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Streams of Thought II, and Not

If you read the last similarly titled post on TNLF, you may remember it was taken from the name of a new album from an artist I follow closely: Black Thought. It was a rambling missive stringing together a few loosely connected tracks that are all somewhere in my musical orbit, at various altitudes. I hope to continue that stream of thought, and the point is to share entry points into cool artists and projects. But, what connects any of this, and why is it worth sharing?

In the pursuit of that “why,”, I can at least tell you what this is NOT intended be. This is not the meat of your thigh, nor your spine tattoo. Wait, what?! Ah, the “buried lead.”

Somewhat acclaimed, Brooklyn-based folk-alternative-indie rockers, Big Thief, have released an incredible string of albums since 2016. All four members attended Berklee, but didn’t band up until a bit later. Their music is generally precise, and driven, with prolific, personal lyrics and story telling and carefully layered and measured instrumentals, often accentuated by excellently placed, expressive, distorted guitar melodies. “Not” is a track off of their 2019 album Two Hands, and the lead singer and songwriter, Adrianne Lenker, paints a picture of shadows, I think. It’s a series of musings about what something is NOT…like the line in the song, not the meat of your thigh… This song came to mind on a recent, discontented drive where the mood and music matched angst and confusion. As the song builds and her voice both strengthens and quivers, she’s onto something vulnerable and emotional, maybe even profound. I’m not always drawn to the wailing of a lead guitar, but here, it serves effectively as a subtle, creeping menace throughout the lyrics-portion of the song. About halfway through the 6-minute movement, the lyrics end and the guitar takes over, creating a real sense of turmoil. The interpretation of those shadows from that point of view are just as vivid.

It’s almost 2 weeks into 2021, and as hope in the world continues to have a more public dispute with peril and absurdity, sometimes music can be a documentation of a journey. If “Not” is a frustrated drive, perhaps the next one on this list is idle reflection on what just happened.

Make the Most of the Weekend” is a spacious, instrumental pop rock track full of haunting, but soothing tenor “ooooo”s by Los Angeles based artist, Gary V, short for Garret Van der Spek. It is off of his 2016 album, Prism Tats. He grew up in South Africa, ended up in Los Angeles, and started releasing music in the US as Prism Tats, before changing his stage name to one closer to his given one. The melodies of this track fit well into the steady, sort of chamber atmosphere that is simultaneously dark and wonderous. The fast and constant rhythm guitar strumming is given some breadth from the bass synth, and accented by the almost hollow sounding drum claps. There’s a lot of space to think things through. In his other music, you find more soaring tenor vocals, wry lyrics and deliberate delivery, and a sort fuzzy electronic textures and clamor throughout.

Things get much more intimate with “Hurt“, an August 2020 track by West London-based poet and musician, Arlo Parks. Parks appears to be in the process of consolidating all of her 2020 work into an album, that I hope we will see in the coming months. In “Hurt” she is reassuring a person called Charlie that it won’t “hurt so much forever,” a refrain repeated throughout. Sometimes things feel hopeless, and the only recourse is to show empathy, repeatedly. The drum groove is almost snappy, and the velvety brass that come in behind the soulful, affectionate vocals create a beautiful counterplay with the somber melody, and a healing and uplifting effect overall. It’s the encouragement to get where your going.

The last track on this journey may be about arriving, or aspiring to arrive. Or depart, if there’s a difference. A Manchester band called Chartreuse had a cool track on La Blogoteque’s “Stay at Home” show series a couple of weeks ago. I looked them up and listened more, and that original track called “Enemy’s Belly” off of the 2020 EP Keep Checking Up on Me really resonates. Listening to the track took my mind’s eye to a recent crunchy winter hike through a dark, old growth forest in snowy Upstate NY. Giant Hemlock’s were being strangled by the trunks of grape vines that had spiraled their way up to the tree tops. Then all of the sudden everything opened up into a vast, rolling landscape of browns, white, and blue. The ambient sound felt like that opening up experience, and somehow the colors matched the textures and tones of the song. The restrained, but ever rolling drum line lays a nice foundation for the song to build, and is a great partner to the almost elastic sounding, rhythmic guitar strum, that is steady throughout. These both give way to the slowly emerging keys and backup melodies to lift it up. I don’t know exactly what “Goodnight, Goodnight” in the chorus means, but to me it sounds like a deep, introspective exhale after getting through some shit.

While the journey described here was also a personal one for me, I think it also fits 2020 and the hope we aspire to find in 2021. I’m looking forward to seeing how the work of each of these artists, early in their careers, develops over time, and glad their music found me at the time and place that it did.

To listen to the 4 tracks without interruption, check out the short playlist created on Spotify: