Week 288 // Road to Somewhere

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Am I on the road to nowhere?
And can I even read the signs?
And ever will I see before me
Everything I leave behind?

So long, so long, so long, so long

And ever if I stood without you
I’m certain that my knees would shake
And so we’re on the road to somewhere
Sure of every turn we take

Hello, hello, hello, hello

Notes
This Wednesday, I will be performing solo at New York’s Rockwood Music Hall on stage one, and you should definitely go there! With a show just a couple of days out, It is necessary that I spend some time rehearsing old material this week. With that in mind, my new song became a quick sketch, standing in stark contrast to last week’s more elaborate production. I settled into a nice finger-picked guitar part, and I meditated on my trajectory a little bit. The idea is simple: although I often feel directionless, I’ve got the right traveling companion, so we’re alright if we stick together. It is a sentimental concept. There’s nothing jaded happening, and there is no obfuscated subtext or double entendre at work. I’m wearing this one on my sleeve. Dig on the new tune while I practice, and maybe I’ll see you Wednesday night at nine!

~M.E.

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Week 287 // A Circle with a Line Through It

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Early in the morning
Watching the weather change

Another hundred mile day
If I know what’s best for me

A hundred thousand mile year
Splitting atoms in the face of God

Well…
Absolutely anything could happen
A simple kind of phrase until you think it over
Absolutely anything can happen
But I think you knew that

Peering out the mouth of a cave
At the end of the winter

And the person I was back then
He is irrelevant now

And no matter how I ask you
You always say yes, and I’m grateful

So…
I like it how the sky is changing colors
And anyhow the feds are always watching us
And any day the rent out here is gonna blow up

Absolutely anything could happen
A simple kind of phrase until you think it over
Absolutely anything can happen
But I think you knew that

Notes
In case you don’t know what’s going on here, Mount Everest is a rock blog for which I write and record a new song every single week, hopefully forever. Five and a half years in, one of the most important concepts involved with that task is finding ways to make old ideas new again. With that end in mind, this weekend I got an idea into my head to steal an old rhythm from myself and make a new song out of it. I listened to a few back tracks, and ripped the drum robots right out from under Week 131 // Strange from May of 2013. I deleted all of the other instruments and vocals, and set to work on something fundamentally not the same. The drums stayed more or less intact, with a few edits here and there. They lent the new song some formal similarities to the old one. Verses, choruses, and outro sections wound up in the same places for example, but the feel and instrumentation diverged pleasantly. A different chord progression and melody occurred. I layered guitars, played two bass parts at once, and messed around with rhythmically weird vocal breaks. I sang something new. It was a pleasing experiment, and I think I’ll try it again soon.

The song seems to juxtapose routine and possibility. These things feel like they cancel each other out. I think perhaps the moment of conversion toward which this song gestures is a realization that nothing at all can cancel out possibility, not even monotony. Routine is perhaps the circumstance most pregnant with possibility. If any one variable shifts, all bets are off!

The title comes from the photo that I have posted as track art. If you look around Mount Everest, you will find that I am enamored with circles, geometry, symmetry and all things of that nature. I like when interesting formations break up monotonous spaces. For example, this is merely a photo of the sidewalk, but I find it beautiful. I attempted to work “a circle with a line through it” into the lyrics, but it didn’t fit, so I opted to use it as a title. I think it is an evocative phrase, although I will leave it up to you to decide precisely what it evokes. See you next week.

~M.E.

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Week 286 // Daybreak Song

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Great and gracious sunrise
Worshiped like a god
Climb the stairs
The hour of daybreak
Draw the blinds
Against the sun

Once I was an artist
Fingers in the ink
And every smudge
I found upon me
Scratched my skin
And sinking deep

I want to wake you and show you the sunrise
And fall right back to sleep

Signal in the window
Soldiers in the street
All the land
Is bathed in morning
Golden bands of light repeat

I want to wake you and show you the sunrise
And fall right back to sleep

Notes
Some songs are more like sketches. Some sketches are nice enough to stand apart. I became enamored with the little turns and accents in this guitar part. That’s really what Daybreak Song is all about; the little pulls and runs I did with my fingers, and the way they run around below the vocal. It’s a song that I really felt with my hands, and perhaps that’s why I drifted back to a tactile memory of art-making, of being smudged all over with ink late at night, and eventually early in the morning. Sunrises have typically been solitary moments in my life, although some really wonderful ones have been shared. They usually creep up on me; a surprising signal of the hour that for some reason I never saw coming. When that happens, I gaze bewildered at it, fleetingly pleased that it is all mine, but ultimately lonesome for somebody to watch it with.

~M.E.

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First Listen: A Moon Shaped Pool by Radiohead

I must admit that whenever I read the words “new Radiohead album”, I get a little nervous. Despite the fact that the band has made a disproportionate number of my favorite records, I’m always fearful that their newest effort might be swallowed by creative hubris and ambition. I suppose my mistrust is their well earned reward for always pushing the envelope. Today they released their ninth studio effort. Titled A Moon Shaped Pool, Thom Yorke and the gang offer up eleven tracks presented in alphabetical order, including ten new songs and a surprisingly familiar closer. This afternoon, I donned my headphones, nervously hovered my curser over the play button, took a deep prayerful breath, and listened to the album precisely one time. Here is what I heard:

This album plays like a lucid dream. The instrumentation is often sparse, but there is always a lingering atmospheric thrum; something ever growing at the edges of perception, waiting for just the right moment to take over entirely. The much discussed single Burn the Witch plays paranoia over staccato strings, and a cool, effortless vibration. The lyrics are fairly focused for Yorke. When he sings “Red crosses on wooden doors, if you float you burn” he is playing with well known historical tropes, rather than his often chopped up, stream of consciousness associations. It seems novel for him to be using such familiar cultural reference-points and allusions to address issues of contemporary suspicion, disconnection, and perhaps creeping totalitarianism.

Through the atmospheric dreamscapes of A Moon Shaped Pool, songs like Desert Island Disk and The Numbers are anchored by folky acoustics that are almost reminiscent of Jimmy Paige’s more effervescent work. The conventionality is both pleasantly jarring, and fleeting, as the band weaves ghostly, childlike choral arrangements through challenging chord structures and playful cut-and-paste tracks that reveal their production through tape sounds and abrupt stops.

On Present Tense, a bossa nova rhythm underpins pained vocals offset by bright musical turns. Yorke lets the lyrics slowly reveal themselves, repeating chopped up segments until they combine to become a unified whole. When he dissects the phrase “Distance is like a weapon of self-defense against the present tense,” he is pushing and pulling on the listener’s relationship to time and coherence, and he is deploying his own “weapon of self defense” by keeping the listener at a careful distance. This coy lyric technique had me anxiously awaiting each turn of phrase. By keeping the listener at bay, Yorke draws the listener ever closer.

I was amazed (and nervous) to find that the album closes with a new version of True Love Waits. The song appeared on the 2001 live album I Might Be Wrong, but until today there has been no studio recording available. It is a seminal favorite for Radiohead fans (I used to stay up late in my freshman dorm, studying the guitar tabs and pissing off my neighbors), so it strikes me as an audacious statement that the band has resurrected it to round out this new album. Instead of an acoustic guitar ballad, True Love Waits is presented here on a shaky muddled piano. The mechanical apparatus of the instrument is often audible, once again revealing typically hidden layers of labor and production. The mechanical sounds are augmented and supplemented by arhythmic clicking and jangling; when Yorke croons that “true love waits in haunted attics” it sounds as if that is just where we are. It is a lovely new version, but I feel it lacks some of the unrestrained heartache and simplicity of the original live cut amidst the more elaborate production.

Upon finishing this album, I was overcome by the sensation of waking from a dream. Dreams shift like sand, faces change, logic rewrites itself, the waking world periodically seeps in. Whispers become echoes, echoes become thunder, and then you wake in a fog and you can only hang onto the brightest parts. A Moon Shaped Pool is like that. When it is over, it has you reaching for the bits that escape you, even the parts that frightened you. However, while the album is evocative and sonically captivating, it doesn’t reach the emotional peaks and valleys of storied works like Kid A, though that may be too much to ask of the band. Nonetheless, I am looking forward to whatever rewards subsequent listening might hold, and I am relieved that Radiohead has once again pushed their boundaries without allowing their ambition to swallow them whole. The album is complex and challenging, moody and sumptuous, meticulous and patient. You should listen to it.

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Week 285 // Progress (Paradox)

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Everyone is waiting by the phone
Everyone is anxious for the call
Everyone is staring at the door
I’ve seen it

Everyone is looking up the street
And everyone is squinting in the dark
And everyone is listening for the sound
I’ve seen it
It’s burning
It’s a paradox
I’m frozen

And all the progress I’ve made
All the progress I’ve made
Added up to what?

Everyone is adding something up
Yeah everyone is certain of the sum
And everyone is up until they’re down
I’ve seen it

And everyone is cursing at the moon
And everyone is spying on the neighbors
And everyone deserves another shot
I’ve seen it
It’s burning
It’s a paradox
I’m frozen

And all the progress I’ve made
All the progress I’ve made
Added up to what?

Notes
Very often, I find myself turning to this creative project in order to put off other important tasks that demand my attention. Accomplishment and success are dual monoliths that stand before me, perplexing in their purposes and functions, and foreign in all aspects. Am I like Kubrick’s apes, lashing my fists in frustration against cold, dark facades? Eons would pass before those poor beasts would approach understanding. Ultimately, their lashing-out was the point all along. I don’t have eons to wait, so I retreat and write. And I sing.

Making up this song kept me occupied while another productive weekend slipped through my fingers. The fault isn’t with how I spend my time, but with how I define productivity and progress. My working definitions are no longer my own if they exclude writing music, setting words to melody, and banging on a synthesizer. All of these things are productive, and yet the words to this song gesture toward time spent idly, and progress forfeited. That must be somebody else singing.

In these lyrics, I ask what my progress is adds up to. Clearly, I was feeling detached from conventional benchmarks of progress, but the funny thing is that the answer to my question is self-evident. My progress adds up to the song itself, oblivious though I seem to be of the honest labor that its production required of me. Kubrick’s apes never sought an option other than lashing out. I make things instead. I may be an ape, but I’m not one of his.

~M.E.

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Week 284 // Astound

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Take a cab to the corner
I’m waiting inside
And the whole wide world is a whisper
When you’re coming alive
And the fate of the world
Is a look in your eye
Like a signal in street light

And the morning is breaking
On the planet we’re on
And the neighbors are sleeping it off again
Or screaming at dawn
And the radio’s on
In the junker outside
But the station is alright

And at the end of time
We might just fade away
And with the window closed
I think we’ll sleep all day
We could sleep all day

Now all the old places are boarded up tight
But since when have I been here long enough
To sting from the bite?
Like all the voices I’ve heard
And the bottled up lights
Turn to condos at midnight

All the cameras they look around
And the cellphones all look around
All the old folks they look around
And the house-pets all look around
While the cops stop to write it down
And the bloggers all write it down
And the kids they don’t hang around

And at the end of time
We might just fade away
And with the window closed
I think we’ll sleep all day
We could sleep all day

Notes
I’m going to level with you; this song is only called “Astound” because I recently took a photograph of that word. That isn’t to say that I can’t justify that title within the context of the song itself. This song is about feeling like you’ve lived in your city, or more broadly it is about the awareness of how lived in your city is. Your city is a place where you fall in love, make love, make changes, cope with changes, confront time, confront people, toil, fail, succeed, live, die, and on and on and on. I suppose I’m astounded that I’ve been in a city long enough to feel it changing, and to have an opinion about the way it is changing. I had a lot more I wanted to do with this song, but I’m posting this at nearly midnight and I’ve run out of time. Instead of bumming myself out that I didn’t get to do all of those other things, I’m delighted that I like it so much the way it is. That’s a big part of this project: doing the best I can with the time I’ve got. Also, I’m vaguely aware that the word “condos” might sound a bit like “condoms”. I think it works just as well either way.

~M.E.

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Week 283 // Oh Serious Creatures

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Had it up to here with this whole damn town
And digging for gold in the middle of the street
I want to see you
I want to see you smiling back at me

Spat a lot of words with my face into the wind
And making you a habit is the best I ever did
I want to be there
I want to be there smiling back at you

Oh serious creatures
Oh what serious faces
Urge the moment passing you by to linger a little longer

Drinking my wine and pondering the night
Running out the clock on an ordinary day
It’s good to see you
It’s good to see you cracking a smile lately

Oh beautiful creatures
Oh what radiant faces
Urge the moment passing you by to linger a little longer

Notes
I just listened to this song for the first time since I wrote it last Wednesday, and it isn’t exactly what I remembered writing. Perhaps my perspective has changed because my wife and I are on vacation, basking in ultimate West Coast relaxation, but this song is lighter, far less burdened, and far more optimistic than I remembered it being. That’s fitting. My mindset is open and sunny right now, and this song only let in an ounce or two of pre-vacation gloom. Spring is coming and life is going to change. The transformation from serious creatures to beautiful creatures described in this song was initially aspirational, but I now believe it to have been prophetic. So it goes.

~M.E.

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Week 282 // The Only Thing True

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And I could say love
Look into my eyes
And I’ll tell you dear
Listen to my voice
I’m begging you darling
Hold tight to my hand
And we’ll go far from here
Be forgotten
We’ll go on the wind
Disappear in the moonlight
We’ll leave without word
Without thought of our sorrows
We’ll go far away
Far from here
And never look back

And I been awake
All the whole night through
And I’ve been suffering
For learning the rules
Yes I been suffering
And the only thing true
Lies asleep next to me
In the silence
The truth in the arc
Of the light as it finds you
That here in the dark of the night
I’ll be blinded
And you take me far far from here
And we never look back

And up in the air
The moon’s like a bird
And the gathering wind
Is the voice of a friend
And the evening lets loose
All the voices we’ve heard
And we’ll go far from here
Be forgotten
We’ll go on the wind
Disappear in the moonlight
We’ll leave without word
Without thought of our sorrows
We’ll go far away
Far from here
And never look back

Notes
Listening to this week’s track, one thing is evident: I am really cooped up right now. This song is gasping for breath from under the boot-heel of a pretty oppressive routine. My wife and I have been ships in the night for months, working jobs that keep us in and out of the house at opposite intervals. Our most reliable time spent together is late at night as we fall asleep. This song is about pining for the woman lying next to me. It’s a fantasy of leaving behind the routine that harries us. Later this week we’re taking off for a brief trip to California for a family wedding in San Francisco, and to visit my dear brother’s homestead in the hills above Santa Cruz. This song is my heart clawing its way to the airport, and threatening not to return once we get there.

~M.E.

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Week 281 // And Repeat

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In the wake of everything
On the cusp of something else
Caught in the spell of anticipation
Over and over

It’s the strangest time to be alive
And everyone’s always talked like that
And everything always comes around
Over and over

Notes
Including songs that I wrote before I started this project, I’ve written well over 300 songs in my life. I have no idea exactly how many; believe it or not, I didn’t always count them. As a result, a strange thing happens sometimes when I’m writing. I often realize late in the process that I’ve written the song before. The lyric, or the music, or both call at me from my past, signaling that some kind of repetition is taking place. I have circumnavigated my creative lexicon once again, and arrived someplace that I’ve been before. This used to bother me quite a lot. I used to hold on to a notion that the purpose of each of these songs was to achieve some novel originality. I realize now that novelty is cheap. If an idea comes back, so be it. It must be that I have something else to say about it. I’m certain that this week’s song is such a case, although I can’t put my finger on what song this was the last time. Perhaps one of my more astute listeners will recognize it. As I wrote it, the sensation of cosmic repetition must have rubbed off on the lyrical content. I’m singing about cycles as I experience one. I suspect I will probably write this again some time.

~M.E.

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Week 280 // Between Us

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Burn the map
Eyes on the road
See the lines
They flicker by you as you go
All the way to California

On the wind
The smell of fire
The signal buzzing
Dot for dash upon the wire
All we are is in the silent parts oh

Sunrise on the naked sphere
Burning spice and orange flame
Coping with the message on our tongues
All we’ve seen is etched upon
The void that binds our hearts between us

Ain’t it strange
Gone overboard
Hold tight the rigging
Cross your heart and praise the lord
God is laughing as we mull it over

Glad are we that search the earth
For perfect sunrise o’er the land
Grasping at the truth that’s on our tongues
All we are is writ upon
The void that binds our hearts between us

Notes
This is an earth song. This is an adventure song. This is a song about loss. This is a song about togetherness. This is a song about losing faith and accepting magic, if faith is belief in that which defies evidence, and magic is wonder at that which eludes explanation. The guitar moves a lot. It’s a little faster than it would be comfortably played or listened to. That’s deliberate. If I play this live, I will not be able to observe a steady tempo, and I’ll fall short of several notes. I recorded it this way because I wanted to hear what it would sound like if I lent the piece the false precision of digital recording. It sounds organic, but every aspect of this song is chopped up and manipulated. It might as well be a dubstep song for how computerized it is. I wonder if you can tell. Like last week, the lyrics are ponderous and unconcerned with cohesion. In a serendipitous way, I think they found cohesion on their own.

~M.E.

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