Songs For Your Day

You’re taking your point of views a bit too far: Modest Mouse’s “Edit the Sad Parts” by amsettineri

I don’t consider “Edit the Sad Parts” by Modest Mouse to be a political song, or even a song that has much of an agenda, but it seems apt nowadays.  Songs that are well-written will always fit into tough moments in life.  These kinds of songs offer advice, lessons, even a shoulder of comfort, as needs arise.  The relevant historical moments for these songs are varied and unpredictable, but such relevance is the definition of timeless music.  Beyond love songs, there aren’t many songs that have multiple contexts of relevance; “Edit the Sad Parts” is one of the few to qualify.

“Edit the Sad Parts” first appeared on the vinyl release of Modest Mouse’s first LP, This Is a Long Drive for Someone with Nothing to Think About, though it was removed from compact disc copies of the album.  Fans like myself, who were forced either due to age and/or late exposure to explore the band’s earliest and best music via back-catalog reissues, heard the song for the first time on the Interstate 8 EP, in both the original album form, and in a recording made live from Isaac Brock’s garage in the mid-90s.  Like much of the music Modest Mouse made in the last millennium, “Edit the Sad Parts” is incredibly raw and visceral; listening to the song is the aural equivalent of gaining satisfaction from picking at a scab till pink flesh appears.

Upon inspection, the lyrics indicate that this is a deeply personal song written in precise vagaries.  As time has passed, however, these very vagaries have made this seven-minute epic universal.  While the song needed very little to make it compelling, a Youtube video of the song set to real footage of Golden Gate Bridge suicides turned “Edit the Sad Parts” for me from merely poignant into sublimely profound.  Recently the song went from profound to necessary.


At this point in the review you may be asking, “Why did he intro this song talking about ‘political’ music?”  Because I came back from a camping trip, during which I enjoyed the sound of a shutting-down cell phone, the roar of a small rapid in the creek behind the tent, to find that a lot of stupid people had decided over the weekend to show the world their capacity for hatred.  To show it in disgusting, violent ways.  While I believe that the expression of their views is protected, their execution of violent words into violent actions is despicable.  I was left speechless, as I have been left speechless before by selfish hatred, and as I ‘m sure I will be left speechless again.  I found no comfort in politicians’ condemnations, or in newspaper headlines, or even in the internet’s ill-advised idea of revenge, the exposure of personal details.  For me, solace lay only in the personal words from a personal song written twenty-one years ago, which has gained the weight of ancient wisdom: “Why are you judging people so damn hard / You’re taking your point of views a bit too far.”  The people responsible for hate-fueled violence of any kind are guilty of “Making so much noise you don’t know when to listen.”  And while I can’t understand such noise, I can understand the confusion and disappointment it causes.  Modest Mouse expressed this confusion and disappointment perfectly in “Edit the Sad Parts.”  Somehow those emotions seem one of the few appropriate responses to such hatred.


This Conversation of New Beginning: Deafheaven by amsettineri
March 18, 2016, 12:34 pm
Filed under: sing like no one is listening

In the eight months that have passed since the last post, a strange and unforeseen change has occurred in my music appreciation.  Bored with the repetition of the classic rock and current hit radio stations, unimpressed with the predictable variety of the station dubbing itself “The Adventure,” I turned the dial to the local hard rock frequency.  I love rock and roll, all crunchy guitars and mortal defiance, but I’ve never been a fan of any music that deserved the adjectives “hard” or “heavy,” nor especially any style of “metal.”  Sure, a listen here and there with friends exposed me to bands like In Flames and Killswitch Engage, but nothing really stuck to the wall.  Yet one day, tuning to the station I’d only programmed in to fill my preset slots, something clicked.

That day, metal sounded fun.  Sure, the lead singer was screaming, yeah, the lyrics were probably about death, but the way they played the music seemed like they were having such a good time, I couldn’t stop listening.

A long time ago, when the only artists I thought had merit were The Beatles and Bob Dylan, my cousin and I were talking music.  He liked heavy metal, he said, because that was the only genre where no one held back playing their instruments.  The guitars are swift and loud, and the drums simply never stop.  Sure, I thought, whatever.  He was more right than I could have ever guessed.  The sheer speed of the music on the radio that day floored me.  I resolved to look into the genre more.

I’ve found several bands I like, but right now the group that has impressed me most is by far Deafheaven.  Formed in San Francisco in 2010 by vocalist George Clarke and guitarist Kerry McCoy, Deafheaven have released a demo (by just the duo), and three albums so far as a full-fledged group.  Their most recent album is last year’s New Bermuda, a five-song epic of unintelligible screaming and unlimited music.  The shortest song on the album is nearly eight-and-a-half minutes long, yet I never want any of the tracks to end.

Described variously as “black metal,” “death metal,” and “shoegaze metal” (whatever that means), Deafheaven have a unique ability among the admittedly limited bands I’ve sampled to maintain melodic elements to their sturm und drang, no-holds-barred style.  New Bermuda‘s opening track, “Brought to the Water” combines beautiful guitar notes with tachycardic riffs, calming drum beats with pounding fills, and throat-shredding vocals with what might as well be piano études.  The closing track “Gifts for the Earth” pulls the same rabbit out of the hat, yet neither song sounds carbon-copied from the other.  They are bookends to an album that never ceases to fascinate, despite many, many plays so far.

If you like metal, then I hope you’ve heard of Deafheaven.  If you think you don’t like metal, give these guys a listen.  This band has opened up a whole new avenue of music appreciation for me.

Cold War Kids’ “Hold My Home” by amsettineri
July 27, 2015, 11:03 pm
Filed under: sing like no one is listening

I listen to a lot of artists, but my album rack, which will never be too full, is filled with many of the same names.  I’m very loyal to musicians or bands that have impressed me, leading me to own full discographies of several groups, including weaker albums or albums that I just don’t listen to at all (Like Coldplay’s X & Y; can’t stand it).  I appreciate artists who reward their listeners by staying true to their raison d’etre as a band while at the same time constantly innovating, expanding, reaching higher.  That’s not to say that a band who goes from genre to genre is inherently good; often times bands who change their sound entirely from album to album are simply trying to continue to drop flash bangs, to stun on the surface.  Though they may sometimes succeed on that superficial level, their genuine love for that style of music may simply be an exaggeration, or a ruse entirely.  The result is insincere music, which will never hold up through time.

Cold War Kids is a relatively unknown group, generally under the radar of mainstream, radio rock.  Since their 2006 debut Robbers & Cowards, the band has continued to pump out amazing art, even while their sound has broadened and matured, moving away from the very style that brought them to my attention in the first place.  This shift has been subtle, and I believe it has been done in the pursuit of the group’s interests, and not the interests of lower denominators.  In short, while their songs have become generally smoother, perhaps even slicker, this evolution is not an attempt to ‘sell out.’

Their most recent album, 2014’s Hold My Home, is a pretty spectacular body of music.  Songs like “Hotel Anywhere” contain pulsing musical elements that could never have lived on their first record, but which fit perfectly here.  “Go Quietly” and “Nights & Weekends” would be at home on a Killers album.  “First,” an epic, foot-stomping indie ballad (something that would seem anathema on the nihilistic Robbers & Coward) is an incredibly compelling song which I find hard to take out of my daily rotation.

It’s bold to say, but I’ll do it anyway: there isn’t a single misstep on Hold My Home.  From start to finish, Cold War Kids prove with this album that they have deserved every chance they’ve ever had to make a record, and to move their sound in the direction it’s gone.

M. Ward’s “Here Comes the Sun Again” by amsettineri
July 8, 2015, 12:46 pm
Filed under: sing like no one is listening

It’s summertime in Wyoming, which means tourists speeding along the roads to Yellowstone, posing with drinks beneath the banner of the Silver Dollar Bar, jaywalking obliviously across traffic with museum stickers still stuck to shirts.  The nightly rodeo maintains its crowds, though none are so imposing as those that filled the stands for the four days of the Stampede, when riders stayed the eight seconds on their broncs, when bulldogging made its brief return to our arena.  The sun has been shining over the streets of this town, illuminating the hanging signs of restaurants and boot shops, setting slowly behind the western mountains while leaving its glow to light the sky for hours after.

In three weeks the only tourist who matters to me will be pulling into town from the west, to spend a week away from the sprawling bright lights of LA and fall asleep in a tent by the river in Sunlight Basin, counting stars she hasn’t seen in years while my dog cuddles next to her, chasing rabbits in his dreams.  We’ve got a flexible plan for the week, taking us all over the Basin, across mountain passes, into valleys, and over rivers which I’ll get to treasure again with the first-time breathtaking awe locals love to soak up osmotically from friends making premier visits.

I’m awaiting her arrival with childlike eagerness, an innocent giddiness I can barely recall from long ago holidays or birthday parties.  She is far and away one of the greatest friends of my life; I’m thankful for it every day.

The movie in my head of her appearance in Wyoming consists of sunlit smiles and eager embraces, walking through town, hiking up trails, casting fly lines into clear water with sighs of relief, an aura of joy surrounding everything, becoming the context of our existence for that week, with good tidings carrying us along when she finally must leave again.

The song behind all this is M. Ward’s “Here Comes the Sun Again” from the 2005 album Transistor Radio.  Transistor Radio is M. Ward’s lo-fi ode to the classic days of radio, the aural equivalent of one of those classic paintings of a family calmly gathered round the radio for an evening.  “Here Comes the Sun Again” is a beautiful little song of welcome, to the sun, to delight, to a friend whose beatific countenance can brighten even the most well-lit scenes.  Opening with a piano motif fading into a serenely strumming guitar, “Here Comes the Sun Again” is a montage of warm welcomes which never wears out its own, gliding away gently after just two and a half minutes, though it leaves you with the feeling of time slowed down, trickling just enough over those moments of fulfillment you wish could last forever.

The Tallest Man on Earth’s “Leading Me Now” by amsettineri
June 13, 2015, 11:44 am
Filed under: sing like no one is listening

I dream about music sometimes.  Junior year of college I awoke one morning with a faint memory of the most beautiful music I’d ever heard, something composed internally, but I lacked both the clear head and musical skills to be able to notate the melody correctly.  Eventually, the smoky wisps of the tune evaporated; I’m left only with the memory of the memory.

Last night I dreamed of a healthy real-life friend who in the dream was dying.  The setting was a cool-colored temperate early summer evening at a comfortable cabin surrounded by tall pines just beyond the boundaries of a town.  The ground was covered in the natural mulch of the woods.  The friend knew she would not live through the night, and her final request was to go to the main street of the town with several quilts and blankets to sit on the street’s smooth pavement and listen to the music of a festival which lasted all night, the festival’s patrons arrayed comfortably on their blankets beneath the darkening twilight, or under pop-up canopies with no need for anchor against the wind.  We left the cabin on foot, arriving at the festival as the first bold stars became visible in the afterglow of a sky past sunset.  We sat among the people while a band played somewhere out of sight the soft sounds I must somewhere deep-down associate with grief.  She died in my arms on our blanket before the light had fully left the sky, and I wept while the band played.  Then the dream was over.

This morning I heard for the first time “Leading Me Now” by The Tallest Man on Earth.  It’s not the song of the dream, but I don’t think it would have been out of place there at all.

Oh, Oh, Are We Gonna Fly: Bob Dylan’s “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” by amsettineri

One of the most treasured chapters in the legend of Bob Dylan tells the story surrounding his mysterious motorcycle accident in the summer of 1966 and his subsequent self-exile to his home in Woodstock, New York.  For the better part of 1967, Dylan and his neighbors The Hawks (his touring band soon to become the much-celebrated stand-alone group The Band) wrote and casually recorded a great gaggle of songs in Dylan’s basement and in Big Pink, the home The Band was renting.  Many of these songs were written and recorded with the idea that they would be used as demos to market the songs to other artists looking for material to perform.  Some things are hard to give away completely, though, and in 1975 those songs were released by Dylan’s label as The Basement Tapes.  An expanded version of these sessions was released last year as The Bootleg Series Vol. 11: The Complete Basement Tapes.

Yet even before 1975, Dylan knew there were a few of those tunes he wanted to put out himself.  Perhaps it was thanks to the success of The Byrds’ single of “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” in 1968, or maybe just that Dylan want to right a lyrical wrong (a minor one made by Roger McGuinn on The Byrds’ version), but in 1971 Dylan made an official recording of “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” for release on his upcoming Greatest Hits Vol. II.

Since it never really appeared on any official albums (I don’t consider The Basement Tapes an official album; it’s awesome, and was formally released, but it’s just a bunch of buddies having a damn good time and I kind of like to think of it as special and removed from the realm of official releases, existing in some innocent ether of joviality and wine jugs) “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” is kind of this acknowledged bastard child whose origin everyone knows, but who seems to flit around from relative to relative.  It’s a well-traveled song, covered by a whole lot of people, its appeal resting in its simplicity.  The thing about covers of “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” compared to other covers of other songs by other artists is that I’ve never heard anyone do anything beyond a straight-up performance of it.  As far as I know there exist no spaced-out-Flaming-Lips-style reinventions of the thing, and I absolutely love that.  Even Dylan plays it straight most of the time, which makes it kind of a gem, since he reworks songs during concerts these days so they’re unrecognizable sometimes unless you catch the lyrics.

“You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” just seems so easy, a mix of highbrow emotion and laid-back lyrical expression, a funny sweet song with a simple arrangement so primary and appealing nobody’s yet dared to screw with it.  I wish I could tell you which version to listen to as the penultimate, but an apex cover is hard to pin down without a nadir to regard alongside as contrast.  So enjoy a few.

There’s also a great post on the Every Bob Dylan Song Blog about “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” that’s worth a read as well:

Never Look Back: Don Henley’s “The Boys of Summer” by amsettineri
May 23, 2015, 6:25 pm
Filed under: sing like no one is listening

Say what you want about The Eagles, but the fact remains that Their Greatest Hits (1971-1975) stands as the best-selling album of the 20th century in the United States, and at 29x platinum is tied with Michael Jackson’s Thriller as the highest-certified album in America ever.  I love that album, one of the rare instances where a greatest hits collection is more worthy of a fan’s money than anything else the band ever put out.  I only started questioning my love of The Eagles when I bought the pointless Eagles Greatest Hits, Vol. 2, which should have been exactly one track long, or better yet, should have consisted of “Hotel California” on every track.

Aside from a couple of truly timeless tunes from Joe Walsh, none of the solo work by The Eagles members ever stood out to me.  I remember working out in the Ball State gym one morning when Don Henley’s “The Boys of Summer” came on the radio.  I actually took an extra few seconds between sets to declare internally what a waste of analog tape space the song was.

We’re all allowed to make such mistakes, though.  It’s no accident that “The Boys of Summer” is the most recognizable non-Eagles song ever written or performed by one of the band’s members.  The lead track and first single to Henley’s 1984 album Building the Perfect Beast, “The Boys of Summer” has remained through the years an anthem for warm and sunlit days, blasting as it does every summer from the speakers of top-down convertibles cruising along the highways of America.  There is something addictive about the song’s propulsive beat, Henley’s resigned nostalgia for the innocent desires of youth.  What’s most compelling about the song is that beneath its energy there is an undeniable melancholia to the music and lyrics which elicits extreme pathos, at least in me.  Listening to “The Boys of Summer” feels like sitting with a friend as he reminisces about an old love, the narration of his memories becoming more self-directed with every sentence, till it seems as though he’d be saying the same things whether you were sitting there or not.

In a way, “The Boys of Summer” is the thematic blood-brother to Springsteen’s “The River.”  Both songs are about memories, dreams so forgotten over time they feel consumed rather than set aside.  There’s just a little more hope in “The Boys of Summer,” though, a little more optimism, the perfect ingredient for getting through these rainy days of spring, days overcast and wet-warm, days which make the summer feel out of reach.  But it’ll come.  It’ll come.