I watched, I let it burn

Music has always been a cathartic experience for me. When something is bothering me, exciting me, or depressing me, 9 times out of 10 I will reach for my headphones to deal with it. And considering the myriad of addictive choices out there that I could reach for (food, alcohol, sex, shopping, etc), I think this is a pretty healthy choice. Sometimes I roam through my music library in search of that one song that just hits the right nerve. I compulsively hit the skip button on shuffle mode, pausing only long enough for the opening bars to register before moving on, until that song that feels right right now hits my ears. As you might imagine, this is often times a frustrating and occasionally an unsuccessful way to go about things, being dependent on both the level of my agitation and the caprice of the shuffle algorithm. But other times I get lucky and the song finds me.

This is what happened to me last week when several large pieces of news (some good, some… questionable) were rather unceremoniously dropped in my lap. An agitated coughing mess with a lot of folders to label, I decided to indulge a little and listen to All Songs Considered while I worked. And right there in the middle of the podcast, a song that I had already heard once in passing without taking much notice pulled out a sledgehammer and said, “This is your song. Right. Now.” And all I could do was listen.

I’ve talked before about the art of the cheerful fuck-off song. There really is nothing quite so endearing (and sometimes profane) as a song which tells the world where to stick it in a bright and upbeat manner. The juxtaposition of a vicious dressing down with a rocking beat is one that I consistently find intriguing and amusing. These songs are extremely useful for burning through a store of nervous energy. Sometimes they even provide a sense of closure. Surprisingly, there appears to be a statute of limitations on taking someone to task and a chipper song that flips the bird at your regret of choice can really work wonders for your peace of mind.

During the last year or so I’ve been slowly compiling a list of songs like this and the latest edition has got to be I Love It by Icona Pop. Hailing from the Swedish club scene, this female electropop duo is spearheaded by DJs Aino Jawo and Caroline Hjelt, and their latest single is positively infectious. Hands down, it is one of the most energetic songs in my catalog. Featuring pulsating industrial tones and a throbbing beat sure to please even the most discerning of club crowds, Jawo and Hjelt paint the picture of someone who has reached such a height of frustration that they no longer care about the consequences. The result is impossible to listen to without rocking out and some of the lyrics will leave you chuckling.

The only problem with the song is the abrupt–and I mean abrupt–ending. There is no climax or even a winding down period. It screams along at an insane pace and then just stops. The effect is more than a little jolting and means that the song is highly sticky. You’ll find that you are still humming along hours or even days later. And if you are anything like me, you’ll spend a good chunk of a night lying in bed and staring at the ceiling while it blares in your head on repeat. Given this unfortunate side effect, do you dare to risk listening to it?

Oh, come on! Trust me, this is such a satisfying song that it is worth losing a little sleep over it. Go on and listen. You know you wanna!

I Love It by Icona Pop


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

No greater feeling than hope

Okay, so it’s been a little while since I last posted. Frankly, it’s been an insane couple of weeks. Between 2 weekends out-of-town in a row (first for the amazingly, unexpectedly stressful 90th birthday of my grandmother and second for a professional conference) and a lovely headache that has been with me in one form or another since Monday… well, finding the time to write has been a bit tough, not to mention finding the ability to stare at a glaring computer screen for minutes on end. But enough whining. Here I am! Have I been missed? Who can say?

As for myself, I have literally been itching to write something. That list of entry ideas in my phone just keeps getting longer. I keep latching onto one of about 4 ideas and then experiencing what amounts to long and excited inner monologues that all ultimately ran out of steam before a computer, a piece of paper, my phone, or my head could be scraped together. And tonight that list is just going to have to stay as long as it is. No my friends, instead of delivering a speech about my first concert experience, my first album, the bitter sweetness of happy music written by a future suicide case, or that promised term paper on the role Rush has played in my life, you’re going to get something completely different. You’re getting The Black Eyed Peas…

One of the lowest points in my life occurred very shortly after moving to Charm City in the fall of 2009. Having recently graduated from library school in May, I was one of (but probably not the) first in my class to find a job in my field that would pay me. The only catch was that I’d have to leave Boston and move to Maryland… on the depleted financial resources one is inevitably left with after pursuing a graduate degree… and my husband would have to quit his job… in the middle of an economic meltdown. Well, there were not jobs for me in Boston, academic advisers had always sung the praises of being willing to move out-of-state increasing your chances of employment, and my husband had no attachment to his company. So we threw out, sold, or gave away everything we possibly could, borrowed money from family, and made the smallest, cheapest move we possibly could. At first everything was great. We found an adorable apartment in a decent neighborhood. I began settling into my current job. My husband began his new job search with a sense of casual optimism. And we began to explore our surroundings. This was late summer.

By January, the situation (both within our apartment and without) had changed dramatically. After taxes and health insurance for the both of us, my pay check was ill-suited for tackling the mountain of debt we’d racked up the last few years. My husband was still searching for a job, but had grown increasingly despondent. Like most people tend to do when facing the prospect of long-term unemployment, he stopped sleeping at night, began sinking into video games, and did not like being asked how his day went. I experienced the biggest bout of self-doubt it has ever been my misfortune to subject myself to and I stopped answering my phone because they only wanted one thing and I had to pay my heating bill first. We were feeling really low. The dreary winter weather wasn’t helping anyone either.

Now we were lucky. Really lucky. We had the amazing luxuries of a steady, if inadequate, paycheck and our wonderful families who went above and beyond helping us get by. During the first part of the economic downturn, a lot of people couldn’t even count on that much. I’m not painting such a bleak picture about my own situation to belittle the harsher reality of other people. But in my own limited experience, this was as bad as it has ever gotten. Thankfully, it wasn’t long before we hit bottom and things started to change.

It was some time around early February when my husband started finding job listings for jobs he was actually qualified for and felt happy about doing. He applied and started to get interviews that looked really promising. And a hotel in D.C. started actively courting him for his event a/v expertise. He started doing free-lance work with them. It stopped feeling like we were suffocating and we got a little extra money in our bank account. It truly felt like we were on the verge of something good happening.

One night around this time my husband decided to buy The Black Eyed Peas new album, The E.N.D. and he popped it into the car stereo. We’d left the darkly pessimistic city to go exploring out in the gentrified parts of the county. It was getting late and the temperature was falling. There hadn’t been any snow for a while, so the landscape was dead, gray, and dismal. But for the first time in months, we were both in a good mood. There was a sense of optimism we’d been greatly lacking and I could feel it bubbling just below the surface as we drove back towards the city. We talked about the future and smiled at each other. We made jokes and laughed and for the first time in a long time I didn’t worry so much.

And then this song came on:

Not being much of a fan before this album, and having had my head in the sand for the last few months, I’d never really heard this song before. I’d certainly never seen the crazy video they made for it. I remember sitting in the car and gazing out of the window. And this thrilling and powerful feeling of hope seemed to fill me. It was so intense, I think I may have cried. I feel silly to admit it, but reliving the memory right now is making me cry. Don’t tease me about it though…

Long story short, that sense of hope turned out to be right. A week or two later, my husband got his pick of three job offers and everything changed.

I’m still not a huge fan of The Black Eyed Peas. Their earlier work doesn’t really attract me and their latest album, The Beginning, is honestly underwhelming. But The E.N.D. has become one of my all-time favorites. Some of this is admittedly on the strength of my memories associated with the song I Gotta Feeling. But it is truly a worth wild album that is tightly crafted and possibly one of the last albums we will hear that was created expressly to play in order in one sitting–something that is becoming very rare in this iTunes world. And no matter how I may feel about their other work, if you ask me what I think of The Black Eyed Peas, the first words out of my mouth will be, “Oh, I love them!”

It’s been one of those days

Have you ever had one of those days? The kind where you feel like you’re dragging around more than your usual baggage? You start second guessing every little decision and find yourself dissecting every email or text message for hidden meanings. You fear that people think you’re a clod. And deep down inside you find yourself agreeing with them. It’s a bad scene and today it was kinda my scene. I hate those kinds of days because it can be so hard to talk yourself out of it.

No, nothing really happened. People still like me, my marriage is sound, my job is secure. I’ve just been working really hard lately and avoiding sleep when I could really use it. And most people have a tendency to beat themselves up when they are tired. So I’m going to try to take my own advice and hit the hay early. I promise I’ll post some length treatise next week about the cultural significance of Rush.  (You think I’m kidding?) But for tonight, I will leave you with a song that perfectly reflects the black rain cloud that has been hanging over my head all day.

I give you The Reeling by Passion Pit, a wonderful little electropop outfit from Cambridge, MA. They got their start during my own days wandering around Cambridge, which always makes me feel inexplicably pleased. Almost a sense of kinship, if you will. In this song, lead singer Michael Angelakos strikes the perfect balance between dance-ably upbeat and existentially questioning. He cries out to the listener, “Look at me, oh look at me. Is this the way I’ll always be?” The video is colorful and gorgeous, calling to mind the magazine collages you might have made in high school art classes. And the significance of the constantly peeling layers plays right into the analytical tone set by the lyrics.

Do you have a “one of those days” song?