Saturday, January 7, 2012

My Favorite Song of 2011... "The Valley Wind" by Tyler Ramsey (a Youtube clip of the song is at the end of this post). Ramsey plays guitar for Band of Horses to pay the bills and writes songs for his own solo records during his time away from the band. I've only heard his latest album, which goes by the same name as my favorite song on that album, The Valley Wind. It's a beautiful, textured, grower of a record, but "The Valley Wind" is especially noteworthy for a number of reasons. To begin with, it's one of the most emotionally resonant songs I've ever heard. The melody doesn't seem like much at first, only a few quiet strums on the electric guitar. But the more times you listen to it the more your realize how effective those understated strums are; the melody ingrains itself into your bones, giving it the power to lull you to sleep or water your eyes, both of which it has done to me. On several nights I put this song on repeat before I went to bed and I'd be passed out by the second or third spin. The percussion is quiet and crisp except for the forceful (yet still restrained, it seems) clap of a phenomenal-sounding snare drum on the downbeat. Ramsey's best musical asset, however, is his voice. Certainly it's ethereal, near heavenly, but it's more than that; it's almost other-worldly, as if an alien from some far off planet were singing, and I mean that in the best possible way. He's got a superb voice, and though otherworldly as it may be, the lyrical themes Ramsey touches on are deeply and in the best ways human.

The song's themes run the gamut, but the main idea I think is a universal one: life is short, so don't wait too long to start living it. The refrain of Am I gonna wait 'til it's gone? seems to be the narrator telling himself "Life is genuinely short, I could die at any moment, I need to stop screwing around." Several themes are touched upon, the first being drunken nights and friendship; He's been trying to keep up with his friends again, now someone's gotta stay and take care of him; Am I the one? It looks like I'm the one. Life escapes us if we spend too much of it in dangerously inebriated states; sure, we say it's all in the name of fun, but a lot of times it's all in the name of escaping our boring lives. The second verse carries with it themes of suffering, moving on, and fresh starts, and the metaphor and "payoff" lyric are hugely liberating: Someone left the stove on in the house too long, now we can warm our hands from the front lawn; At least we know it's time for moving on. That last part is such a comforting thought. Maybe your house hasn't burned down, but there are things in life sometimes that we just have to move on from and get past, whether it be something tragic or something that is holding us back in general. And when drastic events occur it can help along that process, and sometimes the drastic event is nothing more than epiphany. Something about the second line in the verse haunts me too. I picture late winter, a farm family who has just lost everything gathered in front of their burning house staying warm off each other's heat and the thieving flames. It's just great imagery.

The third verse touches again on the theme of friendship: And I can see the lights of an ambulance, and the sirens coming over on the valley wind, oh please tell me it's not another friend. In the ten years since I've graduated high school, it's amazing to me to the number of people I knew then and before who have died. You never get used to hearing it, and the number's only going to rise the older you get -- that is reality. The last verse took a few listens to click, but once it did the truth of it brought chills over me. It hits on one of the main themes of the song, death, and builds upon the previous verse: Someone's gotta number with a name on it, somebody's gotta go when that numbers picked, and it's enough to break you heart. There's not much to say about that other than the obvious: we all are going to die. The heartbreak comes streaming in full force when it's somebody whose life was cut short, or when it's someone who lived their life under an umbrella of fear, or when it's someone who lived their life at the mercy of an addiction. It reminds me of a quote by Wendell Berry from his novel Jayber Crow, spoken by the narrator Mr. Crow himself: "To love the world as much even as I could love it would be suffering also, for I would fail. And yet all the good I know is in this, that a man might so love this world that it would break his heart."

Fitting with the name of the song, there is a rural quality to it that makes me think it'd be a great song (and album) to listen to while driving through the mountains. Rather, if you close your eyes and listen, you can almost picture yourself floating above them. Certainly, one can picture a song like this being written in a one-windowed cabin overlooking a valley in the Appalachians, writer rising early to watch the mist ascend and the sun's light begin to peak through the fading dark of night, the smell of coffee-soaked wood and mountain air from a crack in the window thick over the room, nameless and numberless birds chirping and echoing to themselves and to the world, yet a profound stillness at the heart of all creation permeating everything, making possible deep city-less solitude; and in this midst, pen touches paper.

Favorites Songs of 2011 - Complete List:
25) "The Scientist" - Willie Nelson
24) "If It Hadn't Been For You" - Foster & Lloyd
23) "All The Shine" - Childish Gambino
22) "Pumped Up Kicks" - Foster The People
21) "The Fight" - Eli Young Band
20) "A Man Don't Have To Die" - Brad Paisley
19) "Cartoon Gold" - Drive-By Truckers
18) "Hard Out Here" - Hayes Carll
17) "Barton Hollow" - The Civil Wars
16) "Bastard Child" - Hellbound Glory
15) "Ray's Automatic Weapon" - Drive-By Truckers
14) "Fire and Dynamite" - Drew Holcomb and The Neighbors
13) "Million Dollar Bill" - Dawes
12) "I'm Gettin' Stoned" - Eric Church
11) "How About You" - Ryan Beaver
10) "Violin" - Amos Lee
9) "Jubilation Day" - Steve Martin & Steep Canyon Rangers
8) "Creepin'" - Eric Church
7) "If I Wanted Someone" - Dawes
6) "Promises, Promises" - Incubus
5) "Neon" - Chris Young
4) "Flower" - Amos Lee
3) "Victory" - Trampled By Turtles
2) "Codeine" - Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit
1) "The Valley Wind" - Tyler Ramsey

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