1. Still Life – for a long time i went to bed early
Still Life – for a long time i went to bed early
In the end, as much as the chaotic confrontational nature of the Angel Bat Dawid and Pink Siifu records were necessary to process the year. Still Life’s album was the medicine. It was the healer. It is what made it bearable. This best of 2020 list willbind itself to me in ways past lists can’t. I refuse to be bogged down by the pessimism of this year and I see this record as a window into something better that has to lie ahead. Let’s dig into my pick for album of the year.
The first five minutes establish a sense of hope. It immediately says, ‘your mental health is important, this will help” and we are off and running. The spoken word we get in “uneven surfaces” is poetic, moving, and reflective.
The falling felt like a small knot curled tight
hidden in the palm of my empty hand.
No one was there to witness the becoming of my own ghost.
Haunted, alone, my hands pulled tight into the knot, holding —
until I was held, held, held
until the word stung like the memory of something I didn’t mean to read
of something I didn’t mean to turn into.
of all the pieces of myself I’ve lost.
As we are still giving pause to these words the album then soars with lush sounds of hope and inspiration. And as “ANOTB” comes to a close, the beauty builds as the tempo gains speed and we hear some indecipherable conversation as we progress into “effects of sunlight” it is almost like we are eavesdropping on another conversation. And then we hear;
Trapped in here,
with pasts crossing,
the dangling at our feet
sitting as if waiting for something to happen,
I count the ways in which
I can no longer see past at all
I count the fracture lines
displacing my body,
displacing my trajectory.
you can’t stop me now,
you’re only a ghost,
pretending, pretending like you always used to.
And then….. It feels like a Christopher Nolan soundtrack. For a moment.
The feels continue; “when I begin to leave” sounds like a George Winston piece with more layers (going places George would not) as the pace builds; the violin then battles for center stage, the full arrangement commences and a new range of emotions are birthed.
In the 90’s John Mellencamp made a movie entitled, Falling From Grace. The soundtrack contained tracks from him, John Prine, Nancy Griffith, Janis Ian, amongst others. It also included Mellencamp’s violin player, Lisa Germano. She has the most beautiful song on the album, “Little Children” Not only does Still Life’s album feel like an album version of that song at times, “mistaken memories of manhattan” returns me back to the way I felt when I heard that song for the first time. Just stunning.
Not as if the song titles don’t speak for themselves, but “turning/after parting” certainly does. Take the title and marry it with post rock and you get an Explosions In The Sky concert eruption. This feels like the emotional turning point of the record.
Categories of non-feeling
why does it feel like this
what does it mean to feel like this
what does feeling mean when you can’t really feel anything at all
when the trauma of it all settles,
curls up into a neat pile at the foot of the bed,
to rest softly,
after all the violence has transpired,
what remains? – “living spaces”
The music drifts from neo-classical (“the only thing I can see is the sky”), to the feel of a TV movie (“monument”) to a dream.
Just like that I am easily forgotten
All the while I danced around your body
every minute of every hour.
like I had just arrived in a kingdom of heaven.
Yes you had me,
the curtains were drawn
in the glows of artificial light
a lamp affixed to your heart
shining its beam on me.
drawing me closer to …..
I heard the beating
the one in your chest
it must’ve been true
it must’ve been right – “dreaming,etc.”
A steady, quiet piece at the end (“falling / absence follows”) seems to say, “we have had some highs and lows along the way but it is time to settle and be satisfied with where we have been.” End scene.
Daniel was generous with his time and obviously captures the true nature of what he composed in his answers below.
Several Questions with Daniel Fine, the artist behind Still Life
Who is Still Life?
I started this project back in 2016 mostly out of boredom and feeling like I needed some sort of creative outlet. It was originally, and still mostly is, something I do by myself in my bedroom with a laptop and a couple of synths. I can’t really remember why I chose the name “Still Life”, I think it was just a phrase that resonated with me at the time – something about the contradiction of the words “still” and “life” together, because life is never still, it is defined by being something that constantly changes, moves, grows. It never had anything to do with the style of art, but I always like phrases that can have many meanings, or that you can invent new meanings for.
That’s Still Life, who are you?
I went to school at University of Rochester for Audio Engineering, a program I chose because I’m passionate about all things on the production/technical side of music. I learned how to code while at school, and after graduating in 2019, I started a small software company to make music production software with a friend of mine, which has been a lot of fun – our mission is to inspire creativity in other artists as much as possible.My biggest hobby outside of making music is listening to music, discovering new artists, and reading about music – which I’ve spent a lot of my free time in quarantine this year doing. I’m always looking for music that expands my ideas of what music can be, or anything that feels special and exciting. Some of my favorite discoveries this year have been Ana Roxanne’s “Because of a Flower” and Dan Deacon’s “Mystic Familiar”.
Describe your record for us.
I suppose I would describe “For a long time I went to bed early” as a modern-classical album about loneliness, and also a bit about hope… I tend to approach making music as if it’s a personal journal that I can put any emotions or thoughts or experiences I have into, and what results is music that has a lot of contrast in it – there are quite somber moments on the album, but also a lot of joyous, even triumphant emotions. Stylistically, the album is a bit of a musical collage – I wanted to put anything and everything I was inspired by into it, so there’s a mish-mash of various influences – from post-rock to neo-classical to electronica. I had a lot of fun working with my friend Molly Robins, who performed all of the violin parts on the album, as well as Ben Schmitz, who did a lot of the engineering and played drums.
Tell us about your album artwork.
My absolute favorite part of making this record was collaborating with my good friend Emilee Brecht, who did all of the artwork and poetry that appears on the album. We spent several months sending ideas back and forth and developing the themes and underlying narrative of the album – I would send her demos or early versions of the songs, and she’d send back paintings, sketches, and poems that were inspired by the music. It was quite a fun process, and I think her playful and abstract artwork really fit with the colorful (and perhaps a bit chaotic) aesthetic of the music. We even put together a booklet of her artwork and poetry to go with the cassette, which is something I love including.
Describe 2020 in a sentence.
Hmm… good question. I think I’d simply say this – 2020 has been a good year for reflecting and organizing. I know a lot of people, especially musicians, have taken this year as an opportunity to explore different paths of creativity, but to be honest I’ve had a bit of trouble with that. Instead, I’ve spent a lot of time attempting to sort out my priorities in life, reflecting on the past few years, feeling grateful for what I have and what I’ve been given, and organizing as much as I can. It’s been a good year to step back and really think about things, and I think it’s helped refresh my creative energy.
Besides music, what are you passionate about?
I really love travelling and taking pictures. I’m not really much of a photographer, but I always carry around a disposable camera and spend a lot of my time taking pictures of the places I go and anything I see that I find interesting. I’ve also found a new love for going on bike rides since the pandemic started – it’s been a great way to stay active and be outside.
Name three of your favorite artists.
There’s a pianist / composer from England named Simeon Walker who makes some of the most beautiful music I’ve heard in my life – I am deeply inspired by his music when making my own. I’m also a huge fan of the British pop band The 1975 – I love how they draw from any genre and style that inspires them, how they can go from an aggressive, political punk song to a mesmerizing piece of orchestral music on the same album. They’ve always felt like fans of music as much as they are artists, which makes their music feel very intimate and engaging. Adrianne Lenker is another all-time favorite artist of mine, all of her records with Big Thief and her solo works mean a lot to me.
What are you reading right now?
I just finished reading “Give My Regards to Eighth Street”, which is a collection of essays and writings by the composer Morton Feldman. I definitely recommend it to anyone who is interested in neo-classical music – not only is his writing full of humor and character, but he had a lot of interesting ideas about what music could be and how he saw the Western art music tradition progressing back then. I’m also just starting a book called “The Dialectic of Pop” by Agnes Gayraud, which is a very philosophical exploration of pop music, with all of its joys and contradictions – it’s fascinating so far!
I’m not quite sure at the moment! I have some music I’ve been working on, but everything’s in such an early stage that there are lots of directions I could go with it. I’m hoping to spend a lot of 2021 putting together my next album, but whether it’s a continuation of the ambient / modern-classical “Still Life” project that my last two albums have been a part of is still an uncertainty.