Themes and Variation S2E01: “Comeback Songs” (and the Return of the Pod)

The long-awaited return of one of the most legendary names in neo soul; the reflective resurrection of a beloved rock god’ and the “redemption remix” of an artist who rose like a phoenix from the ashes of musical virality…

A lot of artists have made comebacks, a lot of songs and scores are written to commemorate or memorialize the dramatic return of characters in a story, and this too, is our story for the day.

Ladies and gents, Themes and Variation is back with our first episode of the new season: “Comeback Songs.” This show’s former host, Carter Lee (still my spouse) has stepped down, leaving me in charge of operations around here. Luckily, I get to share the drivers seat with two other capable navigators, Martin Fowler and Jeremy Young.

And to usher in our big return — armed with little more than scrappy notes, cranky microphones, and the company Zoom account — the three of us each brought in musical selections befitting the theme by D’Angelo, David Bowie, and Rebecca Black. Along the way, we chat about that time Questlove leaked someone else’s demo on Australian radio, the hardest working musician in all the goblin realm, and the surprising connections between cyberbullying and early cinema.

Listen here:

By the way, don’t forget to subscribe to the show and please consider leaving us a 5-star review to help us spread the word and keep the lights on! It would mean a lot to us.

Want more? Go ahead and explore the back catalog of our previous episodes, and subscribe to hear every one of our episodes right when they come out, on your preferred platform:

Episode 201 Highlights

1. Martin describes the bass line’s undeniable pocket in D’Angelo’s “Really Love.”

Martin: “I mean, the bass line, it’s got this incredibly behind the beat kind of feel, but it also is so consistent with itself. It’s just eighth notes basically. (singing) And it’s like in such a clear metronomic pocket with itself, but in relation to the beat incredibly behind, so you get this real propulsiveness, but you kind of feel like you can just sit back into it at the same time.”

2. Jeremy makes an astute observation about Bowie’s various personas.

Jeremy: “Bowie didn’t try to be a boy band necessarily. I think he was trying to sort of make a comment on it. That’s always been his things — find this persona, this character or caricature that he can play that says as much about himself as it does about the culture that we live in at any given time… or it’s just completely abstract and it’s like, you know, how can we make this boy who fell to earth or like a goblin king really cut to the heart of the human experience?”

3. Mahea sheds some light on Rebecca Black’s infamous 2011 internet saga.

Mahea: “February 10th, 2011: Rebecca Black was thirteen-years-old and quickly became like the most cyber-bullied individual… I’d say probably of all time. She’s done interesting things to overcome that, whereas I feel like I would’ve just faded into obscurity and not bothered with the music industry ever again personally. The key thing to know, and I think this is something that a lot of people don’t know, is that she did not write this song. A production company gave her a song, recorded her vocals, mixed the track… the first time she heard the track was the day of the music video. She didn’t see the finished music video until it was released on the internet. So in terms of creative control, she had basically none.”

Episode Playlist

With every new episode of Themes and Variation, we launch a new Spotify playlist that includes the songs mentioned in this episode and more. Here’s this episode’s Spotify playlist!

We’ll see you in a couple weeks with a new theme, new guests, and some new songs to break down. If you have any comments, questions, or theme suggestions, drops us a line at [email protected] or find us on Twitter.

Jlin: Rhythm, Variation, & Vulnerability

Join our Mailing List

We offer creative courses, articles, podcast episodes, and one-on-one mentorship for curious musicians. Stay up to date!


An Introduction to Sam Amidon — Experimental Folk “Crate Digger”

Some personal notes on the first time I listened to the highly personal, lyrical music of avant-garde folk balladier Sam Amidon.


Themes and Variation S2E05: “Songs About Science”

In the latest episode of Soundfly’s podcast, Themes and Variation, Jeremy, Martin, and Mahea discuss “Songs About Science.”


Themes and Variation S2E04: “Cathartic Songs” (with Lana Cenčić)

In the “Cathartic Songs” podcast episode, Mahea, Jeremy, and guest Lana Cenčić discuss tracks by Baby Huey, Michael Jackson, and Simon Dawes.