Some Songs Considered #007: St. Vincent, Jamie xx, Dom Kennedy
Welcome to Some Songs Considered, a column that recognizes they can’t all be zingers and truly appreciates the ones that are.
St. Vincent – “Teenage Talk”
by Bryce Rudow
Two nights ago, I did a very 2015 thing and met some friends IRL that I had only previously gotten to know via the internet. For months, we had been posting in the same Facebook ‘new music’ group, but we had recently decided to do a very non-2015 thing and get together to listen to one album, straight-through, in silence, phones off. Everyone brought a selection, we put album names in a hat, and a winner was chosen; a recently-purchased copy of St. Vincent’s mid-catalogue record Strange Mercy brought by Lindsay Hogan, a local music journalist and photographer.
Lindsay was #authentic enough to admit that she wasn’t, like most would claim, a St. Vincent fangirl, but was interested in using this setting to try and “see what she was missing.” So, with a few six packs around us to ease the social tension, eight of us familiar strangers sat down and listened to some music.
I could rattle on about how enjoyable it was to appreciate music in that way surrounded by other audiophiles, but the truth is, it’s a little unnerving at first. It’s not often you’re placed in a situation where there are so many people in comfortable (relative) silence together; you don’t know what do with your hands. It’s only eventually, somewhere near the end of “Cheerleader” in my case, that you finally calm down and give in to ‘just listening to the music’. Only then do you understand why people rattle on about how enjoyable it is to appreciate music in that way.
It’s the same reason why people who don’t consider themselves Christian by belief still go to church. Despite how silly the rituals and how asinine the texts, it still feels good to be around a group of people pointing their open hearts in the same direction. And it’s one of the few dopamine rushes with a shelf-life.
Just this morning, I found myself hankering for another dose of Strange Mercy, only to discover that Miss Clark had put out a new single only a few weeks ago called “Teenage Talk.” I hit play and was about to continue on with the menial tasks of the early AM, but then I was struck with the sudden, very rare urge to stop what I was doing and just listen to this song. It was 4 minutes sacrificially cut out of my already tight routine and I wasn’t rewarded with some life-changing song – it’s about par for the St Vincent course though it has its moments – but I nevertheless found myself pleasantly satisfied as the last notes faded out.
It’s easy to forget that not all music is meant to be background music for something else.
Jamie xx – “The Rest Is Noise”
by Charles Bramesco
Like many other insufferable people, I spend a fair amount of time grappling with the suspicion that I was born behind schedule. Way behind schedule. Like, decades. It’s not that I see the present day as vulgar and tasteless, and fancy myself as more attuned to the hippy-dippy ‘60s, or the lavish glitz of the ‘20s, et al.# It’s more like a sensation of having missed out on something big, like Tony talks about in the Sopranos pilot — that fear that you showed up too late for a meaningful cultural moment.
I think it could’ve been good fun to live as a Club Kid during the ‘90s. The style was kind of garish and the drug horror stories# are terrifying, but even so, the come-as-you-are attitude appeals to me. I’m pretty nervous in a general sense, and so the fantasy of shedding your identity and entering a Day-Glo paradise where nobody knows your name but everybody’s willing to embrace you as one of their own holds a lot of appeal. It’s definitely a rose-tinted view of a pop-cultural chapter with a big, visible underside — it might not even be a step up from the present-day perversion of the raver culture going by EDM, packed to the gills with roided-out freaks pawing hungrily at girls in bikinis and those fucking fur-lined leg-warmers.# — but that’s what makes the past so alluring; we get to edit out the nastier bits.
Judging by his revelatory debut LP In Colour, Jamie xx gets this. His densely referential compositions ache with yearning for a time that the 26-year-old was too young to have lived through, when euphoric, highly-disciplined house was the order of the day at discotheques around the globe. More than holding us over until the next full-length from Disclosure, Jamie massages glory out of restraint and moderation. His tracks shift and mutate, making infinitesimally tiny changes to loop patterns so that the body of the song as a whole takes on new shapes every twenty seconds or so. Jamie’s music evokes the specific variety of room-filling electronica in vogue during the Club Kids’ salad days, and none moreso than “The Rest Is Noise”.
Plaintive guitars roll up to the club arm-in-arm with a nimble, jumbled drum pattern. They arrive with separate baggage, maybe even separate intentions; the former wants to make a connection in this cold scary world, the latter just wants to get its ya-yas out. But around the three-minute mark, they fuse into a perfect harmony. A thudding beat slides to the foreground and suddenly the excitement and melancholy are one and the same. Everybody’s here to get down. It generates a feeling, a rare sort of feeling, and that specific emotional reaction must necessarily be house music’s raison d’etre.
“The Rest Is Noise” gathers people — I’m not speaking figuratively or theoretically — real people, who’ll inevitably come together and listen to this wonderful album and get on their feet and try not to be too awkward about the way their arms move and maybe look at their date’s butt but discreetly, when you can be sure you won’t be caught. Put simply, it creates joy. That’s why Jamie xx and the legions of DJs that sleep in parking lots do what they do, in order to imbue their songs with true emotion. That emotion is all that needs to come out when a DJ drops it for a floor full of swooning party monsters. There’s the emotion, and the rest, well, you know…
Dom Kennedy – “Still Lookin'”
by Julian Kimble
The summer’s rapid arrival means dusting off Dom Kennedy’s projects, i.e. requisites for Saturday afternoon cruises during the warmer months. I recently took to listening to his catalog in preparation for his latest release, By Dom Kennedy, which arrived on Tuesday. In going all the way back to his first project, 2008’s 25th Hour, I again found myself hypnotized by his ode to the ghosts of girlfriend’s past, “Still Lookin.’”
With the laid-back insight, Dom reflects on dealings with the opposite sex that fizzled out for assorted reasons. Over the course of three verses, he details how each relationship, regardless of how serious it may be, is like facing a different pitcher. In some cases, neither participant is in the right place for something serious (“I’m damned if I stay, and I’m damned if I leave ya/You just wasn’t ready and, well, I wasn’t either”); the two parties aren’t compatible (“Cause I was kind of young, and that she was scared of/Like, ‘You dream of Porsches, I’m going corporate, if you don’t want a relationship then I’m gonna abort this’”); and how the person you idealize can end up just being flat-out wrong for you.
Dom may not be in Kendrick Lamar’s class of lyricism, but there are gems in his lyrics. It’s the type of wisdom you get from a friend, or, better yet, common sensibilities that you nod your head in agreement with upon hearing. The line that stands out to me is so simple that the impact doesn’t translate the same when separated from the full song, but it has stayed with me for seven years because it effectively conveys the disappointing moment of clarity you experience upon realizing the person you pegged as The One really isn’t: “Oh, and when we first met? I thought you was it.” You live, you learn.
The tribulations of dating in your 20s will either scare you into impetuous decisions, or season you to make the right ones. Experience is the best teacher, hence why matching what you learn through trial and error with the advice of others tends to work out for the best. Still looking is what everyone who hasn’t found the person they want to die with is doing, and the resilient calm in Dom’s voice throughout the song is affirmation that the process isn’t cause for anxiety.
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