Six-String Sentinels

The weather today is a soft embodiment of melancholia, light diffusing through dove grey clouds–the kind of cloud you’d want to drape around your shoulders. The sky looks like a whisper. It’s nice to feel cold again.

There are really only a few options when it comes to giving this sort of day a soundtrack. The lethargic wind implores you to make it gentle, while the sky’s white glow holds you back from pure gloom. Brief spatters of rain and the anticipation of more cultivate contemplation. There are four men who stand up to these demands, seamlessly compatible despite their individuality.

i. Jens Lekman

Jens Lekman has an incredible talent for contrast, writing insightful, witty, and irreverent lyrics backed up by instrumentals that wouldn’t raise an eyebrow in the saccharine pop scene of the early 60s. A Gothenburg native, Lekman gets at unity, nuance, and self-effacing humor with his endearing accent. Though much of his music feels upbeat, he adeptly tugs at the wistfulness you store in your solar plexus. Unsurprisingly, that sense of loss is strongest on his 2012 breakup album, I Know What Love Isn’t. In his typical style, Lekman covers a broad range of tempos and genres. But this time, each track balances euphony with throbbing misery–even the groove of “Erica America” is tempered by his bitter verses.

Key tracks:

“I Want a Pair of Cowboy Boots”

“I Know What Love Isn’t”

“Every Little Hair Knows Your Name” 

ii. Sufjan Stevens

Each word Sufjan sings feels carefully placed and half-held-back. Remember those moments at summer camp when you should’ve been asleep but were exchanging childish pearls of wisdom instead? He sings like those memories, cautious, slow, and piercingly sincere. Stevens’ tracks range from full-on symphonies, featuring rich instrumentation and a formidable chorus of background singers, to bare acoustic guitar and banjo, the perfect landscape for his earnest, complex lyrics. Whatever part of him is responsible for his song titles is the part I want to hug

Key tracks:

“Carol of St. Benjamin the Bearded One”

“Casimir Pulaski Day”

“The Dress Looks Nice On You”

iii. Lyle Lovett

Another great patriarch of blues and country, Lyle Lovett is a master of making music in black, white, and grey. He’s got a left-field sense of humor, but is equally adept with dark, sentimental ballads. Sometimes, he even combines the two, making for results as shocking and uncomfortably charming as Johnny Cash’s “Delia’s Gone.”

Key tracks:

“LA County”

“Pontiac”

“Lungs”

iv. Iron & Wine

Samuel Beam’s rustic riffs are a flawless match for the archaic simplicity of his stage name. His songs can be strong and driving, but the force within them hearkens back to looming heathen gods. Any markers of modernity serve a greater purpose: creating a texture that feels nigh antediluvian. His whispered verses are plain, primal, and evocative, reminiscent of Tamora Pierce’s world of thief lords, mages, and lady knights. At the other end of the spectrum are his ballads, which sound like the gentle caress of leathery hands. His tracks are a tincture of fortitude, sensitivity, and well-worn teakwood. 

Key tracks:

“Woman King”

“Gray Stables”

“Flightless Bird, American Mouth”

Rain or shine, readers, enjoy your day.

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