Sounds of Music

Songbook: A Woman, A Woman, A Century of Sleep

I come back to Emmy the Great often and while her voice is normally nothing like the voices I like, she does incredible things with it. Also, most of her songs are miniature stories and I love me a song that tells a story.

“A Woman, A Woman, A Century of Sleep” by Emmy the Great

Album: Virtue

Year: 2011

Category: Recent-years favorite

Why it rocks:
It turns the problematic story of Sleeping Beauty into a meditation on a woman’s domestic life. The melody keeps changing, reflecting the changing mood of the woman, sometimes contemplative, sometimes frantic. I like how it plays with the plant imagery and other elements to build a truly gothic atmosphere. The pulsating drums create the urgency of the song. And there are small inside jokes, like when the husband is quoted, the music quiets and for a moment a rattlesnake sound appears.

Favorite bit of lyrics:
It has a lot of small gems which add to the sense of mudane gothic, like “I will stay and watch the days go past / And I’ll see how the plants advance / And they turn on what they know” or “But I swept until I couldn’t sweep / And this house is still alive”.

Favorite moment:
There are a few but I like when the “Come back, come back…” introduces the hypnotic part of the rhythm.

Best for: House cleaning. Seriously though, for contemplating traditional gender roles in marriage.

Listen here.

Sounds of Music

Songbook: Seven Curses

Back to Dylan Time! Which should be all the time, basically.

“Seven Curses” by Bob Dylan

Album: The Bootleg Series Vol. 1

Year: 1963

Category: Best of Dylan

Why it rocks:
It’s such a simple song, a true illustration of Dylan’s folk roots (I’d argue it’s truer than his protest songs even): with no ornamentation and a very simple, very stark story it raises Dylan’s vision of the Wild West to a mythical realm. And my personal favorite thing about Dylan’s songwriting is how he can tell a story: an actual story with characters, a plot and a resolution. Also, thank heavens they published it on the Bootleg Series because it’s such a loss it was never released on an album.

Favorite lyrics:
I like the simplicity as in a real folk ballad and the vengeful numbers game at the end. I’m not sure if I have a favorite line though, it’s such a consistent text.

Favorite moment:
I like the moment when the narrative changes once the judge has lied.

Best for: It’s a decent sing-along and it could make a decent movie.

Listen here.

Sounds of Music

Songbook: These Dreams

Today let’s pay attention to one of my older favorites, the dreamy (pun not really intended but I take the responsibility)

“These Dreams” by Jim Croce

Album: Life & Dreams

Year: 1973

Category: All-time favorites

Why it rocks:
It’s such a nostalgic, swaying beauty, showing the personal depth an acoustic song can reach thanks to its simplicity.

Favorite bit of lyrics:
“Now we’re just lonely people, / Trying to forget each other’s names” maybe, but this song is not about quotable gems, it’s more about the honesty of a universal experience.

Favorite moment:
The whole way his voice harmonizes with the guitar and the violin.

Best for: Honestly? I love singing along to this song, even though I certainly don’t do it justice. I even do the humming. Just be grateful you don’t need to hear me.

Listen here.

Rotten Tomatoes

Wildly Enthusiastic Review: Whiplash

I’ve finally watched a movie I’ve been meaning to watch for a while and it didn’t disappoint.


Category: Movies

Find it on: IMDb

What it is:
Damien Chazelle (who must be a jazz fanatic) wrote and directed this 2014 movie about a music student, played convincingly by Miles Teller, who gets a chance at the top distinction in his school: joining a demanding band that can jumpstart his career. The only problem is that the instructor (J.K. Simmons, great as usually) will stop at nothing to push his players. Also, so much drumming.

How I found it:
A few years ago I saw the trailer and I immediately loved it for a couple of reasons. I meant to watch it but, of course, didn’t and I’ve only caught up now.

Summary judgment:
I liked everything about this movie, on this very cerebral, admiring level.

Best things about it:
It’s smart but never boring; it cranks up the drama but at the same time the stakes remain debatable: not everyone would give up their life and dignity for a spot on a band (which only makes it more fascinating).
My favorite part of the whole story is the relationship between the two antagonists: how they destroy and save each other at the same time because they remain two sides of the same obsessively ambitious coin. This might be the best written protagonist-antagonist relation I’ve seen in a long time.

Worst things about it:
Honestly, the only thing that comes to mind is I slightly wish for more female presence in the story (even if just as some other musicians in the band). But I don’t have many complaints. They even made jazz exciting.

Other pluses:
✤ I like how this story belongs very much to Andrew. It’s his obsession with excellence and achievement that makes him a perfect victim but also he never really feels like a victim. Small things you notice in the plot combine to build the character, e.g. at first it’s surprising to see no relations between him and the other students but slowly it all begins to add up. In a way, the less we like Andrew as a person, the more he becomes a worthy adversary for his teacher.
✤ I was genuinely surprised at the final part, after everything that happens in the school.

Other minuses:
I was maybe a little tired of the relative ugliness of Andrew’s surrounding, which comes from filming them so realistically but that’s my personal bias for pretty interiors.

How it enriched my life:
It made me think and admire the storytellers. It also made me appreciate the art of drumming.

Fun fact:
I always had an appreciation for drumming, as a matter of fact. Actually, I used to fantasize that if I were to be in a rock band, I would definitely be the drummer (mostly because I’m completely tone-deaf and the rhythm is all I could manage; except I couldn’t, probably, especially once I’ve seen this film and realize how hard it is). I even wanted to take drumming lessons for a while but I never wanted it hard enough to follow through.

So apparently the creator, Damien Chazelle, wrote La La Land? And I admit I’ve watched it since but it’s not worth a write-up.

Recommended for:
People who admire a psychological drama of abuse and revenge. People who wanted to be professional musicians and need reasons why it’s not that great.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Next time: Jane

Sounds of Music

Songbook: Iowa

I’m not sure I understand every single word of this song – though most of it is straightforward enough – but it speaks to me on this sub-intellectual level which makes me uncomfortable with poetry.

“Iowa” by Dar Williams

Album: Mortal City

Year: 1996

Category: Recent acquisitions

Why it rocks:
It creates its own gentle, hypnotic space that lulls me into wonderment, and teaches me about some emotions I’ve never really wanted to experience too much.

Favorite bit of lyrics:
“Her husband had just left her, / She sat down on the chair he left behind, she said, / ‘What is love, where did it get me? / Whoever thought of love is no friend of mine'” for this moment of slice-of-life observation.
And for different reasons: “But way back where I come from, / We never mean to bother, / We don’t like to make our passions other people’s concern.”

Favorite moment:
The ending of the last verse.

Best for: The kind of love affairs that end up in broken hearts.

Listen here.

Sounds of Music

Songbook: You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go

Miley Cyrus is such a wasted potential of our times. If you know her regular music and if you heard her “Backyard Sessions,” you know what I mean. She’s incredible with those folk covers and I’m not ashamed to admit I love her (in them). This one is another of those folk songs for charity, her cover of a Dylan.

“You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go” by Miley Cyrus

Album: Chimes of Freedom: The Songs of Bob Dylan Honoring 50 Years of Amnesty International

Year: 2012

Category: Recent-years favorite

Why it rocks:
It’s a sweet song and I like the original fine. But Miley’s version is just so much more relaxed and the guitar doesn’t seem to run against the tone of the song. She’s so lyrical and effortless here.

Favorite bit of lyrics:
“I’ve only known careless love / It’s always hit me from below. /This time around it’s more correct, / Right on target, so direct.”

Favorite moment:
The prolonged “realize the time” in “I could stay with you forever and never realize the time.” And the whole part with crickets.

Best for: St. Valentine’s Day.

Listen here.

Sounds of Music

Songbook: The Holiday Song

How about we change the mood for once? While indeed I’m usually most moved by soft, heartfelt acoustic folk songs, I also like to listen to faster songs that invite more head-banging.

“The Holiday Song” by the Pixies

Album: Come On Pilgrim

Year: 1987

Category: Recent-years favorites

Why it rocks:
It’s such a rough song with just the right amount of hysteria. It has the kind of drums and guitar that I like in my rock songs and if you know me at all, you know I like scratchy vocals. The punkish energy makes this song.

Favorite bit of lyrics:
Eh, maybe “Sit right down, my wicked son / And let me tell you a story”? I have no idea what these lyrics mean except that they’re supposed to be irreverential (what with all the incest).

Favorite moment:
When the drums start up after the mild guitar intro.

Best for: Jumping up and down and making faces on a holiday.

Listen here.