Through A Note Darkly: Tracy Chapman's Self-Titled, Nick Drake's Pink Moon, Beach House's Teen Dream

Through A Note Darkly is a weekly feature on thegreatalbums.com in which contributor Chris Villalta ranks and reflects on three albums he's heard a lot about, but has never heard in full before.

3. Nick Drake: Pink Moon

Personal Favorite: “Things Behind The Sun”

Summarizing Lyric: “Take a look you may see me on the ground/For I am the parasite of this town” (“Parasite”)

Flick an ant, it won’t die. It lives on, defiantly pattering around this table cluttered with cigarette ash, looking for the crumbs of the muffin it knows I had for breakfast, reminding me I’m not that strong. If Zeus’s hand came down and flicked me from my seat my bones would surely shatter, but not this ant’s. But I can easily remind the ant that it is not so strong for surviving a flick. A slight smush and–crumpled black. I win… for now. I could walk out this house, begin crossing the street at the unfortunate moment the incoming driver, who I thought saw me, gets a text from a crush and–leaking skin. In the words of Nick Drake, “none of you stand so tall.” It can be an ant surviving a flick that reminds you of your minute presence in this already vast history or it can be the witnessing of a pink moon. Perhaps it is listening to Pink Moon, a record that puts sunlight in its place as another subjective presence (“You can say the sun is shining if you really want to,” “The Road”) that recognizes a youth’s goals as clothes soon to be grown out of (“When I was young, younger than before/I never saw the truth hanging from the door/And now I’m older see it face to face,” “Place to Be”), that sees how shaky one’s worldview is when faced with a slightly uncomfortable task like walking home (“I see through… All of the people that will come to the ball/But hear me calling/Won't you give me a free ride?”), that will remind you how tiny and squishable you are. It’s sobering to see through a parasite’s eyes.

2. Tracy Chapman: Tracy Chapman

Personal Favorite: “Fast Car”

Summarizing Lyric: “A love declared for days to come/Is as good as none” (“If Not Now…”)

I like the mystery a smudged mirror provides. It leaves the possibility of the faults I see not being mine; allows me to ask, “Is that stain on my face, or on the glass?” Bob Dylan, Lou Reed, Tom Waits, Nick Cave–my favorite music to listen holds up a smudged mirror. The darkness seen in their lyrics is written in such a way that one can come to the conclusion that darkness exists in the mirror’s world, not mine. Tracy Chapman’s lyrics did not give me this luxury. The world she was talking about, that place where “love is hate, war is peace, no is yes,” where the words “we’re all free” can be delivered with a fearsome smirk, that world is this one (“Why?”). She doesn’t shroud settings in foggy obscurity or give wild descriptions of characters for the sake of allegory. There’s no time for that. People are bleeding out. Chapman knows we can’t have songs lying around for hundred of years in hopes that a classroom of college students will decipher the words, find the underlying ideas for activism, and apply them to their times of unrest. No, she wants the world to be fixed now because “if not now, then when?” “No more smudges,” says Chapman, wiping them away with the help of flawless arrangements to reveal the stain is on our face. “On the back streets of America/They kill the dream of America/Little black girl gets assaulted/Don’t no one know her name/Lots of people hurt and angry/She’s the one to blame.” The problem’s been communicated, the disease diagnosed. Perhaps we’re just procrastinators, or real money-pinchers. Either way, it’s about time I get over myself and drive to the pharmacy, grab the pills, start fighting this long-lived sickness of oppression against humans.

1. Beach House: Teen Dream

Personal Favorite: “Silver Soul”

Summarizing Lyric: “Real love, it finds you somewhere with your back to it” (“Real Love”)

As we speak there’s a person frantically searching their chest for the “Pull Here” tab, desperate to let their nails sink into skin, pull the lonely heart out, and throw the grey-haired lump into the sea to keep the beast away (“Norway”). Chances are this person, reeking of heartache, is young and untrained in the art of having a broken heart. Their lack of experience keeps them from seeing the benefits of having a lump of gray in the chest: lessons learned, brighter days, perhaps a poem (although, whether or not engaging in poetry is beneficial is debatable)–so they want to move away from the beast as quickly as possible. The thought of this venous beast piercing you with it’s mighty claw, lifting you up to face the eyes it has hiding behind its gnarled hair–“NO!” you yell; “YES!” belts Beach House. Teen Dream’s nuzzled arrangements turn the beast’s claws into a cushion for you to settle in, its primal growl into Victoria Legrand’s nocturnal howl reminding you how destined to fail the relationship was, how daunting a task it is to maintain the light emitted after the first meeting of lips, how uncertain you are if the love was even real but how locked in you are besides that fact because this person said yes to the illusion: “Wide open field/We know we can feel/Awake and unreal,” but ultimately, “Off to nowhere” (“Lover of Mine”). These dark sentiments are made digestible, and I’m left longing for the days I had the beating lump of gray instead of the hardened from fear metallic heart trapped in my chest.