Music for the Soul

Music for the Soul
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Your therapist tells you to listen to happy music -- A Hard Day's Night, Endless Summer. Britney Spears.

You've endured a terrible year, a broken relationship, financial problems, relatives lost to alcoholism and insanity. One of the ways to get over this -- to try and inch your way back from the brink -- is happy pop music.

But your soul tells you to forget happy pop music. You buy Nobody Wants to Be Here and Nobody Wants to Leave, the new record by the Twilight Sad. The music has been described as "Scottish miserablism" -- a combination of Scottish folk music, rock, industrial noise and 1980s synth-mope. The band's name is from a line by World War I poet Wilfred Owen, who died in 1918 in France. The covers of the Twilight Sad's records are collages of disturbing cutout images, childlike drawings or crude photographs against primary colors. The people in the images look emotionally destroyed.

You spend some time with the Twilight Sad. You realize that there is some darkness that needs to be walked through and not prescribed away. You need music but it has to be music with some mysticism and holiness, something that can speak the otherworldly language of God and the passion of the bleeding heart. Rap is too angry. Country music is one big dirt road of clichés. You need something with some grandeur to it, something with some terrible beauty.

"She's not coming back." That's the first line sung by Twilight Sad singer and songwriter James Graham on Nobody Wants to Be Here. You immerse your spirit into Graham's rich timbre, the luscious caramel of his thick accent. You remember the times you traveled to Ireland. You contemplate the musicality of the Celtic tongue, the ability it has to be both ethereal and gritty. You remember reading How Late it Was, How Late.

You think about your life. You think about the 1980s, when you were in college, and how the music of that time -- music which was considered ephemeral compared to the titans of the 1960s -- has attained a kind of timelessness. You consider how Depeche Mode, the Cure, and the Smiths have influenced the Twilight Sad. You consider the Twilight Sad's album Forget the Night Ahead, which is a masterpiece. You conclude that the band is as good, if not better, than any of the 80s bands that influenced them.

You miss the 80s, but realize that the struggles that came after that the struggles that form a soul -- that allow you to share, in some small way, with the suffering of Jesus. You meditate on the cancer you beat, the struggles as a writer, the love you lost. You have no desire to partake in the suffering of Jesus. You think about drinking and doing drugs like the old days. But you understand that the pain will be there when you sober up. You have to carry this cross. You ponder that your thoughts might be too self-aggrandizing. On "Leave the House," James Graham sings:

I've been put to bed
I've been put to bed
So what do you care for?
There's no one in the right

As the song reaches its crescendo, Graham's feet are no longer on the ground. His magnificent voice is defiant yet not maudlin, childish or resentful, the hallmarks of American pop singers. Graham cries in grief:

Say where, say where you'll go away
And I won't call there

The words are drawn out, individually forming mini-songs on there own. There are universes in his plaint. Graham is Christ on the cross, asking why, pleading for God. You realize that Nobody Wants to Be Here and Nobody Wants to Leave is what great rock albums used to be -- a suite of songs that creates a story and a mood that requires the listener to take a journey.

You understand that some don't understand that classic pop albums create a mood that necessarily has down times and lulls. Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band has "Within You Without You" and "A Day in the Life," weird songs and hardly singles. "I don't know where it all went wrong." Graham sings those words on the title track to Nobody Wants to Be Here. It's a song whose hyperactive industrial pulse and shredding guitar is offset by a prayer:

Can we go back
Can we go back
Can we go back

I don't know where it all went wrong

"Sometimes I Wished I Could Fall Asleep" is the final song. It is a lament set over a piano. There is echo and a underlying, smothered beat, like a rapid heartbeat felt through a sweater. Here is the lyric that stops you with its brilliant simplicity:

Will you tell me when you're there
Run your fingers through your hair

You think, not for the first or last time, that the Catholics are right. God comes to us through the everyday sacramental things -- water, wine, a woman running her fingers through her hair.

You remind yourself that the woman is gone. That you are a writer and filmmaker, and in follwing those dreams you may wind up homeless.

Yet the heartbeat that runs through Nobody Wants to Be Here, the beautiful noise that seems to echo the very creation of the universe, is life itself. You feel something you haven't in a while: hope.

You go back to youe therapist. You tell her the happy music helped.

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