Sep 27, 2010
Too Late to be an Emo?
Music Being Emo
How do you make a song sad? Bit of piano, down tempo, warbling strings if you're really in the mood? Or angry guitar and screaming, raging, PAINED falsetto? It depends on the artist, audience and style. Lyrics also have a lot to do with it.
At worst these emotional cues, simple enough to trace back to the messages that our minds infer in them, can just be pulled out of a hat to throw together a "sad enough" song and sell some records. Coz every pop singer tends to stick to a ratio of one ballad every couple of upbeat songs in releases. Kind of run-of-the-mill, right? At best though, they can really be moving, and all the more so when it's not a pile of cues you already know but a song that could be about something else... but isn't. And some of the best emotional touches in songs are ones where it's pared back and withheld somewhat, so you feel the punch in this vocal struggle between saying and not saying.
Well, some awesomely sad (or pretty powerful, anyway) moments follow:
Ani Difranco - Dilate
Ani's lyrics are pretty amazing pretty much all of the time... when I first heard her I was amazed, coz here I was having grown up in late-90s creative ghettos where the nearest thing to her sound was Alanis Morisette, and girls with guitars was a bit of a cliche by then. And her lyrics were so much more of that, but pared down, and so much stronger. It's like poetry, spot on and evocative like words in songs oughtn't ever be, lest our brains either explode completely or just grow apathetic.
Dilate has so much in it as a song, that the only expression and image that it brings to my mind is a deadpan stare, full of despair, resignation, snarky black-humoured burnt pride. The look of one who knows enough to expect shitcakes from the world and yet always manages to be a little more disappointed. And when this person who's responsible for all that looks her in the eyes he knows all this, and she knows all this, you just have this look. LOOooove it.
Brand New - Jesus Christ
I'm not religious in the traditional sense, I don't really like the heavier rock sound that Brand New do. I heard this song on t61 and it was really quiet, and kind of builds this momentum of a conversation that's scarily honest, of the lost at 3 am on a cold night unable to sleep kind. And the beat travels more like harder rock songs do, which gives it something an alt-indie-folk-hipster band more at home in mellow sounds probably couldn't do. For a punk-pop act their voices are hushed till the end and that also kind of rocks... the punch is delicate, and that makes it all the more furious. Pretty much the first verse gets me, and it's a heckuva struggle even if like some suggest it's not his. These lines come back and back and keep this song on my lil' mp3:
Jesus Christ, I'm alone again
So what did you do those three days you were dead?
Because this problem is going to last
More than the weekend
Bump of Chicken - Taiyou
Under the guise of uptempo interesting-ish alt-rock tunes these guys plummet listeners to surprising depths and then drag us back out again. They are usually angrily, passionately willing to hope in the face of a faceless, meaningless reality and that strikes right close to home for a lot of people. Their stories are mostly full of heart and their message, usually to themselves as much as others, is to keep going somehow. To be real, to find meaning, realise your truth and forgive yourself your own shortfalls, in a world that offers you none of that.
Why I have apprehensions about this song is because I'd taken to the idea that it was another help-you-out song... that it was way bleaker and darker than the music promised (as usual), yes, but that they sang hopeful words of advice to an un-named other that they themselves wished fervently to believe. This is the standard BOC song; this is why they warm the cockles of a lot of disenfranchised, lost and searching hearts. Japanese is vague like that, and a few crucial cues can change the subject / narrator / object completely.
So actually, Taiyou is a song about the narrator that, trapped in his vague dark world, destroys the one thing that had any promise of helping him out. But it's more than that... because every line of meaning is a metaphor one step away from one or another telling detail of a chilling reality. Another evocative story, but instead of giving hope to a past self or chasing a best friend's train on bike promising to see each other again, it's a mute bleakness that seeps out and penetrates everything. I don't know how this song can be sung with a straight face or straight voice.
It really worries me that people say their next album's dark bits are even darker. Because if BOC can't keep hopeful, how on earth are we supposed to?