A Story in Song

While talking to my friend Marie, she mentioned listening to a classic song with her mom and dancing around. She highly recommended this song, (“Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress” by the Hollies) to me, and because I’m not one to turn down a song recommendation, I looked up the song on Youtube.

Marie’s taste in music is a little different than mine. I would say in general she’s more appreciative of the “classics” than I am, but that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy it whenever she throws an older gem my way, and this time was no different. However, I made the terrible awful mistake of scrolling down into the comments, where I found this gem.

YoutubeComment

And, unsurprisingly, I was peeved. My problems with people like this is one of the biggest reasons I’m not more into classic music. I’m no stranger to music elitists. One might call me one, to be honest. But as far as I’m concerned this commentor has never even heard a modern song before.

See, I’m a huge fan of music that tells stories. And, as a caveat, I should say, most songs tell a story. Even your cookie cutter radio hits tend to follow some sort of plot. I mean, just cherry picking from the current Billboard Top 100, the so-called scourge of music according to classics fans like this person, “That’s What I Like” by Bruno Mars tells a distinct story of the narrator wanting to shower their lover in luxury goods and experiences, “Shape of You” by Ed Sheeran recounts the singer’s physical attraction to their lover and tells the story of their first date as well as several sexual encounters… I mean, even the most vapid 2008 pop has some kind of story. Ke$ha’s “Tik Tok” is a clear story about the singer’s lifetime devotion to partying! To say modern songs don’t tell stories is ridiculous because all songs have to have some sort of story, or else they’re just incomprehensible gibberish.

But, okay, I’ll bite. Maybe what this commentor means is that no modern music tells such a romantic story as the one in “Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress”. And not romantic in the love, coupley, sense, but more along the lines of a novel put to song. And even then, this commentor is wrong, as I will prove today.

I’ve mentioned a few times that I really love lyrics. They’re probably my favorite aspect of music. Whenever I get into a song, I like to delve into the lyrics and discover their meanings and the story behind them. So, why not talk about some of my favorite musical stories? So, here we go, five songs that tell fascinating stories… true or not.

In Another Life – Vienna Teng

I’ve touched briefly on this song before in my Women in Music post, but I didn’t get to focus specifically on what it is that makes this song magical. Vienna Teng uses her usual theatrical style to tell the tale of two lovers over the course of many different lives. The song traces these two lovers through various points of history and through various occupations. I think the story is told just beautifully, with some really poignant images, and even though the song never directly states that the two subjects of the song are in love, it is clearly conveyed through the tiny details in the way they interact.

I love the tone of this song. It’s really disconnected, very objective. You get the feeling that although the singer of the song identifies themselves as living all of these very tragic lives, they are happy and distant enough from the tragedy to describe it objectively. Even when this song gets morbid, the narrator remains disconnected and simply describes the scenes.

And the subject matter of this song gets… well, really morbid. I mean, we go from mine shafts caving in to Tiananmen Square to stillborn children yet the same up-tempo style continues, which really drives home the bittersweet message of the song. Even through the death and suffering these two lovers experienced over the course of their many lives together, the song is ultimately a positive one. Ultimately, the lovers end up happy and together in modern times.

The Mariner’s Revenge Song – The Decemberists

The Decemberists is no stranger to fantastical stories told through song (part of the reason I keep meaning to familiarize myself with more of the music). I also considered discussing their equally fantastic song “O Valencia”, but I decided this one fit the song storytelling category in a more straightforward way.

This song is a shanty fit for a pirate ship, and that makes sense considering the subject matter. The story is told at the end first, with the narrator stuck in the belly of a whale. From there they go into the tale of how they arrived there. What follows is a tragic tale of revenge after the singer’s mother is cheated by a rakish young man and left to die penniless and heartbroken. The singer follows this man all the way to sea, where the two are ultimately swallowed by a whale, bringing the song back full circle.

I think this song is an absolutely beautifully told story. The instrumentals always match the emotion of the story. Plus, I think the story itself is loaded with some great dramatic irony. I mean, the fact that the singer’s quest for revenge leads him to dying himself alongside the man he swears revenge on, in the belly of a whale, a tried-and-true symbol for hopeless and self-destructive quests. (Think Moby Dick). Plus, the repetition of the mother’s voice, and her sweet, singsong tone contradicting the violence she wishes upon the man who did her wrong… it’s all so great. I always get chills at the end.

Jenny Was a Friend of Mine – The Killers

This song is actually one of a three-part series of songs, all of which describe a man murdering his lover. Yep, some real happy stuff, I know, but trust me, this song is really fascinating. While the other two songs tell the story leading up to and during the murder, this song recounts the questioning of the murderer afterward. It’s a fascinating look into the mind of a murderer, and the way he justifies his actions and proclaims his innocence.

Paired with the police sirens at the beginning of the song and the tense, dark instrumentals, the repeated admission of the man that his lover Jenny was a friend of his becomes sinister and chilling, and that’s the mark of a really well-told story. This song always gets me singing along and then feeling bad about it because the lyrics are just that twisted.

Unfinished Business – White Lies (Mumford and Sons Cover)

I always feel bad recommending the Mumford and Sons version of this song because it’s not the original, but to be honest, the jangly banjos just fit this song so perfectly that I have a hard time with the original. The title is a play off of the idea that ghosts remain on earth because of unfinished business – in this case, the narrator is the confused ghost of someone who has just been murdered by their lover (… yeah there’s a bit of a pattern here, I know).

The interesting thing about this song, though, is the narrator is completely unfazed by their own demise. Instead, they seem more concerned about their lover, noting their fearful oaths to God and urging them in the chorus to “get off their low” so they can “dance like they used to”. This song is tragic and also somewhat beautiful – the murdered lover vows to wait for the one they love in the afterlife.

The reason I recommend the Mumford and Sons version over the White Lies version is I think the upbeat instrumentals match the ultimately positive tone of the song better. Sure, the situation described is dark, but the real interest of the song is the singer’s positive attitude over their own demise, so I think the jangly banjos fit this perfectly. But hey, to each their own.

Cleopatra – The Lumineers

And finally we arrive at one of my favorite songs of all time. This song took my number one spot in my top 30 songs of 2016 list, and that’s hugely because of the beautiful and tragic story told within its lyrics. Based on the real life of a taxi driver the lead singer met, “Cleopatra” is the story of a woman who refuses to marry the love of her life and how she lives with the regret. It’s told as if the woman is telling the story herself, and hits that perfect combination of tragedy and hope as the woman struggles to live her life to the fullest despite her sadness over the loss of her lover.

The song is warm and nostalgic, and I’ve yet to find a single person who isn’t touched by the real-life story behind the lyrics. I have a hard time describing it here, so I’ll just advise you to give it a listen and read through the lyrics yourself.

But this isn’t even the half of all of the songs out there that tell poignant stories within their lyrics. I advise people like that youtube commenter to give more songs a chance – to really read into their lyrics. You’ll find some fantastic stories there.

 

Guest Writer: Feeling the Heat

Note from Gillian: Hello hello! I’m very excited to bring to you Absoludicrous’s very first guest writer post! This is something I wanted to happen from the very beginning of this blog, and thanks to a school project, it’s finally happening! 

Our guest writer for today is Kirby Fleitz. (I assure you, this will not be his last appearance on this blog if I get my way.) I ask you all to pay him the same sort of kind attention you always pay me, and to please share this post! Kirby will tell you more specifically why… but it’s important, I promise. Far more important than the usual content of this blog.

Anyway, enough from me. I’ll let Kirby take the reins.


Hello there reader! I’ve had an outstanding invitation to write something on this blog for awhile. After going back and forth on what to write for longer than I want to admit I settled on what to write thanks to a school project. A shocker I know! To give you a hint, this project is for an Environmental Science class and polar bears are involved.

Some of you may have seen the above image before. It was used by many environmental groups to raise awareness for a recent phenomenon known colloquially as global warming technically Global Climate Change. By now the subject of this post should be apparent but to state it definitively it is how GCC affects us, specifically in Carmel IN, my hometown, and ways we can address it (because despite what some groups might try to argue, this is our reality).

For all of the skeptics reading this I will include multiple sources demonstrating that this unfortunate change is occurring. Here is a site explaining the increase of both carbon dioxide levels and temperature. Here is a site covering species extinction, broken down by type of animal. Here is an overview of all types of evidence directly from NASA.

The major effects of GLC are as follows: rising sea levels, decreasing biodiversity, ice sheets melting, glaciers melting, increase in vector-born diseases and other adverse effects. Clearly some of these do not apply to the landlocked paradise known as Carmel. Instead, let’s focus on two major consequences: decreasing biodiversity and increase in pollution. Before addressing why losing biodiversity is really, really bad let’s define biodiversity. Biodiversity is the variety and adaptability of organisms and the natural systems they interact with and the ecosystem services they provide. Basically it’s the amount of living stuff in an area. While it might not be totally apparent this has been decreasing lately. Why you might ask? The answer is a combination of habitat loss, from urban sprawl or more land needed for development, Invasive species, pollution, increasing human population, climate change, and overharvesting. For local examples think about the recent increase in road and roundabout construction. While this might be beneficial for transportation, many species are displaced or separated both during and after construction. While losing species through extinction is bad two larger issues exist. The first is that many crops we depend on, like soy or corn, are at an increased risk of disease due to losing genetic diversity. The second major negative is that the ecosystem services, like storing harmful carbon or lumber or filtration of toxins from groundwater, are being lost daily.

From one depressing topic to another, let’s move onto pollution. While water pollution is a major issue many areas, unfortunately developing and low income areas suffer the most. Therefore, for Carmel it is not a major problem. We have a great waste treatment plant and practices in place already. Instead I want to focus on air pollution, primarily from automobiles. Industry is a major polluter, usually nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide, Carmel does not have much industry to pollute our air. Automobiles are a much larger concern. Just think about how many people you know that do have an automobile. Unless the person you are currently thinking of uses an electric car they are emitting pollutants constantly as they drive, primarily nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, and particulate matter. Air pollution is usually a respiratory irritant and incredibly harmful to human health. In addition to harming humans, air pollution can also harm animal species if they inhale enough emissions, contributing to a decrease of biodiversity.

Time for some hope! Luckily there are solutions to decreasing biodiversity and pollution. Even luckier, Carmel has already taken steps to address this issue. You know the roundabouts that seem to multiply and appear someplace new every couple weeks? In addition to the traffic benefits roundabouts help cut down on automobile emissions by reducing the amount of time the automobile is idling, waiting to move. Pollution has also been somewhat addressed by our waste treatment facility on the white river and partnering with Fishers to help clean up the Cool Creek watershed.For those who are not aware, a watershed is basically all of the water that flows into a certain area. The major concern with watersheds is pollution from the sources going into it such as synthetic fertilizer. While these steps are great, in addition to having a mayor that recognizes the threat climate change poses, a few more simple solutions can be made. On a personal level simply reducing consumption of non-renewable items, like getting a reusable water bottle to use, can help reduce your footprint. In addition, in a roundabout way you are helping protect biodiversity by reducing demand for resources taken from land. Also on a personal level reducing automobile usage, perhaps by using this awesome local trail we have here called the Monon trail helps reduce your emissions by a little amount. In addition, growing some plants in your own backyard, even just a few, can help conserve some biodiversity and produce food for you. It’s a win-win.

Personal contributions are great, and many are not massive lifestyle changes. However, getting those around you involved would help even more. While awareness of GLC is increasing, many are not aware of ways they personally can help reduce it. Governments can help but a multitude of local movements is both easier to create and can more quickly improve quality of the environment in the community.

I implore you to share this with at least one person and prompt them to spread it. Global Climate Change is threatening but through many people coming together to combat it I believe we can persevere over the challenge. Thank you for reading.

 

In the News

It’s the end of senior year, so as befits my position as someone on their way out from… basically everything, really, it feels like I’ve been going through lasts at the speed of sound. Last marching season gave way to last semester of high school gave way to last jazz season gave way to last band concert and on and on and on ad nauseam. But I mean, it is my last year, so it makes sense that along with that would come a cornucopia of other lasts.

This week was yet another last for me: my last production week on the school’s newspaper, the Hilite. Like every other production week for me, it included coming in early to the newspaper room every morning to make changes to my spreads, copy-editing other spreads, and tweaking and re-tweaking every aspect of my pages until everything looked perfect for our Friday deadline. Unlike every other production week, however, I also was responsible for mentoring next year’s two new Perspectives editors as they learned the ropes and prepared for taking over my position next year.

Mentoring them reminded me of how I felt in their position next year, and it’s made me reflect on what this newspaper has been for me over the years. So because this blog has been an outlet for my nostalgia lately, I’m gonna talk about it.

Newspaper was the one thing I was sure I was going to be a part of, even before I started high school. Writing has always kind of been my thing, you know, and I thought newspaper would be the best way to put my skills into practice. Of course, like most things, I was horribly misinformed on what exactly being on staff of the Hilite would entail, but it didn’t matter at all my freshman year since I had no room in my schedule for the prerequisite class.

I was devastated by this, by the way. I was assured I would be able to take the prerequisite as a sophomore and join staff as a junior just fine, but I felt like that would paint a big fat target on my forehead that I didn’t really care about the newspaper or something. I think not joining staff my sophomore year like most people did did affect my time on the staff negatively in the beginning, but I also feel like my stress regarding this fact was increased a bit by the fact I was just overall stressed about my high school schedule.

Still, I eventually did take the prerequisite, and it was one of my favorite classes. Our advisor, Mr. Streisel, had a way of teaching that made me feel very capable of all of the aspects of media. The fact that I wasn’t great at the graphic or design portions of the class didn’t bother me at all. I knew for certain I was going to be a reporter and only a reporter once I joined staff, so there was no need for me to worry about photography or graphic design. I was a writer. It was what I was good at, and there was no need for me to diversify my talents.

And then I actually joined staff. And that idea very quickly vanished. My first few weeks on staff involved me sitting at a computer with the creeping feeling that I had no idea what I was doing and everyone else did. Everyone else seemed to have a purpose, a job, and I was just sitting there, twiddling my thumbs. My title was listed as “Feature reporter,” but I didn’t get a story assignment there for a few issues.

So, on a whim, I attended the planning meeting, known as a maestro, for Perspectives, the opinion section of the paper. I took with me two carefully researched column ideas and got to engage in several debates about the topics of all the columns going into that particular issue. In the frenzy, I received my very first Perspectives assignment, a column addressing the then-viral video “Dear Fat People,” where some JennaMarbles wannabe insulted fat people for eight minutes under the guise of “concern for their health.”

Getting my first assignment was one of the most beautiful things that had ever happened to me. Suddenly I had a purpose on staff, something to do while everyone else was working. I did exhaustive research and put a ton of time and effort into my very first column. And then, when it was published, I floated on air.

Since then, I’ve written a few regular articles but mostly my time on the Hilite has been spent dedicated to the opinion section of the newspaper. I found a lot of joy and purpose in taking part in these discussions. So, by the end of my first year on staff, I was encouraged by the current Perspectives editor to apply for her job. So… I did.

Being a Perspectives editor was great in a lot of ways, for sure. I loved being able to lead the discussions that I took such joy in taking part in as a reporter. I loved enabling others to speak out on their opinions. But, there were aspects of the job I didn’t quite love too.

See, I came on staff to write, but I quickly found out that being an editor meant not a lot of writing. More often it meant making graphics and designs, and for a while I felt like I’d made a mistake.

But then, partly spurred on by necessity (deadlines continued to loom no matter how confident I felt about them) I started to get used to the graphics and design aspect of my job. Towards the end I even started to enjoy it. (I’m not much of an artist, but tracing things in Adobe Illustrator is actually really calming).

And that’s really, in a nutshell, what Hilite was for me. Something unexpected, different than what I thought it was going to be. It always challenged me to try new things, and think of myself in ways I never could before. When I joined staff, I was intent on writing and only writing, staying quietly behind the lines and doing work every so often. When I left staff, I was an editor, mainly responsible for design, doing constant work every month.

Even more importantly, Hilite opened my eyes to the idea of journalism. I always sort of knew I wanted to write someday, and had considered journalism, but the idea had never been solid and real until I spent time on staff. It’s the reason I’m going to study journalism at IU next year. It opened the door for me to be an Ernie Pyle scholar… and sure, it was stressful and frustrating a lot of times. But I’m so thankful for it.

I’m going to miss it.

At Last – “Humanz” Review

It’s a good time to be a music fan. Fall Out Boy is pushing their new album, “Mania”… Walk the Moon is back in the studio… and the band that taught me how to love music finally released a new album.

It’s been seven years since Gorillaz last released an album, and in that seven years I had more or less lost all hope of ever seeing them again. I’ve definitely mentioned how important they were to me in my formative years before, but it’s worth restating. It was in a car listening to Feel Good Inc. when I decided to ask my dad why there were people cackling maniacally in the background. My dad had no idea, but he did know that the band was made up of cartoon characters, which was the CRAZIEST THING EVER to my small brain. I went home and immediately looked them up.

Several days of Wikipedia and Youtube surfing later, I was a dedicated fan. I familiarized myself with the lore and fell in love with the fictional 2D, Noodle, and Russel. (I wasn’t too fond of Murdoc. I’m still not.) And there was something about them… maybe it was their off-kilter style, something different than what I usually heard on the radio. Maybe it was Damon Albarn’s characteristic mumble that drove me to take pride in figuring out the lyrics and their meanings. Maybe it was the fact they were the first band that was all my own, something I discovered for myself and enjoyed on my own terms. Either way, Gorillaz has stuck with me for years.

And then, “Humanz” came out. And I’ll be honest… I was a little worried. It’s always hard when something you loved as a kid comes back. Nostalgia can really change the way you view something. I figured there was no way this new album could ever rival the band I fell in love with when I was younger and full of wonder. And, yeah, I was right. My first listen through of this album didn’t excite me except when it reminded me of “Demon Days”, which is my favorite album of theirs.

But then, I kept listening to it. And I gave it a chance on it’s own. And I realized… “Humanz” is really good. It’s really, really good. Its got a voice all it’s own, but it also really stays tuned to some of the things that made Gorillaz really great. I’ll talk about this specifically for each track, but if you hear people putting this album down for not living up to the hype, don’t listen to them. This album deserves to stand on its own.

Also, I wanted to address two other major criticisms I’ve seen floating around around this album. One, that it’s too feature-heavy. To that, I’d argue that Gorillaz has always been a collaboration. None of the members are actually real, and the only consistent contributor music-wise is Damon Albarn. So to say a Gorillaz album is too feature heavy… I mean, dude, just go listen to Blur or something. Plus, Damon/2D gets lots of great parts on this album!! In almost every song!! Chill!!

Second, that it’s too political. Which… ugh. I don’t even really want to argue against this point, because it’s idiotic. Gorillaz has always been political. ALWAYS. They’ve done songs about gun control, about urban decay, about the dumbing-down of media… hell, their entire last ALBUM was about global warming! It was called “Plastic Beach”! What else would it be talking about?

Too political… god. The complete idiocy…

Uh… where was I? Oh yeah, Gorillaz! “Humanz”! The new album! I’m sorry, I’ll actually get to the review. What follows is a quick little track-by-track review. I skipped the interludes because they’re mainly just quick flavor or sly little statements, and there’s not much for me to say about them. (But, The Non-Conformist Oath is hilarious and I adore it, and I can’t help but give it a shoutout)

(((But, hey, if you’re not super familiar with Gorillaz yet, that’s cool! Before I dive into the new album, why not take a look at some of their old stuff too? It’s all really good. There’s of course their three hits, Feel Good Inc., Dare, and Clint Eastwood. They all deserve their popularity, of course (I love Dare with every fiber of my being, and of course Feel Good Inc. was the song that started it all for me), but I’ll just give you a quick little list of my other favorites in case you’re interested: The SwaggaEl Manana, Broken, Empire Ants (***MY FOREVER FAVORITE***), To Binge, and 19-2000 (Soulchild Remix).)))

Ascension (Feat. Vince Staples)

“Ascension” is a deep, scathing commentary on the state of police violence in America. It’s angry, it’s desperate. And… that’s all I feel I can really say about it. See, firstly, this song is very rap-heavy. Gorillaz has always had a pretty solid rap presence, but I’m not the most knowledgeable about rap. I enjoy this song, but I don’t feel like I have the language or knowledge to criticize it. Plus, it’s not made for me. I’m a white girl living in an affluent society, and Vince Staples is a young black man who has had to deal with racism, hatred, ignorance, and violence I will never have to deal with.

For that reason, this song is worth listening to, and reading in on the lyrics. But as far as my own personal commentary goes, there’s not much I can (or should) say.

Strobelite (Feat. Peven Everett)

Now we get into the songs I actually feel capable speaking about. (Well, mostly.) “Strobelite” is an upbeat, funky little number about the unpredictability of life. So dance!!!

Jokes aside, this song (and really most of this album) is surprisingly hopeful despite its heavy focus on the end of the world. It’s borne of a world where things are going really bad, yet people feel the need to cling to hope and keep fighting. It’s a message I really appreciate from this album, and something I found myself resonating with again and again.

Shoutout to Peven Everett, who adds his really gorgeous vocals to this track. Vocal-wise, I also really like the subtle backup singers.

Saturnz Barz (Feat. Popcaan)

Before I say anything else, I wanted to talk for a second about how much I like the “z” motif in this album. HumanZ, SaturnZ BarZ, MomentZ, etc. etc… it’s a cute little nod to their name, and I love cute things like this. I’m possibly overthinking this, but what if it’s also a reference to the end of the world this album is so focused on? Z is the last letter of the alphabet, and this album is about the last gasps of humanity, joyous or no, before the end of the world… Yeah, I’m definitely overthinking this.

“Saturnz Barz” is a real auditory shoutout to the sound of “Demon Days”, and for that reason it’s like a familiar friend to me. If you’re an old fan of Gorillaz, this is a good track to hop back on board with, since I think it pays homage to their old style while also having a certain unique polish they’ve picked up through “Plastic Beach”.

The tone is somber and slow, and possibly even a little creepy. (I mean, after all, the music video features a haunted house.) Plus, 2D’s part is so gorgeous and subtle, adding to the ethereal quality of this track, like it’s pensive. And while Gorillaz certainly isn’t a stranger to reggae, it’s always a nice style to hear from them.

Momentz (Feat. De La Soul)

Speaking of shoutouts… I know I said I wanted to give this album a chance to stand on its own… but it’s De La Soul! You know, De La Soul, those guys from Feel Good Inc.! They’re back! And once more they’re here to make you dance.

This song has a great beat and I mean… what else does it really need to have? It’s got that swagger-y “I’m the best” type of lyrics and it just makes you feel good.

The ending is somewhat confusing, I’ll be honest. If you had told me that an upbeat party song where De La Soul returned to chill with Gorillaz again, I would not have guessed it would end with a tongue-in-cheek KKK joke… but hey, this album is full of surprises??? I’m all for belittling a white supremacist terrorist group, of course.

Submission (Feat. Danny Brown and Kelela)

Rather unsurprisingly, my favorite Gorillaz member has always been Noodle. For that reason, whenever “Noodle” takes over the vocals of a track, I’m instantly in love. “Submission” is the latest in a long and prestigious line of Noodle songs. Kelala’s voice is smooth and pleasant, and although Little Dragon will always and forever be my favorite Noodle, she holds the mantle really well.

This song is sad and pensive, but never loses a certain drive. It grabs you from the very beginning with the gorgeous vocals and keeps you along with it with the subtle electronic instrumentals. It’s not a large or bombastic song by any means, but it leaves a lasting impression. Probably one of my favorites off this album, for sure.

The rap part… kind of threw me off though. The somber, powerful tone felt kind of thrown off by Danny Brown’s unusual pronunciation in his rap bridge. But, you know, I’ve listened to it a bunch of times now, and I think I’ve grown used to it.

(At least he’s not Shaun Ryder in “Dare”)

Charger (Feat. Grace Jones)

This is a super weird song. And yet… I really enjoy it? I’m unclear on what exactly this song means, but I’m fairly used to Gorillaz’s lyrics being puzzling so that’s not too horrible. I could make a guess that this song is about the all-encompassing effects of technology on our lives… but that’s a guess.

It’s one of those Gorillaz songs that makes you really confused on the first listen, intrigued on the second, and absolutely hooked on the third. It’s relatively simple, mostly just a guitar riff, some electronic noises, and 2D’s and Grace Jones’s vocals echoing off of one another. The lyrics certainly don’t reveal anything about why this song exists, and yet, it works. It fits, as a catchy, oddball little track.

Andromeda (Feat. D.R.A.M.)

This is a really cool song. Has a nice, fast, walking beat, and a pretty strong focus on 2D’s vocals. I know I talked earlier about how much I appreciate the featured vocalists, but I’ll always love 2D, and it’s nice to see him prominently featured here. I think it’s a great song to match his subdued, smooth tone.

The instrumentals focus on an atmospheric tone, to match the astronomical title, and it’s a sound that just really works for Gorillaz. They’ve done clean electronica, dirty rock, reggae, rap, hip-hop, and even beach-side tunes… but once more they’ve found a new style to fit their music seamlessly into. A style I’d best describe as futuristic? Stellar? Who knows, words are hard.

(I also just really like the background vocals. But then, I always do.)

Busted and Blue

And finally we’ve arrived to the single, solitary Gorillaz-only track on this entire album. And god, is it ever beautiful.

It’s quiet, and features nocturnal sound effects, as well as some sort of strange beeping sound that could be a rusty windmill or an alien spaceship… and beyond that it’s up to 2D’s quiet vocals, the backup singers (always killing it), and some minimal instrumentation to carry the listener through.

I can’t help but read into the choice of having the one non-featured track be this slow, wistful ballad. I’m not sure whether it’s confirmed that this album will be the last for Gorillaz, but if it is, I’ll feel satisfied, I think. This band has had such an incredible impact on my life, and this album, while standing on its own, is also a beautiful homage to everything I love about Gorillaz. The collaboration, the bold political statements, the slightly off-kilter music, the odd and memorable lyrics… and I think “Busted and Blue” is a poignant illustration, at least to me, of all this band has done for me.

Carnival (Feat. Anthony Hamilton)

I’ve been pretty complimentary of most of the other tracks on this album so far, but don’t worry, there are some duds coming, this one included. Okay, fine, this one isn’t bad so much that it is forgettable for me. The hook is kind of uninspired and Anthony Hamilton is just alright. There’s nothing here for me, to be honest. Skip!

Let Me Out (Feat. Mavis Staples and Pusha T)

I first heard this song performed on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert, and I was honestly a little disappointed hearing it on the album. I felt like a lot of the raw power and emotion from the live performance was absent from the album version. I’m gonna assume this is just the sort of song that is better performed and enjoyed live! There’s nothing wrong with that at all, and it doesn’t take away from the powerful lyrics and delivery.

Sex Murder Party (Feat. Jamie Principle and Zebra Katz)

Another weird song, but this one didn’t work quite as well for me as “Charger” did. I think it’s mostly that I didn’t really get it I guess? It’s kind of catchy, but I’m not really sure what the point of having this song stuck in my head would be? It’s mostly just the title whispered over some drum beats. It also feels a little too “trying to be edgy” for me, which is not something I usually feel about Gorillaz. 2D has a nice enough part, I guess, but he’s had better parts in other tracks on this very same album. Forgettable. Skip!

She’s My Collar (Feat. Kali Uchis)

Hey, don’t worry, we’re back to tracks I really like. So nice of this album to arrange all of my duds into a little group like that so they don’t detract too badly from the rest.

2D gets some fast-paced, clever lyrics in this song, and next to the upbeat and and catchy hook, this is the sort of song I could see as a minor radio hit. I also really like Kali Uchis! Her voice has the same kind of sleepy quality as 2D, but with a clear and loud tone that makes her stand out from him as well. I’m also a big fan of the bouncy little 8-bit noises in the background. Too fun.

Hallelujah Money (Feat. Benjamin Clementine)

Ahh, “Hallelujah Money”. The first real listen I ever got to this album was when they dropped this song. The excitement of opening up YouTube to listen to a new Gorillaz song for the first time in seven years…

And yeah, this song is weird. But it’s also such a powerful criticism of the culture of the rich that dominates politics nowadays that the more you begin to understand the lyrics, the more Benjamin Clementine’s wandering, wavery tone starts to change from strange to beautiful. It’s a call to arms, a rallying cry against the corrupting power of money. I’m also crazy about the way 2D’s “When the morning comes / How will we know we are still human?” weaves in with the rest of the song, like an overarching question, asked again and again. It’s a question that is never truly answered, not by the song itself, but the next song is probably one of the reasons I love this album so much…

We Got the Power (Feat. Jehnny Beth)

And the answer to 2D’s repeated question from the last track comes in this unabashedly optimistic track about the power of unity and togetherness when faced with seemingly insurmountable odds. I’m so happy this song exists. Much of this album struggles with despair as the world around it seems to crumble, to end, and yet this is the song that the album ends with! (Well, the non-deluxe version, that is).

And this song preaches unity. Optimism. Believing that with hard work and perseverance, things can turn out alright in the end. And really, that’s an idea worth singing about.

Is it naive? No, I don’t think so. I think “Humanz” isn’t copping out in answering its gloomy questions with this rallying cry, rather, giving the only answer that has a chance to fix anything. We can talk about how the world is burning all we want and it doesn’t do a thing to extinguish the flames. No, the answer is to get up, join forces, and put it out ourselves. We got the power. It’s inspirational, it’s beautiful, and it’s the perfect ending to this album’s philosophical questions.

The Apprentice (Feat. Rag’n’Bone Man, Zebra Katz, and RAY BLK)

And so begins the five bonus tracks available on the deluxe version of this album. I’ll be honest, I raised an eyebrow at Rag’n’Bone Man being on this track, but it actually really works. I’ll be honest that I’m not too impressed with his song, “Human”, but his appearance on “HumanZ” is pretty enjoyable. (Haha, see what I did there?)

The best way to describe this song is “clean”, I think. It’s really catchy, too, probably one that will get some repeats on my playlists. Beyond that, though, I don’t have much to say about this one. It’s a strong, likable track.

Halfway to the Halfway House (Feat. Peven Everett)

Hey, who is this Peven Everett guy? I’m serious, I really like him. “Strobelite” is beautiful and so is this song. This is my own note to self that I need to go check him out, for sure. I love how this track constantly seems to build on itself, and how the discordant noises in the background play with the beautiful choral harmonies. This song has a really gospel feeling to it.

And mostly because I was curious as to why this song sings about “Cherryade” so much, I went and looked it up, and it turns out it’s a reference to the phrase “drinking the kool-aid”, meaning going along with a doomed or obviously dangerous plan. It’s a pleasant little statement on the status of our society, everyone going along with something that is clearly doomed. In that vein, the “Halfway House” mentioned in the title refers to a place after prison where those with physical, mental, or emotional disabilities go for rehabilitation. I can’t decide whether being “halfway” to a place of rehabilitation is a positive statement or not… I suppose that’s up to the listener to decide.

Out of Body (Feat. Kilo Kish, Zebra Katz, and Imani Vonshá)

If you ever thought to yourself “I wonder which track off of this album is Gillian’s favorite?” congratulations, we’ve made it. I’m honestly kind of obsessed with this song. It’s simultaneously a fun party song and also a weird thematic track and that combination just tickles me.

I really like Kilo Kish’s vocals. They fit the weirdly mysterious tone of this song while also keeping up the fun danceable beat. I’ve seen a lot of people compare her to That Poppy, and yeah, I love That Poppy. Plus, shoutout to 2D! His vocals are really fun in this one too.

I love the framing of the seance being related to a party. I’ve heard millions of party songs but I’ve yet to hear it believably and cleverly related to some sort of supernatural ritual, and it’s amusing and clever. I think this song just really encompasses what I love about Gorillaz – they’re unafraid to take on tons of musical genres and make them completely unique and fascinating. This is a typical party dance song, and yet it’s made unique by the interesting supernatural motif and the way it seems to question itself, and the usual “who cares let’s party” mentality of most songs of its ilk (“Where am I going? What am I doing?”)

Also… I can’t stop listening to this song. It’s in my head constantly. Help.

Ticker Tape (Feat. Carly Simon and Kali Uchis)

“Ticker Tape” is a really traditional Gorillaz song, with a heavy focus on 2D’s vocals. I’m a big fan of this one for it’s smooth, slow sound. I like the simple role Carly Simon’s vocals play, and the touch of complexity in the outro as Kali Uchis’ vocals overlay 2D’s.

This song mainly concerns itself with technological progress and the possible negative effects it has on society. I feel generally iffy about this sort of commentary, because I believe a lot of these social statements blame the younger generations and call them brainwashed. I think this criticism is completely useless because it takes the blame completely off of older generations who are also just as responsible for abusing technology. That’s not the whole reason I dislike this sentiment, but it’s a big one, I guess. Thankfully, this song doesn’t fall into that trap and instead focuses on media’s integration into technology and how easy it is to remain inactive in our modern age. That’s the sort of criticism I can get behind – specific and not pointing fingers.

Circle of Friendz (Feat. Brandon Markell Holmes)

The last track off of the deluxe version! We’ve climbed this whole mountain together, haven’t we.

I like how the discordance of the breaking glass and sounds of destruction in the beginning with the repetition of the lyrics “circle of friends” is… surprisingly earnest, actually. Similar to “We Got the Power”, this song doesn’t really seem ironic about its insistence that with teamwork any problem can be overcome.  It’s a short track, and really repetitive, but seems to drive home the point I made earlier about “Hallelujah Money” and “We Got the Power” that this album is ultimately optimistic about the state of society. Even as it critiques where we are and compares it to the end of the world, it isn’t bleak. And at risk of repeating what I’ve already said, I really appreciate that. This song isn’t really a great one on its own, but as a wrap-up for this album, it works.

Overall, I love “Humanz”. I know a lot of people were disappointed, but honestly that’s not too surprising to me. Gorillaz could have churned out the most flawless album in the world and people would still be upset. After all, it’s been seven years since we’ve seen them last, and that sort of a gap makes the nostalgia wall difficult to scale. Personally, I think it’s a worthy successor to “Plastic Beach” and has reignited my love for this band. For real, I’ve spent a lot of time rediscovering all of my old favorite Gorillaz songs thanks to this album, and that alone is enough for me to give two thumbs up to it.

So, whether you’re a Gorillaz fan or not, I strongly advise you overall to check this album out. It’s solid, it has a great message and motif, and it’s just a lot of fun. Or, you know, check some of their older stuff out too. Fall in love with them the same way I did so long ago, I promise, it’s fun.

 

Let Them Have Rainbows

I recently stumbled upon a YouTube series that, I’m gonna be honest, kind of made me upset. I’m not gonna name any names or talk about any specifics because I don’t really want this to sound like I want people to go and send this guy hate, but I’m sure you could probably find him just based on what I talk about here. Just don’t be dumb, I guess is all I’m saying.

But anyway, the series involves this guy browsing Deviantart and “critiquing” the fanart and Original Character (OC) art he finds there. He presents it as a service, a “what not to do” of sorts for creating art and OCs.

The points he makes are legitimate, I guess, but the biggest problem I have with it is it all seems way too obvious. It seems like he picks the art that is absolutely bottom-of-the-barrel rainbow pastel Sonic OCs done by young people. The critique he gives is repetitive and completely useless and unhelpful for anyone old enough to be watching his channel. Plus, even if the person watching was young enough to not be able to guess the obvious flaws he finds, he offers no real alternatives or suggestions to improve.

Lemme give you an example.

rainbows

Here’s a screenshot of one of the pieces this guy critiques (with all identifying names blocked out, of course). To you and to me, this character is obviously not a very well designed character. The colors are vibrant and clashing, the body parts are a mishmash of different ideas with no real purpose, and overall too much is going on to get any sort of clear image of what this character is meant to be. Tack on the obvious use of MS Paint and the subject matter of a Sonic OC and you’ve got yourself the most textbook “twelve-year-old who has just figured out how the internet works tries to create their own **super cool** character and falls flat” ever.

It’s so easy to criticize this piece of art because everything wrong with it is glaringly obvious. Even someone not familiar with internet culture, specifically Deviantart culture, would probably be able to tell that this is not a picture of a “good”, fully realized character.

But you know what? That doesn’t matter. At all.

I speak as someone who was that twelve-year-old when I say this, while kind of embarrassing and definitely not too fun to look at, this kind of terrible art is ultimately a good thing. So this kind of critique is not only so obvious that it’s completely useless, it is harmful and impedes a very natural creative process. 

I guarantee you, nobody in the history of the universe sat down to create their very first character, their very first story, their very first piece of art, and made a masterpiece. There’s this myth that pervades in a lot of creative circles that artists and writers and musicians and the like are what they are because of some natural talent or affinity for their craft. That’s… just not true.

Sure, there are people out there who are naturally gifted, but natural talent alone can’t carry anyone to success. There’s a correlation between natural talent and success (probably because having an affinity for something makes it more fun and therefore a motivator to practice that something more), but it doesn’t directly cause it.

For my own personal example, I am a writer. But that’s not really because I was born with a pen in my hand (or keyboard, preferably), it’s because I write… a lot. Every day, really. This blog, poetry, prose… I write constantly.

And the reason why I write so much is because when I was young I idolized authors and I wanted to be one, so I sat down and I wrote. I wrote garbage.

The very first novel I ever wrote was plotless hogwash, a fanfiction of a show I was really into at the time with the names changed. The characters were flat and uninteresting and the story did nothing and went nowhere. And yet, I wouldn’t change a single bit of it if I had to go back.

Why? Well, because, at the time, that awful, horrible novel was something I was really proud of. It was an accomplishment. It was written in a month for NaNoWriMo, it was 50,000 words long, and I really poured my heart and soul into it. I loved those flat characters. I desperately wanted to tell that uninteresting story. It was my first foray into writing for the fun of it, writing because I loved it, writing not because I thought I was great at it, but because it was something that spoke to me.

It was bad, but it inspired me to keep going, to keep improving. It showed me that I was capable of making myself into one of those authors I looked up to. It’s a big reason of why I’m here today, writing this blog, writing every day. It’s the reason I’m… admittedly, pretty good at this whole writing thing.

So that’s why when I see people try and put down these young creators for making less-than-perfect art, it makes me really sad. I was really lucky to be surrounded by an accepting, loving community of people both online and offline who celebrated the art I created, even when it was bad. Now that I’m older I understand what made those early writings so terrible, and I’m mature enough (mostly) to take critique and use it to improve. But when I was younger and filled with idealism and passion, hearing the kind of snide remarks this youtuber makes would have destroyed me. I was just figuring out that creativity was possible for me, so I was miles away from understanding that I could also work to improve the things I made.  I would have taken these condescending statements as unchangeable fact, and I would have given up.

So, let young creators make these mistakes. Let them create flat, pastel rainbow vomit characters and MS Paint Sonic OCs. Let them create two-dimensional worlds that exist only in the space of one month and 50,000 words. Because someday those creators will grow up, and they’ll understand just fine that they weren’t born gifted. But with the proper support and encouragement, they’ll become so.

 

A Spring Break in Songs

For the last week, I, like the rest of the population of Carmel, Indiana, spent my Spring Break in sunny Florida. As with every year, it was a week of good food, relaxation, shopping, and music. And it is with that last aspect that I come to you to today. Here’s a quick little review of my Spring Break in the songs I listened to.

Green Light – Lorde

It’s a Spring Break tradition for all of the members of my family to choose songs and compete to see whose song shows up the most on the radio on our drive down to Florida. My pick this year was Lorde’s newest track, the dynamic and beautiful “Green Light”. I actually talked about it a bit in my Women in Music post, but it’s so good it deserves me discussing it again. I’ve been a fan of Lorde since she first popped into the scene in 2013 and her sound has only gotten better since then – more mature and emotional without losing that simultaneously real and artsy view on the world.

It didn’t really… win our annual competition, but I contend it won a moral victory, since I picked it out of pure love. (And the winner was my Mom, who picked some awful ZAYN/Taylor Swift song she didn’t even like…)

That’s What I Like – Bruno Mars

Dad didn’t win the competition with this pick either, by the way. But still, whenever it came on, despite the anger at seeing my dad get a point, it was immediately mollified because gosh do I ever love this song. Listen, I know I’m a hipster, and this isn’t the sort of music you’d expect me to love, but listen to me… Bruno Mars transcends genre with his charm. He’s just such a good dancer, and his voice is beautiful, and his songs are always so fun and danceable… and yeah, this music video makes me grin like an idiot whenever I watch it, what of it? I know all the lyrics to this song and belt it whenever it comes on, so? I guarentee there’s not a sane person in this world who would disagree with me.

Don’t Take the Money – Bleachers

Still, even as we’re competing for glory with our own picks, we always discover a few new favorites on the road trip down to Florida, and here’s the first of the few I’ll mention here.

It’s always nice to hear new songs from old favorite bands, and Bleachers didn’t disappoint with this summery track. I can practically picture a scene from a saturated teen romance movie set to this song. Not to cheapen the impact of the emotional strength of this song, of course, but it’s a good time.

We Got the Power – Gorillaz

And speaking of old favorite bands, there is no older favoriter band out there than Gorillaz for me. Gorillaz is basically the reason I have the music taste I do today (long story short, I thought the idea of a band of cartoon characters was the coolest thing ever when I was in middle school, which led to me becoming obsessed with their, erm, eclectic discography).

The car ride to Florida was not the first time I’ve heard this track off of their upcoming album, “Humanz”, but it was when this song really started to gel with me. I’ve never really thought of Gorillaz as the sort of band that makes perfect sense on the very first listen, but rather takes a few listens to fully grasp the concept of this song, and this one is no different. It’s definitely very bubblegum in its optimism, but that’s honestly one of its best features. It’s happy and hopeful and unashamed of neither of these facts, and that’s refreshing in a world of cynicism and criticism. The only issue with this song is its criminally short. Just a bit over two minutes…. give me more!

Watershed – Vienna Teng

Now, I have a confession to make. It’s a personal tradition that every spring break, I pick an artist I like and familiarize myself with their entire discography over the course of the week. In years past, this has been very successful (three years ago, it was Arctic Monkeys, two years ago it was Walk the Moon, and last year it was Saint Motel, all incredible bands I love). And I have loved everything I’ve heard from Vienna, (I talked about her in my Women in Music post as well, actually), but I unfortunately only had time this break to listen to one of her albums all the way through.

I absolutely intend to listen to everything of hers, and I’ll do a post on my favorite tracks of hers once I do, but as a nice little sneak preview, I want to share this incredibly haunting track off of “Inland Territory”, the album I listened to. This song is very different from the rest of the songs on this list, because it’s quiet and pensive and honestly… kind of creepy. But this is what I love about Vienna – she’s a storyteller. This song tells the story of mankind’s folly in the eyes of some sort of ancient power – a Gaia or a Cthulhu or something of the like. The quiet, withheld power of this song illustrates the dormant power of the narrator perfectly to a listener, and the lyrics are beautifully and terrifyingly written. I’m a huge fan.

Feel It Still – Portugal. The Man

But hey, it wasn’t just old favorite artists and bands returning for a glory lap this Spring Break, there were some new favorites too! My dad and I had a field day with the band name of this artist (Why the random period? What does it mean?), but neither of us could deny how gosh darn catchy this song is. It’s bouncy and driving and gets lodged in your head and tortures you for weeks at a time. It’s driven by a simple beat, and that’s all it needs to get rolling and never stop. I’m obsessed. Give it a listen.

Mexican Jackpot – Flagship

A song that got a surprising amount of airtime this break despite being by a band I’ve never heard of before, I nonetheless came to really enjoy this song. It’s calm and atmospheric, and undoubtedly pleasant. I can’t say I see much in the future for this band, since they sound exactly like about fifteen other alt bands, but that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy this pretty track.

Pork Soda – Glass Animals

And we return to an old favorite band. Oh Glass Animals, how you continue to amaze me with the weird stuff you can pull in your songs and totally get away with it. And yeah, this song is weird, from title to sound effects to lyrics, but there’s a strange sort of method to the madness. If you look into the lyrics (beyond the obvious nonsense lyrics), you’ll find a surprisingly tragic and poignant look into the decay of a once loving relationship. Perhaps the odd and nonsensical nature of this song plays to the idea that when relationships decay, it can seem chaotic and may make no sense? Or maybe I’m being too analytical about this fun song. Ah well.

Along Came Jones – The Coasters

One of these things is not like the others~ yeah, okay, I couldn’t talk about my spring break without mentioning the solid amount of 50s hits I listened to in my Grandma’s car. She always cracked jokes and apologized about forcing me to listen to her music, but hey, it’s kind of fun. I am a fan of all things vintage, even if that’s not necessarily the music. But it’s hard not to remember super, uh, unique songs like this one, and it sparked some interesting conversation with my Grandma about the nature of music throughout generations as we looked for thread to match my prom dress at the craft store. She and I might not see eye to eye regarding music, but no genre or generation of music will ever be perfect – all have their duds along with their masterpieces. So it’s pointless to be an elitist to someone else for liking a different type of music than you.

(Also, I think this song is funny, and it’s the only one I remembered the title of, to be honest.)

So there you go, a little auditory taste of my spring break. I hope everyone is returning from their breaks relaxed and rejuvenated, and even if that’s not the case, I hope some of these songs can help do the trick.

Taking the Poetry Plunge

When I started first semester of this year, I did so with an incredible excitement for one particular class. I had saved my Creative Writing class for this year, my senior year, a reward for having accomplished four years of hard work.

I looked avidly forward to talking about my most favorite thing in the world on an every-other-day basis. I know it sounds like the most stereotypically nerdy thing in the world, but the idea of getting graded on creative writing, my special talent, was incredibly appealing. I’d get to spend an hour and a half of every other school day doing the thing I love most in the world! What could be better than that?

Well… actually, there was just one tiny thing.

See, the course description talked about how I would be writing short stories (great), memoirs (great), and scripts (interesting and new), but I always froze around the last topic.

Poetry.

Like all young writers, I had tried my hand at poetry in the past, but it always felt clunky. Wrong. I could never express what I thought in the rigid meter and rhyme I associated with poetry. I dreaded having to bend my ideas around what words I could force to rhyme with each other. And while I was aware that non-rhyming poetry existed, I could never figure out the difference between that and excessively flowery prose. And anyway, prose has always just flowed more easily from me, more naturally.

And yet, and yet… when the poetry unit of class started, I found a surprising amount of freedom. Yes, there is structure and definite patterns to rhythm and rhyme, but there’s a method to the madness, to use a cliche. Even for the most strict forms of poetry, like sonnets, the structure made sense as I worked with it.

Well into my second semester I find myself returning to poetry often. I write poems almost daily. I have an entire full memo of poetry on my phone, and I recently had to start up a second, plus a smattering of word documents on my laptop filled with my musings. The class was only for one semester, yet the unit we spent on poetry has stuck with me for months afterward. Where I once hated writing poetry with a firey passion, I now consider it another method of relaxation.

Where did that change of heart come from?

Well, honestly, an epiphany.

See, for our final project in the poetry unit, we were tasked to create a book of poetry unified by one theme. Looking at all the poetry I had written over the course of our lessons, I realized very quickly that all of my favorite poems had been written for people. Not always the sort of things I would want to proudly present to them, but nonetheless written with specific people in mind. Thoughts for them that were hard to express, or ugly, or embarrassing, or conflicted.

When something was on my mind about anything, it was easy to sit down and pen a poem about it. It not only helped to clarify my thoughts and, later, talk honestly with the people the poetry concerned, it ultimately became a pretty good topic for my poetry book. Titled “Me and Everyone I Know” and filled with crude Adobe Illustrator drawings (I was still learning at the time), it became one of my most favorite projects in what became one of my most favorite units.

I often like to joke and say all of my poems are flowery subtweets, but honestly they really are. Poetry is a weirdly satisfying form of venting, of getting out the sometimes complicated thoughts in my mind. It’s a way of taking things that might be difficult to think about and lays them out in black and white. It allows me to focus on difficult things without obsessing, because I can always worry instead about the language choices and metaphors instead of the real life problems And, I don’t know, there’s something awfully romantic about feverishly scribbling a poem down based on what’s on your mind (even if it’s in the memos of my cellphone instead of, say, a worn leather notebook or something like that.)

Plus, poetry is, as a rule, kind of secretive. Sometimes there’s just stuff you want to be able to talk about, to be able to yell about, but that stuff isn’t the sort of stuff that can be said aloud. Poetry is great for that. It lends itself to vagueness, to deep symbols and metaphors and trying to find the most roundabout way of presenting an idea possible.

So I guess what I’m saying is, give things a try. They can surprise you. Even rigid rhythm and rhyme can be freeing for you if you give it the chance to be. I mean, I’m a great example of how a point of view can be changed once you give something a go. A few months ago I hated poetry, and now I’ve taken on a personal challenge to write one new poem every day for the month of April… and who knows, after I finish, I might post all 30 here!

…maybe.