Katie here, and I’ve been dying to share our latest artist with you. I’m a huge fan and have been for years, so knowing he’ll be playing at the festival has been like a present I know is coming. You know. That thing you ordered off Amazon that wound up somehow being better than you expected, even though you already knew it would be great?
This has been a strange season for a lot of people. I think the world around us is very loud, and it’s hard to tune all the nasty television static out. And, if you do get that moment of peace— there’s a different anxiety. Should you be able to tune things out? Does that make you less compassionate, less kind? Maybe you laugh lower. Maybe you’re not laughing as much as you used to.
Dave Godowsky is standing in the gap for us. There are so many things that are in short supply in this world, and he provides two of them with absolute stark nakedness: beautiful piano music, some of which is there simply for its beauty (and to quote Keats, perhaps a bit out of context, “Beauty is truth, and truth beauty”); and incredible vulnerability. In his record “Pregret” (my favorite portmanteau of all time), he puts his finger to his own anxious pulse, but it echoes outwards into something more beautiful. One of the struggles I’ve had writing this article— and I’ll be very up front about this, because this is not a first draft— is that I want to go song by song through his career, pull the lines that braid together from song one to four to nine— but you don’t want to read that review. I’m fighting every academic instinct I have, which is to, instead of reviewing this like music, write about it as literature first, and then gush about the accompaniment.
That’s not my job here. (That’s my job at home.) Today, my goal isn’t to get you to fall in love with Dave and “Pregret” the way I have— it’s to allow you to experience the sort comforts and fears of this lush, lovely record for yourself and fall in love with it the way you want to experience it. So my suggestion is, right now, look up the record and just put it on in the background while you’re reading about it. See if it doesn’t kick you in the guts when you’re distracted by something else. See if it doesn’t make your heart swell with incredible love.
The first song, “Making It Up As I Go,” has all the classic hallmarks of intellectual existentialism: the human body fighting the mind. He’s too smart to jump right in (though other songs do), and he literally starts the record, “Once upon a time.” It allows for the illusion of a story being told, but as the song unrolls itself and the instrumentation picks up, he sings the chorus: “I’m making it up as I go/ Singing along with a song I barely know.” We’ve all done that— a song came on the radio, it was joyful or serene or lovely, and we wanted to be a part of that moment somehow by singing along. But we didn’t know the song. Godowsky is acknowledging that in some ways, that’s how we live our lives— it’s exhausting, but everyone’s life starts from scratch, and they’re basically humming along, hoping to find a tune that matches the rhythm of their own heartbeat. (OK, I lied. I am going to do some lyrical analysis. This is what I do, and friends and producers Adam and Barbara knew that when they brought me on board...) The song fills outs and thickens with new instruments, but to lines like “And I’m tired/ Doing it on my own, uninspired/ Nobody has to know how I’m reaching/ Sick to death of all this preaching/ Doing it on my own.” In fact, as he says that line, Adam Duritz comes in on the chorus and sings harmony. So while he’s contradicting himself (and eventually leading into a really lovely piano interlude), Godowsky is doing something incredibly clever: he’s telling you the truth. But he’s telling it beautifully, and you can ignore it if you just need to hear something lovely.
There isn’t a single moment on “Pregret” that isn’t absolutely beautiful. He weaves similar words back and forth— “in love,” “coping,” “preaching,” “time”— things that all score the fears we all have. Will we fall in love? Stay there? Will we know how to cope with the future? With how little time we actually have? And though preaching occurs in several contexts, it’s always with the understanding that it’s an ineffective way to be a friend or lover. In fact, friendship is as complicated as love on “Pregret.” I love how on songs like “Learning to Let Go,” where he makes unexpected shifts into major, bright chords (almost in a Harry Nilsson way), the chorus always changes slightly, but ends in the same line, like an old school poetic rondeau or ballad. It also shows his hand a bit: he’s not quite let go of some of the things he says he has: “Lovers cry a lot/ So a lover I am not/ What kind of bullshit is that?” Or “When she talks of heaven/ It sounds like one and one make eleven/ Lovers talk that way/ and so I die another day/ What kind of bullshit is that?”
I had a stroke almost two years ago (I’m fine, you’ll see me hanging out at the Electric. I’ll have something Bowie on, and I’ll probably be covered in glitter), but I don’t drive much at night anymore. It’s one of the weird tics that stuck. But I’ve worked a few late nights this last week and I have driven home to the soundtrack of Dave Godowsky’s piano and clever lyrics. In my first draft, I was going to introduce this as a sunset record. That’s true. It is stunning against the bruised sky, waiting to darken. But this morning, as I finished this final draft, I watched the sun rise, and I have to say, that’s an equally good time to listen to it. “Pregret” is the record for transition. It’s got lyrics that will draw you in with complicated rhymes and meaning— from “Something,” he says, “All right, I admit it/ I should be committed/ Locked up in solitary if that’s the meaning of the word… isn’t it a full moon, soon? Or something?”— but it is also classically one of the best piano records I’ve heard in a long time. I don’t know how to tell you why you have to listen to it, except to say that when I was little, the first time I heard Billy Joel’s “The Stranger,” I realized the piano had more power than I had the capacity to understand.
I’d be remiss not to mention “Second Best” which features vocals from Lianne LaHavas— it’s clever, but it’s a love song that has all these strange moments, and even when the lines are too specific, the music and the sound makes me think of the warmth of my own marriage (I’m the lucky person married to associate producer Andy Mullins), but it’s also funny and not entirely a love song when you focus. Again, this record is about sleight of hand: the music might convince your heart of one thing, but the lyrics may sway you somewhere else:
I’ve been feeling something for a stranger
You were looking at a falling star
I was looking at the backseat of a car
At the one you drove around
I’ve been waiting for it to break down
You were settling for second best
I was trying to figure out the GPS
You were telling me to take it slow
I was thinking it was probably time to go
My life is a mess
And that’s half of what I’ll confess
Come a little closer, and I can show you the rest
Cos I can hear some crying through the laughter…
Godowsky understands the power he wields with the piano, and on top of that, he’s one of the most clever writers out there. You can’t miss his set. And when we finally meet, Dave, I’ll buy you whatever you want— even if it’s just one of those half empty High Lifes— because your record has been a good friend to me. I can’t wait to see what happens live.
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