The xx – Chained

The xx – Chained (BBC Live)

I watched you breathe in
And I wished you’d stop
Only for long enough
Long enough

It’s hard to say

Separate or combine
I ask you one last time
Did I hold you too tight?
Did I not let enough light in?

If a feeling appears
If your mind should sway
It’s not a secret you should keep
I won’t let you slip away

Chorus x2
We used to be closer than this

We used to be closer than this
We used to get closer than this
Is it something you missed?

Winged or chained
I ask you would you have stayed
Did I hold you too tight?
Did I not let enough light in?

~~~

I have to say I’ve been on a electronic indie binge recently, and it’s been very difficult to pull away from the hypnotizing lure of The xx.

The London-based group have been on a steady rise to fame from the get-go after their debut album in 2010 won the Mercury Award (best music album in the UK + Ireland).

The band has no real lead singer. Instead, guitarist Romy Madley Croft’s crazy beautiful voice effortlessly interplays with bassist Oliver Sims’ equally delicate vocals. Often on tracks, and particularly in their earlier albums, the lyrics are almost just spoken aloud over the music likening it to slam poetry. That’s not a style I am normally a fan of, but the reason it works for The xx is because of the production and genius of the band DJ, Jamie xx who also has a prolific career having been heavily influenced by hip hop.

Fun Fact: The band members are childhood friends, with Croft and Sims practically playing in the same sandbox together from age 3. They befriended Jamie later in school around age 11. It’s difficult to find a more closely-knit band than this one.

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Image courtesy of @The_xx.

I want to point out the really minimalist nature of the band. There’s no fancy over the top effects or filters, no distractions from the delivery of the lyrics. Even down to their dress code which could be viewed as modern-Gothic, The xx keeps things simple in an era where that is far from the norm. This style really exemplifies the band’s ability to produce a very intimate sound. In contrast to the well-known shyness of the band members, their music and lyrics betray a much deeper and emotionally connected depth of experience much like a silent lover who feels everything but shares very little.

Dysfunctional relationships seems to be a recurring theme with the songs I choose, and this one is no exception. “Separate or combine, I ask you one last time. Did I hold you too tight?” The narrator holds conflicted feelings about their partner, wanting to see them suffocated in the first verse but then going into a neurotic self-questioning streak where they try to figure out if they are to blame for the fall of the relationship. Songs like these always make me a bit sad because they’re so heavy coming from one side of the relationship; it’s easy to feel sympathetic for the narrator, but I wonder what the other partner would say about the relationship.

When growing up, my mother had one of those motivational sort of posters in our bedroom which had a bird on it and read “If you love something, let it go. If it come back, it’s yours. If it doesn’t, then it never was.” So my final question to you is, winged or chained, would you have stayed?

Warpaint – Feeling Alright

Warpaint – Feeling Alright (Live on KEXP)

Under the branches of feeling alright
I fell asleep just to dream about
I’ve known too many reasons to fight
So glad that I have taken my time

Hmmm, my mind is made
I see in bold now
I’m growing up to a starry state
I know you can see me now

Under the flawless sky, feeling alright
Not careless, not hopeless
You can’t bring me down
I’ve known too many reasons to fight
So glad that I have you on my side
I’ve taken my time

Only the right thing is happening
I can see it face to face, I’m not worrying
First rule of thumb you gave
Promise not to fake your way
So rest your head and go to sleep now

Ooh, ooh, my mind is made
I see you bold now
I’m growing up to a starry state
And soon you will see it better now

~~~

If I had to describe the sound of Warpaint in two words, they would be: soulfully brooding.

Although some of their more recent albums have featured dream pop influences, the majority of Warpaint’s portfolio is made up of dark and dreary indie rock. “Feeling Alright” is cut of the same cloth. Don’t let Stella Mozgawa’s energetic drumming or Emily Kokal’s gentle backing harmonies fool you. The band’s darker edge comes through like the acidic aftertaste of strong coffee in the form of lead singer Theresa Wayman’s hauntingly placed vocals over Jenny Lee Lindberg’s reverberating bass-lines.

Fun Fact: Indie-folk pioneers Daughter teamed up with Warpaint to reinterpret one track from the other’s library. This led to the birth of a fantastic remix of “Feeling Alright” that you’ll want to check out as well.

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Image courtesy of @_Warpaint.

Lyrically, the song is ambiguous although the tone is somewhat sarcastic towards the individual the narrator is addressing. The narrator seems to have learned from their mistakes in the past and has grown in confidence as a result. In the context of a relationship, the narrator was once underestimated and undervalued. Experience is the harshest teacher but has now empowered the narrator in finally standing up for themselves and recognizing the unbalance in their relationship – “My mind is made, I see in bold now.”

Warpaint is a full-frontal femme fatale that raises the bar for what should be accepted as sharp and creative alternative rock in this era of music. This is certainly a band you will want to give a chance to. “And soon you will see it better now.” 

HAERTS – Eva

https://soundcloud.com/haertsmusic/eva

Glide down slow, it’s over
Don’t blame the ones that let you down
Don’t hit the ground,
Things only get harder
The sun just don’t care
Where you go down, down

Eva, leave a light on when you go
And I need it, I need it when
I’m the one who’s gliding to the floor
I’m the one who’s gliding to the floor

Changing is hard
Once you get older
Hiding our teeth
Won’t cry us down
Don’t say you lived
Don’t say that I’m wiser
I look in your eyes
And I see mine, mine

Eva, leave a light on when you go
And I need it, I need it when
I’m the one who’s gliding to the floor
Eva, evil animal
Eva lied when you go
And I need it, I need it when
I’m the one who’s gliding to the floor x4

<Instrumental Break>

Leave a light on
Leave a light on
Leave a light on
When you go
Leave a light on

~~~

HAERTS are a sweet indiepop group based out of Brooklyn, New York. I’ve only discovered them due to Spotify’s weekly Discover playlist. I have to give them a shout-out because their (free) program is awesome. Spotify pays attention to the bands/playlists that you follow and listen to, then each Monday it generates a playlist of 30 songs depending on what your preferences are. I’ve found a lot of great new bands this way and really recommend music fans give it a try.

The song “Eva” was actually part of three unreleased songs by the band that made their debut in a short visual project the band made working with artist Julian Klincewicz. I’m not going to lie, it’s pretty fucking weird but definitely true to the noir Brooklyn hipster scene. There is a full minute of a blurry naked dude rolling down a sandy hill. But I will include the link out of respect for the amazing centerpiece of the video, “Eva.”

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Image courtesy of @haertsmusic.

Now the song itself…is clean, pure, synthpop bliss. The majority of the track keeps building and building much like the flight of Icarus, until the instrumental break after which the bitter reality all comes crashing down.

This is a song about a break-up. The attitude in the first stanza conveys that the narrator has finally started to accept that the relationship is really over/or that the two characters are breaking up. The first line is so potent, so visceral. If you’ve ever had the misfortune of being on the wrong side of the break-up spectrum, there can be a kind of bargaining period where you still fool yourself into believing things can work out. “Glide down slow, it’s over.” There’s no salvaging this, it’s all about damage control and lessening the impact now.

Of course, if it was that simple, Haerts wouldn’t have written a goddamn song about it. It turns out moving on or accepting the end is something that is really, really hard to do. Despite the narrator’s seeming acceptance of the break-up, there are sections that cast doubt over it:

“I look in your eyes, and I see mine, mine.” The narrator imagines that their ex still has feelings for them, that the possibility of a future together is still there. Whether it is imagined or tailored to reality, it is difficult to say. I imagined this verse as almost the act of denial on the part of the narrator, that the other party isn’t genuine in their breaking up.

“Eva, evil animal. Eva, lied when you go.” This is the only time in the song the narrator expresses serious frustration, perhaps even anger. Now this reminds me of the different stages of grief. Much of the song can be seen as a mixture of bargaining (“Leave the light on”) and an attempt at acceptance with the previous verse having strains of denial. According to the 5 stages of grief formula, the final step is true acceptance.

We sort of get that…depending on your perspective. The song builds as Icarus continues to soar high and proud in the juxtaposed imagery to the song. When two people are in the peak of their relationship and brimming with happiness, there is a component that feels almost invincible, like nothing could ever harm their relationship. Sometimes that doesn’t work out and instead, the whole plan is ruined and you’re left with a pair of charcoaled wings being falling back to reality. By the end of the song, there is no more aggression or denial. There’s an acceptance that the relationship really is ending, but the narrator makes themselves vulnerable to the fact that they can’t move on and must deal with not having the other person in their life. What they make instead is a plea that the other party “leaves the light on,” and doesn’t completely leave the narrator’s life forever. Perhaps it’s by staying friends, perhaps it’s being open to trying again in the future.

The bottom line is that break-ups hurt. They rarely go smooth, and most often there is collateral damage. You can’t avoid the fall, but you can at least not let it destroy you. However if you are not careful, if you obsess over it and keep hanging onto threads of “what-ifs,” maybe you’ll be done for before you’ve even hit the ground.

Björk – Hyperballad

Björk – Hyperballad

We live on a mountain
Right at the top
There’s a beautiful view
From the top of the mountain
Every morning I walk towards the edge
And throw little things off
Like car-parts, bottles and cutlery
Or whatever I find lying around
It’s become a habit
A way to start the day

Chorus x2:
I go through all this

Before you wake up
So I can feel happier
To be safe up here with you

It’s real early morning
No-one is awake
I’m back at my cliff
Still throwing things off
I listen to the sounds they make
On their way down
I follow with my eyes ’til they crash
Imagine what my body would sound like
Slamming against those rocks
When it lands
Will my eyes
Be closed or open?

Chorus x3

Safe up (here with you)

~~~

This is my first music post and I can’t imagine a more appropriate foray than the artistic icon that is Björk. For those who don’t listen to much music, you may know her as “that weird chick from Iceland.” To the rest of us, Björk has helped raise the bar for what is possible to accomplish through music. Her rich career has seen her break the boundaries of genres often merging different instruments and vocal styles to create a very distinct sound that no one could ever replicate. She is most familiar with an electronic/trip-hop infused pop style with deep, brooding lyrics that one may not catch upon a first listen.

Her “Hyperballad” is my personal ‘magnum-opus’ out of her discography. An infectiously catchy pop hit that seems to hide its own darker message under the tone of a love song. The track was on Björk’s seminal second album, “Post,” which was released as she was adapting to the fast-paced life in London where she had moved.

I always find it intriguing when the artists themselves provide input on what a song is about. Often you’ll get nothing, sometimes they spell out the punchline completely. Most of the time however, you get something just vague enough to leave the crowd guessing. It depends on your preference but I like it when things are left kind of vague as they require greater involvement on the part of the listener.

Fun Fact: Hyperballad” is written based off of a dream that Björk had.

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Image courtesy of @bjork.

Lyrically, the first thing that struck me was the number of different objects that have a sense of danger or harm around them. In the first stanza, she discusses throwing off “bottles” and “cutlery,” all sharp objects that could injure. Then there’s the language in the later stanza, the fixation on what the objects sound like as they fall down, as well as the rocks down below. Björk suggests that she will feel safer throwing these dangerous objects off the mountain, yet in actuality the objects are harmless assuming one is careful. But in her dream, she views the objects as dangerous and thus they become dangerous, leading to her compulsively and ritualistically throwing them off the edge of the mountain each morning. That is one of the more critical underlying pieces of the song, the narrator’s loss of control.

This is a song about a very deep and intimate relationship. That is the framework within which I interpreted the lyrics. It’s about an abrasive love that may seem idealized and attractive on the pedestal on which it is placed, but upon closer glance doesn’t seem entirely healthy.

Have you ever cared for someone so much, that you sometimes felt that you loved them even more than you loved yourself?

There’s a duality to the lyrics: this love is portrayed in a romanticized way as something bigger than life itself, but at the same time there’s this dark edge to it like thorns on a rose that makes the glossy image to start to fade. Loving someone that much can be great and amazing, especially in the early stages, but eventually it can start to feel overwhelming and it can consume other areas of your life. It can ultimately consume you. You start to become isolated from all the other things that are important to you, you start putting the needs of the other person ahead of your own, you start to become dependent. Björk has been there before, and this song is an ominous reminder that we don’t always live happily ever after. while masquerading as a simple love ballad.

Now I want to focus on the section of the lyrics where Björk vividly imagines what it would be like for her to jump off the mountain and essentially commit suicide. If you read more literally, the lyrics suggest this is a song about an abusive relationship, and that the earlier references to sharp objects and the denotations of the narrator’s compulsive behaviors are nods towards self-injury. I think the song is a little bit more abstract in its message. The hypothetical “suicide” is the end of her relationship. She is unraveling more and more in the second stanza, becoming more mesmerized by the throwing and falling of objects. The more she loses control, the more she perhaps starts to recognize the negative consequences her love is having, and she wonders whether she can let herself go from the relationship.

The final question then, is whether her eyes will “be closed or open?” This part took me some time to work through but here’s how I make sense of it. Whether she jumps off the mountain/ends the relationship can be intentional or inadvertent. If she falls and hits the rocks with her eyes open, she has decided to free herself of this relationship and intentionally let go. But even if she doesn’t willingly make the choice, given the implication of the lyrics it seems she will continue to lose control of her life the longer she stays in the relationship. So perhaps the same result will be reached anyway, but the latter course is much more destructive.

This track is honestly one of my favorite pieces of music of all time, a song that I hold very close to my own heart…as a reminder that even the strongest and purest of loves, can be equally destructive and dangerous in their own right.