Thursday, January 30, 2014

SOTW - January 31, 2014 - "Tan Lines"

It's been so damn cold all week. Let's turn our minds to someplace warmer ... the Beach. Yes. While enjoying the Beach, people bathe in the sun. Skin exposed to the sun turns brown, or red. Skin covered by clothes stays some shade of white, depending on the individual. The borderline between exposed and unexposed skin in the sun is a strange, but compelling, topic for a song.

The way one views a Tan Line is a function of age. For the parent, it's "did I get sunscreen there ... I sure hope she doesn't get burned ... we'll reapply when we go up for lunch ...") For the grandparent, it's a sign that the normal sun blocking protocols broke down ("Too much wind for the umbrella yesterday!"), resulting in actual exposure to UV rays and a modern Real Simple no no. For the young - those to whom a sunburn is little more than the badge of shotgunned beers and a killer day at the beach - the Tan Line is an object of .... Desire, for it marks the boundary between the un-forbidden and (possibly) forbidden.  

So it is to local Athens, GA heroes, The Futurebirds. To anyone who's ever seen the 'Birds live, their view of the Tan Line, as portrayed in your Song of the Week for January 31, 2014, will come as no surprise. Any doubt as to lyricist Carter King's sentiments is removed in the first line:
 "Sifting through pictures from the naked beach when all I want is you here naked here      with me." 
So, the focus is on the Flesh, the tone loud and longing. But for anybody with an image of a Southern indie "Sexual Healing" in mind, think again. This is the musical equivalent of breezy beach volleyball after a six pack on a late June afternoon; 18 a side, nobody cares who wins. The juvenile lust is built on a sunny day pedal steel riff that would fit in a mid-tempo Gram Parsons road trip song. After dancing around the main riff for two verses and the repetitive, "I know it's all for these tan lines" chorus, the party builds to a house-wrecking, reverb drenched, Velvet Underground meets Wilco crescendo. It's my favorite tune on 2013's excellent Baba Yaga and a perfect segue to the afternoon Beach session for young parents ... or a funnel of beer for those whose Biological Clocks are quiet. Like a frisbee, it's fun for all ages. "Tan Lines" belongs on your summer vacay playlist.  

Friday, January 10, 2014

SOTW - January 10, 2014 - "Song for Zula"

"Some say love, is a burning thing,
That it makes, a fiery ring..."

You think you know where I'm going, right?

With the exception of the Almighty, has anything inspired more music than the pain of Love lost? Whole genres (e.g., Blues, old Country) are built around longing and pleading for an object of desire, just out of reach. Lyrically, the love-lost composer expresses one of three general sentiments: 1. I lost her and want her back; 2. I lost her, and it hurts so bad, and I don't know what to do about it; 3. I lost her, and it hurts so bad, but I'm determined to get past the pain and move forward. In Matthew Houck's (performing under nom de guerre "Phosphorescent") ethereal 2013 album Muchacho we find all three, fused into an inspiring mix of pain and resolution.

In the middle of what he described as a "domestic crisis," which can only mean a bad case of confusion and heartbreak, Houck retreated with his guitar to a desolate hut on the Yucatan Peninsula to put the finishing touches on the material that eventually became Muchacho. The soundscape that resulted from this isolated creative process is a stirring mix of Jim James meets Blood on the Tracks era Dylan vocals, laid over a sparse electronic backdrop. It is superb, must-listen, contemplative mood music. Houck is an Alabamian who cut his teeth in early '00's Athens, so his music resonates in the Southern mind; this is outlaw Country for the Radiohead generation.  

The gripping centerpiece of Muchacho is your Song of the Week for January 10, 2014. "Song for Zula" must have been written for the lost object of Houck's affection. It is a profound statement of resolution in the face of Love lost. The opening lines channel Johnny Cash and tell the listener immediately that this story is heated. This is no one night stand. There are wounds here, and they are fresh. We are then taken on a meandering path of pain ("then I saw love disfigure me"), defeat ("you see the cage it called. I said, come on in"), anger ("and I could kill you with my bar hands if I was free") and this poetically moving statement of resolution (see 3 above):  
You see the moon is bright, in that treetop night.I see the shadows that we cast in the cold clean light.I might fear I go, and my heart is white,And we race right out on the desert plains all night. So honey I am now, some broken thing, I do not lay in the dark waiting for day here.Now my heart is gold, my feet are light,And I am racing out on the desert plains all night. 
Houck thus stares down the dragon, and prevails. It's always a better ending when our hero finds his way forward in the face of loss.