On Obsession (Your Mileage May Vary)

I obsess. It’s what I do. I become so entranced by a song or album that, when it ends, I play it again. And again and again. And when I’m not listening to it, snatches of the melody or melodies, sometimes coupled with the lyrics, sometimes not, ricochet around my brain like the whistle of a distant train. I could claim that I hear something new each time through, but the reality is that while sometimes I do, often I don’t. No, the repeated listens are less about revelations and more about the soul.

As I’m apt to say, “it takes you there, wherever there is.”

Of late, First Aid Kit’s Stay Gold album has been my companion on my commutes to and fro’ work, no doubt fueled in part by having seen them in concert the night before its June 10th release. The set opens with the sublime “My Silver Lining,” about pushing forward because, well, what’s the alternative? “There’s no starting over, no new beginnings, time races on/And you’ve just gotta keep on keeping on/Gotta keep on going, looking straight out on the road.” Their harmonies and phrasing slay me – especially on “I won’t take the easy road.”

Life on the road, moving forward vs. treading water, escape, and love lost are the main themes of the set, which clocks in at less than 40 minutes. The bittersweet rumination “Cedar Lane” is, for me, the album’s piece de resistance. The initial, wafting nostalgia for a budding relationship is the stuff of 1001 (if not more) songs. But those gauzy sentiments are ripped out by the roots by song’s end, revealing a deep well of regret and self-recrimination. “How could I break away from you?” Klara sings, the mantra becoming slightly more manic and spiteful as she repeats it again and again. This version, which they uploaded to YouTube a few days before the album’s release, is even more intense:

Another standout track is “Shattered & Hollow,” a dirge that wraps all the themes I mentioned above into four hypnotic minutes. It opens with the narrator recalling that it’s been five years since she and her lover looked out at the city lights and vowed “to get out of here.” “I’d rather be moving than static,” she proclaims… yet she’s still there, five years on, and by song’s end the vow has become a question: “When will we get out of here?”

I crafted a rough-hued ending yesterday afternoon that I planned to revisit tonight, about a past obsession wafting in from Diane’s office, which is next door to mine: Sandy Denny’s “I’m a Dreamer.” (The serendipity of the moment seemed too good to pass up.) I became enamored of that song and the album it hails from, Rendezvous, last spring (to read about the wheres and wherefores of that, click here). The idea was to ever-so-slowly step back from the specifics of First Aid Kit to my general music-obsessiveness, and to conclude with a self-deprecating joke.

Except I’m listening, yet again, to Stay Gold, this time via headphones. “The Bell” floors me, their glorious harmonies at odds with the lyrics, which delve into dark matters of the soul brought on by an endless life on the road. “From the rust that lies deep in its throat/I hear solemn, monotone notes/The danger, the ebbs and the flows/In the silence of night/It lets me know that I’m not coming home.” (It’s not on YouTube, unfortunately, so I can’t link to it.) They remind me, to an extent, of another past obsession: Simon & Garfunkel, who had a similar way of wrapping their harmonies around lyrics that weren’t always chipper.

So I’ll leave with how I began: I obsess. It’s what I do.

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