If we try to deny our post-election feelings of despair, they'll come back with a vengeance. One way to look honestly at that despair is to surrender ourselves to music about despair that's so powerful, it transcends despair.
The first song on my post-election mixtape is Skeeter Davis's "The End Of The World," repeated listenings to which demonstrate that its title isn't the case. Next is Marvin Gaye's "Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)," which inspires me to do something, anything about climate change. There's the tragic opening fugue of Beethoven's String Quartet in C# Minor, which my favorite composer composed when he was very ill and very deaf (and we think we have problems), and Hank Williams "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry," which, perversely perhaps, serves as a reminder that grief can bring us together.
In search of something both comforting and different, I turned to a brand new, otherworldly cover of Joni Mitchell's "The River" by the indie-folk harmonists Tall Heights. In the delicate hands of the group's Paul Wright and Tim Harrington, it's a chilling take on sadness and loss that feels like salve on an open wound.
Tall Heights may not offer an actual frozen river to skate away on -- emigrating to Joni's home country isn't the answer, however tempting that may seem -- but we can sail away on their blended voices, which comfortably compare to Simon and Garfunkel (add "Homeward Bound" to your mixtape) and the Postal Service (whose "Such Great Heights" also speaks to our tumultuous times).
Five years ago, Tall Heights was busking in Boston's Faneuil Hall to pay for their first EP. Leo Sacks, the Grammy-winning producer and A&R consultant for Sony Masterworks who signed the band to the label, remembers seeing them for the first time at the Mercury Lounge in New York earlier this year.
"It was 11 degrees below zero and I was delirious with a 102-degree fever," he says. "But I instinctively knew that Tim and Paul had the moxie to make great art. I was struck how their voices formed and shaped, and then separated, like light through a prism.
"Tim's finger-picked guitar and Paul's cello added layers and waves to their natural sense of harmonics. The effect was intriguing and mysterious, rich and full and yet also spare and intimate."
Once Masterworks president Chuck Mitchell licensed their independent EP, the group added new tracks and brought in producer-engineer Steve Wall to remix the project at his studio in Jersey City.
Their debut album, Neptune, was released in August and the pair performed the ethereal "Spirit Cold" on the Conan show in September. "Spirit Cold" has now surpassed 10 million Spotify streams and was recently featured in a National Ad Council campaign on anti-cyber bullying. The track will also pop up in an upcoming episode of the hit CBS-TV series, Code Blue.
Tall Heights is currently wrapping a European tour and a new single will ship leading up to their inaugural appearance at SXSW in Austin next March. Now that's an inauguration I can believe in.