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Fri, 10 Oct 2008

"The World's Not Falling Apart"

The album begins with the gentle, creeping synth of "Mercy of the Fallen" that grows into bass guitar flourishes and rhythmic confidence atypical for Dar Williams. All over, this album is decorated with special guests. It's a great way to start an album, that's for sure.

The album is The Beauty of the Rain from 2003, a much sadder-sounding title than that opening track. Don't worry; the song that shares that title is deservedly slow and pensive (and beautiful). If you look through a Dar Williams discography, you'll learn a few things: I only have half her albums, and also that this album is a reappearance of Dar after a three-year hiatus from studio publications.

Recoveries like that are interesting; one can learn a lot about oneself in three years. It's a cliché to suggest live albums (like Out There Live (2001)) represent a pause in the creative career of a musician; more interesting is the question of what Dar would see after three years of looking back and recreating her earlier work.

So when I say the album begins with gentle, creeping synth, and that it's "atypical," it really is the new Dar Williams. It's no wonder that the second track is titled "Farewell To The Old Me." I'm really happy to say that I love this album, and I'll point you to track five on it: "The World's Not Falling Apart", to which you can listen or read the lyrics.

Truth be told, I think I like the sound of first song on this album more, so I'll slip it in here. Musically speaking, the harmonies in its chorus and the instrumentation are irresistible. But I chose "Not Falling Apart" because for the year 2005-2006, this song was very helpful for me. Putting that first song together with this fifth makes for a powerful combination.

There's a contrast to be considered between the sudden recognition of responsibility in "Buzzer" and a song with a title like this one's. To be brief, the song (you should have listened to it by now!) is about acceptance. Take this couplet, delivered without fear:

The closest thing to God that I have heard
Is when I knew I did not have the final word

The year I mentioned was my senior year of college as well as the year I stopped being a teenager. "It's not an end, it's just a start," I could have consoled myself.

But the scene that really wins me over is a verse I can't resist quoting in full:

I have watched the kids who make their scenes,
I have met the riot grrls who print their 'zines.
They write the word, they raise a thought.
They say who they are, they try what they’re not,
'Cause life is such a changing art, life is such a changing art.

I must give justice to Dar and highlight the beautiful singing all across this song; it's wonderful when she supports the chorus, but for me it's prettiest when she sings the above verse. I used to hear that "they race apart," which I'm consoled to see isn't what she sings.

"They try what they're not" happens to strike a chord in me. It's reassuring to imagine having this certainty in who they are while they see what else they could be. "Life is such a changing art." I struggle with the interplay between causing those changes oneself and the idea that I have some consistent identity. Typically I feel lost and doubtful for a few months, trying new events and people and situations, and I wonder why nothing feels all that great. Then something happens that reminds me of things and people I truly love. The crux of it is that I forget how much I love some things, and the process of searching becomes mired with an inability to say which new thing is better than the other. These wonderful things appear, and as if I feel frayed or rubbed thin, they feel restorative.

Every once in a while those wonderful things are new places or interactions with new people, and then I am really grateful in this life. (Like you.)

There surely are people that are pulling the world apart. Dar Williams knows that she is respectful and playful. Even if she can't save everyone's everything everywhere, she espouses awareness and acceptance. I think she's highlighting something I believe in, too: do better, first, and only later try to be perfect. I've long believed in that, but I haven't always lived it. She can take solace in her relative and absolute goodness, even if it has limits.

There are a couple of lines I don't really like: the third of the first verse, and the last of the last one. But I'll take them.

The new Dar Williams sound does seem to have longer, fluffier songs. It's also less sad. Perhaps the special guests are here to help Dar regain confidence. At more than four minutes long, "The World's Not Falling Apart" is not afraid to lean on its chorus. "And that's okay."

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