Archive | December, 2010

The Rundown: Best Songs of 2010 in Review

31 Dec

We are immersed in the New Year’s Holiday and perhaps the greatest part of it is the Twilight Zone marathon on SciFi or Syfy (they change the name of their channel often). I plan on sitting back and enjoying each episode all day long. Seriously, no episode of this the Twilight Zone is bad. Rod Serling, Binghamton native (by the way), was an absolute genius.

So, let me take this opportunity to wish you all a wonderful New Years. Your support is invaluable and I hope you have enjoyed the blog over the past year. I will strive to improve it even more over the upcoming year. There is always room for improvement, of course. I am happy to hear any suggestions or comments you have. Feel free to e-mail me at musiccourt@gmail.com.

I would also be honored to have you like the Music Court on Facebook. You can access the page through this link:

http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/The-Music-Court-Blog/174431312584846

Also, please follow me on twitter. My handle is “musiccourt”

Over the past few weeks I have put together a countdown honoring the best 11 songs of 2010. If you have missed any of the song reviews during the countdown, do not fret. Below, I will provide a short rundown of the countdown with links to each review. Enjoy some of the best songs of 2010 before you toast to a New Year!

Number 11

“Tighten Up” by The Black Keys

I Said:

Yes, Frank is infectious, but so is the opening whistle, catchy riff, excellent bass and drum portion (Pat Carney at his best). The song is excellently put together, clean, but rugged. The mini-solo that repeats throughout the song serves as a shaking breakdown (or Frank dance portion). Because, as we all know, Frank is a Funkasaurus Rex.”

Link to full post: https://musiccourt.wordpress.com/2010/12/14/the-best-songs-of-2010-sneak-peak-number-11-tighten-up-by-the-black-keys/

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Number 10

“Excuses” by The Morning Benders

I Said:

This is a 5-minute work of genius. Notice how we immediately are introduced to a wacky string section that already hits us with the Grizzly Bear sound. And when they erupt into the acoustic chords and normal string section it is as if we have been sent back in time. The string coordination is beautiful. Chris Chu’s voice appears in the first verse and, just like an ocean wave, douses listeners with water infused with vocal goodness. The harmony prior to the chorus is so British harmonizing it is absolutely scary. The lyric is not shabby either.

Link to full post: https://musiccourt.wordpress.com/2010/12/20/the-best-songs-of-2010-10-excuses-by-the-morning-benders/

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Number 9

Infinite Arms” by Band of Horses

I Said:

The band lives on vocal harmony. That is how they evoke their feelings. And, they have always done this well. But, by adding more instruments they have created an even more dynamic presence on stage. Now they pair more complex instrumentation with their harmonies. This provides a sound that hits you on multiple levels. This is why “Infinite Arms” works. The end of the song features the combination and it sounds like the puzzle pieces have been put together. It is form fitting. The song then fades beautifully.

Link to full post: https://musiccourt.wordpress.com/2010/12/21/the-best-songs-of-2010-9-infinite-arms-by-band-of-horses/

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Number 8

Bloodbuzz Ohio” by The National

I Said:

The song is immediately depressing. The charcoal video is paired with Berninger’s gloomy voice, dark but level, and a solemn loneliness that immediately presents itself after the drummed opening. The squirming repetition is almost as uncomfortable as Berninger’s drunkenness throughout the video. But, please don’t take that the wrong way. Songs are occasionally supposed to move you out of your comfort song. If you listen to pure mainstream you never get the opportunity to experience different music. And this is exactly what “Bloodbuzz Ohio” is. It is representative of a band that may be slightly out of your normal listening zone. So expand it and taste something that nears on acerbic and austere, but still maintains a hook and melodic quality that draws you in.

Link to full post: https://musiccourt.wordpress.com/2010/12/22/the-best-songs-of-2010-8-bloodbuzz-ohio-by-the-national/

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Number 7

“Flash Delirium” by MGMT

I Said:

Then the pre-chorus hits you with a wall of sound that just comes out of nowhere. Suddenly you are being hit by an orchestral sound before the chorus (or what seems like the chorus) hits you with this Bowie-like “Ashes to Ashes” segment. Then a sing-a-long and a flute. You stop and think to yourself, what the hell is going on? And that is when I first realized that this is a good piece of psychedelic music.

Link to full post: https://musiccourt.wordpress.com/2010/12/23/the-best-songs-of-2010-7-flash-delirium-by-mgmt/

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Number 6

“Stylo” by Gorillaz

I Said:

Gorillaz often do an exceptional job combining visual and auditory stimulants that excite and please the listener. Like I implied above, listening to a Gorillaz song and watching any released visual material is like watching a short film. Art and music are combined effortlessly.

Link to full post: https://musiccourt.wordpress.com/2010/12/24/the-best-songs-of-2010-6-stylo-by-gorillaz/

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Number 5

“The High Road” by Broken Bells

I Said:

It successfully blends two different genres of music effortlessly. It is so impressive. It may have been hard to find, but Broken Bells found and mastered the high road.

Link to the full post: https://musiccourt.wordpress.com/2010/12/25/the-best-songs-of-2010-5-the-high-road-by-broken-bells/

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Number 4

“Another New World” by Josh Ritter

I Said:

“Another New World” is the album’s chef d’oeuvre. It is a close to eight minute wonder. Seriously, the song is spectacle. Josh Ritter and his Royal City Band (his often forgotten tour/studio musicians) produce an epic.

Link to full post: https://musiccourt.wordpress.com/2010/12/27/the-best-songs-of-2010-4-another-new-world-by-josh-ritter/

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Song 3

“Fuck You” by Cee Lo Green

I Said:

“Fuck You” is a warped Motown song. Everything from the old-school video with the corny dance moves to the call and response to the soul swing and vocal. It’s funky and fun. Cee Lo Green displays his vocal range and at times even introduces humor into the song. It is bright Motown with a spiteful “Fuck You.”

Link to full post: https://musiccourt.wordpress.com/2010/12/28/the-best-songs-of-2010-3-fuck-you-by-cee-lo-green/

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Song 2

“Home” by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros

I Said:

The chorus is infectious. It’s like a disease. For days you are singing “let me come home.” And then the band adds an instrumental breakdown. The horns are matched with shouts of home and then a vocal end.

Link to full post: https://musiccourt.wordpress.com/2010/12/29/the-best-songs-of-2010-2-home-by-edward-sharpe-and-the-magnetic-zeros/

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Song 1

“King of Spain” by The Tallest Man on Earth

I Said:

Before the song ends, Matsson holds out the word “the” in this vocal climax that is shattering. It is also a perfect way for me to end this countdown. There is an animation in Matsson’s croon that is warm, inviting and aggressive. This is a true strength in his music. He is a folk musician who can provide the erupting emotion that Spector’s “wall of sound” does, but with only himself and a guitar. He is a one-man-band who is significantly stronger then mostly all of his five or more band counterparts. That is an impressive feat. Heck, he might actually be the “King of Spain”

Link to full post: https://musiccourt.wordpress.com/2010/12/30/the-best-songs-of-2010-1-king-of-spain-by-the-tallest-man-on-earth/

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Well, there it is. I hope you enjoyed the countdown. And, to you and yours:

The Best Songs of 2010: Sneak Peak – Number 11: “Tighten Up” by The Black Keys

Last year at around this time in December I was summing up a decade of music. Today premieres a preview of the top songs of 2010, a post category that will run from December 20 – December 30 (Skipping the Sunday in between). Each day will feature a different song in a running countdown to the best song of 2010. Please understand this disclaimer. All opinions expressed in this list (especially order of songs) are opinions. That’s right. So, if you have another song that you believe deserved a spot, post it in a comment and let’s talk. Also, be nice. It’s New Years and Christmas and overall merriment should be the pervasive thought during this season.

Anyway, before I travel home tomorrow (today marked the official end of Fall semester of my senior year at Binghamton University), I wanted to leave you with the #11 song on my 2010 countdown. The list is made up of 11 songs to mark our transition into 2011 and to hold true to the “one for good luck” axiom. I know. Aren’t I witty? Okay, not really. Let’s get to some music.

#11.) Tighten Up” by The Black Keys

We kick off our list with a song about a dinosaur. Well, no, it’s not about a dinosaur, but Frank, the Black Keys’ puppet dinosaur, does star in the video for this catchy rock tune. Take a listen:

Yes, Frank is infectious, but so is the opening whistle, catchy riff, excellent bass and drum portion (Pat Carney at his best). The song is excellently put together, clean, but rugged. The mini-solo that repeats throughout the song serves as a shaking breakdown (or Frank dance portion). Because, as we all know, Frank is a Funkasaurus Rex.

The Best Songs of 2010: #1: “King of Spain” by The Tallest Man On Earth

30 Dec

We have gone through many songs spanning several genres on our Top 11 of 2010 list. But, today we reach the end with the #1 song that is good ol’ fashioned folk music. I have gone through some pretty complex songs in the countdown. I’m sure you are thinking how did a folk song reach the #1 spot for the year. Well, this specific song is not only a plain folk piece. It is a work of absolute perfection from a 27-year-old Swedish artist named Kristian Matsson, better known as The Tallest Man on Earth.  The song combines a genius guitar riff, excellent lyrics and a voice that calls back to a young Bob Dylan (but it’s better). “King of Spain” is the most inerrant song of the year. It is both enjoyable and an absolute masterpiece. This is why it is #1.

Artist: The Tallest Man on Earth

Song: “King of Spain”

I’m not sure where to start. One side is telling me to simply post the song and publish the post. There is no need to defend a song that defends itself in its gritty beauty. However, I do feel that there may be some doubters out there and I do enjoy writing about music.

The Tallest Man on Earth is Kristian Matsson. Well, not really. Ah, you know what I mean. Like I mentioned above, he is a 27-year-old Swedish singer/songwriter. He is a multi-instrumentalist with a voice straight out of the Swedish mountains, boisterous and rural. He plays a bare style of folk, concentrating on the essential three elements to a true folk piece, instrument, voice and lyric. Not everyone can pull this off, of course. Why do you believe so many have to add synthesizers, extra instrumentalists and harmonizers. I am not claiming that those who do this provide us with bad music. On the contrary, most of it explores beautiful sounds that Matsson cannot provide us with. But, I would certainly argue that those who do play this folk-blend style of music cannot support an entire song solo. Matsson can. He is an old-fashioned folk singer who has reached a level of notoriety and success playing a distinct solo style of music.

This is why constant comparisons to Bob Dylan follow him. And while Dylan will forever maintain the title of most accomplished and rich lyricist, Matsson’s two albums prove that he has a strong inclination for guitar style and vocals, enough that he may give Dylan a run for his money. A comparison between the two is quite bold at this time for Matsson simply does not have enough of a body of work. But, I can comfortably say that Matsson’s keen style of folk is some of the best I have ever heard. Yes, it is that good.

The first 27 seconds of pure acoustic guitar is beyond good. I have a tough time describing it. It causes an unconscious smile and you cannot help shaking your head. It is so simple, yet so complex. The song employs a capo over an already changed key. Unusual chord progressions follow and after a quick harmonic a lower chugging progression lays down an awesome rhythm that the song will follow. There is a purity to this progression, an excellence that makes you want to put it on repeat for hours. And then Matsson’s voice comes in.

A Bob Dylan comparison immediately does pop in your head, but the voices are distinctly different. Matsson has significantly more range. His voice follows the chug of the chords and meets the chorus with full force. It seems nasally but is not. Matsson puts this odd guttural inflection into his words and then utters them with such power you are actually blown away. And this is necessary for the lyric which displays passion. It is a unconventional love song. It seems like the song focuses on a lover who thinks he can be anything now that he has been provided with mutual feelings from another. He writes,

“Why are you stabbing my illusion?
Just cause I stole some eagle’s wings
Because you named me as your lover
Well, I thought I could be anything.”

It is described well in this final verse. His eagle wings allow him to soar (a common feeling when you are deeply in love). He feels like he can be anything, like the “King of Spain.”

Before the song ends, Matsson holds out the word “the” in this vocal climax that is shattering. It is also a perfect way for me to end this countdown. There is an animation in Matsson’s croon that is warm, inviting and aggressive. This is a true strength in his music. He is a folk musician who can provide the erupting emotion that Spector’s “wall of sound” does, but with only himself and a guitar. He is a one-man-band who is significantly stronger then mostly all of his five or more band counterparts. That is an impressive feat. Heck, he might actually be the “King of Spain”

The Best Songs of 2010: #2: “Home” by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros

29 Dec

From the lyrical epic of #4 to the Motown obscenities of #3 and now on to “Home” by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, a song that relives a Hair-like (on a lesser scale) 60’s anthem, catchy and pleasing. Generally I expand on where we are at before I get into the song’s review but “Home” is way to good to wait for. So, to quote Rex Ryan, “Let’s go get a snack.”

Artist: Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros

Song: “Home”

Yes, the band consists of all of them

Out of the all of the songs on the top four, I knew right away that “Home” would have a spot in the 2010 elite. While it was on Up From Below which was released July of 2009, the song did not become a single until 2010 and therefore can and does have a spot on the countdown. I knew the song would have a spot on the countdown because not often does a song come around that successfully presents music that is so different and mold it into a popular and creative song. I would even venture to say that the indie/pop song is not starkly different, but, rather an ode back to 60’s music where “Home” would have fallen into a verdant music scene where new music blossomed, even when it was different. It is funny. “Home” is fresh new look at indie music even as an ode back to songs created 4o years ago, and it maintains a quality that many 60’s bands mastered in their success. Simplicity.

Listen:

The beginning of the song immediately grabs your attention. A bubbly whistle follows a repetitive guitar riff and some hand percussion. “Hey” separates the verses sung by Alex Ebert and Jade Castrinos. Ebert and Castrinos are so out of the 60’s hippie culture it is scary. Seriously, they toured the United States with their band in a fashion most similar to the acid laden journey of Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters on their bus “Furthur.” Look at the picture above. Tell me that does not send your mind back 43 years to the summer of love.

I can really describe Ebert with one statement he made. After leaving a 12-step program he stated that he skedaddled because he wanted, “to live in a more honest reaction to the truth of the moment, not be bound to certain behaviors by fear-based dogma,” This is from Wikipedia. Southpark would agree.

Jade Castrinos was recently interviewed by Under the Radar and when asked about “Home” she said,

“It grabbed me the moment I heard it. I played on it for a long time, so after that for it to reach other people and get into their bloodstream. I loved it, I really loved it. It was one of the first things we laid down. I thought it was cool, it’s cool that it has caught on.”

I think she describes it well here. It most certainly gets in your bloodstream. It gets in your head. The traded verses emit an awesome effect. The song is like a conversation (and at the end it actually does spark an odd conversation between Ebert and Castrinos where Ebert describes how he fell in love with Jade after she hit her head and almost died). The conversation changes each time they perform the song live which adds a whole new cool element to the song.

The chorus is infectious. It’s like a disease. For days you are singing “let me come home.” And then the band adds an instrumental breakdown. The horns are matched with shouts of home and then a vocal end. An open A, B, C# (what it sounds like to me) and we are back into the whistle. The song can repeat a thousand times and not get old. It is a 5 minute piece that seemingly can narrate any upbeat commercial.

A listener to the song on the Youtube video above writes, “I think those 4,424,028 views are just me replaying replaying replaying this song!” That is perhaps the best description of the song. It is the catchiest song of the year, by far. And I believe #2 is a good spot for it. Tomorrow I will reveal #1.

The Best Songs of 2010: #3: “Fuck You” by Cee Lo Green

28 Dec

New Years Eve is just a few days away and our countdown is coming to an end. Yesterday I featured “Another New World” by Josh Ritter which is a spectacular song off of his recently released album. I shared with you my thoughts on the remaining four songs. Each one can easily be the best song of the year. I actually feel bad slighting songs that I believe deserve #1 credits. But, I must realize that this is one person’s pretty much unimportant attempt to create a list of fantastic songs (that not all think are good) and nobody really cares where the songs stand. That does not mean that I will not feel bad (even though the artists couldn’t care less). I want to keep this countdown as fair and balanced as possible. That is one of the reasons why “Fuck You” by Cee Lo Green is on the countdown (and so high up). While most music that flourishes in the mainstream is garbage, Cee Lo Green has found a way to create popular music that demonstrates refreshing talent. “Fuck You,” despite its angry implications is an aboveboard example of this excellent talent. Let me explain.

Artist: Cee Lo Green

Song: “Fuck You”

Brief disclaimer: I like keeping the blog clean of unsavory language. Yes, call me a FCC puppet but I like to consider this blog a source for professional music coverage and, let’s face it, you don’t see imprecations lining the New York Times’ broad sheet. But, it is not my place to censor an artist’s vision and Cee Lo Green proudly tells his doubters “Fuck You” in the successful single. I will keep it the way it is. I understand why the radio must censor “Fuck You” and replace it with “Forget You,” but, I do find it funny that Cee Lo Green has actually made it so hard on them by creating such a popular single with a curse in its title. Here is Cee Lo Green with, uh, “Forget You”?

He must be laughing about this. And, truthfully, this is one of the reasons I love this song. Consider what Cee Lo Green does with this song. He creates a catchy pop single that the public goes wild about and fills it with obscenities. It is like a giant middle finger to…well…everyone. I love it. It’s raw and fresh. It’s just never been done before. The song is ruthless but so incredibly candid. A big problem with a lot of music is that it is disingenuous. Cee Lo Green takes that problem and defenestrates it. He then goes to the window and proudly shouts “Fuck You.”

Cee Lo Green’s odd musical life has taken him from being a hellion in a hip/hop group to a collaboration with none other than Danger Mouse (Gnarls Barkley). “Crazy” is an excellent song. Passion just erupts from it. “Fuck You” emits a different feel but it definitely evokes passion in both Cee Lo and the listener. He is musically diverse and wildly talented. I am going to make a bold statement. I don’t believe that anyone in the past 20 years has been able to crack into mainstream radio music and produce songs that actually portray musical talent with such diversity as Cee Lo Green. The only one I can think of is Eminem, and, despite a few exceptions, he has stayed in his rap niche.

“Fuck You” is a warped Motown song. Everything from the old-school video with the corny dance moves to the call and response to the soul swing and vocal. It’s funky and fun. Cee Lo Green displays his vocal range and at times even introduces humor into the song. It is bright Motown with a spiteful “Fuck You.” In the breakdown Cee Lo basically cries out and then proceeds to continue with his curse tirade. Seriously, “Ain’t that some shit.” At the end of the song (which portrays Cee Lo’s experience with numerous heart breakers) he has turned into the lady killer in a sharp suit. “Fuck You” juxtaposes a catchy pop beat with Cee Lo’s dirty mouth. It is excellent and well deserved of its spot on this countdown.

The Best Songs of 2010: #4: “Another New World” by Josh Ritter

27 Dec

A Mutant 4

I feel like my own world has been pummeled…by snow. Around 18 inches of white stuff has fallen on western Long Island and despite numerous shoveling adventures yesterday, I was out there again this morning clearing off my driveway. Well, it is good exercise and there is no way I will be making it to the gym this afternoon. The snow actually falls at a good time (for selfish reasons of course). The song I am highlighting today has much to do with arctic conditions.

We travel on a maritime voyage for the #4 song of 2010.

Artist: Josh Ritter

Song: “Another New World”

Thus begins the final four. I think of these four songs as #1 seeds in the March Madness College Basketball Tournament. There were no upsets. These are the cream of the crop. But, unfortunately I cannot let these songs duke it out. It is not like all four are exploring the same genre. That would make my life a lot of easier. It is a rarity, but the top four of 2010 are all different. The diversity is exciting. It proves to me that musicians are still able to produce excellent songs in various genres. “Another New World” falls at four. On a different day it may have been one. I had a tough time picking between the four songs that will profiled in the next couple of days, but I believe I made the correct choices. Though, please understand that these songs on many levels are on equal footing.

I do not believe it is bold to say that Josh Ritter is one of the premier folk singer-songwriters of post-2000. His lyric portrays fructuous language, not overly gaudy or austere, but a perfect combination of beautiful imagery created by a strong grip on correct diction. His metaphors are excellent and he often creates musical pieces that are subtly allegorical . Ritter embodies a folk master. “Another New World” is perhaps his best work of experiment folk and extraordinary lyric. And, he is only 34 years old.

“Another New World” is the 11th track off of So Runs The World Away, Ritter’s sixth full-length studio album. The album is a gem and it features everything from a quirky love song to a traditional folk death rundown. But, “Another New World” is the album’s chef d’oeuvre. It is a close to eight minute wonder. Seriously, the song is spectacle. Josh Ritter and his Royal City Band (his often forgotten tour/studio musicians) produce an epic.

Back in May, I reviewed the album (https://musiccourt.wordpress.com/2010/05/06/josh-ritters-other-new-world/) and here is what I wrote about “Another New World”

“In the album’s expansive “Another New World,” Ritter tells the tale of a polar explorer who is forced to sacrifice his beloved ship in order to survive the cold. It is a maritime love story; a type of lyric that Ritter has mastered. The explorer’s ship is called the Annabel Lee. Now, quick English lesson. Who has a poem named “Annabel Lee.” The only difference is the poem is not about a ship. Edgar Allen Poe wrote the story of Annabel Lee who is frozen and killed by angels. Ritter’s story is similar. His guitar picking sounds like the trochaic rhythm in Poe’s poem. This is a wonderful touch that may often go unnoticed. It is important to realize how intelligent Ritter, the son of two neuroscientists actually is…in English? What? Anyway, the song is euphonious and the lyric is masterful. It almost sounds like an optimist dirge which I understand makes no sense at all”

I agree, Matt. Listen to the song below:

But, in the review above I do not discuss the lyric (which perhaps is the best part of the song). The song is most certainly haunting and the music does provide this effect, but Ritter’s lyric carries it. Let’s go exploring.

Ritter begins the song with the line:

“The leading lights of the age all wondered
amongst themselves what I would do next”

Like any good writer he places us into the scene. No need for wasted time. He only has around eight minutes. We are in the mind of the explorer who longs to lead an exhibition into the icy north in search of new land. And, he believes he can do it because he has his ship, Annabel Lee.

“I looked round the room in the way I once
had and I saw that they wanted belief
So I said “all I got are my guts and my God
and I paused, and the Annabel Lee”

Oh the Annabel Lee, I saw their eyes shine,
the most beautiful ship in the sea,
My Nina, my Pinta, my Santa Maria,
my beautiful Annabel Lee”

The Annabel Lee represents his confidence. It is a mark of beauty and strength. The eyes of his superiors shine. The Annabel Lee is the reason why he is allowed to travel northwards.

Poe writes in his “Annabel Lee” – “A wind blew out of a cloud, chilling, My beautiful Annabel Lee.” We see Ritter’s allusion clearly. While Ritter is talking about a ship, both characters love their respective Annabel Lee. I would argue that Annabel Lee is allegorical. Both characters are loving a vision of beauty and perfection.

Ritter is forced to burn his Annabel Lee and use it for warmth. He sings:

“We talked of the other new worlds we discovered
till she gave up her body to me
And as I chopped up her main sail for timber
I told her of all that we still had to see

Then the frost turned her moorings to nine tails
and the wind lashed her sides in the cold
I burned her to keep me alive every night
in the loving embrace of her hold”

Ritter personifies the Annabel Lee in his anthropomorphic verse that portrays the ultimate melancholic funeral scene. Ritter’s character is forced to burn his strength and concept of beauty in order to keep himself alive. It demonstrates failure. He cannot crack the ice.

“And I won’t call it rescue what brought me back
to the old world to drink and decline
And pretend that the search for another new world
was well worth the burning of mine”

And there is the heart-wrenching verse. In his greedy search for another new world he ended up burning his own, his Annabel Lee. But, the song is left with a tinge of optimism.

“Sometimes at night in my dreams
comes the singing of some unknown tropical bird
and I smile in my sleep thinking
Annabel Lee had made it to Another New World”

Yes, his ship has sailed on in his memories (still somewhat personified – the ship seems like it has gone to heaven). The character does still long for the exhibition, long for his Annabel Lee. Poe’s poem ends similarly. The allusion is clear.

Ritter’s work is a literature student’s dream. It just allowed me to write a mini essay on its genius. And, to think it is four. But, like I said it could have just as easily be one. It is that good of a song.


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