At the last Don't Go Home... Ryan joked (or was he being serious? So hard to tell) that in putting on both PENS and Teeth!!! we were doubling the 'quota' of women who have played Tough Love nights over the last 4(!) years. While that's not entirely accurate - maybe we pushed it into double figures? - it's true that we do unconsciously lean towards 'male' bands. I don't know why. It's a criticism that's been leveled at us in the past. But I don't see music that way, in those kind of gendered categories and I think it would be a little disingenuous to release a record made by women just for the sake of it, just as much as we'd steer clear of the tokenism in releasing a record by black musicians just so we could, y'know, 'balance things out'.
While Tough Love is mainly a distillation of two people's music taste, it doesn't completely reflect what we listen to, as I hope the recent Podcasts have made clear. This last week I've fallen head-over-heels for the new Marissa Nadler song - "River of Dirt" - that's been floating around on the more on-point blogs these last few months. Marissa Nadler is a woman. That is true. I can't deny it. And I still like it. Maybe I'm not a misogynist then? Or maybe in pointing that out, that's exactly what I become? Either way it's a pointless discussion, because what I like best about this song has nothing to do with her sex.
There are of course qualities to "River of Dirt" that may be traditionally interpreted as feminine - her beautifully tender, yearning vocals, the soft, flowing sweep of the subtle production - but in almost all European languages the word 'music' is gendered feminine, so make of that what you will. Which incidentally should be that it's all construction anyway.
The beauty of this song for me lies in the narrative, made opaque by imagery drawn from nature and an undefined recent past. It evokes a love taken for granted now diminished, existent only in faded rose-tinted memories. The moment at 2:16 when she sings "Take me back to the place of the golden slumbers, where I was happy and you were my middle name" has me welling up a little. A moment of ineffable joiussance if there ever was.
In terms of subject, it's familiar territory for sure. It's a story told many times before. Cynics may ask does the world really need another lovelorn break-up song? The answer to that question is, of course, a resounding yes. Heartbreak is as old as humanity, and so long as there are new hearts experiencing it, we're going to need new ways to hear it articulated and Nadler beautifully navigates the subject. We may all be "so painfully alone", but we're alone together and it's in songs like this you can revel in that self-indulgence. I think that's the point anyway. The comfort in being sad and all that.
I think this might well be the most emo post ever, on any blog anywhere. But y'know, tis a beautiful song and if your heart doesn't break a little when you hear it, you might want to check you have one, or at least start using the one you have got.
Marissa Nadler - "River of Dirt"