Copeland Week: Revisiting You Are My Sunshine

You-Are-My-Sunshine-cover

This piece is part four of what I’m calling “Copeland Week,” a look back at Copeland’s discography in preparation for the release of Ixora on November 24. Currently, I’m researching the narrativity of popular music, so I’m letting a lot of that line of thinking bleed into these blogs. 

Copeland’s progression over the course of its career is impressive not only because of the sheer increase in quality over the years (from an already fantastic starting point), but also because of the band’s ability to hang on to a core sound all the while, in such a way that the band who made Beneath Medicine Tree is clearly the same band who made You Are My Sunshine—the raw materials, the musical sensibilities, the distinctly Copeland fingerprint is never obscured or smudged, but refined. With each album, the band has come closer and closer to perfecting its sound. You Are My Sunshine, Copeland’s fourth full-length album, is, as of today, 13 November 2014, the best and most definitive representation of the band that is available to the general public. Consistently breathtaking, moving, and invigorating, You Are My Sunshine is the kind of album most bands never even get close to achieving.

You Are My Sunshine is the daytime to Eat, Sleep, Repeat’s nighttime, striking the absolute perfect balance between the intricacy of that album, the groove and intensity of In Motion, and the sheer emotional weight of Beneath Medicine Tree. All of this is encapsulated spectacularly in the album’s opening number (and my personal favorite Copeland song), “Should You Return.” Aaron Marsh’s opening vocal performance sounds otherworldly, the album’s first lines simultaneously immensely affective and abnormally ambiguous:

You see the night is all I have to make me feel,

And all I want is just a love to make it hurt.

Cause all I need is something fine to make me lose.

Now it’s a funny way I find myself with you.

You Are My Sunshine, as a whole, deals with understanding why we become the people we are. In “Should You Return,” the narrator considers what exactly drives him to do the things he does, love the people he loves, feel the way he feels. He searches for stability, for safety and self-assuredness, after the rug is pulled out from under him so many times. “Should You Return” is the sonic equivalent of planting two feet on the ground in the morning, stretching your arms, getting that one last yawn out, and facing the world. It moves slowly, softly at its outset, a playful bass line and sunny mellotron hum along as the narrator considers all of the concrete pieces of his life—the songs, the lover, the time he has—and attempts to link them together. The song pauses ever so slightly, falls to a dulcet flatland of sound…a deep breath before the curtains are thrown open, and the sun shines through the window as the song becomes thicker and thicker, more orchestral and surrounding and overwhelming as the truth is accepted, the situation clear—“If you’re unhappy still/I will be hanging on your line/should you return.” The narrator will wait for the one he loves—because his safety and his happiness lie with them, with the knowledge that he is doing everything he can to make his loved one content.

In the narrative sense, You Are My Sunshine is different from Copeland’s previous three albums in that the story being told has less to do with the narrator understanding himself and more to do with the narrator understanding the one he loves. In “The Grey Man,” the narrator seems to be advising the one he loves, who seems to have given up on themselves: “Don’t worry now, it’s all erased/burned to grey and white.” He reminds the other person, over and over, that no matter how vast the number of failures, they have to keep fighting for what will make them happy: “you’ve got to run right back to the start.” This song also introduces another trend that arises many more times over the course of You Are My Sunshine—the blurred lines of who exactly the “you” in the songs is addressing. In “The Grey Man,” the narrator switches back and forth, exchanging the “to the start” in the refrain with “to her arms” to perhaps refer to his female love. This multiplicity of “you” perhaps suggests that the narrator sees himself in the person he is addressing in the song, thus advising the other person just as much as he is advising himself.

This continues throughout the course of the album—he fears the progress of the other person is stalled in the upward slithering “Good Morning Fire Eater,” perhaps reminded of a time (maybe even documented in the earlier three Copeland albums) when he himself felt stuck in recoil: “I’m afraid you’ve stopped to lick your wounds/dear, do you know;” remembers fever dreams and willful ignorance of problems as he is reminded of them in his love in “Chin Up:” “watching a strange show/play out in your head/but you were moving somehow.”

The true profession of love comes in the form of the swirling crescendo of “On The Safest Ledge,” in which the narrator actively promises the one he loves that he will be there for them, that he understands them and will do his best to make everything better: “Could you be happy to fall like a stone/if you’d land right here safe in my arms?” Its tentative in the way it’s proposed, but slowly becomes more self-assured as the chorus becomes more grandiose. The wall of sound comes down abruptly at the end of the song, and Marsh leaves us with an unaccompanied “it’s fine,” as if the conviction of the narrator in his ability to bear the weight of his loved one’s troubles is diminished in the final moment. This comes through in “Not Allowed” in which the communion is found to be uneven: “you’re not allowed to feel nothing…I’m not allowed to be sad.” The basis for the relationship falls apart in a flash.

“Strange and Unprepared” finds the narrator lonely—the song is a bare-bones combination of Marsh and a piano. In the song, the narrator comes to understand that another person’s experiences cannot simply be explained in terms of his own—“you never feel good or bad, only strange and unprepared/’cause I never see you coming or you leaving.” He comes to realize that he can never fully understand a situation that he is not in himself, can never fully know what it’s like to live through an experience that is not his own. In saying he understands the problems his loved one is encountering, he assumed that he was ahead of the game, that because he had been through something similar he knows how it all will end, knows the “answers” to everything. In “Strange and Unprepared,” he realizes that he was wrong in this. He comes to understand that he cannot magically solve another person’s problems; all he can really do is be there to support them through it. But he laments that he has realized this too late to save the relationship he had (“but now we’ll always never know…”).

The album closes with “Not So Tough Found Out,” a ten-minute epic—the mountains and valleys of the song repeated as consistently as the lyrical content, all of the same elements coming around again in a natural, patient progression resembling déjà vu. All of the lessons that the narrator learns, that we all learn, must arise from moments of wrongness. In mistake and failure, we become stronger, smarter, and more mature. It will happen again and again, continuously throughout our lives. Because of this, we can never assume that we know everything, that we have it all figured out. In hindsight, it seems simple, the lessons we learn (“not so tough, found out”), but then we hit another roadblock, stumble again (“not so strong, lost out”) and have to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and start over and not forget what we’ve learned (“twice as sweet, come round”). As we go through all of this, we hold onto the memories of the things that made us feel safe and happy…use all of our wisdom to get ourselves back to that feeling (“feels so warm, sun fire”). Marsh, through all of this, is calm, monotoned, understated—the narrator accepts all of this as the nature of life, of growing up. He lets the cycle take its course, becoming a little bit stronger each time he rises and falls. He waits to feel the sunshine once again.

Following up a masterpiece like You Are My Sunshine is a daunting task—it was incredibly justified for Copeland to let its story rest here for six long years. The anticipation and bar set for Ixora is astronomical, but if anyone can produce a worthy fifth chapter to an already incredible catalog of work, it’s this band. Who knows, Copeland might even best itself once again.

Copeland’s first album since 2008, Ixora, comes out November 24. iTunes pre-order.

http://www.rdio.com/artist/Copeland/album/You_Are_My_Sunshine/

Copeland Week: Revisiting Eat, Sleep, Repeat

Copeland-Eat-Sleep-Repeat-Vinyl

This piece is part three of what I’m calling “Copeland Week,” a look back at Copeland’s discography in preparation for the release of Ixora on November 24. Currently, I’m researching the narrativity of popular music, so I’m letting a lot of that line of thinking bleed into these blogs. 

Even if “Sleep” was the fever dream of In Motion, it was still only a premonition of darker, more troubled dreams to come. When Eat, Sleep, Repeat came out in 2006, it was Copeland’s most expansive, intricate, and wonderfully performed record yet. A beautiful, haunting dirge into the mind of a troubled lovelorn sleeper, Eat, Sleep, Repeat continues the story of Copeland with more resonance, more wit, and more conviction than ever before in the band’s career.

The dreamy (or perhaps even nightmarish) atmosphere of Eat, Sleep, Repeat is introduced in the form of “Where’s My Head,” with a singular, defined yet mellow xylophone backbone. The song evokes the feeling of barely knowing if you’re dreaming, noticing the little, strange compulsions (“I just woke to eat some chocolate and go straight back to bed”), and the small things you’re experiencing that just don’t seem quite right (“the only chance that I have tonight/is if something I that ate made my dreams not right”). From this point on throughout the course of Eat, Sleep, Repeat, the narrator seems just on the line between waking life and sleep—often times unsure of what state he’s actually in.

The title track seems to make clear what’s troubling our narrator: “it occurred to me at once/that love could be a great illusion…that love gets everything it asks for” In the song, the narrator tosses and turns as he considers the subject of love, to the tune of understated synthesizers and lush, enveloping post-rock guitars. He appears to be stuck in a sort of damaged relationship, and now, in the unexpected clarity of the middle of the night, he is realizing why—“all this time you didn’t know love.” The interesting thing here is the sort of didactic tone taken in these lines, in continuation of the “fall in love and hold nothing back” portion of In Motion’s closing track. The growth in knowledge and experience is evident over the course of Copeland’s catalog.

The narrator’s situation is made even more transparent in “Control Freak,” a steadier track in which the narrator is cognizant of his waking state, and trying to make sense of his dreams: “and when I fell asleep, it plagued my dreams/and 30 bits of glass had become my teeth.” The chorus repeats “you’re freaking me out/and I could run like a coward for the door/but I’ll never get out/you’re freaking me out,” The narrator feels trapped here, but the song itself is sober—even it’s apex is in the form of a forceful but still calm falsetto delivery from Marsh and a near wistful string section. This is not a moment of panic, but a moment of lucidity—the narrator has felt like this for some time, but he is just now realizing it.

The lines between asleep and awake are blurred and defined by the music of the songs. Whereas the waking “Control Freak” is more upbeat, the keys more thickly struck, “The Last Time You Saw Dorie” is nearly spectral sounding—the music almost hidden behind a filter of dreaminess, with a multilayered Marsh poking through after an extended intro, the music unreactive to his entrance into the song. Meanwhile, “Love Affair” seems to fall somewhere in-between—with dream-like images (“she’d lie on her bed/and stare into the harsh white light”) contrasting with more direct, repeated pleas—as if the narrator is speaking in his sleep, harrowed over this feeling of being controlled, stuck: “just let me run where I want to run.”

The interesting thing about Eat, Sleep, Repeat in comparison to In Motion and Beneath Medicine Tree is that none of these problems are necessarily resolved by the album’s end—a clear climax is not apparent, and the album goes for a more resonant ending in the form of the magnificent “When You Thought You’d Never Stand Out.” The album’s final track led in by an airy piano line, one which sounds almost like a morning bell. As the narrator slowly rises from sleep, he begins to understand what he must do to be happy, thinking of the control he had in “other lives,” in which it was he who “wrote the plotline.” As the song goes on, the layers of piano, drums, vocals, and guitars grow and expand as the narrator remembers his childhood and his feelings of difference and inadequacy, when all he wanted was to enjoy the youthful time he had left: “In younger days/I’m stealing bases while my mother prays/and dreading to wake/longing for one more play.” As another, female vocalist comes in, the narrator pictures the difficulties he will have in severing his ties with those who have made him feel badly about himself, have caused him this night of fever dreaming, reminding him of the time when they rescued him from isolation—“didn’t I see you when you thought you’d never stand out.” All the while, Marsh repeats “they’re gonna come to light tonight,” reminding himself of the happiness he pictured, and how imperative it is that he not suppress his desires because he is afraid to stand up for himself.

This confrontation does not occur within the narrative of the album, but as the music dissolves and we’re left with just the vocal refrains, it feels as if the narrator has risen from submission, that he realizes that all of these worries and solutions and problems he envisioned in his nightmarish night are very real, and that he must now deal with them in the light of day. We are left to ponder what action narrator will take.

Copeland’s first album since 2008, Ixora, comes out November 24. iTunes pre-order.

Copeland Week: Revisiting In Motion 

In-Motion

This piece is part two of what I’m calling “Copeland Week,” a look back at Copeland’s discography in preparation for the release of Ixora on November 24. Currently, I’m researching the narrativity of popular music, so I’m letting a lot of that line of thinking bleed into these blogs. 

In Motion is a more than appropriate title for Copeland’s second album. Everything about the record is just kinetic—emotionally and physically. In comparison to Beneath Medicine Tree, In Motion just feels more alive—it’s more immediate, better produced, and perhaps even more emotionally charged than its predecessor.

And album opener “No One Really Wins” encapsulates all of this in one exceptional pop-rock tune. In comparison to Medicine Tree’s opener, “Brightest,” “No One Really Wins” is a complete turn-around, with an absolutely menacing guitar showing more teeth than any Copeland song ever has. But the song is still distinctly Copeland, rising from an almost garage rock verse into a pristine, clear, and rhythmic chorus of “it’s a fight between my heart and mind, no one really wins this time.” If In Motion is a continuation of the story began by Medicine Tree, then it’s clear that the very narrator who previously broke out of his cycle of regret and sadness after a recent loss is once again in the throes of a new entanglement—and posed with yet another dilemma that everyone encounters as they come of age: the choice between what is smart and what is true to oneself. The album, taken as a whole, seems to ponder this choice over the course of its ten songs, the angry frustration of “No One Really Wins” providing the backbone for the following onslaught of debate, characterized by desperation, exasperation, and eventual clarity.

This theme of choice is most clearly carried out in track two, “Choose The One Who Loves You More,” a groovy track in which the narrator is preoccupied with a decision they must make—“rain, rain, rain on my mind.” At the end of the song, Marsh repeats, as if the narrator is speaking to himself, planning ahead for when someone discovers his “secret life,” “when they come knocking on your heart’s door/choose the one who loves you more.” The narrator is thinking vehemently about his situation, breaking down every possible outcome of his dilemma, with guest vocalists chiming in to signify interjecting thoughts.

And here we have the major flaw of In Motion’s protagonist. He’s stuck in his head, he can’t stop deconstructing his situations, no mater how blissful, filled with love, difficult, or simple they may be. And because of this, he’s restless—he tosses and turns in “Sleep” over mellow, yet jaunty keys and distant sounding, loose but constant guitar. The song only has two lines that aren’t in question form: “I wanna see your hairline and cheekbones/your red lips on your cell phone.” The narrator knows what he wants, but consistently talks himself out of the possibility, questioning to death the will of his romantic interest. Marsh’s melodic “ahh’s” here are exasperated and exhausted—as if the half-dreaming narrator in the song is yelling out in frustration but finds himself muffled by the power of sleep.

After this tendency to overthink begins to actively impede on the narrator’s love life, as exemplified by the pleading “Don’t Slow Down,” which thrives on contradictions (“you move way too fast/but don’t slow down”), In Motion approaches its climactic moment. Like Beneath Medicine Tree’s one-two punch of “When Paula Sparks” and “California,” In Motion’s major thematic summit comes in the form of two songs—“Love Is A Fast Song” and “You Have My Attention.” The former returns to the sinister, frustrated sound of “No One Really Wins,” but escapes it in it’s cathartic chorus—Marsh’s “whoa’s” leading the way as the drums and guitars alternate between a steady, full rising sound and a propulsive chugging. “My heart is in motion,” Marsh sings forcefully—here, the focus has shifted from thinking to feeling. This shift is apparent in the following, euphoric “You Have My Attention,” in which the reverie of layered “ooh’s” and acoustic strumming is broken as the tempo increases and multiple, sweeping guitars build up and up and Marsh yells, “You have my attention.” Finally, the narrator has escaped his head, and in the “fight between my heart and mind,” the heart, in this moment, reigns supreme.

The succeeding songs, “You Love To Sing,” and “Hold Nothing Back,” sound unburdened compared to the earlier songs on the record, more sweeping or smiling and less crunching or teeth grinding overall. “Hold Nothing Back” is somber but self-assured—perhaps this love has ended or is in trouble, but the narrator has grown to understand what is important to him. He need no longer to exclaim it from the rooftops—all of the frustration and all of the restless dreams lead to a simple way of life, a sober affirmation: “if you fall in love/fall in love and hold nothing back.”

In Motion is the most transitional album in Copeland’s catalog, combining the band’s purgative pop-rock tendencies with a more reserved, atmospheric, and textured sound that would be further explored in subsequent records. In Motion is the best possible combination of the two sides of Copeland—a record that must have sat on a precarious peak of anticipation at the time of its release in 2005, a signal of true brilliance to come.

http://www.rdio.com/artist/Copeland/album/In_Motion/

Copeland’s first album since 2008, Ixora, comes out November 24. iTunes pre-order.

Copeland Week: Revisiting Beneath Medicine Tree

Beneath__17156_zoom

This piece is part one of what I’m calling “Copeland Week,” a look back at Copeland’s discography in preparation for the release of Ixora on November 24. Currently, I’m researching the narrativity of popular music, so I’m letting a lot of that line of thinking bleed into these blogs. 

It is undeniable that the Florida-native Copeland has come incredibly far in its four (soon to be five)-album career span. From straightforward but delicate pop-rock anthems to lush, nuanced musical palates, hospital beds and fields of white flowers to safe ledges and airplanes—Copeland’s story has flourished patiently and surely…each chapter distinctly more interesting and impressive than the last; each chapter representing another step in the trek towards adulthood, towards a kind of self-actualization slowly coming to fruition in musical evolution and refinement.

This story begins with tragedy. Beneath Medicine Tree, released in 2003, runs the gamut of formative devastation—from death in the family to loss of love, and all of the regret and prevailing vitality that shines through it all, Beneath Medicine Tree is the sound of approaching adolescence.

Although Medicine Tree is Copeland’s least accomplished work, it still radiates beauty, and sets the scene perfectly for what was to come over the next ten years of the band’s career. Opener “Brightest” is the ideal introduction to Aaron Marsh’s soft, effortlessly evocative vocal style, taking charge over a lonely piano line. Isolated and melancholy in its naiveté and nostalgia, Marsh pines in regret: “I just know that she warms my heart/ and knows what all my imperfections are.” Marsh’s smooth glide into falsetto on the “she” is equally spectral and devastating, indicating along with the present tense a lasting romantic connection in contrast to the past tensed following lines: “she said that I was the brightest little firefly in her jar.” Was. And this is how Beneath Medicine Tree operates as a whole—regretting moments and feelings and loved ones passed in a struggle to come to terms with the inevitable fleetingness of certain aspects of life in general.

In our younger years (which I’ve yet to escape, I know), overcoming our personal tragedies seems impossible—it’s impossible for us to just let go of some of these lost feelings, whether they pass away across time, distance, or worlds. One of the best parts of Beneath Medicine Tree is its illustration of the final, last cathartic moment we all must finally meet in order for us to move on to new, probably better portions of our lives. The album’s centerpieces, “When Paula Sparks” and “California,” are climactic in this way—both play off of each other and mutually build up to an energetic and musically moving moment in which acceptance of these feelings of desperation in the wake of loss is reached in the form of a melodic pronouncement of “ever since you went away…I miss you more every day” in “Paula,” and a wordless release in “California’s” extended, cleansing outro.

The remainder of the album stays true to this release in its final songs. “Coffee” (a personal favorite of mine) and “Walking Downtown” (a personal favorite of nobody’s except for my sister) convey a sort of in-the-moment attitude not apparent in the album’s preceding tracks. “Coffee” is a rolling, meandering song in which Marsh’s vocal performance is as wistful as the lyrics and music, a sort of smirking, content attitude of “let’s-see-where-the-night-takes-us” present in the rolling, coffee shop-ready (ahem) drum line and delivery of “if it’s not too late for coffee, I’ll be at your place in ten/ we’ll hit that all-night diner, and then we’ll see…” That we’ll see is explained in the following “Walking Downtown,” the most upbeat and immediate song on Medicine Tree, in which the night becomes memorable for the narrator and company. After all of the caffeine consumed in “Coffee,” “Walking Downtown” sounds all hopped up, excited to be in the moment, as crashing, relatively loud guitars accompany a whooping yell of “we were walking downtown!” An excitement akin to spending a night out with close friends or family—of being in that moment and knowing you’re happier than you’ve been in a long time, and knowing that you won’t forget this instance of soft epiphany.

The album’s closing “When Finally Set Free” is the resonant aftermath of that evening, an understanding that the good feeling is here for now—but the hardship and the difficulty that comes with being alive will return in greater numbers. A quieter, resonant moment on Copeland’s first album, “When Finally Set Free” seems to rise and rise as the repeated line burns into remembrance—a lesson all adults will learn in time: “Feel the pain, teaching us how much more we can take…we have time to start all over again.” And just as the song seems to be inching toward the kind of climactic moment heard in “When Paula Sparks” and “California,” all of the orchestral elements die away and we are left with an acoustic guitar line just as lonely as the piano at the beginning of “Brightest.” The sound of a smile on the narrator’s face, looking back at all they’ve been through, and a sigh of momentary accomplishment in their ability to overcome it all, and how small it all seems in hindsight. The atmosphere and restraint exhibited on “When Finally Set Free” give insight to the band’s future output—a fitting conclusion for an album that yearns to escape the past and look forward to what may come next.

http://www.rdio.com/artist/Copeland/album/Beneath_Medicine_Tree_2/

Copeland’s first album since 2008, Ixora, comes out November 24. iTunes pre-order.