Sunday, March 20, 2016

Song of the Day #286 - Joanna Newsom - Cosmia

Well, if you've seen true light, then this is my prayer...

A pretty common motivation behind Song of the Day posts is "I had this song stuck in my head, so now we'll talk about it". And also a pretty common pattern is "I had something stuck in my head, but I couldn't figure out what it was, but I somehow worked out that it was this song, so now we'll talk about it". It's something I'm endlessly obsessed with, the processes by which I can make myself remember something by just "thinking really hard"... my ability to filter possible sources with extremely high confidence on tests of really strange metrics, like... I'll often be able to think, accurately and surely, "this is from an album that got an 8+ on Pitchfork" or "this is from an album with predominately blue artwork", seemingly random things like this, but not, y'know, the name of the artist or song. I have no idea how the mind works.

Anyways, this is another one of those stories, but instead of a beat or a line or something, I got a silence stuck in my head. Specifically, the silence between "then this is" and "my prayer" on this track, which happens about 5:55 in. I couldn't think of the words, or even the melody, just the idea of this pause... I knew it was something where like... it was a line intoned in a pattern of several other lines in the song before it, but that this hesitation hadn't occurred in them, and that it marked a sort of "breakdown". And I knew it was from a Pitchfork-acclaimed artist LOL. But I was way off when I first started thinking about it... I had been listening to a lot of Microphones/Mount Eerie stuff recently, and some Xiu Xiu, and other, uhhh, depressive breakdown core, and I figured it must be from something like that? But I thought about each of them in turn and couldn't place it... beyond having to think of each of their songs, I just knew as soon as I thought of the artist as a whole that it couldn't be it.

It was driving me nuts... I was in the car with my dad, listening to something completely different (Little Feat), and it was so painful, this inability to remember, that I couldn't help but make some sort of comment, even though I couldn't possibly explain in any sort of understandable way what was bothering me. It felt really important, and that the importance of it might slip away if I didn't remember soon, that I couldn't just hope eventually I'd hear it again, or think of it later, it wouldn't matter then.

But it came to me! I don't know how, but it did! And the idea of it being Joanna Newsom was so absurd initially that I actually sort of rejected it... I figured I must be wrong, lol. It wasn't until I remembered that no Ys is actually that good and can contain something this powerful in this "mode" on top of everything else it does more routinely that I started to believe. Cause I really do think this little pause, and the words that follow, are really out of character for her. I've talked about the power of pauses in her music at some length before, but those all seemed... composed, I guess is the word. Even in the climax of Kingfisher, which is one of her most unrestrained and emotionally driven moments, there's a sense of some ideal being achieved, some deliberate encapsulation of the best form the idea could have taken.

Here, though, on this pause, I hear what really feels like a breakdown... it's the cadence on the words "my prayer", the way it's a little weak, a little rushed. It almost sounds like she's giving in a little when she sings it, that she can't sustain the emotions required to finish the song... After four tracks, and the many movements of the song preceding it (seriously, look at the structure of this song, it's amazing), she has to let the night in for just a moment. Or is she summoning up the courage to proceed with her prayer?

Either way, it's uniquely raw and vulnerable for her, really much more in line with the depressive end of the genre. Honestly, I was almost a little disappointed when I realized it was her, because I knew it was an amazing moment, and it seemed "beyond" the capabilities of an artist I may have otherwise forgotten (I would have had to have forgotten them, as I didn't remember where I had heard this pause), and thus signified that there was something amazing lurking out there. And for that time, when I couldn't remember "Cosmia" but had an unknown shell of a song in my head, it felt like anything was possible. I think this is maybe what they talk about "great artists steal"... like, in this moment of placeless remembering, I felt like I was on the verge of something hugely new... Of course, I'm many many steps away from the experience and skill necessary to realize it in any way, but for a second I felt a taste.

Another really common pattern in song of the day is:
1) choose a really good and beautiful song
2) relate some personal anecdote
3) don't really talk about what makes the song so good
Ha ha.

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