My Month In Sound: July 2023
A monthly roundup of discoveries, oddities, songs, and sounds.
Burl Ives // “Cowboy’s Lament”
A week before Wes Anderson’s latest film, Asteroid City, hit theaters, filmhouses around Austin were busy showing his old work. I opted to see Rushmore at Austin Film Society. Since I first saw it in college, this has been my favorite Anderson film, but I couldn’t remember the last time I had seen it. (On a related note, I’ve noticed seasonal swings with my tolerance towards nostalgia: I tend to read/watch/listen to old favorites more in the summer than in the winter. Is it Texan seasonal affective disorder? Wanting to hole up in the A/C, away from the scary heat, with something comforting?)
We go to old favorites to see how we’ve changed and to ring the old emotional bells, in an almost ritualistic manner. But there’s a specific pain to falling out of love with a work of art. I could feel it creeping up on me as I sat in my chair, watching the movie: oh wow, this isn’t as good as I remember. Why aren’t these scenes hitting as hard? Boy, the central love story between a student and a teacher—with her boundaries constantly violated—is pretty creepy in retrospect. I left the theater with a strange mix of sadness and joy. Sad at losing an old friend. Sad at all the time that’s passed. But happy to see how much I’ve changed, and what I’ll love next.
The first hint that Rushmore wasn’t as good as I remembered was how I responded to the soundtrack. Hearing these British Invasion classics clash against the film’s preppy background used to thrill me, but now it feels clunky, clever, and purposeless. Anderson and others that followed—Tarantino and Edgar Wright come to mind—used songs in place of emotion and character development. Now the trick is everywhere, in film and TV, as a shortcut. Music should enhance the film’s depth, not shy away from it.
With time, Anderson has figured out a more measured way to use music. In Asteroid City, it’s bright, somewhat corny 1950s country music, and it works. The songs themselves already sound unreal—rural songs revved up by new technology, soundtracking America’s dawning Space Age—so they mix well with the film’s dollhouse-like aesthetic. And there’s less overt needle drops. Usually, the music is heard at an echo-laden distance, wafting from some unseen speaker in the motel’s motor court. (Another related note: my architect father pointed out that there aren’t many shadows in this sunblasted Southwestern city. It’s perpetually high noon, and it’s perpetually being serenaded.)
So “Cowboy’s Lament” rides into this unreal town. I’ve known this song as “Streets Of Laredo,” but I’ve never heard Burl Ives’ version before. An actor (with folksinger roots) singing a ballad about a dying cowboy recounting his story, in a film that’s framed as a play about the writing of the play. This old folk song has the best line in the movie: “Put bunches of roses all over my coffin / Roses to deaden the clods as they fall.”
The Clientele // “Fables Of The Silverlink”
There are lots of reasons to make new art. This is one of the better reasons: “The only concept for me, really, was that I tried to put everything I know into this record. As if it were the last thing I was ever going to make.” A band that started out as a hushed, lo-fi update on ’60s pop has bloomed into something wildly strange. “Fables Of The Silverlink” combines Ableton beatmaking experiments with chamber music and Alisdair MacLean’s shard-like lyrics. More of this energy, please. Make stuff with all of your ideas, all of your selves. Annie Dillard: “spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time…Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes.”
Baby Monitor Whale Song
A 1.5 second-ish delay between my baby babbling down the hall and the baby monitor in my room = pretty groovy whale song.