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Title: ‘Daughter’
Where to find it: ‘Closing Time’ (2014, Full Time Hobby)
Performed by: Erland and the Carnival
Words by: Erland Cooper

Title: ‘Song for a Granular Piano’
Where to find it: ‘Total Strife Forever’ (2014, Stolen Recordings)
Performed by: East India Youth
Words by: William Doyle

First, the words of ‘Daughter’:*

You could be so much better than me
You will be so much better than me
You could be so much better than me
You will be so much better than me

Even if I kill my soul
Save me from the hell I know
Just before I say goodbye
Loving you won’t die

When I’m gone
When I’m gone
When I’m gone
When I’m gone
When I’m gone
When I’m gone
When I’m gone

You could be so much better than me
You will be so much better than me

Even if I kill my soul
Save me from the hell I know
Just before I say goodbye
Loving you won’t die

When I’m gone
When I’m gone
When I’m gone
When I’m gone
When I’m gone
When I’m gone
When I’m gone
When I’m gone

Now, the analysis:

I’m positive that for someone my age, I’ve thought about death and the process of dying more than I probably should have. When you’ve personally been faced with oblivion multiple times, at the hand of God through no fault of your own, I think it comes with the territory. In my defense, I don’t think it’s weird or even particularly morbid to consider one’s own end. As a biologist, I look at death as a natural process. At the same time though, I am not discounting and am wishing not to discount the emotional weight of the process either on the person who is nearing the end or those who survive that person.

I’ve been thinking about two songs that both broach the sensitive subject, and they seem to have a peculiar association that I hope one day to find out more about. ‘Song for a Granular Piano’ is the last song with actual words on East India Youth’s 2014 Mercury Prize-nominated debut album on Stolen Recordings, ‘Total Strife Forever.’ In addition to arpeggios on piano, on the recorded version there are heavenly, major key, gospel-style backing vocals before Will Doyle’s actual lyrics kick in, filtered through effects that give the delivery an unearthly quality: “Settle down just before the end / sunlight comes floating through the smoky lens / comfort me slowly into the earth / sing the dawn now, sing the dawn now.

The effects on the vocals cause the feeling of the song to be unsettling until the mood changes about a minute later, when you get to the buildup, and it feels like sunshine is streaming in at 2 minutes 40 seconds. I like to think that the uplifting feeling you get from that buildup is supposed to mimic the light one is supposed to see when God is welcoming you towards Heaven. (I fully admit that when my father died, I suddenly felt this terrible, insatiable need to hold on to and to believe that Heaven exists, or else I might crumble under the weight of losing him.)

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I remember distinctly when I first heard Erland and the Carnival’s ‘Daughter’: it was on a train back home from Philadelphia after a work conference last summer, and I was listening to the entirety of the band’s third album ‘Closing Time’ from start to finish in my preparation to review it for TGTF. During this trip, I remember looking out the window of our car and seeing a blue whale that had been painted to the side of a building in Wilmington, Delaware. (The weird things you remember, huh?) I had been oddly emotional hearing ‘That’s The Way It Should Have Begun (But It’s Hopeless)’ for the first time, and it would be weeks before I fully recognised why, suffering the bitter pain of disappointment of something that could have been but never really had been there in the first place.

On the other hand, ‘Daughter’ was like an immediate sucker punch to the stomach. The press release described how it was conceived (no pun intended) but read here what Simon Tong and Erland Cooper had to say about it from their track-by-track previewing of ‘Closing Time’ for Clash:

10. ‘Daughter’
Simon: Erland wrote and recorded this after the birth of his daughter and half a bottle of whiskey. We purposely made the production and arrangement on this album much more restrained and simple and this song is probably the simplest and most moving.

Erland: I’d recorded this on my phone and then reversed the vocal which then accidently, and to me perfectly, turned into a backing vocal that sounds like it sings ‘…I wont [sic] ever give up’ in parts. Was trying to write and record the simplest song that can say a number of deeper things while saying something completely obvious. It’s more about hopeful reassurance than departure. To be honest, that pretty much sums up the entire record to me.

I agree with Tong: the song is indeed poignant in its simplicity, for what it says – and very briefly so – and what it doesn’t. The birth of a child, a new life borne out of love, out of your and your partner’s own flesh and blood, is a life-changing experience. From what I’ve gathered from all my friends who have children, life changes and priorities change in a blink of a eye with the arrival of a child. Even in a drunken, whiskey-fuelled haze, Cooper’s thoughts about his own mortality stirred up no doubt by the birth of his daughter translated to the eking out of some pretty amazing and thought-provoking lyrics while he contemplated his own departure from this earth and what it would mean to his daughter, now in the moment far too young to have such thoughts. The fact that he was able to commit these words via an elementary recording on his phone, and the recording eventually became the basis for ‘Daughter,’ seems pretty fateful to me.

As Tong says, the song is very simple. Against a backdrop of what I called in my review “a repetitive but music box-like soothing piano melody,” he wishes, then changes his mind and decides that he knows his child will be a better, greater person than he ever was. He also has come to the conclusion that “even if I kill my soul” – when his soul is gone from this mortal plane – he will make the effort before he takes his last breath (“just before I say goodbye“) to confirm that even if he’s physically no longer here with her, “loving you won’t die.

He’s saying as a father to his child, “I may no longer be with you to hold you again, but as sure as the heavens will allow me, I will never stop loving you.” What an mind-blowingly beautiful statement.

I recently started listening to the incredible ‘Closing Time’ album again on my nightly runs, and it only struck me recently how similar the treatments were on the “unearthly scale” (I know, such a scientific term…) in both songs. When I was in Ireland in May, I purchased East India Youth’s newest album ‘Culture of Volume’ at an HMV in Dublin and when I was perusing the liner notes, I noticed the line “Additional mixing to strings by Erland,” which I guessed to be Erland Cooper himself. I wonder now if the sound of ‘Daughter’ had been inspired somehow by ‘Song for a Granular Piano’, which had surely preceded it in development. I also saw on SoundCloud some time ago that Doyle remixed the ‘Closing Time’ track ‘Wrong’ for Erland and the Carnival, another connection. The plot thickens…

However these acts and songs are connected, both ‘Daughter’ and ‘Song for a Granular Piano’ serve as testament that that some of us believe death is not meant to be the end. Or at the very least, those of us who are ‘left behind’ after our loved ones have gone should take comfort that even without their physical presence, we will forever remain loved.

*I forget where I read or heard it from now, but Doyle stated in an interview that there were some bits of ‘Total Strife Forever’ where lyrics were unintelligible, which makes me think that some of the ‘lyrics’ of ‘Song for a Granular Piano’ were made to be unintelligible on purpose, quite possibly to add to the effect of impending death. I’d rather not take away from the effect by guessing what I’m hearing and possibly transcribe the words incorrectly.

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