Lately, everything’s been feeling a bit like a landslide. It gradually starts with just a bit of instability, picks up speed when it finds like-minded volatile objects, and suddenly, with the solidarity of a thousand moving parts all determined to fall, it comes crashing down. Sometimes I can’t tell if I am one of the precariously motivated objects, or if I’m the wee little human hanging out at the bottom. Either or, the song “Landslide” by Fleetwood Mac usually captures the essence of that moment just before, almost as if you could freeze time to see the fall before it happens.
I’ve been listening to it a lot, which is usually never a good sign—seeking out a listen of “Landslide” generally means I want to cry all the tears out of my body—but recently I decided to share in this joy and give it a play on my radio show. (Shameless plug, listen to me Wednesdays from 1:00-2:00 p.m. on KXSU 102.1 FM!) I decided to follow it up with another super underrated band, Lower Dens, of Baltimore, Maryland. I was pleasantly surprised as one song melded into the next, in strikingly complementary voices.
The incredibly famous and incredibly heartwrenching “Landslide” was written by Stevie Nicks as one of the first original songs she wrote before joining the band Fleetwood Mac, along with “Rhiannon.” It was recorded in 1975 for their self-titled album.
The song itself was written in 1973 during one of Nicks’ visits to Aspen, Colorado in someone’s living room. “Looking out at the Rocky Mountains pondering the avalanche of everything that had come crashing down on us … at that moment, my life truly felt like a landslide in many ways.” She had been deliberating a big decision in her life: continuing with school, or continuing with music with her then boyfriend, guitarist Lindsey Buckingham. She had just released an album with him entitled Buckingham Nicks, yet they were not seeing eye to eye.
It begins with a sweet progression of fingerpicked chords that becomes instantly recognizable to listeners, held steady throughout the song and joined by a plethora of acoustic sounds that chime in along to Nicks’ voice. A voice that brings the emphasis behind the notes of the guitar right in front of your face. She speaks to you throughout, with both a sense of intimate confidentiality, like old friends who understand each other deeply.
“Can the child within my heart rise above? Can I handle the seasons of my life?”
“Well I’ve been afraid of changing cause I built my life around you.”
She never loses herself, in the carefully controlled nuances of her voice, and yet there is a part of her that seems distant, like a woman on the verge of change.
Lower Dens is the brainchild of lead singer Jana Hunter, who had performed as a solo artist under her own name for some time before she realized she found more pleasure in recording with a backing band. She is now joined by bassist Geoff Graham, drummer Nate Nelson, and guitarist Walker Teret, who together finished recording their third album, Escape from Evil, in March 2015.
“Ondine” opens with a gruff, low synth beat, followed by a shaky guitar that immediately deviates from the Fleetwood Mac track. It isn’t until Hunter herself begins to layer her straightforward, full voice that the comparison becomes clearer. “I think you’ll understand the way I feel can’t be helped,” she admits. It is a dejecting beginning to a song that describes the discouraged aftermath of a breakup. The chorus is the repeated line, “I will treat you better,” a lilting and crushing repetition of a soft nicety, with the awareness that it is spoken too late. Hunters ends with a howling, “Hold, hold on, oh my love,” in what can only be described as a landslide of emotions.
Nicks recalls her mindset as she pondered the topics in “Landslide.” “I had gotten to a point where it was like, ‘I’m not happy. I am tired. But I don’t know if we can do any better than this. If nobody likes this, then what are we going to do?’ So during that two months, I made a decision to continue. ‘Landslide’ was the decision.”
ADRIENNE HOHENSEE | I Will Treat Me Better | KXSU Music Reporter