in the fog
the little pearl you left behind,
I kept it safe,
it’s here in my pocket like hope–
sometimes you have to,
you have to wake up;
sometimes the wind caresses
like a finely-tuned lover,
and some nights I find that
when I’m looking for cover
and I can’t pretend that I’m not crazy about you . . .
When I think about the new music I’ve bought in 2012 (far too much, as usual), one collection eclipses all the others in terms of how many times I’ve revisited it, the depth of its emotional kick and–be it ever so Old-School–its sheer sonic beauty. Mid Air, Paul Buchanan’s fragile, shimmering song-cycle is a masterpiece. End of story. (How’s that for concision?)
And yet, even though its my choice, I can’t help but be surprised and slightly shocked by that top-spot position. After all, this is a collection of 14 songs that average two-and-a-half minutes in length which comprise a total running time of slightly more than half an hour. This is a collection of acoustic piano and yearning voice with slight washes of translucent orchestration. It’s a collection so minimal that there’s literally no place to artistically hide–each note, sustain and verse reading presents itself unapologetically naked to the listener, daring the authenticity to be questioned. It’s a release that could have been recorded on an eight-track Revox with three channels to spare–and so timeless, it might have been written anytime in the past 40 years.
But for all this, it is to my ears the best pop recording of 2012.
The title track is the thesis for the rest of the collection: mid-air–suspension; neither grounded or in flight. It exemplifies the region that most of us occupy–somewhere between the quotidian and the ecstatic. It’s about the everyday epiphanies that strike when we least expect them . . .
Many of the choruses on Mid Air are so stripped-down that each new verse casts them in new light. The effect is as if song hooks have become sculptural, revealing new angles and tensions as the listener moves around them. Consider, for instance, the shifting and deepening nature of the chorus/chant, “The cars are in the garden now . . .”
This is highly compressed songwriting of the highest order–something that seems breathtakingly slight until the engaged listener unpacks it to reveal something huge and universal.
Mid Air is a late-night collection–its lineage can be traced back to Frank Sinatra’s In The Wee Small Hours and Miles Davis’ Ascenseur pour l’echafaud. In an interview at the time of its release, Buchanan stated that Mid Air was the result of standing in his kitchen at 3:00 AM, staring at the lights in the other apartments and wondering what sort of things were keeping his neighbors up.
Ultimately then, Mid Air is a catalogue of our dead-of-night musings–regret, wonder, love, loss, resolve, and–yes–quiet joy. It’s the best collection of 2012 because it gives articulate, moving voice to these sleepless considerations . . .
Didn’t I tell you
Everything I wanted?
How I loved you
When I loved you
Most of all . . .
Its emotional wallop stems from the shock of our self-recognition.
In retrospect, of course, this was inevitable–I’ve been on a collision course with this particular project since those first amino acids formed in that far away, prehistoric tidal pool.
It happened this way: This morning I was archiving documents to my server while listening to The Divine Comedy’s A Short Album About Love. As I opened the folder containing the source graphics for my Tilda Swinton Moment posts on Twitter, well, the perfect song started playing, and I knew what I had to do . . .
And so I did.
Today finally marks the end of my morphing avatar on Twitter. I can’t speak for you, but I began to think I’d never see the end of this project. What started out as a playful comment on the more constant avatar-shifters somehow became 30 days of performance art. In retrospect, I still like the idea of a single avatar that daily changes stylistically. I think it appeals to my inner-Warhol.
But the problem was how to give the project genuine closure. Somehow the simple resumption of my official avatar seemed, well, wimpy. It was then my friend Susan Champlin (@susanchamplin on Twitter) suggested that I conclude the project with a time-lapse summary. Perfect. (A virtual kiss on Ms Champlin’s always-thinking forehead for the brilliant idea.)
And so to conclude this weeks-long performance, I give you A Month Of Me, the–um–film. The version of “Vanishing Act” that serves as the soundtrack was excerpted from 2004’s Animal Serenade. It’s written and performed by Lou Reed and copyrighted to him.
(One last thing–learn from me, and never wade into something that requires you to change your picture on Twitter everyday at 6:00 AM without fail. Just sayin’ . . . )