Not quite a “happy music/sad lyrics” song, “Funeral Song” alerts us to the overlooked and perhaps flummoxing idea that not all uptempo music is in fact happy in the first place.
We all know how effective it can be to pair happy-sounding music with unhappy lyrics; it’s a great trick, at which pop music is singularly adept. A subtler variation of this is on display in “Funeral Song,” which alerts us to the overlooked and perhaps flummoxing idea that not all uptempo music is in fact happy in the first place. Brisk, expansive movement to a strong beat can embody defiance or determination or some other complex sense of real life being lived. This is an upbeat song but it’s not “happy music”…which would come to think of it be difficult to pull off with a first line like “I just got back from your funeral” anyway.
Not that it’s clear what’s going on here lyrically, actually. Once the space-travel allusions start (metaphorical? or not?), I will admit to being lost. But this then (how convenient!) is another thing at which pop music is singularly adept: taking odd and/or indecipherable lyrics and making something bigger and grander out of them. And “Funeral Song” sounds big and grand to me, in a no-nonsense-rock’n’roll kind of way. The song’s central melodic descent—the three adjacent notes we hear first on the word “funeral”—is a purposeful, grounding gesture and yet also an off-kilter one: it’s used to open rather than close the verse, and the half-time melody (i.e., each syllable of the word stretches over two beats) plays with the rhythmic momentum just when it might otherwise be kicking in. The choral-like harmonies we first hear on this word/motif are used for emphasis throughout and add to the epic yet wistful feeling. As does the oddly long bridge section (1:57), which is fashioned upon the aforementioned three-note melodic descent, strung together in a condensed way that has the feeling of time-signature trickery but remains (I think) in 4/4 time throughout.
“Funeral Song” is from the band’s forthcoming album, Afterlife Blues, which will be their first full-length. An EP was previously released, in July 2010. Thanks to the band for the MP3, which you can alternatively download via SoundCloud.
A slow-developing opening minute leads us eventually into something grand and memorable.
I am a patient person—except when it comes to music. Songs that delay the entry of sensible structure or noticeable melody tend to annoy me, if I may be blunt. So I’m not sure how I managed even to listen to “Rivers”—with its 30 opening seconds of ambient electronic sounds and 30 additional seconds of instrumental introduction—without hitting stop and delete and moving on to the next thing. Sometimes, it seems, my ear hears things that my brain doesn’t initially latch onto. And I am in any case very glad I didn’t throw this one in the scrap bin, because that opening minute leads us into something grand and memorable.
It turns out this song, musically at least, is all about delayed gratification. After the long (long) introduction, the melody, in a series of ways, keeps edging near resolution and backing away. You can hear it, maybe, at 1:20, and then in an extended way at 1:40—note that Julia Catherine Parr then literally starts singing about being “so lost,” as the music retracts into background noise. We wait and wait and find deliverance with the line she belts at 1:57. I can’t understand the words but the music, at last, tells us the wait is over, and at 2:01 we plunge into something that feels deep and grounded, while also kind of sparkly and flowy. We are led to a point of resolution at 2:11 (on the words—no coincidence—“take you home”) that feels both solid and liquid: we resolve, and yet we keep flowing. The second half of the song is like that, at once robust and feathery, and the fact that it leads to a coda of heavenly voices seems exactly right. I suspect that not one moment of this song is accidental. It’s a fine ride, and reminds me to be patient in music as in life. At least sometimes.
Black City Lights is the project of Wellington, New Zealand producer Calum Robb and vocalist Parr. Either a sign of the times or a complete aberration, Robb just began writing and producing music late in 2010. “Rivers” is one of six songs on the Black City Lights debut EP, Parallels, released last week on Stars & Letters, a small NYC-based label. MP3 via Stars & Letters.