As I’ve mentioned on more than one occasion (most relevantly here), I’m impressed with Carbon Leaf, an Irish-flavored (Rhapsody actually files them under “Celtic rock”) Richmond band that, like Guster, can dwell on the negative side of things as well as any emo/alt-rock bands around but has an underlying uplifting attitude that sets it apart. (Apologies to any Death Cab for Cutie fans, but I … just … can’t … get … past … the name. They could be the second coming of The Beatles, with the musicianship of Rush thrown in, and I wouldn’t buy their stuff. The name just smacks of snark and unfocused rebellion against comfortable suburbia. Rant over.)
Anyway, Carbon Leaf has a new album out (Love Loss Hope Repeat), and the three or four songs I’ve heard are outstanding. Learn to Fly, despite the cliched title, is a well-crafted pop single. Under the Wire is a good one built on unexpected interplay between good hooks from the guitar and vocal, punctuated by some well-timed tom-tom thumps.
The standout — though it might not be the one that tops most iPod playlists — is The War Was in Color, a poignant imaginary conversation between a soldier killed in WWII and a grandson just coming across some of his old photos and memorabilia. Set in a major key with some martial drums like a classic U2 effort, the lyrics are unsparing in their detail but imbued with a stoicism you’re not likely to find in today’s narcissistic pop culture.
Like all the Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks work of recent years on WWII projects, the song reminds us of the horrors of war while glamorizing those who took the risks — when the cause was worthy. Carbon Leaf reminds us in particular that the WWII generation fought so that future generations would have a better life. And one of the hallmarks of that better life — peace.
A few months ago in a local hardware store, I heard a curious country song about going to Arlington. That’s the cemetery, not the nice restaurants and bars along Wilson Boulevard, and this guy wasn’t going as a guest. It was the sort of propaganda I was once taught we didn’t do in this country, exalting war deaths as some rite of passage for each generation. The War Was in Color pays tribute to the bravery of our fathers and grandfathers while rebutting the notion that those who remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
A Carbon Leaf fan weaved together some war footage to make a video that’s worth at least one look. It’s not graphic, but it bolsters the point that war can’t be sanitized.
Carbon Leaf has a lot of songs that are more fun than this. Some good songs aren’t going to make it to the party mix. Another good example: Living Colour’s Flying, a tribute to those who died in the World Trade Center through the eyes of someone who finally got the nerve to meet that special someone at the very last minute — it’s a terrific song, but I’ve only been able to bring myself to listen to it once. With its haunting but uplifting melodic hooks and sentiment, I’ll listen to this more often. And every now and then, all of us should do the same.
(Sorry to be sanctimonious about such things — I’m a father of two now, and I’m only going to get more and more protective of their futures. So every now and then, I may embrace a song like this. But most of the time, I’ll be watching Family Guy in between diaper changes like a normal 21st century dad.)