Now that classes have started up again, it’s time to buckle down and do some hard work. And by that, I mean listening to music while nonchalantly flipping through the pages of a chemistry book. It’s quite daunting early on, and this new way of spending my evenings is pretty soul-crushing when I’m just not in the swing of things. But occasionally, for a few hours a week, something clicks. Whether it’s the seed of a good idea being planted, an easy chapter, or, in many cases, a good song, it’s a wonderful feeling. Coincidentally, many of the songs that lift my spirits, make me want to sing along, or just boost my spirits for long enough to progress in my work happen to be sung by young women. Whether that says something about my body’s primal reaction to women’s voices, or if I just love soft voices and powerful backing tracks is up to you to decide.
Track 1: “Recover” by Chvrches (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JyqemIbjcfg)
From the moment that the synthesizer comes in behind Lauren Mayberry’s intro, you know this song is going to be exciting. The juxtaposition of thumping techno beats and an almost tragic narrative starts from the first verse “Carved earth, cold/Hiding from you in this skin, so old”. She’s used to putting on airs for the one she loves, but those same disguises are tearing her apart, which she realizes (“Everyone knows it’s me”). However, the chorus, which just begs to be heard live and surrounded by fellow fans, is a triumphant comeback for Mayberry in this failing relationship. If she recovers, and if she learns to deal with the hand that fate has dealt her, then she can move on in life. She addresses her lover directly by asking him, “Will you be my comfort/ Or it can be over/Or we can just leave it here”. That uncertainty is what defines this relationship, and Mayberry is ready to move on if he doesn’t want to. Even the clapping between choruses suggests that this song is meant to be a triumph. It’s like leaping off of a sinking ship into freezing water; it’s impulsive, it’s terrifying, but it’s ultimately safer and more satisfying than falling with the captain who sunk that ship. And that repetitive drum line, persevering through every verse, keeps the spirits up. Besides being a good song to bob your head to, “Recover” champions the independent spirit of young people, and their ability to move on from the worst hardship, be it in school or love or just raw emotions.
Track 2: “Lost Kitten” by Metric (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Xw-9OE1j-Y)
If the theme of this article is triumphantly upbeat tunes by female singers, I can’t go any further without mentioning Emily Haines, the lead singer of Metric. In “Lost Kitten”, Haines is yet another forlorn young lover, but she doesn’t lament the relationship itself. Rather, she feels like the titular lost kitten in this relationship. In and out of the house, no place to stay, and always looking for fun and happiness. However, since she’s in this relationship, a lot of hard truths are bubbling to the surface. The most repeated verse in the song, “When you lie, I cover it up/When you hide, I cover it up/When you cry, I cover it up/When you come undone, I cover it up” shows just how committed she is to the one she loves. The hardships go both ways though. When she comes home, “howlin’ at the moon/Sippin’ on a cocktail, drinking in the loo”, we, the listeners, know something might have gone wrong. For a song that paints its lead woman as a lost cat, I can’t get out of my mind the vivid image of Haines, after a long night of partying and making mistakes, just sitting there, drinking a cocktail. Even at her most vulnerable, there’s something beautiful about her coming back to the house and letting it all hang out. As the night winds down and her dress is barely staying on, the two lovers are ready to call it a night. “There’s something about you I hold on to” is sung like a drunken girl in a bar, but not in a shameful way. These two have clearly got their shit together, and after years of hardship, they’re starting to get into the swing of things. I’ve always liked Metric for their combination of rock music styles, ranging from thumping rock music to more soft-spoken, fun songs like “Lost Kitten”, and it’s message rings true.
Track 3: “Drove Me Wild” by Tegan and Sara (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nfNwfgABrX4)
Even though “Drove Me Wild” is one of the faster, more hard-hitting songs in this article, its lyrics are written more as a playful poem. The only duet in this list, it showcases how much harmony can bring up both the pace and emotion in a song. The sense that two voices have combined into a cohesive whole is thrilling in a way. Similar to “Recover”, this song criticizes the other half for collapsing what was once a beautiful partnership. The brilliant thing about it is that it doesn’t even start that way. In the first verse, Tegan and Sara are talking about all the things that they love about someone. “When I think of you I think of your skin, golden brown from the sun”, as if to suggest that the song is being written as a love letter. However, there’s this feeling that maybe the title’s meaning is going to change as we learn more about how this relationship went bad. Initially, their other half’s beauty and idiosyncrasies are what drove them wild. Unfortunately, just as the hook comes in, we realize that it didn’t stay that way. “You clung to self-restraint, you followed the plan/You put the brakes on this/And it drove me and it drove me and it drove me wild”. All of the blame is put on the other half for letting this beautiful love die. In the second verse, they return to referring to being driven wild as a sort of sexual thrill, “Your body inching close” suggesting an intimacy that is now gone. But as it wraps up, it becomes a matter of “What if?” Had he not let her lose control and be a free spirit, their love could have blossomed into something incredible, but it had to end.
Track 4: “Dancing On My Own” by Robyn (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CcNo07Xp8aQ)
Another common through-line in these songs is the idea that anyone can bounce back from a bad break-up. Robyn’s melodic club anthem not only serves as a crowd-pleaser, but also as a rebuttal to all of the other sappy loves songs that dominate pop culture today. In her world, being in love is that last thing to worry about. After leaving her ex-boyfriend, Robyn heads to the club to forget the troubles of this person who she cared about so much. Unfortunately, as so many tragedies go, the villain comes back, stronger than ever. He’s with someone else, and Robyn can’t stand it. At first, she’s desperately showing off for him, trying to relight the spark that brought them together. It’s futile, though. “I’m right over here, why can’t you see me” is her plea for him to notice her efforts. She put on some new makeup, she’s dressed to the nines, and yet all she can do is watch him kiss his new girl. And even though the lyrics don’t vary from that initial verse, the tone starts to shift at the end of the song. Instead of watching him kiss her, Robyn just keeps dancing on her own. Surrounded by people, feeling like a million bucks, she is invincible. She’s got the spirit to carry on, and she’s finally gotten over this love that’s tied her down for so long. And just as the rhythm of the music gives her a new life, so does it make the listener feel like they want to jump up and dance along with her.
Track 5: “Prom Night” by Anamanaguchi (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=glZB4e6Egwk)
I had originally planned to end this Pentatonic Pondering with the previous song, suggesting that everyone can come back from the worst problems in their life stronger than ever. But ending with “Prom Night” seemed to strengthen that message even more. Ready to move on, Bianca Raquel (doing a one-off collaboration with chiptunes band Anamanaguchi for this song) is in love yet again. Like a dog chasing its tail, we are all always looking for somebody to love. This time, she’s found the right person, and everything is finally going well. He’s the perfect guy for her, and it’s mainly because he lets her be free. There are no rules in this relationship, and the two come out better for it. Even though they have been apart for so long, she still “Can’t set the flame without you”. The two sides of this whole seem to agree that it’s been rough for a while, and all they want to do is be in love like they were so long ago. When you’re an awkward teenager, and all you want to do is feel the touch of that special someone, your love is pure. In their world, all that matters is that moment on prom night, where you first see your date at their best, and everything else falls away. After being so hurt, “Prom Night” shows that love is not only reclaimable, but as simple as the two people are willing to make it.
So there you have it, my first Pentatonic Pondering. What started as me praising a few songs that hit the pleasure center in my brain turned into a love story with a happy ending. I guess that’s just how these things happen sometimes. One day you’re in love, the next you’re not, and then you finally realize it’s all about having fun and being happy with someone else who cares for and understands you. And knowing that the worst separations will always lead to being a stronger person, and a more capable person in the future is both uplifting and empowering, just like all of these songs.