Arachnophonia : Bon Iver “Bon Iver”

Editor’s note: Arachnophonia is a regular feature on our blog where members of the UR community can share their thoughts about items in the Parsons Music Library‘s collection. All links included in these posts will take you to either the library catalog record for the item in question or to additional relevant information from around the web.

Today’s installment of Arachnophonia is by Music Library student worker, Claire (class of 2020) and features indie folk band Bon Iver’s second album. Thanks, Claire!

Bon Iver

Bon Iver

Bon Iver - Bon Iver

Last semester, I had the chance to attend a Bon Iver concert, after being an avid fan of the band for more than six years. The concert exceeded my expectations. Since the concert, I have frequently listened to Bon Iver’s second studio album, cleverly titled Bon Iver. This album is a departure from the band’s first album, which was self-recorded in an isolated cabin in the woods of Wisconsin. Bon Iver won the Grammy for Best Alternative Music Album in 2012, and the song “Holocene” was nominated for both Song of the Year and Record of the Year, breaking into the alternative music scene in a bold and recognizable way. My favorite song on this album is, by far, “Holocene.” The name of the song is shared with geological epoch which translates to “The Age of Man.” The album also features titles of tracks with names of places, such as Hinnom, TX and Lisbon, OH, which seem to have little to do with the songs themselves. The experience of listening to this album from start to finish is difficult to describe in words, yet it brings about an intense emotional response, allowing listeners to question their own human condition in this “Holocene” we are currently living in.

Bon Iver - Holocene

Arachnophonia : The Smiths “The Queen Is Dead”

Editor’s note: Arachnophonia is a regular feature on our blog where members of the UR community can share their thoughts about items in the Parsons Music Library‘s collection. All links included in these posts will take you to either the library catalog record for the item in question or to additional relevant information from around the web.

Today’s installment of Arachnophonia is by Music Library student worker, Aly (class of 2018) and features a classic 1986 album by the British group The Smiths. Thanks, Aly!

The Smiths

The Queen Is Dead

Smiths - The Queen Is Dead

One of The Smiths’ most well-known albums, The Queen is Dead, is the quintessential album for anyone looking to get into this quirky indie rock band. The album, released in 1986 and re-released as a collector’s edition in 2017, has been unanimously praised, and even considered the “greatest album of all time” by major British music publication NME. The lyrics, sung by the famous now-solo Morrissey, are filled with clever imagery and sharp social commentary. Track 9, “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out,” was featured in the classic rom-com 500 Days of Summer and remains one of the most famous Smiths songs. This album is full of songs that take a few listens to really absorb all of the witty lyric details that often hint at social unrest, emotional struggles, and even anarchy. For someone looking to indulge in some of the best vintage fight-the-power music with hints of satire, this album is definitely worth the listen.

Smiths - Queen Is Dead poster

Arachnophonia: David Bowie “Blackstar”

Editor’s note: Arachnophonia is a regular feature on our blog where members of the UR community can share their thoughts about items in the Parsons Music Library‘s collection. All links included in these posts will take you to either the library catalog record for the item in question or to additional relevant information from around the web.

Today’s installment of Arachnophonia is by Music Library student worker, Gabi (class of 2020), and features Blackstar , the 25th and final album from English musician, David Bowie. Thanks, Gabi!

David Bowie

Blackstar

David Bowie - Blackstar

On what would have been David Bowie’s 71st birthday, an HBO original documentary titled, David Bowie: The Last Five Years premiered on the channel. The film explores the end of Bowie’s career, ranging from his last ever live performance in 2004, to the release of his final album, Blackstar, and corresponding music videos. The film revealed a new side of Bowie to me, and as a longtime fan, I was intrigued by the processes behind his later work, which he kept so concealed from the public–until now. It has inspired me to write about Bowie’s final album, his swan song, Blackstar.

HBO Doc promo

Blackstar came out when I was a senior in high school. I had listened to Bowie’s complete discography throughout my teenage years and was caught by surprise when he released a full-length album in 2016. Upon first listen, the album is very unique compared to his others, which says a great deal considering every one of Bowie’s albums represents a different stylistic era of Bowie. The album is concise, featuring only 7 tracks and a running time of 41 minutes. A new influence of jazz is also noticeable throughout the record, especially on track 4: “Sue (Or In a Season of Crime)“. This track featured collaborators like Maria Schneider, a notable jazz musician and composer. Bowie even cited Kendrick Lamar‘s To Pimp a Butterfly, an album that fuses hip-hop and jazz, as an inspiration for this choice.

This jazz influence overtakes that of rock’n’roll, which many would associate as Bowie’s main style. There is also something distinctly darker and ominous in the sound of Bowie’s voice on this album as compared to others. This, paired with the mix of new, experimental styles, made the listen of Blackstar a unique one for a Bowie fan. What would he do next? Did Blackstar mark a definite new era in Bowie’s sonic exploration?

Two days after the album’s release, before having much time to process or interpret this new sound, David Bowie passed away from liver cancer. The world was heartbroken, as the disease had been kept a secret from the public since its inception. It was not until his passing, however, that the public uncovered the true genius behind Blackstar: it is encrypted with secret messages that allude to Bowie’s death.

In the title track, Bowie sings,

“Something happened on the day he died
Spirit rose a metre then stepped aside
Somebody else took his place, and bravely cried
(I’m a blackstar, I’m a blackstar)”

Bowie - astronaut

Throughout his career, Bowie sung about space in a myriad of ways. On the song “Star”, from his 1973 album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, he calls himself a rock n roll star, but now, he has faded to black. In the music video for Blackstar, we even see a nod to Major Tom himself in the opening shot, as a man in a space suit looks up at a gigantic, black star.

Track 3, “Lazarus“, opens with the lines,

“Look up here, I’m in heaven
I’ve got scars that can’t be seen
I’ve got drama, can’t be stolen
Everybody knows me now”

Here, Bowie is literally calling to his listeners from the afterlife, reflecting on his time as a public figure. The corresponding music video features Bowie lying tensely in a hospital bed, and eventually he is dragged into a dark closet, almost like he was dragged away from life into death.

Tony Visconti, longtime producer, collaborator, and friend of Bowie, said that this album was Bowie’s “parting gift” to his fans. Two years after his death, the gift still resonates, and the musical risks he took throughout the project are reminders that even in his weakest days, Bowie was an innovator, and will always be remembered as one.

avid Bowie - Blackstar portrait

Arachnophonia: Amy Winehouse “Back to Black”

Editor’s note: Arachnophonia is a regular feature on our blog where members of the UR community can share their thoughts about items in the Parsons Music Library‘s collection. All links included in these posts will take you to either the library catalog record for the item in question or to additional relevant information from around the web.

Today’s installment of Arachnophonia is by Music Library student worker, Eve (class of 2020) and features English singer songwriter Amy Winehouse’s second and final studio album Back to Black. Thanks, Eve!

Amy Winehouse

Back to Black

Amy Winehouse - Back to Black

Amy Winehouse is famed for her distinctive voice and mastery of jazz, rhythm and blues, and soul, and the English singer-songwriter’s second album Back to Black reflects the impressive vocals and originality that brought her to fame. The album was released in 2006 and earned Winehouse five Grammy Awards, the 2007 Best British Female Artist Brit Award, and world-wide recognition.

Amy Winehouse - Rolling Stone Cover 2007

Winehouse on the cover of Rolling Stone Magazine, June 2007

Yet in many ways, Back to Black reflects the unhappy circumstances that surrounded Winehouse’s life and led to her untimely death at the age of 27. For example, songs such as “Back to Black” and “Rehab” reveal themes of depression and substance addiction struggles, while “Love is a Losing Game” speaks to the toxic nature of Winehouse’s romantic relationships. Still, darker elements of the album are balanced by upbeat tracks, and song such as “Tears Dry On Their Own” provide a refreshing message of self-confidence and perspective. If viewed through the lens of Amy Winehouse’s life, the honesty and rawness of Back to Black is moving, yet tracks also stand on their own for listener interpretation. In this way, Back to Black can be heard as a musical feat, tribute to Winehouse and medium for artistic contemplation.

Amy Winehouse - Back to Black

Arachnophonia: Jack Johnson “In Between Dreams”

Editor’s note: Arachnophonia is a regular feature on our blog where members of the UR community can share their thoughts about items in the Parsons Music Library‘s collection. All links included in these posts will take you to either the library catalog record for the item in question or to additional relevant information from around the web.

Today’s installment of Arachnophonia is by Music Library student worker,Emma (class of 2021) and features In Between Dreams a Jack Johnson album from 2005. Thanks, Emma!

Jack Johnson

In Between Dreams

Jack Johnson - In Between Dreams

This CD was released in 2005, though the music on it is timeless. Jack Johnson’s songs are relaxing, beachy, and easy to listen to. They remind me of a summer day but yet I play them all year round. This album was his third studio release, and many of his most popular songs are on it. Some of my favorites are “Banana Pancakes” (the name says it all), “Breakdown“, “Better Together,” and “Constellations.” I remember first hearing his music on the soundtrack to the Curious George movie when I was little, and ever since then Jack Johnson has been one of my go-to favorites. I’ve never met someone who didn’t like his songs! I hope he releases some new music soon!

Jack Johnson  - Bonnaroo 2005

Arachnophonia: “Hans Zimmer & James Newton Howard’s The Dark Knight: A Film Score Guide”

Editor’s note: Arachnophonia is a regular feature on our blog where members of the UR community can share their thoughts about items in the Parsons Music Library‘s collection. All links included in these posts will take you to either the library catalog record for the item in question or to additional relevant information from around the web.

Today’s installment of Arachnophonia is by Music Library student worker, Abby (class of 2021) and features an analysis of the score from the 2008 film The Dark Knight. Thanks, Abby!
Han Zimmer and James Newton Howard’s The Dark Knight : A Film Score Guide by Vasco Hexel

Are you a fan of Batman? Do you love learning about how movie soundtracks impact movies, even having the power to completely change emotion and perception? Or maybe you’re taking a music theory class and want to read something that won’t put you to sleep on the first page? Then this, my friend, is the book for you: Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard’s The Dark Knight: A Film Score Guide by Vasco Hexel. It’s a long title but hear me out. This book tracks Zimmer’s process in the making of The Dark Night film score, as the name suggests. But not only that, it provides in depth analysis of the characters Batman and the Joker, describing how the music was designed to reflect the psychology of each character.

For mega-fans and theorists, it’s a musical, analytical wonderland. And for those who need help in figuring out how to make a Grammy award-winning soundtrack, or who just need a break from Beethoven, this is the place to start!

Arachnophonia: Death Cab For Cutie “Transatlanticism”

Editor’s note: Arachnophonia is a regular feature on our blog where members of the UR community can share their thoughts about items in the Parsons Music Library‘s collection. All links included in these posts will take you to either the library catalog record for the item in question or to additional relevant information from around the web.

Today’s installment of Arachnophonia is by Music Library student worker Cole (class of 2021) and features Transatlanticism the fourth studio album by indie rock band Death Cab For Cutie originally released in 2003. Thanks, Cole!

Death Cab For Cutie

Transatlanticism

Death Cab For Cutie - Transatlanticism

“So this is the New Year
And I don’t feel any different”

So begins Death Cab for Cutie’s 2003 album Transatlanticism, and so too begins another calendar year. I mentioned this record in my previous Arachnophonia post, so I found it fitting to further detail it for my first submission of 2018. Written entirely by front man Ben Gibbard and recorded at the same time as The Postal Service’s Give Up, Transatlanticism offers a darker and more personal rumination on love than the synth-pop optimism of Gibbard’s collaboration with Jimmy Tamborello. Whereas Give Up dwells on relationships past, it ultimately is a celebration of those experiences. Transatlanticism is principally about the distances from others–physical and otherwise – that prevent us from being happy. It condemns, rather than celebrates, past failures.

Gibbard’s obsession with destructive distance is evident from the first moments of the album, and indeed the record’s name itself. The aforementioned intro track “The New Year” finds him mocking the inane celebration of the New Year’s holiday. Eventually, the song drops its cynical façade and ends with an honest rumination about the first type of distance addressed in the album – geographic:

“I wish the world was flat like the old days
Then I could travel just by folding a map
No more airplanes, or speed trains, or freeways
There’d be no distance that can hold us back”

Gibbard has become disillusioned about the “magic” of the New Year. Rather than celebrating with his friends the progression of time, he chooses instead to lament about “the old days” when the world was flat, senselessly believing that this would somehow allow him to be closer to his estranged lover.

Further on, numerous songs wrestle with an entirely different form of distance – temporal. In “We Looked Like Giants,” the second to last track of the album, Gibbard reminisces over the novelty of first love.

“I’ve become what I always hated when I was with you then
We looked like giants in the back of my grey subcompact
Fumbling to make contact as the others slept inside”

He notes the irony of how much he’s changed in the days since his high school affair and views the entire experience with an acute awareness of their naïveté. Unlike most other songs from Transatlanticism, Gibbard doesn’t pine for anything here. “We Looked Like Giants” reminisces but doesn’t dwell. It examines an old flame for what it was, not what it might have been, and in doing so provides the closest thing to a sense of closure found on the album.

Contrarily, “Title and Registration” recounts a personal experience of Ben Gibbard, stumbling across pictures of an ex-lover he “tried to forget” while searching for a legal document in the glove compartment of his car. He reminisces about this love lost thus:

“There’s no blame
For how our love did slowly fade
And now that it’s gone
It’s like it wasn’t there at all
And here I rest
Where disappointment and regret collide
Lying awake at night”

Gibbard takes an intriguing stance in this verse, first asserting that there’s “no blame” for the end of the relationship, but still expresses “disappointment and regret.” He takes issue not with the ending of the affair, but with how both parties allowed their love to extinguish with whimper. It’s only now, since distance has developed from the ending of the relationship, that Gibbard is tormented by his failure.

The final form of distance addressed in Transatlanticism, and indeed the most crucial, is emotional. As suggested in “Title and Registration,” Gibbard’s deepest wounds are delivered not by betrayal, but the slow division that sedates love into apathy. In “Expo ’86,” he critiques the very pursuit of love itself:

“Sometimes I think this cycle never ends
We slide from top to bottom then we turn and climb again
And it seems by the time that I have figured what it’s worth
The squeaking of our skin against the steel has gotten worse
But if I move my place in line, I’ll lose
And I have waited, the anticipation’s got me glued
I am waiting for something to go wrong
I am waiting for familiar resolve”

Like Sisyphus eternally rolling his boulder up a hill, only for it to roll back once he’s reached the top, Ben Gibbard feels trapped in a never-ending cycle of relationships. He desperately wants more than anything to just finish. This fixation with repetition prevents him from truly engaging in any meaningful way. Instead, he’s just “waiting for something to go wrong.”

Death Cab For Cutie

This dissociation from romantic endeavors is what drives Gibbard in “Tiny Vessels.” Here, he confesses to his emotional detachment, painting himself in a selfish and potentially even misogynistic light:

“So one last touch, and then you’ll go
And we’ll pretend that it meant something so much more
But it was vile, and it was cheap
And you are beautiful
But you don’t mean a thing to me”

Heartbreak after heartbreak has driven Gibbard from seeking passionate love to purely physical stimulation – the very transformation he despises. While “Tiny Vessels” proves to be a moral recession, it exists to embolden the revelation of the next song, the title track “Transatlanticism.”

Just shy of eight minutes long, “Transatlanticism” stands as the focal point of the album. In many ways it proves to be antithetical to every other song on the record. Rather than a cynical dismissing of past relationships, the title track is a heartbreakingly honest plea for true love. While the song is literally about a man being separated from his lover by the birth of the Atlantic Ocean, in truth it details the death of a relationship at the hands of a widening emotional disconnect.

“Most people were overjoyed
They took to their boats
I thought it less like a lake
And more like a moat”

Gibbard makes use of all three forms of distance – physical, temporal, and emotional, – and in doing so, produces the most genuine and stunning track of the album. Unlike “Title and Registration,” in “Transatlanticism” the speaker hasn’t resigned to simply regret the death of his relationship, because a fragment of it still remains. Rather than accept the slow death, he fights tooth and nail to preserve the love that’s slipping through his fingers. The song crescendos with a simple refrain – “I need you so much closer” – repeated twelve times, and then finally climaxes with the outro:

“So come on, come on
So come on, come on
So come on, come on
So come on, come on”

In my personal opinion, this is Ben Gibbard at his absolute best. Sparse, honest, and absolutely agonizing.

Since its release, Transatlanticism has been near-universally accepted as Death Cab for Cutie’s greatest work, and a seminal album of indie rock. While the band’s fan base consistently ridicules them for their more recent, upbeat outputs (fans often ironically lament how they want Ben Gibbard to be miserable again), Gibbard himself remains realistic about the band’s necessity for evolution. In a 2015 interview with Medium, Gibbard offered this:

“I cannot be the 25-year-old who wrote Transatlanticism as much as the fan can’t be the 19-year-old college student going through a break-up again.”

So I implore you, while you have the opportunity to be that 19-or-20-or-however-old-college-student-going-through-a-break-up-or-whatever-else, listen to Transatlanticism and be it.

Death Cab For Cutie

Arachnophonia: Sam Smith “In The Lonely Hour”

Editor’s note: Arachnophonia is a regular feature on our blog where members of the UR community can share their thoughts about items in the Parsons Music Library‘s collection. All links included in these posts will take you to either the library catalog record for the item in question or to additional relevant information from around the web.

Today’s installment of Arachnophonia is by Music Library student worker Mary (class of 2018) and features the debut 2014 album In The Lonely Hour by British singer Sam Smith.
Thanks, Mary!

Sam Smith

In The Lonely Hour

Sam Smith -  In the Lonely Hour

I chose Sam Smith’s album titled In the Lonely Hour because he is one of my favorite artists, and one of the songs in this album called “I’m Not the Only One” was the first music of Sam Smith that I was introduced to. I actually found out about Sam Smith’s music a lot later than everyone else because my friend recommended his music to me in the winter of 2014 although this album came out in May. I fell in love with Sam Smith’s music the minute I listened to this song because I loved the unique blend of classic soul, gospel choruses and acoustic instruments which made his music both soft and powerful at the same time. One of my few hobbies is to drive around and listen to music which I especially enjoy doing at night, and Sam Smith is definitely my go-to music on a chilly, wintry night. From this album, “Stay With Me” “Lay Me Down” and “Latch (Acoustic)” are also all my favorites. As the weather is gradually getting colder in Richmond as well, if you are stressed for any reason and are looking for a way to just relax and listen to good music, I recommend this album. It will be a good de-stressing moment.

Sam Smith Stay With Me Video SNL

Arachnophonia : Jean Sibelius “Symphony No. 5, op. 82 in Eb major”

Editor’s note: Arachnophonia is a regular feature on our blog where members of the UR community can share their thoughts about items in the Parsons Music Library‘s collection. All links included in these posts will take you to either the library catalog record for the item in question or to additional relevant information from around the web.

Today’s installment of Arachnophonia is by Music Library student worker Janis (class of 2021) and features Finnish composer Jean Sibelius’ 5th Symphony, which was originally composed in 1915. Thanks, Janis!

Jean Sibelius

Symphony No. 5 in Eb Major

Sibelius Symphony No. 5

“It is as if God Almighty had thrown down pieces of a mosaic for heaven’s floor and asked me to find out what was the original pattern.” – Jean Sibelius in a 1915 personal diary entry during the composition of his 5th Symphony

Several weeks ago I visited New York for the weekend, and I got to do something I had been dreaming of since I was a kid– seeing the New York Philharmonic live. (Special shout out to student rush tickets for making this possible). I was especially excited because the Philharmonic would be paying tribute to one of my favorite composers, Jean Sibelius. My excitement only grew as I realized they would be playing Sibelius’ Symphony No. 5 in E-Flat Major, one of his most iconic and one of my personal favorite works by Sibelius.

Jean Sibelius 1913

Composer Jean Sibelius in 1913 *

The symphony was inspired by a flight of swans witnessed by Sibelius in his later years; as he aged, his compositions became increasingly inspired by the connection between the earth and music.

Swans in flight

The ethereal opening of Symphony No. 5 reflects the quiet spirituality Sibelius found in nature, describing it as “…God opens His door for a moment and His orchestra plays the Fifth Symphony.” The symphony itself is divided into three movements, with a slow opening that evokes the sunrise and culminating in 6 separated chords; the finale itself was intended to transform the call of swans at sunrise into music. It is remarkably triumphant, dramatic, and transcendent. As Jeff Counts says in a review of Symphony No. 5, “Just like the absolutely transcendent sounds of the “swan hymn” in the finale, Sibelius was merely acknowledging his fortunate ability to gather the mysterious world around him into music. As an experience, Sibelius 5 is neither modern nor quaint, only lasting.”

* fi:Daniel Nyblin (1856–1923) – What We Hear in Music, Anne S. Faulkner, Victor Talking Machine Co., 1913.
Composer Jean Sibelius

Arachnophonia: Beck “Morning Phase”

Editor’s note: Arachnophonia is a regular feature on our blog where members of the UR community can share their thoughts about items in the Parsons Music Library‘s collection. All links included in these posts will take you to either the library catalog record for the item in question or to additional relevant information from around the web.

Today’s installment of Arachnophonia is by Music Library student worker Colin (class of 2021) and features the Grammy award winning ninth studio album by Beck. Thanks, Colin!

Beck

Morning Phase

Beck - Morning Phase

Released in 2014, Beck’s Morning Phase was a highly anticipated album after years of rumors surrounding its creation, and after news struck that Beck had signed with the incredibly famous Capitol Records. Morning Phase has been noted to sound very similar to Beck’s previous album, Sea Change, as both offer a melancholy and detached sound that Beck feared would drag on listeners’ ears. However, Morning Phase found itself to be widely regarded as Beck’s finest work, and the album earned the coveted Album of the Year Award at the 2015 Grammy Awards.

Beck

Morning Phase is essentially a commentary on what is black and white in the world, and what one should do when the world seems to be crumbling down. The album offers bright guitar playing, beautiful orchestral arrangements, layered vocals, and masterful percussion, all which culminate in each song to create a grand experience that meet many critics’ praise. Particularly interesting on this album is the song “Wave,” which features many of the elements previously stated of the album, and is a wonderful piece to listen to when one just needs to chill out.