It’s summer in D.C. The heat radiates off the sidewalks. Your morning runs might as well take place in a sauna. And your World Cup bracket is in shambles. Happily, live music cures most ailments, so here are a few suggestions.
In storytelling, it’s all about the secrets. If you start with, “it was a rainy day at the beach,” I will just fall asleep. I want to know what happens at the bar when it’s 1 a.m. and you’re five pints in and telling your best friend about something that’s really happened. That’s where the good stuff is.
I like Mikel Jollett’s description of the “good stuff” and where it comes from. The lead singer of the Airborne Toxic Event is no stranger to plumbing the depths of souls and surfacing with a story — before he became a songwriter, he was a Stanford psychology major and a writer (with a short story published in McSweeney’s). Three albums in, the Airborne Toxic Event has shown what kind of magic can happen when a wordsmith starts a rock band with his drummer friend (Daren Taylor), a classically-trained violinist (Anna Bulbrook), a jazz bassist (Noah Harmon), and a guitarist (Steven Chen) who Mikel met when both lived in San Francisco. Even before delving into the songs, you get a sense of the literary cred from the name of the band — it’s out of Don DeLillo’s White Noise (and I think this is inspiration, not pretension).
After equivocating between summer and fall for the past few weeks, autumn weather has finally descended on D.C. As Colin Nissan puts it, “there’s a nip in the air and my house is full of mutant f*ing squash.” Decorative gourds and plaid shirts aside, I love this season because I get to listen to new releases. October got off to a good start with Kodaline’s debut album.
Since the release of “In A Perfect World” (June in Europe, October in North America), Kodaline has been dazzling crowds on both sides of the pond. I first encountered their music last spring when they opened for The Airborne Toxic Event at the 9:30 Club. At the end of the set, frontman Steve Garrigan humbly thanked the audience for listening “even though you’ve never heard of us.” Well lads, for those of us who didn’t know you then, we certainly know you and love your music now.
While the critics have not been as enthusiastic as the fans, my philosophy on album reviews goes something like this: “In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little, yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. . . . [But] in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so.” (Yes, I’m quoting from “Ratatouille” — because it’s brilliant.)
The Dublin-based quartet displays a versatility in their first album and an ability to craft hook after hook that the critics ought to pay closer attention to before dismissing the band’s music as mundane, post-Bono/Chris Martin alt-rock.
For example, the folk-tinged “Love Like This” opens with harmonica and mandolin and includes lovely “ooh-ooh-ooh” harmonies, broken by a spoken aside that Steve tosses off in a rakish manner, the ghost of a smile lifting the corners of his lips: “I know that love like this won’t last forever / But I, I don’t really mind, I don’t really mind at all.” I love the hush at 3:03 when the instruments drop out and Steve’s a capella delivery captures the loneliness described in the preceding verse: “It grows dark but you don’t mind / Hiding in the back streets, yeah, you’ll never notice me.” Then the full acoustic accompaniment rejoins to propel us onward to the end of the song.
“Love Like This” is perfect for fall, when my relationship with the weather is sort of like the fling described in the song. The gorgeous colors and scents of autumn will inevitably be displaced by winter, but I don’t mind that this lovely weather is only temporary. What we have is now, and as Steve has remarked about this song, “it’s kind of about relationships [that are] not really going anywhere, but you just go with it anyway.”