Kodaline, All I Want

Everyone feels like a lonely, awkward monster sometimes. The video for Kodaline’s “All I Want” has been around since last year and many have probably already seen it, but I recently revisited it and thought it worth mentioning here for a few reasons. 

For one, the song itself is extremely touching and emotional. Even without the excellent accompanying visuals and storytelling of the video, Kodaline knocks it out of the park with this epic anthem of love and longing. Google recently used it to great effect in their annual “search in review” video to look back at the most searched for and significant stories of 2012.

It’s been refreshing to watch the ascendance of celebratory, uplifting music like this in popular culture. From subdued beginnings, a rousing crescendo brings a wave of emotional gratification. Many artists seem to have studied what bands like Explosions in the Sky had quietly (or not so quietly) been doing for years and started applying it to their own work by embracing a more open sense of hopefulness. 

There’s one other aspect of the video that I love. Beyond the emotional content, the video perfectly captures the dichotomous tensions of modern working life. As I (and countless others) have experienced, working in an office can be overwhelmingly depressing. You are separated from all of the freeing hobbies and pleasures you’d prefer to pursue outside the cubicle walls because, well, you have to eat and that’s the modern world. Thankfully, this video reminds me that despite the many sad hours spent in a place I do not want to be, there is happiness waiting in the comfort of a loved one’s company.

Andrew Bird

Andrew Bird, Three White Horses

Andrew Bird, Heretics

Andrew Bird, Tenuousness

Andrew Bird, Tables and Chairs

A couple of years ago, my significant other, Cassie, (to whom I am now engaged) was kind enough to indulge my admittedly silly birthday craving for inefficient old technology by gifting me a beautiful vintage Royal typewriter. It was an excellent gift that I love dearly, but like the hardcopy books I continue to horde, more modern advances have infringed upon those technologies’ relevance and nearly rendered them obsolete to most people.

And despite my love for science fiction and the popular trend toward employing new technologies, there’s something in my heart (and many others’) that simply won’t let go of the old ways. In fact, “the old ways” seem to have become something of a theme on this blog in the last few months.

So, after hearing at length the merits of listening to music via vinyl records (courtesy of my father, friends, and an interview with Nick Waterhouse), I finally convinced myself it was time to give LP’s a spin and expand my collection of old technology, accusations of hipsterdom be damned. A Christmas gift of the patient and indulgent variety, I received last year a modern, automated record player and one album: Andrew Bird’s newest, Hands of Glory.

I’ve been a fan of Andrew Bird for a long time, but always from a distance. For those that don’t know him, he is an indie singer/songwriter who is most famous for three things: his violin skills, his whistling skills, and his ability to create extremely complex music and lyric concoctions. It’s this last bit that can make it difficult to get into Andrew Bird and why although he is often regarded by critics as a superstar, he has yet to achieve broad popularity.

It takes work to appreciate Bird. His technical prowess and lyrical complexity are infinitely appealing, and also daunting. But once you put in the time, his stories and sounds reveal depths of artistry that make you feel like you’re a part of something special; part of a collaborative creative process. He’s the kind of musician that challenges you to really listen and understand not just what he has to say, but what it means to you. And though I love many of his songs dearly, Bird’s albums as whole works have largely failed to connect with me. Until Hands of Glory.

Back to the record player. It’s winter and Christmas has past. It’s snowing outside and the sun’s gone down. I decide it’s the perfect time to hear what Bird’s been up to. I connect the wires, press a  button, and set the record spinning. Moments later my speakers crackle. Strings are plucked, lyrics are sung, and I am transported to somewhere warm and inviting and pure.

Like Nick Waterhouse, Bird infuses vintage sounds with youthful energy. Simple acoustic renditions of old Appalachian-style standards flow into Bird’s original songs, all recorded around a single microphone and performed by excellent talent. You get the sense that you are among friends late at night, sipping a drink and quietly enjoying an impromptu summer jam session. The meandering collection of songs, which at turns celebrates love and ruminates on death, culminates in a nine-minute track that ties the whole experience together. In “Beyond the Valley of the Three White Horses,” Bird crafts a hypnotic, expansive soundscape and is content to let the listener’s imagination wander and reflect.

Though the trip is at times short and melancholy, it is relentlessly beautiful. This is, to me, a nearly perfect album. With Hands of Glory, Andrew Bird has distilled the most critical elements of his talent and experience and convinced me in the process that he is more magician than musician. I couldn’t imagine a more appropriate performer with which to initiate my record-collecting journey.

Nick Waterhouse & The Tarots – Is That Clear (Live)

Nick Waterhouse – Is That Clear/Time’s All Gone (Takeaway Show)

Nick Waterhouse – Some Place (Takeaway Show)

Like Zach Condon of Beirut before him (whose music I also deeply admire), Nick Waterhouse has managed to make something old new again: his sound epitomizes a modern evolution of early rhythm & blues and rock & roll sensibilities that is unmatched in the contemporary market.

Simple, genuine, and performed by his band with true instrumental musicianship, Waterhouse sets your toes to tappin’ and your soul to bruisin’ with his short-but-dance-inducing sonic concoctions. It’d be easy to dismiss his throw-back style as a gimmick, but in today’s world of saturated synthesizers and sameness, Waterhouse is a blast of fresh air.

The reversal is welcome and well-timed. When you listen to his debut album straight through, you can feel the music as a bluesy representation of the young man’s old soul. Some would argue that reviving 50’s rock & roll is not an endeavor to which today’s tender-hearted technocrat musicians are up, but thankfully Nick Waterhouse not only steps to the plate, but knocks it out of the park.

Rollicking guitar licks, punchy horn sections, emphatic female back-up vocals, and Waterhouse’s simple song-writing and -singing style all combine to create an energetic and excellent aural experience. Music critique cliches aside, I encourage you to step back in the past and revive your synth-soaked eardrums with Nick Waterhouse.

The Shoes, “Time To Dance”

On a completely different note, I picked this one up from my brother, Brendan, and have been meaning to post it for some time.

There isn’t much to say about this excellent music video that wouldn’t ruin the dark, disturbing, strangely enjoyable experience. It is one of my all-time personal favorites, the song is awesome, and I think it is some of Jake Gyllenhaal’s best work. It’s nothing too brutal, but there’s a little bit of Patrick Bateman in his performance, so be prepared for that. This thing’s more of an extremely danceable short film than a music video, so get comfortable; it doesn’t actually get to “Time to Dance” until about 1.5 minutes in. Once things get moving though, it’s off like a rocket with some killer (ha!) sights and sounds, as well as a bizarrely inspiring message. Behold, the healing power of music and dance!

Just be sure to keep dancing, or Jake Gyllenhaal will murder you.