A Song I Like: "Kid On My Shoulders" By White Rabbits
I listen to music the same way I do most other things: in an almost sickening, compulsive manner. I tend to listen to albums over and over and over again until I just get sick of even hearing the titles of the songs, and then I move on to the next album. I will play one song thirty times over, in just one sitting. I've spent about two hours just listening to The Fiery Furnaces' "The Philadelphia Grand Jury". I really can't imagine listening in any other way. Listening again and again and again means that I can really digest the music, separate out the parts and components and think why I like this song or why I don't like this song, and how it's working or what it's doing. For me, this is what listening means. Like Jay-Z says, "Do you listen to music / or do you just skim through it?" From time to time, I will get stuck on one song that just really hits where I'm at at that specific moment, so I figure, instead of just having a conversation about that song with myself, I'll have a conversation with all of y'all here on the blog. I'm thinking about making this a series of sorts, and I encourage all of y'all to post about songs you like too. Because eventually, when enough people are blogging, the Kingdom of God will be among us.
I have a mixed view on White Rabbits. I heard a lot of good buzz on them this past summer and liked the tracks on their MySpace, and so I decided to check them out at Sirenfest. Their set was underwhelming. Some songs were really great, but at times the energy just lagged, and I was overall disappointed. Flash forward to October. I'm looking for CDs to review, and I see "Fort Nightly", their debut album, on the shelf. I'm not very picky with CD reviews - this comes from listening to a lot of shit for work when I worked at a music archive in highschool - so I said, eh, this'll be ok. I said that they were neither good or bad, just average and our good music director, Dan Milstein, agreed.
Having listened and reviewed the album, I hold to my original view (although it's more like half the songs are good and half the songs are bad). I also think that my biggest complaint when I saw them live - that they are extremely derivative of The Walkmen - still holds. But being derivative isn't always so bad, in my opinion. Everybody steals, it's just a matter of stealing well and then building upon it (which I don't think White Rabbits does). Now that I've thoroughly trashed the band and therefore proven my indie cred, let me say that the album actually is pretty enjoyable, and more than that, there are a few true gems on it, especially the subject of this post, "Kid On My Shoulders".
The thing that grabs you immediately with this song is the driving percussion. One of my rather arbitrary rules about music is that adding more percussion is typically a good move. In the Sirenfest set, they played with two drum sets, which added a welcome extra bit of vitality to the live show. This percussion is not only driving, but determined, a steady, unstoppable beat that propels the entire song. Partnered with what sounds like a piano/organ line that swirls around and around and a spastic guitar fuzz, it sounds like falling down the stairs, inevitable and natural. The vocal delivery is nice and menacing, as if something nasty is rotting under the floorboards, especially the spat out chorus line of "You were the kid on my shoulders!"
But what's kept me listening to this song is the amazing breakdown. About two and a half, three minutes in, the guitar clears out, and you hear the drippings of a haunting piano line and the whole band harmonizing. The next two minutes, in my opinion, are a textbook example of how to use piano in rock. The piano steps nimbly through the song, not bringing it to a halt or working against the grain, not adding a false gravitas, but instead reinforcing the overall impression of the song. The song is structured like a train wreck, and the piano just creates an impending sense of doom. And then, my absolute favorite part. The lyrics in the breakdown, chanted over and over again, gilded with a sense of dread and bitter menace: "We held our tongues throughout it / one day we'll laugh about it / we held our tongues throughout it / one day we'll talk about it".
It taps into me. I'm not quite sure what exactly this song is about. The lyrics are somewhat oblique. What the song touches in me is the general feeling I've been having about the times we live in. A silent rage that lies barely suppressed under the surface at the incompetent, mendacious leaders who have arrogantly bamboozled us into this war and the useless generation of gullible voters and nasty little pundits who allowed it to happen. A feeling of helplessness and bitterness about being dragged into a thing that so many of us knew was wrong and stupid, and not being allowed having any say in it. So I feel like chanting "we held our tongues throughout it / one day we'll laugh about it".
Check the song out at their MySpace . "The Plot" and "While We Go Dancing" are also recommended.