Rishloo is a band from Seattle, USA, about which you may not find much information online, other than what's available on their website or their Facebook page. Since I started listening to them, thanks to a friend, I haven't been able to stop, and I think it's terrible that they attract relatively little attention, especially taking into account how wonderful their albums are. Originally this post was going to be called "How does Rishloo make a song?", but after thinking about it for a bit, I realized that the songs in their albums don't work like individual parts, but rather as a whole. So, how does Rishloo make an album? Let's analyze it first.
For the sake of this post we will use the Feathergun album, published independently back in 2009.
This is the tracklist:
- Scissorlips (5:49)
- Turning sheep into goats (3:54)
- Systematomatic (3:42)
- River of Glass (4:55)
- Keyhole in the Sky (5:14)
- Downhill (8:13)
- Feathergun in the garden of the sun (5:18)
- Dreamcatcher (0:54)
- Diamond Eyes (6:26)
- Katsuhika (5:00)
- Weevil Bride (8:51)
I recommend you listen to it on Spotify before you keep reading. You can even listen to it as you read. Are you ready? (Also available on Youtube).
Scissorlips begins with dark and ambiguous tones, with a desperate exclamation "Where are you!? I am lost upon this boulevard..". Lyrics focus on an individual, "Scissorlips", a person who might as well be the narrator referring to himself in third person. However, the narrator is also the person who is lost and confused, and this can lead us to assume that the person singing is dealing with an identity crisis: He's lost, with no idea of how to deal with it, and so he creates another version of himself, someone that can deal with the situation. Scissorlips deals with being lost by reasoning that "All we are is all we are, transcendental animals", and determines that what has brought him to this identity crisis is the way in which we have lost sight of love, more specifically, the way in which he has lost sight of it, and how the "love" we pretend to feel leads us to do things that are contrary to what we love:
For the love of loss, we find;
For the love of joy, we cry;
For the love of growth, we sever;
For the love of now, we never;
For the love of peace, we kill;
For the love of wealth, we steal;
For the love of difference, confine;
For the love of unity, divide;
For the love of love, we hate.
It's here that the desperation in the music and the voice changes, and is replaced with a calmer tone. The guitar strums and the drums calm down, and the voice is less aggressive. Once Scissorlips realizes what he said in the last verse, he asks "Who wouldn't want to disappear [knowing this]?". He decides that he wont let these contradictions tear him apart, and he assures us and himself that this is only the beginning, the roots of the change that he has to embrace in order to grow.
Turning sheep into goats begins with a lighter tune than the last song. After fulfilling it's reasoning role to find a way out, Scissorlips disappears. On one side the main character is reassuring himself as a person, beginning to learn from his mistakes to be able to grow, and so that all he wants to be will fit within himself (And may every seed you sow stretch out your mortal skin, so you dreams can grow to know the web you weave within) and he gives foot to a healing process. But a second voice, a very severe guilt feeling, torments him for trying to be a better person before paying attention to the rest of the world An insecurity? Do we really need to function as individuals before we can function as a society? The narrator tries to maintain himself curious, learn from everything, understand, to make a better version of himself. And maybe later he can focus on the rest of the world. But the other voice is persistent. Contrary to the happy beginning of the song, the "violent" tunes close it, until they disappear and the melody, somewhat calmer but still inquisitive, let's the next song in.
In Systematomatic we see the main character dwell again in depression. To avoid these thoughts that make him suffer and lead him to self-destruction, he decides to tie himself to positive thoughts. A stronger reasoning voice, more violent and pessimistic than Scissorlips, appears: the whole world is full of treason, deceit. Nothing you say has any meaning, all is illusion, we are all marionettes following a specific road until we die. Our individualistic wishes make our future as human race break and fall in thousands of shards to the ground. We have to untie ourselves (from our individuality) and go back to being "one".
River of glass gives us back a main character who has accepted the declarations made in the past song. He knows everything is a lie, that nobody is truly happy, and he decides that if the best thing he can do is shower in a "River of Glass", he will do it. He has ended up accepting a god proposed by other people with the goal of entering society again; a capitalistic god that only cares about money. The optimistic side of himself, the one who wants to find his purpose as a person, is still there, and it laments this conversion. This song is the main character trying to accept both ideas: yes, it is important to belong to society, but I also cannot have doubts about my individuality. For this he once more leaves his own head, and decides to see the world from the outside. he sees it getting smaller, fear and love colliding. Should I dedicate my life to finding myself? Or to make the society I live in better? He concludes that everyone of us will die alone, and that he was naïve in trying to find something better, either for him or for the world. And at the same time he fells guilty: this is his lowest point.
Keyhole in the sky is perhaps the middle point of the album. The main character is still trying to find an answer, something that tells him what road to follow. He is not optimistic nor pessimistic anymore, he just wants to keep going and understand. He sees "a keyhole in the sky", a possibility, a thought that may save him. He asks to have the strings that tie his head removed, because they wont let him think, And in this despair I’m finally aware that I am not one to learn so fast. He knows that if he couldonly understand things, he would be able to help himself and others. In what is, in my opinion, the most emotional moment of the album, he sees through the keyhole and has an epiphany:
We, like marionettes off our strings
Fling limbs at our passions and hope to connect with impossible dreams.
It’s holding on when nothing feels right
It’s the final, identical, severed umbilical breath from a tightening chest as we’re holding on.
He asks for the last time to have the strings that tie his head removed, and now he understands.
In Downhill our character has decided to go on an introspective journey, and he says goodbye to us. The part of him that knows he has to understand himself before he can help others has won. In his trip he talks about that violent voice that harassed him during his depression, and to who he now refers to as "the Systematomatic", and he says that that voice thinks that the answers are just floating around, waiting to be taken. He reminds himself that if he listens to it, everything he has achieved will be for naught. And the Systematomatic enters again: it doesn't matter what you think, it's all downhill from here.
But the main character is in a self-discovery trip that not even the Systematomatic can stop. He learns that he is just a "figment of reality", and that in his depressions he is just lost "inside a memory". He determines that the road to salvation, both for him and for everyone else, is everyone's understanding of everyone (the pattern picks the pockets of the palindrome back to front the loss remains the same, and it beckons to the East to give the West its eyes while the oscillating rhythm marks its bones. To the young it gives a vision of the dead and gone while the old receive a passion to survive).
Feathergun in the garden of the sun is the moment in which our character reches total understanding, some sort of omniscience. Here he "sees it all", and he tries to explain to the rest of us waht he sees, but they don't understand him. They haven't gone through the same introspection and the same study of the world that he has gone through, and they simply do not understand. But he still sees and hears, and that upsets him.
Dreamcatcher is an instrumental piece. I like to think that this is when the main character thinks about what to do with what he knows and sees and hears.
Diamond eyes is the attempt the main character makes to reason with his fellow humans. "We are not machines, programmed, we are so much more". We don't have to fullfill a single destiny or walk a road following social or religious laws, or the people who write them. Once we understand this we can stop being afraid, and that's when we will change the world. "We are not machines, despite what they've told us". We are one, we have beenone for a long time. The songs ends telling us to connect to the light, and that way we will know that nothing is ever complete. He knows.
Katsuhika is still about the main character appealing to everyone else. He realizes now that he can only do little to make everyone else's situation better. Only by showing them what he knows can he make a change, but the rest depends on them. He tells them to go ahead and really look around:
Let’s go, have you stepped to the edge,
Stared into the sea from the foot of your bed?
Have you woke in a dream to sleep through the meaning and mean everything you said?
You will be satisfied as well.
And seeing how not everyone understands, he says one day they will, and that we will find the place in which we will have achieved our best as individuals and as a society:
Just below the waterline I see.
Just below the waterline I lay.
Below the surface I believe there is a place of love and wonder,
Where all we are and dare to be is fearlessly discovered.
Wrapped within the motion of the unrelenting struggle
Oh this sinking feeling seeing everything in double.
He ends the song by saying that we are all beautiful monsters. We are monsters until we accept the imperfection, the beauty that lives within us. It's worth mentioning that the song references Katsuhika Hokusai, a Nichiren Buddhist artist from around 200 years ago, famous for creating the "Great wave off Kanagawa" stamp.
The album ends with Weevil bride. I'm not sure, but it seems to me as some kind of epilogue. To me, they use the Weevil Bride as some sort of analogy for "hope" (why? I don't know). Life is a journey, a journey in which you sail, and when you reach the next shore you are gone, dead. The main character accepts people wont change just cos he says they should, as "their" influence is too strong, "giving us guns to defend ourselves in exchange for our silence". He asks to be returned to the sun, to the understanding, and meanwhile he asks himself how many times he'll have to repeat that we are all one, all descended from a single string.
It's a complicated theme. It goes from self discovery to the desire to change and help society, to teach it how to move on; then it goes on to depression and insecurities and to the understanding of our place in the universe. Rishloo manages to connect all these dots by using analogies and word games, not really rhyming, and trying to tell a story from them (at least that's my interpretation). The lyrics are a huge important part of the album, mainly 'cos it's a narration, and they use specific elements a number of times in all songs. For example: strings or the weaving of them is always present. Everything is connected, and the string that can help us connect with other people can also isolate us or tie us to an opinion or a situation. Then there's the characters: the main one, multifaceted prophet who discovers through other versions of himself a way of looking at the world, at the rest of the people and at himself in order to better ourselves as individuals and as a society; and the rest of the world, that decides to either listen to him or not.
Rishloo creates a story based on the constant insecurities any person has, and based on the search to stand out and/or to help the rest of the people to. After that they build a musical narrative that leans heavily on the voice of the lead singer, the lyrics and the band interaction. I have seen many persons trying to guess what the songs in this cd mean, individually, but I think that's the wrong focus. I think we should see it as a whole, in order to understand the context (especially since they make up phrases such as imprelious telusion, that not even they can tell ehat it means). I don't think is possible to enjoy the songs of this album separately. All of them work together and were born from a same intention: to tell the story.
… which is interestingly the lesson that the story itself wants to teach us: we have to transcend as individuals to help our society. Each and every one of the songs in this cd are exactly how they need to be in order to breathe life to the story. Brilliantly written and brilliantly executed.
Of course there is the possibility that I am seeing more than there is to see. But come on, you wont deny once that you read the lyrics that my interpretation makes sense.