Song of the Day: Oats In The Water (by Ben Howard)


TheBurghIslandEP

The Walking Dead may not be what some critics as great television. Hell, it’s been called boring, pandering and badly-written. It’s popularity has eluded detractors and supporters alike. There’s one thing the show has consistently done well and that’s pick licensed songs to help highlight particular episodes.

Tonight’s episode, “Internment”, is another such episode with a perfectly picked song. This time around the song is “Oats In The Water” by British singer-songwriter Ben Howard.

The song enters the episode as part of the calm which followed one of the most tense and terrifying sequences of the season. Whoever is in charge of licensing songs for this song needs to get a raise because it’s definitely been a highlight of each season.

Oats In The Water

Go your way,
I’ll take the long way ’round,
I’ll find my own way down,
As I should.

And hold your gates
There’s coke in the midas touch
A joke in the way that we rust,
And breathe again.

And you’ll find loss
And you’ll fear what you found
When weather comes
Tear him down

There’ll be oats in the water
There’ll be birds on the ground
There’ll be things you never asked her
Oh how they tear at you now

Go your way,
I’ll take the long way ’round,
I’ll find my own way down,
As I should.

And hold your gates
As coke in the midas touch
A joke in the way that we rust,
And breathe again.

And you’ll find loss
And you’ll fear what you found
When weather comes
Tear him down

There’ll be oats in the water
There’ll be birds on the ground
There’ll be things you never asked her
Oh how they tear at you now

Ten Years #22: Стары Ольса


Decade of last.fm scrobbling countdown:
22. Стары Ольса (Stary Olsa, 1,257 plays)
Top track (111 plays): Танцы (Dances), from Келіх кола (Loving Cup, 2000)
Featured track: Дрыгула, from Дрыгула (2009)

I don’t know of too many bands from Belarus, but the one I’m most familiar with is amazing. It’s a bit fitting that Stary Olsa should be my first entry in this on-going series to appear within the fall season, because I actually featured both “Dances” and “Drygula” this time last year. Of course it has nothing to do with horror, but it’s firmly rooted in the traditions from which our Halloween has derived–those of a misty past dominated by perceptions and beliefs not yet subsumed by European Christian standards. I don’t know whether the songs Stary Olsa play are themselves of ancient origin, but their instrumentation certainly is, and the songs they have crafted, whether traditional or original, are convincingly and memorably medieval. You’ll hear none of that western adherence to formula here; playing slightly out of tune or hitting a wrong note is a positive property of the music I like best. It comes to life with an earthiness that strives not for order and rationality, but for a taste of those unpredictable, wild-eyed expressions that highlight the more authentic human experiences of joy and sorrow. A lot of the best folk music abandons modern society’s notions of how these feelings ought to be expressed in exchange for a more direct connection. Stary Olsa certainly aren’t unique in this regard, but they do it better than most any other ensemble I’ve heard.

Ten Years #23: The Tossers


Decade of last.fm scrobbling countdown:
23. The Tossers (1,222 plays)
Top track (57 plays): The Crock of Gold, from The Valley of the Shadow of Death (2005)

My introduction to Irish punk was about as random as they come. I had “Come On Eileen” by Dexys Midnight Runners stuck in my head, and I could not for the life of me remember what it was called or who wrote it. I made a forum post asking “who wrote that song that goes too-ra-loo-rai-a?”, and someone–much to my persistent bewilderment today–responded with “Aye Sir” by The Tossers. It was through this cluttered back door that I first came to discover legends like The Pogues, The Dubliners, Dropkick Murphys, and Flogging Molly, and I owe a world of thanks to that forgotten forum poster for it.

A lot of my love for The Tossers is definitely nostalgia, because they introduced me to a world of music that has influenced my life tremendously ever since. But more significantly, I love The Tossers because they manifest an earthy side of Irish folk that bigger and brighter rock stars can never, by consequence of their fame, present quite so intimately. The drunken camaraderie, the sense of belonging, the singing and the dancing, all of the glory that one of the most persistently vibrant folk traditions in the world can bring–you certainly feel them all at a Dropkick concert, but with The Tossers it comes before an audience of a few hundred, most of whom know the songs by heart. They’re probably the best punk-minded Irish folk band drifting around America to have never made it big, and their live show is a blast every time.

Ten Years #32: Elliott Smith


Decade of last.fm scrobbling countdown:
32. Elliott Smith (946 plays)
Top track (95 plays): Southern Belle, from Elliott Smith (1995)
Featured track: St. Ides Heaven, from Elliott Smith

This October will mark ten years since Elliott Smith’s tragic death. I remember hearing the news only a few months after I started listening to him. The Royal Tenenbaums was my favorite movie at the time, and I picked up his self-titled album after hearing Needle in the Hay in the suicide scene. As if the album’s lyrics weren’t bleak enough already, the relevance of my first experience of Elliott Smith to his death added a whole new weight. It’s a pleasant if odd coincidence that the album soon became intimately tied with one of the most positive experiences of my life.

Smith died in October, and I shipped off to basic training the following month. Music deprivation–the only really challenging aspect of the whole three month process–came to an end when I was marched out of my barracks with my confiscated cd collection back in tow and shipped off to my year-long advanced training. I hopped on a plane in a bitter sub-zero St. Louis February and fell back off in the palm-tree coastal paradise of Monterey, California. Elliott Smith was spinning all the while, and it kept on playing until I left that strange and beautiful place for good. Something about the juxtaposition of Smith’s depressing lyrics and ethereal performance perfectly captured the simultaneous homesickness and bewilderment that I experienced as a rural 19 year old alone and out of his element with an enormous Army pay check, left to roam the hills of one of America’s most affluent coastal cities every night. That otherworldly vision of a serene Pacific bay surrounded by city lights will always go hand-in-hand with this album for me, and I can’t bring myself to listen to any other Elliott Smith recording without being overcome by a desire to put his self-titled back on, close my eyes, and relive the experience. It might not be exactly what Smith had in mind when he recorded it, but I would rather like to remember him for the beauty lying beneath his depression than for his death.

Ten Years #36: The Mountain Goats


Decade of last.fm scrobbling countdown:
36. The Mountain Goats (846 plays)
Top track (37 plays): Home Again Garden Grove, from We Shall All Be Healed (2004)
Featured track: Fault Lines, from All Hail West Texas (2002)

Back in my later high school days, when my early obsession with metal music coexisted with an active participation in games like Magic: The Gathering and Dungeons & Dragons, I remember stumbling across a 1/1 beast in Ice Age that I became bound and determined to name a pseudo-grim heavy metal band after:

I was very briefly disappointed to find that a band had already beaten me to the punch on that one. One of the things that makes John Darnielle an awesome person, though, is the very real possibility that this is no coincidence and he took his band name from M:tG too. (Probably not, given that his first album came out in 1994, but you never know.) This guy has made a guest appearance on an Aesop Rock hip-hop album and written an acoustic love song set to a Marduk black metal concert in the same year; his appreciation for the awkward and out-of-place couples with an above-average awareness of other musical scenes to conjure a constantly befuddling self-image. The first time I saw him live, before I was very aware of his works, I wasn’t sure if I ought to take the dialogue between each track as stand-up comedy or legitimate commentary by someone who was hopelessly socially inept. In retrospect, it was more the former, but the heart-felt sincerity Darnielle packs into everything he says or writes is both a quintessential part of the act and a reflection of who he really is–someone both incredibly aware and controlling of his public image and just a little bit legitimately weird. He has made his claim to fame writing sentimental solo acoustic songs with over-the-top lyrics and awkward subject matters that are simultaneously heart-felt and tongue-in-cheek. He has cultivated his awkwardness into some of the best solo acoustic albums recorded since Bob Dylan.

Lately, The Mountain Goats have evolved from a solo project to more of a full band. Last time I went to their show the audience had expanded from about a hundred to a few thousand, and Darnielle was hamming up the rock-star image with a shit-eating grin on his face the whole time. I absolutely love this guy and his works, and while I can’t say that I’ve kept up with him consistently over the years (his discography is massive), I’ve certainly listened to him enough to rank in my top 50 most played artists of the past decade. Here are the lines to Fault Lines, to give you some idea of his brilliantly bizarre lyrics:

Down here where the heat’s so fine
I’ll drink to your health and you drink to mine
As we try to make the money we scored out in Vegas hold out for a while
We drink vodka from Russia
We get our chocolates from Belgium
We have our strawberries flown in from England
But none of the money we spend seems to do us much good in the end
I got a cracked engine block, both of us do
Yeah the house, the jewels, the Italian race car
They don’t make us feel better about who we are
I got termites in the framework, so do you
Down here where the watermelon grows so sweet
Where I worshiped the ground underneath of your feet
We are experts in the art of frivolous spending
It’s gone on like this for three years I guess
And we’re drunk all the time, and our lives are a mess
And the deathless love we swore to protect with our bodies
is stumbling across its bleak ending
But none of the rage in our eyes
Seems to finish it off where it lies
I got sugar in the fuel lines, both of us do
Yeah the fights and the lies that we both love to tell
Fail to send our love to its reward down in hell
I got pudding for a backbone, and so do you
La la la la! Hey hey!