Introvert’s Delight

I’ll have more to say about this one over the next few days, but for now, here’s my latest EP. It’s called Introvert’s Delight, and it’s heavily influenced by the music of Belle and Sebastian — as well as a bit of Herb Alpert and Burt Bacharach.

Album Review: Drawing from Memory by Scot Sax

There’s a reason Scot Sax is releasing his latest album on vinyl (and CD), and it’s not just that the medium is hip and cool these days. As a recording artist, Sax has been releasing a steady stream of tunes ranging from glam to funk to country and everything in between in one digital format or another for years. This time around, though, the songs have a warm vibe that demands the hum and crackle only vinyl can deliver.

The album is called Drawing from Memory, and it’s the kind of record you might stumble upon in your favorite record shop and think, “Huh… I thought I had all the great records from the 70s. How did I miss this one?” The vibe throughout is definitely retro in a completely unpretentious way. Maybe the best way to describe the album is as a love-letter to the music of the artist’s formative years.

Early on, the album has the feel of a Burt Bacharach record—or maybe, to more contemporary ears, it offers a not to some of Swedish popster Jens Lekman’s best tracks: a big, rich snare drum, lush strings, and a toy piano give way to sentimental lyrics in the album’s opener, “Where Do You Go to Cry?” From here, the album gradually morphs into something more along the lines of Carole King with “I Never Loved You,” a song whose lyrics recall “More Today Than Yesterday” by the Spiral Staircase but whose sound (figuratively speaking) is straight out of A&M’s Studio B, where Carole King recorded her legendary Tapestry album. Seriously, listen to the shaker-snare-piano-acoustic guitar combination on this track, and try to tell yourself it’s not 1972.

Other tracks on the album have something of a Beatles-post-breakup-solo-project feel to them. A slightly distorted slide guitar coupled with a lyrical sense of existential angst make a track called “Am I Still Living?” sound like it could be a lost Phil Spector-produced demo from George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass era, while a country-and-western drumbeat coupled with a funky synthesizer on “Song in A Minor” recall the homespun spirit of early Paul McCartney solo projects like McCartney and Ram.

Perhaps the most overt homage Sax offers on Drawing from Memory is “See All with No Sight,” whose Rumours-era Fleetwood Mac influence is undeniable. Here, a driving Mick Fleetwood floor-tom beat along with a twangy Lindsey Buckingham resonator guitar build up to a rocking chorus with a harmony line that you might, for a brief, shimmering moment, mistake for Stevie Nicks if you squint your ears just right.

Bottom line, if you love the adult-contemporary music that was beginning to seriously take root in the 1970s, you’ll love Drawing from Memory. Every track on the album recalls an era when people went out and bought LPs, brought them home, put them on the turntable, and just listened. At least in terms of music, it’s the best kind of memory to draw from.

Track-by-Track “Tell Me a Story”

This track gets a tiny bit political — or at least takes a look at some concerns I have about the way we, as a culture, discuss weighty issues. Essentially, “Tell Me a Story” is about the vapid nature of the infotainment that passes for news in our world.

“We play this game, you and I: We hit the gas and close our eyes” is meant to suggest that, on the whole, we tend to act before we think and without regard to consequence. The next lines, “We roll through fire, we roll through flood, we roll past sad men gunning for blood” is, sadly, a line I wrote a few years ago but which continues to be increasingly relevant.

The first part of the chorus, “Tell me a story, sing me a song, tell me it’s okay, tell me I’m wrong,” is directed at two groups: the media and politicians. I feel like both of these groups are, to some extent, responsible for selling us a comfortable myth. Essentially, their job is to tell us that everything is fine when our senses tell us that it’s not.

The second half of the chorus builds on that theme and gives way to the suspicions many of us have even as the evening news assures us that the next day will be bigger and brighter: “Tell me a story, sing me to sleep, I’ve got a feeling we’re in too deep.”

The second verse builds on the imagery of driving, but this time around “we” aren’t in the driver’s seat any more. Rather, “We go along for the ride. We barely blink when our worlds collide.” These lines speak to our relationship with news media in particular. While there are certainly some news stories that can bring a tear to my eye, I see so many tragedies on the news so often that I’ve begun to become desensitized to them.

Watching the news feels like being shuttled somewhere in a limousine and passing scenes of destruction everywhere we turn. And there’s nothing we can do about it beyond shaking our heads, shuddering and heaving, while other people who don’t have the option of watching all of these events unfold from a safe distance literally struggle to breathe.

Lest anyone think that I’m pinning the blame for the sorry state of the world solely on the media, the last verse turns the situation around and puts some of the responsibility for the way things are on our shoulders as well — i.e., the audience who keeps the 24-hour news industry in business: “We built this world, you and I. We saw it coming and let it slide.”

In the last two lines, I’m thinking specifically of Alec Baldwin’s depiction of Donald Trump on Saturday Night Live, but also more generally about how we engage in many of our discussions about politics from a cynical distance, as if everything is a joke: “We went for punchlines. We took the bait. We laughed as mad-men turned up the hate.”

I’m definitely speaking from my own perspective here, but my own tendency is always to poke fun at things. If my recollection of a certain MASH episode is accurate, Sigmund Freud once said that anger turned sideways is humor, so this instinct is only natural, but is it productive? Are there better ways to address the ills of society?

Clearly there are, and a lot of people are engaging these ills in productive ways. For the rest of us, though, (by which I mean people like me) this song is meant as a call to question our collective media diet and think about new ways to engage with the world.

In terms of music, I tried to make the serious message of the song a little more palatable by couching it in an arrangement reminiscent of Burt Bacharach. I also think of this track as fitting into the larger premise of the album in that it explains, to some extent, where all of the people went — and why the world is not only populated by answering machines. And the last flourish of trumpets is meant to sound like a circus. Or, if you prefer, a media circus.

Tell Me a Story

We play this game, you and I.
We hit the gas and close our eyes.
We roll through fire. We roll through flood.
We roll past sad men gunning for blood.
Tell me a story. Sing me a song.
Tell me it’s okay. Tell me I’m wrong.
Tell me a story. Sing me to sleep.
I’ve got a feeling we’re in too deep.

We go along for the ride
We barely blink when our worlds collide.
We shake our heads, shudder and heave
While other people struggle to breathe.
Tell me a story. Sing me a song.
Tell me it’s okay. Tell me I’m wrong.
Tell me a story. Sing me to sleep.
I’ve got a feeling we’re in too deep.

We built this world, you and I
We saw it coming and let it slide
We went for punchlines. We took the bait.
We laughed as madmen turned up the hate.
Tell me a story. Sing me a song.
Tell me it’s okay. Tell me I’m wrong.
Tell me a story. Sing me to sleep.
I’ve got a feeling we’re in too deep.