Sunday Sesh: The Transformative Song at Year’s End
Our good pal Max recently penned a thoughtful examination of what makes a song stay with us. This song, the “transformative” one, is a track that makes you feel something, that takes you to new places, that roots deep in your emotional center. It’s art that transforms both you and the artist. In the comments on that article, Max and I discussed the ability of entire albums to be transformative, either by featuring back-to-back transformative tracks or by taking you on a wild, emotional arc. Today is a time for reflection, for us to look beyond the glamour of list season and the autofellation of taste. Today, I simply want to hear about one song or album that moved you this year, regardless of whether or not you even consider it one of the best records of the year.
While there have certainly been a number of transformative songs (and even entire albums) released in 2017, no song has stuck with me this year quite like Dodecahedron’s “DODECAHEDRON – An Ill-Defined Air of Otherness” off Kwintessens. The song is atypical both for Dodecahedron themselves and for black metal, full of shimmering chords and bare vulnerability. Its placement on the album is the key lever that grants you passage through labyrinthine passages of darkness into a state of blinding white light, and it shows a band clearly willing to lay themselves bare and attempt to transcend even their own designs. What makes it so interesting for me, however, is that I hated it when I first heard it.
At first blush, I thought the song was too incongruous with the rest of the album, and I worried that this track signaled a divergence in the band’s songwriting development into post material. While I enjoy a handful of post metal bands, that’s not the sort of sound I want to hear from Dodecahedron, masters of miasmic dissonance.
And yet, “An Ill-Defined Air” stuck with me. Those major chords, pained vocals, rapidly ascending rhythmic notes. All lingered in my mind for weeks, touching something hidden in my psyche. Then, one day while driving to work, I experienced a bit of a watershed moment.
For those unaware, I moved to North Carolina in June after my wife was matched to a residency program here at the end of her med school career. To the uninitiated, the medical field employs an archaic matching system to place graduating med students/aspiring young doctors in hospitals across the nation. In the fall of your final year, you apply to different medical programs and travel the country, interviewing at hospital after hospital. A convoluted algorithm then takes your standardized test scores, interview scores, research accomplishments, volunteer service, and your own supplied ranking of hospitals, weighs national demand for different disciplines, and spits out a three-year sentence for your future, families and houses and careers aside.
Although my wife and I agreed on North Carolina as our first choice for residency because of the potential for job opportunities for me, by late Spring, I was floundering in frustration. In Texas, I had a career, friends, a sense of establishment and belonging. In April, my search for an academic position was still fruitless. I take pride in my work and my ability to provide for my family, and I’ll fully admit that I enjoy what I do for employment and believe that my work is meaningful. Facing the chance of not only lacking employment, but being isolated from others in a city with a higher cost of living left me feeling, to be frank, meaningless. A failure.
Then one day, while thinking about the future and driving to my university job, listening to “An Ill-Defined Air” and contemplating failure, the rising sun pierced my windshield as I crested a slight hill and heard the emotional break in the song. I’ve never had a synesthetic response to art, but the moment felt cathartic, almost out-of-body. This song was perfect for this moment of reflection, this bright but chilly morning, and I made peace with the uncertainty of my future.
Thankfully, I was able to find a job here that I really love, one that advanced my career rather than forcing me to start from scratch, but that moment, that piercing second of clarity I experienced when listening to Dodecahedron, will stay with me. Kwintessens may not be my favorite album released this year, but it certainly features one of the most transformative songs I’ve ever heard.
What about you?