Daily Song Study

Anna Robyn Thomas – Little Albert

In songs on March 25, 2015 at 10:09 am

It’s happening more often these days. I hear a really interesting and catchy tune, look it up, and find that its creator is under 21. I blink a little every time, dumbstruck that something so complex could emerge from a mind addled by hormones and the fog of early adulthood. It isn’t something that was terribly common in years past.

A number of explanations present themselves. Firstly, the proliferation of home studios makes it far more likely that any young talent will have the chance to get taken under some producer’s wing, the better to flesh out their songs and help the artist advance to their next stage of growth. Add to that the prevalence of incubators like School of Rock or Girls Rock Camp, and many of the old roadblocks get shoved to the side.

However, this alone doesn’t explain someone like Anna Robyn Thomas:

 

Starting out playful, the tune gathers a creeping menace as it builds, leaving one at last with the sensation on having been taken on a very dark trip indeed. How does this spring so fully from the mind of a 19-year-old?

Consider that all creative works are built upon the bones of those who came before. This is not to take away from the artist. No Beatles without Elvis, etc. But in 2015, we have several decades’ worth of canon laid down by the likes of Tori Amos, Aimee Mann and Kate Bush, plus more recent broken-piano luminaries like Regina Spektor and Ben Folds. In this light, a new artist like Thomas is not only possible, but probable. As R.E.M. built on the Byrds & Patti Smith, so too does Thomas add her own combination of innocence and observational acumen to the annals of quirk-pop.

Much like Little Albert, the artist is shaped by what she has seen and heard. In the modern age, that can encompass a dizzying spectrum, and with all these elements mixing like nucleotides in the primordial soup of the internet, we can look forward with fascination to what new combinations will present themselves in years to come. If Thomas is any indication, we will not be disappointed.

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Heather Maloney – Dirt and Stardust

In songs on March 18, 2015 at 10:13 am

(editor’s note: Okay, so it won’t be daily, but I do miss sharing stuff that’s floating through my headphones, so here we go again…)

In explaining newer music to people with more classic tastes, one of the things that’s hard to quantify with any precision is the immense lyrical shift that has developed in recent decades among the striving class of songwriter I gravitate towards. On the extremely young end of the spectrum we have Heather Maloney:

I chose this tune not only because it’s good, but also because it updates and augments a very traditional theme, that of the rambler. The fact that it’s being sung by a woman is helpful in freshening up that narrative, but lines like “please make my castle out of sand” or “my body will not last longer than a metal band” provide a casual and less bombastic delivery of the author’s intentions.

In addition, the tail end of the chorus overturns the standard pose of the rambler as some immortal orphan with no connection to family or friends, noting that “I am made of dirt and stardust, my daddy’s dreams, my mother’s heart,” concluding at last with “please don’t put silk flowers on my grave,” a fitting acknowledgement of life’s fleeting nature.

Songwriters like Maloney thwart the conventional wisdom that all anyone writes anymore is baby baby, when of course pop music has always been rife with crummy lyrics. Look deeper, and you will find people doing their damnedest to speak their minds with a pitch-perfect mix of clarity and artfulness. Whether the mass media pays attention is another matter entirely.

Pink Floyd – Paranoid Eyes

In songs on February 17, 2012 at 10:22 am

I’ve admitted before that my favorite song is by Paul Simon, but my favorite album of all time is easily The Final Cut by Pink Floyd. As I’ve written, it’s difficult for me to separate Roger Waters’ works into single tunes, since they are so closely interwoven with the whole, but this one stands well on its own.

The lyrics perfectly bring us into the veteran’s post-war world, the world they made and that we inhabit, as the album reminds us. The instrumental break in the middle is noteworthy as well, in that it doesn’t contain a solo per se, but a musical shift which changes the dynamics subtly to help bring us into the final verse. Sonically, there is almost too much here to even begin discussing, which is one of the reasons this album is so remarkably unique. I encourage you to give the entire song cycle a listen.

EDITOR’S NOTE:

Events moving at a rapid pace in my own life have led me to put this blog on hiatus for the foreseeable future. I enjoy writing about music, but my primary job is the making of music, and thence must my attentions be turned for now. I hope you take some time to enjoy the archives in my absence. 

Safe travels…