Friday, October 23, 2015

Song of the Day #219 - Joanna Newsom - Anecdotes

Rushing, tearing, speeding home...

Alright so Song of the Day is sorta on break just because the whole concept is a bit invalid these days. It is not so much "Song of the Day" as it is "Album of All the Time" and that album is of course Divers. I was more excited about FLAC quality becoming available today than I would have been for any other announcement or leak (this legitimately overrides my feelings towards Bottomless Pit). The thing is butchering up my life... now everything happens in 51 minute chunks. Like I'll sit down to start working on something or to look something up, and, naturally, put on Divers. And then I'm just stuck there for 51 minutes minimum while I listen to the album. After that I have an extremely brief window where I have to alt+f4 foobar and throw my headphones across the room or else I will be trapped for another 51 minutes. This is only partially hyperbole. Send help.

Another dangerous one is where I get stuck on "Anecdotes", the first track, and can end up sitting there for completely unbound amounts of time. Here's how it works, it's actually very devious: the whole song is good, of course, but, for me at least, it functions through a system of anticipation and rediscovery. So the song starts out with a lot of melodic lines that are sorta like... light rays, I guess I would say? Like there's a little melody she repeats for the first two verses, but in the second one she breaks off into something else by the end... There's a sort of "ever-forwardness" to it, a sort of counterplay between the verses and instrumental passages, like a conversation. It's "rambling" I guess.

But then, oh man, at 3:15, suddenly everything shifts into a definite gear: the instrumental counterpoints are blended into the vocal line instead of acting as a separate balance, and the vocal line itself bends from cascading rays into a powerful, flowing, line. It's a "trick" she's used before, this emergence of a continuous force from a collection of ideas - her duet with Bill Callahan at the climax of "Only Skin" is a good example, or the part in "Kingfisher" from around 6 minutes on... the core melody hinted at in the various other sections is now driving the song in full force.

Ahhh! These sort of parts are so... clutch! Like you just want to hold them tightly to the point of bursting! They're like Johnny stocks in Melee! They're like confession scenes in yuri! It's this feeling of everything both "clicking" in the way that you maybe had a vague sense that they could, but then also something completely beyond your most beautiful dreams emerging from it... an amazing feeling of both expectation and unpreparedness, you brace yourself as much as you can because you know it still won't work.

On this one, she seems to anticipate our fascination with this melody, which is pretty sensible, given the response she's had to the aforementioned parts and the fact that this is godlike and beautiful and she can recognize that. She alternates between two vocal lines, a call and response sort of thing, one moving generally upwards and one moving down, the first line a two-part phrase, and the latter a one-part resolution. E.g.:

Rushing, tearing, | Speeding home
Bound to a wheel that is not my own

Where round every bend | I long to see
Temporal infidelity

Now these splits might seem arbitrary, but the really genius thing about this section, the unprecedented element, is her use of rubato-esque manipulation of spacing them. In each two-line couple, she changes the length of the break between each of the three sections. The spacing becomes more distant as the section progresses, as the transgressions from the expected entrance become more dramatic. Like the pause before she sings "And we sing in the meantime, wherever you are" is so pronounced that you have the time to have a complete little cry in there. It's probably my single favorite moment in music of the year so far.

It also has the sense of this gigantic driving melody becoming more skeletal as the same rate as your internal sense of its form becoming more pronounced. Like you can hear so clearly in your head the "simple version" of the complete pattern, the one without pauses or shifts, it still seems lurking in there, and everything - the vocals, the beautiful wandering loon-like clarinet, the plucking harp, the growing noisy lower synth range - seem to orbit around it... the end result is that you feel like the inner melody is coming from you yourself, some titanic and unstoppable feeling that wells up within you, and it feels great and is super addictive.

And then this is the cruelest part, and I swear it's deliberate - right around 5:50, as the song transitions from the last instrumental counterplay to the outro, you can very easily imagine her leaping right back in there with "Rushing, tearing, speeding home", starting the whole section over again. The way the outro mirrors the wavelike melody of this section drives the feeling home. And rationally you know it's impossible, but on a much more basic level you brace yourself for a second, hoping for that...

Well, that would be "temporal infidelity", right? Could the song's structure reflect its lyrical content in mirroring a desire for a preservation that transcends time? Hmm, well, maybe. But it also seems to be a story about people who are also nightjars at war. And it also completes a message transmitted to it from the end of "Time, As A Symptom". So any sort of revelation along these lines, no matter how accurate or significant it feels, is but another single point of light that illuminates only slightly further a chamber still so dark the nearest wall cannot be seen, and the truest and best feeling the giddy chill from understanding, for just an instant, the true scope and depth. It is the feeling I get when I read Joyce: that is the biggest compliment I can think of.

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