MUSIC RECOMMENDATIONS OF THE WEEK:
This week, I’ve thrown my hat in the ring with a few selections that have already received more than enough attention from the public, a couple that I’m a real latecomer on, and a few lesser known artists that deserve a lot more attention.
SEPTEMBER 12-18, 2010
Come On Kid by Josiah Leming
I’ve been lucky enough to have a pre-release copy of this album for about 6 weeks, having gotten it from Josiah directly at his recent show in Pontiac, Michigan on August 1. I listened to it almost exclusively for the first couple of weeks after I got it. The album isn’t even the absolute best of Josiah. There are many amazing songs of his that are not included on it. And a few of the versions of the songs that are included have more studio production on them than I’d prefer. Personally, I’ll always have a soft spot for the stripped down, simple, voice and piano or guitar only productions that blew me away when I first discovered Josiah.
And yet, even at 80 or 85% of Josiah’s best, this album is still better than most of the other albums I’ve ever had. And, in a way, it’s fitting that he neither quite achieved perfection nor gave away all of himself on this first album. Josiah is such an amazing songwriter – certainly one of the best of his generation so far – and his music can be emotionally overwhelming. It’s almost as if, with Come On Kid, he’s given us a chance to get warmed up, while laying a solid foundation that is sure to inspire great interest in what should be a longstanding career.
It’s been so exciting watching Leming progress from when I first heard him on American Idol to this milestone. I definitely highly recommend Come On Kid. You may not find it perfect, but you definitely won’t be disappointed.
"Innocent" by Taylor Swift and "Runaway" by Kanye West
on The 2010 MTV Video Music Awards
First, I got to see Swift’s performance of "Innocent".
I definitely liked it. I’ve always been impressed with Taylor’s songwriting. The New York Times’ Jon Caramanica has called her “one of pop’s finest songwriters…and more in touch with her inner life than most adults.” And while I agree that she sometimes sings quite imperfectly (the very same Caramanica humorously said that she gave this performance “with an unsteady relationship to pitch”), it’s never seemed to bother me much. I’ve always been more interested in the overall feeling that a singer’s voice evokes for me than the technical perfection of it. So whatever her technical shortcomings may be, Taylor Swift still seems to work for me.
I found that "Innocent" had the haunting feeling that characterizes much of the music that is most powerful for me. And it hit on some very relevant themes that display just what Caramanica means about Taylor’s precocious emotional insight. I’ve always suspected that at the heart of Kanye West’s outrageous behavior might lie a great deal of unresolved childhood issues and narcissism. In "Innocent", with lines like “32 and still growing up now” and lyrics evoking the imagery of childhood, Swift seems to connect his immature behavior to some inner child issues. Having been raised mostly by his mother, who then died nearly two years before the VMA incident with Swift, it’s possible that Kanye still struggles with the ongoing need for parenting that was originally missed that plagues so many in our generation. West himself has talked before about how the lack of a father figure skewed his identity development.
Swift also seems to pinpoint the narcissistic injury - the painful crumbling of grandiose fantasies - with which Kanye may have had a brush after everyone up to and including the President of the United States harshly judged him after their incident. But, despite the challenges these issues pose, Swift still seems to believe in the possibility of redemption if we allow ourselves to forgive when it is merited and asked for sincerely.
Taylor Swift has always struck me as very poised and mature for her age. Who knows if a meltdown will ever come for her as it has for so many who achieved fame and fortune so young? But I’ve been impressed with her and this song only reinforced that for me.
Then I got to see Kanye’s “response” with his performance of "Runaway".
Wow. I loved everything about this performance and it stuck in my head for days. The visual aesthetics of the performance were arresting. And I even woke up in the middle of the night with the song’s damn piano sequence and beat in my mind. Who’d have thought that anyone could pull off a chorus like this and make it great.
But that’s Kanye. I think he has, until now, acted like a textbook NPD case and done some despicable things. And yet he is pretty close to, if not, a genius at his craft in my estimation. I remember after hearing his second solo album, Late Registration, I was going wild for days about it to anyone who would listen. I still think "Heard ‘Em Say", from that album, is one of the two or three best rap songs in recent years (and this despite the insanity of some of the lyrics. “And I know the government administer AIDS”?). This is what landed him on the cover of Time Magazine (August 29, 2005) with a featured article and earned him multiple Grammy Awards, along with nominations for Album of the Year.
His performance of "Runaway" at the VMA’s was powerful and just right for me. He addressed the topic at hand, cleverly admitting his faults, yet remaining somewhat defiant. Sometimes you don’t want to like something done by a guy like Kanye. But talent and character are two separate things. This was a memorable performance, whether or not you’d ever want its performer as a role model for your children.
"Exit Music (For A Film)" – Cover of Radiohead by Vektor
Well, the other day I decided to check out their channel to see what was new only to find they had taken it to a whole other level. This cover of Radiohead’s "Exit Music (For A Film)", from the album OK Computer, is great and chill-inducing. It reminded me again of why Radiohead is probably the most important band of my generation, with many beautifully haunting songs including this one, "Street Spirit", "How to Disappear Completely", "Karma Police", "Let Down" and so many more. And, despite "Exit Music" presenting a real musical challenge, they definitely pulled it off with flying colors, even capturing the eerie background synthesizer sounds beautifully.
I only wish that the singer, Lindsey, had reached for the highest notes at the climax of the original version. But I think she’s earned a pass on that with the quality of all the rest of it. I won’t say that I like this version better than the original. But I like it in a different way so that it stands on its own, parallel with the original, rather than simply secondary to it.
I could listen to this girl sing all day. And her multi-talented partner seems to do a great job of orchestrating and accompanying her. Check them out on their YouTube channel or on their Facebook page.
"Airplanes" by B.o.B. Featuring Hayley Williams and
"The Only Exception" by Paramore
Then, while watching the video clips of Taylor Swift and Kanye West on the VMA’s, the ad that kept playing before the actual video ended with "Airplanes" playing in the background. I finally decided to listen to the actual song and see where that hook that had been stuck in my head had come from. Conveniently, I found that parts of "Airplanes" and "The Only Exception" had both been performed as part of a medley on the same VMA show before I had turned it on.
Interestingly, I learned that this was the first time B.o.B. and Hayley Williams had performed "Airplanes" together or even actually met in person, having recording their parts of this huge hit and its video in totally separate places.
I then watched the full actual music video for "Airplanes".
"Butterfly" by Crazy Town. But what’s most amazing about it is that Hayley Williams is able to squeeze so much feeling into that little hook part she sings. It gives me chills every time I listen to it even though it’s only a few seconds long. It just shows again how strange music can be. One artist can slave over pages of lyrics for weeks and have little to show for it, while another can create a five second little melody with “wish right now” over and over and hit you deeply.
While B.o.B. is a fine rapper, and I do relate to the theme of wishing for a simpler time, there’s nothing especially meaningful about the song to me. Sometimes emotion is just emotion and music works for a reason I can’t put my finger on. But there’s little doubt that Hayley’s small contribution had a huge part in making this song so impacting - and so popular.
I then listened to "The Only Exception". I liked the song a lot. It reminded me somewhat of "Breathe" by Anna Nalick in certain ways, though I think this is a better song overall. Then I watched the video for it and that really deepened my appreciation. It’s beautifully done visually and full of symbolism.
This one hit me more deeply by far and for much clearer reasons than "Airplanes". In fact, at first I was shocked to find a tear on my face at the end of the video. I had definitely not expected that. But given the themes addressed, I guess it’s not surprising. They are some of the deepest themes in my life, including ones I’ve written about on this site extensively.
Much like the video for "Because of You" by Kelly Clarkson, though from a somewhat different angle, this video focuses on the influence of the inner child. It tells the story of how the image of love and intimacy modeled for us in childhood forms a template that continues to haunt us in future relationships. This concept lies at the heart of Imago Relationship Therapy and is something I’ve written about in great depth.
But what really gives the song its power is that it explores how this condition could possibly be overcome. It acknowledges the fact that if one is ever to break out of this fear-based limitation, it is likely to require someone who initiates that breakthrough and helps them begin to believe that something better is possible. I think many of us have wished that we could be that person for someone and/or have someone be that person for us. As Adam Duritz says in Counting Crows’ "Mr. Jones", “Help me believe, cause I don’t believe in anything and I want to be someone to believe.”
In "The Only Exception", Hayley asks her partner to “leave me with some kind of proof it’s not a dream.” This is where the rubber hits the road for anyone who has been in an uncertain relationship with a minimizer. How do you prove that love is real to someone who is so afraid of it that they aren’t even sure it exists and who projects fear in every direction? This song doesn’t explain how, but it does touch on the hope that it’s possible.
There is something truly eerie to me about this video because it so closely mirrors an actual experience I’ve had. It starts with Hayley lying on the couch with her sleeping partner and deciding to leave him. After explaining her fears of intimacy, in the bridge, she says “I know you’re leaving in the morning when you wake up.” I remember during one of the most painful relationship experiences I’ve had, lying next to the girl I was seeing while she was asleep and suddenly just knowing she was going to leave soon because of exactly the types of fears and wounds depicted in this video. I even got out of bed that morning while she slept and wrote a poem about how painful it was knowing that she would leave. I don’t even know how I knew, but I just did. And, sure enough, she did leave soon after.
Hayley’s character, however, realizes in the end that it’s time to stop letting those old fears control her and that it’s finally reached the point where she risks losing more by taking the seemingly safe path of retreat than she does by staying. She decides to stay and test her beliefs, doing exactly what I wish some of the people I’ve been in relationships with had had the courage to do when things became challenging. As she says, she’s “on her way to believing” that perhaps she can find and sustain the type of love that her parents could not.
Something about this video brings to mind the great video for "First Day of My Life" by Bright Eyes. I’m not sure why, since there are some large differences between them in a variety of areas. It may be that I see "First Day of My Life" as an apt second act to "The Only Exception" – the poignant happy ending that one hopes would follow Hayley’s risk-taking decision.
There are also a few other interesting facts I learned about it. The father in the video is Hayley’s actual father, who really did go through the divorce that she alludes to in the song, which makes the video all the more touching. The Valentine's Day cards in the scene where we see her lying on them were sent in at the band’s request by Paramore’s fans. And I was very surprised to find out that this video – which I initially thought must be the work of a savvy old-hat creative music video genius – was actually directed by a guy who had never directed a music video before.
In any case, after listening to "Airplanes" and "The Only Exception" over and over this week, I’m definitely a fan of Hayley Williams’ voice and some of her style. I haven’t listened to much more of her work. And I’ve read that "The Only Exception" isn’t typical of Paramore, so I don’t know if I’d like their other stuff as much. But I definitely like her and her voice and these are both great songs because of her.
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