Not your father’s Purple Haze. This is your Irish granny’s Purple Haze. If your Irish granny was the legendary Maire Brennan, that is. I suppose she’s referring to some mystical misty dell, not whatever drug references most of us associate the phrase ‘purple haze’ with. It’s all about the atmosphere, anyway, which to me feels very cozy. This is prime teatime music, and I find it very comforting. I guess a lot of people find Irish music ‘comforting’ and it’s kind of a coffeehouse cliche, but still… Cliches have to come from somewhere, after all.
ThouShaltNot is not more, but for a little while in the early 2000’s they were keeping 80’s-style goth music alive. I don’t even remember why and how I discovered them, because the keeping goth music alive scene is not really my scene. (The interwebs, obviously, though.) I’m glad I did, and I’ve been listening to them pretty regularly for years. It’s nice to discover something that is in the same vein as the classics everyone and their dog loves but hasn’t been hammered to death by every two-bit DJ in every poorly-lit sleazy nightclub you’ve ever been to.
Nobody exceeds at the fine art of narrative songs like the Decemberists. Small wonder Colin Meloy writes children’s books in his spare time; I haven’t read them but I would and I would read any adult book he might write. In the meantime, we can enjoy the most literary canon in pop music right now. The Decemberists’ discography is more like a miniature library stuffed with novels, leaning heavily towards historical fiction, but also not without the serious family dramas, not without explorations of folklore, not without the fantasy epic, and not without the occasional hard boiled crime thriller. If the diversity of subjects and genres is any clue, I’d guess that Meloy is the kind of person who picks up boxes of books at garage sales and behind dumpsters, then reads all of them.
You will know The Handsome Family, if you know them at all, from the show True Detective. They provided the bone chilling theme song, and it completed the show’s atmosphere of dread. However, not all of their music evokes pagan cultist serial killers and existential despair. Some of it is quite cheery, in fact. They even have songs that are humorous! This one questions our anthropocentric views of spirituality. Definitely a discovery worth checking out, especially for fans of alternative, roots country and bluegrass.
Ok, about the video. I really love the image of Regina Spektor as a kindly music teacher. It is so very, very something a nice New York Russian Jewish girl would be doing if she wasn’t a pop star. In fact, Spektor’s mother is a music teacher, and Spektor attended musical and creative arts schools throughout her life. So it’s clearly a very near and dear profession. Obviously, it would be a loss to the wider world, but it’s a realistic alternate reality in which Regina Spektor never makes it out of the coffee shop scene but spends her life impacting the lives of students, one at a time. She seems like she would the kind of teacher who brings homemade pastries to class every morning. Also, on a slightly unrelated note, I think Regina Spektor is really huggable, and that’s not something I would say about very many pop stars. It’s nice when nice people become successful!
I love a good narrative song, and a good blood feud, and a good updating of Romeo and Juliet. And all of those things in one, of course. This being The Decemberists, though, the tale of gang rivalry is about as raw-nerve relevant as the misadventures of the Ancient Mariner. That is, an intellectual curiosity, a quizzical stretch of the poetic imagination. Hence the music video that’s more Wes Anderson than anything that might occur in the real world, or even on an episode of The Sopranos. But we don’t turn to The Decemberists for verisimilitude or social commentary; they occupy the intellectual high ground of the NPR demographic, the elite circle of New Yorker subscribers, the endangered American Proffessitariat. We are the demimonde who reward ourselves for getting each other’s obscure literary references with an extra helping of Pinot Noir. We sagely pretend to remember a time when Gore Vidal was relevant. We care deeply and hypothetically about social issues we’ve never experienced. We know what tagliatelle is and how to pronounce it. Colin Meloy is our rock god.
And now for some relaxing spa music. Honestly, I’m not at all sure how Celtic music came to be associated with spas, but we do tend to think of it as definitely conducive to relaxation, and vaguely ‘good for you’ on a spiritual level. Moya Brennan has been part of the Irish music revival since it began in sixties, and remains one of its best known figures. She’s seen her musical heritage go from about as unhip as a set of muddy Wellies, to pretty edgy, to widely respected and commercially viable. You can thank her for making the harp a pop instrument, and you can blame her sister for that crap you hear at the spa.