Friday, July 8, 2011

Little Hell

City and Colour: Little Hell

Somehow, this has ended up being my third album review in two months. My blog isn’t a music review blog, but somehow, these albums have definitely given me ideas and thoughts to ponder and wonder about, so they just “fit.” Plus, I'm very passionate about music.

Dallas Green, or City and Colour, (I love the name—poetic and literal all at once) released the album Little Hell on June 7.

One of the aspects I like about Dallas Green is that he is from the same city that I live in: St. Catharines, Ontario. I have lived in St. Catharines since 1995. I went to high school in St. Catharines. I am well aware that St. Catharines is a real place—I am writing this post here, in my house, in muggy St. Catharines. Because of this, Dallas Green is more real to me than the next famous person from either “prestigious” places like L.A. or New York or "unknown", "mysterious" towns in the American Midwest or eastern Canada. (I feel the same about Ron Sexsmith because he, too, a singer/songwriter who just released his 12th album, grew up in St. Catharines.)

The fact that such a great musician and singer came from my city grounds him to reality by offering a refreshing reminder that even well-known, accomplished, visible, talented people are still people, just as you and I are people. They are real.

This whole idea got me wondering about the concept of “celebrity.” We can Google hundreds of pictures of well-known people on the Internet, read about them on Wikipedia and countless other websites, see them in movies or on TV or on YouTube and play and replay their songs. I wonder if society, using this repeatable visibility, or audibility, builds well-known people up until they are so big that we are convinced we would lose our faculties should we ever meet them in real life. We make them larger-than-life.

I like that Dallas Green is not perched on a high pedestal in my mind as some untouchable superhuman (respected, yes; heavenly voice, definitely; unreal, no) because I’m not forced to think worse of myself in the process—instead, I feel inspired and energized. 

Moving on to the actual album:

Here are a few of my listening experiences and related thoughts and ponderings about some of the tracks:

You’ve probably heard the awesome single, “Fragile Bird.” I knew it was good because Joel asked me a few weeks ago, “Have you heard the new City and Colour single? It’s so wicked!” (I trust Joel’s musical opinion explicitly.) The music embodies the here and now, while the lyrics pay tribute to Dallas’ wife’s night terrors, making the song sweet, sensitive and intense all at once.

My sister came over the other morning, and we listened to and talked about “Silver and Gold.” In this song, there is a beautiful chord, and I couldn’t figure out technically what it was that made it so pleasing to my ear. Apparently it’s the use of chromaticism that literally adds “colour” to the song by using a relative minor: notes that don’t belong in the key of the song. Little details like this are what makes listeners want to listen to a song again and again—because of those little rewards.

I was listening to the album a couple of days ago as I laid outside in the sun. A thunderstorm threatened the sky, but instead, as I gazed at the sky while being serenaded by the acoustic guitar in "Northern Wind," the clouds passed by overhead—a race between white and dark, in sync with the beat of the next song I heard: “Natural Disaster.” I almost wished that the dark clouds would have rained on me because then I could have said, “It started to rain, but I didn’t notice, the music was so good.” But the clouds blew away. Either way, it was beautiful sky show, made even more dramatic because it was soundtracked by such a great collection of songs. 

My favourite song on the album is “Little Hell.” In the MuchMusic interview I watched, Dallas explained that the title “Little Hell” refers to all of the little things that can have such a large negative impact and influence in our lives—things like afflictions, addictions, fears, guilt, shame, weakness, unforgiveness, resentment and memories we wish we could forget. We often carry these with us through life as heavy baggage that threatens to affect the ones we love. 

I just so happened to first hear this song in bed before I fell asleep, using headphones that literally obliterated all other sounds but the music, and it was dark. I closed my eyes, and all I felt was the music. I felt the emotion, the sorrow, the truth and the hope of the song. When all the instruments joined the acoustic guitar, “what if everything’s just the way that it will be/ Could it be that I am meant to cause you all this grief,” the sounds became a physical feeling that impacted me. You should try listening to this song in the dark. It's awesome.

Another little note about the concept of “little hells”: I like that he brought up this topic because the more I thought about it, the more I have realized that if we carry burdens from our past, we shouldn’t just shrug our shoulders and accept them as an inevitable weight to bend our backs for the rest of our lives. We can forgive and forget (just as God forgives and forgets), overcome, make peace, deal with those issues that plague us and move forward lighter and easier, with eyes set on the future instead of glancing back at the heavy past.

I highly recommend this album. It’s different, it’s beautiful, it’s poetic (the lyrics would stand alone strongly even without the music), it’s moving—it was a delight to experience and it was my pleasure to write about.

1 comment:

  1. I love your music reviews! They are mostly of bands I've never heard of, but your interpretation of the music is so genuine and "colourful" it makes me want to hear the actual music!