A recap of all of the posts that comprised Crushing Krisis: Blog of Tomorrow (a Patreon launch event) [Read more…] about November Recap: Blog of Tomorrow
[Patreon-Nov16-Post-Bug][/Patreon-Nov16-Post-Bug]This is actually a post about the 36th song from 35 years of my life.
I’ve never understood how “Best of the Year” lists can come out in December. There’s a whole extra month of things that might be the best! There’s more year – more context – that hasn’t happened yet!
The lists should come out in January. I blame Christmas. Some might say I have declared a war on it.
I think “Best of Year” lists should come out in the following January, or maybe even March or April. Who can even know the shape of the year without a little time and hindsight? How many of these 35 songs would I have chosen right at the end their years rather than after? In many cases, I hadn’t even heard them year.
I don’t know what hindsight will tell me about 2016. It was tempting to pick “Blackstar” or “Lazarus” as a reminder of those brief first 10 days of 2016 when it seemed everything was possible before the sad, awful mess of this year set in. Maybe in hindsight one of those will be my song of 2016.
For now, my pick is a song from just two weeks later. Actually, it was the first thing I heard other than David Bowie after his death. The song is “Mountains” by Dirty Holiday, a moniker for one of the many projects of Philly singer-songwriter Katie Barbato.
It also happens to be EV’s favorite song of the year.
This will forever go down as the first song I discovered and loved at exactly the same time as EV. She was sitting at our dining room table the first time I played it from my laptop, and as she requested Dirty Holiday’s Nobody’s Sober EP again and again it grew to be our favorite song amongst a strong crop.
There’s something about how the song picks up from a bluesy, acoustic strum to something larger .The arrangement and production is a perfect fit for this tune. In particular, I’d describe those organ parts as “lurid” – so swirling and colorful that there is almost something prickly and sinister about them, lending a different meaning to Barbato’s tossed off “da dut da” above them.
One Wednesday over the summer I brought EV to the Academy of Natural Sciences to see the dinosaurs for the first time. However, in documenting the story on the blog this summer, I skipped my favorite part.
EV and I reached the intersection of 19th street and Walnut, where 19th is interrupted by Rittenhouse Square. As we crossed from the west side to the east, we very literally bumped into Katie Barbato and her husband Matt. We hugged hello, and then I leaned down to introduce EV.
“EV, this is Miss Katie.” Then, it dawned on me that EV knew exactly who Miss Katie was. “EV, it’s Katie Barbato.”
Here is an artist’s rendering of EV’s face in that moment:
Katie, Matt, and I chatted about Katie’s record and my purple hair for a few minutes while EV hid behind my legs in awe. There we were in the middle of Center City, and her papa was talking to A ROCK STAR FROM THE IPOD. She did not say a single word to Katie or Matt, but as soon as we said our goodbyes the only thing she could talk about for the rest of the day was, “Did you know that I met Katie Barbato?”
Requests for “Mountains” saw an uptick after that, which I didn’t even think was possible.
You can buy the entire Nobody’s Sober EP at BandCamp for $4. It is five songs long and each song is way better than a dollar, so that is a steal.
[Patreon-Nov16-Post-Bug][/Patreon-Nov16-Post-Bug]”Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.”
I love that quote, often attributed to Elvis Costello but actually the words of actor Martin Mull. He was simply paraphrasing sentiments like this one, from The New Republic in 1918:
Strictly considered, writing about music is as illogical as singing about economics. All the other arts can be talked about in the terms of ordinary life and experience.
I like Mull’s quote better. I don’t think writing about music is illogical, but I do think it is like using art to describe other art. There is an art to finding an adjective to describe a song, a riff, or a voice – waves of sound that speak their own descriptions. I wouldn’t have endeavored to write about music for 30 days straight this month if I didn’t feel that way.
What I do think can be illogical is the taxonomy of music. Litanies of labels and galaxies of genres. They’re used to so careful contain the sound of an artist, but what happens when they write a song that doesn’t fit into the container. When a punk band unplugs, are they immediately folk-punk? When Lady Gaga sings with a Southern accent, is she country?
I sometimes wonder if artists reflect on this stuff as they read what’s written about their work. I probably would. One artist I’ve been wondering about in specific is Nathaniel Rateliff and The Night Sweats. They were one of the “Country” artists I was introduced to in the series of song summits a year ago that lead to Smash Fantastic playing tunes like their “S.O.B.” and Eric Church’s “Springsteen.”
I understood why Country fans would listen to “S.O.B.” There’s no doubt that it has a raw, throw-back country vibe with its handclaps and walking bass line. That’s not what I heard. Country isn’t one of my major influences and when I heard the song, I immediately thought, “That sounds like Motown.”
I initially wrote it off, thinking perhaps there was just something about the combination of the bassline and the horns that evoked a certain Motown hit for me. Then I heard the entire Nathaniel Rateliff and The Night Sweats LP.
It’s not Country. It’s Motown and Stax Records. It’s The Isley Brothers. It’s Otis Redding. It’s Sam Cooke.
Nathaniel Rateliff and The Night Sweats is one of those “every song is amazing” albums that I cherish and listen to on repeat forever. The first tune – “I Need Never Get Old” – might be the best indication of that, but I could have picked any song on the album.
It’s not just that it sounds a lot like The Isley Brothers. It sounds like some specific Isley Brothers song that you’re sure you’ve heard before and loved. It’s aural déjà vu, a sound that can create the memory of having heard it before.
I always try to take note of these songs when I first hear them. It’s like writing down your dreams as soon as you wake up when the details are still vivid. Over time and repeated listens you will subconsciously normalize this special act of déjà vu as just sounding like itself. Sometimes I find little lists of song names scribbled on a piece of paper, my solitaire version of musical $64,000 Pyramid where I try to define a song by all of the little references I hear inside of it.
The entirety of Nathaniel Rateliff and The Night Sweats produces that feeling for me.
That makes me wonder: how did Rateliff get filed with Country? The record was released by Stax Records and it absolutely has a classic Stax sound, which was the sound of 60s R&B and Soul.
The truth is that in our illogical modern taxonomy of music, there is no poplar modern analog to those genres. If you write an amazing, earth-shaking album of classic Stax-style tunes in 2015 you’ve got two choices: have close to nobody hear it, or promote it to Country radio because all those real instruments you’re playing will be appreciated there and rack up over 30 million YouTube views in your first year-and-a-half as a big label band.
You should probably choose the latter, because any words that are used to describe your music are just a dance about architecture – one imperfect undefinable art describing another.
[Patreon-Nov16-Post-Bug][/Patreon-Nov16-Post-Bug]I’m not sure that I’m capable of unconditional love, because I don’t believe it really exists.
How can you even define what it means to love someone or something “no matter what?” The variable of “what” in that statement only includes the changes you can conceive of in the present day. It’s a statement that you could love something’s status quo forever, and maybe also anything within a few degrees of difference.
I know this is a silly measuring stick but I always try to define this sort of unwavering commitment via musical fandom. Sixteen years ago this week I lamented that Ani DiFranco websites were shutting down left and right, and I couldn’t understand why anyone would quit her. I was in my sixth year of listening to her, but some of those fans were in their twelfth. At the time, I said:
I don’t expect her to reproduce the same album over and over, and i don’t expect her to stay the same. The people shutting down their website’s now might not have expected her to do either of those things, but i suppose on some level they were hoping she would.
Now I’m in my twentieth year, and Ani’s new albums barely register with me and I no longer see her shows. She’s not too different and I’m not too different, but the two of us have each changed by enough degrees that love has turned into like. I Now I’m just loving the old her, and that’s not love. It’s nostaglia. The new her can’t change that, and I still have affection for her, but it’s not the same love I had before.
I think the same holds true for anything you love – not just always-changing things like musicians or family members, but static things like a song, a board game, or a statue. That’s because one side of that loving equation can change: you. So, even if you love something unconditionally now, you can’t predict all the future conditions.
That’s how Against Me!’s beautiful, rambling, three-chord “Unconditional Love” resonates with me. It’s off of Transgender Dysphoria Blues, the band’s first release since lead singer Laura Jane Grace came out as a transgender woman. That’s a pretty big change in conditions – one that most people don’t account for when they express their unconditional love. It’s a change that finds a lot of people reaching out for the unconditional love they were promised and finding a void in its place.
Laura knows that. She understands the fundamental lie of love. Unconditional love isn’t really about the future, it’s about the present.
[Patreon-Nov16-Post-Bug][/Patreon-Nov16-Post-Bug]I’ll always associate our friends The Crutchleys with being pregnant with EV because of two reasons
The first reason, and the most obvious, is that they visited our house to play Catan (which we bought for the occasion!) just a few hours before E went into labor. I’ll never be able to think of EV’s birth without thinking at least a little bit about The Crutchleys, Catan, and eating an entire Domino’s pizza all by myself in installments between E’s contractions the next morning.
The other reason is Modern Vampires of the City.
Two months earlier, we were paying The Crutchleys a visit in May for an evening of chat and games in May just after the LP was released. When the discussion turned to music, P said, “Oh, have you heard the new Vampire Weekend?”
I might have shrugged my shoulders in response. I liked the band’s second effort Contra well enough, but I had never had a particular epiphany with them like many of my friends did. Yes, they had an awesome vocabulary and plenty of baroque flourishes, plus an obvious affinity for Paul Simon. It was just that none of their songs really stuck to me.
(Also, I do give a fuck about the Oxford Comma.)
There was something different about Modern Vampires of the City from the opening notes and typewriter percussion of “Obvious Bicycle.” Vampire Weekend transformed from crafting baroque confection with endless streams of melody rocketing in all directions like silly string to wringing emotion from subtle veins of countermelody marbled through each of their songs.
That night, “Don’t Lie” stuck to me. I couldn’t remember the last time I heard something so beautiful and tragic, from the initial sigh of organ like the slow exhalation of breath, to the clipped heartbeat of massive-sounding kick and snare, to the elegiac slow surf guitar out of the outro, but nothing more than the chorus:
I want to know, does it bother you?
The low click of a ticking clock
There’s a lifetime right in front of you
And everyone I know
I feel that chorus thrumming in my cells. I’ve always held a nearly visceral terror of the click of a ticking clock, time made tangible as sound as it slips away never to be grasped again. One of my primary concerns during our pregnancy was time. How was I going to get by with so much less time?
Later in the song, that chorus transforms:
I want to know, does it bother you?
The low click of a ticking clock
There’s a headstone right in front of you
And everyone I know
Those are the dual truths of time, laid bare in a pair of chorus. Everyone you know has both a lifetime and tombstone in front of them, but the great Rorschach test of life is asking someone which one they see when they hear the ticking of a clock.
[Patreon-Nov16-Post-Bug][/Patreon-Nov16-Post-Bug]EV is a very musical child.
I know, shocking.
She not only pretends that she fronts a band, but actually writes songs for that band, rehearses them, and then sings them to us. She’s also got pretty solid pitch, can memorize most lyrics after two practice runs, and has started singing harmony to my originals when I play them for her.
She has a pair of musical parents, and has already sat in on dozens of rehearsals, but I like to think all of her musical interest and acumen is down to one song: “Madness” by Muse.
I’ve enjoyed Muse ever since I first heard an a cappella group sing “Time Is Running Out” back in college. There’s something about Matthew Bellamy’s rangy voice and the Queen-like bombast of their biggest songs that draws me in.
As with Kings of Leon, I continued to follow Muse’s releases oblivious to the fact that they were turning into the most popular band in the land. Their sixth studio album, The 2nd Law, came out on September 28th and I was already sure that I liked it when I heard “Madness” on the radio for the first time on Sunday, November 18th, on its way to being the longest-running Alternative Rock number one song of all time.
I remember the day, because that was the day we learned we were pregnant with EV. We were driving back home from seeing our friend Gina (not that one, the other one) in a play and the song came on the radio. We both sang along and traded the vocal percussion back and forth, smiled giddily at the “some kind of madness” that was about to take control of our lives.
After that car ride, Muse’s omnipresent “Madness” became the secret anthem of our pregnancy.
When we arrived at the hospital to deliver EV nine months later, we were met by one of the older midwives from the group of six we had been seeing. She was an authoritarian hippy, easy-going and new age-y but able and ready to command us at a moment’s notice. I know I wasn’t the pregnant one, but that’s pretty much everything I was looking for in a midwife.
Unfortunately, her hours of coverage were up midway through E’s labor. Just as we were getting comfortable with her, she was replaced with a young midwife who we’d only met once before. We were a bit bummed. How had we spent all these months forging relationships with a group of women who would deliver our child and missed getting to know the one who’d actually do the delivering.
The bummedness didn’t last long.
The midwife’s name was Erin, another E-name in a room with E and an nurse named Elizabeth and, potentially, a little E-named baby, if our baby turned out to be a girl.
Erin shared E’s birthday – not just the day, but the year as well.
Finally – and to this day, I find this last coincidental detail utterly insane – like E, Erin sang in a semi-professional a capella group.
Erin was meant to delivery EV. It was all part of the madness.
E and I had joked for a long time that she wanted the rocking soundtrack to Supernatural Season One playing throughout the entirety of her labor, but as the evening progressed I noticed she simply wasn’t getting into a good zone listening to all that classic rock.
The first time “Madness” came on she went into a sort of trance. I played it again and reflexively began singing the “mm-mm-mm-ma madness” part under my breath. Then, Erin began to sing along in harmony. Then, to our surprise, E began to sing too, quietly, between her contractions.
Almost every other moment of the labor process is a blur of details to me until EV emerged, but that moment remains frozen in time in that way all of my most significant memories are – where I can see it happen as an omniscient 3rd-person narrator looking in on the scene over my own shoulder.
Music. “Madness.” EV incubated in it for nine months, us singing along to it in the kitchen, trading the vocal percussion back and forth, and it summoned her into this world.