Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Strict Joy

A long time ago, someone who loved music very much told me that when they got an album, they just hoped for one good song on it. I was just getting into music myself, and I was a little shocked. "How pessimistic," I thought. "Why get an album if there's only going to be one song that you like on it?"

However, as I began to compile more and more albums, I started to think that maybe they had been right. I would hear a song on the radio, rush out to buy the album hoping for it to be filled with similar songs, and almost always wind up disappointed. I still refuse to completely admit that my friend was correct in her assumption. With a lot of the albums out there though, it seems to be that there are far more instances in which she was right than wrong. Since I heard her say that, I've spent many years hoping that every album I get will have more than one great song on it. Over the past ten years, my list has included albums such as: Coldplay's "Parachutes" and "Viva la Vida," Jack Johnson's "In Between Dreams," Thrice's "The Artist in the Ambulance," Thursday's "War All the Time," Arcade Fire's "Funeral," and Radiohead's "In Rainbows." There are definitely more to add, but the list is small, and the list of albums where there are more than three or four "great" songs is even smaller. However, today I am proud to add another to the list.

Anyone who has seen the movie "Once" doesn't need me to tell them that Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova work well together. Though not romantically involved anymore, they still form the band "The Swell Season" and their music is as beautiful as ever. Their new album "Strict Joy" is without a doubt one of the best albums out this year and made it onto my list with one listen.

No one likes a one trick pony, and lately it seems like that's what a lot of bands have become. There are so many bands I can think of that are immensely talented, but when you buy their new album, you know exactly what you're going to get before you listen to the first song. It's because of this trend that the surprising range of songs in "Strict Joy" caught me so pleasantly off guard. The songs range from Hansard singing alone with an almost Damien Rice sort of sound in some, to the flamenco inspired "Paper Cups," and from the mystical and almost mythical sounding "Fantasy Man" to the flat out gorgeous and sad "I Have Loved You Wrong." Irglova has the uncanny ability to change the sound of her voice to match the emotions of the song. In "Fantasy Man," her voice is soft with an almost gypsy-like quality to it and seems so delicate that it could crack at any moment. In "I Have Loved You Wrong," her voice seems stronger, but retains a sadness as she confesses: "Forgive me lover for I have sinned, for I have loved you wrong." Coupled with Hansard's restrained harmonies, the song is hauntingly beautiful and maybe the best of the album. Despite the pained and sometimes yearning lyrics that may or may not reflect how the duo feels about each other, there is an unmistakable air of hopefulness to the album that ultimately holds it together. Whether it's the lyrics coming around to resemble optimism or the music itself failing to sink to the emotional lows of the lyrics, I can only say one thing to the end result: "You're on the list."

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

A Moving Find

I recently moved to a new apartment. Whenever I move, I find tons of stuff that I have no recollection of ever having. This time was no different. During the course of moving and throwing stuff out, I found a bunch of old assignments that I did for writing classes. Things that I completely forgot that I had written. Reading back over something you have no recollection of writing is always an interesting experience. If you're lucky, you have some moments where you're pleasantly surprised by your writing. If you're not, then it's at least a chance to see how far your writing has come. Either way, it can be an interesting experience. Here's one of the stories I found. The assignment was to come up with a scene in which there are two characters and each one knows something that the other doesn't. This is what I came up with.

A Strange Occurrence

“Do you want any more juice?” she asked, crossing the tile floor of the kitchen to where he sat, halfway through that morning’s paper.

He looked up for a moment and smiled weakly. “No, I’m fine, thanks.”

She whistled and pulled her small glass with ladybugs frosted on the outside towards her and poured herself some juice. He glanced up from the opinion column.

“Since when can you whistle?”

“Since forever, silly.”

“You’re in an awful good mood today.”

She looked at him, surprised. “Well why wouldn’t I be? It’s such a nice day and it’s so quiet in here, just the two of us.”

He looked up from his paper again and glanced around.

“It is quiet in here. I wonder if Sergeant Tibbs is awake.”

“Ugh! That bird is all you talk about,” she moaned.

He didn’t seem to notice and went back to the paper. She walked back across the kitchen and began scrubbing a bowl in the sink, letting the soapy water seep through her fingers. She glanced out the window.

“Honey, where’s Mr. Tumnus?”

“What, that cat?”

“Yeah, I haven’t seen the baby all day and I set out his foie gras hours ago, but it looks as though he hasn’t touched it.”

“You spoil that cat too much. One day, it’s going to have to learn to live on its own,” he said. “That damn cat eats better than I do.”

She turned towards him.

“Well maybe if you talked to me half as much as you talk to that bird, things would be different. Anyways,” she said, turning away from the sink, “I have to go to work.”

She walked towards the door and grabbed her black coat, felt for her keys in the pocket, and then blew him a kiss and walked out the door. As soon as she was gone, he put down the paper and walked towards the guest bedroom. Condensation had begun to form on the ladybug glass, and the only sound in the kitchen was the soft ticking of the Felix the cat clock that hung above the sink. Their screams pierced the silence simultaneously, and they both ran into the kitchen at the same time.

“You ran over my cat!”

“Well I was going to get the paper and he was in the way!”

“You had to drive to get the paper? You know he likes sleeping in the driveway! Your car is still on top of him!”

“Well you’re the one who killed my bird and wrote a suicide note to me from him!”

“Honey, he looked kind of depressed last night when I saw him. Maybe there was something he wasn’t telling you,” she said quietly.

"Sergeant Tibbs can't write! And there was box of rat poison next to his cage!"