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.

Advertisements
Standard
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.

Standard
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.

Standard
Sounds of Music

Songbook: Like Janis

Once upon a time I was talking to a person about Searching for Sugarman, which everybody seemed to be watching then (I haven’t so far) and she said that Rodriguez was so great, “better than some Bob Dylan.” Hah. Say to me someone is better than Bob Dylan and see what happens. (Nothing will happen because I’m a polite and restrained person but I will think things about you.) But when some time later Spotify played to me a Rodriguez song I was quite curious and while Dylan he ain’t I still like some of his songs, particularly this one.

“Like Janis” by Rodriguez

Album: Cold Fact

Year: 1970

Category: Recent-years favorites

Why it rocks:
We all try to be positive and enlightened (I hope) but sometimes there is pleasure to be found in listening to such well-put disdain, especially accompanied by such pleasant melody. Some people inspire one to think of this song more than others, I guess.

Favorite bit of lyrics:
“And you try to conceal your ordinary ways / With a smile or a shrug or some stolen cliché” and “And don’t try to enchant me with your manner of dress / ‘Cause a monkey in silk is a monkey no less” (so really the meanest of them).

Favorite moment:
When he lacks a syllable in “and your selfishness.” I like when a rhythm is broken but still works.

Best for: Feeling mean.

Sidenote: I always think instinctively that any “Janis” must be Janis Joplin but this doesn’t really sound like her, does it.

Listen here. (I just realized I can do this.)

Standard
Sounds of Music

Songbook: New Lover

This is another light song with somewhat heavy lyrics. And despite its theme it always makes me smile.

“New Lover” by Josh Ritter

Album: The Beast in Its Tracks

Year: 2013

Category: Recent-years favorites

Why it rocks:
Supposedly it’s a song about Ritter’s divorce, which I don’t know if it’s true. But it is an extremely observant, self-aware song about heartbreak, which manages to still be funny in a dark way. I like the constant tug-of-war between the insincere good wishes towards the ex and the much truer bitterness of someone who got hurt. If you ever tried to be a bigger person and didn’t exactly succeed (not necessarily only in romantic situations), so many things will ring true here. This is a song that relies heavily on the words but the music is there to back them up and build the emotional tension between breezy and serious.

Favorite bit of lyrics:
This song has so many smart moments. Take “I feel low and mean / For accusing you of stealing / What I offered you for free” and the mischievous “Praise the fonder that still grows / On the absent heart in fields.” But I like the simple irony of this bit the most: “I got a new lover now / I know that she’s not mine […] / And she only looks like you / When she’s in a certain light.”

Favorite moment:
Possibly the fragment with “As you go from room to room / Dropping handkerchiefs and daggers / Smoking guns and other clues” (which is another great couple of lines, too).

Best for: Thinking of old, failed relationships that you no longer care about.

Standard