Tuesday, January 28, 2014

DB's Song of the Day (day 28):"OHM" (2013) Yo La Tengo

January nears its end, so I think it wouldn’t be out of place to feature a song released last year. There was no point in me doing a year’s end re-cap of Best LPs of the Year since I bought precious little last year that was released in the 21st century, much less 2013. But I did get a copy of Yo La Tengo’s Fade, released last January, on CD no less. Actually, the fact that I bought it on CD means I heard it less than I would’ve if I’d sprung for the vinyl. So I can’t say I’ve “fully absorbed” the record (I got it sometime in the fall, I think), but I did like its opening track “Ohm” at once. Turns out it was used for an animated video and single. The video is shorter than the 6 plus minutes of the CD track, but that’s showbiz.

“Ohm” takes its name from the man who gave his name to the measurement of resistance to an electrical current. The song, which is about getting old and shuffling off this mortal coil, sorta, suggests that one should “lose no more time, no time / resisting the flow.” It’s clever that “Ohm,” as “Om,” is also a sacred term in Dharmic religions—the term originates in Sanskrit and stands for the sound that, essentially, gave rise to everything that is. It’s a breath, a vibration, from which all existence derives—or in which all existence participates. So “Ohm,” the song, is about not resisting this elemental force that, in driving the entire universe, also drives mankind’s collective destiny and, of course, each individual destiny.  So, “lose no more time resisting the flow.”

What I immediately liked about the song was the feeling of edgy serenity that it manifests. “Sometimes the bad guys come out on top / Sometimes the good guys lose.” That too is part of “the flow”—or, in the electromagnetic analogy, I suppose, it’s the current.  Sure is, as current as any current events any time, anywhere.  The edginess comes from noticing this; the serenity comes from not minding it. Can you go with the flow on this?  “We try not to lose our hearts, lose our minds.”

Fair enough, and, in terms of whether one is a good guy or bad—maybe, somewhere in between, one is somewhere between “on top” and a loser. Maybe. At least that’s what I hear acknowledged in:

But nothing ever stays the same
Nothing's explained
The higher we go, the longer we fly
’Cause this is it for all we know
So say good night to me

James McNew, Georgia Hubley, Ira Kaplan

I love the musical phrase that supports “so say good night to me” the same way I love the musical phrase that supports “for the later parade” in Cat Power’s “The Greatest.”  I get a similar sense of possibility in “Ohm”'s little lift, like maybe a surge of current?  We saw in “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea” that sense of meeting up yonder, “on a cloud,” and we’ve surged with “Say we can, say we will / Not just another drop in the ocean” in “The Cutter.” So we may begin to see how often the songs I select provide nice little consoling fictions, and nice little phrases that are rarely major hooks, and never the kind of incessant claptrap that overpowers concentration and makes the listener feel like an automaton. No, tunes such as Yo La Tengo cranks out tend to be rather self-effacing, meandering, or, as here, bouncy in a mid-tempo way, the kind of groove that can go on all night, putting the guitar through phase shifters that, for all I know, resist the current—or torque the vibration—in interesting ways.

These Songs of the Day are mostly somewhat down-trodden, have you noticed?  That’s simply because I but rarely stray from rock’n’roll (or rock) and such music presupposes, as I understand it, a folk/blues base. We’re always singing instead of slitting our throats, one might say. Or, sometimes, we’re singing simply because “nothing ever stays the same.”  Even that “higher we go, the longer we fly” is wry since that’s an effect of having so far to come down. Up up up up up, then down down down down in a long gradient, riding the flow.  For all we know, this is it. So say good night.

There’s a sense of “good night and God bless” in that expression, followed as it is by the exhortation to “lose no more time”—get on with it, in other words, but not in resistance.  Don’t be an ohm; be in the Om.

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