Monday, February 3, 2014

I've moved.

Check out my new site:

This blog will remain up as an archive.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Track Tales Tuesday: Dream Catcher

I discovered Set It Off on the most recent entry in their “Punk Goes…” series, Christmas. Their contribution to the compilation was “This Christmas (I’ll Burn It To The Ground)," a soaring, operatic telling of Santa skipping out on the holiday. I’ll admit it took me awhile to adapt to the style. Pop punk bands don’t typically have that level of musical pageantry. It’s an approach that sets Set It Off apart.

Every one of their songs sounds like an epic, sweeping narrative, and “Dream Catcher” is no different, as the band attempts to teach us how to be one of the titular people. The track begins with a bit of exposition that anyone who‘s wanted their life to be more than it is can identify with:
“I’ve been sitting here for hours
As I wish for this to start
I set my standards high in hopes
They will not fall apart”
When you’re stuck in one place in that doesn’t satisfy you, your mind races to find ways that could bring that satisfaction. Your wishes turn into a new set of standards because you realize that the ones you’ve been living with have brought you here. The problem is, you’re still afraid of failing again, so you aim higher and higher until you have no idea how to make anything happen.  You want it so badly, you just don’t know how to get there.

Rather than filling in that gap with their story of success, presumably in an attempt to appeal to a broader audience, the band seems to jumps ahead in the narrative:
“It’s almost like I fell asleep
My doubts have seemed to fade
Because I’ve opened up my eyes to see
I’m right where I plan to be
Suddenly, there's no wishing to be somewhere else anymore. He’s where he plans to be because he opened his eyes. Clearly he means he’s come to understand something, but what is it? How did he come to understand it? Why do we need to understand it? These are the questions the song answers as it moves forward by teasing the first half of the chorus:
“Cast your net, cast it out
And I hope to god you’ll scream and shout
It’s everything you want and maybe more”
Alright, so we’re getting a bit of the how. Own your dreams and standards. Make them real by doing more than giving them lip service, proclaim them from the rooftops so everyone hears. Tell them that it’s not just something you’re saying, it’s something you actually want to do. The band explains why you should do this with the next verse:
“Anyone can dream through the night
But only some can dream with eyes wide
There lies the fight inside
It resides in everyone
They will proclaim you a fool
And it reminds you to do
Anything and everything to prove them a liar”
This reinforcement is what separates the achievers from everyone else. It’s how to win the fight that everyone else has lost. The first step is to realize it’s internal—a struggle with yourself to find the motivation. Then the insults of the naysayers will be fuel for your fire of determination rather than chains weighing you down. Victory within yourself is summed up in the final line of the chorus:
 “Cast your net, cast it out
And I hope to god you’ll scream and shout
It’s everything you want and maybe more
Does it seem out of reach?
Hit the ground and run with both your feet
Here’s a lesson that I hope to teach
Believe, you’ll be a Dream Catcher”
Believing is more than giving lip service to something. Just because you say you accept something as true, doesn’t mean you actually do. True belief affects your entire life, how you live every day. It’s strong enough to overcome any fear. Why? Because it manifests in physical events. The only way to truly win the internal struggle is to move beyond affirmation to action.

I realize the last paragraph may seem like a religious statement, but it’s not, and that misconception is why it’s especially important to consider what you believe in. Do you believe in things that are external to you or do you believe in yourself? Both beliefs will affect what you do every day with the latter causing you to take steps toward your dreams. Set It Off explains it best in their final verse:
“Cry out loud and take the stage
And don’t let skeptics slow your pace
With every forward step you’ll take
Their breath away
Their breath away
Believe, believe they’ll spite your words
And some will say it seems absurd
But devour the critics, dismiss the cynics
And mark my words, they’ll regret it when”
(The rest of the song's lyrics are a repetition of the chorus.) 

True belief in the self manifests in real things happening. The only danger presented to these things is people’s repetition of non-actual words. Sure, statements and words occur, but what is their physical nature? There is none, and that’s the difference here. That’s the lesson that Set It Off hopes to teach. Actions trump words, and if you truly believe in yourself, you'll do something instead of talking about it.

The final line of the chorus can now be seen in its true form—a double entendre:

Believe you’ll be a Dream Catcher. Believe that it is possible and act on it.
Believe and you will be a Dream Catcher.  If you truly believe in yourself and act on it, you will achieve what you dream.

It’s a stunning beautiful artistic statement that can only truly be understood by hearing the song itself. Delivery makes so much of a difference here. That fact more than anything points to the talent and artistry of Set It Off, of what they've done to catch their dream.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Track Tales Tuesday: So Positive

There are some bands that I listen and don't understand why they aren't bigger. Their music is catchy. Their lyrics are identifiable. Their brand/style is unique. It's the perfect combination of elements that makes an act popular and iconic. Down With Webster is one of those bands.

The first time I heard Down With Webster's "Time To Win Vol. 1" I was blown away. It's a celebratory combination of classic rock and hip hop that hasn't quite been done before. The lyrics, as the album title would suggest, are about succeeding and partying. The songs mix rap verses with anthemic choruses, of both the crowd chant-along and riff-heavy rock variety. There's even a sample/modern update of Eddie Money's "Rich Girl." In short, there's a lot of talent and a lot of smart decisions on it.

When I hear an album like that, I'm impressed and inspired, and groups like Down With Webster become a personal passion, a poorly kept secret from the rest of the world that I imagine hipsters would ironically scoff at. I play their songs on repeat incessantly. I memorize their lyrics, rap along with their verses, and make one of their hooks my ringtone, all the while wondering why the band hasn't blown up yet. Then they release a song or album that unintentionally answers the question I started with

For Down With Webster, that album is "Time To Win Vol. 2." While many of the songs on it could probably stand sufficiently as my answer, "So Positive" particularly rises above the rest. The closing track of the album, it's a mission statement of sorts, revealing the psychology behind the band and their approach to their lives. That approach, while being what makes me them so spectacularly appealing to me, is likely what distances them from the rest of the world. Quite frankly, it's too positive (and mature and rational).

The first half of the hook perhaps best captures what I mean:
I'm so, I'm so positive
and I know that I'll be alright, now
I'm so, I'm so positive
and I know that I'll be alright, now
It's not just about being "positive." A lot of popular songs claim that perspective. It's what the partying and "fun" are supposedly all about, enjoying life while you can. Here, the second line shows us there's a lot more going on. The surety of singing that they'll be alright is rare in our culture. The rest of the song shows us how they arrive at that demeanor (and just how different it is from most people).

The first verse frames the song's focus:
The grass is greener on the other guy's lawn
but I'll mow mine now til' it looks right
I'm lookin' at my glass and it looks half empty,
I'm still gonna chug that shit tonight
Wanna go places, tryin to pack
But I'm stuck in my basement, tryin to rap
Fell down once, but I'm climbing back
and I can see my dreams in a shiny plaque
Sometimes dreams play hard to get
You can't believe in those promises
When you out for the bread and condiments
cause' you can't pay your bills with compliments
I know where I'm going, I just wanna get there
Gotta lot of shoes, and I'm runnin' in my best pair
But my mind's on the next pair
and where I'm gonna be next year
What's so incredible about this verse is in the first four lines conventional sayings are turned on their head in order to render them impotent. You only know if the other guy's grass is greener than yours if you're trying to compare. You only know if your glass is half empty if you're worried about how much you have. What should you be focused on? The verse builds beautifully to show us it's about where you want to be with your life, not living by comparison or based on how much you have. That approach is where the band's positivity comes from and where they diverge from the culture at large.

This perspective becomes more explicit in the next verse:
I'm not thinkin' bout the words that I can't write,
I'm singing all the words in my head
I'm not thinkin' bout the girls that I can't get,
I'm thinkin' bout the girl in my bed
I'm not worried that I'm going with the crowd,
I'm too busy worryin' about going it alone
I'm not thinking bout the lineup at the club now,
I'm thinkin' bout how I'm getting home
It's not about thinking about what you don't have. It's about thinking about what you do have. A focus on yourself is slipped in here too with the dichotomy of going with the crowd versus going alone. Most popular songs would encourage you to go with the crowd.

The final verse is split into two, each delivered by one of the band's three vocalists, and adds the final piece necessary to understanding and holding this perspective:
Cause' life ain't a movie role
and you didn't write the script
So there's no way that you could know
what you're getting out of it
And the love is the truth you know
the money is counterfeit
Put it all on a million to one
I'm likin' the sound of it, yeah 
I'm not a superhero, and that's all I can say
cause' when the times get tough, the tough don't fly away
It's almost over now, but back in the beginnin'
we had nothing to lose, it was time we started winnin'
Escape the underground, suns out, star shine
Not that we're all stars, just that our stars align
And you can do it too, and hold your own hand
Just keep on doing you, follow your own plan!
The only way to describe these lines is reality-centric. Each starts out by denying the conventional way people try to envision their lives--characters and events that can't possible exist. They then continue by stating what facing reality force you to do--accept that you don't control the world and can't quit and hide when that lack of control presents you with difficult situations. And just like we saw with The Good Fight's "A Perfect Storm of Self-Satisfaction," each vocalist culminates his parts by turning his focus away from money and to himself and his dreams/plan.

The hook is repeated to close out the song, and now I want to highlight the second half of it that I neglected before:
I don't mind, I've been going through this my whole life
And I know I can't fly, but I close my eyes and I try
I don't mind, I've been going through this my whole life
And I know I can't fly, but I close my eyes and I try
Positivity is learning what your life is and limits are, dreaming about how you want it and yourself to be, and then pushing yourself to change it and yourself.  Down With Webster is incredible because their music is infused with this positivity. Their songs are about making life better, truly enjoying themselves, and celebrating what they have. Unfortunately, their perspective means they'll probably never reach the level of popularity they deserve.

It doesn't matter though. I'm so positive that it's awesome to be down with them.