Look Around – Tune-Yards

When I talk about music, it’s hard not to use metaphors that involve romantic love. There’s just something about the intimacy and immediacy of great music that, for me, evokes the same feeling of existential euphoria that falling in love does. When I find a new artist or new record that I fall in love with, I become as evangelical (and likely as annoying) as someone who has just fallen in love with a person. I can’t stop telling everyone about it, I listen to it night and day, I think about it when I’m not listening to it, I use exalted language to describe it.

I bring all of this up as a form of both explanation and apology. If you are inclined to roll your eyes over the overwrought expressions of young lovers, well, this post may not be for you. (Who am I kidding? This blog may not be for you…) Be aware, I’m about to talk about Tune-Yards…

Tune-Yards (the musical alias for Merrill Garbus) is not new, but she is new to me. The first time I sampled some of the music from her newest album, Nikki Nack, I thought it was interesting, but not immediately gripping. There was something about it that stuck with me, though, so a few weeks later I took another listen. And then another. And then another. I could easily write at length about any number of songs on this amazing album (and I also subsequently bought her other two albums too), but I’ve decided to focus on the song that has the most meaningful lyrics on the record for me – Look Around.

When you listen to Look Around, though, probably the first thing that will strike you is the music, not the lyrics. Tune-Yards music is remarkably strange, even unsettling at times. The time signatures in this song are wonderfully bizarre – it feels like the musical equivalent of your car engine fluctuating between stalling and surging forward. I find it both off-putting and deeply comforting at the same time. It’s such an interesting dynamic, I can’t help but be pulled inside the song every time.

There will be
Always something you can lean your weight into
There will be
Always something you can rely on
I will be
Always something you can lean your weight into
I will be
Always something you can rely on

Right from the start, these lyrics strike such a chord (accidental music pun!) in my heart. Something, someone, you can lean your weight into – this lyric immediately made me think of particular people in my life. People of substance are a precious commodity, and it’s only people like that who have both the strength and the willingness to let you fall into them – or sometimes push up against them. These simple words carry such a profound commitment. They’re words I want to repeat to all of the people I truly love.

In the middle of the song, though, comes a passage that brings me to tears nearly every time I listen to it:

You won’t believe what I saw in the city tonight
The most brilliantly rhyming terrors
I come home zipped up so tight
Bare my metal teeth to you
The power went out, so I started hoarding water
How do you open your arms so wide?
Never burned by fear and fire

There are few passages in song that affect me as deeply as this one. I feel like these are thoughts that were plucked from my head and put into words far more eloquent than I could ever manage. I am, seemingly by nature, a person who is inhabited by fear. People who are concrete by nature, the kind of people who can be described as always having their feet on the ground, don’t seem to be gripped by fear – it’s too abstract, too remote. But if you’re brain is permanently stuck in the ether, in the world of possibility rather than probability, fear becomes the only thing that does seem realistic. But for this very reason, I love this line: “…the most brilliantly rhyming terrors.” I like how those words seem to convey something that is both terrifying but fascinating, something that is dangerous, but not necessarily ugly or cruel. Sometimes even fear has a certain beauty to it.

Nonetheless, fear makes you lash out, sometimes in a somewhat subtle way (“Bare my metal teeth to you…”) It also makes unreasonable responses to minor threats seem wholly rational (“The power went out, so I started hoarding water…”) It’s in moments like these that I am utterly astonished by, and incredibly grateful for, the open arms of someone who hasn’t lost their optimism. And someone who is willing to remind me of the reasons why even optimism is rational sometimes.

Much like with romantic love, I can’t always tell whether or not my relationship with a certain album or artist will stand the test of time. Sometimes love for music flames out without warning. Sometimes I can’t remember why I ever even loved a certain song or band after some time has gone by. But other times, I know in my heart when I’ve found something to love forever. That’s how I feel about Look Around and so much of Tune-Yards work in general – it’s truly something I can lean my weight into.

You know…musically speaking.

*****

So what are your thoughts on this song? Tune-Yards in general? Leave a comment or email me – I’d love to get your take.

Purchase Look Around from Amazon: http://goo.gl/KWXgLK

 

Found A Job – Talking Heads

Music can elicit any number of emotional responses from me at any given time. Music often brings tears to my eyes, not always because it’s traditionally beautiful but because the joy it gives me feels overwhelming. I have cried at almost every concert I’ve ever attended, often at times when everyone else around me was giddy with joy. I was giddy with joy too, it just came out my tear ducts.

Music can also make me feel angry or even depressed (usually it’s merely capitalizing on feelings I’ve already been nurturing.) Sometimes it makes me feel puzzled, but in the best possible way – like a detective piecing together tiny clues to a greater mystery. Occasionally, in the worst moments, music makes me feel bored and irritated at the musicians who are aggressively boring me.

Recently, though, I experienced a new…well, not really a new emotion but a new emotional response to music – laughter. Wild, uncontrollable, glee-filled laughter. “Found A Job” is a song I already knew but hadn’t listened to in a long time. When it came on my iPod early one morning, I was completely overcome with energy. I wanted to run a marathon and paint a masterpiece and write the Great American Novel and do a great many things I am incapable of doing, all at once. So instead I just laughed. And laughed and laughed.

The words to “Found A Job” are clever and kind of funny, but they’re not hilarious. Besides who ever laughs, I mean really laughs, at song lyrics? Yeah, you might chuckle or giggle a little at lines by incredibly witty songwriters (Stephen Merritt, anyone?), but outside of music that is designed entirely for novelty, funny lyrics make you smile, they don’t usually make you crack up. The lyrics to “Found A Job” are not what made me laugh. They were only an ingredient. I laughed because this song is so incredibly…fun. There is not a more pure word for the feeling that I can think of. It made me feel like a kid. I have a friend who tells me that when he experiences intense moments of joy, he feels like baby animals. Very particular baby animals. Sometimes he feels like a baby buffalo, or baby otter, or turtle. I didn’t really get it, although I appreciated the colorful description. But “Found A Job” gave me a feeling like what he described. (Though I was never able to nail down an exact baby animal emotional likeness…hippopotamus, maybe?) I laughed through the whole song and then I listened to it again that night and I laughed again.

A couple of weeks ago I got to see a screening of “Stop Making Sense” at a local theater. It’s my favorite concert film of all time and one I’ve been watching since I was a teenager. I was pleasantly surprised to find the theater filled nearly to capacity and a real concert atmosphere formed right away. Within a few songs, a large portion of the audience formed their own dance party that lasted the remainder of the show. We all clapped and cheered after every song. And, unsurprisingly, I found myself with tears in my eyes more than once.

Thanks for reading. Have thoughts about this song? Talking Heads? Laughing while listening to music? Baby mammals? Please feel free to drop me a line at anniemusicblog@gmail.com or leave a comment in the comments section.

Goodbye England – Laura Marling

Certain lyricists write in such a way that there is no guessing what the meaning is behind their words. They’re able to tell a story with often Hemingway-esque directness and simplicity. I often love these types of lyrics and the sense of…security, maybe….that comes from feeling so directly communicated with.

But here’s the problems with songs like that – they’re great fun to listen to, but they are not so fun to write about. It’s not as easy to have long, winding conversations with friends about songs that mean exactly what they say. Some conversation, some writing. But not much. And though I’ve never thoroughly tested this theory (because to do so seems dreadfully dull), I suspect that I probably don’t listen to these songs nearly as often as I listen to songs that require a little more analysis and introspection. Songs that require you to codify what they say to you, what they mean to you, are a struggle at times. And therefore deeply meaningful when you wrestle out the substance.

For me, there is no songwriter out there right now that embodies this latter type of lyricism more fully than Laura Marling. There are others, surely, who match her quality, but none that I can think of that surpass it. My favorite Laura Marling song is Goodbye England, and true to form, the meaning of these lyrics is not easily discernible. I’ve listened to this song so many times, and been moved to tears by it more than once, and still I couldn’t tell you exactly what it’s about.

Is it about anything? That’s a question I often ask about Laura Marling’s songs too. I have a feeling that she likely has a very definite meaning in mind when she writes these songs, but the way the lyrics come together often feels almost haphazard, as if she slapped them together with little preparation or intention. That almost certainly cannot be the case because no one could possibly write so beautifully without putting a huge amount of thought and effort into their writing (can it? Can someone be just that good?) But this perhaps intentionally offhanded style is exactly what makes Laura Marling’s music so deeply interesting and moving to me.

You were so smart then,
in your jacket and coat.
My softest red scarf was warming your throat.
Winter was on us,
at the end my nose,
and I’ll never love England more than when covered in snow.

Something about these lyrics always make me feel like they’re being sung to a child. It’s a feeling I often get from lyrics that are somewhat ambiguously directed. I don’t know why they couldn’t be directed to anyone – a friend, a lover, or anyone else. There’s just something almost protective in the way these words are sung that makes me envision that scarf wrapped around the throat of a child.

But a friend of mine says it’s good to hear,
that you believe in love even if set in fear.
Well I’ll hold you there brother and set you straight
I don’t really believe true love is frail and willing to break.

Wait, now what are we talking about? This is standard Laura Marling stuff. Just when you think you know where a song is going, she takes off in a different direction. Try to keep up, won’t you?

So she’s arguing with her friend’s opinion, then? Her belief in love is not set in fear, it’s more confident than all that. I don’t really believe true love is frail and willing to break. Idealism is not something that is a hallmark of Laura Marling’s writing, especially as her career has progressed. This song was recorded when she was about 18 years old (which is completely sick, and by sick I mean amazing, and by amazing I mean infuriating, and I by infuriating I mean…no, it really is pretty infuriating.) So maybe idealism could still shine through back then. I’m not as idealistic as I once was (and far away from even the memory of what it felt like to be 18), but I can still believe in the sentiment of that beautiful lyric. I still think it’s true.

Skipping a section, we come to these lyrics, which build to a real crescendo and form the beating heart of the song:

And I’m clearing all the crap out of my room,
trying desperately to figure out what it is that makes me blue,
and I wrote an epic letter to you,
but it’s 22 pages front and back and it’s too good to be used
And I tried to be a girl who likes to be used
I’m too good for that
There’s a mind under this hat

Out of so much eloquence, one does not expect to hear the word “crap”, and yet it’s this very lack of refinement that makes these words feel all of a sudden incredibly human and immediate.

I’ve written a few epic letters in my day. I’ve sent none of them. I used to think this was out of cowardice. And it probably was. Yet, the idea that these letters were simply “too good to be used” is a far more comforting, self-preserving thought. I think I’ll borrow it as my own.

And I tried to be a girl who likes to be used
I’m too good for that
There’s a mind under this hat

Did I mention she was 18 years old when this song was recorded? I don’t know if it’s that simple fact that gives me such a thrill when I hear these lyrics, but somehow I doubt that’s all it is. This kind of defiant assertion of self-worth is sorely lacking – in art just as much as in life. These are my favorite lines of the song.

And then, once again, the lyrics make a sudden turn. A reverse, really, back to the beginning.

And we will keep you
we will keep you little one,
safe from harm,
like an extra arm you are part of us.

The use of the phrase “little one” solidifies my feeling that these words, are in part, meant to be spoken to a child. Whether to a child or not, the maternal warmth that radiates out of the same passionate firebrand who sang the words directly preceding it is a marvel to me. How can she be so many things at once?

How terribly human of her. How terribly right.

Thanks for reading. Have thoughts about this song? Laura Marling’s music in general? Please feel free to drop me a line at anniemusicblog@gmail.com or leave a comment in the comments section. See you next time!