The xx is comfort music. I didn’t discover the group’s first album, which came out in 2009, until sometime early in college a few years later. Its simple, stripped-down sound was a welcome accompaniment to long winter walks on campus with its warm tones and soothing vocals.
This past week has been a long winter walk for many of my friends and family. Throw in some pelting sleet and black ice for good measure. Annie and I missed a lot of the buildup to the election, and the subsequent letdown on Tuesday evening, which was blunted by 14 hours of travel from Iceland to Baltimore to Kansas City. By the time we landed, it wasn’t looking good for Clinton.
Iceland was beautiful and a welcome escape from reality, if only for a few moments. The Wi-Fi wasn’t great there and to be honest, my top priority wasn’t discovering new music, so I spent most of Wednesday going through my Spotify New Music playlist while I got caught up on work.
I’ve been telling myself that jetlag is responsible for the miserable, if shortened, week I just had. That’s likely part of it, but the other was the outcome of the election that I was too naïve to fathom ever being possible. There have been countless takes on what happened, countless journalists/media personalities/podcast hosts tossing blame, and countless tears shed by people all over the country for my words to add anything to the Kleenex pile. So I won’t.
Shock still lingering in my system, I fell upon the new xx song, “On Hold.” It begins like many other xx tracks, with Romy Madley Croft’s choir-like vocals welcoming you to the reality that is new xx music. Oliver Sim follows with his own soothing vocals as the song rises with a steady, measured production. And then, at 0:50, it bubbles over into something totally different. Hall & Oats different.
That’s right. This song samples “I Can’t Go for That (No Can Do)” by Hall & freaking Oats. I had no idea. Try listening to the original song, if you can. I attempted it and blacked out for a moment, followed by a hallucination that I’d somehow fallen into a wormhole that dropped me into a dreamy 1980s nightclub complete with like, six mustachioed saxophone players. Don’t listen to it. It’s a weird, weird song. But Rodaidh McDonald and Jamie xx worked some magic with this sample because it transcends any previous xx song.
Jamie xx’s new solo artist stamp is totally evident in this track. I’ve not been as familiar with his debut album as I need to be—I also had no idea he was in The xx until last week but who among us, right?—but a quick visit to the band’s Wikipedia page confirms my claim. There’s a rising optimism to this song that never reveals itself on any of the previous xx albums. Describing it does no justice. Just listen.
Forget that the lyrics actually detail a broken relationship. We’ve all had those. Plenty of people had one last Tuesday. This is a bright, optimistic song as far as I’m concerned, because it was my first ray of light after election night’s dreariness and that hangover that followed. I can already tell it’ll be on repeat for weeks to come.
Prince and Beyoncé are anomalies. The two artists have catalogues of hits that perfectly blend sounds and styles, resulting in music that reaches beyond the cavern of Top 40 radio, into the daylight of something brighter, more meaningful. Some artists, like Crossfade or Chevelle, make music that dwells in the shadows of that very same cavern, churning out unimaginative tunes equal parts butt and rock.
I know that Electric Light Orchestra isn’t on the same level as Prince and Beyoncé. Few are. But Jeff Lynne (the man behind ELO) is a songwriting mastermind who has created some of the best hooks of all time. God forbid his passing, but once that day comes, I promise that many will revisit ELO’s catalogue and discover tracks such as “Sweet is the Night” that they’ll be hooked on for weeks.
The Beach Boys’ and Beatles’ influence here is palpable. And yet ELO is very much a product of its time. It isn’t difficult to imagine a disco remix of “Sweet is the Night” coming on right after a dance-off to the eternal classic “Disco Duck.” Somehow though, much like their better known hit “Mr. Blue Sky,” Jeff Lynne and ELO produce a song in “Sweet is the Night” that transcends a period of time or style of music.
This transcendence comes as a result of Lynne’s arrangement. The song begins with a familiar do-wop melody, harkening back to a simpler time, a time in which Marty McFly’s parents may not have ended up together had Marty not interfered at the Enchantment Under the Sea dance. That melody seamlessly falls into the background, providing structure to the song, as a string section bursts through at :20, shattering any premonition you may have had about where the song was headed.
Lynne’s vocals come in shortly thereafter. The lyrics aren’t complex and don’t push boundaries quite like Lynne’s influences do. That’s okay though. ELO could be singing gibberish and it wouldn’t matter because their harmonies are so in sync, the production so tight, that at 1:25, the song goes from “I could listen to the rest of this” to “This must be what they play when you get to heaven.”
The remaining two minutes are bliss. That’s the thing about ELO songs. Once Lynne gets you there, you’re gravy. And the beauty of their greatest hits is that in each song, you can hear Lynne building the song piece by piece, almost like watching someone make cookies. Except they just keep throwing in really delicious ingredients. You’re watching going, “That looks so amazing that I’ll eat the cookie dough right now,” and then the baker tosses some peanut butter cups in and somehow it’s better than you ever imagined.
It’s hard to imagine that this came out in 1977 considering how incredible it still sounds almost 40 years after being recorded. That’s part of the magic of ELO. Lynne’s body of work is a testament to the fact that timelessness is essential in pop music. He doesn’t belong in the top echelon of artistry where few reside, but he’s a pop genius and should be heralded as such.
I’ll be the first to admit that I thought BØRNS would be a one-hit wonder after “Electric Love.” The song had all of the ingredient for a typical one-hit wonder: a virtually unknown artist, infectious pop melodies and an androgynous vocalist all packaged neatly into a 3:38 song performed by a band with a crazy foreign letter in its name. Seriously, look at the top charts for indie/alternative and you’ll find a surprising amount of artists with foreign letters in their names, including Låpsley, MØ, LÉON, etc. Who do these people think they’re fooling with their fancy foreign letters?
“Electric Love” was one of those singles that became exhausting to me because it was so omnipresent on the radio and streaming, its popularity lasting the duration of the summer. I needed a detox, and as a result, avoided listening to the rest of “Candy” (BØRNS’ EP) and completely overlooked the first album, “Dopamine,” which dropped in the middle of October.
Spotify’s Discover Weekly playlist came through for me once again with yet another W. The first song on my playlist this week was “American Money” by my now-favorite artist who spells his name with a crazy foreign letter. It’s a song that contains similar elements to the more well-known and radio-friendly “Electric Love,” while diverging from the formula to give listeners something more to chew on.
It’s clear from the beginning that “American Money” isn’t going to be as airy or bubbly as “Electric Love.” While the latter begins with a burst of pure light, reminiscent of the energy brought with regularity by The Mowgli’s or The Polyphonic Spree, “American Money” brings a different vibe. Thumping and initially paired down, lead singer Garrett Borns delivers lyrics that wrap the listener up, bracing you for impact just as the synth and lustrous vocal arrangements hit.
It’s a totally different experience than listening to “Electric Love.” “American Money” has more complicated depth in its production, making the uber-popular “Electric Love” seem simple and superficial. While a basic love song at its core, “American Money” really delivers with its sound, finding that sweet, sultry spot somewhere between the bright soundscape of “Electric Love” and the darker, brooding synth melodies predominant among artists like Broods and Banks.
One-hit wonder BØRNS is not. “Dopamine” reached 24 in the US charts while the band’s top four songs on Spotify (other than “Electric Love”) combine for more than 40 million listens. “American Money” is the kind of pop music that I can get down to. I’ll even look the other way at the silly “Ø” character, which at this point just seems like a band name gimmick, albeit one that works. With that in mind, please consider attending a show on Friday night in Kansas City, where I’ll be playing with my new band, MØRNĭŅĜ ŜØŊ.
Part of moving to a new city is exploring your immediate neighborhood until you become comfortable enough to expand beyond your general territory into the various areas around town. In Kansas City, there are the usual parts of town that everyone suggests you visit: Plaza, Crossroads, PnL, Westport, etc. Each has a distinct flavor and history that you’re constantly cognizant of, whether it be the fountains at the Plaza or white sunglasses and studded jeans at PnL.
And then there’s the West Bottoms. A former stockyard during KC’s rapid agricultural expansion in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the West Bottoms now exist as a virtual ghost town to tourists and many close-minded or unaware locals.
The West Bottoms are a five-minute drive from downtown KC. You take a huge, lazily winding bridge down into what feels like the depths of the city. My first visit brought surreal memories of the underside of Gotham in Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight” trilogy, save for the seedy crime and caped crusaders. Stoplights are non-existent, craters filled with water from some long forgotten rain abundant. Huge buildings loom overhead, seemingly deserted like something out of a “Walking Dead” set.
For the most part, the area is used for art studios, to host the annual Boulevardia festival and, in the fall, as a hotbed for commercial haunted house attractions. However, situated in an alley in the middle of the West Bottoms is an old speakeasy called The Ship.
It was here that my friends and I first ventured down to the West Bottoms in search of The Ship, which had been written about in a local news story. The outside looked like the site of an unsolved murder: wooden shack of sorts with dim, overpowering red lighting. If it weren’t for the electricity, you’d think this were the Unabomber’s vacation home. Inside, however, you feel as though you’ve been taken below deck on an old boat. An impressive “The Ship” sign illuminated by dozens of individual light bulbs greets visitors as they find their seats in the nautical-themed bar.
All of these elements combined create a dreamlike environment that, beyond the swinging double doors, teleports visitors to a completely different, indiscernible time period populated by a cast of characters sometimes as illusory as the place itself.
We met one of those individuals on our second trip to The Ship, an older gentleman who had spent seven years bartending in Hawaii (the place where Hawaiian Punch is made). It was around 7 pm – an hour or two after they open – and completely empty aside from us and another bartender. Our bartender regaled us with tales of bartending in Hawaii and The Ship’s fascinating past while the other man popped a quarter into an ancient jukebox near the bathrooms.
On comes these old soul tracks I’ve never heard before, mostly from the 60s and 70s, that at any other bar would seem inappropriate, but here, they just fit. The music is as integral to the bar as water is to sailing, and you can tell that each song has been hand-chosen by the people who run The Ship. After a few songs, Ann Peebles’s “I Can’t Stand the Rain” comes on.
It opens with these strange, almost unsettling guitar (?) plucks that transport the listener – if only for a few moments – to a nebulous space devoid of familiarity. You’re floating there, unsure of your surroundings, until Ann Peebles comes in seconds later, luring you back to reality with the smoky, soulful voice that was so popular in the 70s.
Percussion and organ follow shortly thereafter, with some horns thrown in as well, and suddenly the listener is grounded. However, those otherworldly guitar plucks linger in the background for the duration of the song, sounding almost like the score from an old horror film, and when combined with the traditional soul sounds make it one of the more unusual tracks I’ve ever heard.
I can’t seem to get this song out of my head. It feels ahead of its time while remaining a product of its time. “I Can’t Stand the Rain” coexists with the West Bottoms and The Ship in a way that many songs don’t. Every time I hear it I’m whisked away, if only for a few moments, to that strange part of town that always seems further away than reality would have you believe.
For those especially well versed in today’s hip lingo, you could say that I don’t usually come down with cases of “the bummers.” But I do love sad songs, more than any other style of song. I don’t trust happy songs.
It may have something to do with my natural inclination toward cynicism, but listening to songs overflowing with smiles (think The Mowgli’s “I’m Good”) can become nauseating. Often these songs feel artificial, like the band sat down one day and decided they wanted their music featured in an insurance commercial so they wrote lyrics about “lots of love” and tossed in some #GoodVibes for safe measure.
Sad songs are uncomfortable. They remind us of the past or the present, of our various failings, scattered and half-hidden throughout our memory until a lyric or a note excavates it, often painfully and without permission.
The most powerful sad songs are the ones that would exist regardless of whether or not the artist was famous. They capture human emotion beyond “my girlfriend/boyfriend dumped me and it hurts.” It’s something deeper than that, something so isolated and illuminating about human nature that you wouldn’t notice otherwise if the lyrics appeared in an old poetry collection.
Here are a few of my favorites.
“No Surprises” – Radiohead
“No Surprises” isn’t your average everyday sadness. It’s advanced sadness. It goes well beyond the realm of bleary-eyed snifflery and dives deep into downright depressing territory.
It’s got a simplistic, nursery-rhyme sound that seems almost comforting. It is, in a way, because if you’re able to wade through Thom Yhorke’s swampy bayou of enunciation, you’d see that the song is about an individual who’s given up, who welcomes suicide as a way out of their unremarkable life.
But holy shit does it get more depressing. The chorus goes “No alarms and no surprises (x3)” plus a “please” at the end. The subject of the song wants a life without worry or fear or any of the other emotions that plague people on a daily basis. But, according to the subject, there isn’t any escape from these feelings, and the listener hears this person come to terms with this realization.
The song ends with each line of the chorus echoed with “let me out of here” until the subject lays him or herself to rest, staring up at the ceiling, embracing the “handshake of carbon monoxide.”
“Cornerstone” – Arctic Monkeys
“Cornerstone” is about a girl who’s broken the subject’s heart. This isn’t new territory, but what sets it apart from other breakup songs is that the relationship is already over by the time we get to listen. We aren’t sure how long they’ve been broken up but it’s clear that the subject is still in love.
The song explores the concept of a jilted lover projecting their still present affection for their ex onto other people they become involved with. It’s a very real and unfortunate problem many people have experience with, either on the giving or receiving end.
Each verse finds the man in a different bar, spotting a different girl who resembles his ex. He doesn’t really want to get to know the girls because he values them only for their looks, and looking like her. At the end of every verse, he asks if he can call the girls by his ex’s name. WOULD NOT RECOMMEND.
The most heartbreaking lyrics come in the bridge toward the end: “Tell me, where’s your hiding place?/I’m worried I’ll forget your face/And I’ve asked everyone/I’m beginning to think I imagined you all along.”
Damn does that hurt. It can be so strange, seeing someone that was such an important part of your life act is if none of it mattered. But sometimes their complete absence from your life is worse, like being in some alternate reality where they never existed and you made it all up.
But what makes this song so sad is that after seeing his ex in multiple girls at multiple bars, the man finally gives up on trying to rehabilitate himself and instead calls a prostitute. He indulges in the fantasy, finding comfort in a stranger that mostly resembles his ex and is willing to be called by her name, which gives him the satisfaction he so desperately desires.
“Holy Shit” – Father John Misty
I chose to end this list with “Holy Shit” because it’s simultaneously the most depressing and most uplifting song that I’ve ever heard, and it’s a love song. The story goes that FJM (Josh Tillman) wrote the song on his wedding day as he came to terms with embracing an institution (marriage) that he previously approached with ambivalence.
Most of the song is spent discussing the pointlessness of life, including its institutions and contradictions. Twice the subject returns to the line “Oh and no one really knows you and life is brief,” suggesting that none of it all matters because you’ll die alone soon enough, but is then immediately followed with the line “So I’ve heard, but what’s that gotta do with this black hole* and me?” Complaining about life and its inevitable outcome is totally justified and completely pointless.
However, to disappoint the nihilists reading this, there is a glimmer of hope at the end. “Oh, and love is just an institution based on human frailty/What’s your paradise gotta do with Adam and Eve?/Maybe love is just an economy based on resource scarcity/What I fail to see is what that’s gotta do with you and me.”
The subject concludes that while life is pointless, and everything means nothing, none of that matters because he is in love, and that means something to the two of them. Which is the single most romantic thing I’ve ever heard.
If the three people that read my posts with any regularity had a chance to check out my last one on Sundara Karma’s “Flame,” then this latest Phat Jam may convince you that I’m an asshole hypocrite. But let me explain myself.
So, last time I wrote about how indie and alternative music is slowly moving beyond its pretentious, mostly synthetic electropop phase. Now, I’ll admit that these #buzzwords are used in a broad sense, to speak on trends within the music industry that I’ve noticed and have decided to turn away from. Because I am the king of what should be accepted within music.
This latest X Ambassadors track, “Gorgeous,” feels like a much cooler step-sibling to the first single, “Renegades.” While the latter is a good song on its own, and better fits into the current trending catalog of alternative music, “Gorgeous” sounds like a completely different band.
Okay, I’ll say it. I’m not afraid. Just didn’t feel like bringing it up yet. Whatever. Yeah, alright, I’ll admit that “Gorgeous” kind of sounds like a Maroon 5 song. And I guess I’ll admit too that I have a sweet tooth for “Sugar” from their fifth album, V. Regardless of its similarities to Adam Levine and those Other Guys, “Gorgeous” is a perfect summer song.
The first few seconds of “Gorgeous” sound like a roadie tuning guitars on stage forty minutes before the band goes on when nobody’s around to listen. Except your friends told you the wrong time so you’re there looking like an dumbass nursing a lukewarm beer that was on special. But then the singer strolls out for the practice run and holy shit he kind of sounds like Michael Jackson. But you don’t want to say that out loud, or even think it, because it’s such a cliché and unfair comparison. But you can’t resist.
The beat holds the room hostage and forces you to start moving your shoulders, and, oh no: bite your lower lip. Then at 0:32 the falsetto and synth explodes for a passing moment. Now you’re hooked in full dance mode. None of your moves make any sense, like a novice puppeteer using her non-dominant hand. But you’re beyond caring. The singer obliges and jumps right back into the chorus, which could last forever it’s so infectious. By the time those final “Cuz you make me feel gorgeous” lines land, your pits are stained from dancing and another beer miraculously appeared before you.
“Gorgeous” is such an awesome summer song that it’s amazing it isn’t being played on Top 40 stations in KC yet. It isn’t being played anywhere that I know of. But if you’re Top 40-averse like I was at 13, you can plan on hearing it on alternative stations sometime soon. Or, just keep coming to Daily Phat Jam and listening here. Just don’t tell anyone that I’m a hypocrite.
There’s a certain satisfying nostalgia to being a hopeless romantic. Some songs and movies bring that nostalgia to the center of your attention, propped up just enough to be slumped over in sadness. It’s not that you miss being sad, or feeling lonely, but you recognize that those feelings used to exist in your psyche and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s comforting, actually, remembering that you used to feel a certain way. Strange enough, “40oz. on Repeat” hit me in this exact way.
I’d like to think that if I were 10 years younger, this song would be my anthem. I always saw myself as the “good guy,” the Jim Halpert of my life (then again, who didn’t? Does anyone really see themselves as Dwight or, God forbid, Toby?) who just couldn’t quite get the girl that envisioned himself with.
The opening lines of “40oz. on Repeat” aren’t cryptic whatsoever. They play like the inner monologue of a jilted Casanova, pissed at himself for his romantic ineptitude, at his failure to even take a chance at texting a girl. He later goes on to say, “I don’t care at all, I’ll drink some alcohol, it’ll make me who I really want to be.” He then says that he always drinks too much because nobody understands him.
FIDLAR has been on my radar for a while now. The video for their song “Cocaine” features a pissed off Nick Offerman going on a urine-soaked rampage. What’s not to love about that? They have a harder-than-usual sound for the surf-skate punk rock music that I’ve been into lately and “40oz. on Repeat” is no different.
Except it kind of is. It’s more reminiscent of their 2013 single “Awkward,” which feels like a spiritual predecessor to “40oz.” with its woe-is-me message. It’s authentic, though. FIDLAR expresses those kinds of feelings with angst and snarl, not butt-rock crooning a la Hinder or mellow moodiness found in early Death Cab for Cutie.
You can’t really anticipate finding a song that strikes you in such a way. Lyrics drum up memories the same way that a smell reminds you of the awful lunch your daycare used to serve. But the problem was that I had no reason to relate to those emotions anymore.
When you spend your formative years developing an inner monologue that insists you’re sitting, waiting, wishing for that special person, and you finally find them, these songs should mean nothing to you. Instead, they remind you that there was a time before your current happiness. A time filled with complex and gut wrenching emotions that kept you up at night, cursing yourself or a spin in Fortuna’s Wheel, wondering why me? Why?
And those songs meant something then. More than they do now. They told you that you weren’t alone, no matter how selfish you acted or idealistically you thought. Someone else knew what it was like to feel that way. But now, what you’ve got is a song that captures a glimpse of those memories, if only for 4 minutes, reminding you that what you went through will always remain.
I’m pissed off for two separate reasons. One has to do with my friend (and fellow contributor) Seth, and the other not, but I feel like blaming it on him anyway. I’m actually pissed at him because he already wrote about my favorite band, alt-J. I’m not actually pissed but feel like putting the blame on him for my having not listened to their song “Taro” until only recently.
See? Not his fault at all. But it just feels right saying it is.
Seth is also responsible for introducing me to “Dispatches,” a memoir written by a war correspondent that worked in Vietnam. During the war. Not in some “ivory tower” like all of these so-called “intellectuals” and “professors” seem to be doing these days. Turns out, things weren’t exactly like “Rambo: First Blood Part II.” I was in the prologue of my obsession with “Taro” when Seth started bugging me about reading “Dispatches.” Finally, about a month ago, I conceded defeat, bought the book and read it.
I used to have a war book when I was younger. “Scholastic Encyclopedia of the United States at War.” Man, I loved that thing. There were incredible pictures on each page, dating all the way back to the Revolution. (There weren’t actual photos from that time period, just to be clear. They were paintings and drawings. Unless those were actually real, in which case, I’ve lived a lie my whole life.) I still owe the majority of my war knowledge to that book.
What always struck me about it though was the difference between the Korean War section and the Vietnam War section. You’d see photos of soldiers in Korea, bundled up beyond all recognition. Walking blankets with machine guns. Sometimes they’d be covered in ponchos. Actually, now that I think about it, there were only about four or five pages dedicated to the Korean War. Before it was WWII, which is the granddaddy of all American wars. How many movies have they made about it? Miniseries only count as half.
But then I’d turn to the Vietnam section. And there they were: Soldiers in full color, close up, personal, no blankets or ponchos in sight. Their fatigues unbuttoned with sweat beads so pronounced you almost felt the humidity.
When you’re a child, everyone more than four years older than you seems like an impossible age that you’ll never reach, like being 9 and having a 13-year-old babysitter. These soldiers just seemed so grown up. They smoked cigarettes for godssake! But I never really realized how young these boys were. Not even when I turned 18 or 19, when I finished up high school and lounged around in college, did I really understand what it meant. And I doubt that I ever will.
I don’t remember the first time I heard “Taro.” I wish I’d catalogued that memory away, next to all my other valuable brain keepsakes (my friend and editor, also named Seth and coincidentally the same Seth from earlier, suggested I use a different word besides “memories,” so this is what you get) that I keep shoved in a cabinet somewhere in my brain. Actually, if I’m being honest, what has become my favorite song didn’t really strike me as anything other than another cool-sounding alt-J track (which pretty much describes their entire catalog). I heard it again in my girlfriend’s car one day and something about it stuck with me.
I had to find out what it meant. If you’re at all familiar with alt-J, you’ll know that it’s damn near impossible to understand what Joe Newman is saying. Go ahead, give it a shot. I’ve listened to both albums more than I can count and still don’t know 80 percent of the lyrics. It’s the kind of music that makes you mumble along when you sing in the car, and it feels like you’re nailing it even though you know you’re not.
I found this article while doing some research on “Taro,” as one does when they’re living on his own in a studio apartment. DIY Magazine interviewed alt-J and asked them about the meaning of each song on their first album. Here’s the description of “Taro”:
“Taro” is about two war photographers – Robert Capa and Gurda Taro – who met during the second world war. They became lovers and got engaged to one another and were head over heels, then Gurda Taro was killed. I don’t think Robert Capa ever got over it. He died about ten years later in Indochina, when he stepped on a landmine, so the song documents those moments just before, during and after he steps onto it. It’s basically talking about those moments and how he knows that he’s dying, but that he’s going to be seeing Gerda Taro soon.
This is heartbreaking. Even the “happy ending” is horrible. But, like the cover of an Animorphs book, the song changed into something completely different for me once I knew the backstory.
“Dispatches” is a reading experience I’d never encountered before. Each page is a slow trudge toward a depressing anticlimax. It’s engrossing. Michael Herr puts you in Vietnam, where he and his colleagues worked alongside Marine “grunts.” They get to know the Marines. They become friends with them. They see them die.
And Herr and all his colleagues were there voluntarily. The Marines weren’t. Sure, Herr wasn’t holding a gun, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t in the war. His stories are more affecting, more truthful than any other portrayal of war I’ve ever read. He wasn’t there because he had to be. He wasn’t there because he had an opinion of the war, though he clearly did. He was just there.
Throughout, he talks about photographers who’ve won the Robert Capa Gold Medal award for “best published photographic reporting from abroad requiring exceptional courage and enterprise.” The award loses a little of its glimmer though once you know Capa’s backstory, which is befitting of the stories of all the guys who shot and reported on Vietnam.
“Taro” feels like a song from another culture. It immediately teleports the listener to a different time and place. Newman’s enunciation and delivery are equal parts confusing and foreign. The guitar plucks haunt your ears. Reading lyrics is essential to the listening experience. At 1:14, an instrument I’ve never heard bursts through the bush.
I literally can’t stop listening to it. And it’s such a bummer that Seth already wrote about alt-J because he, Chris and I want to share cool tunes and impress people with our music knowledge. It’s hard to do that when we talk about the same band all the time.
Some songs take on new meanings when you discover the artist’s intention. For example, I never knew that “Stoned” by Smash Mouth was about drugs until I learned what “weedajuana” was. “Taro” reshapes the way you view the album, alt-J and what songs can do.
“Dispatches” should be required reading for everyone even remotely alive. What it has to say about war and man can’t be taught with history lessons or by watching documentaries. It will change the way you see conflict.
“Taro” should be required listening for everyone even remotely alive. The way it takes obscure source material and wraps it in song and lyrics is nothing I’ve ever heard or read before. It will change the way you see music and art.
It’s been a while since I last posted on here. A lot’s happened since then. For starters, I became the mayor of Townsville. I also taught myself how to read. Plus, I teamed up with a band of groovy teenagers and their Great Dane and traveled across the country in a copasetic van solving mysteries. On top of all of that, however, I’ve still been listening to music. And because I’m finally at home with nothing better to do (and a full cup of coffee), I’ve decided it’s time to once again satisfy my narcissistic appetite for attention. (But really, thank you for reading.)
If time machines acted like elevators, where each floor is a different decade, then listening to “Yesterdays” by Only Real would be like getting stuck somehow in between the 1960s and the 1990s floors and having the two sounds mix together into a freshly blended music smoothie.
Niall Galvin, the sole proprietor of Only Real (and owner of the most fittingly English name in history), jumps right into “Yesterdays” with a sound so upbeat it forces you to start moving like some sort of musical magician casting the Imperius Curse.
And then he starts singing. If that’s what you can call it? Galvin’s style is most reminiscent of early Beck (think “Loser”), half-rapping through a lazy drawl so tight that it’s impossible it’s ironic.
Galvin says that The Beach Boys influenced him early in his childhood, and that’s apparent here with “Yesterdays’” unique palette of sounds and infectious harmonies. But there’s also a bit of Youth Lagoon thrown in there as well. Maybe it’s just the one-man-band sort of thing, but the sense of atmosphere that Youth Lagoon builds for his listeners can also be heard in Only Real’s much less depressing catalogue.
As for the lyrics? Eh, don’t worry too much about them. I know that’s not necessarily being a “responsible” listener, but you can’t really understand a thing he says and besides, it makes you feel good. It’s always good to have music like that, even if a number of Smash Mouth songs technically have more apparent messages.
What it comes down to is that “Yesterdays” is the perfect song to play just about any time. Sure, maybe it’s not great during a funeral or right after your best friend finds that collection of his Facebook profile photos that you printed out at Target and have been saving underneath your bed since you met. But every other time, it’s perfect.
Jamie T’s “Don’t You Find” is dripping with something sticky and leathery and it feels oh so good to put your head underneath its sink and let it drip into your ears.
It’s a haunting lullaby whispered into your ear from beneath someone else’s sheets.
I’ve been struggling to identify what it is about this song that I’m hooked on. The lyrics, if read without music, are simple. The rhyming scheme is even simpler:
Don’t you find, some of the time/There is always someone on your mind/That shouldn’t be at all/In any place or any kind.
But it’s the delivery that makes this song work. Jamie T mumble-sings his way through most of it, conjuring images of a strung out mid-90s Trent Reznor with a little melancholic Alex Turner tossed in for good English measure.
With that in mind, I should admit that I’ve always had an affinity for English musicians and groups. I’m sure that a psychologist could unearth deep-seated emotional feelings for The Beatles that would explain why this is the case. But I can’t afford therapy and don’t really care to exhume those secrets.
It should go without saying that musicians influence each other. Duh. But I like to take this idea one step further and imagine every band and artist shoved into one huge room at the same time, all split up by their specific sound and nearest their most predominant influences. In this imaginary scenario, “Don’t You Find” puts Jamie T into a dark, creepy corner somewhere between Suede and James Blake.
The especially strange thing about “Don’t You Find” is that without music, the song is just a sad, simple ballad about pining away for someone that you can’t be with. Pretty typical fare for the singer/songwriter corner of the fictional band room that exists in my imagination.
What Jamie T has done, and what makes this song so great, is bring aching, sadistic life to a simple poem, forming a complex contrast between lyrics and music that makes it almost irresistible. It makes you feel dirty and sexy and sad all at once.