Sounds of Music

Dylan Season

I’ve been listening a lot to Bob Dylan lately because some seasons are just Dylan seasons. And it gave me a new appreciation for his lyrical genius (which is well-known), his talent for a melody (also rather well-recognized) but also for his (less obvious) skill at interpretation.

I’ve been going through this Spotify playlist (I already know most of these covers, of course) and while many of these are good songs, few can beat Dylan’s original interpretation. He’s just so good at infusing his songs with this mixture of irony, detachment, rawness and depth that few can imitate.

(And those who repeat that he can’t sing should give his 70s records a try. Not that this even matters that much.)


Best of 2018

Obviously, I’m the kind of person who loves end of year summaries. Have you even met me? Here we go.
Sidenote: I’m only counting the things I read and saw for the first time this year.

Favorite books

5. An Enchantment of Ravensby Margaret Rogerson
A truly charming attempt at a fairly tale for adults (even if young ones).

4. The Lost Books of the Odyssey by Zachary Mason
A thoughtful play on the original Odyssey, and, I feel, more palatable to a modern reader. Reviewed here.

3. Faith beyond Belief: Spirituality for Our Times by David Steindl-Rast and Anselm Grün
Not the kind of book I usually discuss here but this is a book on spirituality I would recommend even to those who feel allergic to the very idea (or maybe expecially to them). I’ve been a fan of brother David for a while now.

2. Among Others by Jo Walton
A perfectly original, delightful book, combining a few of my favorite things: magic, geek girls and a boarding school. Reviewed here.

1. I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
I know you’ll excuse the obvious pun but this classic that I never knew before has absolutely captured my heart.

Favorite movies

5. Avengers: Infinity War
Mainly for being better than I expected it to be. It certainly didn’t shake my world. Reviewed here.

4. Love, Simon
A cute, little movie, but with a progressive edge. Reviewed here.

3. To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before
While not nearly as progressive, this movie gave me so much simple joy.

2. Whiplash
Tense, exciting and somewhat relatable, an intellectual treat. Reviewed here.

1. Song of the Sea
An absolute beauty. Reviewed here.

Favorite TV shows

5. The Tick (S1)
Superheroes done differently. Also, Lint. Reviewed here.

4. Nashville (S6)
It was so bad but I still want to mention it. Reviewed here.

3. Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (S2)
A lot of fun and looks lovely but maybe loses some of season one’s edge.

2. The Americans (S6)
Such a smart, emotional show. One of the best I’ve ever seen. Reviewed here.

1. The Magicians (S2 & S3)
The most fun I’ve had with TV in a while. Reviewed here.

Favorite songs

(Or: new additions to my Spotify playlist of discoveries, not necessarily the songs I listened to the most this year.)

5. “Don’t Know How” by honeyhoney
A bit of an earworm, but enjoyable.

4. “Tougher than the Rest” by Camera Obscura
Silly but sweet.

3. “The Way It Goes” by Gillian Welch
This one has a kick to it.

2. “My Antonia” by Emmylou Harris
Melancholic and charming.

1. “Iowa” by Dar Williams
This has a hold one me. Discussed here.

Have a great new year, everyone, full of books, movies, shows, songs (and anything else you enjoy) that gladden your hearts!

Sounds of Music

Songbook: Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole

It’s been a while since I did one of those posts but I recently heard this song again and it reminded me of its greatness. I first heard Martha Wainwright covering Cohen songs (great covers!) and I fell in love with her voice and interpretation but I never got that into most of her own songs – with the exception of this one.

“Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole” by Martha Wainwright

Album: Martha Wainwright

Year: 2005

Category: Recent-years favorite

Why it rocks:
It uses profanity smartly to draw attention to this little, true-to-life power manifesto and her voice does it so much justice. I can’t imagine anyone, particularly a woman, who wouldn’t find bits in this song to nod vigorously to.

Favorite bit of lyrics:
The beginning is particularly strong: “Poetry is no place for a heart that’s a whore” and these next lines “And I’m young and I’m strong / but I feel old & tired / overfired” come to my mind all too regularly.

Favorite moment:
I think the part about men in a bar is particularly significant. And I generally like all the moments when her voice seems to break.

Best for: Female empowerment

Listen here.

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.

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.