Wednesday, July 5, 2023

Like a Spell Sweetly Falling

I haven't written in awhile. There's a lot I haven't done in a while, which I'm sure I'll write about more as the summer unwinds into fall, but for now, I want to share a bit about softness. Things are difficult, there's a hardness to the world. There is even a passive hardness in the punishing heat most of the United States are experiencing in the hangover of its 247 birthday, if you measure countries by such human metrics. 

Like a spell sweetly falling from the sky or god or whatever you believe is up there, two recent releases have really struck me, but not in such an operative or active way as the verb strike suggests.

The first is Blue Lake's Sun Arcs, which dares the question (at least, it did to me anyway): what if you did judge a book by its cover?

Something about this album art made me want to listen to this album. Okay, maybe I'm still in visual analysis mode from my summer composition class's first project, but this album sounds like this album cover looks. There's sharply defined sounds in these 8 elegant instrumental sounds, that peirce like the bright blue lake, though the movements in the music shift, are fluid, unburdened by well-defined lines. This is to say while I know "Writing" is a favorite track (because of course it is) I do not know where opener "Dallas" ends and the rest of the album begins. The good folks at Pitchfork aren't always right, but this is a rightly deserving album of its high praise. What you will learn, like I did, from that review, is that Blue Lake is playing the songs of this album on a custom made zither with more than 45 strings on it. Knowing that doesn't change the experience of listening to these songs - calming, curious - but does add depth to their impact. 

The other release I want to tell you about is much more conventional, though no less special. Let There Be Music by Bonny Doon is an equally quiet collection of songs, though functioning in a totally different way than Blue Lake.

I'm reading that Bonny Doon are from Detroit, but none of the city's signature sounds: guitars climbing out of old tube amps, digital tics on a drum machine, the boom-bap bombastic hip-hop, are included in the music Doon invites us to Let There Be (I recognize this was a stretch of a line, sorry readers). Maybe my having lived in Detroit and San Francisco, elegized in the opening track, predisposes me to enjoying this album a little more than I should, but I can't help it.

The songs are tender, the lyrics, while surely well-written are immaterial. The singer's voice becomes another instrument in the gentle arrangements so in a way, Let There Be Music is more similar to Sun Arcs than I'd first thought. Both are melancholy, but aspiring to sentimental. Doon gets at this easier because pathos belongs first to language, than to sound.

But what to say about softness? Easy: in "On My Mind" Bonny Doon could almost be writing a down-tempo Springsteen bar-stomper of a song, but are restrained in the noise, the piano, the guitars; nothing with too much flourish. As the glimmering guitars wind down over the course of the song's final minute, they sing:

I try to get along the best I can

I try to get along the best that I can 

and then, definitively:

I get along the best that I can

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