4: "I Don't Want To Die" by Ryan Power

This is another one that came my way when I lived at the loom with Will Graefe (WM/Star Rover) and Jeremy Gustin (Star Rover/Delicate Steve/Albert Hammond Jr) and Ben Davis (Cuddle Magic/Anais Mitchell). I have a vague memory of Will & Jeremy singing along to it gleefully in the living room. 

Back when I was a young buck plotting to make my way in the jazz world (bear with me!), I spent a lot of time thinking about improvisation. One thing young improvisers tend to do is construct very choppy solos built of brief, disconnected ideas. They'll venture an idea, and then a chord change will catch them off guard and they'll land flat on their faces and stop. It's a bit like learning to walk. Anything unexpected knocks you over. 

I spent a whole year of my life back then focusing on phrase length, trying to trust myself to adapt my ideas in real time, to trust that I could land on my feet if I just kept going. Obviously it doesn't always work, but being surprised by music is a wonderful feeling, both as a player and as a listener, and the only way to allow it is to take risks all the time. Being an improviser as a young musician is a great lesson for that reason. You get used to publicly fucking up all the time and fighting through it. 

I wandered there a bit but basically this song is a testament to the power of phrase length. The entire verse basically feels like one unfurling breath. It is, melodically, one of the strangest things I've ever heard, and very beautiful, almost in spite of the cheesy sounds used (more on that later). I love way the melody just grows further and further, twisting through weird chromatics and rhythmic adjustments. Each time you think it's done resolving a new phrase attaches to the end of the previous. It's just a marvel to behold. A plant growing in timelapse.

Nerding out for a sec: Trying to decode how it's done I realized one trick is that when the melody naturally resolves back to the one chord (when it should feel settled and done) the harmony avoids the one and instead leaps to some new and tense place, forcing the melody to keep moving. The tension in one element is always pulling the other forward. Very cool. Around 1:46 at "doesn't feel well" is a good example of this.

I also really dig the use of mundane & casual language mixed in here. And, while we're on lyrics, this is an incredibly wise and concise line, about suicide here, but applicable to anything: "you will cause someone pain / when you flow / when you change"

This song also resonates with me because it is pretty clearly about severe anxiety/depression (except the part about pirates and pilates, I have no idea what the fuck that is). In that spirit, the cheesy synth sounds used, the goofy falsetto la-la-la-la-la that starts the second part of what I think of as the chorus, and the yacht rocky vibe of that intro chord progression with the dotted quarter hits, all kind of echo for me the horrible cosmic humor of those ills:

Recently I walked across the Brooklyn Bridge with three people who are among the most important to me of anyone I've ever known. I love them all and they love me. At the time I was battling with some pretty horrible downs (like Power, I was wondering - why? is it the winter? do I need some vitamin D?). I had the day off and was spending it doing only what I wanted, and yet...

Crossing the bridge and looking out over the newly snow covered city, I registered that it was beautiful. I could see that. I couldn't feel it. Looking at the people I loved, I knew who they were and that they were important to me. But I couldn't feel it. All I could feel was despair, a pervasive heaviness of my body, a feeling like I wanted to cry but didn't have the energy, a winding spring of tension at the knowledge that my despair was being noticed and causing pain. It was so stupid. A perfect moment, and I've never been more miserable. It was almost enough to make me laugh.