In between the tracks on a CD, there is always a pause, a beat, a breath, a lulling moment of silence. For one song to end and another to begin, for there to be definitive lines between them, there must be a moment without sound, a moment that does not belong to either song. And even if that beat of silence lasts only a few seconds or less, it is still accompanied by a sort of itching anticipation for what comes next or a pang of nostalgia for what has just finished. Often there is both. But with a CD, time and tracks can be manipulated—you can skip back to hear a song you’ve already listened to again, you can skip forward on the track list, skip songs you don’t want to listen to, skip the moment of silence.
In life you cannot. There are no remote control buttons that allow you to play things over again, except in the shadowy, echo-like form of memory, no buttons that skip the seconds of pause in between chunks of your life or the parts you don’t feel like living. Each beat, each moment of transition must be weathered and waited out until the strains of the next song begin to sound.
Graduation was one of those strange songs building to such a frenzied tempo and cacophony of different noises that the silence that followed seemed abrupt and deafening. We knew the song was coming to an end when the beat started to intensify, when all the instruments started to grow louder and louder and meld together, but we lost ourselves a little in the crescendo. When the song finally ended, not fading out quietly or repeating a line from the first verse but rather coming to a complete and definitive halt, it seemed almost a surprise that it was really, actually over. Wasn’t there another verse? Wasn’t there another repetition of the chorus? Wasn’t there something? And where was the skip button, to go back to the beginning and listen again? We had been handed our diplomas, we had thrown our caps, we had returned our rented gowns. Somewhere in between humming the tune out loud, between drumming our fingers to the beat, between involuntarily bopping our heads back and forth, the song had irrevocably, ultimately come to a close.
Some songs, like the Intro on M83’s latest album Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, have built in seconds of silence at the end of them, a period of limbo that still belongs to the song that has just finished, but that contains none of the lyrics or melodies that made the song what it was. For a few days after graduation, I continued to live in the house I had lived in since last September, the house that had been the backbone of senior year. The orchestra of my roommates left one by one, taking their talents off to be shared with other artists, other CD’s, other songs. But I floated strangely in those seconds of silence at the end of the track, still feeling held within something that would never be again, that was already over, that I could never get back. Moving out signified the official end, the definitive closure, the moment where the time count turns from 5:23 back to 0:00.
On Coldplay’s recent album Mylo Xyloto, they have engineered and arranged the tracks so that they bleed into each other nearly seamlessly, so that the seconds of silence do not feel quite as pronounced or uncomfortable. What they have done instead is include shorter transition songs, lasting less than a minute that have no words and can easily be confused with the beginning of the song that follows them. The title track “Mylo Xyloto” blends easily into “Hurts Like Heaven,” “M.M.I.X.” flows seamlessly into “Every Teardrop Is A Waterfall,” and “A Hopeful Transmission” builds into “Don’t Let It Break Your Heart.” Notably, the album is divided into a set of “power” songs, the ones that seem to define the album, linked together by these smaller, understated transition songs that lead into them. “Hurts Like Heaven,” “Don’t Let It Break Your Heart,” and the first single “Every Teardrop Is A Waterfall” are joined by “Charlie Brown” and the second single “Paradise” as the highlights or main events of the disc. The transition songs seem to exist mainly to serve the more significant, longer songs that they precede, with few memorable chords or beats of their own.
For many of my classmates and me, this summer is our “M.M.I.X.”, is our “Hopeful Transmission,” a few seconds of wordless noise that link our more important power songs, the ones that characterize what the entire album is about. “A Hopeful Transmission” begins quietly, slowly building in the first thirty-one seconds in a sort of ethereal, nebulous melody until in the last two seconds of the song you can discern the distinct strains of “Don’t Let It Break Your Heart.” The transition song we currently reside in is already colored with hints of what is to come, is swiftly and unmistakably leading us toward the upcoming melody, the next track, even if we don’t realize it until we get there.
And so as we exist in this moment of limbo, perhaps longing for the rhythmic security and comfort of a repeated chorus, of a steady melody, we must recognize that even though this may be a moment in between important songs, we could not get from one to the other without some sort of transition—without some beat of silence, without some moment of quiet instrumentals that allow us to cross over from the song whose echo is still ringing in our ears to the song that we can feel coming but whose sound hasn’t yet hit the air.