Happy Halloween, everyone. Here’s the most colorful song aesthetic I could put together in the spirit of the season. Planning ahead? Never heard of her.
RISE | Eddie Vedder I may not know much about his Pearl Jam work, but what I do know is that Eddie Vedder is nailing it with this one. Written for the movie Into the Wild, about a man, a van, and probably some other things in between, “Rise” still stands solidly on its own as a hearty and moving song. I remember hearing this song pretty often as a kid, and being a bit annoyed with something about it that I can no longer place—maybe it was the twang, or maybe it was the strange feeling that this song lasts six minutes despite only being two and a half. I haven’t shaken the latter feeling—probably because the song is just a man, a mandolin, and no other things in between—but today, I really relish it. Keeping things simple was absolutely the right choice, as I think it highlights the power behind this performance. With such simple yet existential lyrics as “Gonna rise up / Find my direction magnetically / Gonna rise up / Throw down my ace in the hole” declared so passionately, it’s hard not to be battered by the emotions of this song, which is unabashedly uplifting and yet sounds as though a tattered soul’s gale roars through it (oh we’re getting pretentious up in here). That in itself is probably thanks to the backing mandolin, which is almost entirely variations on three chords, and yet it blasts forth such a melodic and forceful song. Good, good vibrations.
NEW SHOES | Blitzen Trapper On to another song I totally didn’t appreciate enough as a kid, which is crazy, because this song is specifically marketed for children but I CANNOT stop listening to it as an adult. I’ll always be thankful for having indie weirdo parents who played me only the indiest, weirdoest music, which is where the compilation album For the Kids Three comes in. And listen, not a single one of the songs on One through Three has the right to fuck as hard as they do. Even amongst gems, though, this song is unequivocally a gem. I love how mature this song is in spite of its target audience—it’s not, like, dark and gritty and Frank Miller or whatever, but it doesn’t talk down to its listeners, lyrically or sonically. In just two short minutes, this song is able to create an atmosphere like a cloudy, fall day with its uptempo yet soft synth and its restrained, tight guitar, both of which dissolve into a reverberating, buzzing instrumental bridge before flattening back into a hard rock jam. Like I said, all of that in two short minutes, which is the perfect demonstration of how to talk to kids: not dumber, just shorter. Guys, this one is so good. I have to listen to it a minimum of three times if it comes on once. I wish I had a youtube link for it, but there’s only a live performance on youtube with five likes that doesn’t capture the contained atmosphere that the recorded one does, but it’s on apple music on Spotify, so please check it out.
TOMBSTONE | Suzanne Vega The one song that even vaguely feels ready for Halloween here actually comes from my girlfriend, not me, which I’m sure comes as a disappointment to anyone here for my goth content (but we can talk about it later). Though I’m not sure “spooky” has ever been synonymous with Suzanne Vega, this song has the same soft sound as “New Shoes” but with a twist somewhere between eerie and funky. From its fake-out opening jump-scare, the drums are distorted and fuzzy, though once they jolt into rhythm, they keep an irresistibly catchy tempo backed by equally great base. Where things start to get weird is the “chorus” (if it can be called that—it’s all instrumental), a piano-driven section that draws out these eerie, diminishing chords going flat in the background (I can’t place where this sound comes from, so let me know if you know), followed by samples of eerie, old violins as section breaks. Like I said, this song feels a bit more funky than spooky, but there’s a little something off-kilter that makes this a perfect little song—another entry that’s far too short.
DISAPPEAR | Adrianne Lenker Yet another sad song from the ever-more-prolific Adrianne Lenker, “Disappear” should make good on my promises that you’ll cry to one of these if you haven’t already. Unlike “Rise,” this one is about just as bare bones as it sounds musically (though it wouldn’t be a sadgirl composition without that standard recording fuzz), but its sparse guitar uses its heartstring-plucking hook very effectively for what seems to me to be a mournful song. As great as it sounds, though, it’s Adrianne’s words that take the cake with this one, as usual. I can’t tell if it’s the music that primed me for it, but the first time I heard “‘Cause this world, it keeps trying to pull me down / But my feet, they won’t ever find the ground / ‘Cause my body is made out of sound / And that’s all I am,” it was like I was in a chokehold. Seriously, I cry a little every time. She’s too powerful. Thanks to my girlfriend, as always, for bringing this music into my life… I think.
TRIGGER HIPPIE | Morcheeba Okay, happy times! We’re happy now, got it? Morcheeba! A Morcheeba classic! I’m not sure I have anything insightful to say about this one, but it’s Morcheeba being the best at doing what Morcheeba does best. Yes? Yes. Every time I talk about trip hop here, I feel like a bit of a poser, because truthfully, I’m not as immersed in the genre as I should be given how much I love what I’ve heard. Morcheeba almost sounds friendlier than a lot of the ominous sounds their peers love creating, but that’s not to say they can’t create a delightfully off-kilter environment. “Trigger Hippie,” however, has nailed down the dreamlike sound that Morcheeba is known for, with its sitar and slide guitar, lazy beat, and Skye Edwards’ hazy vocals. In a way, this is as psychedelic as it gets, and I’m here for it.
This week is yet another Denver Art Museum selection (dam), because my cultural exposure is worth a million parking tickets (but don’t quote me on that, City of Denver™️). Phumelele Tshabalala’s A monument to the iS’pantsula as mama feeds the community caught my eye at almost the very moment I left the building, mounted just past the doors of the museum restaurant (which is too expensive for me to remember the name of). Maybe it was the vibrant colors that seem to break forth from even the reality of the piece itself, or maybe it was the strikingly planetary headdress of the figure depicted, or maybe it was the boy peering almost entirely from off-panel hidden in the foliage, but whatever the case, I had to stop and look at it further. As far as I’m aware, Tshabalala depicts here the moment he returned home to south Africa, with the titular iS’pantsula being a dance developed during apartheid as a way of reclaiming the freedom of movement. I’m not the person to tell that story, though, so check out more about him here. In the meantime, stay safe, everyone. Go watch Rocky Horror Picture Show. See you next week.
I also stopped in my tracks when I walked past this painting (on the way to the cheaper museum cafe across the hall from the expensive restaurant). Stunning!
Good stuff, right?
Yes, New Shoes is insanely catchy and well written. There’s another one on that compilation called See You on the Moon that never fails to bring a sweet tear to my eye. Also, that Adrienne Lenker song is a good one. See you on the Moon….
Kids song writers have no right to hit us where it hurts
Spoiler for your first happy song – that guy in Into the Wild dies at the end.