Sandtimer Selects : Kurt Vile – ‘Blackberry Song’

This is the third post in a blog series called ‘Sandtimer Selects‘, to which we’ll be adding a new song every week or so. You can find all the posts so far here.

Music is not only dependent on the movement of time to exist, but also on there being someone to hear it. After all, the brain of the listener does a lot of the hard work, decoding the sound waves, working out what instruments are playing, the tone of the music, the rhythm.

Going one step further, appreciation of music can also be influenced by the context in which it’s heard. If you’re slumped at your desk after a hard day of work/procrastination and not feeling especially positive about things, what could otherwise become a life changing, meaningful piece of music may just get discarded and forgotten about. It’s one of the reasons why I think it’s been harder to get into new music over the last year- the enforced monotony of lockdown (or generally just being cautious) means there are fewer new situations, locations and emotions to attach the music you hear to. Without any kind of fresh context, fresh music can feel quite stale as a result.

I first heard Kurt Vile’s ‘Blackberry Song‘ a few autumns ago, slumped at my desk after a hard day of work/procrastination, not feeling especially positive about things. I had some random playlist on in the background but I was not in a receptive mood for new music. What struck me was how Vile’s song seemed to provide its own context- an escapism and yearning somehow contained in the music and the sound itself that transported me somewhere different – or, at least, inspired me to appreciate the place I was.

This unofficial video captures the spirit of the song so well.

For me, the haunting, hypnotic guitar loop, the sparse piano chord and the earthy, fingerpicked acoustic evoke an autumnal melancholy. The harmony of the song seems almost deliberately ambiguous- it’s mostly rooted on a suspended IV chord, only occasionally revealing its minor tonality through fleeting movements up to the vi chord. That continuous lack of harmonic resolution throughout the song results in a sense of possibility and promise- maybe a tinge of melancholy too. The lyrics hazily evoke love, beauty and renewal with references to the passing of time and the seasons.

It’s a beautiful song and I hope you enjoy listening to it (if you ain’t heard it before). We’ve added it to the ‘Sandtimer Selects’ playlist which is embedded below.