ART OF SONG
The Middle East
“The Darkest Side”
The Recordings of The Middle East
2009 | Spunk
If you’re in New York right now, you know that there is already that melancholia of winter in the air. After an unseasonably cool summer, I looked around today, and saw an anxiousness in the peacoats and wool hats already pulled over other New Yorkers. Maybe we feel like we’re in for a harsh winter, and might as well get used to it. Maybe, though, as the decade comes to a close, we are starting to attempt sorting out how exactly we came into the 2000s with a millennial push in our collective step, and how, just ten years later, you can almost see us limping out. Cold is harsh punishment, and it feels like we deserve it.
In some way, it’s this thought that’s been motivating what I’ve been listening to recently; New Years seems like a strange time to reflect on things like that; it is intrinsically linked to looking forward instead of back. Instead it’s usually fall easing into winter. And, in the search for new music that gets this sense just right, I’ve come back mostly empty eared. It seems like most noteworthy bands this year are clinging to summer – Brooklyn tropical garage bands like Small Black and Beach Fossils are just now gearing up for their releases (both of which are quite good, and we’ll be seeing reviews of soon). And, just as I resigned that I would write about one of those bands for this week’s Art of Song, I stumbled on Australia’s The Middle East (a fitting title when thinking about putting a cap on this decade), and their song, “The Darkest Side.”
Finger-plucked guitars stand alone for a few seconds, till breathy, slightly falsetto-ed lyrics quiver into the melody. “Love/ Was the air in your mother’s lungs/ When her father tore her fences down/ plastic bags and your Panadol was out.” Panadol, another brand name for Tylenol, lingers with you for just a second – there’s a resignation that takes place, hopelessness in accepting that nothing will really dull the pain.
It’s this resignation that is at hand throughout the song. The last time I can remember feeling this kind of healing buried in loss was Sufjan Stevens’s Illinois cut “Casmir Pulaski Day.” There, Stevens dealt with the loss of a loved one through a narrative. Here, frontman Jordan Ireland leads through similar territory using scattered thoughts: “Love/ that was alive in the olden days/ been put to death in this Golden Age/ by our color TV.” Everything is a loss; the times are no exception.
There is a bit of Nino Rojo-era of Devendra here, too, but really only in the aesthetic. Light harmony builds throughout the song, adding to the images, and managing to extend the severity of these fractured thoughts. By the time the song winds into it’s last chorus, there are at least four sets of vocals playing off each other, finishing, “But if you leave me I’ll hello goodbye I don’t shine at night look I’m dead man,” packed into one breathless line.
And at this point, nearly five minutes in, most listeners have accepted the song as gut wrenchingly bleak, and not much else. There are thousands of these songs out there, and as nice as “The Darkest Side” is, what makes it special? Here, just as the song ends, Ireland mumbles off, “When I die, I’m alive/ When I lose I find/ My identity.” And there’s some kind of hope at play here, that through loss and resignation, we all are forced to learn something.
With that, the deceiving repeated lyric of “It’s the darkest side of my heart that dies when you come to me” begins to make sense. No matter what, whether the glass is half-empty or half-full, whether time is coming or going, something is always ending. So when you meet someone you love, the darkest, most unwilling part of the heart falls away, dead.
So, as autumn begins to signify the end to this decade, it’s certainly easy to feel that something is dying, that things are left undone. Because they are – and that’s beautiful. What else are they supposed to do.
by Max Sebela