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.

On Our Way

On Our Way

 

LYRICS:  Love-drunk with the obsession at the first sight of your reflection, you have found a way to catch my eye, feeling so high up in the clouds with the angels dancing around, your love makes me feel alive.  & if you told me, ‘let’s leave here tonight in search of better places & new faces’, that’s all you’d have to say, then we’d be on our way.  On a Sunday the working begins, working so hard to afford expenses so we can make it day to day, driving out of town so far away, got to fall asleep without you next to me, but I know that’s where you should be.  & if you told me, ‘let’s leave here tonight in search of better places & new faces’, that’s all you’d had to say, now we are on our way.

INTERPRETATION:   “What is that feeling when you’re driving away from people & they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing?  It’s the too-huge world vaulting us, & it’s good-bye.  But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies.”  ― Jack Kerouac, On the Road

With On Our Way, I simply wanted to capture the elation of love & the open road; the ceaseless sojourner that resides within each of us, longing for life & freedom.

INSPIRATION:  Throughout all of my twenties, I had the pleasure of traveling extensively, be it locally, regionally, or nationally.  In a whirlwind of mileage, destinations, landmarks, locations, people, & places, you can’t help but be swept up in the wonder of it all.

INSIGHT:  Aside from being one of the few relatively ‘upbeat’ songs off the record, On Our Way is also one of the only tracks on Shadowlands to feature mainly electric guitar (Fender Lite Ash & Mexican Telecasters) in addition to the only track which features a traditional guitar solo – courtesy of mastermind Matthew Smith.  \m/

Shell Shine

Shell Shine

 

LYRICS:  Left my ghost on the Carolina coast with the ever-fading glimpse of a quickly dying hope that the ghost of your love would find me there, all the marble headstones could make for a quiet home, because without your love, this is where I belong.  I’m an empty shell of a man, trying to make his way back to heaven, because life without love is too much like hell, where the coldest of hearts are like treasures for the devil, the more I cry the brighter they shine.  Burned my dreams with kerosene flame & a gasoline breath to smoke out the pain of our oldest memories that no longer serve me well, sold our old townhome & paid off all our loans, I’ll do anything these days to feel a little more complete.  I’m an empty shell of a man, trying to make his way back to heaven, because life without love is too much like hell, where the coldest of hearts are like treasures for the devil, the more I cry the brighter they shine.

INTERPRETATION:  “From the depths of that mirror, a corpse gazed back at me. The look in his eyes, as they stared into mine, has never left me.”  Anyone who’s read Night, Elie Wiesel’s chilling depiction of the Holocaust horrors experienced at Auschwitz during the peak of the Second World War, will never forget that closing passage.  Suffering corrodes the human spirit, from the gratuitous evils of human nature down to the faintly persistent pangs of human loneliness.  Wiesel spoke of an erosion that obliterates self-identity, rendering his own reflection alien; leaving him merely a shell of a man.  Shell Shine clearly concerns itself with a far more moderate form of corroding fatigue, yet its central theme is very much concerned with the same hollowing of self.

INSPIRATION:  Shell Shine is more or less a continuation of the character depicted in Pearl Jam’s 2002 folk ballad, Thumbing My Way.  Vedder has stated that the concept is about hitchhiking your way through a broken heart.  I love that song & its themes, & wanted to further the idea by navigating the loss of identity – both a personal identity, in addition to an identity we find through others.

INSIGHT:  Shell Shine’s Carolina cemetery setting was prompted by a tour I took through one of Charleston, South Carolina’s oldest historic burial grounds.

Call It Quits

Call It Quits

 

LYRICS:  Couldn’t believe you if I tried, won’t even look me in the eye, & if you did I’d have to lie, because you know it’s never fine, & if you could just take the time, because we ain’t seeing eye to eye, you know this shit ain’t going to fly so close to the fan.  Everyone knows that the ceiling could never be high enough to keep up with where your head’s been.  To tell you the truth, I’ve grown so tired, & I’m really just sick of this.  So who’s going to be the first one to call it quits?

INTERPRETATION:  The canons of modern day pop music are replete with love songs; narratives detailing the subject of falling into, being within, & aching without love.  But few concern themselves with the wearisome reality regarding the fall out of love.  Sometimes the descent is guillotine quick, & then sometimes it’s painfully prolonged; the proverbial snail across a razorblade.  French existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre described this drawn-out dirge of resentment & self-deception as an act of bad faith, in the sense that individuals willingly deny their authenticity in order to save face in light of social constructs & misguided values.  Sometimes, the most ethical route towards truth is through the exit.

INSPIRATION:  Melodically, Call It Quits was influenced by the works of yet another Seattle-based indie folk troubadour, Rocky Votolato.  His penchant for raw acoustic arrangements paired with oft-urgent vocals engendered a fitting tonal template with which to approach the subject matter.

INSIGHT:  Call It Quits is arguably Shadowlands’ most rhythmic composition, largely thanks to bass guitar tracks courtesy of Atlanta singer-songwriter Michael Levine.  Initially, the song was intended to have more of an ambient Radiohead-esque cadence, but Matt & I couldn’t quite find the right fit for that particular mood.  After scrapping a few attempts, we sent the song over to Michael in hopes that his perspective would lend us a new direction – which it most certainly did.  Levine took vibes coldly abstract & shaped them into rhythms infused with Latin & salsa flourishes.  This turn of tone led to an onslaught of percussive elements to be added into the production.  Having been a fan of Michael’s music for years, it was such an honor to have him contribute to mine.  Definitely one of Shadowlands’  highlights for me personally.

Deal

Deal

 

LYRICS:  & you know you’re getting towards the end when your only friend is the bottle in your hand.  & you know you can’t get any lower when you’re never sober to feel the pain.  So tell me how am I supposed to feel, when I don’t want to feel a thing?  Tell me how am I supposed to be, when I can’t ever let it be?  I can’t let it be, it’s just the way I deal.  & you can save up your whole life, but you can never buy love because it comes for free.  But is it worth the price you’ll pay?  For a heavy heart will outweigh the cost in the end.  So tell me how am I supposed to feel, when I don’t want to feel a thing?  Tell me how am I supposed to be, when I can’t ever let it be?  I can’t let it be, it’s just the way I deal.  In the game of life, in the game of love, it’s just how I deal.

INTERPRETATION:  I could sit here & analyze my every anxiety, mine the depths of my neuroses & equivocate each resulting indulgence… but I won’t.  I suppose any dilemma can be either accosted or avoided, sometimes it’s easier to choose the ladder.  As Bukowski put it, “That’s the problem with drinking, I thought, as I poured myself a drink. If something bad happens you drink in an attempt to forget; if something good happens you drink in order to celebrate; & if nothing happens you drink to make something happen.”

 INSPIRATION:  Deal, along with a few other tracks off the first half of Shadowlands, was originally written as potential material for an Americana folk-rock band some friends & I attempted to establish in the mid/late 00’s.  Writing specifically within the milieu of country-western & roots rock genres made it that much easier to willingly do-si-do down into the Americana rabbit hole.  & while nothing much ever came of our little revival rock dry run, I ultimately emerged from the proverbial whiskey-soaked Wonderland with a pocketful of folk tunes & a hankerin’ to continue writing ‘em… or so the story goes.

INSIGHT:  The journey a folk song will take from its intimate inception to its eventual recorded studio version can often be rather drastic.  By the time you track drums, bass, auxiliary instrumentation, keys, & backing vocals, what began as a minimal expression quickly builds into a layered orchestration.  This was the case for many of the songs on Shadowlands, though not for Deal.   I had always envisioned the studio version adhering to a traditional country-western mix; rustic steel-string acoustics, shimmery Telecaster vibratos, soaring tonewheel organ, cool upright bass, warm brush kit, clean vocals with natural room reverb, etc.  What I hadn’t expected was to incorporate structural space for a righteous piano solo, courtesy of mastermind Matthew Smith?!  He reached down & pulled that one deep out of the Summerteeth era Wilco wilderness – totally sells the tune.  I can’t image the arrangement now without it.

Midnight Train

Midnight Train

 

LYRICS:  Closure, come to find when given time, appropriate to fit the crime, patience to walk that line, to walk that line.  The straight & narrow, assume as borrowed.  The straight & narrow is soon to follow.  Faith, remaining sane, it’s like waiting for the year to change, it’s like waiting for the midnight train.  The straight & narrow, assume as borrowed.  The straight & narrow is soon to follow.

INTERPRETATION:  Thematically, Midnight Train concerns itself with concepts of Self-Identity & Operant Conditioning.  It’s about the choices & behaviors we initiate as individuals, & then navigating through their corresponding consequences.  It’s a song about outcomes, conclusions, & making decisions that will eventually yield results you can identify as positive or negative; specific correlations between cause & effect.

INSPIRATION:  Midnight Train was written on a rainy Wednesday evening back in October of 2006.  It was the 11th, to be exact.  I recall this specifically because I had just returned from seeing Seattle folk rock pioneer Damien Jurado perform at The Earl in East Atlanta.  He was on tour supporting his 6th studio LP And Now That I’m In Your Shadow, an album that would go on to influence the bulk of my songwriting for Shadowlands.  Taking its cue from Jurado’s Denton, TX, the guitar is capoed high & exhibits a minimal song structure in regards to chording, progression, & melody.

INSIGHT:  Of Shadowlands’ 16 tracks, Midnight Train was the first song written in addition to the first song recorded for the album.  It’s also the opening track, as I’ve always been fond of openers that tow a more moderately subtle tone.  There’s also a thematic irony about beginning an album with the word closure, within a song about conclusions.  As opposed to my usual methodically tedious form of songwriting where instrumentation, lyrics, & melody are all constructed separately, Midnight Train was built abstractly, all parts written within one sitting via free association.  I played & penned the parts as they came to me, letting the song write itself.  Ultimately, I ended up using this subconscious way of songwriting for about half of the songs on Shadowlands, as it provided a nice change of pace from my more meticulous means.

Shadowlands: a Prologue

bedroom

 

“One has to have endured a few decades before wanting, let alone needing, to embark on the project of recovering lost life…”  ~Christopher Hitchens

With each passing year, I find my reliance on reminiscence to be an all-encompassing endeavor.  As my yesterdays amass, I can’t help but sift through an endless sea of memories.  Having recently turned 30 further sharpens this nostalgia.  Looking back over the past decade, my roaring twenties, the sentiment is saccharine, even for the melancholy.  It seems recollection is peculiarly remedial in its own right.  But one can’t recover all that’s been lost in life until the loss has been defined, confronted, & eventually accepted.  As Carl Jung put it, a man who has not passed through the inferno of his passions has never overcome them.  Far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being.

Is it even possible to ever fully grasp the purpose of mere being?  I don’t know.  But I do understand the darkness; shadows cast by obstructed light.  Maybe navigating the existential conundrums of our twenty-something charades is par for the course, a right of entry to finally embark on the project of recovery.  In the same way I sift through memories, I’ve sifted through shadowlands.  & in wading through this inferno I’ve kept a record, in my case, quite literally so.

Shadowlands is the record I’ve been working on over the past 4 years.  With the guidance of producer/musician/songwriter/world-class badass Matthew Smith, we’ve crafted something I’m profoundly proud of.  For me personally, these aren’t just folk songs – they’re manifestations from a decade’s worth of life, loss, love, laments, lessons, & levity.  This collection of songs provides a tangibility that memories alone can’t attain.  My hope in sharing this record is that you might, if only for a fleeting moment, identify with something expressed, something that just might provide the slightest kindling of light amid your journey through the darkness of life’s shadowlands.

Throughout the coming months, I’ll be sharing songs from Shadowlands, complete with accompanying lyrics, interpretations, inspirations, commentary, & additional media related to each track.

Eventually I’ll get around to completing artwork, manufacturing, & distribution for the record.  Until then, thanks for listening.

Sincerely,

~Chase Fiorenza

Upside Down Mountain

Upside Down Mountain

Over the past twenty years, Nebraska native Conor Oberst has released over twenty albums.  Nearly half of that output was issued by the indie outfit Bright Eyes, with the other half split between solo releases & various acts including the Mystic Valley Band, Monsters of Folk, Desaparecidos, & Commander Venus.  Maintaining a discography that prolific is career-defining in & of itself, but what’s even more impressive is the fact that Oberst has achieved this level of production by a mere 34 years of age?!  To put this into context, compare another songwriter equally profuse, Bruce Springsteen.  The Boss has also released twenty plus albums to date, but in his case, this has been paced out over a forty year span – clearly nothing to sneeze at, but it does go to show the expedited eccentricity of Conor & Company’s revolving door-like record cycle.

As one might expect, writing, recording, releasing, & touring records on a yearly basis would wear down even the most trail-tried of troubadours.  Anyone familiar enough with the content of Conor’s folklore will notice reoccurring themes of well-worn despair, often expressed from a state of transition.  Parables & plotlines are generally slow-cooked in a Nihilistic soup of neurosis, & occasionally paired with the mystic pangs of a hopeless romantic:

“to the sunrise or a sunset, the master & his servant have exactly the same fate
it’s a sunrise & a sunset, from a cradle to a casket – there is no way to escape
the sunrise & a sunset, hold your sadness like a puppet – keep putting on the play…”

With two decade’s worth of macabre musings like these, it long seemed as though this Nebraskan purveyor of poetic pessimism would ne’er find his silver lining…  at least not until this year’s release of Upside Down Mountain.

For his ninth installment as “Conor Oberst”, & his first via Nonesuch Records, a sentiment towards settlement is the prevailing motif.  No time is wasted in expressing this idea with the opener Time Forgot, as we’re welcomed with warm jangly acoustics, bouncy double bass, & cascading guitar lines.  Where in albums past we were inundated with cynical confessionals, we now collide with positive pronouncements by the final chorus – I’m going to work for my sanity, give it everything I’ve got, though so far I have cheated death, I know someday I’ll get caught, just living.  So here we go man, it’s beautiful.

This satisfactory tone is carried over into Zigzagging Towards the Light, as we adapt to changing circumstances with a Mary Jane’s Last Dance-like progression.  Oberst describes his big city life as a world of smoke, steel, compromise, & meter maids, one which he’ll be leaving soon in hopes to find a place to come undone.  While this careening path away from darkness likely entails a physical destination, it’s also indicative of a disposition.  Cue Hundreds of Ways, with a temperament that rides in on a country western trot & eventually culminates with quasi-Caribbean colorings.  This demeanor is delineated with humbled perspective as we’re told of how it took centuries to build these twisted cities & seconds to reduce them down to dust.  In correlation, this contrast between exigency & ease is echoed by the quip:  I used to think that time was of the essence, now I just wish I could get some sleep.  By the end of this trailway’s many syllogisms, we’re left with a fittingly simple layman’s logic – there are hundreds of ways to get through the day, just find one.  After all the conjecturing, having elapsed through the first quarter of the record, we finally come to the theme that ultimately ties all of this progress together in Artifact #1.

With its ‘laxed Latin groove, track four cuts to the heart of…  well, the heart.  Having been recently married himself, Oberst expresses this grounding commitment with the ponderance:   when I set myself to wonder on all the questions that remain, the only one that even matters is when I’ll see your face again.  The calm, yet moody ambience of Artifact’s tone gives weight to its tender sentimentality, & transitions nicely into its counterpoint Lonely at the Top.  Descending on a slow six count with snare brushes, clean chorused guitar, & lofty pedal steel, the soundscape moves through time like a lonesome southern breeze.  Orson Welles once stated that we’re born alone, we live alone, & we die alone, & it’s only through love & friendship that we create momentary illusions that we’re in fact not alone.  Truths of this caliber are a jagged pill, yet upon reflection, they provide context & relevance to the relationships & experiences that define each of us amid our autonomous ascent up this so called inverted mountain otherwise known as the human condition.  This idea is reiterated as Oberst unwinds the line:  freedom is the opposite of love, you’ll never keep it through the paranoia.  It may well be lonely at the top, but it’s at these zeniths where we’re able to gain a new perspective, one that trades the freedom of reckless abandon for the sacrifice of committed love.  As we near the centerpiece of this 13 sequence summit, Oberst drops a bomb with Enola Gay.

Taking its title reference from the Boeing B-29 aircraft made infamous for dropping the atomic bomb during World War II, Oberst cleverly delivers one of the record’s most pointed criticisms wrapped in a chic top 40 Nashville pop veneer.  Despite its duration of just over two minutes, Conor carefully constructs the egocentric workings of a narcissist just to obliterate all vanity with one line:  it’s just a matter of pride ‘till you vanish like the rest, out of sight & out of mind.  Carried by an ascending piano scale, the climbing refrain ends abruptly, further emphasizing themes of modesty in the midst of mortality, a stark reminder that our lives too could end suddenly at any given moment.  This surprise ending lends itself to an unexpected beginning with Double Life.  Courtesy of producer Jonathan Wilson, a whimsical 1970’s stoner rock slide guitar melody casually meanders over sparse acoustics.  It’s worth noting at this point that Wilson’s knack for animated slide guitar largely aids the sense of sonic semblance throughout Upside Down Mountain, & provides a tonal consistency that helps tie songs together – songs which otherwise might seem aurally divergent from one another on the whole.  The same can be said for Swedish sister act First Aid Kit, whose lush vocal harmonies prove to be one of the record’s most notable cohesive highlights.  Both these trappings are on full display regarding Double Life, as Oberst suggests that we don’t look down, just cross the bridge, followed by the assurance that when you get there, you’ll know why you did.  So with promises of a better life on the other side, we cross over to the second half of Upside.

Featuring a fix of fuzzed out guitar & saturated spring reverb, Kick would fit in nicely with Bright Eyes’ 2011 release, The People’s Key.  Whereas that record dealt with quasi sci-fi abstractions, Kick holds its thematic footing while tackling the topic of taming thrills.  By personifying pleasure, Oberst walks us though a discussion with “Kick”, who is still a kid, & whose diet is too full of additives; a passed-out ash-mouthed daydreamer who can’t seem to find a friend in a world so cruel & partisan. But alas, as HG Wells put it, there are truth’s we must grow into.  One such growing pain might reside in learning the difference between pleasure & happiness, a difference Oberst includes as part of life’s richness, suggesting that if young Kick can avoid mental traffic collisions, he just might find a way out.  In this case, finding a way out will likely entail finding a way inward.  Night at Lake Unknown could be described as a meditative mediation.  Its pace & production is calm & languid.  Its phraseology is lined with pensive inferences citing imagination, frame, concentration, extension, & mind.  Oberst concedes the negative not through avoidance, but through alignment as we’re guided by a wind-blown raft at Lake Unknown; drifting… floating… centered in an acceptance that most anything can be forgiven, & with what’s left we’ll have to live.  These broad strokes won’t yield much specific detail, but they do paint a larger picture.  In the same way a photomosaic can only be realized at a distance, life too is sometimes best viewed as collection of impressionistic moments rather than a singular whole.  What better way to conceptualize this tapestry than with the analogy of adolescence?

Much like Cat Stevens did with the 1970’s folk favorite Father & Son, Conor crafts You Are Your Mother’s Child to achieve maximum sentimentality by way of simple structure.  Anchored only by acoustic guitar & vocals, Oberst outlines assorted moments from adolescence though adulthood, all narrated from a father’s perspective – I remember the day you appeared on this earth, with eyes like the ocean, got blood on my shirt, from my camera angle it looked like it hurt, but your mama had a big ol’ smile.  Landmark references to illness & injury, holidays & hobbies, achievements & affections all thread a theme of love & letting go; our love is a protective poison, well you are your mother’s child, & she’ll keep you for a while, but someday you’ll be grown, & then you’ll be on your own.  It’s only fitting that Upside Down Mountain’s most minimal offering is directly followed by its most magnanimous.  Governor’s Ball is a sonic minibar, stocked with overdriven guitars, tom-heavy drum fills, choral backup vocals, saloon piano, & even a brass section?!  Furthermore, its subject matter is intricately equivalent to its instrumentation.  We’re told of a man & his caravan of friends who attend a well-managed Governor’s Ball with stages that more closely resemble a vending machine than an amphitheater, which of course houses an audience more stereotypical than a brick wall.  As the story arcs, our protagonist submits to his boredom with a why not-attitude, eventually landing him with an all-night search party & a black eye.  The inquiry of why not is followed by what if in Upside Down Mountain’s strongest offering, Desert Island Questionnaire.

­We’ve all heard the question – say that you were stranded on a desert island, what books you gonna bring?  What friends would tag along?  Say you had a month & you knew you were dying, how would you spend your time?  What goodbyes would take too long?  But instead clichés, Oberst takes exception & opines, who wants all this trouble, even hypothetical?  For those of you wondering where the sullen son of emo angst has been all this time, brace yourself, because the tone’s been set & we’re going down with the plane.  For the sake of beating a dead metaphor, DIQ’s central theme is one of communicative failure in the face of modernity.  Clean electric guitar moves in a melancholic metre as Conor’s reverb-soaked vocals fill out the vast negative space.  Drums kick in at the onset of the second verse with a half-time march as Oberst depicts the irony of isolation within a social context – staring at your phone at another party, spend a lot on clothes got a lot of skin to show…  wish that you could dance but you’ve got no partner, keep tapping on your glass because you want to make a toast to the ennui of our times, to the selfishness in everyone you know.  Conor then takes us from the interrelational context of disjointed communication to the meta-context, with a bleak commentary on the displaced nature of divine command theory citing that every lunatic must be well intentioned, sets himself apart, he’s an instrument of God.  Oberst goes on to outline the abduction of a girl who’s taken from the playground to the farmhouse cellar to be kissed & killed by the hands of a Good Samaritan.  This venerated rationale not only affects the instrument in question, but also those injured as the victim’s mother loops modality back to God after the finding of her would be 21 year old daughter’s body many autumns after the murder, assuming that although we lost her young, the good Lord has a plan for all of us.  In tying up this travailed trilogy, Oberst takes us from the interpersonal, to the meta-personal, to the personal as he articulates the cleft between ego & agency.  With the need of something to blame for this human nature, Conor caustically questions is that what this condition is?  He admits that while he’s so bored with his life, he’s still afraid to die.  This concession brings us full circle back to the plane crash metaphor, which apparently isn’t quite dead yet.  Pretend that you were stranded on a desert island, what would be the message that you’d spell out for the plane?  Say the engine failed when that plane was flying, if you were the pilot, would you curse or would you pray?  Nestled at the conclusion of a nearly six minute metonymy, themes of basal correspondence & epistemic modality are dispiritedly raised one final time.  Oberst offers no answer, instead lamenting that no one’s gonna cry at this John Doe funeral, not a lot to say, didn’t even have a name.  He closes with a weary considerance, light a candle just in case he was someone’s friend; throw some flowers on his grave.

For Upside Down Mountain’s closing track, Conor leaves us with some Common Knowledge, as he unfurls observations about this friend of his; a suspiciously analogous parallel of himself.  He’s my friend, but he’s no friend to me.  Ask him why, he’ll tell you casually.  Washed up, bitter, broken, busted.  Backstabbed everyone he trusted.  Says he sees what no one else can see.  Oberst objectifies each shortcoming with an affirmation to cap each verse; Holds onto his mind just like a kite, but a good strong wind will keep you honest, fill you with some common knowledge, things when we were young we never tried.  Just figured we had time, with such a long life.  This self-assessment in third person allows Oberst to embody both the role of our central character in addition to that of a removed narrator, giving the impression of a man looking back over the events of his life while said events are being lived out in real time.  The duality of this nostalgic, yet present tone is further aided by the production’s minimalism which consists mainly of dry acoustics, un-layered vocals, & sparsely ambient soundscaping.  Conor concludes with reference to Hemingway, forthrightly stating that a brand new life can lose its luster, troubles tend to find each other, call it luck or you can call it fate.  But either way, it’s how it happens, not the life that you imagined, so just go out with a bang like Hemingway.  Some will say you’re brave, some will say you ain’t.  The album ends in provincial contrast to its beginnings, from sanguine to saturnine – as if the tonal shift was turned upside down; as if we had scaled a mountain from the summit.

Upside Down Mountain excels in its ability to elevate accessible americana folk rock to an altitude that’s as immediate as it is intellectual. It’s able to achieve precision without pretension.  Even twenty albums into his career, Conor Oberst is still able to actualize novelty, & there’s most certainly nothing upside down about that that.

Uploads, Downloads, Eastloads, Westloads, etc.

Image

 

Thanks to everyone who downloaded the Shadowlands single I posted last week via Bandcamp.  In case you missed it, the On Our Way bundle is available here for $5, which includes the single, its 2 demo versions, & 8 live demos from Shadowlands pre-production.  Each track is also available for download individually.

In addition to that, I’ve also made my collection of sample/loop-based instrumental demos & remixes available for download.  The instrumental tracks are comprised from various loop & sample-based files via Logic Studio Pro & Garage Band, in addition to my own sound design.  All 20 songs are available here as a digital album for $10, or individually for a dollar.

The Remixes album is free for download here, & is mostly comprised of traditional track stem/seed file remixes, in addition to original reinterpretations of source material from artists including Björk, Nine Inch Nails, Bon Iver, & many more.

Thanks for listening!

Scandinavian Dream Reel

Somewhere in Scandinavia

*Somewhere in Scandinavia*

Large sliding black-tinted doors open to reveal a pristine snow dusted landscape of majestic treelines & mirrored architecture, erected to reflect the surrounding beauty.

I was departing from an aerodrome of some sort, from where I then took a modest shuttle car to explore a quaint town market nearby. It was in this market where I found myself drawn to a bistro on the outskirts of the square.

Upon entering the bistro, the shift in tone was viscerally palpable; that contrast between blindingly bright ice-laden sidewalks & freshly crisp air vs dimly lit smoke-filled corridors stained with the scent of espresso & bakery confections.

The bistro’s interior was one of emerald green & black marbled coffee tables, cherry red leather-lined booth seating, & abstractly fragmented stained glass lighting fixtures. The structural layout was comprised of an impressive multi-split level floor plan, which was spaced out to house each dining area with its own dimensional construction; an arrangement yielding the illusion of several staggered Penrose-like dens.

I ended up at a table of enthusiastic film students, though not of the typically pretensive vanguard. No, these were genuine lovers of the arts. Their passions required no introductory validation, no pretense. Theirs was an ardor I experienced intuitively.

We discussed regional filmmakers in depth, among the likes of Lars Von Trier, Nicolas Winding Refn, André Øvredal, Tomas Alfredson, Niels Arden Oplev, & Paul Verhoeven, etc. We must have spent hours in conversation, as the café clerk was now practically sweeping us out the door.

With the Nordic dusk impending, we tied up loose ends of our conversation. One of the students asked me if I’d like to join them on their walk back to campus. She quipped that the distance was lofty, but no more so than our conversation had been thus far. I laughed, but soon became overwhelmed with a crippling sense of reclusive anxiety. I wanted to join them, but couldn’t find it in myself to do so. I thanked them for the offer, & said that I had to make my way back downtown to catch the shuttle. We exchanged formalities & then headed our separate ways.

Waking back towards the square, I stared down at my shoes, lost in a mood somewhere between disappointed & complacent. I reached the sidewalk’s end, only to find no shuttle car. I noticed a man that also appeared to be waiting for a ride. I began to ask him if he knew when the next transport would arrive, & realized that this man was no stranger – this man was my favorite film director, Richard Linklater!

I fumbled over words, dazed (& confused) like a deer in the headlights, spilling out adorations as if they were endless. I eventually worked up the nerve to ask Richard why he was in this obscure sector of Scandinavia. He then proceeded to describe to me the premise of his next film, with that casual brilliance Linklater is known for.

He was in the process of scouting several different locations to film the same conversation held by inhabitants of each region. The concept was to juxtapose varying locals, cultures, languages, & people with the conceptual through-line of a singular discussion.

Richard then returned my inquiry, a question I hadn’t yet considered. Ironically enough, everything up to this point had felt completely natural & distinct, unlike lucid dreams where you’re generally aware of the abstractions around you. I thought on it for a moment, not being able to remember anything before those sliding doorways at the air station. Then, in a whim of unbridled honesty, I told Richard:

“I think this is all a dream, but I don’t know where I’ve come from, why I’m here, or where I’m going…”

He laughed & compassionately replied,

“From my experience, trajectories are overrated. Learn to accept the presentness of every passing moment – Even in dreams, we’re always in motion.”

By this point, Richard’s ride had pulled up to the curb; the infamous boat car from the 2nd chapter of Waking Life! Richard kindly asked if I “needed a lift on down the line?”, to which I politely declined stating that I had some moments to catch up on. I gestured a farewell salute quoting “all ashore that’s going ashore”, & watched the boat car float off through the sky into the distance. I then turned around & ran back towards the bistro in hopes to catch up with my newfound friends, accepting whatever awaited me in this realized dream state.

From then on, the events of this reverie flowed in a stream-of-consciousness deluge. Images & events played out as a montage of memories. Warmth & color enveloped everything. It was an experiential collage of late night apartment parties, open air stargazing, lazy mornings under flannel bed sheets, solitary songwriting & ensemble jam sessions, café conversations, film set excursions, & cinema carousals – all under the milieu of sublime contentment.

As the fog of that rapture lifted, I soon found myself at open waters atop a large air raft. The expanse of lake was vast, riddled with pockets of sea ice & glacier calving. The region was end-capped with cliffs & peaks, all soaring high into the heavens. Surrounded by my fellow film fiends, the mood was taut, wrought with a meticulous fervor. The float was barely sizeable enough to house our makeshift production crew. This consisted of two digital cameras (one stationary via tripod & the other a shoulder-mounted handheld), two boom microphones (one hoisted roughly 20 feet into the air & the other anchored to the raft, half covered by means of a metallic spherical cupping for exaggerated sound design), & a three-fold LED lighting panel (with each panel lamp angled to intersect glares, resulting in various flashes of celadon & sepia hues against the frozen artic backdrop).

We were shooting an experimental short film with the Norwegian title Tiltredelse (Accession). Its premise was simple, to film a seaplane from vanishing point to landing in one seamless take with no cuts or edits, producing all audio & visual effects in real-time. The final product would combine footage & audio from both perspectives to produce a blending of surreality & singularity.

Tensions were high as we anticipated the go ahead signal from the pilot via shortwave radio. Due to the scope & expense of the project, we had only one shot at getting our one shot. This meant success or failure, with no room for middle ground in between. The cameras were positioned respectively, poised in focus & frame. The mics were stationed & steadied. Lighting was engaged & ready for triggering…

“Løft Av!”, gargled a voice through the speaker. The clap board snapped, & we commenced the capture of sight & sound, anxiously awaiting the arrival of our focal point on the horizon! The skyline lay barren as our fluorescent flares pulsated flashing glares across the foreground. Our towering boom mic detected distant rumbles of the jet plane still beyond sight, as the condenser caught premonitions of thunderous vibrations. Now finally, the sea plane had pierced our field of vision & was quickly approaching. With our steady-cam fixated on the target, the handheld was free to hover ever so slightly, dancing in & out of focus. As our protagonist neared, the noise was monstrous, echoing off the icy waters & surrounding canyons. Alas, the plane speedingly glided past us in a fury of mist & majesty for its grand finale; a most masterful of landings!

Then I awoke.