Sleeping too much.
I wrote about Armor For Sleep's first album on this blog years ago, but I didn't go into much detail at the time. I just said that it was really good and moved on. As of tonight, I hadn't thought about it in at least a year. But then tonight, I was hanging out with some people and one of them mentioned Armor For Sleep. Suddenly it all came rushing back. "God, yeah, I loved their first two albums," I said. Not much more was discussed at the time, but I already knew at that point that I was going to go home and listen to "Dream To Make Believe" before bedtime.
And tonight, I can't sleep. I have to be at work in eight hours, which means that I can't realistically expect more than six hours of sleep. Instead of going to bed, though, I'm sitting up typing, getting down all the thoughts running through my head right now as I play through "Dream To Make Believe" for the second time in the past hour. Maybe if I write it all down, my brain will let me sleep, at least for a little while.
This album has lost none of its power on me over the last few years. It's still an excellent musical work that combines melodic emo with echoing, dreamlike guitar sounds that resemble a wide range of artists, from Hum to The Chameleons. The vocals are still beautiful, filled with melancholy, and evocative of loneliness and of resignation to unhealthy emotional states. But what's really jumping out on me this time is the lyrics.
"Dream To Make Believe" isn't a concept album like the followup, "What To Do When You Are Dead," was. Nonetheless, there are strong themes running through its lyrics, foremost among them that of sleep and dreaming as an escape from an uncomfortable reality. In my last blog entry, I talked about the lyrics to "Brick By Boring Brick" by Paramore, a song with a message that I consider positive. It's about rejecting illusion in favor of reality, even when reality isn't that great. This is something that I, at my noblest moments, strive to do. Armor For Sleep's lyrical content is far more reminiscent of my behavior at my weakest moments. I certainly wouldn't consider this album to have a positive message for anyone, but it too has its place, in that it reassures people like me that we aren't the only ones who go through this sort of thing.
The first song on the album (other than an instrumental intro bearing the name of the band) is the title track, "Dream To Make Believe." "It's funny how things work out," the lyrics begin, and from that first line, two things are clear: our narrator is looking back with regret on the end of a past relationship, but he doesn't want the former object of his affections to understand the depth of his emotion. "The ones we need don't know we're there," he says next, but you can be forgiven for wondering if he's ever spoken his needs out loud. The rest of the first verse is a subtle but masterful metaphor: "If I were sand and you were ocean, the moon would be what pulled you to me." In other words, need is a side issue. Any experience he had with this previous lover happened as a result of circumstances that he couldn't influence, and he could no more have kept this lover by his side than he could have brought her to him in the first place.
The first verse, to be fair, is somewhat nebulous. Fortunately, the rest of the song is far more immediate, none of it moreso than the chorus. "I wake up and think dreams are real," he sings. "I sleep so I don't have to feel the truth--that you can never be the one person who won't ever forget me." It's depressing and vaguely embarrassing to admit this, but one of my most common dreams when I am at my most depressed is a dream in which I have started dating someone. We're still in the honeymoon phase, everything is going great, and I actually feel like someone is into me. Then I wake up. That's the worst feeling in the world, to wake up from a dream like that. It crushes you. When I hear the line "I wake up and think dreams are real," this is the first thing I think of. It's a terrible experience, one that I am all too familiar with.
The second verse flirts with a theme that is more fully explored on "What To Do When You Are Dead"--suicide. "I hope that dreams come when I die," he sings, "So we can talk." I know it's ridiculous to think that you'd need a post-death dream in order to create the circumstances in which you could talk honestly to someone, but I've also felt that way plenty of times about even my best friends. "I'll ask you how your life worked out. I'll never know that I'm just dreaming." The seductive picture this paints is the flip side of "Brick By Boring Brick"--this right here is the pleasant illusion that can take you away from a crappy reality. These dreams exist, and for a depressed person, they can be far more comforting than real life. The song ends with a single line repeated many times: "Let me sleep some more."
I'm also a huge fan of the song "My Town," which is sort of about sleepwalking and sort of about disorientation, but really, at bottom, it's another song about depression. That's not necessarily clear at first, but during the bridge, the singer leaves no room for doubt: "This is the end of keeping it in. They'll all know how I feel." When you feel fucked up enough to start losing concern for the consequences of your actions, that's when depression is most dangerous. "My Town" is a catchy, poppy song with more obvious use of keyboards than most of the songs on this album, but its sunny exterior hides a dark heart.
The song that follows it, "Wanderer's Guild," has a darker sound, and sounds like it'd be more appropriate a song, musically, to be about cutting loose and letting everything out than "My Town" was. Instead, it's a song about repression, about hiding everything you're really feeling from the people who care about you. I don't know if this is just something that everybody does, but I can tell you that I do it quite often. I worry that if I let people know how I'm really feeling, I'll scare them away or otherwise make them stop wanting to be my friend. And then I bottle my true feelings up, and make myself feel even worse. Apparently I'm not the only one who does this. "You should be downstairs with them," the singer tells his friend. "Listen, I'm fine now," he repeats over and over during the chorus, following this declaration with a robotic attempt at propriety: "I don't want to talk right now. Thank you for your concern." The song's lyrics never make clear what's really bothering him, but I don't really even think it matters. After all, sometimes when I'm depressed, I have no idea why. Sometimes I never figure it out.
The most lyrically depressing song on this album is tough to pinpoint, but a leading contender is "Frost And Front Steps," a song that seems to encapsulate a moment in a crumbling relationship. In the first verse, the singer is ready to leave the party, but his date isn't. Eventually, he drifts out the door, maybe trying to prod her into coming along, but instead, she lets him sit out on the front porch while she continues to hang out. "I hear you inside," he says from his position out front. "You're laughing the way you do when I'm not there." He knows that she's probably just as glad not to have him in close proximity, but he doesn't seem to know exactly what that means. We've all been through that moment, towards the end of a relationship, where it seems like no one is admitting that things are unfixable, but everyone's become aware of it. It can be hard to know how to take the next step. The singer struggles with this very fact: "I think that maybe I should just get up and drive away," he says at one point, lamenting the fact that he's getting colder than he expected to, sitting out on the front porch waiting for his date to come out of the party. Even a song on this record that is written in the context of an extant relationship is still a song about being alone in the end. What's more, the fact of a relationship existing that obviously will not exist soon makes it even more depressing than the songs that are purely about loneliness. You almost want the singer to get up off the steps and drive away in his warm car, just so he can assert some control over his own life. But you know he won't... because when that sort of thing happened to you, you never did either.
I'm at the end of what I had to say about this album, and I'm tired enough to go to bed. That worked out well. I had a decent day today, too. I can't help but feel, though, that the depression will be back. I hope I don't fall into the patterns that these songs discuss, but the potential is always there.
Armor For Sleep - "Dream To Make Believe" and "Frost And Front Steps"