Simon VanGend is a writer. He’s a musician too, but he’s a writer. He’s a poet who just happens to sing, and play, and collaborate very well. “Blinking and Breathing” is VanGend’s fourth full-length album. On top of that, he is doing a project this year where he is creating a new song each week and posting it to his blog. I love all of Simon’s music. In 2005 he released “Pocketsongs” a wonderful album that was completely recorded in his home, very well-done homemade music. I’ve had him on constant play for the last week. I’m excited to keep up with his songwriting project and see what comes out of it. He is based in Cape Town, South Africa and his diverse sound reflects the multi-ethnic culture surrounding him. The rest of his band is talented. On “Blinking and Breathing”, this latest album, it is comprised of all kinds of people with all kinds of wonderful instruments, resulting in a truly interesting and unique sound.
“Am I the Worm” is the song that’s been lingering around in my brain for the last week. The song involves an abundance of cool synthetic sounds and snappy beats. The choruses are characterized by tight harmonies and a really positive vibe. I have a hard time not dancing to this song. It’s the perfect dishwashing and dancing music. The lyrics are poetic. It’s a story about what it means to be human– are we important or are we just lost and lonely worms, there is tragedy and disappointment–but it is what it is and it’s going to be ok.
I fell in love with the band “Cake” because of their trumpets, and now any time a band uses trumpet it makes me excited. “Ants on Fire” made my heart skip a beat. The brass is perfect. It doesn’t take anything away from the quiet, mellow quality of the song, but it gives some serious attitude. This song is like rolling in the pine needles under the canopy of the Adirondack conifer forests. It’s outdoorsy and a little dirty (like dealing with dirt–not the other kind of dirty). I love that VanGend’s voice has a distinctly South African quality. I had a friend who lives in Johannesburg visiting over the weekend. He expressed this same appreciation when I played these songs over dinner. He said that often, music gives all voices the same sound.
“Complications” begins with a broken relationship and a cup of tea. It crawls through a path of brokenness and heartbreak with a beautiful electric breakdown chorus. The harmonies are in all the right places. It ends in a place of sorting out the unnecessary complications and hoping for something beautiful. “So when I seem to be shaken or like I think I’m mistaken don’t let me be complicating my life.”
“Brave Ones” feels like a rainy day. It’s fireplace and cabernet music. It is a song full of memories and perfectly blusey trumpet. The song is about a girl. The kind of girl you’re in love with and you contemplate, the kind who lives in a world of feeling things very fiercely, a world that is difficult to be in because of the severe amount of tragedy which is felt so personally, who you fear for a while, then you find out that she completes you and you encourage her. I love this song. It is perfectly melancholy and perfectly beautiful. The lyrics are as haunting and gorgeous as the music.
“Weasel You Out” is catchy. It has that finger-picking guitar melody that I just love. It’s a “give love a chance” song. The lyrics are pure poetry. I wish I could just write them all out and my job would be done, but you should really give the song a listen so I can do my writing job properly. I love the light percussion, Simon’s warm, human voice that transitions from soar to whisper so easily. He sings right to my heart. I can’t help but smile my way through this song. “So–I think that I feel that I need it. You know it, you feel it. And so, I’ll weasel you out and I’ll tease you.” It’s fun, it’s flirty, it’s hopeful. It’s a beautiful song that you should listen to.
“Nailed to a Totem” starts with ethereal synthetic sounds, light guitar. The song, as all the songs on this album, is led and dominated by VanGend’s voice. The instrumentals back him up. “Nailed to a Totem” is another exploration of humanity. Love–is it real? Joy in the simple things. Childhood, loss, freedom, a failed relationship, missing another person, knowing their faults. It’s a song for a campfire on a cliff over the ocean. Simon’s voice is organic, the poetry he has written is bittersweet and searching.
This whole album is a wonderful display of humanity. It’s dirty and messy and beautiful and elegant. It has moments of joy and others of tragedy. It is indoors and outdoors, simple yet multifaceted, familiar and exotic. I admire Simon VanGend so much as a writer and poet. Check out this album as well as his other music here. It’s perfect dinner party, dishwashing, house cleaning, sitting-in-front-of-the-fire-contemplating-life music.