Well, hello there. I’m so excited for the opportunity to contribute to Nerds and Nomsense! Wherever you are, I hope that you’ve been having a great summer. To be honest, I’ve not had the most exciting of summers. Large-scale, demanding projects at work tend to suck out the excitement of warmth and sunshine, and Oklahoma has had a wet summer with lots of rain anyway. It hasn’t even really felt like summertime, and aside from the rain, my music choices as of late are also to blame. Last week’s Music Week showed us the obvious: music has this inescapable influence over our lives. It affects our moods, our memories, even our relationships, pretty much everything!
One of my tell-tale signs of stress is high consumption of what the XM radio calls “classic alternative,” i.e. Depeche Mode, The Cure, and The Smiths. Y’know, the dark side of pop music. When I was in my busiest and most stressful time of grad school, I listened to nothing but Depeche Mode for an entire semester. This summer, as I threw my all into a giant work project, I listened to Meat is Murder (The Smiths for the woefully uninformed, and in my opinion, their best album) every damn day, sometimes twice! When I tired of listening to albums, I’d flip on my Pandora station for… yeah, you guessed it, The Smiths. It turns out when you’re listening to a lot of music that evokes the qualities of drizzly England, things start to get downright depressing. It affects you in ways you don’t think about. Feeling gloomy because you’ve done nothing but work all summer? You can feel even more gloomy by constantly playing songs about the ones you can’t have, ruffians, big mouths, and double-decker buses killing you and your loved one!
Like any ruts, once you’re there, it’s hard to get out. It’s easy to tell yourself “Well, I’ll just listen to Strangeways, Here We Come instead of Meat is Murder or The Queen is Dead” rather than trying to expand your musical horizons. Thank goodness there was a light at the end of the tunnel. And that light was actually not so much light but two beautiful voices in the form of Jenny Lewis and Tori Amos. Both ladies have new albums out this summer, and I am here to share why I absolutely love them.
At the end of July, Jenny dropped her long-awaited 3rd solo album The Voyager. She’s amassed quite the following as former lead singer of Rilo Kiley and former child star. Jenny’s vocals always have had a touch of melancholy; however, like the tastiness of sweet and sour pairings, this melancholic air is complimented well with her sunny melodies. Jenny was the first step out of my self-made musical rut. Not only was I replacing Meat is Murder with The Voyager, it got me to revisit those of her ilk, such as Best Coast, The Mynabirds, Postal Service as well as Rilo Kiley and her previous solo efforts, naturally.
What I find so interesting about The Voyager was the process that it took to get there. This album was not something just cobbled together and called done – this album was 5 years in the making. In time span, Rilo Kiley broke up, Jenny’s dad passed, she started having insomnia, she went on tour with The Postal Service, and who knows what else Jenny hasn’t discussed in interviews. Apparently, touring with The Postal Service was the driving factor in actually finishing the album as she returned from tour energized and finished The Voyager in a few weeks after all that time. The Voyager is quite appropriately titled because it’s Jenny’s journey. You can read more about the process behind The Voyager at The Daily Beast and NPR.
I was in Topsail Island with my family when The Voyager came out. Sitting on a deck and drinking my morning cup of coffee while the waves crashed nearby gave me the time to listen attentively. “Head Underwater” caught my attention immediately with lyrics such as “I throw my clothes away in the trash / I stood barefoot on the blazing concrete,” and “She’s Not Me” pulled me in with its hypnotic guitars against Jenny’s wails of “she’s nooooot me!” as well as the sick guitar solo at the end of the song. “Just One of the Guys” hit a little too close to home with lyrics like “When I look at myself, all I can see / I’m just another lady without a baby.” “Slippery Slopes,” although the tune is vaguely reminiscent of a song off Rilo Kiley’s Under the Blacklight, is Jenny’s vocals at their finest. “Late Bloomer” was the deal sealer – it’s a gorgeous ballad of Jenny’s travels in Paris as a teenager and following a women following a singer from the band Sebadoh. By the time I finished listening to the album and the gorgeous acoustic titular track about Jenny’s revelation at a 7-11, I knew that The Voyager was an album I would be enjoying for years to come.
Haven’t heard these songs yet? Check out some of my favorites:
“Just One of the Guys”
“She’s Not Me”
I didn’t expect to get into Tori Amos’ new album, and at the time of this post, I’ve been listening to Unrepentant Geraldines for about a week and a half. This album actually came out in May, but I didn’t think much of it upon hearing that Tori was putting out a new album. Her last several albums have not dazzled me, and why set myself up for disappointment when nothing seemed to compare to her halcyon days of the early 90’s? Fast forward to the beginning of August when somehow, Tori’s new album snuck its way into the idle small talk that occurs when work mandates that you take strangers to the airport. I was surprised to hear Unrepentant Geraldines described as her “best album in 15 years. At least.” Curiosity piqued, I found it on Spotify the next day, and my ears were awash with the glow of the exquisite beauty of Tori’s voice, her lyrics, and her music. Turns out my snap judgement was wrong. So, so wrong. Of this “sin,” I will repent.
I’ve read a few reviews of the album since beginning to listen to Unrepentant Geraldines. The common theme was not only is this album a “return to form,” but a return in a way that marks a maturity not demonstrated by previous efforts. Tori came to her listeners by way of Little Earthquakes, an album full of fantastic songs such as “Girl,” “Silent All These Years,” “Winter,” among others. The Tori of Little Earthquakes is a woman just starting to speak up for herself and dealing with complicated relationships and sexual abuse. The reviews are right: Unrepentant Geraldines is Tori all grown up. She’s now a mother – her teenage daughter sings with her on Unrepentant Geraldines’ “Promise,” which I find to be an interesting parallel to Little Earthquakes’ “Winter,” a song about Tori’s relationship with her father. She’s no longer the girl who’s just finding her voice. She’s now the woman who’s unapologetic about who she is. Not to discredit her entire body of work between Little Earthquakes and Unrepentant Geraldines as she does have some excellent songs in there, but I think that Unrepentant Geraldines is the album Tori fans have been waiting for all these years. Maturity doesn’t happen overnight, after all. You can read more about Tori’s opinions of being an “aging” musician here.
As I continue to enjoy and digest Unrepentant Geraldines, I keep finding new favorite songs from the album. Tori’s lyrics are great – some of my favorites being “Trouble needs a home girls / a covert abode / from Tucson to Ohio / back through Tobacco road” (“Trouble’s Lament) and “You can uncover any lie / that’s why the NSA / and now the FBI / want to be the ones who control / Beth and Marlene’s pies” (“Giant’s Rolling Pin”). Did you know that a lot of Unrepentant Geraldines was inspired by visual works of art? As as a former English major, I am fascinated by what inspires the creative folks! Wikipedia’s article (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unrepentant_Geraldines) on Unrepentant Geraldines actually has a great chart of Tori’s inspirations for this album.
Want to give some of these songs a listen?
As I continue to enjoy both The Voyager and Unrepentant Geraldines, it’s quite nice to be making headway into getting myself out of aforementioned musical rut. If you haven’t listened to much of Jenny or Tori before these albums, I highly recommend hopping on Spotify or another music service of your choice and listening to their tunes. Hopefully the two of them will be making music for years to come!