Feb 02, 2016, 10:04AM

Down, Down, Down

52 Weeks of Elizabeth Veldon, Week 5: “Rainy Days and Killing Sprees” (05/12/12).

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If you’re feeling down—really, really down, I mean—there’s a certain species of late-1960s/early-70s pop you should steer entirely clear of. These songs evince a profoundly existential despair which, beyond their intrinsically depressing aesthetic, astound when one considers that a) songwriters and performers alike were probably high as kites and that b) thousands of people loved and worshipped bleak music, patiently waiting for radio DJs to cue it up. Exhibit A might include the Carpenters’ 1971 single “Rainy Days and Mondays," where harmonicas and a saxophone—a full decade before that instrument would become camp shorthand—to convey a sense of pure melancholy.

“What I’ve got, they used to call the blues,” Karen Carpenter coos, and coos, and coos as “Rainy Days and Killing Sprees” opens; it’s as though a phonograph needle got stuck on this lament and couldn’t dislodge itself. Preamble becomes a hypnosis of sorts, Carpenter’s pout reconstitutes again and again and again until her overcast afternoon is overcome by a Category 5 hurricane. It doesn’t happen gradually, either; those unforgiving corkscrews of electronic noise sweep in prior to the one-minute mark with every intention of obliterating all memory of what preceded them.

It’s as if the onslaught of noise fully intends to demonstrate, conclusively, what true emotional turbulence can look and feel like—that desolation isn’t necessarily tidy, frilly, containable, something you can hum along with as you try to fool yourself into believing that it’s escapable. The natural impulse for a composition like “Rainy Days and Killing Sprees” is to employ contrasts, to simultaneously turn up the noise while turning down the sample. But Elizabeth Veldon resists this urge, and if you listen very closely through to the end, that looping sample is ever present, a ghost she never allows us to escape. 


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