#161 – Sidewalks

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Artist – Story of the Year
Album – Page Avenue
Year – 2003
Genre – Post-Hardcore/Pop-Punk

Ever hear one of those songs that just makes you miss your hometown? Yeah, that’s this song for me. It’s a song about looking back, but also about looking forward. It’s where you’ve come from, where you’ve been, where you are, and where you’re going. I hope that when you listen, you can close your eyes and picture your own hometown as I do. Recall all the good memories you have.

The staccato guitar opening quickly gives way to passionate strumming and frontman Dan Marsala’s bursting to life. There’s some great string backing throughout, and it adds to the emotion of the song a great deal. So does Marsala’s voice. His heart and memory are tied directly to the lyrics of the song, and you can feel it in every line, especially the last two lines

The town that we lived in.
The memories shaken apart from the weeds that grow

When he sings those lines, you feel every nuance of the melody, and it just makes you drift away in your memory. So does the chorus, and Marsala reaches his vocal heights over some really cool acoustic drumming. There’s another quick guitar break and some marvelous string work, and then the song kicks into high gear.

The cymbal keeps the time, and the harmonies will soar. This by far the catchiest and most nostalgic verse:

Out on the front porch,
watching the cars as they go by
(Eighteen blue, twenty one grey)
Looking ahead for the first time that we could drive,
Out on our own,
To speed away

Those first two lines hit home, as I can remember sitting on my front porch on warm summer days watching the traffic pass, waiting for my friends to arrive. I’m sure this is a memory that doesn’t belong only to me, which is why those lines really are far reaching. But seriously, the harmony is stupid good, as is the quick snare beat that closes out the verse and leads into the next triumphant chorus. Something about the whole chord progression of this song and Marsala’s voice just really helps you picture things in your mind’s eye.

The bridge is a bit somber, but Marsala gets to show off his vocal talent, and it’s followed by a lovely string break and features both rock and acoustic drum parts over the top of each other. However, there’s a prechorus intro that leads into the very last chorus, and it changes the melody. It builds a ton of suspense and sounds fantastic.

And then they kick it off one last time with all barrels firing. The guitar finally switches to a more electric tone and harmonies are everywhere. It’s a swirling storm of hometown happiness, and the song really finishes with that optimism of of good things to come. You can always remember the past, but always remember to look to the future.

Thanks for reading, as always. Be sure to let me know what you think of the song in the comments!

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#160 – No Children

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Artist – The Mountain Goats
Album – Tallahassee
Year – 2002
Genre – Indie Folk

Bands like The Mountain Goats and artists like their frontman John Darnielle are hard to find, and I admire them very much. I respect them because of Darnielle’s amazing penchant for incredible songs that utilize stream of consciousness lyric writing. Just like The Front Bottoms (https://merrymuzak.wordpress.com/2013/11/29/38-swimming-pool/), Darnielle knows how to take the most common man expressions of anger, sadness, loneliness, and pain and translate those phrases that we utter to ourselves as we lay our heads down on the pillow or stand in the shower and put those words into a song. A damn fine song, at that. It’s a very hard skill to master, but it makes for the most volatile and potent form of songwriting there is.

Despite the instruments and vocals lining up with the folk genre, there’s this whole sense of frustration and just sheer blitzing anger that can be felt as soon as the furious guitar strums begin the song. The very weird chord progression sounds amazing and creates this very pervasive melancholic mood. Not only that, but the piano played over the top add a whole layer of sadness to the intro.

Darnielle’s voice matches perfectly with the tone of the song. He’s very melodic, but you feel every word like a punch to the gut. His melodies are very catchy in this song, and his matter of fact vocal style build this rapport with the listener. Though there is a “chorus” section in the song, I tend to look at the song as a whole tone poem-esque piece. There’s some really triumphant and chill inducing notes in each verse and chorus, as Darnielle sings his heart out. This is one his most intense songs, and it shows every time he opens his mouth.

Then, there’s the way I interpret the song. The lyrics of the song deal with a couple that’s going through a terrible message, and they’re too far gone to even split. It’s about deep feelings of weariness and anger that just gather inside, but never reach the surface. I hope all of you out there are not in this particular situation, as I know I can’t relate to the lyrics on a literal level. However, I’ve been going through a period of great emotional frustration and weariness myself, as I think many of us out there do, so the song to me is a cathartic listening experience. As Darnielle lets out all this stress and frustration, I feel a connection with him.

Our friends say it’s darkest before the sun rises
We’re pretty sure they’re all wrong

I am drowning, there is no sign of land

As dark as these words are, they are the most relatable in the song, at least for me. Sometimes we hear our friends say that everything will be alright, and sometimes we don’t believe them. We feel like we really are drowning in whatever problems we face. I know I’m an optimistic person by nature, so I believe that problems and sadness will always be healed, but sometimes it’s really hard to think that way in the moment. Like the moment I’m writing this now. That’s why this is such a powerful song.

Getting back to musicality, there’s some amazing harmonies in this song. Darnielle is a very good singer, and he’s arranged the song beautifully. He’s also quite the guitar player. Believe me, it’s hard to keep up that quick strumming pace the way he does from start to finish. Even though the song has a generally sad tone, you can’t help but feel some glimmer of hope by the end. Maybe not lyrically, but musically. The abrupt, major chord ending gives this lingering belief of something better in the end. I think that’s what Darnielle is hoping for. Me too.

Thanks for reading, as always! Be sure to let me know what you think of the song in the comments!