Another Travelin’ Song

Want the definition of Emo? You’re looking at it. This is a man so emo, he performs under a name taken from an Art Garfunkel song. An Art Garfunkel song from an animated movie about rabbits. That’s emo. And unlike most of what falls under that label, Bright Eyes doesn’t suck. Conor Oberst has been called the second coming Dylan. (Why do we need a new Dylan when the old one is still alive and kicking?) That’s grossly unfair to anybody, for obvious reasons, but that’s the comparison that inevitably gets made whenever a songwriter comes along with thoughts in his head that aren’t crude sexual metaphors. Oberst is no Dylan by any stretch of the imagination, but he’s one of the strongest young songwriters we’ve got. That and cuteness levels that should be illegal have made him an icon for millions of the discerning depressed wilting wallflower types who like to wear hoodies, pout, mope and cut themselves. He also rubs a lot of people the wrong way. Non-believers say his songs are self-obsessed, teenage and whiny, and his voice is annoying. Good point. He unfailingly sounds like he’s on the brink of bawling his eyes out. A little bit goes a long way.

Well I’m changing all my strings
I’m gonna write another traveling song
About all the billion highways and the cities at the break of dawn
Well I guess the best that I can do now is pretend that I’ve done nothing wrong
And to dream about a train that’s gonna take me back where I belong

Well now the ocean speaks and spits and I can hear it from the interstate
And I’m screaming at my brother on a cell phone he’s far away
I’m saying nothing in the past or future ever will feel like today
Until we’re parking in an alley
Just hoping that our shit is safe

So I go back and forth forever
All my thoughts they come in pairs
Oh I will, I won’t, I doubt I don’t
I’m not surprised but I never feel quite prepared

Now I’m hunched over a typewriter
I guess you call that painting in a cave
And there’s a word I can’t remember
And a feeling I cannot escape
And now my ashtray’s overflowing
I’m still staring at a clean white page
Oh and morning’s at my window
She is sending me to bed again

Well I dream of dark on the horizon
I dream a desert where the dead lay down
I dream a prostituted child touching an old man in a fast food crowd
Oh yeah, I dreamt a ship was sinking
There was people screaming all around
And I awoke to my alarm clock
It was a pop song, it was playing loud

So I will find my fears and face them
Or I will cower like a dog
I will kick and scream or kneel and plead
I’ll fight like hell to hide that I’ve given up

Brand New Colony

Brand New Colony, The Postal Service, Give Up, 2003

The Postal Service is one of many side projects for Death Cab For Cutie’s frontman Ben Gibbard. The one Postal Service album has the melodic catchiness of Death Cab frosted with soothing electronic coolness. Gibbard and Death Cab, if you don’t know, got a dose of mainstream fame a few years ago when they got a plug on some tv series called The OC. They’ve become since then some of the top purveyors of Emo music. The term Emo means basically nothing, at this point. It’s short for emotional. Emo emerged as a genre as an alternative (but not Alternative) to soulless, mindless stadium pop. Emo is basically defined as any music with truthfull, heartfelt lyrical content. As opposed to chart topping music that is composed by focus groups, it’s supposed to be intensely personal and confessional. But that can include a wide variety of musical styles. So emo now ranges from Bright Eyes’ Conor Oberst who sings lyrical paeans to lost love and damaged souls in a quavery voice, to straight up commercial rock bands like Fall Out Boy, and anything in between as long as it wears hoodies and guyliner. (Oberst does not wear guyliner, but he does have the tell-tale emo forelock.) It seems that Emo is as well defined as Alternative was in the 90s, which is, not at all. Take it or leave it, but nobody does it better than Ben Gibbard.