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!

 

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Why I don’t listen to the Counting Crows anymore

I have a very clear memory of my first impression of popular music. I was still mainly listening to the oldies station in the back of my mother’s car in those days and was just starting to listen to music on my own. It would be years before I would seriously evaluate the music I was listening to, let alone figure out my own tastes. Being only a child of seven or eight flipping through stations on my tiny little boom box, I summed up main stream radio in very simple terms: Music is about love and longing. Either you’re wishing you were with someone new or wishing you could get back with someone old. I had no idea what longing was in those days, but everyone sounded so earnest that I figured it must be something important. And when you think about it, 8-year-old me stumbled on a grain of truth in there. Most music, popular music in particular, revolves around this one concept. Obviously there are many exceptions to this, but we’ll be exploring that sort of thing on another day.

It has been a very strange week around here. I was recently contacted by my one-and-only ex-boyfriend. We hadn’t had any contact for about 10 years and our history is really starting to get a bit ancient. I won’t go into all the gory details, but he was seeking some closure and hoping to grant me some as well. We’re both now happily married to other people and agree that things turned out for the best. But for a bit there, my mind was boiling. Our parting was as tragic and angst-filled as any emo teenager could ever hope for. And I thought my memories of that relationship had faded away, that the past had lost its sting. But it turned out I was wrong. I don’t want to go back and I wouldn’t change anything now. I’m in a loving long-term relationship with the man of my dreams. And the lessons I learned in my failed relationship all played a part in making me the person I am today. But my reaction to this whole experience has truly caught me by surprise. Things I hadn’t thought about in years started floating to the surface and I was amazed by the strong emotions they still sparked in me.

What really got me was the music that kept creeping into my head. I spent a lot of time lost in thought when I should have been doing other things, and there was always a song running in the background of my inner-monologue. Every now and then I’d kind of come to and finally listen to what was running through my head. Every time the song turned out to be strangely appropriate. Most of them were songs from those days, but some were new songs that suddenly took on new meanings. The list grew so fast that I had to start writing the songs down. There are many more than I want or need to go into. But to give you an idea of what was happening in my head earlier this week, here are three of the most appropriate ones: one bitter, one wistful, and one chaotic. All three were around when I was originally dealing with the break-up, and all three represent aspects of what I was going through then.

You’re So Vain by Carly Simon (specifically the 2nd verse)

Name by the Goo-Goo Dolls

Medication by Garbage

So now you’ve been reading for quite some time and you’re probably wondering what this has to do with The Counting Crows. Well, let me explain. When the relationship ended, I didn’t listen to music for several days. It seemed like every song I heard reminded me of what I had lost or literally said things I wasn’t ready to acknowledge. But this didn’t last and after acquiring several CDs from my sister and a dear friend, I started listening to music again in like it was water in a desert. It was around this time I picked up The Counting Crows first major album August & Everything After. Already seven years old when I bought it, it was new to me. And every song mirrored the turmoil I was experiencing inside. I listened to it constantly for a month or more and found some kind of respite with it. Like most of us have experienced at some point in our lives, I realized that what I was going through wasn’t new. I wasn’t the first to be hurt and I took a little bit of comfort in knowing that someone else had felt the same way. I loved that album. But I listened to it so much that it is now inextricably linked to that time in my life and to my memories of that relationship. I can’t listen to it, even after all these years. It’s not because I dislike the band and it isn’t because the music is bad. It doesn’t matter that I have/am/will make peace with my past. I just don’t have the heart to listen to it. It’s a bit like visiting a grave.

Despite my constant repetitive listening to this album, there was one song I always skipped. It hit home in ways none of the others ever did and I could never get past the first few lines without crying. I guess time does heal a lot of things because (thankfully) that is no longer a problem.

I want to end this entry with some amazing philosophical statement that summed up the importance of music and dealing with the things that life throws at us. But whatever I say will probably be trite and inadequate. The interplay between music and memory can sometimes be a painful experience, but in the end I know that it is useful. The Counting Crows played a big part in helping me to sort out my emotions and to move on with my life, but in the process they became a play list casualty.

The radio program This American Life has a wonderful exploration of the importance of the break-up song, which is definitely worth a listen to. Sorry for the link, but I can’t get WordPress and their embed code to play nicely together. Just trust me and follow the link. It is a great story and probably says somethings more eloquently than I can.

http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/339/break-up?act=1

Geek Music

Lately I’ve been thinking about the nexus between music and geeks. Geek culture has become so pervasive the last several years that it was inevitable that the two would meet at some point. One of the best examples of music meets geek is 8-bit video game music. Here in Charm City we have the band Rare Candy. Taking their name from an item in the Pokemon video games, these four grown men rock out with some amazing electronic arrangements of old school games like Legend of Zelda, Final Fantasy, and Castlevania. One member even dresses up as Ash from Pokemon. I’ve seen them twice and they put on a great show. Here’s one of my favorites from them.

Another great 8-bit band is Anamanaguchi. Known as a “chiptune” punk band, they hail from New York and use a hacked NES and Game Boy as synthesizers to play their original scores. I found these guys through Chris Hardwick’s Nerdist podcast and have since created a Pandora station for them. They are definitely worth checking out if you have a soft spot for video games from the 1980s.

But the pinnacle of geek music in my opinion is Daft Punk’s musical score for Tron: Legacy. It’s a beautiful soundtrack that ranges from sweeping symphonic soundscapes to the more traditional house music that Daft Punk is known for. Whether you liked the movie or not (and I know opinions are varied on this), the soundtrack is a must listen. Here is the song “End of Line”.

And to take it up a notch, there is Tron: Legacy Reconfigured. An entire album of remixes from the soundtrack by such famous techno artists as the Crystal Method, Moby, and Paul Oakenfold. It is the absolute height of geek and an amazing techno album. I honestly haven’t been able to stop listening to it this whole week.  Here’s the remixed version of “End of Line”.

What music do you geek out on?