Set, Setting, Tuneage: Maya Elise & The Good Dream: Songs for the Breakdown

Set, Setting, Tuneage seeks to share the experience of listening to music in our lives rather than the thinking of music in our minds.

There’s a heaviness in the air. Some of it’s the smoke from far off fires that’s depressed any hope in the sky, turning it into an opaque ash. There’s also the sea change that feels imminent in my life though I don’t know where the tides will take me. Things feel harder, burdensome and uncertain — though there is still color in the day-to-day — and I’m trying to figure out how I got here and where my best chances are for the future. Not mine anymore, actually. Our’s. Our best chances for the future. 

I don’t think I’m headed for a breakdown — more a heavy planning period — but I’m certainly looking for the comfort of a soft voice and a kind turn of words as I drive off into the quick relief of Clearwater Creek. Songs for the Breakdown by Oakland’s Maya Elise & The Good Dream would be my sonic balm. 

Album Art: Matt Goff

Clearkwater Creeks runs through a low-lying canyon that connects Golden, CO to I-70. It is normally a heavily-trafficked thoroughfare of weekend warriors that line the banks for miles, but I’ve come on a weekday. I park in an empty parking lot and walk onto a concrete path that is still under construction. The peak flow of the spring and the wild romance of the rapids has dwindled to a steady and utilitarian current that reveals gullies of round river rock. Life’s levels are low. 

I press play. Timeless harmonies sweetly bloom from the speakers, warming my soul. I breathe deeply and find resonance in the daytime lullaby of “New Day,” an acapella prologue whose prettiness stems from Elise’s vulnerable melody. I feel calm and ready for some time alone with this music.  I’m slowly pulled into the lacey tenderness of “Black Walnut” as the singer muses on the tiny details of change and evolution. The concrete path under my feet is only the latest way people have been trying to build and maintain trails and passageways through this canyon along this creek, from hunters and gathers thousands of years ago to miners hundreds of years ago to white-collar whitewater rafters today. Construction of a foot bridge extends over the water and I wonder about all the change that this river has seen, even as it’s been relatively constant. 

Elise’s sound is a soft, bright companion of empathetic lyrics and inviting acoustic sojourns that put me at ease on my walk. She never seems to push her sound on you as much as she hopes you’ll want to join in. That’s certainly true of “Side of the Road,” an ode to the adventures out on the road of life we’d never thought we’d take. I wish I could be in the car with Elise and The Good Dream to sing the chorus “My car is full of people that I picked up on the side of the road.” It’s an instant hook and an instant inspiration to go find something new on the horizon. 

As I’m humming along, I find this amazing eddy that has pooled itself underneath a tree. As I walk down the rocks to the water the dirty cow-funk blues of “Eddy” bops into my ears. I smile as I think of the casual, lustful companions I’ve encountered before and the way’s we’ve “spin around that old river bed.” It’s an erotic energy that might be cackling back to life in this world, but with recent Covid surges, I must admit the playfulness of the song can’t be fully realized for now. But we each have our own “Eddy’s” we can go back to when we need. 

The water is a soft green, echoing the neutral undertones of the grayed ski and dark granite of the canyon. It’s so enticing yet so seemingly sullen and cold. I let the water rush over my feet as a cover of John Prine’s “Paradise” flows through me. Elise has tweaked the melody slightly and added a soft pitter-patter of percussion that mimics the bumps and rapids in the river. Elise and the band’s harmonies again are so charming and beautiful and I’m moved in the moment to recognize the paradise that I am now in. Roads and tunnels and people have filled this canyon to the point where it no longer feels wild, though the river still is gushing with excitement and life. I take the time to dip into the river and let it flow around me, to experience this wonderful product of nature before “Mr. Peabody’s coal train done take it away.” 

I emerge rejuvenated and fresh. “Count On Me Too” slowly spindles out the speakers as Elise plucks out a melody on electric guitar with subtle grace. It’s quiet and poignant as she laments on the dissolution of a relationship, one she doesn’t seem as eager to leave and one that has left her feeling more vulnerable than ever. From that vulnerability she draws strength and the quietness is filled in with grand vista-like haromines and a roar of drums, violin and voices swirl together as a whirling dervish of reflection. Quite an emotional and musical ride that flirts with the power of The Lumineers or The Head and the Heart. 

The group reminds me that “everything’s still in motion” on “Everything in Motion” and that the anxieties I feel for this time and place in my life will not always be. Where now I might be tying down the lines to brave the rapids, I’ll soon flow into the calm and be able to relax in the beauty.

I’ve returned to my car and I pull away from my little slice of paradise back in the arteries of humanity. The sky is still gray and the day is still heavy. But Maya Elise & The Good Dream have lifted some of that burden from my shoulders. Not because they’ve inherently changed anything about the day, but like a good friend, they’ve added emotional support and encouraged me to change my perspective with a loving push and a smile. 

Photo Credit: Giant Eye

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