Twenty-Six

Frayed Rope about to Break

LYRICS:  Twenty-Six & full of it, sifting through the bullshit of my fading youth’s façade, young enough to feel the spark, & old enough to fear the dark, balancing upon the line against what it means to burn.  & still I yearn, hanging by a thread, of anything that’s left of my innocence, alas, looking for reflection in shards & broken pieces of shattered glass.  For all it’s worth in change, have I remained the same?  Having known enough to guide my fate, while impending prospects, they wane, against a solid faith in drought; I pray & wait for rain.  & still I yearn, resolved in the fires of my conviction, in spite of my condition, you found me, under heavy tide, a blinding absolution in warming rays of light, you are my song.

INTERPRETATION:  “It is perfectly true, as philosophers say, that life must be understood backwards. But they forget the other proposition, that it must be lived forwards.”  ~Soren Kierkegaard

Twenty-Six is one of Shadowlands’ more personal offerings, grappling with conceptions of God, faith, existential nihilism/absurdism, & crippling doubt.  It’s about accepting the brokenness of our human condition & having faith that meaning is attainable, in spite of our limitations.

INSPIRATION:  As the title would suggest, Twenty-Six is one of my aforementioned birthday poems, penned during the sixth year of my second decade of life, et cetera.

INSIGHT:  The original 8-track demo for Twenty-Six was written on guitar & is considerably more upbeat.  But given its heavily contemplative themes, I felt a somber piano ballad would be more appropriate for the Shadowlands version.  Structurally, the song cycles around a repeated four-chord progression.  This setup naturally limits chording & vocal breadth, leaving room for other dynamics to fill out the arrangement.  These flourishes include layered strings, bells, saturated plate reverberations, warm tape chorus modulations, & restive guitar ambience.  While these elements were all tracked individually, the core piano\vocal tracks were recorded live.  If you listen closely, you can hear the key noise picked up by the vocal mic.  Speaking of vocals (pun intended), most of the harmonies are stacked tightly to mimic a monastic choral effect.

Hold On

Fitz Pub

LYRICS:  Good lovin’ ain’t that hard to find, but it’s hard to hold onto, & what they never tell ya, the best things in life are free, but that don’t mean they’re easy, & yes it’s true that the times they are a-changin’, but people stay the same, & that’s just the way it is, so hold on to the love you know is true.

INTERPRETATION:  “Love is the crazy, mad, & perhaps ridiculous gesture of saying yes to life, of seeing it as worthy of our embrace…”  ~Peter Rollins

INSPIRATION:  it’s only fitting that I quote an Irishman above, as Hold On was inspired by & written within an Irish Pub.  While playing an open mic session back in the mid 00’s, one of the pub patrons drunkenly suggested that I write a song on the spot, which I agreed to – provided that the rowdy audience would join me in song.  I channeled my inner-Damien Rice & began to play a slow four-chord waltz, assigning a simple la de da refrain to the audience.  Surprisingly, it wasn’t a complete disaster.

INSIGHT:  The original intention for Hold On was to track the song with live gang vocals for the sing-along sections, though after tracking guitars, the arrangement began to feel somewhat mechanical.  Matt & I eventually decided to record the song in one live performance to naturalize the tone, echoing the song’s initial inception.  Ironically, the gang vocals became the tracks we overdubbed – & by we, I’m referring to Matt & I repeatedly recording the la de da refrain… purposely out of tune… purposely out of time… & purposely un-sober.  & to top it all off, the marvelously multifaceted Mrs. Amy Lynn Hess provided some kick ass brass to round everything out.

Bittersweet

Bittersweet

LYRICS:  What I learned from love left a bitter taste in my mouth, but it was just enough to keep me coming back for more…

INTERPRETATION:  “You can do whatever you want with your life, but one day you’ll know what love truly is – it’s the sour AND the sweet.  & I know sour, which allows me to appreciate the sweet…”

~Brian Shelby (Vanilla Sky)

Of all human experience, love is perhaps the most immutable.  Regardless of how potentially devastating its ramifications, we’re inevitably drawn to the elusive, yet existential essence of its nature; something readily manifest, despite its mystery.

INSPIRATION:  Like many tracks on Shadowlands, Bittersweet was largely influenced by the abstract minimalism of a passing thought.  Much as I love progressive long-form songs & thoroughly layered productions, I’m also very intrigued by the concept of simplicity, both thematically & structurally.

INSIGHT:  Bittersweet was recorded live with one room mic.  That track was then run through a digital bit crusher in post-production, which accounts for the tone’s warm distortion (aka the bitter).  Matt then added a few subtle alternate chord voicings near the end of the track using a syrupy chorus effect (aka the sweet).  Bittersweet is also something of a sister-piece to Forty-Four Divide, as their chording patterns are intentionally very similar.

Waterfall

TP Waterfall

LYRICS:  Tears flow like a waterfall, drown the pain in alcohol, there’s nothing left to fear at all, because there’s nothing left to feel at all, the cliffs will break my lengthy fall.  Oh, here I come.

INTERPRETATION:  “Dying is an art, like everything else… I do it exceptionally well.”  ~Sylvia Plath

Waterfall is my minimalist variant of a murder ballad.

INSPIRATION:  For all its moody melodrama, Waterfall was initially motivated by a tongue-in-cheek jest.  While playing a solo gig some years ago, an audience member commented on how depressing my songs are.  I responded by saying that I don’t intentionally set out to write sad songs, they just usually end up that way.  The audience member then quipped, “Well then, I’d hate to hear how depressing your intentionally-written sad songs would be!”  I laughed, & told the audience that I was now determined to write a song solely predicated on gratuitous sadness.

INSIGHT:  Like many of Shadowlands’ more minimal compositions, Waterfall was tracked live with one room mic.  Matt & I wanted something of a claustrophobic tone for this particular recording.  We set the gain level a bit higher than usual, & positioned the mic up against the wall in close proximity to myself so that the slap-back reverb is naturally present (under the heavily saturated reverb from post production).  Minimal chord voicings are again used throughout the song to underscore dissonance & dysphoria, which is most prevalent during the outro section.

Waver

Grim

LYRICS:  Grim & I go way back, to the very day I was born, told him I’d have to take a rain check, because I wasn’t ready to leave just yet, & till this day we still talk, calls me on his cigarette break to catch up.   I’m ready for you now, I’m ready for you, are you ready for me?  Loveless & I have made amends, to this day we remain close friends, on occasion we’ll share the same bed, but weighted down is not the way that I intend to stay.  I’m ready for you now, I’m ready for you, are you ready for me?  All this time, life has been the danger, & death won’t sign the waver, all this time, love has been the mistake, so lonely takes her place.

INTERPRETATION:  In Raymond Carver’s short story Whoever Was Using This Bed, the narrator trudges through a late night conversation with his wife on the touchy topic of life support, specifically regarding its hypothetical termination.  This dreary discussion, initially induced by a random drunk dial, wanes through the evening & into a sleepless morning.  Consequently, the protagonist is left to pass the day in a dazed state of dejection.  It was as if he’d arrived at some strange place; crossing an invisible line where he never expected to find himself – this place where a little harmless dreaming & then some sleepy, early-morning talk gave way to considerations of death & annihilation.  The power of Carver’s laconic narrative lies in its ability to emphasize the all-encompassing weight of an idea, & how these concepts can saturate our time & temperament.  Waver’s narrative is concerned with these same conceptions, as the emphasis on death & loneliness is expressed through a personification of these experiences respectively.  The heavy idea contemplated here is one of tempered intimacy, as expressed through that of an old friend or a casual lover.

INSPIRATION:  Waver was written in the lonely bridal suite of a desert motel in the tiny town of Easton, Texas.  I was there for about a week or so back in 2008, building out emergency room mobile computer stations for Easton’s only hospital.  Given the hectic nature of this project, I was working 3rd shifts to accommodate Easton’s ER staff.  Needless to say, the combination of late nights, little rest, & hospital hazards made for an interesting experience.  At the time, I had been reading a lot of Poe & listening to records (chiefly Say Hello to Sunshine & Juturna) with considerably dark themes.  These influences, along with the general gloomy aura of Easton’s ER, permeated my thoughts & set the tone for my writing.  Waver is ultimately the culmination of sober meditations on death & loneliness.  Concerning death, the Grim Reaper reference alludes back to my own cessation, having been pronounced dead shortly after birth due to complications of being born 3 months ahead of schedule…

baby GB 1

baby GB 2

Fortunately for me, that pronouncement was only temporary.  As for the Loveless reference, that was largely inspired by the motel room itself.  It’s hard to ignore the incisive irony of lonesomeness within a bridal suite.  I couldn’t help but think of the newlyweds, adulterous moonlighters, & possibly even the solitary songwriters who may have occupied the room previously.  The concept of two small-town lovers who occasionally convene at a desert motel to escape the boredom of their simple lives began to play out in my head, & eventually reserved a room within my narrative.  Alas, the waver itself, literally denotes the dense amount of documentation I had to sign off on while working at the hospital, in addition to a metaphor regarding the personal responsibility & acceptance of life, love, & eventually death.

INSIGHT:  if reading Poe in the bridal suite of a small-town desert motel between awkward shifts of constructing tech equipment for a Texas hospital’s chaotic ER isn’t weird enough, then Waver’s production aesthetic most certainly is.  Blending elements of free-time & measured metre, live room & dub-tracking, folk & funk, house kits & brush-beats, shoegaze & doo-wop, Waver is undeniably a kitchen-sink conflation of sorts.  Matt & I room-mic’d & live-tracked the intro/1st verse in a free-time metre (aka every drummer’s worst nightmare).  As this was recorded on a sunny Saturday afternoon, you can hear children playing, birds chirping, & a serenade of cicadas in the background.  This wasn’t initially planned, though does ultimately contrast the composition’s thematic tension nicely.

Matt's APT

Other sections of the song were tracked traditionally, & then some (mainly the transition/outro section) were significantly over-dubbed.  Our running joke was that the song should be subtitled “Guitarmageddon”, as nearly every guitar in the studio was used at some point on this recording, in addition to plenty of Rhodes, Mellotron, & other synths.  Due to my love of all things Lynchian, I couldn’t resist adding in some Twin Peaks-esque backing vocals to accompany the outro melody.

Forty-Four Divide

Kant!

LYRICS:  Forty-four divide, another year gone by, but rarely satisfied, & in my life the range is wide, the joys & pains, both different sides of the same thing, from what it seems, to live this process patiently.  Forty-four divide, another year gone by, but rarely satisfied.

INTERPRETATION:  There’s an intense irony in experiencing the passing of time, all without comprehending what time is in & of itself, objectively.  Within a Kantian philosophical framework, time is an inherent intuition, a construct of the mind which is contextualized in congruence with other intrinsic inferences such as space & synthetic mathematics.  In presupposing time & space as forms of experience rather than forms known from experience, a foundation is established from which all further notions of sensory perception can be understood.  Given that time & space are essentially sensorial spectacles through which all experience is filtered, it’s seemingly impossible to know if time & space exist independently, objectively, or transcendentally apart from the mind.  Sifting through the vast implications of Kant’s pure reason critique is enough to humble even the most ardent of certitudes, acknowledging our limited frame of reference regarding the ultimate nature of reality.  Proust best expresses this daunting dissatisfaction in an excerpt from Swann’s Way:

Quartering the topmost branches of one of the tall trees, an invisible bird was striving to make the day seem shorter, exploring with a long-drawn note the solitude that pressed it on every side, but it received at once so unanimous an answer, so powerful a repercussion of silence & of immobility, that one felt it had arrested for all eternity the moment which it had been trying to make pass more quickly.

INSPIRATION:  Throughout all of my twenties, I wrote a poem for each passing year, two of which ended up in song form on ShadowlandsForty-Four Divide was penned for my 22nd birthday, & attempts to vaguely reference the frustration of enduring time’s effect on nature (aging), without apprehending time’s ultimate nature (?!).

INSIGHT:  Given the physical & philosophical magnitude of concepts such as time & space in comparison to our limited comprehension of them, I wanted the songwriting & production to mirror a limited aesthetic.  Lyrically, the song barely spans a few sentences.  As for duration, the song originally was only 90 seconds long, intended to imitate the brevity of a passing thought, one too lofty to dwell on for any length of time.  Matt eventually suggested that we extend the song structure, adhering to its minimal arrangements while expanding on its sonic depth.  The result evolved Forty-Four Divide from a passing thought to a lazy daydream, featuring sparse acoustics, meandering lead guitar, deep synthetic bass tones, aerial reverbs, filtered wave frequencies, & auxiliary track nicknames like Sub Nasty & Sky Rail.

Aftermath

Aftermath

LYRICS:  Our old mattress lies in the backyard, behind the shed where I keep our things, old cardboard boxes filled with photographs, letters, & memories.  Makes for good firewood if you ask me, if we all did what we could, just might be understood, but I don’t think I ever should.  Now another season’s passing, & I feel like I’ve been pissing my whole life away, all my dreams & aspirations fade, & die out with the days.  Makes for good excuses to drink the blues away, & if we all did what we should, we just might be happy, but I don’t think I ever could.  In the aftermath of ancient love & all its faded glory, cries the heart of every man to tell his sad, sad story.  Makes for good confession to finally face the truth, if we all did what we would, things would stay the same, so find someone else to blame.

INTERPRETATION:  Aftermath is my attempt at expressing an emptiness that can emanate from love, or a lack thereof.  The narrative follows a man who is rummaging through the aphoristic ruins of lost love.

INSPIRATION:  Aftermath was influenced by the minor tonality of Gone, Pearl Jam’s 3rd single from their 2006 self-titled album.  Lyrically, Aftermath was inspired by the despondent sentiments found in Red Dragon Wishes, the 5th track off Rocky Votolato’s 2007 release, The Brag & CussBoth of these songs revolve around a character that is wading through the entanglement of moving past his history.  Aftermath borrows from Gone’s melancholic mood & Red Dragon Wishes’ southwestern Americana aesthetic.  With that said, despite its mildly dour twang, the final version of Aftermath turned out to be far darker, more mechanical, & excessively layered in contrast to my initial influences.  Matt & I certainly didn’t suppress any of our prog rock inclinations regarding this particular production.

INSIGHT:  Without exception, Aftermath is the most meticulously involved Shadowlands construction.  From the outset, Matt & I wanted to heavily incorporate synthetic & mechanized elements to the production with intentions to parallel the emotional process of abdication with textures cold, clunky, & atonal.  Harsh modulating timbres, distorted drums, dense guitar effects, & walls of feedback are all used to juxtapose a composition otherwise sullen & calmly paced.  Aside from minimal acoustic guitar bedding, virtually none of Aftermath’s original folk voicings are present, instead exchanged for layers of electric guitar, syrupy synthesizers, mellotron swells, & stratified string arrangements.  Hell, we even included some wind chimes & thunder tube for good measure!  & to top it all off, my good friend & splendiferous guitarist Justin Jackson provided auxiliary guitar dressings which ultimately send Aftermath’s aesthetic into the stratosphere!  Furthermore, Justin was kind enough to pen a few words regarding his most gracious involvement:

“I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Mr. Fiorenza for several years now, & I can honestly he is one of the most talented young musicians I’ve ever met.  We used to play in an alternative outfit called Ad Victoriam several years ago, & have played together in a few other outlets.

When he first told me he was going to start recording for his solo record Shadowlands, he expressed early on that he wanted me to guest on one track, to which I emphatically obliged.

Before going in to record, he sent me a rough demo of Aftermath so I could start getting ideas & riffs down.  I really wanted to just add a hint of additional ambience & melody to the song.  I stuck with a fairly simple tremolo-picked single note for the verses to add some atmosphere.  For the choruses, staccato-delayed root notes added some extra push, & a delicate counter-melody speckled in a nice touch.

The craziest, weirdest, & most fun part was the bridge.  Set in 5/4 it opened up for some experimentation.  There’s some pedal looping & noodling, providing some digital silliness.  & then there was the Thunder Tube; a hollow cardboard tube with a thick metal coil on the other end which makes a thunderously metallic noise when shook – way cool.”  ~Justin Jackson

Thunder Tube tracking!

Thunder Tube tracking!

Fold

Fold

LYRICS:  In the prime of my youth, with nothing at all to lose, but having nothing is saying something, when all you’re needing is a little love.  & I’m too young to feel this old, & I’m too old to let it fold.  So order another round, we’ll give it one more try, give myself another chance to make me feel alright, order another round, we’ll give it one last try, give myself another chance to make it out alright.  If hindsight is perfect distance, then all I’ve seen is inconsistent, but seeing something all means nothing, if it’s not real or never had been.  & I’m too young to feel this old, & I’m too old to let it fold.  So order another round, we’ll give it one more try, give myself another chance to make me feel alright, order another round, we’ll give it one last try, give myself another chance to make it out alright.

INTERPRETATION:  “Never confuse a single defeat with a final defeat”.  This Fitzgerald quote comes to mind in reference to Fold, as its themes are preoccupied with a notion of worn perseverance.  It’s meant to convey a temperament somewhere between determination & despair; a dispositional compromise between retreat & resolve.

INSPIRATIOIN:  Ironically enough, Fold was written during an intermission for a multi-set Christmas themed gig I was playing at Jittery Joes (an Athens, GA based coffee house) back in 2006.  A man can only endure so many yuletide greetings before the holiday cheer becomes nauseating; ho ho ho, hum.

INSIGHT:  Fold was one of the trickier Shadowlands songs to produce.  Matt & I had originally planned to track the song as a mid tempo piano ballad, a la Ryan Adams’ La Cienega Just Smiled.  As we dug deeper into the arrangement process, we started to experiment with interchangeable melody lines & instrumentation; the piano parts were traded for acoustic guitar parts, the electric guitar parts were traded for piano parts, the synth accents were traded for down-tuned acoustics & keys, & natural brush kits were traded for electronic beats.  This deconstruction of the song ultimately allowed us to rebuild the arrangements using a blend of natural & synthetic textures.  Sequenced at the middle of the album, Fold best epitomizes Shadowlands’ attempt to intertwine traditional folk aesthetics with alternative sound design elements.

Nashville Skyline

Nashville Skyline

LYRICS:  Oh, the city lights, the way they shine, up here on the Nashville skyline, with a whiskey drink in tune to a country song, it’s how I’ll spend my time.   It’s how I’ll spend my time.  Songs of wayward love fill the smoky air, & I can’t bear to hear the sound, when with such things I compare.  It’s how I’ll spend my time, wishing you were mine.  So I’ll drink to you my dear, for when the answers are unclear, I’ll drink in tribute to my blues, the blues I have because of you.  I’ll wait around until all the bar doors close, & order one last round, drink it all before I go, & make my way to stumble home.  It’s how I’ll spend my time, wishing you were mine.  So I’ll drink to you my dear, for when the answers are unclear, I’ll drink in tribute to my blues, the blues I have because of you.

INTERPRETATION:  On his ‘69 release Nashville Skyline, Bob Dylan sang of the moon shining bright on everything in sight, only to conclude with the concession that no light will shine on me.  It’s precisely this shade of irony that colors the blackest hues of the blues; that sense of being surrounded by a whole that you don’t feel a part of.  In the same sense, big cities filled with bright lights, boisterous sounds, & volumes of people can often feel like the most isolating of environments.

INSPIRATION:  In 2008 I visited Nashville for the first time & had the brilliant idea to attempt a night of bourbon barhopping, which is essentially the asinine activity of sampling at least one shot of bourbon from each bar hopped, as it were.  Though in my naiveté, I failed to comprehend just how many bars the infamous Music City Strip has (for those unaware, the strip is nearly all bars).  Needless to say, this made for an eventful evening.  Nashville Skyline’s narrative isn’t necessarily a reenactment of that experience, but rather an homage to the breed of NashVegas barflies I encountered there.

INSIGHT:  Having been influenced by & written while in Nashville, I wanted the production for Nashville Skyline to be reminiscent of a Grand Ole Opry style country western/roots folk aesthetic.  Matt & I put aside our mutual obsession for synthetic sound design & effects pedals to bust out a lil’ rhythm guitar, mandolin, lap steel, & some ferocious fiddle-shredding courtesy of the amazingly talented Lauren Lebois.  We even narrowed the stereo field & stacked the mix to more closely imitate that old time Nashville sound.  & to top it off, we sequenced Nashville Skyline at the seventh track, landing Shadowland’s most country-influenced tune next to a song titled No Country – ‘cause it ain’t country less it come with a heavy helpin’ of irony.

No Country

No Country

LYRICS:  If I could start again & erase the years, don’t know where I’d begin, but I’d try to find a rhyme in all my reason, but it only feels like treason when there’s no country for old men, how can we start again with no place to begin?  When there’s no country for old men.  If I could turn back time, to fast-forward or rewind, I don’t know what I’d find?  But I’d try to find a rhyme in all my reason, but it only feels like treason when there’s no country for old men, how can we start again with no place to begin?  When there’s no country for old men, for old men.

INTERPRETATION:  “I always liked to hear about the old-timers. Never missed a chance to do so. You can’t help but compare yourself against the old-timers. Can’t help but wonder how they would have operated in these times…”

~Ed Tom Bell  (No Country for Old Men)

How does one justify ethical objectivity within a societal hierarchy that has foregone moral absolutism in favor of subjective relativism?  In a meta-ethical sense, the moral objectivist is an old-timer, out of place within the modernist paradigm of subjectivism; a citizen without a country.

INSPIRATION:  I wrote No Country immediately after seeing No Country for Old Men, the Coen Brothers’ exceptional film adaptation of the brutal Cormac McCarthy novel by the same name.  The combination of Cormac’s bleak philosophical themes & the Coen’s methodically layered presentation make for an unshakable experience.  Lyrically, I wanted to echo McCarthy’s threading theme of displacement, coupled with a sparse instrumental minimalism to parallel the film’s vacuous moral/physical landscape.

http://www.partiallyexaminedlife.com/2012/09/21/ep63-cormac-mccarthy/

INSIGHT:  The primary acoustic guitar/vocal track was recorded together live in a free-time meter, as to further emphasize the motif of structurelessness.  The acoustic guitar chord voicings are also minimal, holding down only two strings per chording to yield dissonant expressions.  The drum tracks were recorded last, playing against off-tempo measures to reiterate tension.  We chose not to filter out any hiss or room-noise from the live tracking, adding to the soundscape’s arid ambience.