Our Favorite Lyrics of 2018

This week is our year in review week at Not a Sound and we wanted to try celebrating a few things that don’t get celebrated enough. Both of our editors are musicians and/or songwriters outside of the blog and are passionate about the creative craft that goes into making good music. With that in mind, we thought it would be fun to do a pair of columns celebrating the craft of music rather than just the whole finished product. In this article we basically just wanted to geek out about a few of our favorite lyrics from releases in 2018, we hope you enjoy these songs as much as we do!

“Ghost Town”- Kanye West feat. PARTYNEXTDOOR, Kid Cudi, and 070 Shake

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070 Shake: “Oh once again I am a child / I let go of everything that I know / and nothing hurts anymore / I feel kind of free / we’re still the kids we used to be.”

“Ghost Towns” is the climax of Kanye West’s self-titled ye, in which 070 Shake leads the second half. Her child-like vocals soar over electric-guitar riffing, and when the instrumental cuts out at “I feel kind of free” leaving only her voice on the beat, it makes for one of the most triumphant, emotionally satisfying lyrical moments of 2018.

“Stay Down” – boygenius

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Julien Baker: “I look at you and you look at a screen / I’m in the backseat of my body / I’m just steering my life in a video game / similar acts in a different name”

The Julien Baker-led boygenius track “Stay Down” perfectly and simply describes the loneliness of life in 2018.

“2009” – Mac Miller

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“I don’t need to lie no more / nowadays all I do is shine, take a breath and ease my mind / and she don’t cry no more / she tells me that I get her high ‘cause an angel’s s’posed to fly / and I ain’t asking “why?” no more / oh no I take it if it’s mine, I don’t stay inside the lines / it ain’t 2009 no more / yeah I know what’s behind the door”

Released weeks before his untimely death, the penultimate track on Mac Miller’s final album is basically a perfect song, lyrically and sonically. In an album chronicling pain and rejection, “2009” looks beyond it all, accepting the past with a resolve to move forward. It is a true shame that he would not live to see this fully carried out.

“Lavender Burning” – Half Waif

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“I miss New York, but I don’t wanna think about leaving / I’m out on the road and it’s losing all of its meaning / Just tryin’ to fill this hole that once held my whole being / Is this all there is?”

The opening track to Half Waif’s critically acclaimed album “Lavender” is a stunning reflection on self and place. Invoking her grandmother’s practice of burning lavender as an image of home and identity, lyricist Nandi Rose Plunkett reflects on her life on the road and all that she left behind; those things that shaped her into who she is that she now feels distant from.

“With You” – Noname

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“I’m almost just as empty as you think I am, a penny for your thoughts / A witty pear of happiness, a pretty Ricky Ross / A maid black music, I woke up in my sympathy, became black Judas / All my everythings for sale / All my secondhand discoveries, Dungarees faded pale / All my halfway hallelujahs that tippy-toed in the mail / All the fluctuations on scales / And the missing therapy sessions of bullets treating me well”

It’s hard to pick just one lyric from Noname’s “Room 25”, an album that is packed with incredible lines from the moment it opens with “Self” to the moment it fades out with “no name.” I decided to go with the penultimate track “With You”, where Noname wrestles with her growing fame and influence and what it’s like to essentially sell your life experiences as art. This perpetual mental battle is one that all confessional writers face to one degree or another, and Noname nails the feeling with a lyrical precision and openness unique to her.

“Why” – Animal Flag

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“When your parents met, it was a lonely night / They figured yeah, who cares? People get married all the time / Then they made you up, and they brought you home / And they laid you down and said “God, what have we done? / What have we done?”

“Now you’re a speck of dust on a floating rock / You’re the fastest hand on the smallest clock / You’re a vapor bird in a body cage / And when you break out, it’ll leave everyone in pain /Oh, in pain”

“Why” deals with the ever looming existential question, “why are any of us even here?” in a way that is both artful and somewhat humorous. It opens with a lackadaisical, irreverent stanza about a married couple bringing a new child into the world before shifting into a stanza detailing the existential dread of being human in the most snide possible way. In what is perhaps it’s most clever line, Animal Flag describe the human essence, or soul as “a vapor bird in a body cage” before revealing the irony of death, that freeing that bird from it’s cage will leave everyone else in pain. What a drag.

Enjoy these songs in the playlist below.

Underrated Albums: Extralife by Darlingside

It’s over now.” Normally these three harrowing words mark the end of something: the end of an era, the close of a traumatic event, or the white flag at the end of a long war. For Darlingside this phrase signifies all of the above, but it doesn’t signify the end of the story. On the contrary, these words open the Cambridge, Massachusetts folk quartet’s latest album Extralife, a concept album set on a post-apocalyptic Earth shortly after the close of the nuclear holocaust. It is on this scorched Earth, where life as we know it ceases and anything that remains becomes itself extra-life, that Darlingside begin their musical journey surveying the wreckage; probing for signs of life and reflecting back on the choices that led to such desolation.

On Extralife, Darlingside create a soundscape that is lush and vibrant, thanks in part to the beautiful melding of acoustic guitar, strings, woodwinds, and subtle electronic drones, each made more ethereal by a healthy dose of reverb. However, while the arrangements are stunning, what really seals the deal are the near constant four part vocal harmonies that could make even Simon and Garfunkel jealous. When combined, these two elements create a feel that is much more Narnia than Mad Max, though there is a noticeable melancholic bent to the otherwise mystical sonic palette. It is at once filled with immediate beauty and distant longing, the kind of album that one can appreciate equally when feeling sad or feeling happy. Armageddon never sounded so beautiful.

Though it would still succeed just on the merits of its immersive atmosphere and catchy melodies, Extralife also manages to be more than just a vibe album. Each song, or at least the discernable majority, starts contextually with the catastrophic nuclear event and becomes a snapshot of a particular experience. When put together the songs on Extralife form a sort of patchwork picture of an apocalyptic future, one where the narrators are aware of the overarching narrative, how this catastrophe arrived and all of the things left in its wake, but the listener is forced to piece together the story and its resulting message from fragments. In the title track we get a picture of the event itself as “Mushroom clouds reset the sky.” A few tracks later Futures flashes back to before the apocalypse with the words of a “Mrs. President” pleading in the chorus, “It’s not ever too late.” This refrain is juxtaposed with that of the next track, here presumably post-apocalypse again, where the narrator’s father urges him “hold your head up high”before the narrator concludes the vignette with “underground the new life thunders up and on.”

Despite predominantly leaning into their world and storytelling, there are several moments that remain poignant with or without their narrative context. Perhaps the most mesmerizing track, Old Friend, shows the narrator reflecting on an old friend who presumably has died. It is lyrically the shortest song on the album, only three stanzas of three lines each, but says all that it needs to say in just one stanza: “Old friend I/ Think of you still sometimes/ Sure as the river bending into the light.” Another theme that jumps beyond the story is the preeminence of history and what it means to find one’s place in it. In Singularitywe see a post-apocalyptic man “taking pictures of cement… for the history books on mother Earth.” On Hold Your Head Up High we once again see emphasis put on the ties between humanity and the need to preserve its likeness: “See that humankind is you/ Like all the rest, down to/ The scratches on the album that you’re singing to.” Darlingside probe at this question much more directly in Rite Hayworth, a song about famous, historical women in the early 20thCentury where the question of how one stands out “in a colorless sea” amounts to how one knows what it means to be loved. It is a fitting question for an album looking back at civilization from desolation, but also a fitting question in real, everyday life.

That is the true strength of Extralife, that the story is more than entertainment or a thought experiment, but as the final track, Best of the Best of Times somewhat reveals, it is very much real in its own right. While the chorus “We’re a long way, long way from the best of the best of times” is a proper reflection of the post-fallout predicament of the narrator, it is also buffered by images of clocks winding down, the world saying farewell, and a closing verse that begins “and I wonder/ whether our days are unnumbered” and ends with the dream of finally waking up to be pulled from a shipwreck “all equal and safe.” Here we find what feels like a real, pertinent warning that perhaps we are already a long way from the best of times in our current world and seemingly closer instead to the full collapse characterized throughout most of the album. This turns us back to the question of history and how humanity’s story will be preserved. It won’t do much good to take pictures of concrete once life is destroyed, but if we learn from our mistakes now then perhaps those who follow us won’t have to see what comes extra-life.

Underrated Albums: This Is My Dinner by Sun Kil Moon

Initially rising to fame in the 1990s as the frontman of slow-core kings The Red House Painters, singer-songwriter Mark Kozelek is now mainly known for his work under the moniker Sun Kil Moon.  Named after a Korean boxer, Sun Kil Moon’s sound has evolved drastically over the last two decades.  The band’s first album Ghosts Of The Great Highway (2003) sounded like a somewhat more folk-driven version of The Red House Painters later work, even recorded with many of the same band members.  2010’s Admiral Fell Promises saw Kozelek shedding the full-band instrumentation of most of his previous work, favoring a nylon-string guitar and his voice.  Two years later Among The Leaves was released, which featured more of the nylon-string style, but incorporated a stream-of-consciousness style of lyricism that stood in stark contrast to Kozelek’s previous writing, which was often sparse and riddled in metaphor.

2014’s Benji garnered widespread critical acclaim for Sun Kil Moon.  For the most part, Benji stuck with the same style of his previous two releases, occasionally incorporating full band arrangements, and using the stream-of-consciousness lyric style to great effect.  Most of all, listeners were affected by the brutal honesty of the songs, many of which deal with the loss of loved ones, from the perspective of a veteran songwriter who is coming to terms with being in the second half of his life.

Since then, Kozelek has struggled to gain acclaim.  2015’s Universal Themes and 2017’s Common as Light and Love Are Red Valleys of Blood received middling to negative reviews, as Kozelek delved even farther into the avant-garde, with both albums including many songs spanning over 10 minutes in length.  Listeners complained that Kozelek was no longer writing with the focus seen in his earlier work, and was just elaborating on self-centered minutia.

2018’s This Is My Dinner is no different.  The album spans an hour-and-a-half over the course of ten tracks, mainly chronicling Kozelek’s time touring Europe in November of 2017.  The first track “This Is Not Possible” features a laid-back, old school jam beat over top of which Kozelek talk-sings, beginning with a story about trying (unsuccessfully) to get into a Frankfurt venue, and ending (nine minutes later) with Kozelek singing about the process of recording the song itself.  Comedically, nearly every stanza of the song ends with the band softly chanting, “Yes, this is possible!” or “This is not possible!” back to Kozelek in response to a question in the narrative, almost like the chorus in a Shakespeare spoof.  Example:

Koz: Is it possible that my favorite meal is chicken and waffles?

Band: This is not possible!

Koz: Is it possible that the United States President needs to be admitted into a mental hospital?

Band: Yes, this is possible!

Koz: Is it possible that I’m singing this song in Berlin in front of a thousand people tonight?

Band: This is not possible!

On this release, Kozelek’s lyrics jump from the hilarious to the heart breaking very quickly in the span of a single track.  The title track finds him recalling a tour in Norway during which he received a call informing him that his beloved cat is near death.  He embarks on the flight home, racing death to see his pet before she dies, “The whole thing was so upsetting / and the anxiety was building so badly on the plane / and I kept writing in my journal / ‘please Pink, don’t die on me / please Pink, don’t die on me / please Pink, don’t die on me while I’m up here in the sky / I’ll hate myself forever if I could not kiss you goodbye.’”

The second half of the album sees Kozelek revisiting his childhood and the music that he grew up with that influenced him to be a musician in the first place.  In the song “David Cassidy,” he announces his intention to cover “Come On Get Happy” by the Partridge Family several times before the song cuts abruptly, jumping right into a one-minute rendition of the classic track.  After, he plays a long rendition of AC/DC’s “Rock N’ Roll Singer,” and then wraps up the record with two now “standard” stream-of-consciousness tracks.

What makes this record great is not it’s unconventional form, or it’s humor or tear jerking moments, but the way in which Kozelek’s writing style opens you up and immerses you into his world.  While some might view his writing as boring, tedious, and at times preachy, it offers a wholly unique perspective as you enter the head of a man who sees everything, and I mean everything, as significant and worthy of being written about.

When most of us look back upon our lives, we think of the big moments.  Graduations, weddings, divorces, moves, deaths of those close to us.  While those things are certainly significant, we often fail to recognize that the majority of life is lived between these moments.  Most of our lives are lived rushing to work, going grocery shopping, staring at our phones, talking to friends, waiting for the next moment.  Kozelek’s music makes every moment feel huge and this is where his writing succeeds.  He recognizes the intricacies of our lives and pays attention to them, honoring the quiet, busy, monotonous, and annoying moments as sacred.

This Is My Dinner is easily the most light-hearted album Kozelek has released, maybe ever.  He sounds like he’s having fun on this release, moving from story to story, detail to detail, reveling in the glory of all of it.  Aside from diehard fans, most probably will not bother with this.  If you haven’t heard a Kozelek album before, go back and listen to Benji, maybe a few Red House Painters albums, and then when you have an afternoon alone, sit down and crack open a beer and throw this on, and you’ll be surprised at how often you want to listen again.