Doing this month’s songs a bit early…
Fill in the Blank by Car Seat Headrest
There’s a line in this song that I absolute love. It’s “You have no right to be depressed. You haven’t tried hard enough to like it.”
There is almost nothing I hate more than telling someone you’re unhappy or depressed and having them be all, “Oh, just think positive! Just be happy!” It gives me that stabby, I-must-commit-murder-right-the-fuck-now feeling. Fill in the Blank doesn’t give me that feeling at all. Quite the opposite—it makes me feel joyfully, energetically happy. Like, giddy. And I love that lyric because it’s used as if the singer is simply repeating what he’s been told. I really enjoy his way of throwing this absolute crap platitude back in the face of the people who have said it to him. And at the end of the song, I love how he negates that sentiment completely and without apology.
The song feels, to me, like when you’ve just had enough. Like you can’t take all this STUFF anymore, so you just pop like an overblown balloon and emotions go everywhere, whacking people with all the truth in your feelings, and there’s a real sense of levity and freedom in just being like I AM DONE WITH THIS BULLSHIT.
Anyway. That explosion, combined with the very upbeat music, and the raw passion in the lyrics, and the denseness of the sound, makes me ridiculously, want-to-bounce-around-the-room happy. I love this song.
Agnes by Glass Animals
I was going to write about Youth, off the same album (How to Be a Human Being.) But then the video for Agnes came out and I just…
I like songs (well, songs, stories, movies, art, whatever) with a ton of emotion. I like music that packs emotion into every crack of the melody and lyrics. Agnes does this. It’s not one dimensional in this way, either. It’s definitely, on the surface, a sad song. It’s about loss and missing someone so much you don’t know how to think. It sounds almost like a letter to a friend who’s gone. But underneath I feel like there’s this… optimism, as if the person telling the story is living through this, and being okay with that pain. It’s powerful and tender and light and deep, all at the same time.
I’d heard Agnes once before, on the radio, before the video came out, and I liked it, but I didn’t pay much attention at the time. (I was writing—I kind of… listen to music in a writing-induced daze, when I’m in the middle of something, so the bones of it get through, but not much else.) Then the Glass Animals sent out this email about how they made the video (in a human centrifuge) and the effects of that force on your body, and your heart. How the pressure literally flattens your heart, and the only thing that feels quite the same is the deepest sense of sadness. It’s a gorgeous email. It’s so open and raw it’s painful.
I watched the video. I paid attention to the song. It’s beautiful. I love the video but I think I love it only because I know they tried so very hard to… to put their emotions into something physical. And because I know the singer, Dave Bayley, who’s in the video, felt so much about this song. Like it was a piece of him that broke his heart, and you can see that.
Anyway. I love the song by itself, too, of course. It doesn’t try too hard. It isn’t trying to be anything but simple (if the Glass Animals are ever simple.) It’s heartfelt and raw in its emotions, and polished perfectly in its sound. I love the rhythm of the lyrics—obviously because they go with the music, but even the best lyrics don’t always slot together like a puzzle piece, rhythmically, and these do. They fit, they feel good to sing. I love the soft, easy way Dave sings most of the song. Like he’s telling a story. (Which he is—that’s what the whole album is about. Songs about regular people. The idea behind that gives me this intense feeling of connection, which is just awesome.) And I love how, even though this is a song about grief, it isn’t overwhelmingly sad at all. It’s about… figuring out how to live with that. And I find that hopeful.
This song makes me feel alive.
I also really, really love the way Dave sings the word ‘fucking.’ Never as a throw-away word. He always sings it like he means it. Like he picked that word because it would have impact, like it would be hard and forceful. That really gets to me.
Catch Me by Braves
A couple weeks ago I was doing edits on the last Escaping Indigo book, Scratch Track. I needed to add a scene onto the end. It should have been simple—and it definitely needed something there—but I had no clue what to write. I was honestly working myself into a panic about it, because I feel like book endings are really important. It’s my favorite part, it’s the payout, it’s the last impression. I always want it to be absolutely as good as I can make it.
Finally, at maybe ten at night, after days of procrastinating, I sat down at the keyboard, put a playlist on, and banged out almost 4K words for an epilogue. And it felt AMAZING. Like pure catharsis.
Anyway, this song was on the playlist (which wasn’t very long, and which I kept repeating over and over and over while I wrote.) And it totally saved me while I was writing that epilogue. Writing to music is weird for me. I always have a playlist for each book, that I listen to only when I’m writing that story. But very rarely do I pick music that matches up, lyrically, to what I’m writing. It’s sort of more like… taking the most raw emotions out of the song, and channeling that into what I write, instead. So Catch Me really doesn’t coincide with the book at all.
The song’s very pop (I do love pop.) The lyrics are a bit whoa, as in… I think they probably try far too hard to be something important and fall a bit short of that. It’s produced nearly to the point of being overproduced. It’s too shiny and too polished and too much.
But I love it. I love the beat of it, and the richness of the sound. I love the vocals and all the twisty ways they modify the sound of them. I love the rough guitar, which stands out so sharply against all the other bits. The song sort of feels like… jumping into very dark water. It’s immersive and catchy and full.
I’m also completely enamored with “I’m not for sale,” a lyric that keeps getting repeated. I’m so fond of this sentiment. Anytime this gets said in a song, I’m a goner. (“Don’t go and sell your soul for self-esteem,” etc.) It’s this bit of… pure stubbornness to make art, or live life, or whatever, in a way that speaks to you.
Bonus because I am a rule breaker: House of the Rising Sun by alt-J
Okay, okay, I know I sort of promised I wouldn’t talk about alt-J in every single post anymore, but… god, yeah, I’m obsessed. This album in particular is like… a giant fuck you to everyone who says rock music, or music, period, is supposed to sound a certain way. It feels like alt-J basically said, “We’ll do whatever the hell we want, there’s nothing you can do to stop us, and it’ll be the best thing you ever heard.” And they did, and it is, and they did it in such an unassuming and humble way that it doesn’t make them seem like jerks, or like they’re showing off. They’re just good. Ridiculously, stupidly talented. They never do anything because it’s cool, or trendy, or weird, but because they think it’ll sound great. And this album, Relaxer, is the pinnacle of that, and it’s incredible.
Anyway. House of the Rising Sun is a cover, kind of. The first verse is original, but I’m pretty sure alt-J wrote the rest of the lyrics themselves.
There are a lot of things I love about this song. The sheer creativity in and of itself is amazing. To take a song that’s as well-known as House of the Rising Sun and make it completely your own is just so cool. And so impressive. Especially because this isn’t simply a good cover, it’s stunning. It’s a stunning song that is completely theirs. There’s so much raw emotion here, it’s almost like looking into a very bright light. Like staring at the sun. It’s overwhelming in how intense it is, even while it manages to be an incredibly simple, straightforward song. I love the… pacing of it, I guess. This slow, steady pulse of it. The creaking of fingers on fret boards. The wail of the vocals. I love the images this song makes in my mind, all those tangled feelings of growing up and learning the world and seeing the pain and the pure joy of it.
And I LOVE how very New Orleans this song is. I love how alt-J, who are English, have managed to capture a slice of very unique American culture in their song—in their album. How they see the good and the bad in us, and not one or the other. How there are layers and layers here. It touches my heart in a personal way, and I’m grateful for it.