“At War with the Present”, a new song by indie folk act Cellophane Sam, starts off simply–almost too simple, in fact. Over some pretty-but-basic guitar chords, Cellophane Sam (who doesn’t say his real name on his website) sings: “Like a light in the dark/Like the wind through the trees/Life appears and it plays out its hand with ease.” It’s palatable, thanks to Sam’s warm, creaky-dreamy voice and the song’s arrangement (which I’ll get to soon), but it veers dangerously close to cliche, and vague cliche at that. Songs about how Life Is Funny Like That Sometimes may as well make up a chapter in The Songwriter’s Handbook, and using meaningful-meaningless imagery like “a light in the dark” and “the wind through the trees” doesn’t help this song stand out.
Luckily, there are a few things that do, the song’s structure and arrangement chief among them. It’s not necessarily doing anything that hasn’t been done before, but Sam shows a good ear for sonic texture and shapes the song around that skill. Rather than just strumming on a guitar and letting the song live or die on the lyrics, Sam introduces a vibraphone almost immediately. Its sound, clear like a bell and smeared like an impressionist painting, fits the song’s arrangement perfectly, adding to its reflective mood. Gradually, Sam adds warm piano figures and the occasional snatch of reversed audio, creating something interesting to the ear as well as varied enough to make you want to continue listening.
Cellophane Sam “At War with the Present”
“At War with the Present” has a dreamy sound that suits its subject matter, and while Sam doesn’t really plunge the depths of the human condition (nor should he be expected to, really) he does find an interesting angle. The verses are filled with grand imagery, like the above-mentioned “light in the dark/wind through the trees” as well as ships doing battle with the Great Divine. And yet, Sam’s response to Life, the Universe and Everything serves as the closest thing this song has to a chorus: a mild, slightly bemused “how about that?” Juxtaposing the fantastic and the mundane is another familiar device in all sorts of fiction, but usually, that juxtaposition has a purpose; it can ground the fantastic to make it more approachable, or it can lend the mundane a cosmic significance. Sam’s “how about that?” doesn’t ground the fantastic–if anything, it suggests that the mysteries of life are so vast that all you can really do is be mildly impressed.
But it also suggests something worthwhile about that attitude. Sure, the song seems to say, you could try and figure out why life moves in such mysterious ways, and you can try and come to grips with the divine, but you’re going to end the day with as many answers as you started it. If you just step back and let it wash over you, on the other hand, you can let life take you where it wants you to go, and you can even get a taste of some sort of higher power. Now, how about that?
For more, visit cellophanesam.com
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