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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Words as Weapons, Songs for Hope

I used to believe in writer's block; I thought it was actually a symptomatic condition - a uptake inhibitor of words and stories, but these days I'm not so sure. Words are everywhere; how can we misplace them?  Shapes and patterns prevail in our minds, we build them even in darkness. The building of patterns (or ideas, if you will) is innate, instinctive; they are only then further manifested in words. Nabokov himself said about writing, "The pattern of the thing precedes the thing." Can we say that the act of writing is simply transmitting these prevailing ideas from shapes into words? It seems reaching a writer's block is simply just a hesitation, a hesitation built mostly of cowardice. There are always stories to tell, but perhaps I do not have the nerve to create a permanence for them.

My mind has been busy the past few months, but my blog has been idle.  In May I was hoping to share some short stories in honor of short story month.  I sat for days in my apartment with towers of books surrounding me; moated by Joyce, Oates, Carver, Cheever, Salinger, Hempel, Fitzgerald.  Shall I stop here? I could literally go on for days. I eventually failed to organize my passions and could not commit to five favorite stories.  I toyed with sharing my own short fiction, and could not hit "publish." How stripping, how lasting; what would be taken from me?
Earlier this month, I was blown away by this. Thoughtful and gracefully bare, this letter was called many things, but never art. I wanted so badly to talk about Frank Ocean, about vulnerability and self-expression, and what it means to be an artist and how that relates to being an activist. Where does the man end and the artist begin?

Perhaps that's just it. Is being an artist bound to being an activist? Are we naive to think that we can separate what we create from who we are? Creation comes with responsibility, but art requires seeking the truth, whatever the cost. The great injustice to art is censorship, but doesn't the responsibility of creation require that we censor our words in some ways? What weapons will my words create, and who will they sacrifice?
It's more terrifying than I would like it to be.

One day I will loose the terror, and I will rise fearless with words as forces that are full of truth and permanence. They will, as one of my idols so bravely said, "march and fight." But I better be prepared for them to kill as well.
Until then I will share what I know, and perhaps what is safe. Below are some really stellar bands that have released great albums this year. Enjoy their sounds. Let them sing of hope, until then.

Trampled By Turtles, Stars and Satellites

Stars and Satellites has been one of my favorite albums of 2012. I've enjoyed their previous releases as well, but this album in particular perfectly marries a traditional bluegrass sound with progressive rock notes and a transmigratory narrative. An ode to being on the road, the lyrical journey beings in darkness with Midnight on the Interstate and ends with the quiet of the morning in The Calm and the Crying Wind.  
I've always loved bluegrass for it's rich background and darker tales. Uneducated music followers often relate bluegrass to American country music, but it's origins speak otherwise. It's the cold Irish fiddle, the Appalachian banjo in some terrified nightIt's Scottish funeral songs, African-American jazz sounds and gospel notes singing shapes of hope. It's holy, it's lonesome, and it's everyman's tale.  
I can't help but think of the Medieval "Everyman" play when I hear these notes. Like the medieval morality plays, even these modern tales elaborate on the goodness and evil of everyman and the conflict therein.
The morality is complete within itself; a detailing of this inherent conflict and yet a surrender to those things of greater power...whatever that might mean in worlds both ancient and modern.
I can't get enough of the anthemic ballad, Alone. 

"The days and nights are killing me 
The light and dark are still in me 
But there's an anchor on the beach 
So let the wind blow hard 
And bring a falling star"

Walk The Moon, Walk The Moon

Another great release of 2012, I actually discovered Walk The Moon by way of some of their lighter, dance-friendly songs like Anna Sun.  But, I was blown away when I came across Iscariot, which feels like a quiet prayer song in the midst of battle.  Do not be fooled; though it presents itself like an offering it's sick with the syrup of betrayal and is indeed a battle-ready revenge ballad.  And who can't use one of those?  If I fail to finish this post, it will be because the last minute of this song just killed me. I would trade more than 30 pieces of silver for the song to go on for another minute, even though it's already 5:24 long.  There's enough passion, enough anger, enough sadness to fill the whole album with just this song.  
I'm sorry, were there other songs to talk about here?  Check out Anna Sun (dance on, hipsters!) and Shiver, Shiver. And though I judged them immediately for making a song called Quesadilla - it's actually quite catchy.  Dance on. Die on.

First Aid Kit, The Lion's Roar 

If I am not also in this field wearing my paisley frock and dancing, I honestly don't know where I am.
I've been a fan of these Swedish sisters since their 2008 Drunken Trees EP and their cover of the Fleet Foxes' Tiger Mountain Peasant Song, which helped them along with their growing popularity. The Lion's Roar, released this year, is a field dream of an album.
You cannot hear their haunting, full voices without calling to mind the voices and sounds of their American music idols, as seen in Emmylou.  The spirits of Emmylou and June are certainly here. And though they can easily call to mind the mothers of American folk music, their sound still bears a tonality I can't help but call Nordic. The reverence and allusions to those who have come before them, combined with modern perspectives and languid tones make this make this a perfect epistle on modern love from start to finish.

"In the hearts of men
In the arms of mothers
In the parts we play to convince others"

The Lighthouse and The Whaler, Pioneers

Let me start by saying this: The Lighthouse and The Whaler's 2009 Self-titled album was a really phenomenal full-length debut.  If you aren't yet familiar, make haste. Be sure to listen to Morning.
Their 2012 album This Is an Adventure will be released in September and word on the streets (actually, word on their website) is that it's produced by Ryan Hadlock (The Lumineers) and mastered by Greg Cabrillo (Bon Iver, Grizzly Bear).  But though these subtle hands of influence can be seen, their sound is unique, full of life and energy, and their soundscapes and lyrics still have the depth I like to see in my music.  It feels light, but it's heavy. Pioneers is from this year's EP and I can't get enough.
"I was wishing we could go back to how it was before age impaired our reach," indeed.

S T A Y   T U N E D.

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