|Neither of these songs are on this album by Eddie Vedder.|
Water can be life. It can cleanse. It can be rebirth. Salvation. But it can also be a deluge. It can be slow and agonizing death. It can destroy with sublime power in all its beauty and as our sea levels rise those are the images that haunt me. All of these elements can lead to some of the most cliched metaphors in the history of art. But sometimes, artists hit on the perfect balance. Something about drowning in sorrow or love is just a natural universal idea and these two songs not only capture that directly and indirectly, but they somehow fit nicely together, subliminally completing two sides of some vague story. Let's begin with the one I think goes better first, "Buried in Water" by Dead Man's Bones.
This beautifully haunting song knocked me completely out the first time I heard it. Recorded with The Silverlake Conservatory Children's Choir the entire album consists of love songs about ghosts. This one is no exception, apparently telling the story of a town that was flooded so other towns could live. Honestly, I've read the lyrics and it's all very vague, but that's kind of what I like about it. Because it's the atmosphere and the melody that carry this thing in a way that feels like it's buried, not just in water, but in tears. That first time I heard it, I had no idea what I was hearing but I felt the wetness in my eyes and the lump in my throat by the time the chorus came up. And that creepy whistling in the verses somehow isn't creepy at all, even though it is. These aren't the ghosts that frighten you in the night. These are the ghosts that haunt you with the weight of human melancholy and the reality of mortality. And they don't float in midair, they float on the water, like reflections of something you might one day be. It's the inevitable tragedy of death, somehow made bearable. I picked this first in order to end on a more glorious tone, so let's move on.
We go from a story of a town literally buried in water to a more personal tale of a love affair where it feels as if they are drowning in "Beneath the Brine" by The Family Crest. And in order to capture the intensity of what that love affair must have been like, the song is gloriously exhausting in such a way that you can't help but soar with it's crashing waves before collapsing at the end, soaked, spent and sobbing. I can't make up my mind if I get emotional about the actual content of the song or the shear power of the performance. The entire band is amazing, but Liam McCormick's vocals are literally breathtaking. Seriously, I've tried to sing along and it's not possible. Interestingly enough, the first time I head this, on NPR's Tiny Desk, I saw the odd collection of instruments and the young hipster-ish looking musicians and I was sure I wasn't going to like it. I figured it would be pretentious and overbearing. It's the most wrong I've ever been about anything and I was immediately happy to admit that. And another reason these two songs fit somehow? Listen to the whistling from "Buried in Water" and the cello from "Beneath the Brine" and they're like echoes of each other. This is perfection that almost feels intentional.