Song of the Day #4,660: ‘That Year’ – Brandi Carlile

Following the success of The Story, Brandi Carlile was poised for breakout success, and her next album — 2009’s Give Up the Ghost — seemed like just the vehicle for it.

Produced by the legendary Rick Rubin, Give Up the Ghost serves up another batch of resonant folk pop, but sounds even better than her first two records. Carlile sounds looser and freer, and the songs are alternately sadder and more fun. She even duets with her idol, Elton John, on a song that sounds like an alt-country ‘Crocodile Rock.’

I’ve read numerous comparisons of Carlile to Radiohead, a connection I found a bit befuddling. But listening to this album, I hear it. There is a sense of yearning and ache to some of these songs that Thom Yorke has mined in very different form.

Who but Carlile can dash off that kind of existential melancholy, then follow it up with the Elton John rocker, throw in some proto-Roy Orbison, and add a dash of Indigo Girls for good measure? Most impressive, it all sounds completely organic, as if she’s synthesized all of these influences into something entirely her own.

Unfortunately, this wasn’t the record to make Carlile a household name. She’d have to wait nearly a decade for anything close to that kind of recognition.

‘That Year’ is a standout track on Give Up the Ghost. It’s a poignant apology to a friend who committed suicide when Carlile was in high school.

I must have been sleeping
I must have been drinking
I haven’t been dreaming about you for years
There was a sharp turn and a sunburn
I was too cool for high school that year

It must have been New Years
No one invited you
You took things too far
But I missed you
And your antics
You were lonesome
And blue eyed
And so special to us

You should have taken a long break
Instead of a long drop from a high place
Ten years I never spoke your name
Now it feels good to say it
You’re my friend again

He said he forgave you
I said I hated you
He was the bigger man
I was sixteen
All the innocence
It took for
You to finally make your year book
That year
That year

You could have taken some time away
Instead of a long drop
Instead of a leap of faith
Ten years I never spoke your name
Now it feels good to say that
You’re my friend again
You’re my friend again

I was angry
I was a Baptist
I was a daughter
I was wrong

6 thoughts on “Song of the Day #4,660: ‘That Year’ – Brandi Carlile

  1. Dana Gallup says:

    I’m intrigued to hear the rest of this album given the diversity in style, particularly the Elton John duet.

  2. Amy says:

    Damn, this song is intense. Who is the he who forgave him? Just read about Pastor Tim as I was investigating… this deep dive is just going to keep getting more and more interesting, isn’t it?!

    • Clay says:

      I think maybe “he” is her father, based on the daughter reference at the end?

      • Amy says:

        Hmmm… and was her father religious? Feels as if the forgiveness might come from a spiritual place. Also odd that I assumed the friend was a boy. I guess you know she was a girl?

        • Clay says:

          I meant Brandi’s dad, not the friend’s. I also assumed the friend was a boy for some reason, though I don’t know for sure. I did just get Carlile memoir from Amazon, so I’ll probably find out!

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