Friday, December 23, 2016

Best Albums of 2016 - Number 3

skeleton tree

This is an album that, as much as I loved, I probably will rarely listen to. But I can't deny it a place on this list because it is such a powerful piece of art and hit me so damn hard, from the first listen, while sitting at work with earbuds in - I was a wreck. In the course of recording Skeleton Tree, Nick Cave lost his teenage son. There's no way that wouldn't have been reflected in the album, no matter how much of it had been done before. Sure, Cave has always been dark, but this is something else entirely. The weight of this is substantial and transcendent in ways that really defy explanation. Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds' Skeleton Tree is not something that you should listen to lightly, but it is something you most definitely should listen to at least once. It will change you.

From the opening track, "Jesus Alone," there's an ominous heaviness and the feel of a darkened room, alone. It's hopeless and dark in the very real way that grief can be. Once we get to "Girl in Amber" there's something going on in your chest and I would understand most people shutting this off right then, but I implore you not to. I think this is important to be reminded of - these feelings. No matter how shitty life can get, we need this specific kind of darkness to highlight the tiny bright spots in every day, if we can get them. And I'm not sure this has ever been captured in anything approaching this level. This album is the most concrete example I think I've ever heard of the power of music and the original intent of this blog.

Honestly, I don't think I can even get into this on a lyrical level because it may destroy me forever. Certain lines stand out here and there like "Nothing really matters when the one you love is gone. You're still in me, baby." from "I Need You" for example, but overall, it's the shear wall of raw sonic emotion that closes in on you as you listen that puts this on my list. It could almost be an instrumental and still knock you out. The Bad Seeds clearly felt this loss along with Cave and the mourn together. It may seem hopeless, but it is this balance between voice and instruments and the basic fact of knowing it was a group of people doing this together that makes this come off like an embrace of some sort. Not an embrace of comfort, necessarily, but one of solidarity and understanding none the less. It doesn't take the pain away, but gives you a safe place to express it in all its bleakness.

I'd rather not say much more about this album, because I feel like it should just be experienced. But I have to mention "Distant Sky." This song - this, I don't know what to call it - is the most cathartically beautiful thing I've ever heard, hands down. It features Else Torp on vocals and if it doesn't make you cry uncontrollably, I feel horrible for you. This chorus was made to accompany sobbing that comes from the black hole of despair that opens in a soul after losing a loved one and more specifically, a child.
"They told us our gods would outlive us
  They told us our dreams would outlive us
  They told us our gods would outlive us
  But they lied"
This song is the moment of release for the whole thing before the slightly hopeful, though still overwhelming, melancholy of the title track, "Skeleton Tree." Maybe someone with a stronger will than mine could analyze this album and break down the songs into different stages of grief, but I can barely maintain composure all through the album. As I said at the beginning, this won't be often played and hopefully not something I need to turn to for comfort, but god damn am I glad that it exists - in spite of the horrible circumstances that lead to it - and that I've heard it. If music or art in general is supposed to affect you, deeply, then this is that and more.

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