New music for the road

The King Is Dead

I’m working on a giant post about the trip I just took to Ohio, but in the mean time I wanted to write about one of my favorite parts about going home: the long drive back. It’s funny, I always dread it because it’s not much to look at, and I spend most of it cursing Indiana and its barren scenery. But I tend to remember just in time that I’m being given a chance to listen to music in the best possible circumstances, on a solitary drive with nothing to look at and nothing to do but really listen to lyrics, feel their intended sentiment, to get to know music deeply. Not like when I’m working or reading on the train and my mind’s elsewhere. This is my time, the time I make for music.

This is beauty.

You might remember that before I made my move here, I asked friends to burn me mix CDs to listen to on the way out. Then, when I was home in December, Brittany burned me an eight-hour personalized compilation to listen to the whole way back to Chicago. All this awakened me to my enjoyment of diving in to music on the road between Chicago and Caldwell, and back again.

Before I left Saturday I loaded up my slowly dying iPhone with the new Decemberists CD, “The King Is Dead,” and a couple other new-to-me albums I’ve picked up recently. I’d given the Decemberists CD a couple listens and liked having it in the background, at least.

My first exposure to this band was “The Engine Driver,” a song that kind of haunted me, in a good way. I used to listen to it on repeat for a while there a couple summers ago; I always meant to get the rest of that CD but never did. I’ve only got one other (whole) CD of theirs, “The Crane Wife”. I like it a lot, but I just kind of had favorite songs from it on steady rotation.

“The King Is Dead” is beautiful and engaging from start to finish. There are a couple themes: war, and the changing of the seasons. The whole thing just really flows well. It’s also got this folk-ish, buegrass-y sound I’ve really been getting into over the last year or so, in the way of the Wailin’ Jennies and that Jenny Lewis solo album I’m obsessed with. My brother compared its sound to the Gin Blossoms and as soon as he said it I heard it, too. I really want to look up the lyrics to “The Kind Is Dead” and read them in order.

Brandon and I saw the Decemberists a couple years ago during their “Hazards of Love” tour. They played the whole album straight through (it was a concept album) and I’d never seen anything like that before. Mostly I remember the set design was gorgeous. I wouldn’t mind seeing them again since I like this new stuff so much.

It made for good, sunny day driving music and I listened to it two or three times on the way in. I have a feeling listening to it in the future is going to remind me of going home; it’s funny how we can trace back music to where we heard it first, or sometimes just a memory of some random time we heard it. I was talking to someone about this a while ago, about memories tied to songs (sometimes inexplicably) and one instance sticks out in my mind.

In 2007 my friend Leah and I drove down to see another high school friend in Virginia Beach. It was right after that bridge in Minneapolis collapsed that summer, and we were driving through this long, underwater tunnel to get to Norfolk. We were listening to “Transatlanticism” by Death Cab (the song, not the CD), which I heard a lot around that time, but now when I hear it, all I can think about is being underwater in my mom’s suddenly claustrophobia-inducing car with Leah, trying not to think about that bridge collapsing under its own weight, and all the pundits talking about how shaky our nation’s infrastructure is. She and I didn’t say a word to each other, just listening to that powerful, intensely beautiful sweeping song, until we were on the other end of the tunnel, when sunlight never seemed more welcome. I told her I’d been terrified the whole time, thinking about that bridge, and she said she’d been thinking the exact same thing.

I’m so rarely in my car anymore, but when I’m going to Ohio and back I find myself imagining myself as this beautifully sad, independent traveler with an often melancholy soundtrack. I give myself over entirely to the music as if I’m acting out a scene from my own personal indie coming-of-age drama. Then I look down and realize I’ve got chicken nugget crumbs all down the front of my coffee-stained hoodie and I’ll remember I haven’t taken a shower that day. That’s when I have to stop to laugh at myself, at my own seriousness. It’s humbling.

Music is so ingrained in my life, intertwined with my own human experience. Guys have informed me I’ve killed bands for them and Lord knows guys have killed bands for me right back (O.A.R. and I will never be the same). But all I know is, should I ever go completely deaf, part of me will cease to exist. And that life is too short to listen to music you don’t absolutely love.

That said, I highly recommend “The King Is Dead” and probably you should pick it up immediately. Maybe now I’ll actually make the effort to hunt down the rest of their stuff.

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