Sunday, June 30, 2013

Post 18 Part 2: A Clever Title About Harmony, That Being The Topic Of This Post

   Hello all you beautiful people reading this! I love all three of you, I really do. But moving to the topic at hand, I'm writing this post as a followup to yesterdays piece about songs with good harmonies, because there are lots of them and I feel like talking some more. I said yesterday that today's post would mostly be relatively recent artists, but before I start talking about them I want to mention a group that I forgot to talk about in a near criminal display of negligence: The Mamas and the Papas

   I feel particularly bad about missing the Mamas and The Papas, because I also failed to mention them in my post on folk music, and they're one of my favorite bands. Apparently I'm just really bad at remembering them, somehow. Anyway, they they were a four piece folk group in the sixties, and they had both great harmonies and great arrangements, and just delightful music in general. They were also fronted by the supernaturally talented Cass Elliott, who in my opinion still stands as one of the greatest female vocalists of all time. In other words, me not talking about them is a thought crime, and I stand before you all as a thought criminal. If any of you have the misfortune of not being familiar with the Mamas and The Papas, you should definitely check out California Dreamin' and Dream a Little Dream of Me, but I would also recommend Creeque Alley, Glad To Be Unhappy, No Salt On Her Tail, and Words of Love. Really, if you don't know them go listen to their greatest hits collection, and then go listen to the rest of their discography, because they're fantastic.

   And now, launching into the meat of today's post, let's talk about how great Uptown Girl by Billy Joel is. I both hope and expect that everyone reading this agrees with me, because it would honestly be pretty shattering to my worldview if I ever found out that someone didn't love this song. I know that I make frequent blanket statements regarding the heretical state of people who disagree with my taste in music, and generally when I say those I'm kidding to an extent (no I'm not. If you don't love Hey Ya, you are wrong, and that is all), but I am being completely honest when I say I can't imagine someone not loving Uptown Girl. It's just so clearly such a great song. Also, I want to mention For The longest Time. So... yeah, he also wrote and recorded For The Longest Time, which is also great. Fun fact: Billy did all the singing for all the parts on it, so all of the delicious doo-wop that you hear in there is Mr. Joel singing in unison with himself unto the nth degree, and it's awesome. Apparently he did 14 voice tracks in total for it; that isn't really important, but I've always felt that it was interesting, and I wanted to share the good news. Also, YOU KNOW I CAN'T AFFORD TO BUY HER PEARLS

   This next group is probably less well known than anyone that I've talked about up to this point, but they were a pretty massive staple of my childhood and I want to share them with all of you. The Nylons were a four piece A Capella group that formed in the late seventies and technically still exists today, but will actually always remain a magnificent reminder of both the best and worst of the 80's. They were very, very 80's. However, in spite of having some of the worst looking outfits of any band in a decade that had some of the stiffest ever competition in that field, their singing was impeccable. I should probably state for the record that when I was six or so I got my hands on a Best Of The Nylons CD and played it basically nonstop for a full summer, so I'm not exactly objective when it comes to them as a group, but they did have truly phenomenal harmonies and melodies. My personal favorites by them are their cover of Kiss Him Goodbye (originally by Steam), Grown Man Cry, and Drift Away, but  honestly I adore almost every song on their Best Of collection. They had a lot of campy songs, but they balanced that with absolutely perfect vocals. They are worth setting some time aside for. (By the way, it's hard to find studio versions of their songs on Youtube or Spotify hence the lack of links, but that last link goes to free streamable versions of the greatest hits album, which is FANTASTIC)

   And now I'm going to skip forward about 20 years, and talk about some current bands. To start off with, I want to talk a bit about the Avett Brothers. I'm not entirely sure I can justify putting them on here, because most of their songs that I like only use harmonies for chorus lines, and the harmonies themselves tend to be fairly simple, but I don't care to much because I really like them, and as simple as the harmonies they use are, they're also very effective. I'm particularly fond of Murder In The City, Head Full Of Doubt/Road Full of Promise, and Live And Die.

   The next couple of bands I'm going to lump to together, but they're not really related in any way. Both have singles that I'm in love with, but I haven't spent the time in either case to find out what other good stuff they've made. I have no doubt they have other good songs, but I don't know them. Fleet Foxes are an indie band that made a song called  White Winter Hymnal, which is just a lovely song. I'm not sure how else to describe it, really. It's all big echoey choruses with wall of sound harmonies and booming drums in the background, and they all tie together to create a short but beautiful song that always makes me feel slightly better about the prospects of the world. The other band is called Steam Powered Giraffe, and they're a steampunk themed group that dress up as robots and have a whole background story set up around their act. They also make music, including Honeybee, which is basically a robot love song. Hopefully it won't surprise anyone when I say that it uses some very solid harmonies, and I like it.

  And last of all, Alt-J is absolutely fantastic and everyone should listen to them. I can understand if not everyone likes them, but if someone reading this checks them and has a knee jerk reaction  to dislike their stuff, please give them a second listen. Their songs are definitely strange on a lot of ways; the lyrics tend to be basically indecipherable on the first listen, the melody often shifts around when you aren't expecting it, and if you're the kind of person who likes to pay attention to the meanings of lyrics, tough. Their writing is generally completely opaque, especially if you don't have context to help explain the meaning of the song. I want to to stress though, I am not listing these as negatives; once you start to appreciate it, the music is absolutely hypnotic. The shifting sounds just make it more enjoyable to listen to, and as lyrics and their meanings fall into place the songs sort of gradually unfold in a really satisfying way. I first mentioned them as a bonus last week, and I've been listening nonstop ever since. If this sounds tempting, I particularly recommend Breezeblocks, Matilda, Fitzpleasure, Something Good, and Bloodflood. Also, Dissolve Me is the song I recommended last week, and it's still one of my favorites.

   Finally, here's today's bonus song! I found this remix of Virus by Bjork a few days ago, and have not gotten it out of my head since. This would be a problem, except it's one of the best things I've heard in recent memory, so having it constantly in my head is really more like a bonus. I don't know how many other people are going to like it, but I hope it's a lot because I don't plan on shutting up about it any time soon.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Post 18: Let's teach The World To Sing In Perfect Harmony (But with songs instead of Coke)

   Hey guys... HARMONY.  I'm pretty sure I've mentioned this before, but I have a pretty massive weak spot when it comes to songs with good harmonies. Like, really massive. I'm pretty much willing to forgive a song that's terrible in every other respect if it's got good enough harmonies. Luckily for anyone reading this, however, today I'm talking about the songs I love that both have good harmonies and are also actually good. This is one of those topics where, as soon as I begin trying to think of good songs to talk about, I immediately come up with a couple of hundred different options. This is somewhat problematic, in that writing is time consuming and I try to get at least three hours of sleep every night (whether I need it or not), and since I don't actually want to cull any of the songs because I love all of them, I'll be putting up a follow up post tomorrow with more luscious things that you can put in your ears without being yelled at by your family doctor.

   I'm going to try to keep this roughly chronological, but honestly I don't care that much. Today is going to be older music, tomorrow's post will be newer music, and other than that all I guarantee is that the songs will in order to within  a thirty year margin of error. I want to start off with one of my all time favorite harmonies ever: the chorus from I Feel Fine by the Beatles. I love the Beatles of course; if you don't love them you're either lying, wrong, or suffer from some terrible trauma. There are no other options. They have so many great songs, and such great vocal arrangements, that I could (and probably will, at some point) write a post just about them, but I Feel Fine has always stuck out to me as one of their best harmonies. It's not my favorite song by them, but the chorus line is just... perfect.

   Most people reading this are probably aware that I'm not a huge country music fan, but I do like several songs (especially older ones, almost exclusively older ones in fact) that walk the thin line between country and other, more palatable genres, because a lot of them have great vocals. F'rexample, a lot of the stuff the Everly Brothers did  was right on the line between country and early rock 'n roll, but it was also great. My personal favorite is probably Dream A Little Dream, but you are welcome to pick a favorite of your own. You might consider Bye Bye Love or Crying In The Rain. Another group that walked this line was the Statler brothers. I don't actually like them as much as the Everly brothers, but I grew up listening to them and have always liked Daddy Sang Bass. For one thing it has great parts, but it also actually made me understand the concept of part singing, so I feel like I owe it a debt. An awesome debt.

  This next song (and group) is kind of inevitable. The Four Seasons were a tightly harmonised group that used falsetto in almost all of their songs, and as I've already mentioned, falsetto is basically my kryptonite. I feel like a lot of their songs weren't actually all that great, but I also don't care; I freaking love Big Girls Don't Cry and no one can take that from me. Also, Walk Like A Man, which always seemed faintly ironic to me, since it sounds like it's being sung by castratos. Also Rag Doll and Opus 17. Guys, I really like The four Seasons.

I mentioned The Kingston Trio back in my post on folk music, but I want to mention them again because I really like Tom Dooley and Raspberries, Strawberries. Also, The Seine, which is a song I tend to forget about for years at a time but which I absolutely love, because it's lovely. I should also mention that basically every folk group I talked about there also had great harmonies, but I try not to repeat myself too much so if you're curious you'll just have to go read the post for yourself. It's twice the literary goodness! Or at least 1 1/2 times the mediocrity.

And lastly, here's a group that I haven't talked about nearly enough: The Byrds. I should specify, when I say I want to talk about the Byrds, what I mean I mean is I want to talk about Mr. Tambourine Man. And Turn Turn Turn if I get the time, but mostly just Mr. Tambourine Man. I really can't overemphasize how much I love their version of the song, but... it's a lot. Out of all the songs I've mentioned in this post, all of which I have loved for most of my life, the Byrds cover of Mr. Tambourine Man may be my favorite. It's really, really good. Also, Turn, Turn, Turn is pretty great. Not Mr. Tambourine Man great, but pretty great.

And of course, here's a bonus song. Recently I've been listening to a podcast called All Back No Front, which I'm enjoying a lot. Frankly I'm tired too really describe it effectively, but it has lots of different songs, and you can listen to them. Anyway, I found that song because I was looking up a different song by that artist, Kuedo. I like it a lot, kind of a moody electronic vibe.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Post 17: Things Fall Apart; The Center Cannot Hold; Mere Swagger Rock Is Loosed Upon The World

   Hey, you guysknow what I love? Hearing 20-something guys singing about about how awesome drinking and fighting is. No, I'm not joking. Apparently, somehow when two things that I hate get combined and put to music, magic happens. In fact, I'm gonna go ahead and predict that the next big sound is going to be guys singing about the manifold merits of organized sports and spouse abuse. I should mention that in this specific instance I'm referring only to drinkin' and fightin' music of the swagger rock variety; as much as I love the many pieces these topics have inspired, I generally find this stuff at its best when it's being slurred out by sauced Glaswegians and backed by delightfully chunky bass lines. Sue me.

  My favorite group in this field is probably The Fratelli's, because music is subjective and they are my favorite group in this field. I don't have any solid reasons for loving them, I just do. They made two albums, fell apart, and last year announced that they'll be putting out a new album this fall. I'm not a huge fan of their second album, Here We Stand, but that doesn't matter because Costello Music (their debut) is an endless assault of deliriously catchy melodies coated in an impenetrable coat of hooks (this is a positive attribute, in case anyone was wondering). In particular, I'm very fond of Ole Black and Blue Eyes, Henrietta, Creepin' Up The Backstairs, and Baby Fratelli.

   Next up, Franz Ferdinand. Did you know they made songs other than Take Me Out? They did, and those songs were rad! Honestly it's not really fair for me to imply that Take Me Out is the only song they've got that's well known; they were pretty massive for a couple of years, and most of my favorite songs by them got a decent amount of airplay (in the UK at least). That being said, none of them got as much as Take Me Out, and in my opinion that's a shame, because I like Dark Of The Matinee and Walk Away more. I'm also quite fond of Tell her Tonight, but I'll admit that it's not their best song. That would be Walk Away.

  And then there's Switches. I distinctly remember that I first heard their music was on Pandora, and being intrigued I looked up their album. Its cover was a picture of a man punching out another man wearing an antique diving helmet. It was at this point that I knew I was in love. Honestly, I feel like there isn't much more to say about them; their music is exactly what you would expect if you tried to imagine the kind of music that a cover like that evokes, which is to say it's rad. They only produced one full-length album (curiously, the kind of lifestyle that facilitates creating this kind of music does not appear to encourage mental, physical, or emotional health. Who'da thunk), but it was great, and filled with great things. Sadly, most of their stuff isn't available on Youtube, but I'll put any recommendations I can't find links to on the playlist. I should mention that as much as I like as I like this album, it's not the kind of thing I'd recommend listening to super frequently. They had a very aggressive, driving sound, and if you listen to a bunch of it when you're not in the mood it's liable to put you off the sound, which is an unnecessary loss. I'f you're ever in one of those moods where you're looking for excuses to headbutt people and want some corresponding music, try out Switches. I particularly recommend Drama Queen and Lovin' It, but my two favorite songs by them are actually the most relaxed songs they produced; The Need To Be Needed and Killer Karma. The Need To Needed is a sort of depressing ode to lost love contained in a surprisingly passable falsetto ballad, and Killer Karma is a lazy jam that seems to be about either infidelity or revenge fantasies (or both), but I can't make up my mind which. 

   And lastly, two songs from bands that I keep meaning to listen to and then don't. When The Arctic Monkeys Came out they were basically the biggest group ever to exist in swagger rock, and apparently all of their albums are hot like and sweet to the taste, but every time I try to listen to their stuff I end just playing Fluorescent Adolescent over and over on repeat. In my defense, it's a really good song. I have basically the same problem with Interpol; I'm told they're good, but I always get stuck listening ti Evil, for basically the same reasons as Fluorescent Adolescent. Slow Hands is also pretty good, but it's no Evil played seven times in a row, which is going to continue as my favorite Interpol song for now.

   And most lastly of all, have the triumphant return of the bonus song! Alt-J are apparently in the midst of becoming one of those bands that all the cool kids listen to, and I think I've figured out why: they make really good that's enjoyable to listen to. I've been listening to a lot of their stuff recently, but Dissolve Me in particular has really resonated with me. It has great harmonies, a beautiful keyboard hook, and it makes you feel like you're diving into the Mediterranean ocean on a cool spring morning. What's not to love? NOTHING, that's what.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Post 16: Time For All The Works And Days Of Dads

   So after writing three full posts last week that were only tangenitally related to music, I was planning on going back to writing posts in my regular style, but I think I'm going to hold off on that for one more week,mostly because it felt like I needed to do something special on this post for fathers day. I've only mentioned this briefly in passing on here, but my dad had a huge impact on my musical tastes growing up, and I feel like a owe him a debt for my impeccably good taste in music. So, I wanted to share some of my favorite songs that remind me of him, along with some memories of why they do.

   Growing up in my house, music was a pretty constant thing. Both my dad and two of my brothers played guitar, and everyone else in my family sings (loudly and without finesse, as a general rule), so typically if there was a group of more than five people together for any length of time we would start either singing or listening to music. It was typically classic folk songs, for two reasons; one, we had a book of classic folk songs, which makes it way easier to learn stuff, and second because folk music is really fun and really easy to sing along with. You know, because that's the point.

   But anyway, because of that most of the songs that remind me most strongly of my dad are folk pieces or doggerel that my brothers made up on the fly, which then propagated down through admiring younger siblings. The unfortunate side effect of this is that the versions of those songs that have the most resonance with me have never been recorded, so it's hard to capture the exact spirit of songs that I grew up loving. Happily, however, this being folk music a ton of people made a ton of covers of a ton of songs (most of which, as I'm sure you all know, were originally written by Bob Dylan), and so there are pretty of other pieces I can share with you, and will proceed to do so whether you want me to or not.

   Probably the single biggest group that reminds me of my dad is the Womenfolk. They were an all-female folk group that sang throughout the 60's, were relatively popular, and then pretty much faded into oblivion when people stopped thinking about folk music. They had a lot of very campy, silly music, and a lot of their work could be considered novelty songs, but they also had ridiculously tight harmonies, solid guitar work and voices like angels, and even at their most mindless, the music itself was beautifully executed. As an unfortunate side effect of everyone forgetting about them, it's difficult to find copies of most of their work online, let alone high quality versions, so I don't have any youtube links for their songs. However, Spotify does have their discography so I'll have several of their songs for this weeks playlist.

  After the Womefolk, I'd say the other band mostly tightly wound up with my memories of Dad are The Seekers. He's always had a soft spot for good female vocalists, particularly altos, and for as long as I've been around he has maintained that Judith Durham was one of the best. I haven't found any evidence to contradict him on that claim so far; I've loved their music for as long as I've known it. Georgy Girl has always been my favorite by them, but I'm also very fond of A World Of Our Own and I'll Never Find Another You.

   Lastly, Simon and Garfunkel. Dad's always loved them ,but I'm including them on this list mainly for one song. I suspect most people who read this know that my mom died more than twelve years ago, when I was eight years old. I have lost a lot of memories of her, but right after she died I vividly remember my dad listening to Bridge Over Troubled Water, and telling me that it was 'their' song, the song that they danced to at their wedding. Every time I hear it I'm reminded of them, and I feel like this wouldn't be complete without it.

  Honestly, there are way more songs that ought to go into this list than I could possibly fit on here; my dad was one of the main reasons that I fell in love with music in the first place, and I have literally thousands of songs that I mentally consider to be his. Without the passions and loves that he passed along to me, I suspect I would have grown into a much more boring and less happy person. Thanks, Dad; you did much more than any reasonable person should have needed to.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Interim Note: We are Experiencing Authorial Difficulties, Please Stand By

To anyone who was planning on reading the post that I would normally have up sometime yesterday: Sorry, it's still being written. Since it's Father's Day weekend, I wanted to write a Very Special Post, and it turns out that it's really hard for me to admit possessing real human emotions, so writing this post is taking longer than I expected. It will be up sometime tonight, but hopefully it will be worth the wait.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Post 15 Part 3: ...And Celebrate The Night

   Greetings all! I've mentioned this already, but I am really excited for this post. I love the night. I love being awake in the small hours, I love talking to people long after everyone sane has gone to bed, I love the places my mind wanders at 3 in the morning. I am not Charles Halloway. But anyway, this is the final piece in my three vignettes, and I hope you all enjoy reading it as much as I've enjoyed experiencing it.

The Night  

   How do you explain the night to someone who's never been there? It's not just a time, it's a place of mind; the fortuitous meeting between location and temperament, when the streetlights are burning cool sulfurous yellows and oranges and it becomes pressingly, urgently clear that you are more alive than you have ever been.It's easier to find in the summer than the winter, because the night is defined by its cold winds, and to the hesitant January pilgrim a walk into midnight can seem more like a burden than an invitation. But rest assured, the invitation is the crux of the matter. The night is a coaxing, lilting thing of shadows and tremulous edges, and you cannot simply walk out after sunset and find it.

   People fear it, because night time is the time for witches and lies, and fearful shapes at the edge of vision and thought. This is reasonable, but happily the night is at its best when it walks on the thin lines between waking and dreams, and pure reason is best taken with a grain of salt when you plan to journey there. The night is dark, but more importantly it is cloaked. People don't understand that it's the cloaking that comes first and the darkness that follows, and this is partially why so many are afraid to wander into it, and so never experience the shards of life that can only be found in dark midnight crevices.

   It is not safe. It will never be safe, not fully; that is not the point of nighttime; it is a time for secrets and lies. This is also a frequent turnoff for some. What the hesitant fail to realize is that it is these hidden states which form the the crust that separates day and the night are neither malicious nor negative. Errors in perception are a universal result of the human condition; what the nighttime does is slip a mask onto the world large enough to hide everything. When everything is hidden, the false assumption that everything is known disappears, and is replaced by acceptance of the fact that true knowledge is a dearly gained treasure, and it is a treasure that escapes most in this life. When you can admit ignorance, you are free to pursue truths that the known world refuses to let you believe in. 

   An unfortunate side effect of all this is that the night also tends to be populated with many less than friendly people. Avoid them, but do not let them steal what they do not own. The night is NOT evil, and it can never be evil. It can only have the evils of men imposed on it. When you fear to walk away from the sun, you give shadows to the people that abuse them. Like every other part of life, the only thing you can do is live as you wish others would live, and do what you can to help others go with you. 

  For those that do go out, the night blesses them with its presence. Just like you can feel the daylight strike your skin at noon on a day in July, so the night will coat you if you let it. It's the curiously dense air that settles on you like a sheet, until you can't quite tell you end and cloth begins. It is cool even when it's hot enough to scald you, and carries a faint hint of rain in the moist winds that gently trickle down alleyways when you aren't looking. It is, above all else, pregnant. Pregnant with the rain and sun of tomorrow, with possibilities, with hopes, and of course with lies. It is the lies that draw you out into it again and again after you've first allowed it to sneak into your heart and your skin. 

  They are mostly the lies you tell yourself. They congregate at night because that's when you have to stop moving, and they let you live and sleep and make peace with tomorrow. Some are malevolent, some benevolent, some simply exist: "I will be better tomorrow, I'll do it right this time. I can quit next week. Maybe dinosaurs are still here, and they've just gotten really good at hiding. I'll tell them it was me. She won't remember. She'll remember everything." They give structure and hope, and sometimes blame. Mostly, they let you get to know yourself. Most are not meant to deceive so much as to tell a story, and every story lets you know what kind of world you wish to live in. The night is made so you can live a hundred lives and put them all in a box that can get up in the morning and look around at all the things in all the other boxes. 

   The truth of the night is made from the same cloth as lies, but that does not make it false. This is the time when the worst thing that could happen has already happened, and the best thing that can happen is still hours away, but creeping inexorably closer. The world ends with the sun and is reborn with the sun, and in the hours between everything falls together and happens, disappears, and then comes again in a hundred thousand shattered mirror lives and stories. Is it any wonder that you can't tell the night to someone who hasn't been there?

Rebellion (Lies), by Arcade Fire. If I lived my life by any anthem, this song would be a strong contender. This was the first song I ever heard by Arcade Fire, and it's still one of my favorites. Also, like many of their songs it describes the night better than I can, and it's beautiful.
You are the Blood, by Sufjan Stevens. This is actually a cover of a song by band called Castanets, and while the original is good I prefer this version. For me, it encapsulates the feeling of murky frantic movement that takes over when you've spent the whole night awake and still can't sleep. 
Wolfmoon, by Modest Midas

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Post 15 Part 2: Music To Welcome Rain

    Before I show you guys this post, I want to explain a little bit about my feelings toward summer. I'm pretty vocal on the subject, especially during the actual season, but I'm not a huge fan of summer. I like many of the things that occur as a result of it, and I appreciate symmetry and beauty that the seasons impress upon the world, but during the actual, physical phenomena of summer I tend to exist in a sort of miserable, haunted ghost state. The heat absolutely ruins my capacity for thought and activity, and in particularly hot muggy weather I'll often have a sort of cascade shutdown, where my inability to handle the heat causes me to lose sleep, which makes me irritable and then I have a harder time dealing with the heat. Typically, this cycle ends with me sobbing like a small hungry child at some point in the middle of August, and then things start to cool down and I can become bitter about how cold it is.

   Anyway, when I'm in the middle of my annual breakdown, one of my favorite aspects of summer is the experience of watching a storm come in. I have loved the rain for as long as I can remember;  it is hands down my favorite type of weather, and when I get the chance to watch a storm front come in over a hot, sunny, sticky day in June it always helps me remember that there's a reason I haven't tried to move to Nova Scotia yet (well, a reason in addition to not really wanting to live there).

The Storm

  My favorite place to watch it is the backyard of my parent's home. It's a sprawling open spot lined with trees and hemmed in by other old houses that are slowly sinking into themselves and falling apart, that I've been exploring since I was two years old. I know and love every tree and most of the rocks back there, and when the storm starts to announce itself they all begin to sing. 
   It starts with the wind, and a slight shifting of the sun. The winds start losing heat and gaining speed, making a light susurrus, and as that starts up the light changes subtly, from glaring, angry goldens to a slightly cooler white, edged with just a hint of blue. The leaves, which have been baking the scent of chlorophyll and dust into the air since 10 this morning go from blinding, shifting emeralds to a green so deep it almost seems black in the shadows, and finally you can look up into the sky and back at the ground without going blind. 

   At this point the sky is still largely blue, but there have been puffy, pure white cumulus clouds drifting across it all morning, and it becomes increasingly evident that they were simply precursors to a gathering mass of belligerent cumulonimbus. Generally, this front has been hovering on the edge of vision for most of the day, a dark grey smudge spread across the bottom of western horizon, but as the winds pick up the front edge can be clearly seen over the crowns of the trees. The noise of the wind picks up from a susurrus to something more akin to a conversation at a country club: clearly audible, with crisp vowels skipping from branch to branch, but contained nonetheless, and far to polite to raise a voice louder than would be acceptable. The light goes darker still, and the sky shifts to a murky grey that spreads out in every direction. In the shadows that play through the crowns of the trees, you can almost see infinity, fading out to a calm blue-grey at the edges, and promising as sublime an escape as anyone could wish for.

   The stage is set, and the only piece missing now is the moisture. The air becomes dense with anticipation, and the trees start rattling branches impatiently. A single fat drop appears on the sidewalk, and disappears almost immediately; sucked away by heat, dry air, and thirsty concrete. Somewhere between eternity and two minutes pass, and nothing at all seems to happen. A few more drops scatter contemptuously across across the sidewalk and parking lot, but disappear within seconds. The air becomes suffused with a smell of wet baked dirt and hot rocks being rapidly cooled. A heady, indescribably vital feeling fills both the air and the soul, and the drops start coming down more rapidly.

  The first drops are unbelievably fat, each a full swallow that somehow managed to keep itself together until finally slipping its bonds in a headlong suicidal rush to the earth. They land with a sound like snare drum underwater, not just tapping into the ground, but beating into it repeatedly as peripheral beads rise up from the impact and get pulled down again almost immediately, giving a small back-beat to the main rhythm. They come quicker and quicker, until finally the trigger releases and the sky collapses in on itself like a cracked aquarium, spewing out water so fast that even the parts of you that are already wet become fully submerged. It's a frothy mix of water and air, and for the first fifteen minutes it seems to be leaning more towards water than air; looking up, you get the impression that if you could just figure out the right angle to dive in, there's enough water up there for you to swim up into the cloud.

   But it's neither a steady nor sustainable mix, and it ends almost before it registers. There's a slight slacking, the winds die, and then it drops from a downpour, to a shower, to a sprinkle, and then into a memory. The sun jumps out treacherously, and somehow manages to start steaming the life out of you even as the last drops are landing. Even before the flash-flood in the driveway has time to die down, summer has started again and cut away any hints of cool breath before they have time to settle. A few stray maple leafs stir on the ground, knocked down by the watery avalanche. Mosquitoes start buzzing around hesitantly, then gain confidence and begin circling with a speculative whine that darts around the edge of hearing.

   In the spite of the twilight that encompassed the whole world minutes ago, the sun is still a few hours away from setting, and continues its leisurely slide into oblivion, slicing through the dripping branches to poke a few orange rays into whatever spots it can find. As the clouds continue slipping away, it becomes clear that tomorrow will be even hotter than today was, and muggy to boot. Certainly, it's going to be a punishing experience, and you're already regretting wishing for the rainstorm.

   BUT. For fifteen minutes, you were absolutely free. As the wet seeps in between your toes, and your feet start sloshing back into the house, you can't really regret it. After all, supposedly it's better to have have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. And even if it didn't stay you can know, with absolute clarity, that while it was there the rain loved you back.

Like the dawn, the songs that remind me of rain tends to be both optimistic and melancholy. It's a time of both celebration and loss for me, and that's what these songs mean to me
Summer Song, by Chad and Jeremy. Like New Slang and the dawn, this is kind of the seminal song for my idea of rain; the two are inextricably connected. Also as a side note, this song inspired one of the only poems I've written that I feel legitimately proud of, so that's a thing.
Pieces of What, also by MGMT
Click Click Click Click, by Bishop Allen (I know I mentioned this one like two weeks ago, but it captures the feeling of being just out of the storm perfectly, and it has one of my favorite stories told in musical form, so y'all can just go listen to it twice)
Manchester, by Kishi Bashi (this one's for the moment of clarity after the rain, just as the sun's coming out)

Once again, I don't have a bonus song for this, but I will be putting up one last piece in the same vein as this one and yesterdays on Monday. I'm not gonna lie, I'm pretty pumped about putting it up, I think it's going to be good. Hope you all enjoy it to!

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Post 15: Music To Greet The Dawn With

   Today's post is going to be a bit different, mostly because I didn't feel like writing another list. This is actually the result of an idea I've had poking around in my head for a month or so, which was catalyzed in a conversation with my brother earlier today. Instead of my usual format, I'm going to be putting up three different short... writings,  vignettes if you will, about summer, along with a playlist of songs that, in my opinion, capture the mood I'm trying to pin down. I have no idea how this will turn out when it's finished, but I can guarantee this much: I probably won't be sleeping as much as I'd like to this weekend.


  Generally speaking, I am not a morning person. Specifically speaking, I'm also not a morning person. In my experience, mornings are frustrating, headache-inducing events that leave me with a sense of lingering disappointment and a desire to go back to bed. Given my preference, my sleeping habits tend to drift slowly forward until I start going to bed as the birds begin suggesting I wake up, and waking up as polite society gets ready for lunch. Frankly, it's not great for my health or wellness, but that's a problem for tomorrow me. He seems much more qualified to handle my problems than me, overall.

  Anyway, one happy side-effect of these sleeping patterns is that since I feel into my current rut, I don't often have lingering contact with the rising sun. Typically I get ready to eat breakfast as the shadows are getting ready to disappear under the light of noon, which means that if I do see a sunset, it's liable to mean that I'm approaching it from wrong direction, giving it a polite nod before I prepare to pass into a near-coma state. I like it this way; the sun seems much more endearing when it's simply nodding a polite "hello, good-bye" than when it's screaming at me to get up, and suggesting that I need to stop sleeping in until 6 am. Admittedly, this may be because I seem to be physically incapable of either happiness or intelligent thought when I wake up before 8, but my assertion still stands.

   Summer sunrises, in particular, have a personality of sorts that makes them endearing when you're watching them after not sleeping for at least the last 16 hours. In winter, the sunrise creeps into your room, shines furtively around your window, and then settles over your shoulders, leaving you hunched over with a unique, bone deep chill that promises nothing more or less than the final, crushing embrace of mortality. Summer sun, however, being a rather thoughtless, carefree sort of sunlight, simply teases you for a half hour or so with the prospect of dawn, and then tosses a coat of buttery yellows and and salmon halftones on everything, then launches straight into the business of daylight.

   The thing that makes the sunrise so lovely is the coolness of it. You know full well that before you can possibly hope to be prepared for it that sun will be directly overhead, scorching you with the kind of punishing heat one would normally associate with a sadistic 10 year old, a magnifying glass and an anthill. But  at dawn, there's a brief window where you can simply see the beauty of the thing without having to worry about the consequences of the daytime. Is it any wonder that it's at its best when you can simply watch it, smile, and run away to a bed that offers another few hours of cool sleep before you have to actually face the day?

The dawn, when seen from behind, is a time for optimism and resignation. It strikes a fine balance between the feeling that everything will eventually be okay, and the acceptance that maybe they won't, and that's all right too.
In my mind, the absolute to ring in the dawn to is New Slang (by  The Shins, of course), which captures the mood of things more perfectly than I suspect I'll ever be able to write down. For me, New Slang is the dawn and vice versa. If I run into one without the other nearby, things feel twisted and off-kilter.
Also worth listening to:
America, by Simon and Garfunkel
El Condor Pasa, also by Simon and Garfunkel (really, most of their stuff is perfect for this kind of mood)
Road Trippin, by the Red Hot Chili Peppers
Manchester, by Kishi Bashi

And lastly, I don't have a bonus song for today, but I will be posting a companion piece to this tomorrow, so whoever's reading this should come back again for seconds. Hopefully they will be delicious.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Post 14: Songs To Watch Your Mutually Doomed Romance Fall Apart To!

  After the last post I wrote, it occurred to me that it's been quite a while since I wrote a post based on a idea, as opposed to talking about genres. Well, it turns out that genres are boring and I don't like talking about them, as is clearly evident in my records, so instead I wanted to write about how terrible love is, and how we should all flee from it. That is a lie; what I really want to write about is how great music about twisted and destructive relationships is. To aid in this endeavor, I have therefore created a playlist of music to listen to when your love life is in a tail dive. As a quick side note, I haven't even gone on any dates in the last several months, so following my advice is probably a terrible idea. Let me know how your journey goes!

  So, first things first, here are some warning signs. If anyone ever shows any interest in you, and then  proceeds to make you a mixtape with Every Breath You Take on it, you might want to take stock of the situation. Is it offered in the spirit of irony? If so, congratulate them on their mastery of the form/excellent taste in music. If not, consider researching restraining orders. If they offer you a Barry Manilow tape, the odds that they're a stalker are much lower, but you should still avoid dating them. The only thing that came close to being a good song he wrote was Mandy, and it barely places at a high mediocre when it's covered well. And it's almost never covered well.

  So anyway, let's assume that you're already in the relationship, and things aren't working. Maybe your man is obsessed with trivial matters, or constantly sings infuriatingly catchy disco singles. Maybe your lady (incorrectly, by the way) doesn't think Fields of Gold is fantastic, and you therefore have difficulty respecting her opinion in other things that actually matter, because you are a fundamentally bad person. Maybe you're a filthy, sniveling coward trying to escape commitment, but you don't know how to do it. I'm not here to judge, I'm here to help (but incidentally, I will be judging you pretty viciously). If you want to break it off with class, I would personally recommend Forget You by Cee-Lo Green. If you're looking for a bit less class, the uncensored version of Forget You is even more effective at getting the message across, but I try to keep this blog relatively clean, so you'll have to find it on your own. Sorry.

  On the flipside, maybe you got beaten to the punch. Maybe you got dumped hard, and you're trying to figure out what song you send the dumper to properly convey just how over them you are. If they're richer than you, consider either Common People (I'm personally very fond of the William Shatner cover, which is actually really good, amazingly enough) or Like a Rolling Stone, because it's the best song. If you're richer than them, what are you doing reading my blog? I didn't realize I had rich friends (also, would it be OK if I borrowed some money). However, if you're not feeling either of those, the absolute best possible option is No Children by The Mountain Goats. No Children is the single most bitter breakup song I have ever heard, and I love it. In the scenario, it's roughly equivalent to bringing an orbital cannon to a knife fight, except when you get to the fight it turns out everyone's already dead, your parents never really loved you, and Santa isn't real.

  If you decide you don't want to alienate everyone you know without your breakup, however, there are somewhat less abrasive options. By which, of course, I mean more Bob Dylan. I'm sorry, I swear I try really hard to talk about music that Bob Dylan didn't write, but he's insidious. Also, he wrote really great sad breakup songs, and I'd feel remiss if I didn't mention Don't Think Twice, It's Alright. It's basically tailor made for these situations. However, if you feel that listening to Bob's whining rasp would not be good for a sense of closure, there is OF COURSE a Peter Paul & Mary cover, and it is of course great.

  Lastly, if you're past the breakup stage and just feel like remembering the bad old days, I've got just the thing! The Old Apartment by Bare Naked Ladies is both a great song and a perfect description for the joys of post-breakup woes. Listen to it when you're in the kind of mood where calling your ex to blame them seems like a good decision (pro-tip: no, it's not, don't do it).

  And most lastly of all, here's a bonus song! We all need more psychedelic in our lives, right? Yeah, that's right.