Super Cool Singles: “Through the Trees Pt. 2” by Mount Eerie – the probably *actual* most beautiful song I’ve heard

Finally! I once again get to express my love for works by Phil Elverum (AKA The Microphones AKA Mount Eerie AKA a lot of other names). His seminal album, The Glow Pt. 2*, is my favorite album of all time, and Mount Eerie is fantastic as well. The albums regarding the death of his wife Geneviève feel just too intrusive for me to listen to often, but they highlight a kind of perspective on death that’s been watered down by media and our understandable “normalization” of death, in that “death is real,” and when you really end up coming face-to-face with having someone you love die, it’s just no longer something to be making art out of, or using as a trite plot device in your novel, or philosophizing about – it’s suffering and it’s horrible and it’s not some abstract concept that’s funny to be joking about anymore. So if you can handle the raw emotional weight of “Real Death,” and I mean real death, not the silly “fake” concept of death often shown in action movies and video games, you (very tentatively) might want to give A Crow Looked at Me a shot. And I’m aware that by writing about death in this manner and being somewhat insipid about this whole deal, I’ve also abstracted away the brutal honesty of death.

*This is kind of a meme, but the first three tracks to The Glow Pt. 2 is like, the strongest consecutive string of tracks ever. Memes are based on truth.

Anyways, back on “lighter” topics of existentialism and the odd duality of man’s technology and nature – “Through the Trees Pt. 2,” the opening track to Clear Moon, expresses what it’s like to be alive today in such a breathtaking and honest way that I can’t help but feel like it might be one of the best songs ever made. The act of writing about and analyzing songs like “Through the Trees Pt. 2” or the experience of real death is somewhat pointless – it will never be as legitimate as really understanding for yourself. But I love this song, so I’ll try my best to communicate why I think it’s so moving.

“Misunderstood
And disillusioned
I go on describing this place
And the way it feels to live and die

The ‘natural world’
And whatever else it’s called
I drive in and out of town
Seeing no edge, breathing sky”

 

“Through the Trees Pt. 2” is a dramatic and incredibly sincere take on being alive. The gentle plucking and heavy reverb of acoustic guitar develops our narrative (and musical) landscape; it’s some solitary moonlit walk through the forest in cold, still air, an understanding of one’s own mortality, and how strange it is to have blood course through your heart and veins and to be walking and breathing at all. At the same time, it’s also that feeling of “walking through the store after work” and driving “in and out of town” – such trivial and uninteresting actions, a kind of ridiculous notion when compared to the weight of being a conscious, living thing. And yet that’s the absurd world we live in – one where mountains and websites coexist.

Phil Elverum washes away the constructs that guide our daily lives, and forces self-analysis at the most primal level – our careers, our place in society, Instagram and Facebook, self-improvement goals, partying over the weekend, social awkwardness, and even our friends and family, are all abstracted away for a raw and no-bullshit look at how overwhelming it is to be some kind of living organism in this gigantic universe. It’s music expressing the naked truth: we live and die in this same fleeting moment, and the marks we make are lost to the infinite expanse of time. The bells of fate chime near the end of our song, but there’s blood flowing through your hands right now.

And that’s really why I think this song is so special. It communicates a strange existential feeling – wondrous, uncomfortable, sad, and contemplative all at once. Have you ever asked yourself this question: “I wonder what it’ll be like when I’m X years old?” And then you become X years old in an instant, and that life of yours you lived N years ago is functionally gone and dead, a memory certain to be lost, to which it becomes clear that this same thing will happen again with this very instant. With really every instant – the tiny one-dimensional snapshot that makes up our lives. Phil Elverum captures that idea in “Through the Trees Pt. 2,” and the result is perhaps the most strikingly sincere song I’ve heard yet.

The Soundtrack of My Summer

Do you ever hear a song come on the radio and suddenly you’re taken back in time to when you first heard it? You might have liked it so much that you played it on repeat for the next week, until you got sick of it and never played it again. Then you hear it on the radio and you fall in love all over again, but this time it’s even better, because you remember how great it was listening to it the first time, and it’s associated with a different time in life, where things might have been better or worse, but all you cared about was that one song. I experience this all the time, partially because I overplay things, but also because I’m constantly listening to new music. It’s a great feeling to rediscover a classic, and briefly but vividly remember an amazing moment from years ago. This effect also makes me more conscious about the music I listen to in the present, because I know that the music I listen to now will define my nostalgia in the future. Basically, an over-complicated way of saying that I like to relate certain songs or albums to certain times in my life. This last summer I struggled to find interesting or new music; not that there wasn’t a lot, just hardly anything that I wanted to put on repeat. However, two albums gradually rose to prominence and inevitably became the soundtracks of my summer: “Igor” by Tyler, the Creator and “Relaxer” by Alt-j.

“Igor” came out at the beginning of summer and I listened through it in its entirety the night it was released. It was a memorable project with an amazing atmosphere, unique aesthetic, and bass-heavy rhythms, but I didn’t see much replay value in it at first. It was like reading a book: the first time the story is great and the plot is constantly surprising, but attempting to read it again is daunting and pointless. However, faced with no alternative albums that peaked my interest, I resorted to picking out some of the catchiest, most interesting tracks and started listening to them daily (it was better than nothing, and I can’t live without music). Songs such as “EARFQUAKE”, “WHATS GOOD”, and “NEW MAGIC WAND” became favorites, mainly for their experimental vibes and driving bass lines. Overall the album isn’t bad, but the pitched vocals and gritty aesthetic get old fast, and I was more a fan of his aggressive and dark style on older albums.

The second album I overplayed was “Relaxer” by indie/alternative band alt-j. This album is true to its name, consisting of mostly rhythmic, gentle, and natural songs that feature a lot of acoustic instruments and samples. Only 8 songs long, there isn’t a lot to the album (especially since I can barely stand one of them), but the best ones truly shine, namely “3WW”, “In Cold Blood”, “Adeline”, and “Last Year”. This is an album for long car rides or adventures into the woods; it has a spirit of wandering and mystery that yields endless replay value, as both foreground and background music. It also served as a great contrast to the heavily produced and experimental Igor, meaning I could alternate the two albums and neither of them would get old. The two albums make an unlikely pair, but they complement each other in such a way that helps me appreciate the styles of each. Regardless, these songs came to define my summer: I played them on camping trips, beach trips, long drives, before work, and pretty much any other time I could play music.  Even though they aren’t my favorite albums ever, I can’t wait for that feeling, years later, when one shuffles into my playlist and I can briefly relive the summer of ’19, if only for a few minutes of nostalgia.

 

The Timeless Appeal of Vinyl Records

April 13th was Record Store day across the world, an annual event created to keep the legacy of records and record stores alive. The local Ann Arbor District library set up a Record Store Day event, including a market of new and used vinyl records from various record shops in Ann Arbor, along with a DJ and other entertainment. I was lucky enough to be able to go, and it was a great experience: I didn’t expect there to be many people, and I was worried it would be an awkward and uncomfortable environment, but I was pleasantly surprised to see that there was a large turn out. Even more surprising was how diverse the group was, most notably in age. It was interesting to see so many young people talking to the older people about records, and it got me thinking a lot about the role of vinyl records today. They’ve reached an age where they’re obsolete in a practical sense, but have become a symbol of nostalgia and good taste: many people will boast about the unique and superior sound of vinyl records; if they’re being sincere or just trying to sound cool, it can be impossible to tell. Regardless, vinyl records have maintained their spot in popular culture and it doesn’t seem like they’ll be leaving anytime soon.

 

Personally, it’s easy for me to see why vinyl records have stayed relevant compared to other music formats, such as 8-tracks, cassettes, and CDs. I’ve always appreciated the artistic format of vinyl records: their size alone demands attention and respect, not to mention they can be great examples of quality art and design. They take the concept of album art to an entirely new level by making the entire product a unique piece of art, from the front cover to the back cover and everything in-between. Some of my favorite examples are actually newer albums that are being sold in vinyl record format; I find it especially fascinating that modern musicians are releasing new music on vinyl. Maybe they see the unique artistic potential as well and they want to sell a work of art that will never age. Either way, I hope it’s a trend that doesn’t die out.

 

(Header Image: Google Images)

Albums featured:

  1. Zaba Limited Edition by Glass Animals
  2. Monument Valley Soundtrack by Stafford Bawler, OBFUSC and GRIGORI

Swimming: Before and After Mac Miller’s Death

When Swimming was first released in 2018, I was quick to listen to it. . . and was quick to forget about it. It wasn’t that it wasn’t good, I just didn’t find it very interesting; it seemed monotonous and there was a lot more singing than rapping, which Mac Miller was known for. I saw it got a lot of negative reviews by music critics as well; one even gave it a 3/10. I remember around that time thinking “Geez, this isn’t a great year for Mac”, and the next thing I heard was that he had died from an apparent overdose. To me, the saddest part was losing someone so young who had so much to give, and who had always tried to make himself and others happy. The more I thought about how tragic his death was, the more I started relistening to his music, and eventually I came back to Swimming. I approached it with a new perspective, realizing that this was his last gift to the world, and it was a completely different experience. Suddenly it all made sense; his singing was heartfelt and authentic, and even though it was off-key (which critics emphasized in their reviews), it was a refreshing break from the over-autotuned rappers of today. The instrumentation was also incredible, featuring trumpets, pianos, and violins, along with great production value, proving just how much Mac cared about making Swimming a thoughtful and genuine album.

Most important though were the lyrics, in which he talks about finally having reached a peace with the world. He had been known to struggle with drugs before, and he talks a lot about dealing with his inner-demons. It takes on an existential attitude as he talks about living a simple life and realizing that what he had been looking for was looking for him all along. In the end, Swimming was his most mature album yet, and yet nobody had seemed to realize it. Some part of me feels as if Mac knew he wasn’t going to live much longer, and that this last album was going to be his meditations on life before death. However, it’s sad that it took his death to fully appreciate this album. It begs the question: would it be better if he had chosen a simpler life and lived, or should we be happy that he gave so much to the world through his music while he was alive? Overall, I can’t recommend enough listening to this album, it’s a masterpiece. My favorite songs are Self Care, Jet Fuel, 2009, and So It Goes, which is the closing track of the album. These songs are the core of the album and show the real depth of Mac Miller, both musically and personally. Hopefully you find the album to be as genuine as I did, or if you listened to it before and weren’t impressed, try listening again. Either way, Mac Miller will always be remembered by the music community, and also by the people like me, who were fortunate enough to realize how wise and kind-hearted he truly was.

(Image Credits: Google Images)

Album Art Aesthetics

Great album art is incredibly powerful, but I feel as if it’s often overlooked by consumer and producer alike. People take it for granted, thinking of the physical representation as just a means to deliver the real product, the music. However, I would argue that the music is only half of the product, and that the music itself is almost entirely defined by its presentation. I’ve always been fascinated by the wide variety of art styles on album covers, but my passion was recently reignited when I saw the album cover for the new Flume mixtape Hi This Is Flume. It grabbed my attention and didn’t let go; the vivid colors, the straight lines and framing of the picture, and most importantly the beautiful painting on the hood of the car. Even though I knew who Flume was and didn’t mind their music, I never really cared for it much. However, I listened to the entire album right when I saw it, that’s how intrigued I was by the cover. My point: it’s all about first impressions, just like meeting a new person. Sure the music is important, but nobody will listen to it if you can’t get their attention first.

Hi This Is Flume – Flume

Beyond being eye-catching, I think an album cover has the power to enhance the music and add an entirely new element to the project. It sets a certain mood and interpretation for the album; you listen to it differently than if it didn’t have an album cover. For example, when I listened to the Flume album I expected it to be interesting and experimental, just like the album cover. As a result, I interpreted it through that lens and ended up loving it. I honestly don’t think I would have cared for it much if I wasn’t already expecting it to be different and experimental. I’m not saying the music isn’t good, I’m saying that the aesthetic of the cover opens up your mind to the music before you listen, and then continues to contribute to the overall feeling of the album. A lot of great albums use this to their advantage (such as the ones in the header image), and it makes a noticeable difference. It really ties the project together as a whole, and turns the album from a collection of songs into a musical journey. When I think back on an album that I loved, the first thing I remember is its aesthetic; the feeling and tone of the album that makes it entirely unique. It’s the album art that always determines this, because it’s the album art that gave the first impression.

Looking towards the future and the increase in purely digital music raises a lot of concerns with me. There’s something to be said for being able to hold the music as a product, and experience it in more ways that just auditory. If you’ve ever listened to a vinyl record or a cassette tape, or even just looked at one and admired its ingenuity, then you know what I’m getting at. Not only does digital music lack these things, I’m also worried that album covers for purely digital projects will more often be overlooked. It’s no longer a work of art that you can hang on your wall or collect; if you’re lucky it’s a thumbnail size image with good resolution. Obviously physical forms of music will always be around, and I’m sure there will still be artists such as Flume who continue to realize the importance of presentation, but I also think that we should all take a minute to appreciate the unique artistic medium of album covers and realize their importance in the art of music.