Leonard Cohen never flagged in his old age, and for that he is an inspiration to us all. He made being elderly seem nearly appealing, or at the very least, not appalling. Who wouldn’t want to be a gentleman-poet in their sunset years? Cohen’s persona was well-suited to it, of course; he had an air of well-weathered wisdom even as a young-ish man. If it wasn’t the wisdom of age in his voice on those early records, it was at least the pursuit and the promise of such. His last couple of records are unmistakably works of wisdom earned. That’s not a perspective that pops a lot in the pop world, because the pop world exists mostly to inflame the young. It’s a system of planned obsolescence, designed to be outgrown. For anyone who’s outgrown their own pop moment, it’s a comfort to turn to Leonard Cohen’s placid and pithy voice. He offers an aspirational image: no longer an attempted ladies’ man, but still fully creative, spiritual, and much given to canes and good hats.
I never understood what this song was about until it came to me that it was simply about trying to record dog sounds. That’s meta, I guess, but it’s more silly than deep. Timbuk 3 has long been a fave of mine despite their obscurity and one of the reasons why is that their songs are always about something. Something clever or funny, or something socially relevant. Patriotism and homelessness and commodified religion and lowered expectations. Good, relevant, timeless writing that doesn’t lean on the same old lazy tropes. This song may not be the best example of that. But it’s a good tune.
It could be new town, same story and still mean the same thing, I think. It’s about human repetition, I think. I don’t know what any Interpol songs are about, except that it’s usually not anything happy. They’ve been relentlessly unwilling to go the la-di-da route in their writing – not one cheerful song in all these years. But they make bleakness sound so appealing and sexy, you hardly miss the sun. This is music for people who like to burrow down in their cynicism. It’s for long crushing nights alone with too many stimulants in your system. It’s for when you’re fooling yourself that being miserable makes you more interesting. That’s a fleeting state of mind for most of us, and luckily. But the best gloomy music still sounds good even when you’re happy.
More Roxy Music, because Roxy Music is the soundtrack of my life and if you haven’t guessed yet, I spend as much time curating the soundtrack of my life as I do living my life. That’s because life is such that there’s days and weeks destined for the cutting room floor for every moment that ends up in the highlight reel. Music just adds the illusion that there’s something meaningful going, an old trick filmmakers like to rely on. If the music is Roxy Music, I can pretend there’s something glamorous and poetic running through my life.
Bryan Ferry is hardly a blues singer in any conventional sense. He is, by most standards, barely inhabiting the same universe. But Ferry pushes the emotion buttons for a very specific audience: continental white people too effete and art-damaged to admit that they still have emotional functions at all aka me. I can’t really relate to real blues music – it’s too real! But I can relate to a man who wears a tie with a leather suit jacket. Nobody is pretending this is actually a blues song. It’s a ‘mope and smoke on the balcony gazing out to sea’ song, which is a very particular feeling to evoke.
But is he though? Lately Jack White hasn’t quite sounded like the Jack we’ve always known and loved. He’s had a crisis of conscience or something. He’s playing on guitars that he bought from a store and editing songs on a laptop like a goddamn normal-person now, apparently. He’s doing all the things that – in his head, at least – make him look like a “sell-out”. “Wait, what, so you didn’t record you new album on all-analog equipment in a basement home studio in a trailer park in Alabama while wearing your great-grand-uncle’s wedding tuxedo? Traitor!” Said no one. It seems that Jack White has come to the realization that at the end of the day, his obsession with authenticity impresses no one but himself. So he broke down and bought a guitar that wasn’t second-hand. Which is fine and I fully support him. No 42-year-old can be expected to be the same weirdo he was at 20-something. Oh, but what a fine weirdo! Let’s take a moment to appreciate just what an impact the early White Stripes records really had. They turned my life around, I kid you not, and I’m not even a musician. They brought a thrift-store sensibility, a well-defined visual and musical aesthetic, and a genuine love for oddity into the forefront of the cultural landscape at at time when lovers of the old and dusty felt most disenfranchised. They made me want to enjoy pop culture again. I’m tearing up just thinking about it.
A while back I made the executive decision not to feature songs that aren’t written in English, for grammatical reasons, mostly. It’s my rule and it’s made to be broken, and I have broken it many times. Especially when dealing with artists who swing easily between languages and cultures, as Devendra Banhart does. Banhart does some of his best work in Portuguese, and feels equally at home with Latin American rhythms as he does the American pop idiom, maybe more so. In fact, he makes the American pop idiom look laughably limited and one-dimensional, which it very much is. And eccentricity, of course, cuts across language barriers: a fellow eccentric recognizes a kindred spirit from across the world.