What a beautiful world this is – Drakeford at Franklin Creative

Drakeford at Franklin Creative
Sorry, this is the only photo of Drakeford I managed to get that night.

I’ve listened to a lot of music in the last decade. Very rarely does any of it move me anymore. Yes, the music that’s been with me for decades, that accompanied me on my greatest adventures and carried me through my most difficult times—the songs that know me—still means the world to me. But rarely does anything new penetrate that deeply into my psyche anymore. What was my biggest fear when I first decided to study music full time 15 years ago and has ultimately proven to be one of the great tragedies of my life.

When I arrived at Franklin Creative, a new gallery space in Franklin, TN a few blocks off the beaten path but homey and comfortable, I expected to find a full house. Feeling particularly defeated and ready to call it quits after three two hours wandering in and out of galleries and three coffee breaks during the city’s monthly art crawl, I planned to drop in for a song or two by whatever band was playing and disappear again.

Instead of the packed house that had greeted me on my first visit, however, I found only the gallery owners and a few artists inside. Afraid I’d missed everything, I spent the next several minutes discussing the artwork with photographer Shelly Moore, when a voice from another room asked, “Would you like to hear the band? I’ll go get them.” There was no chance of slipping away unnoticed now.

The band was inter-continental husband and wife duo Drakeford (he from South Carolina, she from somewhere in England). It would be unfair of me to leave the description at that, however, especially in a town like Nashville where you can’t throw a rock without hitting a dozen songwriters, because even here (maybe especially here) there is something special about Drakeford.

I took a seat in the gallery and listened intently for a few songs. Yes, the playing was skillful, their voices were nice and my how that fella can cram a lot of words into a single song when he wants to. One might compare it to Ed Sheeran. I compare it to Waiting For My Rocket To Come era Jason Mraz (just listen to Drakeford’s recent single “Nashville” and tell me I’m wrong). But it was something else entirely that finally grabbed me and refused to let go.

If you knew me, and you almost certainly do not, you would know that I have long been preoccupied with the conflict between legacy and anonymity. Like so many others, I’ve spent my life haunted by the desire to be recognized. I know I am not alone in this. I think it is an inherently human thing to seek recognition, be it for good work, good looks, or Good Works. But the older I get, the more I am bothered by my unwillingness to be Nobody, by my inability to accept that there is beauty and honor in living a life that is unremarkable to all but the few who love us.

So, when they played another new song, “Beautiful World” and I heard the lines “From the ground where we buried our loved ones / Spring out willows and wildflowers. / Now new life is found. / What a beautiful world it is.” I froze and choked up a bit. I never asked if those lines meant what I heard. I could be miles off base, here, but it doesn’t matter. In that verse, I heard reflected not only my feelings in that moment, but an aesthetic I’ve been pursuing for ages. I rushed to write those lines down. If I were to forget everything else from this evening, I wanted to remember those lines.

But I haven’t forgotten them. Nor have I forgotten the feeling of hearing them for the first time, a feeling I hadn’t experienced in years and yet one which caught me multiple times that night. There’s a comfort in being known, a sense of belonging that comes from hearing our hopes and fears echoed in others. It’s a feeling we’re destined to spend our lives chasing and, when we’re fortunate, find, occasionally, in our loved ones, in a stranger—sometimes, even, in a song.

You can find Drakeford’s music in lots of places, like iTunes and Spotify. As far as I can tell, everything has been released digitally. I do, however, wish they has CDs, so my mom could listen to them too.

Stella Emmett – Admirer

cover Stella Emmett - AdmirerWhat is “Ikeacore”? No one really knows for sure. Just ask Twitter. According to Stella Kortchmar who spent the last two years working on the songs that now comprise Stella Emmett’s Admirer, it is “a sort of sound palette people could put on at parties, or listen to on a train, . . . or while shopping at IKEA”. Now, maybe I am overstepping my bounds, but I am going to contradict Kortchmar here, not because I think it isn’t any of those things, but because I think she’s selling herself short.

It is easy to read Kortchmar’s description of Admirer as “glorified background music”, but it is so much more than that. Rather than settling for the innate passivity that is the hallmark of background music, Admirer is a record that rewards deeper listening. To run with the IKEA metaphor a moment longer: far from the megalithic florescent vastness of your standard IKEA, Admirer is a more softly lit, intimate affair. For me, it is a record dripping with nostalgia.

Throughout Admirer, I, at least, get little glimpses of the past. Take the chorus effects employed on songs like “Done W U”. That’s vintage Speak For Yourself era Imogen Heap. The melodic contours of “Daydream” (video below), particularly the way the vocals leap into the suspension on the phrase “Oh God” (with no crescendo – that’s key) is reminiscent of those beautiful ballads on the first Venus Hum record. Personally, I am especially fond of the album opener “Out Of Town”. The vocal rhythms are so regular, like the swinging of a pendulum, that they are almost hypnotic. And yet, as the song continues to build, there is plenty of syncopation and rhythmic dissonance buried beneath the surface to keep the hypnotic melody from ever growing monotonous.

As human beings, we all find ourselves in the grip of nostalgia from time to time. Personally, I’ve been especially prone to it the last few years. When I listen to the wistful, almost whimsical sounds that comprise the accompaniment to “Done W U”, I can’t help but think of my old friends Swimming In Speakers. Was that the intent? Not likely, but I do think it may be the point.

Nostalgia is a powerful force. While we are often conditioned to shun nostalgia as some sort of inferior emotion, it lingers in all of us waiting to be released. Admirer is the kind of album that can unlock that door. To put it in strictly musical terms, to me, it sounds like the best bits of mid-aughts Imogen Heap combined with Gran Turismo era Cardigans and a voice reminiscent of Tracyanne Campbell (Camera Obscura). More personally, Admirer sounds like old friends and a world that still made some sense.

Stella Emmett’s Admirer is available on CD, cassette, and download beginning August 23.