ZaRecords Mixtape 7: Colors

Time for another mixtape! I am joined again by my dear friend Mihaela, for a selection of songs inspired by or inspiring of various colors! We didn’t over-analyze and over-think this, we just went with what we liked and compromised as much as we felt comfortable with, so here’s our final selection of colors! Enjoy!

José González – Veneer (2003)

I’ve been putting off the writing of this post for a couple of days now, and I wasn’t sure why I was doing that until a few minutes ago. José González’s music was one of the highlights of 2005 for me, which was the first time I heard it. It was, I think, the last year I remember where the future didn’t seem somehow oppressive, riddled with uncertainty and a nameless fear in the pit of my stomach, which I like to think is a normal occurrence at one point in everyone’s life, isn’t it? Well, not to paint such a bleak picture, I’ll just call it a phase. In any case, Veneer is forever entwined in my memory with my experience in the Czech Republic, during a summer school where I tried to learn as much as I could about video art and video editing during a two week period. It’s also where I got my acoustic guitar, to which I am still faithful today. José González’s playing style has become one of my main ideals in playing, ever since I first heard him, and the memory of that wonderful little town, more park than settlement, with its warmth, wine on the picnic blanket, random beatboxing teenagers coming over for jam sessions, absinth and subtle, twisted humor seemed almost too good to channel and delve upon. I guess that’s why it was so hard to get this started. But now that it’s rolling…

José González is an Argentinian-Swedish musician. His parents fled Argentina two years before having him, so he was raised in Sweden, which seems fitting, given the subtle and yet overpowering meld of Latin warmth and Scandinavian melancholy his music brings to the table. I say overpowering because his compositional style, the radiating poetry glowing around his songs are, to my perspective, irresistible, haunting, able to envelop me completely, every time I listen.

His influences are a bit unclear to me, since he cites a lot of musicians I am absolutely not familiar with, and yet I can’t help likening him to Nick Drake, in the sense that his guitar work seems slightly dominant, as if the vocals are mere wipers, half-remembered, over the intricate harmonic and rhythmic patterns he weaves with his fingers. In spite of this considerable playing proficiency, there’s no flashiness, no unnecessary, demonstrative dead weight, his songs are simple, vibrant, profoundly emotional, which is very difficult to do, I think, in every art. It takes a lot of work and a lot of talent to be able to express an emotion in a simple, condensed way, relying on a limited pattern, to fight the urge to explain and nuance and cram a desperately particular idea down your audience’s throat with the pretentiousness of universal appeal. I know, I’ve never really been able to censor myself enough, to distill my music or my writing in such a way, and that’s part of the reason I appreciate José González’s music so much. Not to mention the fact that he makes that nylon-string guitar sound like it was crafted by Apollo himself, simply by allowing the tone, the easy, resonant voice of the wood to shine, without succumbing to the studio overproduction trap.

Most of the songs on the album simply feature his guitar playing and his discreet, almost shy voice. The only addition to the very personal mood is the occasional percussion, which, again, reminds me of Nick Drake and his tremendous “Pink Moon” album, in terms of raw simplicity. The tracks remind me of a drive in the rain, after having experienced the symptoms of Stendhal syndrome for the first time, in a modern art museum in Prague. I wanted to keep that dizzying thrill going for as long as I could, and this album did the trick. It still does. I really hope you enjoy Veneer, and that you’ll excuse my tardiness in posting this. See you soon!

Nick Drake – Five Leaves Left (1969)

I really ought to calm down… it’s been a bad day. As I came home, the only thought going through my head was “Nick Drake” and I’ll confess right now, before I really get started – Nick Drake scares the daylights out of me these days. I can’t avoid Nick Drake today, I just can’t, but I can write about it and try and explain what’s going through my mind.

There’s a Jungian idea that states that, deep in the abyss of the self, there’s a mirror image, a negative picture of yourself, who confronts you in certain dreams and from which all concept of fear, of the uncanny, of the abominable stems. Nick Drake is akin to that, for me, because his music is like  a whirlpool I can’t help but looking in, and that beckons me to drown in peace, once and for all. Or, at least, I’ve managed to create this hyperbole of the whole thing, given that I discovered him at a time in which I was extremely close to becoming him, a time which I’m trying to distance myself from, as far as I can. Oh my, now I’ve made it seem like his music is some sort of evil siren song. No, it’s just dangerous for me and I couldn’t have written about it if it hadn’t been for this very trying day, so I guess I should be happy about that, at least.

The way I react to Nick Drake goes a little something like this: his music works in cadences and chords which can wipe my mind clean of anything. There’s an elegance, a longing and a level of poetry in the sounds and words which make up Five Leaves Left that it’s rather hard for me to stay detached and analyze anymore. That’s why I chose to write about Five Leaves Left, mind you, because Pink Moon is a completely unspeakable, intimate thing of such overwhelming sincerity and sorrow I can’t even think about it without getting goosebumps.

So, Five Leaves Left! Drake’s first album, his first try at making it through the mires of the music industry, issued in England, at a time when The Who, Jimi Hendrix and Cream were all the rage. It wasn’t a time for poetry, it wasn’t a time for Nick Drake’s soulful, delicate, intricate melodies. In my heart, the names William Blake and Nick Drake follow each-other inseparably. Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience side by side with Drake’s musical evolution from Five Leaves Left to Pink Moon, there’s a symmetry there which I feel with all my heart and mind. And, just like Blake, Nick Drake was swimming against the current of the age. In fact, for the longest time, he was another one of those “musician’s musicians” – so many of his chords and progressions show up decades later in Radiohead and Jose Gonzales songs, while going completely unnoticed by the vast majority of people. It feels like the world was ready for Nick Drake’s “Parasite” only once Thom Yorke sang “Subterranean Homesick Alien”. And yet, I’m sure the genre of the music wasn’t what drove people away to begin with. It was the nature of it, the deep, mesmerizing swirl of emotion and poetry animating his songs… this is the kind of music who hits you on the head and makes you stop and listen. If your nature is not to contemplate but to do, Nick Drake’s songs will probably sound rather annoying. For me, however, this is the height of beauty a man with a guitar in his hand can achieve.

The way he breathes his lyrics in a dialogue with the guitar rather than letting one dominate the other, the way his fingers pluck the strings in such hypnotic patterns, which hint at randomness just at the corner of the eye, the subtle cheer which is still there to be found in the album, like a fleeting smile… Nick Drake overtakes my mind every time I let him, simply, like air filling my lungs, like eyelids closing as I fall asleep. I hope my own conflicted feelings about this music won’t put you off, I couldn’t help writing this and like this. However, I should like to make one thing abundantly clear – Five Leaves Left is on my Top 5 albums I would take with me on a deserted island. I believe it’s that good. Give it a shot, in spite or because of this post, will you?