The Icicles
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The Icicles

Grand Rapids, Michigan, United States | INDIE

Grand Rapids, Michigan, United States | INDIE
Band Pop Alternative


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"The Icicles - A Hundred Patterns"

Pop Music Vs. Its Own Inherent Transitory Nature

It’s very easy to dismiss pure pop music, the kind of music that doesn’t convert sinners into saints, reshape one’s definition of life and love, or make one more aware of the terrors and joys of modern life. Pop music, at its simplest, merely makes you want to bop your head, perhaps sing along or hum on your way to work. In rare cases, say ABBA or the New Pornographers, an artist can create pure pop music that contains hidden complexity or reveals unexpected emotional nuances on repeated listens. Usually, the simple pop song is created by an artist skilled at finding the most pleasurable combination of hooks, verses, and various musical flourishes. It is by no means effortless work, a good pop song can take as much energy (or even more) as “serious music”, but pop musicians, for the most part, are taken for granted.

The problem, of course, is that it is difficult to stand out playing pop music, and it takes months and months for the quality pop songs to differentiate themselves from simply average pop songs. (It took a good three decades, for instance, for people to realize how good the Free Design was.) I find myself regretting reviewing a bubblegum pop band called the Porcupines, saying that the band’s leader was wasting his time. Now, months and months later, my brain has become a Porcupines jukebox, while I have entirely forgotten a dozen other similar bands’ material. Every half-successful pop band has plenty of catchy choruses and pretty melodies, but only time will show which of these bands has got what can only be called “the magic”. (And, yes, I tried to come up with a less corny way of calling that mysterious factor that makes the difference between good pop music and great pop music, but I failed.)

The Icicles might have it, “the magic” that is. The world of indie-pop, although seemingly filled with endless vistas, can be even more restrictive than the overall pop world. A Hundred Pattern‘s cover and inside booklet provides ample evidence of the band’s sound. A girl-led rock band, with token guy drummer, the Icicles are present themselves as model drawings in matching outfits. Clearly, they are not going to be covering Bikini Kill any time soon. The Icicles play organ-driven, sunshine pop, usually in mid-tempo, with plenty of time for shimmery guitars and “la la la’s”. The songs are about romance and gentle melancholy, and they usually wrap up before they hit the four-minute mark. The band, in fact, risks being labeled as the epitome of a generic indie-pop band.

The songs, however, have the potential to launch them out of the indie-pop ghetto, a landscape littered with the husks of countless acts who knew the art of the pop hook but nothing of true songwriting. On “I Wanna Know”, they find that right balance of sweetness and darkness that the Cucumbers discovered decades ago with a memorable chorus caught in a complete state of emotionally uncertainty: “Cause I want to know what goes on in your head / Are we headed for forever or is this already dead”. The Icicles find the same balance on the blissful “Happy Place”, positively the sunshiniest song about drinking to forget a bad day ever recorded. Nearly every song on the album has the potential to be a mix-tape hit.

I could not tell you what exactly makes the Icicles stand out amiss an endless number of indie pop acts. The combination of Gretchen DeVault’s sweet-and-sour lyrics and Joleen Rumsey’s refreshingly non-flashy organ playing might have something to do with why the Icicles might be onto a magic formula. Also, they know the secret to great pop music is in the little details, such as the way DeVault stretches the word “yeah” to 10 syllables on the chorus of the rousing closer “Sugar Sweet”.

I think that A Hundred Patterns should hold up as a grand example of the indie pop sound, but I cannot be sure. As good as I think A Hundred Patterns is, I have no clue whether it is distinctive enough to remain fondly in my memories for long. The Icicles like the natural phenomenon they name themselves after, may be shimmering and sharp, but they may also melt away to nothing before the winter’s over. DeVault’s own lyrics haunt me as I think about this album: “are we headed for forever or is this already dead”? - Pop Matters

"Music reviews"

In 2002 the Grand Rapids-based pop group The Icicles released a bouncy dose of pure energy called Pure Sugar. The EP was filled with sunny-hooks but also an iota of sadness to keep things somewhat grounded. Two years later, with a half-different lineup, The Icicles sound a lot more grounded in the pains and pressures of life, yet their heart is still in writing pretty sings you can sing in the shower to. Their full-length debut is titled A Hundred Patterns and contains nearly as many instantly memorable melodies. A lot of those hooks are given over to lyrics that at first might seem insubstantial - lyrics about crushes or playing in the snow or designing your own dresses. But all of these songs have real weight beneath the surface. You try to play in the snow to forget how cold life is, but still you can't: "The only thing I can think about is snow reflecting in your eyes." On "Pretty," vocalist/guitarist Gretchen DeVault sings, "I'm hoping to make a pretty dress/one that will make me feel the best/but I know that it's not real." 'Cute' will no doubt be the dominant description in most reviews for this matching-clothes-wearing, goofy-smile-having pop quartet. But there's a yearning in their hooks and harmonies - listen to "Porch Swing" or - that's serious. A Hundred Patterns isn't just about style, it's about the human heart, about everyday lives, everyday moments of joy and fear and hurt and anticipation. - dave heaton - Erasing Clouds

"Icicles - A Hundred Patterns"

For those of you who don't know, and I'm sure there are a bunch of you who don't, the Icicles are the early 21st century version of the Partridge Family. Except that they're not related (or pretend to be related) and they can play their instruments. No, if you see and hear them, you'll know what I mean. Just look at the paper doll caricatures of them on the cover of this album. They wear matching retro outfits and sing ultra-cute, innocently fun tweepop music. Yes, I've seen this band live and it's like going through a time warp to a time (perhaps only existing in fictional television nostalgia) when rock and roll was innocent and there weren't even any veiled, winking references to drugs or sex in the music. But just because this is the kind of band you can bring home to mother or have play in front of your girl scout troop, don't think they're lame. Unless you hate cuteness, because the Icicles are as cute as a roomful of kittens and as sugary sweet as the last time you stuffed yourself full of Halloween candy. Those who don't know how to hold their sugar will have trouble digesting the Icicles' sublime confections of guitar, bass, farfisa-ish keyboard, drums, and mostly female vocals.

This Michigan-based band has previously released one six-song EP, aptly named the Pure Sugar EP. With songs about lemonade and somersaults in the summertime, going on a date to the picture show, the joys of hair dye and the tribulation of being a wallflower in the corner waiting to dance, it was a tweepop fan's dream. It's an underrated classic, and if you don't already have it, I strongly recommend it. Since then, the Icicles have replaced their original bassist and drummer. However, core members Gretchen DeVault (lead vocals, guitar, most songwriting) and Joleen Rumsey (keyboards, vocals) still remain, and the Icicles still sound much like the same band they were on Pure Sugar. However, early reviews have said that the Icicles seem more "mature" on this release. While that does seem true, I'd say they've only matured just a little bit.

The height of maturity on A Hundred Patterns is a song called "Pretty". It's sung from the point of view of a girl insecure about her looks. "Pretty, pretty, pretty. Maybe if I were pretty, I would be happy," reasons the girl in the song. The girl goes on to compare herself to the unusually thin models presented in magazines, which perpetuate the unrealistic standards of beauty that cause girls to starve themselves to death, get plastic surgery, and not embrace their outward geekiness. I could go on and on about how sad it makes me to see female geeks deny themselves and succumb to the pressure to conform to the frivolous standards of beauty set by the patriarchy, but I won't. (Yes, girls, there are boys out there who'd choose a blatantly geeky girl over the starved, plastic-laden centerfold.) Anyway, the song ends with a great, sardonic twist: "Happy, happy, happy. Maybe if I were happy, pretty wouldn't matter." This issue is a great premise for a song, and I'm glad that the Icicles addressed it.

Besides that, all but three of the remaining ten songs on the album are love songs. One of the other non-love songs is the leadoff track, "Rock n' Roll Girl", a feminine variation on the yearning many young people have to leave their nowhere town and successful traverse the path of rock stardom. In this version of the rock and roll fantasy, the boys are throwing flowers at the prospective rock star's feet as she walks down the street. I can't help but wish this would really happen to Gretchen because you hardly ever see any female rock stars who don't come off as worthless and asinine.

Another non-love song is the Joleen Rumsey-penned (and sung) "Bat in the Kitchen", which is about exactly what the title says it is. The endearing thing about this song is that while the bat is seen as an annoyance, Joleen has nothing but goodwill for the bat. "We don't want to hurt you, we just want to get you outside. We don't want to hurt you. We just want to help you fly." An amazing amount of composure in a situation in which many others would scream, "Get the hell out of here, you goddamned flying mouse before I put a stake through your vampire heart!"

The remaining non-love song is "Happy Place", about being driven insane by stress--and it sounds like the singer is literally going insane. After articulating the craziness she's been going through, the song ends with the lines "I'm going to my happy place, where none of this will ever happen again." I don't think I've ever seen tweepop totally lose it like this. I should also mention that the way they play this song is very upbeat and danceable. If you don't pay attention to the lyrics, it sounds quite happy.

I said that the rest of the songs are love songs, but that statement makes them sound one-dimensional. Was 69 Love Songs one-dimensional? The sentiments are just as varied on here as they are on that classic album. There's "I Wanna Know", about a girl wondering about the future of her relationship, asking her boy "Will I be your forever girl or will you just replace me?" Then, there's "Ralphy Rodriguez", a song about a girl with a huge celebrity crush, seemingly bordering on psychosis when you consider lines like "I know you're the one for me, it came to me in a dream" and "Maybe you don't know me, but I feel it just the same. You were meant for me, and I know you'll feel the same way." "Snowman" is about a girl in the springtime reflecting on the fun she had playing in the snow with her love. There's also "Porch Swing", about the delicious trepidation one experiences when deciding whether or not to tell a prospective significant other how you feel about them.

But I still haven't told you about the best song on the album, which is the last song, "Sugar Sweet". Besides having one of the most infectious melodies ever (I'm not exaggerating here), giving it guaranteed earworm status, it's got one of the most interesting lyrical twists I've ever seen in a love song. The verses are all head-over-heels in love, with sentiments like "You make my heart pitter patter. This kind of loving makes nothing else matter." But things get interesting in the chorus. The chorus consists of one surprisingly catchy line: "Oooh, yeah. You're just about my everything." What stands out to me is that it says you're "just about" my everything. That implies that the lover to whom this is being sung is not the singer's everything, and while he's close to being her everything, she still has a small part of her life that's not taken up by him. You don't often hear happy love songs equivocate like that, ladies and gentlemen.

This CD is a great step in the progression of the Icicles' career. As you see from the descriptions above, the Icicles have managed to present an album of great balance between adolescent romance and sophisticated "adult" thought. If you were familiar with the Icicles before, I hope you've already gone off to order this CD before finishing this review. For everyone else, you definitely need this if excessive amounts of sugar don't make you puke. Play it for your girl scout troop!

--Eric Wolf

Aritst Website:
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- Mundane Sounds

"Ice Ice Baby! - The Icicles Interview"

“Songs For Warm Days And Cold Nights” ……Hailing from Grand Rapids, Michigan, U.S.A. The Icicles boast the sort of tunes that would surely touch the most dispassionate, unfeeling of souls with their sweet melodies and sublime vocals. It’s perfect pop to warm the cockles of your heart and have you tapping your foot with delight. Their debut album “A Hundred Patterns” released in 2005 was a huge critical success, which later led to Motorola, picking “Sugar Sweet” as the theme song to a worldwide ad campaign in November 2006. They have recently released their second album “Departures and Arrivals ” and “great Scott of The Antartic” it’s a corker of an album! Is it Indie?Is it Twee? Is it retro folk pop or grindcore two step Nu-gaze ?- Who cares !!! Throw these ridiculousily contrived genres out of the window and just enjoy the warm fuzzy glow that the music provides without any peconceptions. It’s as soothing as a summers breeze, as warming as a mulled wine on a frosty day. The Icicles provide a great big earful of happiness, which induces feelings of wanting to dance with the same care free abandon that only embarrassing inebriated mad uncles at family weddings can muster, conversely at other times you`ll be content just to sit in your favourite chair relaxing with a dopey, yet satisfied grin on your face. “Departures and Arrivals” is a lovely slice of pop, influences such as 60's girl groups,folk,even Blondie and Camera Obscura subtly reveal themselves but these are merely reference ponts and never overwhelm the listener. In a perfect world it’s how music should sound:- sweet, touching and from the heart…The Icicles have arrived so prepare to be swept up in their dreamy euphonious refrains….
VP: Where When and how, yes how did you all meet up?
Gretchen: Joleen and I went to college together and played music in our apartments when we were neighbors. The band originally started with Korrie Sue who was another college friend. We flyered for our original bass player and that was the beginning of the Icicles. Things changed up a bit and we were suddenly on the look out for a new bass player. Emily was a friend of ours who we met at various pop shows. She learned our songs and wowed us when she tried out for the band. Soon we were looking for a new drummer as well. Greg, too was a friend we know from the local music scene. After recording our first album together we loved having a Jeff Baron (from the Essex Green & Ladybug Transistor) as guest lead guitarist and thought it was time to find someone of our own to fill his shoes and approached Rebecca. We had all been aware of how great her guitar work was and after some hesitation about her possibly saying no, we finally sucked it up and asked if she would consider joining us. And it’s been dreamy ever since.
VP: For those who are new to the Icicles what can they expect?
Joleen: To smile, blush, toe tap, sway and may be even get up and dance.
Gretchen: Dreamy, melodic pop.
VP: What have been the highlights of your time together so far?
Joleen: Playing music for people is the biggest highlight. Travel is also a huge highlight and meeting so many nice people.
Gretchen: Having been featured on a Motorola/Vodaphone ad and a Target Ad (here in the US). Touring has also been absolutely amazing. We’re REALLY looking forward to the UK!
VP: Any lowlights?
Joleen: We have brought ice storms to the southern states and rain to the desert. We have a fear of weather. It must be our name!
VP: What were the first records you all bought?
Joleen: Olivia Newton John “Lets Get Physical”, Footloose sound track, Michael Jackson Thriller!!! and Madonna “Like a Virgin.”
Gretchen: Michael Jackson Thriller, The Human League
Emily: REM “Out of Time” and Lisa Lisa and the Cult Jam (not necessarily proud of that one)
VP: Any bands in The UK that appeal to you all at the moment?
Joleen: M.I.A. and The Go Team
Emily: Currently: The Loves, Alberfeldy and Darren Hayman. Longer time fan of Belle & Sebastian, Camera Obscura and the Pastels
VP: In the UK we are awash with reality TV and Pop Idol type shows, is this the same in the US? What do you make of this “American Idol” malarkey?
Gretchen: It’s non-stop here! We’ve got American Idol, American Band, Making of the Band, America’s Most Talented and the list goes on and on! I don’t really dig these shows.
VP: Social networking. Myspace, face book etc, a great way of getting heard, or eroding the very fabric of society

Gretchen: I think it’s a great way to connect with people and a great way of getting heard indeed. I think that for bands they are a great resource!
VP: Who are your Heroes musical and also non musical ?
Gretchen: My heroes include Mister Rogers, Pippy Longstocking, Ani DiFranco, Julie Andrews
Emily: Musically mine include Paul McCartney, Morrissey and AC Newman, all fantastic songwriters!
VP : You plan to come to the UK soon, where you can sample the delights of rain, flooding on a biblical scale, anti social behaviour and of course Tea and scones… Any news?
Emily: We will be starting our tour out in Sweden and Denmark and then heading to the UK for the second week. As of right now we have shows booked in London, Birmingham, Pontefract and the West Midlands for the Indietracks show. We still have a couple open days that we might fill, but if we don’t it just gives us more time to try to dodge the rain as we enjoy tea on our days off! We’ve all vacationed in the UK before, but the band has never toured or traveled there all together, we’re very excited and counting down the days.
VP: Where on earth did you get those lovely Uniforms for your promo photos?
Gretchen: We made them! Joleen is the head seamstress in our group. She is amazing! (Check out her Web site: She spoiled us with the fantastic flight attendent costumes for our cd release party jackets hats and all!
Joleen: Matching outfits are part of living the dream so there is a lot of sewing going on and every one does their part.
VP: Sum yourselves up in five words
Joleen: Melodic, shy, colorful, pandemonium, cool

Gretchen: passionate, crazy, leo - The Von Pip Musical Express

"The Icicles: Feel the Happy"

Please see PDF... - GVSU Alumni Magazine

"The Icicles"

The Icicles come highly recommended for anyone who is a fan of bands like The Eames Era. This is some of the best girly powerpop I've heard in a long time... no offense to the one dude in the band. - 5 Acts

"Music review: The Icicles - Arrivals and Departures"

The logline on The Icicles is that they take the sound of 60s girl groups, but incorporate into it a more modern world view and life experience that wasn’t present in those older songs. There’s certainly a heavy 60s influence here, but not in the same way as the exuberant pop of a band like The Pipettes. Instead this is more like the laid back retro pop of a band like Belle and Sebastian.
This isn’t a record that immediately jumps out at you. The songs are generally laid back, sunny pop numbers that rely on vocal harmonizing and smooth guitar and drums. It’s very easy to listen to, sometimes a bit too much. On the early listens, the album just kind of passed by without ever jumping out and demanding my attention. But, as I listened a few more times, the melodies clarified themselves and I got caught up in a series of catchy, fun songs.
“La Ti Da” is one of the best songs on here, a lilting, beautiful pop song that contrasts a substantial main vocal with whispered harmonizing. It’s a perfect catchy retro pop song. “Regret” sounds a lot like Belle and Sebastian, particularly the organ that opens the song. They have that same almost precious sonic world in the songs. “Snowbird” uses the same organ for another solid song.
The major issue with the album is that the songs are a bit samey. Even though they distinguish themselves more with each listen, most really great songs instantly hook you. Some records do require time to distinguish themselves, but that’s a sign that the album is perhaps lacking variety and artistic ambition.
Although I’ve compared this band to Belle and Sebastian numerous times here, what makes B&S so special is the wide variety of songs. On their latest album, The Life Pursuit, they bounced from the sort of lilting pop songs we’ve got here to 70s style funk to straight up rock. Now, I suppose The Icicles have to establish their sound before they can vary it, but there’s no real indication that they have the potential to do much more than they do here.
But, do they need to? Probably not. If you want pastoral pop songs in a 60s style, this is your band. The vocal harmonizing is gorgeous and the instruments don’t get in the way of that. It’s a laid back, relaxing album, perfect for summer.

Read more: - Blog Critics

"The Word Nerdy"

Sometimes, but not too often, the circuit driven grind of umpteen electronic dance tracks just plain wears me out. Not just the music itself with its relentless grooves and pounding drums, but also the culture that goes with it. You get tired of the endless cataloging of obscure tracks and affirmations of, “only one hundred pressed in a tool shed in Outer Mongolia, but it was reviewed in XLR8R last week and you gotta get it ‘cos Dieter Schnubenhausen is playing it with other minimal tracks. I heard it on a podcast from Frankfurt over the weekend.” Blah, blah, blah. The word “nerdy’ comes to mind for sure, but then you add the endless party politics that go with it, and you just want to take some time out to listen to an album like Arrivals and Departures by The Icicles.

Just by looking at the cover, and taking in the band and album name, you can sense that this is going to an infectious dollop of sugary and perfect indie pop. Well, that’s exactly what this album is. The Icicles are a four girl, one boy, band from Grand Rapids, Michigan. Arrival and Departures is their second album. Their first, A Hundred Patterns, wowed listeners and some ad execs at Motorola, who used the single, “Sugar Sweet,” in a national campaign. So they have gained the approval of the man, but when you hear the first track on this album you’ll be nodding in approval too. In fact you won’t be nodding, you’ll be shaking your heading vigorously as “Crazy” floats in on a wave of jangly guitar, girly vocals, little touches of keyboard, a bouncy, snakey bass line and vocals about having a big, silly, stupefying and nerve wracking crush. What better way to kick off an album?

The Icicles sound like they are channeling the spirits of Camera Obscura, early Go Gos, the Undertones, Shangri-Las and Buzzcocks all at once. Just when you’ve gotten over the sugar rush in overdrive of the first song, the band double whammy you with “La Ti Da,” with its devastatingly hooky chorus of “And I say la ti da ti da ah ha, and I say la ti da ah ha…” Track three, “Regret” rolls in on a bouncy bassline, skittering drums and washes of sixties inflected keyboards. After that, “Gedge’s Song,” turns down the tempo and intensity but is no less impressive with its mellow, shuffling guitar driven groove, lyrics about getting out to play in the neighborhood and lines like “Just can’t wait to go out and make friends with the other little creatures around the bend. See how well-behaved I am when I’m out in the neighborhood with my friends.” Cute, but not cutesy, this is the Icicles in a nutshell.

And if songs about chasing fireflies, being out in nature, hanging out with your best friends and having mad crushes appeals to the inner teenager in you, well the rest of this album may be the sonic poultice to bring all that out of your cynical, skeptical older self. They even have a song called “Snowbird,” and it bears no resemblance to the namesake by Anne Murray, but is infectious, and perfect. That’s pretty much all I can say about this giddy and addictive eleven track opus, except that it’s on a label called Microindie and is out on April 10th, just in time for early spring, which is when an album of this ilk should be released. Get out and get it for warm days, so you can soundtrack your daydreams.

Again I’m out. And some buddies and I are starting a new club night at the Cellar on Sutter and Taylor. The party is called “Oui,” and will be happening on first and third Wednesdays of the month. We’ll be playing whatever we want and rocking the party with it. Come through to our first night March 7th, if you like dancing hard to really good records from a gang of genres.

Orr,+The - Nitewise


2007 - The Icicles - Arrivals & Departures (features "La Ti Da" as heard in Target commercial)

2005 - The Icicles - A Hundred Patterns (features "Sugar Sweet" as heard in Motorolla KRZR commercial)

2001 - Pure Sugar EP



Perhaps it’s just a hellacious sugar hangover.

As the Icicles put the finishing touches on their new Renegade Parade project, it seems that these cheery retro-futurist popsters are feeling a little less cheerful. “I begin to feel numb,” sings lead singer Gretchen DeVault on the claustrophobic new song “Numb.” “I am no longer young.”

That’s quite a change in tone from the singer who just six years ago sang “I’m going to be greater than you thought I could be — and you won’t believe it is me.” It took buckets of chutzpa to sing those words, and the confidence paid off, because much of that song became reality with critical acclaim, international touring and big ad deals.

But if 2004’s “Rock and Roll Girl” turned out to be prophetic, the songs on Renegade Parade examine the consequences of having all your dreams come true. The Icicles have learned firsthand that success doesn’t offer answers, only more questions and that even rocker girls (and guys) aren’t immune from pressure and self-doubt.

Hailing from Grand Rapids, Mich., the Icicles are fronted by singer/songwriter/guitarist/keyboardist Gretchen and her longtime musical partner, the ethereal keyboard alchemist Joleen Rumsey. Lead guitarist Rebecca Rodiguez, who joined for 2007’s Arrivals and Departures, offers an increasingly emphatic reverb-drenched counterpoint to Joleen’s spaced-out sounds. The band is joined on Renegade Parade by a new rhythm section — Zane DeVault and Aaron Ekins (making it a family affair — Zane is Gretchen’s hubby and Aaron is her brother-in-law).

With the new lineup solidified, the Icicles have embarked on a period of breakneck creativity, with several dozen songs written and ready to record. Rather than a single album, Renegade Parade is a series of short EPs, reflecting band’s desire to record and release new material as quickly as it can, retaining the fierce DIY ethic that has become as much a part of the Icicles gestalt as the handmade matching outfits.

And even with the higher mope factor, the Icicles have not abandoned the spoonful of sugar approach to the bad things in life. Even as the music turns darker and examines more adult themes, the sounds have become more lush and beautiful, at that knife edge where beauty and sadness are joined. The band sounds less self-consciously retro and more au courant.

The Icicles were founded by college pals Gretchen and Joleen Rumsey (along with original drummer Korrie Ottenwess) in 1999. Following 2001’s Pure Sugar EP, bassist Emily Krueger joined the group. By the time of 2004’s A Hundred Patterns, founding drummer Ottenwess put away her vintage Rogers drum kit and was replaced by Greg Krupp. That album’s big single “Sugar Sweet” was picked up by Motorola in an international cell phone commercial. That was the Icicles’ first flirtation with the big time.

Next up was 2007’s Arrivals and Departures, which features “La Ti Da” — a tenacious earworm that was used by Target in the mega- retailer’s “Feel the Happy” campaign.

As the Icicles close out their first decade of existence, the group remains a vital creative force. “Just need a space, a place where I can clear my head,” Gretchen sings on “Would You Know,” another of the first Renegade Parade songs that will be released. As the heebie jeebies of adulthood creep up, that space of clarity is still found most easily inside the music.

Tempus Fugit. Time Flies.

Ars longa, vita brevis. Art is long but life is short.