Monday, September 27, 2010

Gloomy Weather Songs

It's a gloomy day here. Not really cold, but definitely not warm. Overcast, but last time I checked it wasn't raining. I decided to take a suggestion from a reader and write about some gloomy weather songs.

The environment you're in when you listen to a song can greatly influence how the song feels. For example, when I reviewed the new Bosstones album a while back I mentioned that it came out in winter, but really should have been released in summer as it sounded better driving around on a sunny day than it did in my headphones as I shoveled my car out. So here are some songs that just seem fitting on days like today.

The Mamas & The Papas - "California Dreamin'" - If You Can Believe Your Eyes And Ears (Dunhill 1966)
The song the reader had in mind when she suggested the topic. Musically, the song is moody and kinda depressed sounding (to me at least). The lyrics seem fitting as well, with lines like "All the leaves are brown and the sky is grey." The leaves are still green here, but the weather indicates they'll start changing any day.

Barenaked Ladies - "Tonight Is The Night I Fell Asleep At The Wheel" - Maroon (Reprise 2000)
Musically, the song isn't really that gloomy. It has an interesting 3/4 oompah time signature, kinda like a waltz or polka. But the lyrics make it one of the most apathetically sad songs I've ever heard. The song is written from the point of a view of a man who is driving home to see his wife/girlfriend/whatever, falls asleep and drives off the road. As he wakes up mid-crash, he gives an oddly surreal description of the crash ("From the ceiling my coffee cup drips, while out of my window the horizon does flips"), as he explains that as it's happening he's wondering if it's a dream. The tone is weird, as though he doesn't really care that he's crashing. I just realized how long I've been writing, so I'll move on. Just listen to it, it's a great song.

Tom Waits - "Little Drop Of Poison" - Orphans disc 2 "Bawlers" (ANTI-Records 2006)
I think most people that have heard this song first heard it in Shrek 2, where a Captain Hook-esque pirate plays it in a dive bar. When the topic was suggested, this was the first song I came up with (after the reader had already suggested "California Dreamin'"). In anyone else's hands, this song could have made this list. But Tom Waits' distinctively rough, emotive voice pushes it over the edge.

Linkin Park - "My December" - b-side to "One Step Closer" (Warner Bros 2000)
Linkin Park are mostly known for hard rock fused with hip-hop and electronica. Songs like "Crawling" or "One Step Closer." But for one of the extra songs on the single for the latter song, the band delivered "My December," a track played primarily on a drum machine and electric piano. The song drips with melancholy, with Chester Bennington proclaiming that he'd "give it all away, just so have somewhere to go to."

America - "Horse With No Name" - America (Warner Brothers 1972)
Unlike Linkin Park equating life with the dead of winter, Tom Waits' assertion that he feels cleaner "after it rains," and The Mamas & The Papa's description of the changes of autumn, America's entry in this list has nothing to do with gloomy weather. In fact, it takes place in an unbearably sunny desert. But the lyrics, often interpreted as a drug trip, seem to describe a post-apocalyptic landscape, where the narrator is perhaps the only living person left, watching nature resume. This is of course only one interpretation, and the song seems open to multiple views.

Tarkio - "Save Yourself" - I Guess I Was Hoping For Something More (Barcelona 1998) or  Omnibus (Kill Rock Stars 2006)
Tarkio was Colin Meloy's band before The Decemberists. The song is more Americana/Country-ish than  the work of his newer band, but the song has the kind of heartfelt melancholy that Meloy has mastered over the course of his career. The song is rather simple, depicting a man who, despite having larger plans for himself, is forced to return home to family farm after his father has died. Meloy expertly describes the narrator's unhappiness with the unexpected destruction of his life ("here there is no revelry, the sadness needs no leavening"), his bitter determination to consider his return a temporary setback ("call it a detour, ugly and impure"), his inability to explain why he has to go back ("My friends all say 'what you're doing this for?' Well, my father died and passed this shit to me"), and the tedium that has taken over his life ("lost inside the peleton with the Jerry Lewis telethon ticking soft as I fall fast asleep").

The Decemberists - "Culling Of The Fold" - The Crane Wife (bonus track) (Capitol 2006)
Another Meloy song. The guy is very capable of writing gloomy. However, unlike every other song on this list, "Culling Of The Fold" has no melancholy or sad or depressing tone to it, instead its gloominess comes from its sinister tone. Thought by some to be about the Shankhill Butchers (and the band did indeed write another song about them for the same album), the song encourages several people to kill other people, insisting that "someone's got to do the culling of the fold." Musically, the song is most fun song on this list, which just makes the sinister lyrics seem out of place and even more sinister. My favorite part is when one person is encouraged to bring his sweetheart to the river by "[plying] her heart with gold and silver," then killing her, because "it may break your heart to break her bones but someone's got to do the culling of the fold."

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