Tag Archives: lyrics

La Dispute: Rooms of the House

16 Dec

If you’re going to buy, or just listen to, one new album this year, let it be this one.

??Rooms of the House is more of an anthology of potent poems given breadth and depth by music than it is an album: the band’s dynamic, layered, post-hardcore instrumental style serves to augment the emotional landscapes mapped out in the lyrics, and Jordan Dreyer’s spoken/shouted-word vocals function as a dramatic reading sharpening their dynamics. This 42-minute journey through the elusive, shadowy topography in which a stranger’s mind overlaps with yours is littered with literary devices for framing and giving meaning to memory:

Funny what you think of after a collapse
While lying in the dirt the first thing that comes back is never quite what you’d have guessed…
We played house with the neighbors in their basement…
I remember once their dad came in said, “You think this is bad?
You don’t know the half.” And he laughed…
…he sort of smiled like “it’s only a joke” but he was lying
There was something else inside of his eyes
All those secrets people tell to little children
Are warnings that they give them
Like, “Look, I’m unhappy. Please don’t make the same mistake as me.”

For Mayor in Splitsville

Story threads are dropped and subtly picked up again in later songs, like the frantic mother in “HUDSONVILLE, MI 1956” glimpsing bookshelf plans on her father’s basement workbench during a storm, linking to later when we hear the speaker watching his grandfather build his grandmother a bookshelf in “Extraordinary Dinner Party”. Some songs, like “Woman (reading)” and “Objects in Space” are more plainly knotted together. In their totality this lattice of crossovers forms an intricate tapestry of despairing, commonplace life. La Dispute‘s lyrics – unsettling contemplation transmitted through the utterly mundane – exercise the unique ability, unlike the pretentiously beautified fragments of coherence we find in even the most emotive songs by other bands, to cut straight to the bones of our everyday grim realities and press on them. “35” is a particularly bloodcurdling example of this:

Drivers out on the bridge
Slowing down as they go through a lane shift
Wires snap
Concrete gives
Metal twisting and
Everything tumbling
At the end of the work day
Stuck in traffic don’t feel when the road sways…
To their partners and kids
Don’t suspect anything till the bridge splits…
And I watch it on TV lying down here
On the floor in the dining room reversed in the mirror
Where I know I’m not dreaming now
But I know I’ve been sleeping
I just don’t know since when
I only know that it’s light outside
I only know that the rent is still late
When did they find out the concrete gave?
When did they learn that the wires snapped?

However, also trapped within Rooms of the House‘s complex web is the whispered reminder that our most-mourned treasures will be found in retrospect in the things we overlook. “Woman (in mirror)” may be the most genuine love song I have ever heard.

Rooms of the House will add new terrain to the world you explore when you close your eyes, and new characters to the conversations in your mind. Above and beyond a music album, this is a raw, cohesive literary masterpiece.


For a seasoned La Dispute fan’s perspective on this album, listen to this Indiesputable Podcast review.


Tim Hutchinson: Like a Tree

5 Jan

Screen Shot 2014-01-05 at 6.43.21 PMI feel like very few musicians these days write lyrics that could actually be poetry: lyrics you could read aloud and they would still make sense: no awkward repetition and no disembodied metaphors relying on the music to tie them together. But Tim Hutchinson does this. Each song standing as its own profound piece of lucid spoken word, Like A Tree (the title track a sentimental celebration of Tim’s father, who is pictured on the album cover) is an enchanting anthology of reflections both personal and spiritual, pulsating with the simultaneous strangeness and familiarity that can only be felt from taking a glimpse into somebody else’s head.

In “How David Sang” – a pondering of the peculiarity of finding oneself in a Biblical landscape in a foreign, modernized world (perhaps a remnant of Tim’s experiences working in the Transkei as a teacher), gazing at sheep in the rural sunset and wondering how David used to sing  – represents Tim’s ability to intertwine the spiritual and the personal in the telling of a story; reuniting Godly revelation with the grit and grind of the everyday from which we so often separate it.

Lyrics printed in the CD booklet.

Tim’s melodies are timeless somehow: they linger persistently in your head in a way that incites you to further explore them rather than push them aside. Like a Tree is the mark of a songwriter with a true gift in that so much has been achieved with so little: we hear only vocals and guitar throughout the album, and yet the music sounds so full and remains so captivating: the songs do not blur into one another but stand distinctly as individual works.

Something is to be said, as well, for the way this album has been recorded and mastered (by Darren Peens at Spaced Out Sound, Cape Town). Often I find the difference between live and recorded music is a process of alienation; the “official” recording clean and flawless and inhuman in the face of its live counterpart. The recording of Like a Tree, though, is merely (magnificently) an elimination of background noise, bringing Tim’s deft guitar and soft, resonant voice closer and clearer than the live listener has heard it before; as though he were performing at one’s shoulder in a small and sonorous room.

Tim Hutchinson and audience at his album launch on 1 April 2013 | Photographs (c) Michelle Avenant

Like a Tree is available on iTunes. 

Arcade Fire: Reflektor

3 Dec

Nestled within Arcade Fire’s Reflektor are some of the most thought-provoking, emotive and, above all, beautiful metaphors I have come across in music.

The long-awaited follow-up to The Suburbs (2010) is an 82-minute dreamscape on two discs. The tracks are long and, although not quite a concept album, interact with one another; picking up repeated themes from different perspectives to form a roundedness of reflection not often found in shorter – however poetic – indie rock songs. As a result, Reflektor presents not simply as an album but as a long, cyclical conversation. The end tracks of both discs – each a ten-minute ramble of differing instrumental parts, which, although discordant, follow smoothly and nonsensically on from one another – ground the album’s varied subject matter within a timeless, dreamlike atmosphere.

It’s very difficult to pick out favorite songs from such a cohesive flow of music, but I will say that Here comes the Night Time is a poignant critique of the present-day church’s judgment and exclusion of the masses – all framed within upbeat, calypso-style steel drum instrumental – and tracks 2 through 5 of Disc 2 really floored me. Awful Sound (Oh Eurydice) and It’s Never Over (Oh Orpheus) form a contrasting duo adding new insight into the Greek mythical characters of Orpheus and Eurydice, and bringing their romantic plight into contemporary relevance.

Following Here comes the Night Time‘s references to an exclusive, musicless kingdom of heaven, Afterlife draws a heartwrenching parallel between life after death and after the rupturing of a romantic bond.

And you say
“Oh, when love is gone
Where does it go?”
And where do we go?
Where do we go?

Is this the afterlife?
It’s just an afterlife with you.

Reflektor will give long-time Arcade Fire fans more of their favorite music to revel in even more deeply and widely, and new listeners some somber mental labyrinths to explore.

If only we all were the same kind of bad as you, Tom Waits…

25 Dec

There is never a dull moment with Tom Waits, least of all his latest album, Bad As Me. From fast-paced, hurry-up-and-get-on-the-damn-train bustle of opening track “Chicago” to “New Year’s Eve”: its slow, accordion-led ending track,  the album is a rich and embellished portfolio of Waits’ deft and devilish dabbling in a variety of musical styles, vocal techniques and different musical instruments.

In addition to the deep Jazz and Blues roots that extend their foliage to dapple all of Waits’ music in their shade, Bad As Me also contains elements of Country and European Folk music (also known as “listen, that’s a French accordion!”), as well as songs that cleanly fit into more modern genres like old-school Rock ‘n Roll number “Get Lost”, and classic Hard-Rock track “Satisfied”.

A particularly impressive feature of this album is Waits’ vocal versatility. In “Talking at the Same Time”, Waits sings in a sensitive – albeit still somewhat smoke-screened – falsetto, and in “Get Lost” he cranks his voice up to a choppy,  high-pitched gravel-grind that sounds like the lovechild of a dog’s growl and a wolf’s howl. Other songs, of course, feature Waits’ signature low-pitched, bourbon-soaked grunt.

In amongst Waits’ usual eerie and sinisterly-truthful lyrics are some enriching intertexual references, for example his hailing of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards in “Satisfied”, and his commentary on and adaptation of “Auld Lang Syne” in “New Year’s Eve”.

Tom Waits’ Bad As Me has no filler-tracks. Every song is layered, finished and unique in its musical presentation and has its own story to tell in its lyrics. This is definitely an album worth listening to. On repeat.



Switchfoot: Vice Verses.

22 Dec

Whilst Switchfoot‘s Vice Verses is melodically comprised of  rather generic “alternative” rock (I never understood where the “alternative” in Alternative Rock came from, but anyway…), it’s worth listening to for some of its lyrics.

Many bands are highly exalted for lyrics that – however poetically – beat about indistinct emotional brushfires, but Switchfoot’s, although cleverly phrased and containing some great word-plays, drive straight to their points, some of which are expandable and thought-provoking concepts.

In terms of both music and lyrics,  “Selling the News” far exceeds the other eleven songs on this album. Its verse vocals rapped through a megaphone in a lyrics-emphasized, punk style, “Selling the News” is a biting criticism of both News Media and our postmodern, media-based culture in which controversy takes centre-stage for its economic viability. The song’s central conceptual working-point is that  “suspicion is a new religion”: that, in our efforts to evaluate the information we recieve as relative or subjective, we fail to base our lives around, or, alternately, own up to and take responsibility for, concrete beliefs and realities.

Vice Verses, however enjoyably-musically-bland, is worthwhile for its lyrics, offering to-the-point social commentary and criticism as well as  relatable expression of the personal doubts and spiritual queries of its creators.

Suck It And See.

17 Dec

Artic MonkeysSuck It And See is an easy-flowing album of catchy, neo-surf-rock numbers with the fresh, frank lyrics distinctive to the band.

Songs are littered with unpretentious, quirky similes and metaphors: stars are “belly-button piercings in the sky at night”, and to the Monkeys, “You’re rarer than a can of dandelion and burdock /and those other girls are just postmix lemonade”. 

The Monkeys’ lyrics are as awkwardly, amusingly, unavoidably true as the assertions of that cheeky five-year-old asking the obese woman ahead of him in the Pick-‘n-Pay queue how she managed to get into the Three Little Pigs’ brick house to swallow them all in one gulp. In the title track, “Suck It And See”, lead vocalist Alex Turner sings:
“I poured my aching heart into a pop song
I couldn’t get the hang of poetry
That’s not a skirt, girl, that’s a sawn-off shotgun
And I can only hope you’ve got it aimed at me”.

Whilst most of the album’s songs pragmatically derive comedy from tragic romance,  Suck It And See also has its blighted moments, like “Piledriver Waltz” and the relatable, numbing nostalgia of “Love is a Laserquest”.

As witty as the Arctic Monkeys’ lyrics are, however, in comprehension they remain as accessible to the listener as the sing-along-after-the-first-play melodies housing them. The album’s opening track, “She’s Thunderstorms”, is playing on repeat in my head as I write this, and threatens to do so for another few days.




Under Cover of Darkness

16 Dec

Although The Strokes‘ usual catchy melody-lines are becoming less immediately-accessible – obscured, as junk in an attic, amongst electronica and artfully-conflicting instrumental melodies – Angles presents some stellar tracks.

It is with “Machu Picchu”, the album’s starting track, that The Strokes announce their continued reign as the shamans of wise, stinging and practically inaudible lyrics. The song speaks of our society’s culture of exploitation of others in order to turn a profit, its chorus subtly draped with the hovering concept of memento mori.

“Under Cover of Darkness” will grab you by the wrist and pull you into a joyride of jarring and unexpected lead-guitar harmonies. This is the song that will have you thinking: “Life is tragic. Life is triumphant. Fuck it. I want to dance!”.

“You’re So Right”, in its predominantly electronic sound and deadpan vocals, reflects a strong Radiohead influence, whilst  “Gratisfaction” holds onto a classic The Strokes sound, minimizing electronica and processing of vocals.

Whilst Angles may take slightly longer to get into than The Strokes’ earlier work, its dealing with more unusual melodies and harmonies make its tracks diverse and promise the album to be a worthwhile acquired taste.