Copeland- Ixora

ixora

I stepped outside my front door into the misting Oxford air, turned swiftly left and looked out across the aged urban landscape. The Christmas decorations were strung up and ready to go but not yet lit—winter was coming quickly, but hadn’t quite arrived. The transition was consuming and overwhelming in scope, as the days became greyer and greyer and the nights began to arrive alarmingly early. The air was so much colder than my Florida-trained lungs were used to harnessing, it expired like smoke into the gloomy early-onset afternoon sky.

In my ears, the isolated, ethereal harmonies and delicately plucked acoustic guitars of “Have I Always Loved You,” mirror the feeling of oncoming freeze. The song is the first on Ixora, the first album from my fellow Florida natives in Copeland since 2008. It accompanies this exit from my apartment for what seems like the billionth time—the sonic equivalent to the first real fall I’ve fully experienced since I was very small. “Have I Always Loved You” begins Copeland’s anticipated fifth outing with astounding vulnerability and fragility from a band whose increasing vulnerability and fragility in the later years of its career have turned it from a great band into an amazing band. As the wind blows my cheeks raw and fills my eyes with liquid, Ixora exudes the beauty of the quickly darkening afternoons of early winter days.

That is, Ixora perfectly represents sonically the feeling of being quietly on the edge of something. Winter so close you can taste it. Love so close you can touch it. Happiness right before your eyes. But still just beyond your reach. Ixora is simultaneously full and sparse, quiet and loud, composed and uncertain—it’s an unbelievable listen from a band who, to date, has yet to fail at besting itself, at creating the absolute best iteration if its sound without losing what made it special in the first place.

“Disjointed” is the perfect representation of this, the clearest progression from 2008’s You Are My Sunshine, while at the same time bringing in the new pillars of Copeland’s songwriting that come into play on Ixora—the traditional slowly unfolding crescendos and pristinely delivered lovelorn lines (“is this the sweetest song I’ve ever heard/you’re singing in your native tongue”) are merged with icy electronics and an undeniable groove. The rest of the album teeters on either side while remaining impeccably uniform all the while. “I Can Make You Feel Young Again” and “Like A Lie” feed on this sense of quiet groove while “Erase” and “Ordinary” deliver the most distinct and fantastic versions of Copeland songs in the band’s discography, proving that they do what they do better than anyone else.

“Erase” is particularly enthralling, its scope gradually blossoming from a lonely piano ballad into an enveloping orchestral affair, with lead singer Aaron Marsh hitting his most haunting falsetto notes just at the most poignant moment, as the orchestra recedes for just a second: “and I can’t help this awful feeling that I can’t erase you.” The silence is washed away in one of the few “crashing” moments on Ixora, as these words are lost among the currents of quivering strings and swirling guitars. “Erase” is a marked accomplishment from an already accomplished band—and it speaks to Ixora’s quality that it never seems to overshadow or feel out-of-place among the rest of the nine songs.

Ixora is quiet devastation, the dull panic of an existentially burdened winter nights. It ebbs and flows but rarely explodes, and its most heartbreaking moments are simultaneously its most relaxing. Take the penultimate “World Turn,” an early Bon Iver-esque reverie that seems to live in a mostly empty, slightly echo-y room with a relaxed Marsh and a causally strummed acoustic guitar. The lyrics reflect this, a wish for quiet isolation in a moment when the everyday motions of your life just seem far too much to deal with: “Now you can feel the world move slow/if you lay down on your back and wait/and suddenly you’re home.” Just as the music lures the listener into serenity, a sleepily performed saxophone emerges but does not startle—instead, it quietly changes the identity of the song from something simply relaxing into something profound. A soft, but important stirring, an unreactive unhinging of everything that’s kept you sane…and a silent struggle to pull it all back together, eyes still closed, as the sax recedes and the song returns to its original state.

Ixora is sad but not hopeless—it’s a representation of the idea that everything in your life can seem to be just perfect and can even actually be going really well, but that doesn’t mean that you’re not still plagued by all of the same insecurities and thorns that have followed you all your life. It’s about realizing that all of the bad in your life will never truly disappear; about clinging to the things that make it all feel better, if only for a moment, whether it be a loved one (“in her arms you will never starve/you will never freeze/and when the world is hard/you can fall asleep there”), an imagined happy place (“a lavender hillside in the sun”), or anything. It’s about not running from these things in search of a nonexistent place where all of the bad stuff is gone (“what if you can’t turn back when you’re finally tired of running?”). It’s about letting yourself be comforted, even if you think you don’t deserve it.

And one of the reasons why Ixora is so amazing is because it can do some of that comforting, it can pull you under with the spectral calm of “Like a Lie” or the full synth underbelly and call-response of “Chiromancer.” Ixora is paradoxically haunting and reassuring—and this is precisely why it is so stunning. On my walks through Oxford with the album, I was simultaneously happier than I had ever been in my entire life and panicked at the implications of that fact. How I may never return to the place I’ve grown to love once I leave in two weeks, or how I may indeed return or find somewhere else that I love and have to be far away from the people I care about. How I feel better than I’ve ever felt here, how much I want that feeling to stay, and how much I fear it won’t. Ixora marks this point of confusion and uncertainty in an astounding fashion. It’s the kind of album that gracefully but surely sinks into your life. It’s the album I needed to hear this year more than any other—and one I’m sure I’ll reach for and need for years to come.

http://rd.io/x/QQ-r8CIRfDY/

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.

Futures and I

Futures Cropped

One of the most common responses I’ve seen in my six or seven years of consistently reading music writing is the legendary, emphatic you’re so biased.

It’s also a pillar of one of the most confounding ideologies I’ve ever encountered when it comes to discussions in musical communities. What does it mean to be “biased” when reviewing an album? When talking about music? Why on earth should a writer deny in their writing the very attributes of the music that drew them to the art in the first place? Is a music writer forever doomed to be dishonest in the endless pursuit to be, ugh, objective in music reviewing and writing?

This last week, I’ve been looking a lot at the differences between the indie music created in the 1980s and the music created now. A lot of the indie music in the 80s had a way of being loosely performed—that is, the skill of the musician was not as important as the projection of authenticity. Take, for example, Beat Happening’s 1986 self-titled debut. In an objective light, the album simply shows that the members of Beat Happening had a lot of growing to do…the lyrics were simple, the vocals were flat, and the album itself sounds like it was recorded in a small cave with a hand-held tape recorder. All of this is true—but objectivity doesn’t explain why Beat Happening is a damn enjoyable record. That is explained by something more than the “art itself,” inspected in a vacuum, can ever reflect. Beat Happening is enjoyable and wonderful because it’s damn honest. A messy, poorly recorded piece of work like Beat Happening is authentic because it makes clear all that the band cared about while creating it was their commitment to the craft. Their limited funds and resources were drained in the effort to make the album, and for that reason the authenticity of the piece is clear when listening to the album. It’s fun, simple, and honest—and it became important to people because of all this. It became important because people cared about it, and because of all the changing, the growing up, the heartbreak, and the happiness that would eventually be attached to it—attributes that make it more important than any objective lens could ever reveal.

This is want I want to see when I read a piece about music. I find that, as I’ve grown older, I don’t so much like the album reviews and music pieces that aim to be “even handed” or “subjective” as much as I like the ones that openly and unabashedly display the effects that the music had on them on a personal level. That’s the most exciting thing. Did this beautifully produced, tightly performed, technically amazing record fly right by you? Or did Beat Happening change your life?

To hell with “objectivity,” I want honesty.

Here’s the honest to god truth about Jimmy Eat World’s 2004 album Futures: it changed my life. It continues to change my life every single time I turn it on. That’s what matters, that’s why music matters—because, truthfully, every album has something to make it appealing to someone. A hook, an obscurity, a little something that says buy me—no matter what genre or label or lack thereof. But, not every album has what Futures has. Every album has a reason for it to sell 500,000 copies, but very few a have the ability to become such an important part of somebody’s life. Perhaps it’s ineffable, but Futures is an album that means everything to so many people, even ten years after it first hit their ears.

Or six years, as it has now been for me. But that’s been more than long enough for me to understand that this is music that will always have a place in my life. The songs may change in meaning as I grow older, as they have since 2008, but they’ll always have that core…something to them that I’ll always cling to.

And the meanings and the memories I’ve attached to these 11 songs have changed plenty over the last six years. ‘The World You Love,” for me, embodies an experience from only eight months ago—the night I put my intoxicated friends to bed, sprawled across my living room floor in the very first hours of 2014, the first time we’d all been together in eighteen months (I fell asleep with my friends around me/only place I know I feel safe). Just days ago, while listening to “Work” as I walked through Oxford (I’m now three weeks into the term I’m spending here), I thought of the independence and the chance to create my own life that I had wanted for so long to the tune of this song. And I realized that the experience I’m having here now is the beginning of all that for me. I’ve never smiled so wide in my life.

Then again, maybe the songs don’t change as much as I think they do. “Futures” has always been that sonic step forward, that accompaniment to the very same motivation that has allowed me to take some sort of control of my life. “Polaris” has always been the midnight drive song, the recording I’ve blown my voice out to more than any other—this cathartic moment shattering the emotional glass ceiling every last time:

I’m done, there’s nothing left to show,
Try but can’t let go.
Are you happy where you’re standing still?
Do you really want the sugar pill?
I’ll wake up tomorrow and I’ll start,
Tonight it feels so hard.
As the train approaches Gare du Nord,
As I’m sure your kiss remains employed,
Am I only dreaming?

More than all of this though, I’m actually planning a future with these songs. I’ll play “23” in the hour I actually turn 23. I’ll spin my new vinyl copy of the album (by this time, wearied and scratched from consistent use) for my kids someday.

And doesn’t that mean something in itself? Putting aside the fact that Futures is an expertly produced album; that Jim Adkins’ vocal performance is one of the most emotionally charged I’ve ever heard; that these layered, intricate songs are executed with remarkable ease and proficiency—isn’t it a testament to the greatness of Futures that these songs are just so deeply ingrained into my life—into so many peoples’ lives—past, present, and future?

What’s the point of me waxing poetic about Futures over a thousand words? What’s the point of talking about me just as much as I’m talking about the album? The point is this: I can’t honestly talk about Futures without talking about myself. That’s how important it is. It’d be the same thing if I were talking about The Mother, The Mechanic, and The Path or Invented (yes, Invented) or Stay What You Are or Transatlanticism. The music is part of my life. That is the honest truth about these records, and I can’t talk about why I like them without stressing that fact. The best music is that which means something to you, and we talk about it so vehemently because, well, if it has the ability to mean something in my life, who is to say that it couldn’t mean something in yours? One of the reasons we (or, at least I) listen to new music incessantly is because of the possibility that this new album could be our next Futures or Trouble Will Find Me or The Queen Is Dead. Because it could be the next thing that changes our lives.

But more than that, even if you hate Futures or just think it’s okay and are reading this anyway, aren’t you thinking about a different record? Aren’t you thinking about that album you grew up with and will continue to grow up with? About a piece of art that had a hand in making you who you are now? About your Futures?

Aren’t you thinking of why it means anything at all to you?

Good.

Don’t it feel like sunshine after all?

http://rd.io/x/QQ-r8CJJ3u0/

The Greatest Generation and the Last Year of My Life

The_Greatest_Generation_The_Wonder_Years_Album_CoverAlmost a year ago, I wanted to write a review for The Greatest Generation. I got out my notebook immediately after my first listen—I wanted to write a few first impressions. But I just stared at the page.

It was past midnight already, and half of my dorm room was packed up in boxes. The other half was cleared out completely, my roommate had left for the summer a few days back. A surgical plastic-covered mattress graced a wooden skeleton bed frame, looking especially thin without the boxes and belongings that had been shoved beneath it for the preceding nine months. I unclicked my pen, hopped off my bed over boxes and bins full of books and CDs and crates full of records to my emptied and barren desk.

I unwittingly put the pen in the empty drawer. I hopped back to my bed, put on my headphones, and clicked play for the second time.

You’re just trying to read, but I’m always standing in your light. You’re just trying to sleep, but I always wake you up to apologize. I’m sorry I don’t laugh at the right times.

Still nothing came from brain to pen to page. I listened again, and again, and again, deep into the night. I looked outside my window at the Tampa skyline—lights yellowed and jarring against the black sky. My dad would be here in mere hours to help me move out.

In all honesty, it hadn’t been a good year. Moving away from home and starting “real life” seemed like everything I had ever wished for when I was a senior in high school—but my freshman year left me struggling for solid ground. It just felt like two semesters of me unable to find any sort of confidence in myself. After years of wanting to be on my own and out in the world, it felt really defeating to be so happy to go home after only a year away.

I’m not going to pretend that The Greatest Generation magically fixed all of that. But as I drove down I-4 on a blistering late-spring morning, all of my shit in my dad’s trunk a few yards ahead of me, it sure as hell struck a note.

The highway won, I’m listening to traffic reports one on one, coming quietly undone.

The Greatest Generation is just the kind of album I like. It’s thematically cohesive, and well aware of it. The Greatest Generation reads like Kerouac to punk music—a novel of stream-of-consciousness stories of young Americans wandering the country trying to figure out why the fuck they’re there. It unabashedly takes the “pop-punk” label and runs with it—the thirteen songs of The Wonder Years’ current magnum opus are, for the most part, punchy, chorus-driven, and unrelentingly catchy. They draw comparisons to Motion City Soundtrack, Through Being Cool-era Saves The Day, and Where You Want To Be-era Taking Back Sunday. Yeah, all of it has been done before. And don’t be mistaken; there were probably better albums released in 2013. But none of them meant more to me than this one (although, as time goes on, Trouble Will Find Me has started to get pretty close).

This is so true that, during the first few months of my relationship with The Greatest Generation, I found myself unable to articulate exactly how I felt about it. I knew that it pretty much went without saying that this was the band’s best work, but I really couldn’t bring myself to write much of anything about it as it blasted from my car speakers over the course of the summer and rumbled through the walls of my dorm building after I returned to school.

I went to see The Wonder Years play a couple weeks ago. The band’s live show has always had this kind of stirring effect on me—and after five or six shows attended over the course of four years, it still does. I went with the intention of taking it easy and watching the chaos from the back, but before Fireworks even started playing I was in the second row.

The band played a hefty sum of tunes from Generation, grounded in the overwhelming finale of “I Just Want To Sell Out My Funeral.” I couldn’t help but think about that first listen I had in my boxed-up room, with the city glowing outside my window. And as “Funeral” rang out, I knew that I had left a lot unsaid about Generation, and I was ready to pick up my pen again.

They’re all just fucking excuses.

The narrator of Generation is lost within his ambition. He wants to “sell out [his] funeral;” he rushes toward some inconceivable movie script ending (“I’ll watch as the screen glows”) just for the sake of knowing that he’s not wasted his time. The problem is, these kinds of endings don’t exist in the real world, (“there’s no triumph waiting, there’s sunset to ride off in”) and that’s terrifying.

Throughout Generation, the narrator tries to cope with the idea of lost cinematic finality, the inevitability of a resonant ending as opposed to an explosive triumph. His chief method here is self-justification—it’s okay if he doesn’t succeed in the end because he’s “awkward and nervous,” or because “all we had were hand-me-downs” or because his family has a history of depression. And instead of focusing on defeating these little devils in his life, he just watches them take over, pretending that he’s continuing to fight while complacently telling himself that he’ll eventually give up (“I bet I’ll be a fucking coward, I bet I’d never have the guts for war”). So he’ll stay put, it’s okay, he’ll “die in the suburbs” and that’ll be good enough because everyone always knew he’d never be anything anyway (“I heard the voices, the implications, telling me who I could never be”).

The final song brings this realization to the forefront, and reprises major moments from previous tracks as a means of framing one of the major themes of the album as a whole. “I Just Want To Sell Out My Funeral” is, musically, a gigantic, explosive climactic ending. But the album’s ending is distinctly resonant from a lyrical standpoint. The narrator doesn’t win at the end, doesn’t defeat a dragon or live happily ever after. Instead, he accepts that there is no beginning and ending to his story, because his life exists outside of any story-telling framework. That is, he’s not the main character in a novel or a movie or a record—he’s more than that. He will never win because he will always be a “contender;” because every small success in his life will always be accompanied by another fight, another falling bomb, another “devil on a rocking chair on [his] front porch.”

The Greatest Generation is about evolution. Over the past few years, certain publications and people have taken it upon themselves to deem the latest generation of young adults unproductive, entitled, lazy…you name it. We’ve all been beaten down for one reason or another because of the time we were born and how that classifies us. My friends and I are selfie-taking, Tumblr addicted, iPhone obsessed Facebook fiends who will never do anything good because of when we were born and how we grew up. This rings in our ears as we work toward something greater, and makes it too easy to feel like there’s nothing we can do to move past this perception of us. Whether we cure cancer someday or make it back to the moon or write the next great American novel or whatever, it will never be enough. But these detractors, cynics, and (perhaps true) failings and faults are distractions. We have to take these things in stride if we’re ever going to get anywhere—feel defeated for a moment and evolve to overcome them, personally and as a whole. We have to build on our histories, but never dwell. We may not be the greatest, but we can fight until we die trying.

In the end, the narrator realizes that his endgame, if there could ever be one, is this: “I just want to know that I did all I could with what I was given.” In the end, all that matters is that he never stops being “happy to be a contender.” It’s important to enjoy our small victories when they’re in front of us, and to lament our failures when they’re fresh. But all of this builds into new versions of ourselves. Soon, a year passes and that person in his empty room, defeated and drained, is nearly unrecognizable.

I’m a chaser, but I found stronger winds.

My dad will be helping me move again in a few days, and everything I’ll be leaving behind is a lot different. A group of friends I never thought I’d make, a job doing something I love, and professors who are helping me move forward. Through my school’s honors program, I’m getting the opportunity to study at Oxford University next semester, so I won’t be returning to all of this for eight months. I’ve got to say that I’m terrified that they’ve chosen the wrong person, that I’m not good enough, organized enough, confident enough to do anything of value over there. I’m terrified that I’ll come back and feel alienated from all of the people I’ve grown to care about here.

But these are things I tell myself in order to justify the possibility of future defeat. And, like the narrator of Generation, I’ve come to understand that this is unproductive. I have to take a deep breath, and take everything as it comes—accept the opportunities I have in front of me and do the best I can with them, beyond all reservation. I’ll have to fight everyone around me and myself forever if I ever want to do anything. And so, I’ll leave this place and come back, and eventually I’ll be gone for good. These are the only definites I have, and it’s up to me to fill in the in-betweens and beyond with everything from failure to triumph.

The Greatest Generation did not instigate this change (which is much more subtle than this piece may imply), that’d be too easy. Rather, the album changed alongside me. The 26-year-old narrator of the album is older and wiser than I, has gone through much more. A year ago, I understood much less about these 13 songs than I thought (as I hope is true another year from now). As I found my place here, I began to sing along to the album more confidently and assuredly. And it wasn’t because I had heard the songs 100 times—hell, they’re so catchy I think I knew them all within two weeks of having the album. It was because my realizations and growth over the past year have paralleled the progression of the album. The narrator in “Funeral” is every bit as flawed as he is in the other 12 songs on the record. But here he begins to understand how to better himself, what to focus on and what to leave behind. I’m still technically six years behind him—but I think I’m starting to get it. A lot happened this year, and a whole lot more is going to happen next year. And while I evolve, (hopefully for the better) I’ll have The Greatest Generation to shout along to, louder and louder with every spin.

REVIEW: The Hotelier- Home, Like Noplace Is There

The-Hotelier-Home-Like-Noplace-Is-There-e1392687415937Every once in a while, I hear an album that hooks me in because of the way it resonates with the music I grew up listening to. Maybe it reminds me of when I was younger and knew not a damn thing about what I wanted, where I wanted to go, what I wanted to be. Maybe it reminds me of the infinite answers I used to have to those questions, and how free that used to make me feel. How punk music helped me grow and change, made me examine and experience the world in entirely different ways, and how much all of that meant to me.

But it’s been forever since I’ve heard a record that reminds me that I’m still growing up. Massachusetts punk band The Hotelier have created that kind of record.

Home, Like Noplace Is There is a heavy, heartbreaking masterwork. It’s everything emotional punk bands should strive to create in this day and age. From the album’s opening cut, the tense, slow-build “An Introduction To The Album,” The Hotelier’s near-romantic retelling of tragedy and loss in the face of an uncertain future just becomes more and more pronounced and affective; so much so that the final acoustic outro of “Dendron” is a plea for the listener to dive back in and further examine and extract meaning from Home’s nine tracks.

The aforementioned “Introduction” is much more than its title may suggest. As much as this first track lays down the groundwork for an amazing punk album, it serves mostly as a promise from The Hotelier to the listener. “An Introduction To The Album” pulls back the curtains on the damaged and imperfect set upon which the album takes place, and acquaints its audience with its likewise flawed and struggling characters, through which the story of Home will be told: “Open the curtains. /Singing birds tell me ‘tear the buildings down.’/You felt blessed to receive their pleasant sound. /The sound of things that break make you cringe inside yourself.” By the track’s end, these characters are already unraveling, and their true problems and difficulties in their world are revealed and lamented by Christian Holden’s expressive voice: “And the pills that you gave didn’t do anything. /I just slept for years on end.” The track foreshadows the album’s scope as a whole, building from a quieter piano line into a larger pop-punk ballad before finally exploding into a pummeling punk downpour.

Home, Like Noplace Is There keeps and exceeds the promise made by its opening track, and The Hotelier consistently bests itself with each passing number. “The Scope of All of This Rebuilding” is a more straightforward pop-punk song, catchy and engaging enough to perk the ears of any listener not yet enthralled. This second track deals with the often-romanticized right of passage—leaving home. These characters grapple with the task of making their own worthwhile lives outside of their former homes, and appear to be just minutes away from throwing in the towel already: “You cut our ropes, /left the umbilical, /and now I carry around /this weight of broken hope.”

Further down the line, “Your Deep Rest” reveals itself to be the most up-front of the album’s nine tracks, as the narrator deals with the suicide of a close friend. The song appears to be almost upbeat at its outset, but this musical tone is counterbalanced by the blatant lyricism in the chorus: “I called in sick from your funeral. /The sight of your body made me feel uncomfortable.” This song highlights one of the more important aspects of Home, Like Noplace is There. The album, if it’s listened to carefully, is unsettling to sit through. It creates an intense and near-involuntary emotional response. At two or three points during “Your Deep Rest” alone, as the music gets a little quieter and Holden’s voice is a little bit clearer, the reality of these stories and often political sentiments is overwhelming.

This is what sets The Hotelier apart from other bands of its kind, this sense of rawness in nearly every aspect of its work. More than that, though, Home is important because it addresses important topics often avoided or glossed over in today’s musical scene. The chaotic, heavy “Life In Drag” pays direct attention to issues of gender identity and how our society harmfully deals with it; “Among The Wildflowers” tells a story of mental disease and self-image in the context of family history; “In Framing” laments self-harm. These are weighty topics presented in an extremely personal light, and often grounded by hints of easily relatable generalities and details: “I searched for a way out. /Don’t we all?”

The breezy “Housebroken,” in particular appears to be one of the more universal tracks on the album. Veiled in an extended conceit of dogs under the power of their human owners, “Housebroken” tackles the subject of locking oneself behind the walls of societal constraints, and the surrender of freedom for comfort in the world we live in: “Master is all that I’ve got…. /gives me bed, keeps me fed and I’m just slightly nervous /of what I might do if I were let loose, if I caught that mail car or ate garbage for food.”

All of these vignettes are unified in the finality of “Dendron,” which rises and falls in waves of brash and enveloping rock arrangements, just as Holden’s vocal performance admits varying levels of emphasis and pleading, lending special poignancy to a line as simple as “man, I’m sorry every day.” Home, Like Noplace Is There ends in an apologetic and shivering reflection of friends lost, homes broken and societies fundamentally damaging—at last delivering the final, and possibly most emotional and cathartic lines of The Hotelier’s grand performance:

Engraved in the stone

By request and recurse of friends dead is

”Tell me again that it’s all in my head.”

Home, Like Noplace Is There, if the world is a just place, will make waves. This is the kind of album that makes young music-lovers pick up a guitar or a microphone; the kind of album that turns a casual listener into a lifelong fan. It should be what Taking Back Sunday’s Tell All Your Friends and Jimmy Eat World’s Clarity were to fans in the late 90s and early 2000s. It should rekindle a love for emotional music perhaps abandoned by listeners who perhaps believed they’d grown out of. But most importantly, Home, Like Noplace is There should change lives, should incite a need to be better, a yearning for a world better understanding and more forgiving and flexible. Home reflects the lowest, most hopeless points in the lives of young adults—but it leaves the possibility of change and growth wide open. The Hotelier have set the bar for 2014, not only for punk music or music in general, but for everyone on a personal level. And I think that’s the highest compliment a record can get from me.

NOTE: This review originally ran here in my college newspaper The Minaret.