5. “Seasons” – Mae ([e]vening EP, 2010)
I talked a little bit about Mae earlier in the project, specifically about their work with The Everglow. That album highlights a big part of what Mae was, or at least what I viewed them as. They were masters at atmospheric writing. At the height of their abilities, they could capture emotion in a tune better than anyone. And while The Everglow was certainly their peak album, they saved their best song for last. The gorgeous (e)vening EP was the last thing Mae ever released. Its closer, “Seasons,” is a 13-minute epic, but not in the way you might think. There are no words. No guitar. No drums. Only piano. And I think they chose to end on this note for a reason. So rather than dragging on about it, I’ll let the song speak for itself.
4. “Forget And Not Slow Down” – Relient K (Forget And Not Slow Down, 2009)
I wrote about “Forget And Not Slow Down” earlier this year in a tribute post to my favorite band. So I’ll keep this one short. There’s a beauty in the way “Forget And Not Slow Down” works with the album it leads. Written from the context of a (seemingly painful) breakup, the song acts just as we all would like to when faced with hardship: confidently. It’s a driving, plucky song that speaks of moving forward and leaving behind. But there’s a reason Thiessen says “I’d rather forget and not slow down.” And as the album goes on to show, it’s a long and painful journey. But starting with the right mindset can have a big difference.
3. “Broken Heart” – Motion City Soundtrack (Even If It Kills Me, 2007)
I’ve been really into the idea of “realism” lately. I could write for hours about what I think that means or what it technically means. But I won’t, mainly because none of you would read these posts if I did. I will say, however, that realism is the reason “Broken Heart” is one of my favorite songs of all time. Even If It Kills Me is a crushing and thrilling record from Justin Pierre, written near the time of his first steps of rehab and recovery. “Broken Heart” is a quick hit in the middle of the album, but it speaks to another reality of heartbreak. The song itself is bright and bubbly. It carries a catchy chorus and (again) a plucky attitude, highlighted by Pierre’s unique style of writing. But pay attention to the lyrics: they wear on you after time, just as they wear on the writer. He writes two verses and choruses swinging back and forth between hopelessness and resolve. Then there’s a quick guitar solo. Then Pierre lowers the hammer. The bridge/last verse of “Broken Heart” is some of the saddest poetry that’s every been written. But the melody continues, determined to keep a good face on a broken soul. Sound familiar?
2. “Lost In The World” – Kanye West (My Beautiful, Dark, Twisted Fantasy, 2010)
Whenever I tell people that Kanye West is one of my artists, I get asked the same question quite often: “Why?” And there are plenty of reasons to not like Kanye West. He’s a jerk. He’s self-obsessed. He’s flamboyant. And he loves the attention he gets. There’s no denying the genius of his music, but even that can be too much sometimes. It’s big and boastful, the picture of bourgeois life being rubbed in our faces every which way. But if you follow West’s music closely enough, you’ll find moments where West strips himself down. No lights, no fashion, no reality television wife. He makes himself utterly transparent. No song does this quite like “Lost In The World.” Its parked right at the end of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, an overload of genre, excess and filthy honesty. It’s barely a whisper compared to the rest of the album. Not the song itself, no. The song follows the same principles of Fantasy: it’s extremely creative and big, bigger than any twelfth song on any album ever. But under the cloak of partying and night life, there’s something hidden, something barely distinguishable behind the screaming and surreal horror of it all. It’s up to each listener to determine what it might be. As for what I think it is? Fear.
1. “Awakening” – Switchfoot (Oh! Gravity, 2006)
If I’m being completely honest, it’ll be hard for me to write this last analysis without tearing up just a little bit. At the heart of all of the writing and adjusting, these songs tell the story of my life. Each note is a mile marker and every word is is a memory. Music means so much to me. It allows me to connect and understand other people. The funny thing? I can’t do squat musically. I’m not a drummer. I can’t play guitar. I can barely sing. But I can enjoy music with all of my being. To me, music is a reflection of pain and sorrow, while at the same time being a celebration of life. Sometimes I want to remember through words someone else wrote. Sometimes I want to take every bit of anger, frustration or bitterness in me and scream it to the heavens. And sometimes I just want to be in the moment, enjoying each note pulse through my ears and into my soul. This is why music is important to me; in the end, it’s a way of expressing myself to me. It’s a language that I can’t speak, but I can understand. And understanding is enough. And really, friends, that’s why I love “Awakening” so much. Without quantifying the why or how, I’ll just borrow Jon Foreman’s words: when I listen and remember other times I listened, “I don’t know that I ever felt so alive.”