Some Songs Considered #031: ‘Fall Feels’ albums, David Bowie, and Watch The Duck
Welcome to Some Songs Considered, a column that recognizes they can’t all be zingers and truly appreciates the ones that are.
“Fall Feels” Albums
by Justin McCarthy (@JustinSMcCarthy)
Fall is a season of profound feels, a time in which the slow death of the natural world surrounds us, reminding us of the inevitability of change and loss.
Adele and her people are keenly aware of how truly sad we’re primed to be in autumn; it’s why she just dropped all these plaintive, grief-ridden, MOR piano ballads on us, right smack into our leaf piles and mugs of spiked cider. After whetting our appetites with “Hello” and a smattering of live performance videos, our golden goddess of pathos once again came correct with the sad jams, making more than a few quid for her trouble#.
On Facebook, your friends who never post about music felt compelled to say something like “New Adele! Feeling all the feels!’”
The critics, too, were impressed—mostly. While reluctant to gripe about the quality of the songwriting given that a) this is a pop record and b) THAT VOICE THOUGH, some reviewers noted that while Adele is certainly capable of hitting more than one note, her songs on the other hand…well…
But then, can you really blame her for staying on-brand and giving the people what they want? I certainly can’t. She’s doubling down on wistful and lovelorn, becoming Celine 2.0, and setting the stage for a lucrative post-heyday afterlife adorning highway billboards right outside of Vegas for years to come. Keep getting them checks, Jenny, and cheers to ya. And yet, in this vast season of feels, it would seem that one sad dish does not a Feelsgiving meal make. Adele’s feels, extremely well-felt though they may be, are not one-size-feels-all. Maybe your feels are different, dear reader; maybe they have nothing to do with lovers past, or the question of what to do with all the money you’ve made singing about lovers past.
That’s why we’re giving you a few alternatives from the rest of the year in music. These albums are still plenty emotional and cathartic, just not exclusively about love. So if you’re not pining for the one that got away but you’d still like to cry into your latte at some point during your commute this month, here are some options.
Feel the feels.
“Mourning a Loved One” Feels
Sufjan Stevens — Carrie and Lowell
Stevens’ magnum opus may always be Illinoise (a decade old this year), but the heart of that record, under all the bombast and horns, is his emotionally vivid, stunningly forthright lyricism.
In applying his lyrical talents on his latest album to subject matter closer to home than Casimir Pulaski and John Wayne Gacy (namely, his parents, and his complicated relationship with his recently deceased mother) Stevens creates a work of confessional literature intended to both rid himself of personal ghosts and, for his audience, comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.
Recommended if you have no idea how to feel about your parents, or you’re grappling with a death that’s personal to you.
“Between College and Adulthood” Feels
Julien Baker — Sprained Ankle
19-year-old Baker recorded this collection of vividly heartrending songs herself, when she moved away for college at Middle Tennessee State University, leaving behind her old band Forrister. These are lonely songs for the lonely, but beautifully rendered and full of melodies generous enough to keep you coming back despite the brutal topics addressed, which include addiction, car crashes, and just wanting to go home.
Sprained Ankle sounds at times like a less self-important Bon Iver, a more insightful Ben Gibbard, or a gentler Torres. What it is, it turns out, is the unique voice of someone brilliant, and in pain, on the cusp of adulthood.
Recommended if you’re young and uncertain.
“Longing for Childhood” Feels
Girlpool — Before the World Was Big
Girlpool is the folk-punk project of two grown ass teenagers, Cleo Tucker and Harmony Tividad, though youthful candor and energy are definitely the vibes of the project.
The intentionally sparse arrangements and the clarity of the vocals might recall Kimya Dawson, but there’s nothing precious or Juno-esque about their process of reminding you how young we used to be. “I just miss how it felt standing next to you / wearing matching dresses before the world was big” is a clear statement of purpose, and a sharp reminder of what longing feels like.
Recommended if you’re going through boxes of your old belongings.
“Faded and Purposeless” Feels
Drake x Future — What a Time to Be Alive
Does he jest? I do not. WATTBA tracks among the most confessional, frank, and seriously morose albums of the year, though party-starting tracks it does contain.
“Live from the Gutter” features lines like, “I see hell everywhere / I get mail everywhere.” “Plastic Bag” features Drake going yet again to the strip club and yet again throwing money in the air, without a trace of joie de vivre or really any sense that it’s something he wants to be doing. And Future, well don’t get me started on Future—still totally hung up on Ciara, still drowning his sorrows in Actavis. Hanging out with Drake only makes Future sadder than usual, and it’s like come on, guys, you’re rich! But it doesn’t help.
Recommended if you’re in the club and you realize you haven’t done anything to help someone else maybe ever in your life.
David Bowie – “★” (Blackstar)
by Lindsay Hogan (@LindsayHogan88)
David Bowie doesn’t return with new songs. He returns with audio/visual frescos. And at 68 years old, his passion for challenging ideas and high-concept releases is as strong as ever.
With the gorgeously creepy single/short film “★” (pronounced Blackstar)#, he’s blessed all of us looking to lie back after a gluttonous meal with the family and contemplate the infinite while exploring the inception of belief and the nature of ritual.
Clocking in at 10 unnerving minutes, it’s clear Bowie is intent on ignoring accessibility and airplay and is instead striving to challenge the millions of listeners/viewers who feel compelled toward his every release. But sonically, his haunting vocals, a wiser approach to familiar themes, and the clout to make unabashedly unsettling music prove his resilience (and relevance) as an artist, even 48 years after his first release. Visually, Director Johan Renck teases us with images of the cosmos, fantastic cityscapes, and other thought-provoking scenes of religion, punishment, and the many forms of pontification.
Now the Bowie School of Art is not meant to provide definitive answers and absolutely meaning in everything he creates, but definitive answers aside, Bowie is clearly dealing with a messianic complex in the most unearthly way possible. We see the blind prophet at the beginning, held up in an attic with his tormented followers; towards the middle of the track he is seen as a solitary trickster, someone selling belief and proselytizing (“You’re a flash in the Pan, I’m the great I Am.”); lastly, we see him beaming in front of a backdrop of blue sky as a confident preacher, his followers hanging on his every word.
I’m hoping the full album, dropping in January, will fill in some of the mystery behind “Blackstar” (I don’t binge watch sci-fi anymore so I’m counting on Bowie to entertain me), but if nothing else, a fresh Bowie release should remind all the kids out there dabbling in spacey-pop and weirdo-rock what they have to live up to.
Watch The Duck, Kicking Hard As Hell
by Bryce Rudow (@BryceTRudow)
In 2012, the trio Watch The Duck out of Montgomery, Alabama released “Poppin’ Off,” the eventual single off their 2013 5-track EP Anatidaephobia, which the blogosphere dubbed “trapstep” (a cross between trap and dubstep). I personally think that term is a bit reductive in its generality — the opening track “Lost In It”# owes as much to TV on the Radio as it does to any genre with ‘step’ in it — but it is an unmistakable nod to the unique sound and style of the group.
However, as dubstep fell from grace over the past few years, Watch The Duck somehow got thrown out with the bathwater too. They did a little work with T.I. on his 2014 album Paperwork and Grand Hustle’s G.D.O.D., and they even popped up on Iggy Azalea’s debut The New Classic, but nevertheless they couldn’t escape getting lumped in with the passing of a musical fad, forced to watch Skrillex sail away to safety on his tropical house boat#.
Except now they’re back with a new EP, The Trojan Horse, which features guest appearances from the likes of Schoolboy Q, T.I., Steve Aoki, and none other than Pharrell himself (who has been excessively generous with the N.E.R.D. sound as of late):
Now I don’t think this album shows up on any Best of 2015 lists, but I also don’t know if that’s necessarily the point of this release. If anything, it feels like more an offensive move, a statement in the guise of an EP#. As group member Eddie Smith III once said when explaining the name of the group:
Everybody sees the duck traveling smoothly on top of the water but nobody sees it kicking hard as hell under it, struggling to stay afloat.
This is Watch The Duck kicking hard as hell.
For those that could use a refresher, the Trojan Horse was a story in Greek mythology in which the Greeks, after a 10-year attempted siege of Troy, pretended to give up and sail away, leaving only a wooden horse behind as a ‘victory trophy.’ The Trojans brought the horse inside the gates to celebrate, but in the middle of the night a hidden force of Greeks emerged from it, opening up the gates of Troy to the awaiting Grecian army and decisively winning the war for the Greeks.
With The Trojan Horse the album, Watch The Duck seem to be strategically letting Pharrell and T.I. and Schoolboy Q and Steve Aoki open up the gates for them so that they can, with their next release, wreak the kind of damage on the industry that it feels like they’ve always been capable of inflicting but unable to dispense just yet.
Really, it’s a tale as old as time.
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