It is a gorgeous notion at its core, mirroring images of multi-culty folks, paws locked or arm and arm, hugging trees and drinking Cokes. This imagery, however, isn’t the stuff of reality if you pay society too much attention. Lucky for me, for as I run from the images of discord into the arms of what I know best, another interpretation of said word erases, if only for a few moments, the ugliness of the world around me. Escapism via music? You know it.
Touching on escape for a sec: I had my semi-annual mom-holiday visit last month (explaining away my Knox Road absence a little) which was, as it always is, lovely. We traveled together to Greece. Crete, specifically. As I’ve been there before I asked my mother where she’d like to visit. Matala was high on her list, its seaside cave living and sea air inspiring the likes of Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan back in the day, two of her favorites. We chatted and planned our busier days from sunbeds alongside the Mediterranean. During the silent moments when I fretted about transportation around the island and getting from A to B painlessly, I couldn’t help but gravitate to some of the music she filled my childhood home with as solace. It seemed fitting. Kate and Anna McGarrigle and their simple harmonies proved quite meditative.
I suppose my love of close harmony all started when I was in junior high school, just before I really came in to my own musically as far as records and bands are concerned. When kids were deciding on sports or art or instruments, attempting to build a foundation of what mind-numbing guidance counselors referred to as “well-roundedness” (sigh), I settled on chorus and choir and succeeded in it competitively as an Alto II. I adored it. Bet you didn’t know that, right? I’m chock-full of surprises.
The beauty of the chorale or choir in this case was learning one voice part on my own. Perfecting it in its singularity. Only months later did voices from across the city/county/state came together for the first time. Prior to formal introductions and really meeting the other hundred or so voices in the room, upon a conductors cue the most amazing, unified 8-12 part harmony would resound. The hum of so many voices coming together in such a way lifts me up from behind my knees with gentle, invisible hands every time. For a few seconds I am weightless.
The same phenomenon happens to me on a smaller, more contemporary scale. I have a shortlist of songs that lyrically mean little (per usual), but sonically, due to to the harmony of vocals, put them into a class separate from my other favorites. I’m a list-maker, but I’ll spare you that mundanity and touch upon a couple standouts. Shall we?
One of my all-time favorite duos, Damon Krukowski and Naomi Yang, absolutely torture me with their simple and charming harmonies. While “E.T.A.” (please, please give it some time) is primarily Yang, when their two voices do intermingle they bring with them that brand of musical perfection and unity of expression that almost transforms the song to the physical. I’d be remiss if I didn’t (again) mention their version of “Song to the Siren”. I mean, what is there to say really? There is comfort in redundancy. I go to this song. Period.
On the flip side of the musical coin, I give you the harmonies of, Miki Berenyi and Emma Anderson, Lush’s female half. Tracks like “Superblast” and “Lovelife” soundtracked my late-teens and college years. Despite being drug-fueled and their live performances largely being a total shambles, the vocals are just as satisfying, only plugged into the wall a little deeper. Also…
The Graduate soundtrack.
The entirety of Bridge over Troubled Water.
The gorgeously creepy twinsies Alejandra and Claudia Deheza from School of Seven Bells.
So I am list-making. And so it goes.
I talk (and write) of my favorite genres and sound quality and feedback and guitars until I am blue in the face in this bright and blog-heavy club of music hounds/friends we’ve chosen to be card carrying members of. It can be absolutely blinding. Fortunately, a little boiled down folk music and a day of reflection reminded me of the delicacy and beauty of the most faceted and forgotten musical instrument: the human voice.
[Abby’s Road is a Knox Road feature published every other Friday.]