Not everyone likes folky, rootsy rock music, and to be honest, I don’t like it all the time. There are days when I’m just not in the mood for bands like Mumford & Sons. When I don’t think their oh-so-earnest twist on Appalachian and Celtic rock can teach me anything about morality or mortality. When I think their grandiose music about, oh, Jesus in the mountains is a little silly in its seriousness.
But then there are days—or really, dusks—when that music is exactly what I want. Because here’s the thing: In the right context, a great, earnest song really does feel like it can teach you something. Or at least, it can catch you in a contemplative mood and encourage you to think your own thoughts more deeply. It can sound like the thoughts you’re having, all melancholy guitars and thoughtful drums and insistent, urgent choruses. But because it doesn’t rely on synthesizers, because it can let you imagine people in a room making sounds on wooden instruments. You know, people using their hands and muscles and sweat to make those boxes make sound. Because it can let you imagine those things, the song can make you feel like it’s connected to something real, just like the thoughts you’re trying to have or the feelings you’re trying to feel.
And recently, several bands have released great “thinking time songs.” And since this is the first day of October, the first day of the that color-changing season where you kind of have to consider mortality, this seems like a good time to celebrate the best of those songs. Because chances are, we’ll all be in a thinking mood in the next few weeks, and these will be the tracks we’ll want to reach for.
(1) “Lovers’ Eyes” by Mumford & Sons
As with most Mumford songs, this one starts quietly and builds to a lung-busting, string-popping climax. It charts a man who can’t handle the weight of “lovers’ eyes,” and that plural in “lovers” is important, because he seems to fear both his lover’s gaze and his own reflection in the mirror. That’s how awful it’s gotten, this bad relationship. “Your strength just makes me feel less strong,” he admits, and that’s a messed up, powerful thing to say.
(Note: This song is on the band’s new album Babel, which is on track to sell over 600,000 copies in its first week. The only person who sold more copies of an album in a single week this year was Adele. So… you know. Pretty good, guys.)
(2) “Heartbreak on the 101″ by Band of Horses
From admitting how poisonous a relationship is, we move to a husky ballad about not being able to decide if you’re okay or not. In “Heartbreak on the 101,” Band of Horses leader Ben Bridwell starts out insisting that he’s over his lover’s cruelty, that he’s been able to make friends (albeit friends who are either homeless or in worse shape than him). Eventually, though, he admits that he sleeps “with one eye open,” hoping his lady will come back. And he knows that “everybody’s watching” his heartbreak, and it sounds like he doesn’t quite know how he feels about it. That he feels conflicting things at once.
And I get that. It’s nice to think about sometimes… how contradictory love can be. (Note: This song is from the band’s superb new album Mirage Rock.)
(3) “Live and Die” by the Avett Brothers
Finally, let’s have the Avett Brothers, who just released their new album The Carpenter, take us out with a song of spiritual seduction. “Live and Die” seems to be about a woman who is resistant, so singer Seth Avett (I think it’s Seth) is trying to prove how alike they are. Even when they’re different, he says, they are fundamentally the same, and all he wants to do is prove it by loving her. The song is pretty sexy, if you like a smart and sensitive seduction, and the kicky rhythm makes it easy to clap along while the Avetts mentally caress you with their devotion.
Mark Blankenship loves music because some day you want Mumford and not Rihanna, and it’s good to have a spectrum. He tweets as @IAmBlankenship.