One of the best songs of 2017 so far, in my humble opinion.
One of the best songs of 2017 so far, in my humble opinion.
Nick Cave, one of my favorite musicians ever, just released his 16th studio album with The Bad Seeds, entitled Skeleton Tree. Accompanying it is a film entitled One More Time With Feeling that focuses on the writing process, the events surrounding the album, and includes live performances of the majority of the album’s songs. A brief background: Cave’s twin son Arthur was fatally injured when he fell from a cliff last July. Some of the music here was written beforehand, some after, but the effects of the traumatic event is the focus of both the film and the album.
Originally I had planned on waiting to listen to the album until I saw the film, as Cave had for the most part intended by not releasing many singles in the lead up to the albums release. I ended up listening to the album four times before I made it to the film screening this past Friday night because it became available to stream and purchase (I bought the digital copy, then went and bought the vinyl the next day). I don’t regret not waiting because of how the music fit in the film. Having already heard the music a bit allowed me to focus on the conversations more.
About the film itself, I will say that it was well done, particularly how they utilized silence, often after Nick, Warren (Bad Seed and Cave collaborator in other settings), or Susie (Nick’s wife) talking about the event. I watched it at a venue that allows alcohol, even still it was so captivating that during those silent moments no one moved or made a noise; the air was sucked out of the room on numerous occasions. It was heart wrenching to see them try and discuss such a traumatic thing, to see someone so good with words admittedly fall short every time he tries to summarize it. Cave says they are connected to the personal catastrophe by a rubber band, in that they can stretch and get away from it for a period of time, but they are always snapped back at some point, and he feels it will always be that way. He wonders aloud about the elasticity of time, and of his existence in each moment as something unique to itself, yet never more significant than any other moment, which is something I’ve struggled with personally day-to-day since I first read Sartre back as a freshman in college, but I digress. I’ve always been astounded by Cave’s ability to make simple thoughts or conversations so poetic and hold so much weight, so hearing him talk about what happened to his family breaks me apart. I’ve never felt more pain and sympathy for a stranger in my life.
The music itself is just about exactly what I expected it to be. The strings, the erratic loops, the perfectly placed piano chords, the somber overtone of it all; we all knew we weren’t going to get anything like “Stagger Lee”, “Loverman”, “Red Right Hand”, “Jack the Ripper”, etc. It flows very well, and I think the length of it is perfect. I am surprised by the amount of hope he managed to squeeze in there, and clearly that all stems from his wife and the love he has for her. In “Rings of Saturn” when he goes from simply speaking “this is the moment, this is exactly what she was born to be” to singing it, and in “Girl in Amber” when he sings “if you want to bleed, just bleed…”; god damn. The first time I heard the album, after the overwhelming, intense somberness of the first two thirds of it, “I Need You” and “Distant Sky” brought hopeful tears to my eyes, and then when the title followed to close it out, I absolutely lost it. Such a great way to end the album, with a lighter sense of hope that you can feel; “I called out, I called out right across the sea, but the echo comes back empty; nothing is for free”, and then the last words spoke on the album, “it’s all right now”.
I don’t have children and at this point in my life I really don’t see myself ever wanting them, and a part of that reason is how paranoid and worried I am about the well being of the people I care for and love. I can’t imagine having to deal with it when it’s multiplied by ten billion for my child, and if something like what happened to Nick Cave happened to me, it would absolutely be the end of me. I wouldn’t survive, and seeing one of my favorite musicians who has had such a gigantic influence on my life go through it is too much as it is. All of that said, I feel lucky that he was brave enough to share.
Go give Skeleton Tree its due. It’s one of the best albums of the year.
Hamilton Leithauser, the vocalist of The Walkmen, and Rostam Batmanglij, the mastermind behind Vampire Weekend, are releasing a collaborative album next week. This is the first single off that album which they recently performed on The Late Show. The song is epic, and this performance of it is even more epic. Enjoy.
Deftones have long been a huge influence on my life in just about every conceivable way. One of the first rock bands I really loved, so many great memories with their music in the background, one of the main reasons I wanted to start making myself, etc. They just released a new album last Firday (04.08.16) and it’s a great one that will most assuredly fit right into their large catalog of outstanding records that toe the perfect line between angry aggression and beautiful ambient spaciousness. Given the new release I’ve been inspired to tally up my personal favorite (not greatest) 10 tracks of theirs:
10. “Sextape”; such a fitting name…
09. “Knife Prty”; …part two of the film.
08. “Kimdracula”; I think this is one of their most underrated, as is Saturday Night Wrist overall, despite the bands’ own dislike for how it turned out.
07. “Dai the Flu”; Dai was Chi’s middle name, and as simple as this bass riff is, it’s got the flu, alright.
06. “Rocket Skates”; so fucking relentless.
05. “When Girls Telephone Boys”; scream “SOMETHING’S WRONG WITH YOU” along with it and tell me you don’t feel alive.
04. “My Own Summer (Shove It)”; the most filthy mcnasty opening riff ever, and you want to talk about screaming…“SHOVEITSHOVEITSHOVEIT!!!!!!!”
03. “Digital Bath”; …the climax.
02. “Riviere”; “she haunts the roads…”, that last 20 seconds is bliss. Perfect closing track to follow the penultimate “Kimdracula” mentioned above. A few months after Chi Cheng passed I saw them live and Chino dedicated this one to Chi before they played it; that probably makes it hit a little harder for me.
01. “Pink Maggit”. Such a slow starter, but if you make it through the scream/screetch/squeal, it’ll take you to the next dimension. I worked graveyard shift in a laboratory straight out of college and my drive to work is when I found this song, must’ve listened to it every night for a month and it got me through hating that job. “…we are the leaders”
I didn’t feel right including any Gore tracks because as great as some of them are, there hasn’t been enough time for it to soak into their catalog and disperse yet, no Koi No Yokan tracks because I feel it’s more of an overall effort (however, there would’ve been 3 or 4 from that album if I listed songs 11-20), and none from Adrenaline because as big of an impact that has had on me being a musician (“One Weak” is a MAJOR reason I wanted to start playing bass), I feel the pure aggression doesn’t hold up to the quality of songs they put out after.
Everyone be sure to check out Gore because after all these years, Deftones just keep knocking them out of the fucking park, and despite whatever label people try to place on them they continue to slip, bob and weave, and counter punch any simple genre classification with veteran timing and suaveness. They are their own entity, and I’m forever grateful for what they’ve done.
Sometimes I get so caught up in my relentless pursuit of new music, both inside of my personal genre-sphere and out, that the music I love the most takes a backseat. A good thing about that though is when I do get around to revisiting it, I fall in love all over again and I’ll go through an obsession period akin to when I first discovered the band where my appetite for their music is insatiable and anything else just won’t do the trick. So, for this week’s song, I decided to highlight one of my all-time favorites again.
This week Trent Reznor released his eulogy to David Bowie. Personally, I’m not a huge Bowie fan. I respect him and his influence to the utmost degree, but his music isn’t something that I visit with often, save a dozen or so songs. When he died, I was surprised how much it affected me. I was sad and depressed right along with people who have his discography memorized, and I couldn’t figure out why. It’s most likely attributed to the loss of a legend, the realization of mortality and fact that everybody dies, even the greatest of us. I also think some of it had to do with knowing how much Bowie had impacted Reznor being that Reznor is one of, if not the most, singular most influential musician thus far in my life in regards to how I listen to music, think about music, and most of all how I create my own music. I don’t need to sit here and talk about Reznor’s compositional genius because it’s well documented. So when Bowie died, I kept thinking that if I was feeling like that about his death then Reznor must be crushed by it, and that might also have added to my unsuspecting emotions I was/am feeling. It was great to read Trent’s thoughts and how Bowie was such a huge inspiration to him, just as Trent is to me, and also helped him through his alcohol and drug addiction just by being there for him and being himself. Bowie really was a one-time-only soul.
First of all, here’s one of my many favorite Nine Inch Nails songs that might be unknown to casual fans:
Secondly, here’s one of the many collaborations between Bowie and Reznor:
I have been trying to accumulate my thoughts on Nick Cave for awhile now. I feel the need to attempt to quantify the impact he’s had on me and express why I adore his music so much. So many of his characteristics are unique; his songwriting, his musicianship, his delivery, his enigmatic persona, etc., and when I contemplate it all, it soon becomes overwhelming. One thing is for sure; he is one of a kind, and a once in a lifetime, if not ever, artist. This is my best shot at it.
This is not a greatest hits or top X best list, just some personal favorites. I’m going to attempt to highlight the genius and versatility in his music, and while perhaps finally realizing that no amount of words can do the man any justice, I hope that this could possibly serve as a crash course for someone looking to discover Nick Cave but with no idea where to start. For every song I give as an example here, there are a number more in his catalog along the same vein that may be just as good or better. I won’t focus on the actual musicianship of his songs as much as I will the songwriting, lyrics, and all around aura he presents. He has worked with dozens of talented musicians over the years whom I also have much admiration for (I named my pet bunny rabbit Warren Ellis) but to do them justice would require another thousand words at least. His catalog is an extensive, deep, dark journey through a forest at night during a thunderstorm, and ten years after being a casual fan, three of which I was absolute fanatic, there is still uncharted territory for me, and I discover new gems every time I wonder off the path I have traced thus far.
Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – “Abattoir Blues”
This is the song I go to first when I expose someone to Nick Cave for the first time. I think the simplicity in the music (the drum beat, whole note piano chords) makes it readily accessible and forces Cave to the forefront where his voice and delivery shine. There’s something easy going about it, something that makes this perfect for cruising on a sunny day with the windows down, however ‘Abattoir’ is French for ‘Slaughterhouse’, and in typical Nick Cave fashion, he finds a way to make the most beautiful, calming things a little bit dark and twisted.
Grinderman – “Palaces of Montezuma”
This is one of his most catchy tunes, and much like the previous song, it finds the perfect balance that Cave juggles so well. Name another artist that can sing “Come on, baby, let’s get out of the cold/and give me your precious love for me to hold” with such a blissful melody right before citing a gift of “The spinal cord of JFK wrapped in Marilyn Monroe’s negligee”. Perfection.
Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – “Red Right Hand”
I believe this qualifies as his most well known hit which is often used in movies, such as Dumb and Dumber, but that’s not why I chose to highlight this song. This one is an example of how he can tell you so much by telling you so little. “On a gathering storm comes a tall handsome man, in a dusty black coat, with a red right hand…” Who is this guy he’s talking about? What does he want? Where is he from? You never know, but what you do know is he is nothing good, and that hand didn’t get so red by accident. “You’re one microscopic cog in his catastrophic plan, designed and directed by his red right hand…”
Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – “Stagger Lee”
Here we have Cave’s take on the old American folk song about the murder of Billy Lyons by ‘Stag’ Lee Shelton. I haven’t heard many other versions of it to be honest, but I’d venture to guess Cave put quite a twist on it. This is Cave at his most demented and violent, but I won’t spoil it here by citing lyrics for those who haven’t heard it yet. The bass line here is impeccable, providing an irreproachable backdrop to the tale about to be told. The song here is about Stagger Lee, and how he’s unequivocally the baddest motherfucker around, but when I hear it I can’t help but think a bit of Cave is oozing out from the cracks here. It makes me feel like if Cave was sitting in that bar (The Bucket of Blood) as well, he would give Lee a run for his money.
Grinderman – “Kitchenette”
This is the balls out, no-fucks-given song, with hubris and hauteur dripping from every orifice. How else could you possibly muster up the gall to steal an executioner’s woman? The first four lines into that howl of “’cause I want you” might be the most boss thing ever recorded.
Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – “Into My Arms”
It’s not all dark alleys, rain and thunder, lost highways, murder, blood and cum though. There is a plethora of gentle love songs in his canon, and in my experience talking with other Nick Cave fans, there is often a divide between those who like tracks like this and the previous five tracks. I tend to lean toward the latter, but the beauty he is capable of is undeniable. Some still lean towards the dark side of love of course, but some just are straightforward proclamations of adoration.
Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – “Mermaids”
This is one of my absolute favorite Nick Cave songs (the version on Live from KCRW with an extended Warren Ellis solo is also incredible). The melody and clever lyrics need a spotlight:
“She was a catch, we were a match
I was the match that would fire up her snatch
There was a catch
I was no match
I was fired from her crotch
Now I sit around and watch…”
“I believe in God
I believe in mermaids too
I believe in 72 virgins on a chain; why not? Why not?
I believe in the rapture, for I’ve seen your face
On the floor of the ocean, at the bottom of the rain”
And the flawless melody that carries the chorus make this a masterful piece of art. If this song, which is a good representation of his most current album, is any indication of the direction he is headed then we have a lot to look forward to.
Grinderman – “Man In the Moon”
Perhaps one of his most simple songs musically with only a beautiful piano progression and a haunting looped noise track, this song has a sigh-inducing somberness to it that sits heavy on the soul. I often catch myself staring into space as the opening line comes back around to finish it off and the music fades into the next song where the venomous bass line snaps me out of it.
Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – “Hold On to Yourself”
I included this song as an example of what I feel is the methodical approach Cave employs on so many songs. Surely a lot of this is attributed to his band (Warren Ellis shines here with the screeching violin loop played throughout), but how Cave bobs and weaves, slips and counters his way through the lyrics using his mystic drawl to accentuate the melody is incredibly impressive and adroit. Other tracks along this vein that I love are “Cannibal’s Hymn”, “Easy Money”, “We Real Cool”, among others. It seems to me that this is a trait Cave has developed over the latter part of his career, and I couldn’t be more happy about it.
Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – “Higgs Boson Blues”
I chose this for the conclusion because it seems to be the most anomalous song in his canon. Clocking in at just under eight minutes, and starting with just a guitar and a whisper, it broods and simmers as Cave sets the stage for this epic tale…
“Can’t remember anything at all
Flame trees line the streets
Can’t remember anything at all
But I’m driving my car down to Geneva
I been sitting in my basement patio
Ah, it was hot
Up above, the girls walk past, the roses all in bloom
Have you ever heard about the Higgs Boson Blues?
I’m going down to Geneva, baby
Gonna teach it to you
Who cares? Who cares what the future brings?”
Can you see it? Because I can. Every single time I listen to it. From there the music and vocals swell, crest, and shrink again like the moon pulling the tide while he cites interactions between Robert Johnson, the Devil, Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus, pigmys and monkeys, the Lorraine Motel (where he takes a room with a view, of course), and how it all intermingles and makes sense is where your guess becomes as good as mine. Somehow I think that’s the point though. It’s a whirlwind for so many reasons. It culminates again back where it started: “Can’t remember anything at all…” as the guitar chords resolve. Maybe it was all just a dream.
As I’m sure it is for everyone, narrowing one of your favorite musician’s work into a favorite list is such a hard thing to do. I feel ashamed and depressed for only including ten songs with this piece. 1800 words later I still feel like I shortchanged the man for everything he has given the world, especially me. This certainly is not an all inclusive piece on Nick Cave, or even of my opinions of him, but just the tip of the iceberg as they so often say. There’s his work with Warren Ellis on movie scores, his early bands, most notably The Birthday Party, his screenplays, his books; the universe Nick Cave has created is something to behold. I would also recommend the artistic documentary 20,000 Days on Earth to anyone, as it is useful for a brief look into Cave’s mind. In that documentary he explains how he treats being a musician just like we treat our jobs. He has a small office space rented close to his home, and goes there every day, sitting in a room with not much else but a typewriter and his thoughts. If that’s not dedication to your craft then I don’t know what is, and when you couple that with such a creative uniqueness, it’s not hard to see why he was able to transcend decades and genres with no sign of his relevance fading.
“He’s a ghost, he’s a god, he’s a man, he’s a guru…”
And he’s a legend.
To keep the comeback rolling, here’s one of my favorite songs of the year off one of the albums that just barely missed my Top 10 list. I love the simplicity of the drums and how they let them breathe at points throughout the song in order to accentuate the riff and the vocals. Well done, sirs.