“Paradise Circus” by Massive Attack ft. Hope Sandoval

Here’s a free double-whammy of depressing-ness! Hope Sandoval is known as the voice behind Mazzy Star, a 90s psychedelica band, whose most famous hit is “Fade Into You.” My favorite off of that same album, however, is “Into Dust.” It’s haunting, chilling, and on more than one occasion, made me cry when I’m driving into work at the coffee shop at five in the morning.

After Mazzy Star disbanded, Hope Sandoval had a solo act, and, more recently, guest stars on Massive Attack’s latest album, Heligoland (Virgin, 2010). The great thing about Massive Attack — besides their awesome radicalness — is their changing repertoire of vocal talent. Others have included the lovely Sinead O’Connor, Damon Albarn of Gorillaz and Blur fame, Guy Garvey of Elbow, and Tunde Adebimpe from TV on the Radio. Star-studded, right?

It’s unfortunate that when we feel a stone,
We can roll ourselves over, ’cause we’re uncomfortable.
Oh well, the devil makes us sin.
But we like it when we’re spinning in his grin.

Love is like a sin, my love,
For the ones that feel it the most.
Look at her, with her eyes like a flame.
She will love you like a fly and never love you again.

Oh my goodness, do I love this song. No only is the music haunting with subtle, heart-beat like percussion, but the simplicity of the few piano chords then blooms into an orchestral wall-o’-sound that is enveloping and beautiful. Hope Sandoval’s just right mix of breathiness and pout convey the emotional breadth of the song.

It’s an interesting concept, thinking of love as a sin, which, in its turn, is caused by the devil. Free will is taken out of the situation entirely, hitting a person unexpectedly, driving them out of themselves, much as love is wont to do. A greater force — the devil, not usually associated with love, but as I wrote a 94 page thesis on the devil, I can say, with no exaggeration, that it’s not THAT out there — causes the hurt and the aggression that love can spawn, especially an unequal love. Flames, flies, stones — these are all antithetical to God, to good, and are associated with devilry. Love, in its unrequited, crazy-obsessive form, can lead to this crushing area of heart-break and betrayal.

And the betrayal comes in with my favorite line, “but we like it when we’re spinning in his grin.” (Some say that last word is “grip,” but the symbolism is so much better if it’s “grin!”). This is allusive to Dante’s Inferno, in which the three greatest sinners — Brutus, Cassius, and Judas — are in his mouth (and now, forever in my brain, spinning as well.) Their sin is betrayal of Julius Caesar and Jesus, respectively.

Love has a way of making us be someone that we’re not. We pretend to be better, funnier, more extroverted, or even change our tastes to suit what we think the other person wants. At its core, this type of love is dangerous because a person can get lost, refuting themselves in order to please someone else. It’s this type of self-betrayal that leads to “flames,” and in a later verse, a smile made out of them. In contrast to the devil in Dante’s Inferno, which is freezing because he’s so far away from God’s warmth and love, a person can burn up and be consumed by the rush of being someone they’re not.

The inversion of the coldness of the devil as opposed to the intensity of the flames plays off of the title. It’s a circus — a long-standing tradition of reversing traditional values — of Paradise. What should be one of the most sublime feelings is, instead, a vacuum of suffering and delusion. Love burns, but sometimes it’s not a assuaging kind.

This shows the trickster aspect to the devil. In the West, we’re so used to the Puritanical version of a being so powerful that he is at odds with God, causing people to sin, that we forget most of the world has a slightly more sympathetic viewpoint, in which the devil is more of a rascal, running around, subverting people’s beliefs only to show them the ridiculousness of their own actions. Sometimes, the devil can do some good, by being bad, as we learned from our Faust. An awesome book about said Devil is the trilogy by Jeffrey Burton Russell, beginning with the excellent Devil: Perceptions of Evil from Antiquity to Primitive Christianity.

I read all three when writing my thesis, along with several other tomes about the different aspects that the devil has played throughout his varied career. I had to convince the librarian checking me out that I wasn’t in a cult.

This trickster though, can take love and subvert it into something harmful. Are there lessons to be learned from such a thing? If we can roll ourselves over, yes.

Shearwater

I got into Shearwater by listening to other folk/indie rock bands like Other Lives, The Boxer Rebellion, and Okkervill River. Incidentally enough, some of Shearwater’s members originally met from Okkervill River, which, incidentally enough, gets its name from the eponymous short story by Tatyana Tolstaya.

(Which means that everything can be related to Russian Literature! Tatyana Tolstaya is the grandaughter of the famous Tolstoi — not the War and Peace one, but rather, the Aelita one — and her novel The Slynx is on my very long and extensive to-read list. She’s considered a great contemporary Russian novelist, alongside Viktor Pelevin (The Sacred Book of the Werewolf), Boris Akunin (the Erast Fandorin series), Sergei Lukanyenko (author of the Night Watch novels that got turned into the rather fantastic movies directed by Timur Bekmambetov and starring the heart-throbby and talented Konstantin Khabensky) and I’ll personally add Svetlana Martynchik, who writes under the pseudonym Max Frei (The Labyrinth of Echo series), to that list as well. Basically this is a long side-note to tell you to read more Russian lit. Not all of it is depressing stuff from the 19th and 20th centuries!)

“Insolence,” is my favorite off of their album Animal Joy released 2012 by Sub Pop.

I like the sweetness of the main singer’s voice and the clarity in his tone. The simplicity of the acoustic guitars and piano often belie the creeping complexity that forceful percussion and quiet strings lend to the latter parts of the songs. Most start out subtle and become progressively more and more layered. It’s a beautiful album, but still a little weak in terms of memorability. I look forward to listening to more from them. Their second should be coming out this fall.

Also, they say the word chrysalis in my favorite song listed above. I have a short story *cough cough* published by Devilfish Review named the same thing. Huh.

“Oblivion” by Patrick Wolf

Being a fan as I am of both idiomatic expressions and fine music, I decided to kill two birds with one youtube video and present my song obsession of the week and talk about the new novel in my life. First, I’ll let the awesome Patrick Wolf take the stage:

Followed the hunt far as I could
Through desert weathers, petrified wood
And I took one shot in the dark
Backfired the bullet silver to heart

First of all, one of my very favorite movies is the French Le Pacte des Loups or, The Brotherhood of the Wolf staring my girly crush, Monica Bellucci*. (Also, The Chairman from Iron Chef colon America is in it, but in his most bad-ass way as Mani. Interestingly enough, Mani is the name of the Norse god of the moon and this movie has somewhat to do with the werewolf mythos.) This song reminds me of that movie. And really has nothing else to do with this post because, unlike some writers, I don’t get paid by the word.

There’s a sense of urgency in the song as he struggles with problems with the eternal struggle — “war” — against his father, quite possibly as a prodigal son and strays between needing to be alone, to forge his own path, and the recklessness of charging head first into that “darkness deep down” inside of everyone.

Every story ever written is about one of two things at its core: saving a prostitute or rebelling against a father figure. Either way, it’s about one’s path through life, through the “hunt,” in becoming a complete person and figuring out a place in life. Some people do this by trying to save those who have fallen and others do it by destroying the thing that created them in the first place.

The narrator in this song is lost in the “desert” of his mind, surrounded by “petrified wood,” symbolic of that moment of petrification when the path is lost and the darkness in each of us begins to rise. Which is, really, what this whole song is about: the self-destructive want to become part of oblivion instead of facing the hardness of life. He sings, “I do not fear oblivion” (with a flourish with one “oblivion” that makes me think of a bullfighter, but that’s another story), but is this true courage or a rejection of life?

The non-vampire novel (or the ne-v-en, as I call it), is all kinds of about this. Well, really there’s a place in it called The Void, which is kind of a synonym for Oblivion, right?

Achnyway, Serafina, the Main Character, and Kade, the Love Interest, are both what I am calling Roamers.** They’re kids who develop the ability to take stuff apart with their minds around the age of ten. In healthy Roamers like Kade, this ability eventually allows them to open portals into the land tentatively called Hypnos, or the liminal space between Life and Death, otherwise known as Sleep. In girls, this power makes them Pariahs, or Roamers who are unable to control their breaky-apart powers and open portals into the Void, the thing between the three levels of Life, Sleep, and Death.

Evil Villain, tentatively called Thanatos, is using Serafina and her universe-tearing stare to weaken the boundaries so that she can come through Death and reign over Earth, or somesuch. I’m really not there yet.

Regardless, this Void routinely sucks people into it either through their dreams or because they’re a character I’ve introduced just so they can die*** or because it’s a metaphor for growing up, which is kind of what Patrick Wolf is talking about here. Serafina is, on some scale, a bit like me — as is every main character written by every author ever — and sort of a cathartic way for me to deal with my own issues of growing up, becoming an adult, asploding evil NKVD agents, and the tendency for all of us to want to destroy or hurt ourselves.

Oh, and if Serafina and Kade touch, the universe might implode. So it also deals with my issues about relationships just a wee bit.

*I don’t know why, but I keep on linking to The Matrix which isn’t bad, but I refuse to believe the last two movies exist, save for this scene, which is still pretty ridiculous.

**I’ve been giving co-workers the play-by-play of what I’ve been writing throughout November and every time I get into it, I start sounding like Bill Paxton from Aliens. Mostly.

***Me: “It’s been twenty pages. Have I killed anyone yet? No? Well, let’s go on over to babynames.com, pick out a random letter and kill someone off!” *rubs hands like a mustache-twirling villain tying someone to a train track*

“Star-Crossed Lovers” by De/Vision

I figured the theme of the week these two posts should be lovers, so I’m going to give you a visual/auditory synthesis of epic proportions! Last post we talked about Plath’s poem that deals with inverted love and the benefits and dangers thereof. This post, we’re listening to a Germanic synth-pop/darkwave interpretation of a Shakespeare classic!

(Yes, this is what being in my brain is like. If you’d like an even broader example I will direct you to my notes that I wrote at 3 this morning for short story ideas: Hates colors in LL Bean — replace w/ Raskolnikov’s yellow, Prynne scarlet, etc. Hates mirrors — sister Frankensteins bikini bodies like he paper maches literature. Likes dulling of darkness like B&W TV — hates when TV goes off — reflection, darkness for ppl inside TV. It makes vaguely more sense to me than you, but, there you go.)

This song plods along, building tension, scratching out a melody before going back to a simplistic metronome-like piano rift until the climax and eventual denouement. And boy, howdy, does this song deliver. There are two things that always get me with songs: an awesome bass line and grungy, crunchy percussion.

Don’t lose your heart
We’re made of sterner stuff
We like a bit of rough
Nothing in this world
Can keep me away from you
Lights up the night like you do

Life goes on
It holds no fear for us
Taking the smooth with the rough
Everything seems familiar
Weightless like a dream
Sometimes I can’t even feel

Nothing too amazing in the lyrics here, but, remember this is the same country that gave us “Du Hast,” so you have to be patient. There’s a creeping sense of an unhealthy relationship dynamic here, just like the bottom-of-the-wheel, luckless chap whose passion is turned against him in Plath’s poem. In the song, he’s a controlling, Sting-listening creeper whose entire existence is pivoted on the object of his devotion, and he sees himself as a soldier-of-fortune, a fatalistic man who makes his universe die around him just so he can show how great his love is.

They are, to his mind, “star-crossed lovers / like no others.” He will make her his possession* until there’s nothing left of her; her “heart,” her light, even her dreams are “familiar” because he’s made them for her. He’s unable to anything else because, like Leo in Inception, he can’t tell what is his own creation and what is merely reality, and even if he did, it wouldn’t matter. This is Romeo and Juliet today because there’s no way in hell any parent would allow their 14-year-old daughter to run off with some Don Juan who may or may not be a ladykiller. Shortest play, ever.

Love and what it does to people, good and bad, is obviously a universal theme in poems, songs, *ahem* novels about vampires, but I tend to like the somewhat inching, lurking covetous lust that suffocates all else until love is perverted into a mockery of its true form.

No, I’ve had healthy relationships with all of my boyfriends. Why do you ask?

Also: naked ladies. Your argument is invalid. Is it me, or does that hand on the left there look like it belongs to someone else?

*My father upon listening to Death Cab for Cutie’s “I Will Possess Your Heart”: “Ooh, it’s the stalker song!”

“In Exile” by Lisa Gerrard and “The Proximity of Death (Blue Eyed Boy)” by Jordan Reyne

It’s almost Monday, right? Not that I’ve been sticking to the Muscial Mondays all too vigorously as of late, but as a friend (hi, Jessica!) once pointed out, she keeps tabs on my musical tastes and enjoys my recommendations. Which is really just a way of me saying I’m flattered that many people think it’s okay to bribe someone in order to destroy American Idol forever so no one has to be subjected to Daughtry ever again I can spice up music collections.

Lisa Gerrard is the lucky lady tonight and the song “In Exile” is off of her second solo album The Silver Tree. (The cover, to me, looks like the tree o’ dead bodies in 300, but that just makes her more awesome.) I say solo album because Ms. Gerrard likes to collaborate and was a founding member of Dead Can Dance, one of my favorite bands in the darkwave/dream pop/goth rock genre. Which is more impressive than that sounds. Most people, however, will recognize her voice from the vast amount of soundtrack collaboration she’s done, and most notably, the theme to Gladiator. (And if there’s one thing I love, it’s stamping my toilet with cleaners that turns the water blue. And if there are two things I love, it’s stamping my toilet with cleaners that turns the water blue and crazy socks. And if there are three things I love, it’s those two and movies where ‘British’ is synonymous with Greek, Roman, or my personal favorite, Bad Guy.)

Now, usually I take a few moments to post some lyrics and sort of analyze a deeper meaning to the song, but, alas, since Ms. Gerrard sings in many languages, simple vocalizations, and even in an idioglossia, I can’t do that here. Or, I could try and get a little something like:

Ohhhhouyeeeeeee ayiiiii ieeeeeeee
Ummmmmmmmmmmm’aohhhhhhhh’aoouuuuu
Ohhh’aaaaaaaaa’a’a’a’a’a’a’a’aaa

And be like Professor Higgins. Or, rather, ‘Iggins. So, does that make me a misanthropic yet brilliant genius? Well, my right knee hurts

But, most of Ms. Gerrard’s stuff is melancholy, meditative and redemptive. Her deep range, searching vocals and glistening vibrato create a creeping, dark atmosphere of loss and heartbreak. There are rarely songs that can be classified as uplifting — at least, not without a bitterness to them, almost as if peace has finally come at last, but only at the cost of a greater sacrifice — and all invoke a deeper sense of longing for simpler existences and innocence.

Which is why I believe she fascinates me so; we can all understand an emotion like happiness. There are many times, even in my own life, when I’m happy without a particular reason in mind. But if I’m sad or despondent, I’m constantly searching for a reason and trying to rationalize it and break it into digestible and palatable chunks that are a mite more manageable. Anyone can be pitifully annoying and happy and write a song about it, but it takes real self-reflection, a deep ability to dive into depression and see what makes it tick in order to write a sad song. A sentiment, I believe, that testifies to why I love sad music so much here on the Songs to Die By hour.

And because I’m such a nice gal, I’m giving you a double dose of the depression! Since I can’t really analyze Ms. Gerrard any more than that, and certainly because I don’t want you to suffer from a lack of mysterious and depressing music, I give you Jordan Reyne! She’s from New Zealand and sings a lot about her homeland. She reminds me of Lisa Gerrard because of her voice, her strange arrangements, and even “The Keening Song” is in an idioglossia. Unfortunately, I can’t find that one on the tube of you, (but if you go to her website you can download much of her music and Dr. Kevorkian and the Suicide Machine or The Ironman is what I’m obsessed with now) so you get:

It’s an actual music video! When has that ever happened before? Never! Time to go call in my flying pig. His name is Harvey.

“Hooded Kiss” by Ben Christophers

I saw Imogen Heap a few weeks ago in concert and Ben Christophers was one of the opening bands. He’s a singer/songwriter type, which is something I usually loathe — here’s looking at you, Paolo Nutini, and for the last time, everything will not be all right if I find a new pair of shoes because I wear size 12 in women’s and do you know how hard it is to find cute pumps in that size? IMPOSSIBLE — but his clear, high voice, haunting and ethereal melodies and all-around glistening craftsmanship made me fall in love, which is something usually reserved for hunky actors playing vampires. (Not you, though, Ethan Hawke. Get lost.)

This is a live version of the song “Hooded Kiss” that I saw him perform and the entire theater was silent until he finished and then erupted into applause. It was one of the very few times when I was sad to see an opener leave the stage to allow the main act to play.*

A deep river flows of weathered sins and weathered souls
A kiss, a hooded kiss from the seeds of desire
So grief, heavenly grief, my love you’re bringing to me
But you’ve got shipwreckers eyes and all, a cutting stingray smile

First of all, I have a passion for anyone who can do something really well. (That’s a quote from The Master and Margarita. I should just give myself a nickel every time I mention that book in a day. I would be broke. And rich at the same time. Schroedinger’s Millionaire!) This includes, but is not limited to, people who can sing well and play the guitar well at the same time, men who can sing higher than I can,** and Rachel Weisz. Now, I’m not sure if Ben Christophers can juggle chainsaws, but he’s got two outta three. And two outta three ain’t bad.

Like The Builders and the Butchers, Ben Christopher’s self-titled album is littered with beautiful images that are steeped in symbolism. Any time a river is involved, I immediately think of Edgar Allan Poe and the sorrow and ever-marching erosion of memory that water, for him, represents. The inclusion of “weathered sins and weathered souls” in the “deep river” is like a lazy river for the damned, one that spirals around and around, not going anywhere, but like Lethe, seeps the memories from our veins until there’s nothing left but shells of what we once were.

It’s the “seed of desire” — or destruction, if you’re Hellboy or happen to have a right hand of doom — that first slip into sin that causes “heavenly grief” and the beginnings of the descent into damnation. Describing eyes as “shipwreckers” is one of the most poetic lines I’ve come across recently and the idea that someone’s stare can be as soul-crushing and self-destructive as something that can break a ship into dissembled parts — or, you know, Jaws — is a powerful and tempting lure into the darkness created by the monotony of the guitar part.

A hooded kiss is something secretive, a drifting into a furtive and illicit relationship that will end in nothing but a stinging sense of “lonely roads” and “sullen clouds.” And a mouth that delivers a hooded kiss can turn into a “cutting smile” just as quickly. Danger lurks but nothing can be done to stop the ship once it’s headed into the iceberg.

This song truly encapsulates my obsession of the week, but also is a delve into an emotion that’s rather important to my novel. In a lot of vampire novels, temptation is a salient theme, but I didn’t want to make Gwennie a steel-toed warrior who has the Iron Curtain for her will, but someone with major flaws who occasionally gives into temptation. This song is perfect for that slinky seductiveness that a person — or in Gwennie’s case, a bleeding jugular — wields as a weapon. It’s a continual power struggle of base desires against rationality and civility. And gore. Lots of it. Like, tons.

*It was not one of those times when Juliette and the Licks opened for Muse. In fact, we clapped the loudest when she said, “This is our last song!”

**I’m an alto, so this isn’t so very hard, but still rather impressive. My friends and I play the “Can I beat this dude up simply by listening to how girly he sounds?” game and the people I can totally beat up winners are Thom Yorke from Radiohead (I’m sure that’s how he got his wonky eye), Darren Hayes from Savage Garden, Brian Aubert from Silversun Pickups, and any dude who sings the melody in a barbershop quartet.