9, 10… Take Up My Pen

April 10, 2011

For tonight’s special, we have another double-feature (since yesterday was an off-day).

These songs share related themes, but that is incidental, folks. I wanted to share these achievements (of literary, lyrical, vocal, and instrumental natures) with you this month, regardless of which other song-poems they ended up contrasting with, or, in this case, being paired with. But since they do share overlapping themes, that makes writing about them that much easier. Yay me.

Those themes are pretty straight-forward, from their titles on. We’re dealing with that perennial tug of war, here. Love. (It just ain’t so simple as it used to be.) With passion, comes the ensuing waves of questioned affections, strained interactions, entrapment (not in the legal sense, but clearly in the sense of feeling obliged to stick around in a relationship in ruins), separation, rending, letting go, walking away, and (eventually) finding healing for all parties involved. Yeah, yeah, we’ve been over this before. These are the most explored themes across cultural forms, no doubt. And this makes sense, in proportion to the huge, gaping holes loss leaves behind. Sometimes they are overdone, but as often as not, artists find new inroads from which to explore a piece of the most intense and intricate puzzle there is (or so it seems) — human emotion.

These particular song-poems are imbued with both subtle and explicit angles on the sublime. Sarah McLachlan reaches lightly toward divine wisdom — “Through this world I’ve stumbled,/ So many times betrayed,/ Trying to find an honest word,/ To find the truth enslaved” — while The Swell Season’s Markéta Irglová pecks gently at fresh wounds (that is, to those not in-the-know, Strict Joy grew amazingly gracefully out of the romantic break-up of the band’s front man and woman) in overtly religious language — “Forgive me, lover, for I have sinned,/ For I have loved you wrong.”

Ultimately, journalistic language fails to uphold the sanctity of the verses and their musical treatment. All my words sound profane in the face of these artistic monuments. Listen for yourself.

 

Possession

Listen as the wind blows
From across the great divide–
Voices trapped in yearning,
Memories trapped in time.
The night is my companion
And solitude, my guide.
Would I spend forever here
And not be satisfied?

And I would be the one
To hold you down,
Kiss you so hard,
I’ll take your breath away,
And after I’d wipe away the tears,
Just close your eyes, dear.

Through this world I’ve stumbled,
So many times betrayed,
Trying to find an honest word,
To find the truth enslaved.
Oh, you speak to me in riddles,
And you speak to me in rhymes.
My body aches to breathe your breath;
You words keep me alive.

And I would be the one
To hold you down,
Kiss you so hard,
I’ll take your breath away,
And after, I’d wipe away the tears;
Just close your eyes, dear.

Into this night I wander;
It’s morning that I dread.
Another day of knowing,
Of the path I fear to tread.
Oh, and into the sea of waking dreams,
I follow without pride,
‘Cause nothing stands between us here,
And I won’t be denied.

And I would be the one
To hold you down,
Kiss you so hard,
I’ll take your breath away.
And after, I’d wipe away the tears.
Just close your eyes, dear.

I’ll hold you down,
Kiss you so hard,
I’ll take your breath away,
And after, I’d wipe away the tears.
Just close your eyes.

I Have Loved You Wrong

Forgive me, lover, for I have sinned,
For I have done you wrong.
For I have hurt beyond repair,
And when tears occurred, no, I didn’t care.
Forgive me, lover, for I have sinned,
For I have loved you wrong.

But this estranged organ in my chest
Still beats for you; It will not rest
So meet me in our secret place,
When the time has come.

And rest your head in my lap,
And I’ll lead you out of your own trap,
And I’ll show you how much you have missed,
through the time we weren’t right.

Oh…, Oh…

So forgive me, lover, for I have sinned,
For I have let you go.
But you’ve been
Every now and then on my mind,  yeah.

Every now and then on my mind, yeah.
Every now and then on my mind, yeah.
Every now and then on my mind, yeah.
Every now and then on my mind, yeah.
Every now and then on my mind, yeah.
Every now and then on my mind, yeah.
Every now and then on my mind, yeah.

On my mind,
On my mind,
On my mind,
On my mind,
On my mind,
On my mind,
On my mind,
On my mind,

On my mind,
On my mind,
On my mind,
On my mind,
On my mind,
On my mind,
On my mind.

 

I have to say that in this creation, The Swell Season have pulled off the most tasteful use of repetition I have ever heard. And you’ve already heard me gripe about the shortcomings of repetition on the page! So if you’ve only read this post, I urge you to follow the link in the song title to hear the song performed with some of the most angelic a cappella in existence.

April’s Flowers

April 1, 2011

Hello, April!

I wanted to kick off a new series for the month of April, exploring the ways poetry is truly alive in music today, with something fully spring-themed (even though today’s East-coast weather seems to indicate otherwise). This is a fresh song, composed by young songwriters in a sprightly one day! session. Its theme? Rooftop gardens and love. Perfect, right?

The High Line, New York's premier park of the decade, styled after the rooftop garden model.

This beauty is called “Reservoirs,” and it sprouted in one stunning day at a small New York indie recording studio called Dubway Studios, through the collaboration of artists Vienna Teng and Ben Arthur, along with their talented musician friends at Dubway. (For some reason, it looks like the studio released this brand-new creation as a Vienna tune, not a Vienna and Ben duet, though I imagine you’ll probably hear them both singing it live plenty of times, if you choose to check out their concerts. Ben’s touring the continent right now, though, so poor little me won’t get to see that live set for a while yet.) This is all remark-able in three particular ways:

1) The studio, through BreakThru Radio (BTR; Careful, their site will immediately start talking at you!), has just launched the coolest little series a music fan could ever dream of, in which these fateful one-day fests are organized again and again, filmed and edited into “Dubway Days,” which you can watch from the comfort of YouTube, as no doubt you already know if, in a bit of a haste, you followed the link! :)

2) I discovered Vienna Teng’s incredible artistry about a year and a half ago, through the magic of Last.FM. I wanted to find more artists like my all-time favorite creator, Tori Amos. And bam! First Vienna’s terrific cover of  Tori’s “1000 Oceans,” then her own “Pontchartrain,” streamed past. Its lithe lyrical bravado (the word here reclaimed for a positive connotation, obviously) struck an emotional chord, and the song’s climax recalled medieval cathedrals and choral chants — how could I not be hooked? I can’t wait to hear her live in a month or so. If not for her collaborations with Alex Wong, I would have missed out on a very emotional night at Rockwood last month. (Yes, sorry, still meaning to put all my zinging thoughts on that into a coherent post.) Vienna is one of my biggest inspirations right now, not only through her powerful music, but also because she’s dabbled in several career paths in just one decade, and her path has led her to a joint MBA and Masters in Environmental Science. There’s nothing cooler. Oh, wait. Songs inspired by graduate school reading on rooftop gardens! There’s that! (Oh, also, if you want to get in touch, she’s on Twitter, and, occasionally, she even has Formspring Q&A sessions – I’ve gotta try that sometime!)

3) I’ve now been introduced to Ben Arthur.

Technically, that's a March flower, but why quibble?

So much remarkable! Now on to the sung verses, available here thanks to Emily X.R. Pan’s helpful post!

Reservoirs

Voices fly, tracing the skyline
And spiraling up through the grass,
Across wood and steel and clambering vines.
The day is fading fast,

But love, love, there’s light in my garden.
Love, love, you just have to jump.
The city below, the taxicab slow,
Love is all that ever was.

These reservoirs are minarets, irises cornflower blue,
Clouds of caraway thyme.
You flared like a match, struck in the dead-of-night gloom,
Leaving me blind.

Now love, love, there’s light in the garden.
Love, love, you just have to jump.
The city below, the taxicab slow,
For love is all that ever was.

Every morning,
I want you to be
the first thing that I touch,
the first thing I see.

Love, love, there’s light in my garden.
Love, love, leap to my arms–
One step then two,
Keep your eyes on my roof,
For love is all that ever was,
Love is all that ever was,
… is all that ever was

Thoughts? Reactions? C’mon, guys, did you weep?

I-I Follow

February 15, 2011

The Grammies (and the BRITs) have been passed out, and I’m paying more careful attention to The Black Keys, La Roux, Switchfoot’s Hello Hurricane, and Patty Griffin’s gospel album, while rediscovering Sade’s recent album, Soldier of Love. Obviously happy (ecstatic, really) for Arcade Fire and Danger Mouse (of Broken Bells, etc.), Laura Marling, Mumford & Sons, Pete Seeger, Big Star, Train, and Muse, as well as Jay-Z and Alicia Keys. And planning on checking out Miranda Lambert (and may-be, but only maybe, Lady Antebellum) eventually, especially since Lori McKenna tweeted so excitedly about her win.

But really, I’m riding the crest of Valentine’s Day “weekend” (there needs to be an equivalent term for a combination of weekdays and weekend days falling at the beginning of a work week!) by falling madly in love with Lykke Li, day after day after day. Each day in the past week, I’ve delved into a whole ‘nother layer of my love for “I Follow Rivers,” and now I’m spreading out my affection to her entire ouevre, mostly the songs (and remixes of the songs) from her first album, Youth Novels. I am half-desperate for the next half-month to pass so that I can get my hands on Wounded Rhymes, which is being referred to, logically, as her sophomore album.

So, whether or not you’re feeling blue and lovesick or manic and love-crazed, I bet you’ll benefit from checking out what I’m calling, “Attack of the Swedes!” :

First there was Ane Brun, summoned from within some vague locale in the Internet itself to make my acquaintance. Her voice is mature, with a maternal quality reminiscent of some folk or country singers. She sounds self-sure, plaintive, and sweet, all at the same time.  After listening to some of her songs, you’ll be surprised that the voice you’re listening to isn’t a Brit’s but rather that of a Norwegian who has been living and working for a decade in Sweden. This fact is more evident in her cover of “True Colors” (which I had no idea was first recorded by Cyndi Lauper!). As for what I mean about her “maternal quality,” I sometimes notice something in her sound that, in my mind, makes a perfect match to moments in the recordings of Malvina Reynolds, who I’ve also been obsessing over in the past month. This most likely means one of two things: either our voices don’t change that much over time, or Brun is ahead of her time in multiple ways. Her voice just somehow doesn’t match with her gorgeous, youthful, movie starlet looks. And that’s a good thing! Nothing like the elements of surprise and incongruity to make us pay more attention to beautiful music. Even better, her voice in “Humming One of Your Songs” has some lovely parallels to that of Beth Gibbons of Portishead on “Glory Box.”

Then, through the amazing powers and magic of Last.fm, there was Anna Ternheim. Ternheim has an exquisite voice with a Laura Marling quality you wouldn’t necessarily expect from a native Swedish speaker (I’m referring both to her basic vocals and her British-ish accent here). Notice  a theme here? Anyway, Ternheim shares with Brun a knack for songwriting that mines insight, heartbreak, and everyday, hum-drum life experience and turns it into gold. They’ve both been recognized for this closer to home. It’s time the rest of the world learned to pay more attention!

“You’re my river running high  – run deep, run wild. I, I follow…I follow you, deep sea, baby. I, I follow…I follow you. Dark doom, honey.”

And somehow, somewhere in there, through some dazzling coincidence, Lykke Li appeared from on high and blasted her rays of discoteque-boosted glory through the wires of the Hype Machine. Youth Novels is packed with songs of the heart, as I suppose is understandable if we really concentrate on the meaning of the album’s title and the typical, iconic qualities of youth novels. Lykke had a tempestuous childhood molded by her parents’ jet-setting lifestyle, the effects of which weren’t entirely positive in crafting her world-wise persona. There’s this terrific article from SPIN (cover story, actually), highlighting the fact that she’s poised to become the next international pop superstar, which artfully details Lykke Li’s tempered take on her childhood, her young career, and her talent. I’m just waiting for the day when, several months from the official release of Wounded Rhymes, “I Follow Rivers” becomes a mega-hit, and I’m lounging around, feasting on the high of my “I told you so’s”! ;-)

(Then again, for some mysterious reason, North America has yet to wake up to Bat for Lashes. At least she’s getting recognized on her home turf! Third time’s a charm, Natasha Khan. Just get us that next album, stat!)

El Perro del Mar fits right in with this echelon of strong stars. I know I’m failing at painting these gorgeous, golden-voiced women in all their uniqueness, but, to my credit, it’s past midnight as I blather on and on. But really, El Perro del Mar in all her dreamy, jewel-studded dream-pop glow, has that crazy combination of strange British-influenced accent, tender voice, and model looks as Ane, Anna, and Lykke.  “Inner Island’ wields the timeless quality of its imagery with a calming force, making it reminiscent of Tori Amos’s “Cool on Your Island” from her Y Kant Tori Read days (which I only finally delved into this week — Reactions? “Oh, wow — the eighties!”).

In review, here’s a playlist of songs to check out, for starters (of the love-struck variety):

Little Bit – Lykke Li

Rubber & Soul – Ane Brun

Summer Rain – Anna Ternheim

Humming One of Your Songs – Ane Brun

Inner Island – El Perro del Mar

What Have I Done? (El Perro Del Mar Mix) – Anna Ternheim

I Follow Rivers – Lykke Li