Friday, January 11, 2008

A COMET APPEARS

Listen to A COMET APPEARS by The Shins.

Jason dropping in.

For those of you who were at Bill and Amy's wedding, I was one of the two twisted turntablists (the less-handsome one). Living in England but a native Australian, I'm going to bring some international pedigree to this blinding blog of Bill's.

Bill was asking me over a bottle of wine (well, I was drinking a bottle of wine in London - I don't know what Bill was doing in New York) if there was some kind of theme I'd like to employ in my song selection. My answer, as I slammed down the bottle from my lips, was an emphatic "hell no!" I just want to write about songs that have something of the magic about them. You may know the band, you may even know the tracks, but I just want to share with you songs that can make you feel that music transcends(,) man.

And if I was to contradict myself by grabbing a theme by those last few words, it would be a great description of this first track - "A Comet Appears" by The Shins.

Much more below the fold.


There is a television programme, just finished here in the UK on the Sky Arts channel, called "From the Basement". Its been a long, long time since I've watched musical performance as a weekly television show. This one is different. Its stunningly shot and the performances are very stripped down - there is no host, no audience, not even song titles - just the music. Each episode features 3-4 artists: one "big", one "support" and ones you've probably never heard of. For example:

Damien Rice - Eels - Autolux - Architecture in Helskinki (check out the full lineups here).

The first show featured The Shins - a band who Natalie Portman catapulted to fame on the film "Garden State" when she tells Zach Braff's character that just listening to their song "New Slang" will "change your life, I swear":



....and it worked for me - I loved the song and checked out the band just as I did when John Cusack said "I will now sell 5 copies of 'The Three EPs' of the Beta Band" in the movie "Hi Fidelity":



One of the songs The Shins performed was "A Comet Appears" - the last song on their latest album. I knew the song (its very similar in itself to "New Slang") - but I loved the performance so much that I started playing it on heavy rotation on the 'pod.

The chirping songbirds at the opening, the wistful melodic guitars and evocative imagery of the lyrics belie a very dark song about one man's views of life's futilities as he grows older.

There's a heavy feeling of numbness and solitude; of an insignificance that only catches you when you listen repeatedly to the lyrics against the lightness of the music.

Let's carve my aging face off
Fetch us a knife
Start with my eyes
Down so the lines
Form a grimacing smile

The character compares himself with Nietzsche's concept of the ├╝bermensch only to conclude the he is "barely a vapour".

Songwriter and singer James Russell Mercer has quite a way with words. Its a song that could well have begun its life as a poem, with imagery like "thumbs and posture" (evolution), "wily comet" (earth), "burnt sage and a forest of bygones" (evoking a dual meaning of a melancholic meditation and sage also as wisdom).

For all of its reflection about the growing emptiness in the heart of one man, trying to avoid his awakening feeling of a life lost of purpose, it is a beautiful song.

Photo: Paris, 2004. Taken by Jason Bryant.

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4 comments:

Bill's Mom said...

So nice to hear from you, Jason. Enjoyed your posting. Great clips!

Bill said...

well in j. finally some topical music on this blog!

Bill said...

hmm. "topical"

uncle billy said...

Your first post is as good as the tunes you turned that night! Berry nice and well played, sir. Goin directly on the pod.