It’s just not Fun anymore

Never fear, dear readers. It’s not what you think. I may be a little late posting this week, but I enjoy working on my blog too much to quit after just 1 year. This is fun.

What is no longer fun is my listening experience with a specific song. In this case, that song is We Are Young by the up until recently (for me, anyway) purely enjoyable band called Fun. As far as idealistic teenage indie pop anthems with clever drug and subtle domestic violence references go, this was pretty much the tops. I’ll admit that at the ripe old age of 31, I felt just a tad self-conscious singing along with Nate Ruess’s power ballad. But I’m not exactly ready to hang up my headphones yet and most days I still feel reasonably capable of setting the world on fire, so most of the time I just made sure my car windows were rolled up and tried not to make a spectacle of myself. It’s a good song. Why shouldn’t I enjoy it?

Well, it turns out that my enjoyment was not meant to last. Despite being a well-produced song from a talented band, I’m now finding myself reaching for that dial every time the opening lines come over the speakers. You may ask how this could be? What could sour me so towards a previously appreciated tune? Two words: viral video.

I’m sure you must have caught this about a week or so ago. The wise-acres over at Yahoo’s Sketchy Comedy took a nice song with an aesthetic video featuring the gratuitous use of slow-motion cinematography and people beating the crap out of each other and turned it into a parody that–let’s be honest here, folks–hits just a little to close to home for this 30 something. Wittily called We’re Not Young (gee, I wonder how they ever managed to come up with that creative leap?) they poke fun at the pre-mid-life existential crisis that is faced by those of us who are too old to be called teenagers but are still too young to claim the dreaded title of middle-aged. The video is filled with images of youngish people looking at their lives, wondering what the hell happened to their dreams and goals, and trying desperately to find ways to be “young” again. And well… I hate to say it, but I found myself relating to them.

Okay, you can stop snickering! I mean it! Okay… I’ll wait.

I realize this is literally the definition of a First World Problem. Where else but the Western World can a 30-year-old with a steady job and a guaranteed paycheck feel the desperate need to seek self-worth and fulfillment in an adult improv class after work? But come on and admit it. Since college ended and you took that soul-crushing job to keep Sallie Mae from collecting your student loan debt in broken kneecaps and tears, you’ve probably felt the same disillusionment. The truth can be hard to take, especially when it turns out that you’re the butt of the joke. But I have to say that it didn’t really bother me until I realized that one of their crazy ideas to reclaim their lost youth was to start a blog… Well, let’s just say that I can no longer listen to the original song without cringing just a little. Considering that front man Ruess is 30-years-old, he may be cringing a bit these days, too. Although he is a bone fide rock star, so may be not.

Anyway, here now for you listening enjoyment (or possibly to exercise your flinching reflex) are both versions of the song:

We Are Young by Fun

We’re Not Young by Yahoo’s Sketchy Comedy

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Frogs and shoegazing

Little did I know when I picked up M83’s recent double album, Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, that it would include the formula for human-amphibian transformation. Think I’m kidding? Well… Maybe a little, but we’ll get to that in a moment. First, let’s get some business out of the way.

This Saturday, April 21st, is Record Store Day. This is an amazing chance for every music lover in the States (as well as some places in Europe) to go out and support local businesses, local and regional music, the concept of the traditional music store (something that is in danger these days), and well… the good old-fashioned album. Plus, there are exclusive national, regional, first, and limited-run releases in honor of the occasion. What is not to love? And I am by no means encouraging you to just go browse the CDs at the big box store of your choice. No, my friends! I’m talking about a real honest to goodness record store–preferably one that is participating in the event. I will personally be wandering up and down the aisles of The Sound Garden here in Charm City. You can get all the info at the official Record Store Day site, where you can also search for a participating store near you. Mark those calendars, folks! You won’t regret it.

And now back to our original premise: frogs… in a moment…

Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming  is a gorgeous romp into the highs and lows of dreamy electro pop from one of France’s most popular exports, M83. Throughout the double disk there is a pervasive fantastical quality, only partly because of band leader Anthony Gonzalez’s exploration of his childhood and the concept of dreaming. Every song features extensive progressive layering of electronic tracks and guitar riffs. Although there are lyrics aplenty the vocals are soft–featuring muted and sometimes incoherent lyrics–that are often as not treated like just another instrument (I actually had to look them up! I’d been listening to this album for over a week before I realized I didn’t remember any of the lyrics!). And through some amazing feat, the double album is rife with infectious beats that somehow manage to lull rather than energize. Just how Gonzalez and his mates manage this trick I’m not quite sure, but it makes for a trance-inducing listening experience. With the exception of a few stronger songs on each of the disks in the form of Intro–closely followed by the stellar Midnight City–and Steve McQueen, the majority of this beautiful work is more ambient than danceable. Apparently, these are some of the prime traits of what is called shoegazing, a lesser known UK subgenre of alt rock that was pushed out of the limelight by American grunge back in the early ’90s, but that has been making inroads on American radio for the last year or so.

I’m really smitten with many of the songs featured on this album, but by far and away my favorite is Raconte-Moi Une Histoire, which translates to Tell Me a Story. This is an exploration of what dreaming is like to a child and it focuses on (you guessed it!) frogs. The song consists of a building electronic beat, layered with ethereal wordless vocals, and the voice of one child (possibly two?) speaking in English. It is truly something to behold and it made my husband laugh really hard when I played it for him. I dare you to listen to this without smiling!

Enjoy and remember to visit your favorite record store this Saturday!

 

We’re gonna rattle this ghost town

My, my, how times does fly! I have now officially been writing in this blog for a whole year. And like most good things in life, it simultaneously feels like I just started yesterday and that I have been doing this for the last twenty years or so. I still get that stupendous rush when I’m knee-deep in the creative process that I felt with my first few entries, but after the last twelve months I feel like I have really found my voice–something that simply takes time. Now this doesn’t mean that I don’t go a little crazy and revise my entries to within an inch of their little lives. Just ask my husband and he’ll tell you that I worry about the blog waaay tooo much. But even when I’m agonizing over a turn of phrase or frantically trying to select my next topic, I’m enjoying every minute of the process and I am both pleased and a little amazed that I have kept this up for this long.

When I started out on this venture, I was looking to accomplish two things: 1.) do something with my life other than work and commute, and 2.) finally write down all those little stories and memories that I am compelled to share with people whenever music is playing. I think the first of these goals has been met beautifully. I write every week that I can, miss it dreadfully when my real life intrudes, and have not-so-secretly been dreaming of leaving it all behind to write full-time. (Don’t worry, sweetie. I know that this is not an option when Sallie Mae owns my soul in exchange for grad school. But hey, I can dream, right?) And as for the second goal, well… To put it plainly, I have many more stories left to tell. I actually carry around a list of about thirty ideas for entries everywhere that I go, most of which have to do with my own experiences, and no matter how many entries I write this list never seems to get any shorter. I guess this means I should keep writing…

The one thing that I didn’t expect to happen when I started writing here was how much it would affect my music tastes. I still listen to a great variety of stuff and there still are many older bands that will always be significant to me. But my music appetite has gone from merely nibbly to positively voracious at the same time that my attention span has taken a nose dive. I’m constantly on the lookout for that next song. An album or artist probably only lasts about a week for me now. I listen to it like mad, write something up, and suddenly it is old news. I still love it and may listen again later, but it isn’t the same. I’m already on the prowl for my next target. I also constantly evaluate the things I listen to on whether or not they will make a good entry. Sometimes I wonder if it is less about the connection, the experience of listening and more about, “is this interesting enough to write about?” But I’m working on this latter problem.

And in that vein, I am going to celebrate my first big milestone with a song that I absolutely love right now, mainly because the video makes me smile and the title has my name in it. This is a sweet, goofy, and oddly uplifting video from a new band called Walk the Moon. There is so much joy in this song, the beat is infectious, and there is choreography! The lyrics, which are easy to overlook on the first few listens, have an almost sad desperation in them coupled with a fierce determination.

What do you know? This house is falling apart
What can i say? This house is falling apart
We got no money, but we got heart
We’re gonna rattle this ghost town
This house is falling apart

We may be going down, but damn it! We’ll make it count. Enjoy!

Walk the Moon – Anna Sun

This magic moment

Picture if you will, a standing-room only club circa 2005. The walls are painted black, the house lights are up, the shadowy stage is empty except for a collection of glittering instruments resting on music stands, and the room is packed to the gills with anxious spectators all waiting for their free rock show to begin. The crowd is restless from standing outside in the pleasant Arizona spring for the last several hours, jockeying for line position and waiting for the doors to open. The buzz of not-so-hushed conversation fills the air. As the clock ticks its way past 7pm, the noise level rises.

No longer content to stand and wait for the opening act to take the stage, the questions begin to circulate. When are they starting? What’s the hold up? (It is amazing how impatient people can be when waiting for something they didn’t pay a cent for.) Everyone is tired and bored and ready to get the show on the road. But there are no answers from their fellow concert-goers, the occasional roadie strolling across the platform, or even from the disembodied soothing voice of a tech over the house speakers. So the assembled mass continues to stand, fidget, and stew.

Suddenly, the house lights lower and a previously unnoticed bank of televisions on the wall behind the stage dimly blinks to life. There is a sudden hush as every head turns expectantly and the whispering begins. Something is happening! Is that supposed to happen? Is this part of the show? But no… It is only a parade of music videos meant to sooth the impatient room. A collective sigh is issued and for a time it seems like this gesture of generosity on the part of the venue will fall on deaf ears.

And this, of course, is when it happens. The opening scenes of a familiar music video appear, multiplied in miniature across the many screens of the massive wall. The first acoustic guitar chords echo throughout the suddenly quiet nightclub. The first verse begins and the transfixed crowd watches the screens as if in a dream. It begins almost haphazardly, a few mumbled words here, a line hesitantly finished there. And within moments, without prompting, without orchestration, without even conscious thought, the whole room begins to sing.

Maybe it is the familiarity of a song released 9 years before? Perhaps it is the bittersweet loss of a talented singer before his genius was fully appreciated? The cause of this spontaneous musical interlude may never be explained, but no one in the crowd seems concerned. As the song progresses, the voices get louder, until the whole building echoes with a chorus 150 strong. After a few minutes, the song comes to its inevitable end and the room reverberates with a mighty cheer. Goths, punks, and even emo kids grin widely at each other. High-fives are exchanged and the overwhelming pretentiousness in the room takes a nose-dive. Peace and goodwill bubble up and overflow, leaving the room awash in positive energy. In time the opening act comes on and while they do their best to wow the room, they do not receive even half the enthusiasm inspired by this unscheduled sing-along.

Fatigued by the long hours of waiting and feeling like the headliner–a newly emerged group by the name of The Bravery–is not important enough to wait another hour for, my sister and I head towards the exit. Walking out into the cooling desert air, we take with us the memory of one musical, magical moment.

Though it does little to replicate that amazing, impromptu experience, here is the song that so inspired the crowd and myself that evening: Santeria by Sublime.