car in a River, Outside Peoria Illinois”

3. Okkervil River — “Another Radio Song”

Lead singer Will Sheff is not much of a singer, but his warbling rage sputters throughout the back end of this song until the whole thing burns down. Okkervil River’s Black Sheep Boy saga has followed me for years, a concept album stretched and twisted until all its pieces drip into the stories I write, the narratives I choose to follow and try to tame. Sheff’s delivery focuses on building up to massive and explosive finales, and this song is not an exception. His inability to quell the squall of his voice in these final minutes makes me remember it’s the ending everyone will remember. And there’s no reason to go quietly — “all this is window dressing / all you are is flimsy curtains / watch you flame up with a word from us / and we’ll know that you’re burning.”

Story: “Wrestling with Jacob”

4. Grimes — “Oblivion”

Disregarding the incredible video that haunted me for many months this winter, Grimes captures a sense of dread coalescing in the corners of the city, her voice probing and pushing, luring the listener into a hypnotized state. My own story “Towers” follows two teenage girls struggling with a bottomless pit that opens in the centre of their housing complex, slowly swallowing the decaying buildings and neglected residents around it. They have been abandoned by the city, their families and their friends. Each day brings another confrontation with this hole looming beneath their windows. Grimes’ work does not retreat from the uncomfortable or the unnerving. It forces the listener to embrace it, reshaping horrible events and fears into a trance, just tinged with enough trepidation to keep you off balance, off kilter. Just off. Keep your eyes on the pit, but don’t bother looking for a bottom.

Story: “Towers”

5. Future Islands — “The Great Fire”

The epigraph for my collection is snatched from a Future Islands song, but it is not this one. “The Great Fire” operates almost like a dirge, a call and response between lead singer Samuel T. Herring and Wye Oak’s Jenn Wasner. Brooding and haunted, this song seems to long for a reunion, a return to something before the fall. My characters in stories like “Mutations” and “Simcoe Furriers” continue clinging to the remnants of the past, hoping they can reassemble the pieces left behind into something whole. Their inability to adapt drives them further away from the present, trapped in a refrain for something they can understand. Nostalgia is a hell of a drug, even when it’s painful.

Story: “Mutations”

6. Constantines — “Blind Luck”

If one band has to soundtrack the crumpled men and women scattered throughout my book, Constantines would probably be the best crew for the job. “Blind Luck” is taken from their Modern Sinner/Nervous Man EP and it ripples with the anxious restraint endemic to their work. Constantines chronicle those barely getting by, the people suffering from “a long line of bad teeth / got a foul mouth full of black and gold.” When Brian Webb sings, “I have been running since the day I was born / looking for a safer place to stand” his words accurately convey the desperation running like a broken water main down the centre of this collection. All of these characters are struggling with their own desires, their complicit histories, always running away and toward something, always searching for a brief respite from their abject instincts. Even when they do find a moment of that elusive peace, Constantines are wise enough to know it won’t last.

Story: “Crows Eat Well”

7. The Builders and the Butchers — “Golden and Green”

Like The Felice Brothers, these guys do not worry too much about being subtle. Subtle is not always necessary though. I can only take so many scenes at a dinner table filled with knowing glances and unspoken anxieties just bubbling beneath the surface for seven pages. I want someone to overturn the table. Words in the right hands can make you feel like you’re bleeding, like you might actually be feeling something ratcheting around in your chest. This is a song about decay, but also the painful rebirth embedded in the process — the “scars run together / they’re mixing the nerves with the blood.”

Story: “SATIN LIVES!” (read it here)

8. Ghostface Killah — “Shakey Dog”

This is how you tell a story. Ghostface nails all the details, the smells and noises filling another petty crime picked off a bloodslick street. He can smell the food cooking in an apartment hallway, feel the pressure building in his knee while tucked into the backseat of a cab. This is Storytelling 101, breaking down the details, the jokes, the propulsive energy surging through the entire track. It is relentless and hilarious, each observation stacked precariously on the one before it. Every line threatens to snap itself free from the speakers. I do not care if the song ends with a “To be continued…” — Ghostface earns it in this case. He knows how to leave you wanting more.

Story: “A Bird in the Hand is Worthless” (read it here)

9. The Mountain Goats — “See America Right”

All We Want is Everything has a lot of stories heavily invested in the aftermath of relationships, stories focused on surveying the wreckage left behind or the reckoning to come. John Darnielle’s Mountain Goats have been doing this for the last twenty years and “See America Right” is one of the best examples. With this song, Darnielle distills a corrupted marriage down into two throbbing minutes of dread. He sets the listener up for the potential dissolution, the horror just around the corner, but pulls away at the last second. As he sings toward the end of the track, “My love is like a dark cloud full of rain / it’s always right there up above ya.”  

Story: “Self-cleaning Oven”

10. Nick Cave and Warren Ellis — “Song for Bob”

Sometimes you know where a story will go before you even sit down to write it. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford does not leave much room for the imagination when it comes to an ending — the title itself frees the film from carrying that burden. Nick Cave and his bearded collaborator Warren Ellis chart Robert Ford’s fall with their careful soundtrack, the slow plink of the keys a reminder that you can’t outrun the past. Doing away with the bombast of most Cave productions, this song operates as an elegy for a friend turned assassin — a man eventually betrayed by the march of history and his own greed. Throughout All We Want is Everything, the past remains a living entity, one which refuses to forget or dissipate. It lingers and learns to fester, to take up root in the minds of men and women bent on abandoning its clutches. The past is not something you can outrun. It waits for you instead, until you get tired enough to remember what you’ve done, until you notice you’ve been always tangled up in this mess. Nick Cave will give those roots a tug if your memory is spotty.

Story: “Good King”



Powell’s | Indigo | IndieBound

Read Andrew’s Little Fiction stories:

Bright Outside | A Bird In The Hand Is Worthless | SATIN LIVES!


Real Truth About It 
Is We’re All Supposed 
To Try.

Andrew F. Sullivan soundtracks his critically-acclaimed debut collection just for you. Okay, mostly for us. But also for you.

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