Something happens in the mind when music washes over us, replete with that familiar sense of a life lived — of politics, of being a human, a lover, part of a family — balanced with the urge to dance and lose ourselves, if only for a moment. It feels like something real and honest, yet still somehow something almost frivolous.
I am reminded well of something Hozier’s music has long done — it treads the tenuous line between the sacred and the profane. The crowd singing along, and if I close my eyes, I can smell the scent of incense, see the stained-glass smiles of saints. Is this so different? Are the people on the rails not worthy of sainthood? Aren’t we all, in our ways, very nearly worthy? At the very least, do the sacrifices demanded of so many not reach into martyrdom? Not so much in the theistic sense, but the realistic one.
Something strange happens when traveling new paths, when getting a little lost. There is a fervor, a little fear, and plenty of excitement. This sensation, this blush of discovery, so often pervades the experience of new music.
And so it was for me with Angie McMahon’s music. I remember the first time I played Salt, well-past the sun’s setting but not yet in the black of night, her dusky powerhouse voice soaring out my car’s windows. I felt a little something break inside.
I remember when I first discovered The New Pornographers: My roommate blasted Twin Cinema in the late morning after classes, their adventurous pop songs flirting with the saccharine and well-balanced with touches of bitterness, surreality, and unflinching honesty. The interplay of Neko Case’s, A.C. Newman’s, and Dan Bejar’s voices added textures that allowed the songs to float from gauzy to meaty in three minutes.
Fresh off a four-night run in New York, Built to Spill carried their trademark sound to a sold-out crowd at the 9:30 Club recently. With the band fast-approaching its 30th anniversary and celebrating the 20th anniversary of their seminal record, Keep It Like a Secret, Doug Martsch and friends offered a riveting a freewheeling reinterpretation of that record mixed with a few choice cuts around it.
The Head and the Heart perform at The Anthem on Oct. 3, 2019. (Photo by Matt Ruppert)
Forged in the fires of open mics, born in Seattle’s Conor Byrne’s pub, and ultimately shaped by the trials and tribulations of honest friendship, The Head and the Heart have emerged as something new, something somehow different but still fundamentally the same, as seen at The Anthem recently.
Alejandro Rose-Garcia, better known by his hallucinogenic-given stagename Shakey Graves, further cemented his status as a harbinger of modern rock and roll with his most recent album, Can’t Wake Up. Any fans of his know well that he can write a song with a heavy groove, the kind of tunes that stutter-step into beauty.
Towheaded and impressionable, I found Bringing Down the Horse at Sam Goody’s end-of-row display shelf in the Towsontown Mall, its stamplike W and stars drawing my eyes. I pulled a pile of ones out of my pocket, the slowly-earned financial detritus of chores completed and change received, counting out the $16.99 required. Then (and maybe now), spending my money filled me with some worry, concern that my decision would ruin my mood. That, somehow, this thing I’d promised my time wouldn’t be worthy of it.
In so many ways, Deer Tick is the quintessential modern American band. Started sometime in the mid-2000s and officially releasing War Elephant in 2007, theirs is a sound born of something many of us can find familiar: as at home on a small stage in the corner of a bar/coffeehouse, in a party club, or on a big stage in the middle of a national park.
Courtney Barnett is the best friend everyone wishes they had — deadpan witty, desperately honest. Her songs grapple with the sorts of emotions familiar to the current generation, that balancing of self-doubt, anxiety, and the expectations for success in a world set against often overwhelming challenges.