Artist credit: Agnes Trachet
Lives can be defined by the relationships we cultivate — professional, platonic, familial, romantic — and those with which we share these connections. It’s my belief that all human motivation can be boiled down to two basic emotions: fear and love. These two have a tenuous association, a constant tug-of-war. Love’s strong presence fulfills us, negating uncertainty and vulnerability. Absence of love allows fear to breed hate, resentment, and insecurity. Our most basic needs revolve around our security and our need for affection and acceptance. Romantic relationships address these needs most directly, providing for our primal interests while also satisfying our evolutionary needs.
The irony of human evolution is the brain’s neocortex. The head, complicating things with the fuss of higher thought, is the most ruthless betrayer of the heart. Sometimes when we think we’ve satisfied our needs and are secure in our relationships, complications of the human condition arise, and that security is painfully yanked away. Love stumbles, fear overtakes, and we’re left to deal with the aftermath.
Art has long been used as a tool with which heartache is coped with and mended. From Shakespeare’s 87th Sonnet to Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks, breakups have been immortalized throughout history through artistic expression (a personal favorite: Transatlanticism by Death Cab for Cutie). Art, of course, does just as well in celebrating romantic success. Life is but a balance between joy and pain, triumph and defeat, fear and love. These phenomena are best chronicled through the lens of abstract expression.
This week’s winners separately portray two poles on the spectrum of security romantic relationships can provide. With which do you best identify?
“Dear to Me,” Electric Guest (EJ)
Electric Guest is an LA-based group centered around the duo of Asa Taccone and Matthew Compton. They were formed in 2011 with the encouragement of known visionary bad ass Danger Mouse, and released their debut Mondo the following year. Plural comes after a five year hiatus, and is an early addition to my favorite albums of the year.
“Dear to Me” paints the picture of what most are looking for in a relationship: someone to steadily rely on. Consider the chorus:
When it’s bad
Feels like I don’t know which way I should go
But over time I come back and remember
The one thing that I know
You’re dear to me and I know
Taccone’s vocals are expressive — he means what he’s saying, and you can feel it. The musical backing itself gives us a sense of security. Compton (better known to his friends as “Cornbread”) provides a steady drum beat throughout the track that gives the song its driving groove, giving the listener a sense of something to fall back on. The synth keys and backing vocals soften the backdrop, and the song sails along on smooth and familiar waters.
There is nothing outwardly remarkable about this song. It doesn’t take many risks, lyrically or musically. Taccone’s vocals are perhaps the most notable component, his use of falsetto being quite impressive, but even this has a sense of restraint. It’s this overall easiness, however, that really cements the meaning of the song. It feels comfortable, reliable, safe. Like a well known companion and lover, it is self-assured and secure. Like an old and trusted friend, you’re dear to me, and I know.
“Do You Still Love Me?” Ryan Adams (JH)
The much-anticipated Prisoner kicks off with this track and boy, does it set the tone. The latest opus from singer-songwriter extraordinaire Ryan Adams chronicles his recent divorce, and hits every tree branch on the way down. Adams has always had a talent for making his records feel personal, but perhaps never more so than with this latest gem.
“Do You Still Love Me?” cuts right to the chase — I mean, it’s right there in the title. The seeds of doubt and uncertainty felt when fearing love lost are portrayed from the first guitar hit and the opening lines:
I been thinking about you, baby
You’ve been on my mind
Why can’t I feel your love?
My heart must be blind
He senses something’s not right — something doesn’t feel the way it used to, the way it should. His first instinct is that he’s missing something. That has to be it, right? He’s been too busy, too caught up…blind to the love you must still have.
What can I say?
I didn’t want it to change
But in my mind
It’s all so strange
Realization starts to set in here, maybe there has been a change. He didn’t want it or mean it, but I guess something happened. It’s unclear enough and confusing enough, that the question has to be asked:
Do you still love me, babe?
The question stands through the first verse, the second verse. The chorus repeats, do you still love me? The bridge hits, and the guitar solo rains down like tears. By this time he knows, but even then he keeps asking. Do you still love me?
The song fades out, and thus begins the quick demise of the relationship, in the scope of the album anyways. Anyone who’s experienced a situation similar can attest that the end began long before the realization described above. Denial and avoidance delay and, inevitably, prolong the pain, until the hard truth surfaces. Do you still love me? The answer to that question becomes rhetorical, but we keep asking. Maybe if we ask often enough, the answer will change.
The debate for who wins the week can go any of a few directions. You can break down each song’s technical aspects, from musicianship to lyrics. You can pick and choose which emotional theme is better suited to produce the better art, or which should be celebrated more. Each song does an excellent job in conveying its intended message. But does one do it any better than the other? Is one a better song than the other?
Yes. The answer to that question is yes. Ryan Adams wins.
Your song of the week,
Ryan Adams ::: Do You Still Love Me?
“Alaska,” Maggie Rogers
Maggie released her debut EP late in the middle of last week, a little late for consideration for Week 5 and just in time to face the juggernaut of releases from Week 6. Now That the Light is Fading is a collection of three previously released singles and two new tunes. Since “Alaska” has been out since last summer and has been mentioned on the blog before, we held it out of the running for song of the week, but felt it still deserved some special distinction, and most definitely a spot on the playlist. It is that good.
“Roses,” BJ the Chicago Kid
- Another young come-up from Chicago. That scene is absolutely on fire, and it’s great seeing some heavy midwest representation in hip hop. This song is a tasty dish of some solid R&B.
“Better,” Maggie Rogers
- Maggie gets a double-dip this week, with the stronger of her two brand new tracks from Now That the Light is Fading. This song is very good, although she’s not branching too far from her norm, mixing electronic beats with folk sensibilities. She’s proving that she is good at what she does. The question is, can she remain fresh? Can she surprise us? I’m excited to find out.
“Kinda Bonkers,” Animal Collective
- Animal Collective is so fun. The sound palette from which they paint is incredible, especially when you can appreciate the complexity and layers to the structure of their songs. They’ve been at it for over 15 years now and are still churning along with a strong new album. They also played the Sanctuary this past fall, a show I terribly regret missing.
“Next Time,” Laura Marling
- Laura Marling’s brand of folk is mesmerizing to me. Much of that is due to the production that goes into her studio releases and the excellence of her band. It’s seriously good, and breathes unique life into her simple songs. But at the heart of it is Laura herself — her voice and her songwriting. Last week I was learning to play her song “Wild Fire,” still one of my favorites of the year, and sought out some live performances for inspiration. The videos I found were just her and her guitar on the stage — no band, no backing track, just her. Her voice is incredible. Her guitar playing in the performances is unremarkable. Marling seems to disregard holding steady tempo and clean fingering. Her finger-picked strumming doesn’t always land. She’s an excellent guitarist, so this muted presence of any accompaniment seems to be a style choice, one which I don’t normally enjoy. But still, I was completely transfixed by her performance. To me, that’s the mark of a true artist. Strip away all the production, all the fluff, and stand there exposed and vulnerable with your voice, your words, and little else, and maintain the ability to reach your audience with powerful emotion. She’s got it. Her new album Semper Femina comes out in March and I can’t wait. So yeah, this is a good song and you should listen to it.
“Enough,” Flume ft. Pusha T
- Shouts to Australian producer/DJ Flume for his recent Grammy win for Skin in the Best Dance/Electronic Album category. This track comes from that album’s newly released companion EP, which I’d recommend giving some burn. If you’re into that sort of thing. King Push with the assist on this one.
“Chief Don’t Run,” Jidenna ft. Roman GianArthur
- This song bangs. Jidenna’s new album The Chief was pretty solid throughout and this was my favorite track off of it.
“Nomad,” Oriental Cravings ft. Luna May
- Hadn’t heard of this group at all but for some reason this song stuck out from my weekly release radar.
“Shiver and Shake,” Ryan Adams
- Although “Do You Still Love Me” is my favorite song off of Prisoner, I also wanted to include this song. Extremely raw and personal.
“Shining,” DJ Khaled ft. Beyonce and JAY Z
- This song really didn’t do much for me at first blush but has grown on me a lot. The Jay verse is legit and this was a very rare appearance for Queen Bey on Spotify so that was reason enough for me to include it.
SHOWDOWN FOR THE BELT
Well, Cold War Kids, we warned you. You had a good run. Ryan Adams has been waiting in the rafters with his axe in hand, ready to descend upon 2017 and take the belt prisoner (see what I did there?). Ryan makes us all feel his pain with this one. Will the sting of his heartache be enough to hold the belt for weeks to come? Only time will tell.
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