Sunday, May 04, 2008

Songs That Might Otherwise Pass You By

*I'm having trouble uploading the podcast, but hopefully I'll have it up by tonight*

Hazelwood Motel, "Break Yourself In Two"

I listen to a lot of different "styles" of music that can mostly be classified as "independent". I generally don't like the term "indie" because in and of itself it doesn't mean anything--"indie" isn't a style of music, it's a status. I feel a little bit better about using the term "indie rock", though--that phrase both implies the state of independence and the style of music: rock. Yes, in addition to folk, alt-country and hard-to-classify styles, I also like to rock. Not rock in the "I want to rock and roll all night and party every day" vein--I'm not much of a metal fan*--but rock in the "thrashing, wall-to-wall guitars" way. You know: the kind of guitar playing that rattles your bones. This song sets up the guitars effectively by being contrastingly staid. It starts off slow, quiet and methodically paced and then breaks wide open just as the singer "breaks [himself] in two". The guitar hops up, the music amps up and the building tension breaks. The song dips and rises during the song, building and breaking tension several times, never letting the listener settle into the hum of predictability.

*I say that, but I also love some of the prog-rock of the 70's like Queen that had elements of metal. I also love This is Spinal Tap. I am a complicated creature.


Photo of Hazelwood Motel is by Jenn Dohner

Joseph Arthur, "Rages of Babylon"

You could call this song Americana; you could call it Alt-Country. The harmonica (oh, blessed harmonica) certainly adds the country tinge to it. To me, this song stretches with the vastness of a Midwestern field--you can see to each end of the horizon, and it gives the illusion of never ending. The harmonica digs deep into the soul, reminding me of the first time I realized I loved the harmonica, the first time I heard U2's The Joshua Tree (which is actually the first time I realized I liked any country or blues inflections in music). This song could be a cousin to the songs on The Joshua Tree. Expansive, gripping, soulful, quiet, humble. This song reminds me of the best of this country, so yeah, I guess it is Americana.

Joseph Arthur is a principal participant in A River Blue, an organization that aids the people of Uganda.

Don't let the pose full you: Joseph Arthur is not your typical rock star.

Cloud Cult, "When Water Comes To Life"

The process of death has never been so inspiring and, well, comforting. Being a water sign, I find the idea of returning to the water "from where we're all born", rather than the earth, less daunting and more peaceful. I'd certainly rather gently sink through the ocean rather than just stay in one spot. Of course being a believer in the circular (and often contradictory) nature of life, I also appreciate the notion that after life, we "feed the ghosts", we "feed the living". We'll be each part of life: a "stranger", a "friend", a "hero" and a "tragedy" (okay, I left the part out about the leper, because...not-so-comforting). It's a sad song, and sort of numbing; the kind of song that distances you from yourself and brings you back, also. It's nostalgic (after you die, "they'll find the heart shaped locket, an old photograph of you in daddy's arms") but it'll rip you away from the nostalgia before you have a chance to set up shop there. It's an uplifting song, sort of freeing. It's the kind of song that really does bring you back to where you began. The music is hypnotic--unsettling and settling at the same time. It pulls you from your consciousness, completely subverting your sense of self and place, taking you from what you know and depositing you in this new place that's most familiar. The instruments both compliment and contradict each other: one moment an instrument is screeching in anticipation, then another instrument swings low ominously and just as quickly another instrument swoops in and carries the song upward. The instruments mimic the concept of the song, acting out the life and death cycle of the subject matter. The music swells and plateaus, with a presence reminiscent of both Final Fantasy and Beirut--epic, though not grandiose. The singer can't be pinned as being either adult or child, male or female. Though I'm pretty sure it's a guy, he purposefully makes his voice malleable, unpinnable, unclassifiable--like the angel of the song, like the subject of the song: able to be two seemingly opposite conditions at once.

The band was courted by major labels, but they earned many, many points in my book by turning them down and instead creating an independent, not-for-profit record label called Earthology. They seem to practice their ideology, which earns my respect. According to the website, they use "reclaimed" jewel cases (though I've been pretty much just buying digital music for the past year), they educate on environmentalism and they consult with artists and musicians, helping them identify the most environmentally responsible products and methods.


The coolest album cover I've seen

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