Search Box

Links to Culture Cafe Episodes!

Monday, May 25, 2015

Single File: In The Flowers

Things have been tough lately. 
I thought I would try writing about that which has always lifted my spirits.

Single File is segment that analyzes a lone track off an album I enjoyed. The track being discussed isn't necessarily always a 'single,' but rather a song that I believe contributed greatly to the feel of the album in question.

The band: Animal Collective

The album: Merriweather Post Pavilion

The song: In The Flowers

In The Flowers is a great place to start with this new segment. Some albums are good, others are great, and the song for today hails from the latter. And in the pantheon of great releases there are those which leave a lasting mark after their first listen. Merriweather Post Pavilion earned the question, "Do you remember the first time you listened to it?" and it is well deserved. To understand the reason why I love this song, and especially as a part of a collection, it will help to expand the argument just a bit more.

Music is tricky. I would argue this is largely because listening to it is an investment of time few care to spend on things they aren't positive they will enjoy. With this in mind and admitting that the art form as a whole is extremely subjective, recommending songs (let alone entire albums) to people can be tough. Both parties have something to lose if the enjoyment doesn't transfer. Thus, the responsibility of an opening track is huge when suggesting an album to a friend.

With the influx of portable music came a shift to the way we actually listened to it. Take a look at any digital shop and it will be instantly apparent what has changed. I hopped onto the iTunes music store and clicked on the first album they were promoting as of today. As is obvious, the album (in its entirety) can be purchased at a base price. Apart from the single - which still exists - music was ultimately purchased as a whole. You couldn't piece out an album in other words. The trend for today is in the individual track selection. 

I could never buy a single track
I apologize for beating this quite obvious concept over your heads. I'm sure everyone reading is well aware of the current trends in the music industry; one would only need to check their smartphone and a handful of apps to find any number of examples. I only make this point so exhaustively because I feel that it has destroyed the concept of what an album should be: a collection of songs meant to be heard and enjoyed together.

I'm a record collector, and though that market is increasing (much to my excitement) it is still a relatively small area of industry. When listening to a record one can't simply skip a track, at least with the ease in which a portable player could. It is a physical process that's reproducing the sound and as such it is also a physical process to skip a track: getting off the couch and moving the needle to the song you want to hear. I don't bother with that (apart from the necessary side flipping) because I trust that these albums had blood, sweat, and tears poured into them. I believe there's a reason the tracks are in the order they are in. There's a reason they are in one collection. Having said that, I do realize that some albums seem to built of 'fillers' designed to couch one or two singles, but that's a topic for another day.

So, albums are important, songs matter as do their order, and listening to albums as self contained experiences is critical for me. This is why I suggested earlier that the opening track to an album carries such weight.

Luckily, In The Flowers handles this in strides.The track opens with a wave-like wash, as if to symbolize a cleansing of the palette before heading deep into uncharted territory. The downward spiraling, rhythmic plucking again reinforces this idea of descending towards the clandestine, an audible trip down the rabbit hole. It has a quality which is ever so slightly cautious, but equally curious. From out of this nebulous dream-space comes our narrator, who begins to describe a dancer he meets in a field. The dancer is spoken of as maintaining a trance over our narrator. Her movements seem to catch the narrator off guard, and incite a force deep within himself that cannot be controlled, noting that even her surroundings appear more joyful due to her presence. She presents a flower to him, an invitation. He adds later a sense of envy towards those such as the dancer who will "dance despite anything." Wistfully, he ponders what it would be like to live in such hedonism before ultimately giving into the temptation, at which point the song explodes into a cacophony of bliss.

Perhaps the most telling, and most important lines to the album overall come next from our narrator as he answers the hypothetical he proposed moments earlier.

Then we could be dancing
No more missing you while I'm gone
There we could be dancing,
And you'd smile and say, "I like this song"
And when our eyes will meet there
We will recognize nothing's wrong
And I wouldn't feel so selfish
I won't be this way very long

Suddenly everything has changed. Dancing now appears to be a metaphor for simply enjoying life, whatever form that pleasure takes. In this case, we might understand it to mean the album that we're about to dive right into. In a wonderfully earnest moment, the narrator admits that if they simply chose to enjoy themselves, nothing bad would come of it, and though it might be selfish to consider only one's happiness, he understands that it will only be for short time.

As an opening track for an album that falls well outside of 'mainstream' music, could you ask for a more honest start? It speaks to the innocence of enjoying music, as it should be enjoyed. Remove label, identity, associations, and listen to it for the sense of wonderment that we often find so hard to describe, yet easily recognize when around, and deeply miss when gone. It encourages the listener to let go, because as it argues, there's no harm in having a little bit of fun.

The album stays strong throughout, and stays true to the opening manifesto. There are songs more playful, and stronger, and probably more popular as it goes on, but none can replace the feeling of being guided slowly into a world of frivolity - if only for a while.


"In The Flowers"

I'm a dancer

Met a dancer
Who was high in a field
From her movement
Caught my breath on my way home
Couldn't stop that spinning force I felt in me,
Everything around seemed to giggle glee
She walked up with a flower and I cared

Found a dancer
Who gets wild to the beats
of record rhythm
But I'm always away for weeks that pass slow
My mind gets lost
Feeling envy for the kid who'll dance despite anything
I walk out in the flowers, and feel better

If I could just leave my body for the night,
Then we could be dancing
No more missing you while I'm gone
There we could be dancing,
And you'd smile and say, "I like this song"
And when our eyes will meet there
We will recognize nothing's wrong
And I wouldn't feel so selfish
I won't be this way very long

To hold you in time
To hold you in time
To hold you in time
To hold you in time

While we were dancing
Early hours
Drunken days finally ended
And the streets turned for a pillowcase
Then I fumbled our good lock
Then the ecstasy turns to rising light
Through our windowpane
Now I'm gone
I left flowers for you there