For awhile after my discovery of the Garden State soundtrack and my complete obsession with Elliott Smith, I thought that alternative folk could only get worse. The singer-songwriter seemed over-utilized in my musical world, and I was feeling bored with the genre. Then I found Regina Spektor, and everything went topsy-turvy as it so often does in my mind. I realized that just because you strum a sweet acoustic or play a mean piano, just because you throw obscure literary references into every other stanza and offer up images as cut and paste as "rosy-fingered dawn", doesn't mean you don't have heart and soul in your music. It also doesn't mean that you can't create a fucking gorgeous tune.
I've continued to listen to alterna-folk, and my ears are supremely happy for the sounds of Antje Duvekot, Jaymay, Ingrid Michaelson, and Iron & Wine. There is something about that stripped down, washed out sound that is so intensely exhilarating and thrillingly close. Listening to "Gray Or Blue" by Jaymay makes me feel that not only has someone looked inside my head, but they've also felt my scrapes and scars, bumps and bruises. The rawest part of my soul is sometimes glimpsed in the passing phrases and chords of a Billy Joel song, and I know that I'm not alone.
I listened to the Juno soundtrack all weekend long. Even though I'm not a huge Moldy Peaches fan and even though I've never owned a Belle & Sebastian album, I felt personally connected to the universe while hearing the songs "Anyone Else But You" and "Piazza, New York Catcher". This album is a gorgeous example of the frisson that can occur when music is perfectly mixed and completely established as the soundtrack to a feeling. Juno's sarcasm, spirit, loneliness, and obsession were expressed perfectly with Kimya Dawson's merrily hummed expletives and the mix of classic rock and alternative tunes that create the backbone of the rest of this album.
I've never been a pregnant sixteen-year old, but I have been lonely and afraid, intensely introverted and insanely bored, with nothing to do but perfect my sarcasm and add to my obscure musical knowledge. This is teenage angst for the 21st Century, the kind of painful growth that's equally maximized and minimized by our unintentional proximity to massive amounts of information. Our entire lives change in seconds and our minds are suddenly obsolete. With all of this progress, our relationships remain confused and tangled, a jumbled mess of emoticons (yes, I meant emoticons).
How do you navigate a world without a map? Well you glom onto things that you understand, and herein lies the beauty of the singer-songwriter genre. "So Nice So Smart" by Miss Dawson is a story of what can happen when you fall in love with friends. Dawson begins with a nursery rhyme stanza that includes mice, roofies, and blood/wine drinking, but the chorus is much more mundane and close to the heart.
you're so nice and you're so smart
you're such a good friend i hafta break your heart
tell you that i love you then i'll tear your world apart
just pretend i didn't tear your world apart
It's a plain and naked song, and you don't always have to understand it intellectually, you just have to feel the pulse of the music and the emotion therein. Follow that with the superb cover of the Moldy Peaches' "Anyone Else But You" by the Juno movie stars Michael Cera and Ellen Page. The lyrics are little celebrations of personality. These lovers are reveling in each other's geekiness and perfect individuality. My favorite lyric which isn't included in the cover version is:
Up up down down left right left right B A start
Just because we use cheats doesn't mean we're not smart
I don't see what anyone can see, in anyone else
It's a primal song that bares its soul; and it stands alone in a jungle of wires and electric signals with its slowly beating heart. Keep singing Kimya, and I'll keep listening.