Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Irish and Canadian folk

"Sea Sew" by Lisa Hannigan

"Volcano" and "I Remember" are probably the two tracks on Damien Rice's "O" that showcase Lisa Hannigan best. It's her voice that make the the melodies lilt and linger. "O," and those two songs in particular, is mostly about the dark and painful sides of love, suggesting love brings loneliness instead of togetherness. "Sea Sew" is thematically just the opposite. The songs walk the delicate border between endearing and cloying. "Ocean and a Rock" is about love's power to overcome distance; "Venn Diagram" is about waking up next to someone you love (when I'm singing along I imagine these two people are married); "I Don't Know" is about the exciting beginning stages of a relationship; even the breakup song, "Lillie," is less bitter than sweet (much like Hannigan's character in "I Remember," in contrast's to Rice's character). To add icing to the already decadent lyrical cake, Hannigan and mother knitted the album art, and the music videos feature both braided pigtails and pop-up books. The whole album is smile-inducing. It's surprising the same voice that sings "I kissed your mouth, is that all you need?" with such defeated and regretful pain now sings "thoughts of you warm my bones" with such delightful and heartfelt sincerity. I've found the lyrics to be clever when explored, but it takes investment to memorize all the words to be able to sing along to an entire album, and so far, even after months of listening to "Sea Sew," I've only invested enough to enjoy Side A thoroughly, and I find myself setting the needle back to the beginning for another half-ride instead of turning the record over. Overall, while I enjoyed the pessimistic Hannigan on "O," I look forward to more of the optimistic one in the future.

"Your Rocky Spine" by Great Lake Swimmers

What are the ingredients for a perfect band in my book? It would definitely be in the genre of indie folk, be heavy on the banjo, and have lyrical themes of nature, hiking, mountains, ice-cold lakes, trees, birds, etc. Given those criteria, you can understand my excitement about Great Lake Swimmers and their song "Your Rocky Spine." A banjo-based band sings about hiking??? Count me in. At first listen, I thought the song was a granola version of John Mayer's "Your Body is a Wonderland," using nature as a metaphor for exploring a lover's body. This made me sad because I thought I'd have to shelf the song to remain mentally pure, but then I realized that it's actually just the opposite: the song uses the human body as a metaphor for exploring our beautiful earth. This song reminds me of Colorado and it's gorgeous mountains and lakes. I remember running in the valleys this summer and seeing mountains in front of me and behind me, bringing to mind the verse "you hem me in, behind and before" (Psalm 139:5) because I thought the mountains looked like stitches. To Great Lake Swimmers, the mountains look like a spine. How beautiful. The only tragedy in this song is it's use of parallel perfect intervals in the harmony (when singing the title lyric and its corresponding parts). It bothers me to no end, and both its easy harmonic remedy and the song's otherwise near-perfection makes it that much more infuriating. But in the context of the song, that compositional blunder is immediately followed by harmony that really calls attention to the V/V chord, which I like, so my rage is soon pacified. All of that to say, Great Lake Swimmers miss the mark only by millimeters. I suppose my perfect band will exist only if I create it.

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