Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Water, Earth, Fire, Air

So I've been watching Avatar (the TV show with the bald child, not the movie with the blue people) a lot recently, and...well, if you've never seen it, here's a quick primer:

Another thing I've been addicted to recently is Okkervil River's second album, Down the River of Golden Dreams (you may remember it as 'that album that took fricking ages to show up'). I could show you another YouTube video at this point, but instead, here's an excerpt from Okkervil River mainman Will Sheff's account of making the album:
"By the end of our stay in that city [San Francisco] from which so many long-haul travelers first cast out onto the water, I felt like nothing so much as a sailor. The last week of mixing I had even slept every night in the back of our 150 Ford, throwing open the back doors every morning to gaze on a deep, wide pool of water left by a week-long series of torrential downpours. 
"I guess that’s part of the reason we decided to call the record Down the River of Golden Dreams. It’s the title of the piece Seth’s octogenarian great aunt Nila plays at the beginning of the record, but it’s also because - to be appropriately California - I think that, if Don’t Fall in Love with Everyone You See [Okkervil River's first album] was an earth record, this is a water record. Sailing away never to return, washing clean to start over, fishing and swimming and drowning and all that stuff is floating around in there somewhere.
"At least, that’s what I hear when I hear these songs." 
You've probably spotted where I'm going with this. What if we extended Will Sheff's thinking to all albums? What if every record has its own element, just as each character from Avatar comes from one of the four nations?

Well, it might make a half-decent blog post, if nothing else. Here are four albums from my current rotation, along with the elemental alignments I've decided to assign them...

Down the River of Golden Dreams by Okkervil River
Element: Water

Will Sheff wasn't kidding when he called this a "water record" - as the title and artwork suggest, aquatic imagery abounds throughout. Closing track Seas Too Far to Reach, for example, compares the gentle breath of a lover with the waves of those distant seas, with Mr Sheff stating his intention to (metaphorically, I assume) round up a crew of hearty sailors and sail there. A lot of these songs are in waltz time, too; 3/4 has always been a far more nautical time signature than 4/4.

Have You Ever Done Something Evil? by Hallelujah the Hills
Element: Earth

According to HtH's Bandcamp page, one reviewer dubbed this album "the smartest you will ever hoist a beer to". That review should give you an idea of how earthy Have You Ever Done Something Evil? is; the guitars are crunchy enough, and the choruses as hard-hitting enough, to make up for the continuing absence of a fourth Titus Andronicus album. Almost.

The Voyager by Jenny Lewis
Element: Fire

That tumble of red hair on the cover isn't the only fiery aspect of The Voyager; the whole record positively burns with desire and a druggy sense of adventure. From the flame of lust that propels Lewis's Late Bloomer into bed with two other people to the hellfire that licks at the feet of the poor, doomed guy in You Can't Outrun 'Em, every one of these songs sounds too hot to touch.

On Your Own Love Again by Jessica Pratt
Element: Air

I picked this up from Spillers a couple of weeks ago, and while it's not the sort of thing I usually go for (there are no big drums, no big choruses, and no big anything, really), On Your Own Love Again is a perfect fit for our final element. These songs are very airy indeed, anchored by nothing more than acoustic guitar strings and the fine, fine threads of Jessica Pratt's voice; like a strong gust of wind, though, OYOLA does have a tendency to knock you down from nowhere. For example, it was only after several uncertain spins that I finally realised how emotive Back, Baby is:

"There was a time that you loved me...can't go back, baby...and sometimes I pray for the rain"

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