The Lumineers’s III is an X/X

by Annie Knight

The Sparks family from left to right: (Front row) Junior, Jimmy, and Bonnie (Jimmy’s Wife). (Back row) Gloria’s husband, Gloria, Donna, and Donna’s husband.

When Wesley Shultz and Jeremiah Friates set out to write The Lumineers’ latest album III, they knew it wasn’t going to be conventional. Because of the serious subject matter Shultz (lead singer) and Fraites (drummer) choose to write about, alcoholism and its familial consequences, Shultz thought “it felt unfair to just name names,” he said in an interview with KFOG. “It felt more appropriate to me to tell a story around this. If you tell the truth within a story, I think it has a ripple effect.” Thus, the cinematic musical experience that is III was born.

On September 13, III was released in its entirety, but the group had been releasing portions of the album since May in three chapters containing three songs each, each song accompanied by a video. All of the videos were then compiled into the short film III directed by Kevin Phillips, which debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival in early September. The album follows the fictional Sparks family through three generations beginning with the matriarch Gloria, followed by her grandson Junior, and ending with his father Jimmy. Each chapter focuses on how addiction and alcoholism follows the family across time, and its adverse effects.

III has brought about innovations for the group including their first short film to debut in a film festival, an uncharacteristically moodier sound in comparison to jaunty, boot stepping toons off their first two albums The Lumineers and Cleopatra, and a new relationship between music and film. The distinct music and video styles of each chapter characterize the members of the Sparks family and compare and contrast their individual relationship to substance abuse amidst these evolutionary changes for the folk rock band.

The videos for III are set in a run down, yellow house against an overcast sky. The color of the house and the name of the family, the Sparks, become ironic when compared with the somber content of III. The familial name brings to mind lost sparks, or potential, that was never actualized because of their dependency on alcohol.

The first member of the Sparks family we meet is Gloria (Anna Cordell), in “Chapter I: Gloria Sparks.” The songs of this chapter are characterized by lilting piano tunes like the soft, scales in “Donna,” and percussion heavy songs like “Gloria.” The bold percussion of “Gloria” distinctly mark Gloria as the matriarch of the family and the catalyst for the alcoholism we see affect future Sparks.

While the lyrics detailing Gloria’s descent into alcoholism are somber, the music backing these lyrics, major chord heavy that is generally connotated with positivity in mainstream music, provide an interesting juxtaposition. “Gloria” is perhaps the song off III that sounds most similar to The Lumineers’s earlier work. The fast paced, positive sounding music, however, has been traded as a whole on this album for darker, rawer lyrics. This results in a more touching, emotional album, certainly not something their earlier work lacked entirely, but an aspect more prevalent in III. 

Perhaps the darkness has come from the band choosing to source their most recent work from personal suffering. The inspiration for the album has, in part, come from drummer Jeremiah Fraites’s older brother’s death in 2001 from a heroin overdose at age 19. Fraites’s brother, Joshua, was also a close friend of Shultz.

Editing is also used in chapter I to separate Gloria from the Sparks family members that are to follow. The songs off of “I,” especially “Gloria” are cut quickly and rhythmically, meaning the shots are cut to the beat of the song. This is most noticeable in key moments of the video highlighting Gloria’s alcoholism like when she unscrews the vodka bottle at the beginning of the video and when the same bottle is seen bouncing between the logs behind the Sparks’ house after she discards it empty. “I” is also heavily reliant on close ups. Some of the most haunting are again from “Gloria” when she throws a vodka bottle at her husband, and the tense close ups between Gloria and a stranger in a bar in “Life in the City.”

Close up of Gloria in “Gloria.”

This sound and filming style is intensely contrasted with “Chapter II: Junior Sparks.” Junior’s (Charlie Tahan) songs have a languid feel to them and use almost exclusively guitar. The omission of other instruments, especially piano, are interesting when considering Junior’s role as the only Sparks that rejects the legacy of substance abuse. The Lumineers choose to highlight this through the omission of the piano that was characteristic of “I” and Gloria herself who we see play piano in “Donna.”

The filming style of chapter “II” also contrasts that of the previous chapter. It’s full of long takes of Junior smoking cigarettes on the porch, and long shots, the most dramatic of which is Junior burning the piano in front of the Sparks’ family home. The piano bonfire becomes Junior’s most overt rebellion against his family legacy. He burns a symbol of Gloria and  replaces her vodka bottle with a match. The is showcased in parallel shots of Gloria throwing a vodka bottle at her husband in “Gloria,” and Junior throwing a match in “Left for Denver.” The alcoholism Junior could have inherited instead becomes replaced with rage.

Gloria throwing her vodka bottle in “Gloria.”
Junior throwing his match in “Left for Denver.”

Junior captivating the focus “II” is a striking choice since Jimmy Sparks (Nick Stahal) comes after Gloria generationally. However, placing Junior’s chapter between Gloria and Jimmy’s, is reflective of Junior being compressed by the inevitability of his family’s habits, until he rejects them.

This theme continues with the music distinguishing “Chapter III: Jimmy Sparks.” The songs of “III,” especially “Jimmy Sparks,” use predominantly minor chords, a sound that is associated with negative emotions in popular music. The choice to make this the sound of Jimmy suggests the antagonistic role he plays in his son’s life because of his alcohol abuse, leading to parties at their house and even a physical fight in “Leader of the Landslide.” The languid guitar of “My Cell,” similar to that of “Leader of the Landslide” from “II,” connect Jimmy with his son as an influencer. Jimmy’s sound is also, however, reminiscent of Gloria because of the piano that makes a re-appearance in “III.” Thus, Jimmy becomes a link in the chain that passes on alcoholism to future generations in the Sparks family.

The filming style of “III” is also reminiscent of previous chapters in the album and short film. Extreme close ups in “My Cell” of Jimmy’s girlfriend and the debt collector echo the editing style in the videos about Gloria. Long shots of Jimmy smoking a cigarette in “Jimmy Sparks” recall the filming style of the videos about his son. Jimmy then becomes a mixture between the past and present generations of his family and a representation of alcoholism at its worst.

Close ups of the debt collector in “My Cell.”

The Lumineers forge a new relationship between cinema and music in III. In cinema, music is traditionally used to influence the audience’s emotions in response to the visuals on the screen. However, in this case, the relationship is reversed and the visuals are supporting the music. III challenges the viewer to pay close attention to the lyrics and how the visuals provide clues to deeper meaning. This creates a more intense emotional experience and a highly effective way to translate the themes that The Lumineers want us to glean from their album.

Parallel scenes of one family member carrying another out of the deceptively positive colored yellow house let us know that across sound and generation family members can’t resist taking care of one another, even if it isn’t in their best interest. However, this incessant need to care for others that will not care for themselves because of their disease, can lead to loneliness and the rage that characters like Junior feel. Like the lyrics of “My Cell” that close to shots of each Sparks family member alone in the frame, the substance abusers and the ones that love them can tragically end up in this cycle “all alone, all alone, all alone, all alone.”


Listen to the album & watch the videos here.

Song(s) of the Weekend

I couldn’t decide on just one song to capture how I’m feeling on this second-to-last weekend of the year, so here are three to help you get through the end of 8th block:

“Friday Night, Saturday Morning” by The Specials
“Out of bed at eight AM / Out my head by half past ten / Out with mates and dates and friends / That’s what I do at weekends” and then the catchy refrain: “I go out on Friday night and I come home on Saturday morning.” This song is just like all of your eighth block weekends, except if your eighth block was taking place in England forty years and was narrated by a ska revival band.

https://open.spotify.com/track/66tyi2ix4ErbUBKFAVw98r?si=cXQP3reDSPCbOhsT5eyt4A

Credit: The Guardian

“On Some Faraway Beach” by Brian Eno
Maybe the most nostalgia-inducing song ever. When you drive or fly home in a few weeks, play this song as you stare out the window and you will probably cry. Very tender, very epic.

https://open.spotify.com/track/1ip0bzSgZsMrp7bSuxlKoa?si=aUN2TFwbQfGN6kQtDZba9A

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

“Saturday Night Inside Out” by the Avalanches

SO good! This song will mess you up emotionally and take you to another place. It’s basically a spoken word poem by David Berman of the band Silver Jews in collaboration with The Avalanches. Around 00:45, you start hearing an amazing beat and the song becomes so beautiful. I have a hard time describing what I feel when listening to this song, but I think it’s intended to be a reflection on youth and growing up – which is what we all deal with every day in college. Especially for you seniors graduating, this song is for you. (Also if you haven’t heard The Avalanches’ album Wildflower, it’s so incredible and this song feels so much more special as the last track on the album.)

https://open.spotify.com/track/3wWZfpPJXnW5cS6ULwdJqW?si=SM_yQr5cRKOt3xT7hJ0svA

Credit: Vice

CONCERT PREVIEW: Smino at Summit 4/1

Born and raised in St. Louis but heavily influenced by (and eventually instrumental in) the Chicago rap scene, rapper Smino has been writing music since high school, finding his greatest successes in 2017’s blkswn and most recently 2018’s NOIR. Coming from a childhood full of gospel and jazz, Smino’s catchy neo-soul choruses combined with gripping rhymes and lyrical skill make him an artist to continue to watch; in an interview with Rolling Stone, he says he already hates NOIR and is ready for his next release. Coming to Denver as a part of his HOOPTI tour, he will be performing at Summit on Monday, April 1st after a string of sold out shows. 

 

Photo: @smino on Instagram

CONCERT REVIEW: Noname at the Ogden Theatre 3/6

In his long printed cardigan and sweats, Noname’s opener Elton Aura emanated a calm confidence that set the tone for a night of powerful lyricism. He knew exactly how to excite the young audience as he lit a joint on stage and passed it down (to be immediately intercepted by the stage security) after taking a few puffs himself. Elton concluded his set how he began it, having us repeat after him “Elton! How it do!” and then exited the stage to loud cheers. The audience hummed with energy as we began the wait for the person who had brought us all to the Ogden Theatre this Wednesday night.

As Noname’s band slowly set up their instruments I was struck with how vulnerable they were in that moment. Only feet of distance between us at the front of the crowd and the band members shuffling equipment around the stage, the lights were too bright and the room too quiet to create the invisible barrier of power that usually separates an audience and the performers.

The crowd screamed as the band finally began to play, slipping easily behind their instruments. The lights lowered and the neon sign that emblazoned the back wall lit up pink to read “ROOM 25” (the name of Noname’s new album.) Noname then entered rapping,

Maybe this the album you listen to in your car when you driving home late at night / Really questioning every god, religion, Kanye, bitches

The crowd jumped around singing along. Waiting for the line we all knew was coming and then screaming it in unison with her as she reached it:

“YOU REALLY THOUGHT A BITCH COULDN’T RAP, HUH?”

Noname calmly danced across the stage as she rapped in a loose white dress with a black flower print, black leggings, and red converse. Her long curls were stretched and tucked behind her ears, showing off her round youthful face. She seemed much younger than her 27 years. When she finished “Self” she greeted the cheering audience with smiles and warmth. She made her way through a set of hit after hit from both Room 25 and her 2016 mixtape Telefone. Everyone in the house danced and struggled to keep up with her quick voice. The night was punctuated by a few moments of quickly-relieved tension. Frustrated with a perceived lack of enthusiasm, Noname halted the show early on to teach the audience how to show that we appreciated her performance.

“If I spit a bar that you think is especially hot, give me an “ooooh.”

 

She started to rap again, her first line was met by a loud “ooooh” from the audience.

She stopped again.

“No, that was nothing,” she said, “that line was nothing. Let’s try again.”

She went back into the song, now seemingly satisfied with the crowd’s responses and continued with the concert with a smile on her face.

There was no lack of enthusiasm when we heard the opening bars of “Diddy Bop.” This song was my favorite part of the concert. That’s not a very revolutionary thing to say—it is her most popular song by far. But for good reason! Besides the catchy beat, the lyrics are beautifully sweet and nostalgic—a love letter to the Chicago of her youth. The crowd of majority high school and college students couldn’t relate to growing up listening to B2K, wearing FUBU, and hitting the diddy bop but it didn’t matter. The song creates a warm feeling of happy wistfulness and reminds me of my childhood despite my memories being so far away from that of Noname’s. I love that Noname doesn’t shy away from the specifics of her experience in an attempt to make her song more relatable. The essence of her song, of being young and being intent on taking advantage of the fleeting chance to be irresponsible, resonated with all of us.

Noname kept her performance short and sweet, exiting the stage after less than an hour. The band packed up their instruments and walked off stage, but the lights stayed down and the audience stayed in place, eyes glued to the stage expectantly. Then, Noname returned to the stage and gave us one last song, sans music. Her roots in slam poetry were especially evident with just her words filling the room. That final encore left the audience reminded of the poetry that exists in hip-hop, especially in Noname’s music.

On April 5th Noname is releasing “Song 32”, a follow up to her track “Song 31” and she is currently finishing her international Room 25 tour.

Photos by Kenneth Hamblin III

SONG OF THE WEEK: Jessica Pratt– Moon Dude

LA-based musician Jessica Pratt’s music is often characterized as freak folk and beckons associations with folksy psychedelia of the 60s, namely The Byrd’s Fifth Dimension and the work of Vashti Bunyan. It is miraculous to me that “Moon Dude” achieves such an expansive, out-of-this-world sound given Pratt limiting herself to mostly just acoustic guitar and vocals. Her alien-like, gorgeous voice, her psychedelic inflection, carries this song so far beyond the sounds someone expects from a singer-songwriter playing an acoustic guitar. Take a listen: 

 

CONCERT REVIEW: Still Woozy 1/31

Still Woozy started as a solo project by Sven Gamsky, who is based out of Oakland, California. Since then, he’s produced songs with a few other artists and has begun to play with other musicians during his sets.

Outside of Larimer Lounge, people stood in line, cold and excited. A woman held a sign, begging everyone for an extra ticket. A man came out of his car, chatted with her for a while, and then headed inside.

“I think that was Sven,” a man behind us said. “That was totally Sven.”

We all realized he was right. For the rest of the night, Sven and the other artists he was playing with maintained the personal, friendly demeanor that was evident from the moment Sven stopped to talk to people waiting in line.

Larimer Lounge is cozy and personable. We were close to the stage and pushed up against strangers. Sweaty and excited, a friend of mine came running down from the bathroom.

“I met Sven in the bathroom! We hugged!” he said. I found myself smiling. I’d never been to a concert with that many run-ins with the main act.

Dreamer Boy, based out of Nashville, Tennessee, opened for Still Woozy. Zach Taylor and his guitarist Bobby Knepper make up the duo. They introduced themselves–being from Tennessee made integral to their identities early on.

They played some of their biggest hits first: “Orange Girl,” “Lavender,” and “Falling for the Wrong One.” During those first few songs, everyone in the audience seemed to be enjoying their set and the chill, vibey tone of the songs they were playing. At the point when the songs shifted and became more autotune heavy, the audience seemed to become less enthused by Dreamer Boy and their set, which started to feel dragged on. The audience also seemed to be tired of Zach’s frequent breaks between songs to yell a call and response, Tennessee-influenced “Yee-Haw!” at the audience.

When Dreamer Boy’s set ended, there was a pause for a few minutes as the stage was prepared for Still Woozy. When the lights dimmed and the band came on, the audience cheered and pushed up against the stage. They played “Lucy” first and then went through their entire repertoire of songs. They also played two new songs and did a few covers. Throughout their set, they seemed to be in constant communication with the audience. They paid attention to the different chants the audience started and walked down into the crowd to dance with and hug their fans multiple times. At the end of their set, their attempt to thank everyone who had attended was interrupted by the loud chanting of “encore!” that came from the audience. Considering that Still Woozy is still a relatively new band, they only have about 6 released songs. They acknowledged this, laughing and telling the audience, “We don’t have any songs left!”, but they offered to replay some if the audience was interested and then asked which songs we’d like to hear again. They ended up replaying “Goodie Bag,” their biggest hit.

When the show was over and the lights came up, Sven and his bassist spent up to an hour walking around the venue and speaking to the fans that were still there. They thanked every person for coming and supporting their work by signing T-shirts, giving out hugs and taking pictures. When I headed out, they acknowledged that I was leaving and gave me a hug goodbye too. I really enjoyed this personal relationship they cultivate with every person that comes to their shows. I found the way they carry themselves to be very evocative of the vibe of their music. Just like his songs, Sven and the people he plays with are fun, laidback and incredibly welcoming to listeners.

BLOCK 6 PLAYLIST

Kick off your spring break with an… eclectic! playlist from the SoCC writing staff! Featuring Leikeli47, John Maus, Patti Smith, Cardi & more !!!!!

Every block we shall be compiling a blockly playlist, so stay tuned for more!

 

(photo credits: https://www.billboard.com/articles/columns/the-juice/6575635/leikeli47-diplo-skrillex-cosign-interview-edc)

CONCERT PREVIEW: Noname At The Ogden Theatre 3/6

Nonames powerful first music video: “Blaxploitation – A Film by Noname.”

Lauded for her lyricism and unique voice, Noname is one of the most promising new artists in hip hop. The Chicago rapper released her debut album Room 25 this past September. This release was highly anticipated due to the wide commercial and critical success of her 2016 debut mixtape Telefone which featured hits such as “Diddy Bop” and “Shadow Man.” On Wednesday, March 6th she will be playing at the Ogden Theatre in Denver.

Photo by Mark Horton/Getty Images.

 

SONG OF THE WEEK: Ty Segall – “My Lady’s On Fire”

Ty Segall’s music is typically pretty grunge-rock-y, but this song leans much more to pop and jazz than most of his other tunes. “My Lady’s on Fire” has been one of my favorite songs for the past few months, and despite the obscene amount of times I’ve listened to it, I still get excited every time it comes on. I first heard this song when I saw Ty play a live acoustic set which was really fitting because this song showcases how much more confident he’s become with his voice over his career. This song is a must-listen for anyone and everyone!

Sing along to the song here or on Spotify!

Ty Segall – credit Getty Images

SONG OF THE WEEK: The Hollies- “We’re Through”

The Hollies, Image Courtesy of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Library and Archive

In need of 2 minutes and 16 seconds of cathartic dancing-around-the-room-by-yourself bliss? Maybe you’ve been fiending for this feeling since the weekend ended. Maybe you’ve got some pent-up frustration because, hey, the block can suck. Maybe you just want to listen to a nostalgic bop. Fear not, The Hollies’ “We’re Through” will provide what you’re looking for. Though not one of The Hollies’ most popular hits, the number of listens to this song on Spotify has been climbing and climbing since its feature in an episode of Netflix’s most recent series, The Umbrella Academy (based on comics written by Gerard Way, lead singer and co-founder of My Chemical Romance). Its exposure in The Umbrella Academy was what brought me back to The Hollies and here I am now, listening to “We’re Through” on repeat this week.

The song, thanks to its deliberate bass, fingerpicking, and haunting, echo-y, but upbeat three-part harmonies, is perfect for momentarily letting go (of anything and anyone). Acknowledgement that “I should be better off without you…” is liberating! Get rid of toxic people and toxic relationships! Dance it out! (After a couple listens I begin to think this song is more likely to get me to make more changes to what ‘sparks joy’ in my life than Marie Kondo ever could.) The repetition of the mantra “We’re through, we’re through, we’re through” near the end of the song becomes therapeutic. The swell of the music and the shake of the cymbals at the end brings the sentiments of the song to a nice, final conclusion. Ultimately, we, as beings who want to be wanted and loved, sometimes have a hard time recognizing when others “never treat us tenderly.” Hopefully this song helps with a part of that realization process. If not, it’s still one hell of a bop—I hope you all enjoy. Cheers to t-minus 3 days until the weekend!


You can listen and groove to the song here: