Tuesday, April 26, 2011

April 26: Tim Buckley, "I Can't See You"

Artist: Tim Buckley
Song: "I Can't See You"
Album: Tim Buckley
Year: 1966

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One of the larger misconceptions across the long history of music is the idea that as you go back in time, it is easier to place artists into a single category.  That is to say, many people are under the belief that musical genres were more strict and songs less likely to cross into different styles the further back that one goes.  Obviously, music simply would not have progressed if this were the case, and one can find some of the most unique musical combinations during the under-rated period of musical exploration that was the mid-1960's.  It was during this time period that countless musical norms began to fall, and the idea of the "pop superstar" began to develop.  This was also the point where the psychedelic movement began to fully develop, and it was often the way  in which these elements were incorporated that led to the most stunning musical moments of the era.  Taking a base in folk music, and finding amazingly unique ways to infuse this new, psychedelic style, there are few performers in history that can compare to the sound and voice of the great Tim Buckley.  Recording for less than a decade before his tragic passing, Buckley left behind one of the most diverse and stunning catalogs, and yet few of his records can compare to the impact of his self-titled 1966 debut.  Standing as one of the few truly perfect records ever recorded, one can quickly understand just why Tim Buckley is held in the iconic status that he is by hearing his brilliant 1966 recording, "I Can't See You."

For an artist that was largely labeled as "folk," the opening notes of "I Can't See You" seem to suggest everything but such a title.  Immediately grabbing the listener with a wide range of sounds, one can easily argue that the last genre one would associate with such an arrangement is folk.  Due to both the pace of the music, as well as the slightly aggressive nature of the opening, it is quite difficult to place "I Can't See You" into any single genre, and even as the song evens out for the verses, there is still a great deal of ambiguity within the sound.  The song is led by the guitars of Lee Underwood and Buckley himself, and there is a winding, almost exploratory nature to the playing.  It is within this sound that the psychedelic influence of the song becomes most clear, and one can find traces and outright copies of this musical approach in countless artists that followed.  Bassist Jim Fielder adds to this tone, as he seems to almost be trying to "out-run" the other guitarists with both his pace, as well as the twists and bends of his playing.  The final element that sets "I Can't See You" apart from its peers is the fast-paced, almost nervous performance from drummer Billy Mundi, and it is within his playing that the song moves far apart from both folk and psychedelic.  It is the bouncing, almost manic tone within the drumming that gives it an almost haunting feel, and there has never been another song that has a similar experience that one can find on "I Can't See You."

However, while the musical arrangement and tone is wonderfully unique, there is simply no getting past the fact that Tim Buckley possesses one of the strongest and most moving voices in all of music history.  Easily able to work every note of the entire musical scale, Buckley's voice is instantly recognizable, and even within his most powerful moments, there is an intriguing, almost blissful calm that plays in brilliant juxtaposition to the music over which he sings.  It is the way in which his voice plays against the arrangement on "I Can't See You" that helps make the song stand out from the rest of the Buckley catalog, and yet one can also easily hear just why he remains one of the greatest and most revered vocalists in history.  Furthermore, there is a unique simplicity within his singing that is more in the school of "singer-songwriter" than folk, and the way in which they seem to speak in a confused manner to a partner is one of the most distinctively beautiful moments in music history.  There are times within "I Can't See You" where Buckley seems to be trying to pull the person in question back into the relationship, and yet one can also see the lyrics as little more than a casual, upbeat remembrance of pleasant times.  Though each line is perfectly crafted, there are few lyrics in history that are as perfectly beautiful as when Buckley sings, "...don't leave me in the air to hover, sing it out don't make me suffer, don't be ashamed love is no sin..."

In every aspect, "I Can't See You" is as close to musical perfection as one will find anywhere else in any genre.  From the unique tension and mood that are set forth by the music to the soaring vocals and gripping lyrics, not a note is out of place, and as the lead track to his first album, the song certainly set high standards for Tim Buckley's career.  Yet it is the way in which all of these elements work with one another that pushes "I Can't See You" into a category all its own, and it remains one of the few songs in history that must be experienced firsthand to be properly understood and appreciated.  The almost scattered, speedy tone of the rhythm section sets a tone for the song that makes it impossible to categorize, and the dynamic, yet unintrusive arrangement from the rest of the band gives the song a depth that would serve as a blueprint for countless later artists.  But even with this exceptional playing, there is no question that the focus of the song is on the voice of Tim Buckley, and it only takes a few moments to understand why he remains such a legend.  There is a pain within his voice that suggests a close proximity to the lyrics which he sings, and the way in which he conveys the emotions of his words makes his songs impossible to forget.  Though his entire debut record comes together to create a true masterpiece, there is no other song on the album that can compare to the power and emotion that can be found in Tim Buckley's magnificent 1966 recording, "I Can't See You."

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