Sunday, August 25, 2013

A Guided Tour of No Code: Present Tense

[A Guided Tour of No Code]
There is a case to be made for ending No Code on Around the Bend , but in many ways Present Tense is the obvious way to close out the record. The principle journey is completed here, the hidden insights made manifest. It is a concluding paragraph, reprising the journey of the previous nine songs, and it does so quite effectively. No Code is about searching for a guide, finding someone or something to help you navigate the road we’re all traveling (and those same travel metaphors reappear here). And while previous songs have pointed the way there is a gentle confidence in Present Tense that wasn’t necessary there before, suggesting that we have at least begun learning how to decipher the code. After a long stretch of songs about feeling lost, it is almost a relief to know that there is a path, and that we are tantalizingly close to it.

It’s not the most striking piece of music in the catalog, but it is completely appropriate for the mood--warm, deep, memories of once raw wounds finally starting to heal. The transition from Lukin to Present Tense is a bit abrupt, but it is entirely possible the music doesn’t have the same impact if it isn’t following a run of songs about broken and suffering people. There are some call backs to Sometimes, both in the very precise way the song begins--like each note is , a particular memory--and the quasi spiritual journey of the outro. The chorus takes stock of those individual moments, and it weighs them, judging, but the intention of forgiving, rather than punishing. The song builds in fairly subtle ways, and the climax in the second chorus feels organic--earned within the journey of the song (or perhaps the record as a whole. The outro is exploratory, searching, running to find something but confident it’ll get there. There is the haze of voices--whether they are judging, blaming, forgiving, spurring us on or holding us back isn’t clear--but the music pushes us past them with an increasing level of urgency until we finally make it through. We’re clear of the past, in the present tense. We don’t stop there--the music keeps going (and the fade out implies that nothing is finished), but we’re able to walk towards the future having made our peace with the past, ready to accept the future, and moving in a permanent present tense. 

Eddie’s vocals are restrained, as is typical for the record.--no screaming in places where there would have been in the past. There’s an unwilligness to completely destroy the tranquility and stillness--and besides, yelling at someone is a terrible way to get them to listen. There’s an interesting juxtaposition here with Leash--it’s a song that is also looking for answers, but assumes that it is external walls that hide them. And so Leash attempts to batter them down, and looks to make up for the lack of answers with an intensity of conviction. The harder you believe the more likely they are to exist. Present Tense can be more subtle because it found them. 

The lyrics are pretty straightforward. Let go of the past so you can grow in the present. I talked about the tree as a metaphor during the In My Tree post, so there’s no need to go through that again. And the travel metaphors are all here, alongside some specific references to knowledge and learning--reminding the listener that there is something here they are supposed to be taking away. A few things are worth commenting on. The song seems to urge us not just to let the past go (and we are the person holding both the lock and the key--the only one who can forgive us and who seemingly cannot), but to not worry too much about the future. Accepting our powerless (recall Sometimes) means understanding that there are limits to what we can control. Life may be getting harder, but you can’t predict what’s going to happen next and there are limits to how much you can prepare. And, of course, if you spend your time anxious about or anticipating the future you end up missing right now. It’s not simply the past you need to let go of. You also need to abandon the conceit that life can be controlled. It can only be lived.

Present Tense
I'm Open
Around the Bend

No Code 
Riot Act 
Pearl Jam