Song Analyses #52: Erland and the Carnival – Daughter / East India Youth – Song for a Granular Piano

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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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Song Analysis #51: Jenny Lewis – Just One of the Guys

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Title: ‘Just One of the Guys’
Where to find it: ‘The Voyager’ (2014, Warner Brothers)
Performed by: Jenny Lewis
Words by: Jenny Lewis

First, the words:

Verse 1
All our friends, they’re gettin’ on
But the girls are still staying young
If I get caught being rude in a conversation
With a child bride on her summer vacation

Chorus 1
No matter how hard I try to be just one of the guys
There’s a little something inside that won’t let me
No matter how hard I try to have an open mind
There’s a little voice inside that prevents me

Verse 2
Ooh, how I live, it got me here
Locked in this bathroom full of tears
And I have begged for you and I have borrowed,
but I’ve been the only sister to my own sorrow

Chorus 2
No matter how hard I try to be just one of the guys
There’s a little something inside that won’t let me
No matter how hard I try to have an open mind
There’s a little clock inside that keeps tickin’

Bridge 1
There’s only one difference between you and me
When I look at myself all I can see
I’m just another lady without a baby

Chorus 3
No matter how hard I try to be just one of the guys
There’s a little something inside that won’t let me.
No matter how hard I try to have an open mind
There’s a little cop inside that prevents me

Bridge 2
I’m not gonna break for you!
I’m not gonna pray for you!
I’m not gonna pay for you!
That’s not what ladies do!

Oh when you break
When you break
Oh when you break
Oh when you break

Now, the analysis:

After a 6-year hiatus from the recording world, Jenny Lewis released last year her latest solo album, ‘The Voyager’. The title of the album’s first taster ‘Just One of the Guys’ belies its actual content: the struggle of the modern woman to find her place in the world. I’m not a crazy bra-burning feminist, but I do agree this struggle exists and is real, even if some men will fight tooth and nail to disagree.

At first, I thought about taking a general approach that I hope most, if not all, women can relate to. Most of my high school friends are married and have children, and some of the conversations we’ve had over the years focused what and how they’ve been busy…errr…rearing children, while I haven’t. I have also been thinking about a piece I was asked to write for a feminist Web site several years ago that sits on my computer unused because when I submitted it to the editor who asked for it, she had changed her mind. I entitled the article ‘Spoilt for Choice,’ as it was about the many tough choices that young women face in their lives. (If you or anyone you know is interested in publishing such a piece, let me know!)

As much as I’m happy and proud that we have trailblazers like Lilly Ledbetter fighting for equal rights for women, I don’t think there is anyone who can deny this is a man’s world, and we women just live in it. Yes, we’ve made great strides, but there are always going to be people – male or female – who think a woman’s place is in the home and her primary roles in life are to take care of her husband and family, maintain the house, and raise children.

Society is changing now of course: we have lesbian couples, couples of any kind can live together and not have to get married, and couples don’t have to have children anymore, or at least the societal pressure to do so is much less. But certain societal norms die hard in certain cultures, whether they be Eastern or Western, in whatever country. Yes, you don’t have to get married or have children, but ask most young women in their 20s, and I can bet you most of them will tell you they’ve either been pressured by their family and/or their peers about having children before it’s too late.

But then I considered going in a personal direction with this analysis, bringing in my own experiences as a female music editor and writer in a field dominated by men, reporting on music primarily made by men. This approach, I think, makes more sense for what Jenny Lewis is singing about, especially considering before she became a solo artist and hooked up with Johnathan Rice personally and professionally for the Jenny and Johnny project, she co-fronted the band Rilo Kiley and was the only woman in the band.

Being the only woman among a group of men has its perks, if you’re around gentlemanly, respectful men who are willing to treat you like a woman and an equal. However, it can also pose a number of challenges as well. (A musician friend of mine (male) has written an excellent blog post about touring with musicians friends of ours (female), a tour I was lucky enough to catch in Dublin.) In the first chorus, the lyrics suggests as hard as Lewis tries to be loose and relaxed about things when she’s around her male counterparts, acting and ‘being’ one of the guys as she was in Rilo Kiley, she faces an internal battle in her head every day, knowing she isn’t like the rest of them:

No matter how hard I try to be just one of the guys
There’s a little something inside that won’t let me
No matter how hard I try to have an open mind
There’s a little voice inside that prevents me

In the second chorus, the last line is replaced with the words “There’s a little clock inside that keeps tickin’,” speaking directly to her own biological clock. If she wants to have children, she’s going to have to revert back to being a woman, and in a group of her male peers, that’s a huge risk. Is she going to be treated the same way if she admits to wanting one of the very things in life that makes her female? This conflict in her is clear in the heartbreaking bridge: “There’s only one difference between you and me /When I look at myself all I can see / I’m just another lady without a baby.” Depending on as a woman how you view motherhood – and indeed, depending on the culture you were born into and how your parents and family view it with respect to you – you can receive some pretty disparaging comments if you aren’t married or don’t have children by a certain age, if not damning looks. These hurt.

It all comes to a head near the end of the song, when Lewis begins shouting reasons why and ways how giving into motherhood is wrong in her mind, concluding, “That’s not what ladies do!” “I’m not gonna break for you!”: I’m not going to settle for being with just any man so I can have a baby. “I’m not gonna pray for you!”: all of us women, at one time or another, some more often than others, have prayed for Mr. Right to come along, for he can solve the problems we need solving. “I’m not gonna pay for you!”: this is quite funny, I’m assuming she means going to a sperm bank to take care of having a baby herself without requiring a man to love her.

I don’t think Lewis wrote this song to be spiteful towards men. At all. It was her conveying her constant, internal struggle and if anything, she wants to be heard, possibly for just a moment of your sympathy.

Let’s extend this to the everyday working woman. Unless a woman spends her entire life closeted in her house, taking care of her husband, the children and the house and doing nothing else, she has to work as hard as the men in her workplace, so often going against her very nature if she gets emotional. We’re not supposed to cry, because that shows feminine weakness. Yet oddly, if we truly act like a man, going for the things we want, that flies in the face of being submissive as women are supposed to be, and we’re called names. How on earth do we resolve this in our heads?

There are a few things I am certain about in life. One of them staring me right in the face is the reason why women were given the responsibility and the female sex evolved to carry the baby to term and do much of the taking care of the children when they’re young. We women are proud, intelligent, highly capable human beings, no matter what career or path in life we undertake. And we are strong like steel. Contest it all you want, but we can take the physical and emotional pain onboard so much better than men can. Need evidence?

Whether you’re male or female, take a moment today to thank a woman in your life who was strong for you. Who was there when you needed her. I’m sure she will appreciate it. And for God’s sakes, under no circumstances ask a woman why she hasn’t had a child yet!

Lastly, the song, in two forms on video. When I had started writing this analysis last summer, the song had just premiered on radio and the only video version available was the lyric video, which is embedded below first. I had such high hopes for the official promo video, all of which were dashed when Jenny Lewis posted it and I saw it featured some of her famous female friends dressing up like guys (boring and clickbait).

Song Analysis #50: Coldplay – The Scientist

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In one of my posts in which I pitted Keane vs. Coldplay during my week at One Week // One Band back in early July, I alluded to the one song by Chris Martin and co. that I actually like. Or maybe the right word is not ‘like’ but ‘relate’ to. It’s the song equivalent to kryptonite to me because of when it was released and what was going on in my life at the time.

My father was not well. Two years prior, he suffered a stroke that slowed him physically and cognitively. For a scientist, the worst fate of all was to be imprisoned by a mind that knew what it was thinking but that had such difficulty expressing the thoughts as quickly and brilliantly as it had once before. He didn’t say much in his final months. I knew he had difficulty finding the words sometimes, and he didn’t want to embarrass himself by accidentally mixing up his words. Most times, he said nothing. This was the same man who, without fail, called me every single night I lived at university because he cared about me and wanted to hear how my day was, just as when I had lived at home as a child.

Before leaving the house one morning, he kissed me on the head and told me to have a good day at work. Later that evening, he was gone.

I heard it again recently, and the discomfort of hearing the song again after so long came back, the tightness building in my stomach. Seeing that I have suffered through and am going through great change this year and hope can be difficult to find, I decided I didn’t have anything to lose to think more about ‘The Scientist’ now.

When I started Music in Notes 3 years ago, I knew one day I would have to write my thoughts on this song here. I just didn’t know when I would be ready to. I was too fragile to do so when I began the site.

Now is that time.

Title: ‘The Scientist’
Where to find it: ‘A Rush of Blood to the Head’ (2002, Parlophone)
Performed by: Coldplay
Words by: Chris Martin

First, the words:

Verse 1
Come up to meet you
tell you I’m sorry
You don’t know how lovely you are

I had to find you
Tell you I need you
Tell you I set you apart

Tell me your secrets
And ask me your questions
Oh, let’s go back to the start

Running in circles
Coming up tails
Heads on a science apart

Chorus
Nobody said it was easy
It’s such a shame for us to part
Nobody said it was easy
No one ever said it would be this hard

Oh, take me back to the start

Verse 2
I was just guessing
At numbers and figures
Pulling the puzzles apart

Questions of science
Science and progress
Do not speak as loud as my heart

Tell me you love me
Come back and haunt me
Oh, and I rush to the start

Running in circles
Chasing our tails
Coming back as we are

Chorus
Nobody said it was easy
Oh, it’s such a shame for us to part
Nobody said it was easy
No one ever said it would be so hard

I’m going back to the start

Now, the analysis:

Before I begin, I should point out that Chris Martin has previously revealed what ‘The Scientist’ is about. You can read it on page 5 of a 2002 Coldplay e-zine archived here. It would be fair to say that I was pretty disappointed by the actual meaning of the song, but that’s where Music in Notes comes in. As echoed by the many songwriters I’ve interviewed over the years, the most important thing you should remember about the medium of a song is how it relates to you and how it makes you feel.

Scientists have been able to show that music is a cue that stirs up memories, even those many years ago, as well as cue up memories in people whose memory is impaired, such as those with Alzheimer’s and dementia. So don’t ever feel sorry for thinking about and relating to a song one way that completely doesn’t match the way someone else thinks or relates to it at all. These memories you have of songs are individual and yours alone.

If we are to believe Chris Martin, that this song is really just about being attracted to girls and how as a guy you can’t get them off your mind, and even that process is connected to a memory. A fond memory of someone you wanted to be with but couldn’t. (I’m trying here, Chris. Really.) Even if you never saw the video and saw that there was a man and a woman in it, presumably the people involved in the tale of the song, you can see by reading the lyrics to ‘The Scientist’ that there is a healthy dose (probably a far too unhealthy dose, depending on the personality of the person reading) of regret in this song.

Two people have been separated: “it’s such a shame for us to part.” The beauty of this song, although not likely Chris Martin’s intention at all, is that it could apply to *any* two people. Two lovers. A husband and a wife. A parent and a child. Two best friends. We don’t know how or why this happened, but Chris Martin playing the protagonist wants to return to when it all began, desperately saying, “take me back to the start.

He wants to start over with a clean slate, so he can hear the other person’s secrets and answer this person’s questions. As we get to know someone and journey through life with them, you learn more and more about the other person. But there really is no going back when if something painful or awful is revealed, or harsh words have been spoken that can’t be unsaid. It is just is. Once you reach that point, there is no turning back. You can’t un-hear what you’ve heard or un-feel that emotion. Depending on the connection, there may be a chance to mend fences, to heal, to find a way back. But there wasn’t one in this case.

All important relationships, the ones that are worth keeping and preserving, are based on love and trust. The strong ones keep going. And they keep going because both people want it to keep going, and in equal measure. You might say that as his child, I had no choice but to ‘keep’ my father. But in all honesty, despite all the terrible things that had happened in my life, I still really loved him. When he died, a part of me died too. That’s what I get from ‘The Scientist’. Martin sings, “I was just guessing / at numbers and figures / pulling the puzzles apart,” blindly stumbling through the reality of loss, his science, to try to find reason for his emotions.

Martin comes to the terrible conclusion that he has lost a loved one. No matter how harsh the harsh reality that exists now in his life, he cannot and does not give in to the reality, as the scientific explanations are nothing in the face of his emotions. They “do not speak as loud as my heart.” I suppose the easiest way to judge this song is to consider it being about someone that has physically died, from the lines “tell me you love me / come back and haunt me.” But I think that’s a lazy explanation. We all know that the important players of our lives can haunt us in our minds, whether we’re awake or while we’re asleep and dreaming, and whether they’re living or not. I find the song being especially emotional and cutting for this duality.

Nobody said it was easy, nobody said it would be this hard.” I think the best we all can hope for is to keep putting love out into the world, while never forgetting that other person who meant so much to us, and before we ever come to the point where we are irrevocably wrested apart from them, however that happens, either by choice or not. I don’t like that old saying, “If you love something, let it go. If it comes back to you, it’s yours forever. If it doesn’t, then it was never meant to be.” It sounds so negative. It sounds like we as humans have no control of the situation at all.

But we do. We have a choice. We have the choice to love and care for one another. “What I do, that will be done to me.” At this time in my life, I have to believe that despite how badly I’ve been hurt, that there is meaning to all of this. And if I keep loving and caring, the love I am supposed to receive will come back to me.

Lastly, the song, in its promo form from 2002.