10 Songs About Silence

In a sort of self-effacing nod to the lack of writing in this space over the last month, I thought it'd be fun to do a post featuring songs about silence. Of course, it seems like an immediate disagreement of terms to have a song, something inherently noisy and evocative, about the utter lack of sound. Luckily, the tracks below do a great job of capturing the unsettling nature of silence, and perhaps even the peaceful aspects, in their meandering strings of chords, vocals and beautiful tones. Since this is the Future, I've created a Spotify playlist featuring each of the songs I've mentioned, so feel free to listen along. Watch out, here comes the breakdown!

The List

  1. Simon and Garfunkel; "The Sound of Silence" - Let's start with the obvious shall we? While it's one of the most disputed songs, even finding the 42nd spot in Blender's "The 50 Worst Songs Ever" list, it set the tone for songs about quiet, and disquiet. Yes, it's a schmaltzy 20-something, "no one understands mine or the world's pain" track, but it's hard to argue it's impact on culture.  
  2. Depeche Mode; "Enjoy The Silence" - Again, here we are with a wanky song about silence, but one that's also insanely fun despite it's ultra-direct mopey approach to the subject. "The Mode" were at the top of their game on Violator
  3. Exitmusic; "The Silence" - The common theme among songs about silence is the tone and energy. We're not talking about uplifting stuff here. Still, Exitmusic's "The Silence" finds a way to be both lilting and complex, but also catchy, especially with a fondness-generating chorus filled with swelling guitar wails.
  4. Crystal Castles; "Year of Silence" - If you know Crystal Castles, and I know you do, you know that they're never silent, or even particularly downbeat. Even on "Year of Silence" the band creates a dense veil of sound so thick that you can't think through it. In a way, the song creates silence because it overwhelms all sound, but more on that in a bit...
  5. Pavement; "Silence Kit" - The post-Joe-Cocker doing "With A Little Help From My Friends" style in this cowbell thumping Pavement track is a red herring because the philosophical ilk of the songs lyrics is what touches most on the theme. It's a song about shutting out all the shit, and also demolishing music, and also... masturbating.
  6. John Cage; "4'33"" - The ultimate song of silence, Cage's exercise in listening to the environment and considering all things music chases the very thing I was hinting at with the Crystal Castles' track. In actually silence we hear too much, but with the fuzzy tone of Cage's experiment, we hear our thoughts and begin to question the very nature of listening, to music, and otherwise.
  7. PJ Harvey; "Silence" - This track takes a more traditional approach to the silence concept. Spare and delicate, Harvey crafts a poetic lyrical environment that's both tragic and beautiful. And it deals with the dark inside hope for silence, even among the world and people we love. Silence is freedom, and a prison.
  8. Matisyahu; "Silence" - I know, the titles are creative here. Matisyahu's slow, beautiful, strum-light song about quiet is one of the best to listen to when seeking a sense of peace. Like Harvey's (above) this "Silence" is its own environment, obsessed with destroying distractions and mistakes, to find a silent place of peace.
  9. Portishead; "Silence" - Another title that's right on the money. But Portishead's version of silence is the most haunting, and not in the emotional way. Instead, the vibe feels dark and ominous, even as the track slowly builds, there's an impending sense of doom. It's invigorating, but also terrifying. The beat is a build up and when it cuts out and the lyrics begin, there's no doubt that this silence is the worst kind of all.
  10. Mazzy Star; "Mary of Silence" - We'll end on a slightly more chipper note. Mazzy Star's "Mary of Silence" has a similar darkness, but this time it's much more sensual, sexy and dangerous in the good way. If something of the horror genre is about to happen, it's going to be in the seductive vampiress variety. Or a hot, sticky, sweaty drug trip.
Thanks for enjoying 10 Songs About Silence. Again, you can find the Spotify playlist here: Songs of Silence
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What's It Mean?: "Somebody That I Used To Know."

What's It Mean? may take off as something bigger, where we discuss the meanings of songs, and not the versions of explications that come from SongMeanings.com, etc. Let's get a little academic and have fun with it. But mostly, this idea is born from the insane popularity and over-play attached to the Gotye song "Somebody That I Used To Know." At its heart, the track seems to be a sad lament on lost love, and even if you Google around, you get some common theories that avatar Gotye is sad, and avatar Kimbra tells him that "they broke up for reason, so stop being hung up on me." The text is deeper than that, though, and far more sad.

Our main character, Gotye for all intents and purposes, is singing to an ex, about how she left him and now treats him like they never happened. He opens the song saying both that he "felt so happy [he] could die" in the previous relationship, but that he also felt "so lonely in your company" and that "that was love and it's an ache [he] still remembers." It's a complicated 4-line stanza. He's already establishing himself as an unreliable narrator. Gotye never really loves the woman he's singing to, and admits that without admitting it, right away. He was happy, but lonely, as if he was only really dating a simulacrum of a person to begin with. And the final line is an admission that love is imperfect, but that he has also idealized love to such an extent that it's a concept, rather than a dialog between two people. Right away, we can argue that Gotye's avatar here is unsympathetic, and perhaps a bit of headcase.

In Stanza #2, he ups the ante on these concepts. Love is "a certain type of sadness" that he becomes addicted to. It's a drug, not a dialog. It's a torture of sorts, like a lashing administered upon himself like he's an ascetic monk. And it was always "resignation," a sort of pathetic acceptance that he wasn't going to find someone else. We have to remember here that this is HIS perspective, so it's not objective. Now, imagine how you'd feel if your significant other said that they were resigned to be with you. That's shitty. That's being told, essentially, "I can't do any better, so oh well." It's a kick in the fucking teeth. And even as Gotye says that they decided they would still be friends, he's "glad that is was over." Those aren't the words of a sad man. Those are the callous words of someone who never loved where he was, and then has the terrible audacity to complain about how his actions led to equal and opposite reactions. It's a serious moment of psuedo-sociopathy.

When we break into the chorus, the catchy, wonderful chorus (And don't get me wrong, I love this song. It's beautiful, but I'm arguing, misunderstood.), Gotye cries out that while he didn't love her, and she made him sad and lonely and addictive, and don't forget, "resigned," that she didn't have to "cut [him] off" from her entirely. He doesn't want to be treated like a stranger, either, or to think that she changed her number, but there are two big things. First, why if you felt lonely, sad, addicted, and resigned, would you want to hear from that person again. And two, why are you calling someone about whom you can say such things. Maybe some would argue that love is that complex, and yes, I agree to a large part of that, but he should be SURPRISED. And that's the tone of chorus, pained surprise.

Then Kimbra stops by to offer the female perspective. She tells him how he "screwed [her] over" and left her obsessing that it was her fault. Clearly our protagonist is an asshole, or at least a case can be made that his callous interpretation of their relationship, combined with her frank heartbreak, means that he wasn't really in it at all, and isn't a good guy. The kicker comes when Kimbra sings the "You said that you could let it go/ And I wouldn't catch you hung up on somebody that you used to know..." part. She's saying, right there, that Gotye's avatar was talking about his ex, before her, his previous ex, when she and him were together. He never let go of the woman before her, and it destroyed them. And now, he's repeating his destructive pattern of only loving the gone and unattainable, instead of loving the here and now. It's really difficult for me to even conceive of a case where Gotye's character is a good guy here. He seems at total fault. And frankly, it's devastating to consider that he'd get back out there and do the whole thing again to another woman.

Because he repeats the chorus, and that sentiment about feeling ditched and left behind by his former paramour, but it's done in such a way that it's clear he's not listening to Kimbra's advice, or her feelings. He's a relationship Chernobyl doomed to repeat over and over and over again. And that's the song. Disagree? Drop some comments below. If nothing else, let's have a little dialog because I don't want this to be one-sided. And as I said, "Somebody That I Used To Know" is a great song. And while it will be destroyed by radio overplay, it's a huge sonic bright spot in this still young decade. Dig. And that's for hanging out to find out What's It Mean?
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Often Awesome The Series nominated for a Webby Award

The heartbreaking and inspiring series, Often Awesome, that chronicled the Popovers songwriter and musical genius Tim LaFollette's battle against ALS has been nominated for a Webby. And a Vimeo award. Please take a moment to vote at the links below. We can come together to raise awareness of ALS, to preserve the memory of an impeccable, irreplaceable young man, and maybe even help guide the hands that could discover a cure.

Thank you.

Webby: http://pv.webbyawards.com/ballot/104
Vimeos: https://vimeo.com/awards/vote/series
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Podcast: It's A Thing! #18

That's right, It's A Thing! is back! This is the 18th episode, but you don't need to keep count. A triumphant return for Mikey and Jared, after a 6, SIX! month hiatus is a CROWcast, recorded live from the lost city of Atlantic... err... Atlantis. The boys talk goth soundtrack from beneath the bubble of underwater exploration. Despite the completely harrowing conditions, our amazing heroes manage to not kiss for yet another week. Also, they swear, punch, play music, and do NO WRONG. They feature music by Violent Femmes, and guess what? Jared makes a GUIDED BY VOICES reference! OH MY FUCKING GOD!? When the Crow movie soundtrack came out, Jared was 14, and Mikey was stacking alphabet blocks. Look out! There are crow puns everywhere. Don't be fooled. The guys talk about the ethics of selling songs, selling out and using art to actually live. It's a beautiful moment! For an effortless segue! Does God like the Cure? Is he allowed, or will Robert Smith's darkness subsume his everlasting light. Oh there's music! Oh there's mayhem! Oh it's totally mind-dazzlingly wonderful. Can you handle the sheer It's A Thing!-ness of this? I don't think you can. And everyone will laugh at it you if you don't prove me wrong. Listen up. It's a thing! It is the "way of the future."

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Punch Brothers cover The Cars

I hate to re-blog as the first thing in a short while, but here's something excellent from the Punch Brothers and the wunderkinds at the A.V. Club. Enjoy!

Punch Brothers cover The Cars
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