Playlist: Disquiet Residency #3 – Tangled Tales


Musing on the rich tradition of narrative song writing, in his latest playlist, Aaron Williams draws on contemporary masters of the form…

Music has long been fertile soil for storytelling (and, therefore, storytellers); from Monteverdi’s earliest operas to the multifaceted hip hop of Kendrick Lamar, compelling narratives captivate listeners. The following ten tracks form a sonic anthology of stories that are largely concerned with kitchen sink dramatics, following a wide range of characters all of whom are caught up attempting to process complex situations.

Courtney Barnett’s autobiographical account of botanical misadventures is an everyday epic that takes us from a guilt fuelled attempt at tidying up a front yard, to the inevitable asthma attack that sees our protagonist receiving “adrenaline straight to the heart”. Avant Gardener is delivered with a series of wry, sly winks, aimed at the Australian healthcare system, smoking bongs, and the perilous existence of a chronic hypochondriac; it finds Barnett lamenting not staying in bed as she much prefers the mundane.

“Kae Tempest examines the lives of seven strangers in the eye of the storm”

On their second studio album Kae Tempest examines the lives of seven strangers who all live on the same street, and at 4:18 am are drawn together for the first time by a “wild mouthed grin” of a storm. Ketamine for Breakfast follows one of the protagonists Gemma and her attempts to reconcile the drug fuelled darkness of her past, time spent sweating in dole queues and longing endlessly for someone to pull her out of the quagmire in which she was drowning.

The tale told on Just Like You is the direct inverse of this narrative, as Viagra Boys’ frontman Sebastian Murphy dreams of the “perfect life” and the material possessions that such an existence might entail. Murphy showers his friends and family in gratitude for ensuring he did not become a psychopathic loser, that is until he wakes from his delusions to find himself in “the same chair, with the same fucked up people”, coming to the conclusion that his perfect dream was in fact a nightmare.

The morbid chorus of Black Box Recorder’s Child Psychology, that instructs you to either kill yourself or simply get over the unfairness of life, punctuates recollections of an unhappy and dysfunctional childhood. The protagonist Julie stops talking at the age of six, is labelled a “disruptive influence” by school reports, and finds herself buffeted between an endless stream of therapists and psychologists. Eventually she seems to find some sort of peace, that inevitably comes crashing down upon returning to the family home.

The quest for the mythical and near unobtainable “good time” on a New Year’s Eve is an undeniably universal experience, one that finds Travis Morrison of the Dismemberment Plan running a gauntlet of champagne bottles, ex-girlfriends, and uncomfortable personal truths that he’d “rather not address right now”. The Ice of Boston is as relatable as it is cringe inducing, the highlight of which is an ill-timed phone call from Morrison’s mother that interrupts some “buck naked” frolicking.

After several years wandering the pop rock wilderness desperately attempting to recapture the fire of their youth, The Killers plough similar ground to Springsteen’s Nebraska, as Brandon Flowers chronicles the lives of a small town in Utah. A tangled tale told from the perspective of a Police Officer engaged in an extramarital affair with a victim of domestic violence, Desperate Things details the intricate complications of their personal lives. The song ends ambiguously with our narrator arresting his lovers’ abuser while musing upon the darkness of the canyons.

“A high-stakes account of violence sees blood and milk intermingle”

Heading eastward to South Carolina, we find ourselves in the company of seasoned storyteller Jack White and his aptly named outfit The Raconteurs. Carolina Drama is a high-stakes account of violence that sees blood and milk intermingle, as a young man learns some uncomfortable truths about his lineage. White chronicles events with increasing intensity, mirroring a growing tension within the narrative, eventually culminating in an explosive, hollered chorus.

Story 2 by experimental hip hop trio, clipping., is the thrilling tragedy of what happens when a past life spent dealing in violence inevitably catches up to you. Frustrated bartender Mike splits his time between work and therapy, dealing with the psychological consequences of his previous job as a mob enforcer. One evening on his way home he recognises a vehicle that pulls him back into everything from which he is attempting to escape. As ash starts to fall upon his head and a call home to his children goes unanswered, a chilling realisation dawns on him.

“Sleeper is a quietly unnerving nightmare of a nocturnal train journey”

Uncompromising in its depiction of a relationship between a daughter and her estranged father, Thumbs recounts a low effort parental attempt at reconciliation after nearly a decade of absence. Based on a true story, Lucy Dacus accompanies a friend as she reluctantly meets her father at a bar, smiling through the discomfort her fingernails dug into Dacus’ knee. The love Lucy feels for her companion is so strong that she could do unspeakable things to save her from this fallen guardian figure.

Sleeper is a quietly unnerving nightmare of a nocturnal train journey populated with a series of dejected and desolate Lynchian sketches that those familiar with Arab Strap’s output will no doubt recognise. Our narrator finds himself inexplicably drinking for free in the train’s bar, as an eerily perfect nuclear family wave at him from the platform, and a busker sings a well-worn tune far too flat and void of rhythm. Here, Aidan Moffat deftly smudges the boundaries between the corporeal and ethereal leaving the true nature of events up to our own interpretations – as many a good storyteller does.

Aaron Williams

Check out more from Aaron at Disquiet Club

Image: Gilles Rolland-Monnet via Unsplash

Posted on 25/11/2022 by thedoublenegative