dear reader, you will be rewarded for your patience & indulgence today as i post a song from this calendar year.
i started listening to contemporary music again on may 4th, when i chanced to hear the new pet shop boys album. i returned to the practice in earnest when i purchased the domestic release of art brut's bang bang rock & roll. i reckon that i had stopped listening to anything new in order to hold fast to the music that i knew when x was near me. this, then, is a turning point, i think; time can't help but push us forward, but i think i've finally started moving of my own volition.
but let us not kid : though the time period has changed, the theme remains v. much the same.*
midlake - "branches" (from the trials of van occupanther lp, released june 6, import available for preorder here.)
when i heard that jimmy webb had children and that they had a band, i thought they might be like midlake. while jimmy is certain to be proud of his boys whatever they do, i really kinda hoped they would sound like this. which is why it's wonderful that, quietly, since 2004, midlake have been making records.
midlake is one of those americans bands--not unlike the webb brothers! or webb père, for that matter--who fare far better in the uk than they do in their home country. this may have something to do w/ the fact that they don't play guitar, i mean, really play it. instead, midlake has probably led at least one uninspired uk scribe to call them "Perfect Pop," a form, as evinced by the use of capitals, that carries great weight in those parts. they make lush pop that suggests, not an english idyll, and certainly not the band's north texas home, but john & taupin's imaginary west on tumbleweed connection--or laurel canyon w/ all that that entails.
like jimmy webb, midlake's arrangements are considered, intricate, and meticulous; instruments arise for a moment, play a phrase, and then dissipate. a listing of the musicians involved in "branches" would probably be longer than any posting on this page--and as you know, i've written some long postings! but, the major difference w/ webb, where patrimony becomes questioned, is the subtlety, never jimmy's trademark. the whole effect of the track's orchestration is such that one sees it through a glass darkly or, better still, as if heard through a thicket, the sound muted by the dense growth.
the vocals, sounding like both rufus wainwright and josé gonzález, but w/ the former's timbre and the latter's sangfroid--the vocals, though, sound as if they're right outside your window. another touchstone is the pernice brothers in terms of voice and sound, only less writerly (w/ all that that entails); and let's also say sufjan stevens, to make it sexier. they try their hand at metaphor, singing of branches and girls, before scrapping it and declaring straightforwardly, "we won't get married / 'cos she won't have me." it's like a rehearsal of difficult truths, told to oneself before confronting another. this builds and ascends heavenward before it too is deposited in the bin.
there is another attempt at metaphor, another attempt at frankness, and it is the latter that is opted for--or just can't be confined any longer. these words, the last words i formed last night, repeat to fade : "it's hard for me but i'm trying." soothing in its repetition, it is lastly music made for trying times.
i'd said similar words to x near the end. she said, "don't you think it's hard for me, too?" i hadn't thought that; it just then occurred to me. why? we had two different ways of expressing it, and she expressed it by not expressing it. i keep my expression to a minimum now (really!), although i did email her recently, a month after i'd last seen her. i don't know if she read it. but if she reads this, and she might, i hope she knows i'm trying. i know (i do) that she's trying as well--better, really.