Sunday, October 4, 2009

Taken by Trees breaks some rules, but I'll let it slide


“My Boys” by Taken by Trees

There are certain rules music has to follow in order for me even to consider it. The biggest four are:

  1. instruments and voices must be in tune
  2. no parallel perfect intervals
  3. when people are singing together (homophonically), they must cut-off together
  4. correct grammar

#1 is the downfall of a certain friends’ EP I shan’t name. #2 is why I find Snow Patrol insufferable, even though I desperately want to be in favor of the Northern Irish band (I can think of a thousand better harmony lines for “Chasing Cars,” don’t even get me started). #3 is Maria Taylor’s demise, and #4 is a stumbling block to countless. However, every once in a while an artist comes along who breaks some or all of the rules, but does so in a clever and knowing way, and I can’t get enough. Sufjan Stevens is the best example. I remember thinking, when I first heard Stevens, “He’s breaking all the rules; you should choose to hate this music; compromise is self-betrayal,” but I couldn’t ignore the fact that I didn’t hate the music: I actually enjoyed it so much that I craved more. It kept me guessing. And now, after detailed study of some of Stevens’ songs, I can just tell (…or foolishly hope?) that he knows the rules and is breaking them on purpose.

I’m not sure if Taken by Trees’ Victoria Bergsman knows she’s breaking my rules or not, but somehow I find the missteps in “My Boys” (a cover of Animal Collective’s “My Girls”) endlessly charming. The instruments are out of tune, she calls social status a “material thing” (although I suppose that’s [sic] from Panda Bear), and the whole song is about wanting a modest home not for her children but for her nonexistent husband and, get this, cat. Despite all the red flags, I keep pressing the “play” button. And despite the absurdity of a Swedish singer turning an American experimental song into a south-Asian folk song, it reeks of authenticity. The video of Bergsman walking a tightrope is, similarly, surprisingly winsome. The rest of the album is convivial as well, but this track stands out to me, probably because it’s a cover that succeeded in a way that Sun Kil Moon’s “Tiny Cities” didn’t, and I thought Mark Kozelek’s idea of transforming decidedly non-folk music to my favorite genre was, though poorly executed, promising.

Also, I love the name “Taken by Trees.” In a world where the best musicians are actually choosing to call themselves atrocities like “Horse Feathers” or “St. Vincent” or “Death Cab for Cutie,” Bergsman’s moniker choice is refreshing.

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