Category Archives: Pleasant Surprises

How Neon Indian Disrupted and Grounded My Life

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Okay, full disclosure; I’m supposed to be writing an article for Hi-Fi Lives about the new Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks record. Actually, I originally planned on finishing it about 4 weeks ago, but…something else came along and changed things.

I could go on for hours complaining about the myriad of academic stuff I should be spending my time knocking out. I’m also moving at the end of this week, so I should probably be filling and sealing the boxes creating a labyrinth of obstacles around my house. The backlog of podcasts that I normally would’ve listened to by now is starting to collect well beyond what I’ll be able to get to before their timeliness expires. My August consisted of 2 funerals and a wedding. There’re plenty of other things on which I could be spending my cognitive energy, right? Instead, I have to take the time to explain the nuances of a record, to which I absolutely cannot stop listening, to the internet. It has simultaneously disrupted my life and grounded me to a place where I can focus on the things that need to get done. Thanks a lot (meant both sarcastically and sincerely) Neon Indian

Calling back to previous articles I’ve written about the serendipitous nature that comes along with modern album releases, as well as my article about the affective nature of music in the fall: The new Neon Indian record, Era Extraña, hits both of these beats. I knew the record would be released at some point in the fall, but I’m not diligent enough to remember, or search for, release dates unless there’re multiple things happening on that day to give me an unrelated point of reference. In short, I’m terrible with dates. Discovering this album’s availability amongst the new releases of the day, when I wasn’t expecting it for another month or so, added an extra element of excitement to my already high level of anticipation.

About the autumn release thing; yes, I have a feeling that this will be remembered as a part of my soundtrack of this year, and it’s not the first time Neon Indian’s done this to me. I happened upon the initial release from Neon Indian, Psychic Chasms, literally en route to my modest Tuesday night DJ gig back in October of ‘09. I was so moved by the tonal atmosphere of legitimate synth-pop which sounded like it was being played on a warped cassette that the patrons of the club that night were subjected to my own personal game of “How many songs can I get away with playing off of this record without it being obvious?”

I should elaborate on the aforementioned “warped cassette” aspect. I think there’s something particularly significant to the instant nostalgia that comes along with the batch of chillwave acts that have popped up in the past few years (e.g. Toro Y Moi, Small Black, Washed Out, etc). Those of us born in the late 70’s and early 80’s were more or less the first generation to grow up hearing synthesizers as a normal aspect of pop music. The use of analog synths and antiquated technology are the new low-fi standard, so these type of acts elicit a nostalgic response even though the songs are new. We’re also familiar with the phenomenon of leaving one’s tapes in the car or outside by the jam box in the heat long enough to alter the sound quality. To this day, when I listen to Radiohead’s The Bends, I still expect particular parts of “High and Dry” and “Black Star” to emit those same three-second backward and warbled bits that occurred where the magnetic tape in my copy somehow switched polarities (as they were on opposite sides of the cassette).

There’s another technical aspect of this record that evokes a feeling of neo-nostalgia. A great deal of the melodies on this record come from synthesizers that are looped and/or arpeggiated rather than played out manually. This is nothing new, of course, but it does a lot to negate the old argument that these technical tools take the emotional element out of music. I think I’m also in that first generation of music listeners that’s become so accustomed to automation that there’s an element of soul bleeding through the electricity.

Ironically, the tone of this record reminds me a lot of My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless, which was constructed–with great pride back in 1991–without the use of synthesizers. It’s easily one of my favorite records of all time. However, very similar emotional tones rhyme between Loveless and Era Extraña, in spite of their juxtaposed composition methods. The similarity is probably what’s made Era Extraña so compelling and has placed it in a state of constant repeat on my iPod. It’s something close to my heart, where music belongs–simultaneously new and familiar. I feel as if these types of records are an example of history proving wrong a popular opinion of the past.

Look, my life at the moment is completely in flux. The only consistent piece on which I’ve had to ground myself has been this record. As disruptive as it’s been to my listening habits, it’s comforting to have something that remains constant during the upheaval. I needed Era Extraña more than I realized. Sure; things are finally starting to settle a bit, I probably should finish some of the many projects on my plate, and the new DJ Shadow, Mayer Hawthorne, and J. Cole records are burning a hole in my iTunes. It’s probably time to move on…but maybe just another listen or two wouldn’t hurt…cheers…


Find more artists like Neon Indian at Myspace Music.

“Ladder” — Joan Osborne

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qFN5KP0CDGQ&feature=youtube_gdata_player%5D

I have a diag-nonsense. Two of them, actually: Panic Disorder and Generalized Anxiety Disorder.

You were probably hoping for something sexier or more exciting, like Borderline Personality Disorder or Paranoid Schizophrenia. Sorry. I agree that mine aren’t terribly interesting, but they are enough to color my view of myself and, in a certain way, how I see the world. Oh, and most of the time they annoy the shit out of me.

That said, though, sometimes I kinda dig the fact that I can say that I’m crazy and my psychiatric file can back me up on it. Is that weird? I don’t know…I guess it might be. All I know is that when I’m feeling like *embracing my crazy*, the first song I turn to is “Ladder” by Joan Osborne.

You might remember Joan from her most recognized track “One of Us“. That’s a great song, but I don’t feel it the way I feel “Ladder”. I can still remember the internal dialogue my brain engaged in the first time I heard this song. It went something like this:

(Intro)

Today and everyday….          

***Janna’s brain: Joan! I am liking that piano. Good times.

I’m standing here in your closet

Unbuttoning all your clothes

***Janna’s brain: Whoa. That’s not normal.

I sleep in your bed tonight

But I never find you home

***Janna’s brain: Hmmm…

You’re giving me crooked answers

I’m cracking your little code

I’m learning another language

So full it’s about to explode

***Janna’s brain: Aha! I think I see where you’re going with this, Joan, but let me hit the back button on my player so I can make sure I got all that.

So that’s what I did–and it made me so happy, because I was RIGHT!

If you listen to the rest of this song, you can tell it is about a woman who is still in love with a guy who is losing (or has already lost) interest in the relationship. However, she can’t shake her obsession and she’s totally fine with admitting that to herself.

Yay!

You gave me a ladder, now

I surely believe I’ll climb

It don’t even matter, now

I’m willing to take my time

I’m gonna love you anyway

Today and everyday

Okay, I’m not saying it’s healthy. I’m not even saying it’s normal…but damn, I have a hard time not loving a song that provides me with an opportunity to honor my crazy. And I feel like that’s really the point here. For whatever reason, this guy’s still got her heart. I think she knows the relationship isn’t gonna go the way she wants, but she can’t help herself. And she doubts whether she’ll ever be able to. And that’s insane!

I don’t really relate to the obsessing over a man you can’t have facet of this story (at least not now), but I totally get being obsessed with something that you can’t change or fix. See, I’ve got my own ladder–it just leads me to a different (though equally nutty) place. I’m better off when I keep my feet firmly planted on the ground of sanity. Nevertheless, I occasionally climb it anyway. My ladder might not take me anywhere that’s positive or helpful but it’s part of who I am and sometimes that urge to climb up and see how freaked out I can get about something just wins. It.just.wins! And I think I have to be okay with that.

In all seriousness, I have a good handle on my anxiety most days…but those times when I just can’t help myself, I really appreciate this song being there for me and helping me embrace my crazy. So thanks, Joan! xoxoxo!


Find more artists like Joan Osborne at Myspace Music.

“The Misfit” — John Larkin

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UW_a2t3q9bA%5D

John Larkin? Who? Does this have anything to do with a certain short story?

You probably know him as this guy.

When I was a sophomore at Berry, my roommate and I developed a slightly unhealthy (and mercifully brief) obsession with what were perhaps Larkin’s two best known tunes — to the point where I am pretty sure everyone on seventh Dana thought we were just a tad unhinged (for a couple of weeks) what with all our singing about Scatman’s World and being the Scatman.

For whatever reason I never really sought out any additional music of Larkin’s until earlier this year when the aforementioned roommate stopped by Berry upon his triumphant return to the states from Scotland. Of course there were the obligatory reminiscences of our antics in 2002 and 2003 and of course Scatman John came up in our discussions. Later that day, and quite by accident, I happened upon a couple of audio-only uploads from his eponymous 1986 album whilst scouring YouTube for videos of tunes from his three Eurodance releases.

The best word to describe my reaction was shock. Genuine shock. I’d always assumed his success and notoriety were the result of a clever marketing campaign to take an everyday 50-something guy, slap a hat, suit, tie and not altogether unpleasant mustache on him, have him release an album of scat singing chock-full of idyllic aphorisms about world peace, the value of soul over body and the obsolescence of winning and losing to a European audience, and reap the monetary benefits. Instead, there was a legitimate musician hiding behind all the techno beats and dance hall synth effects.

somebody asked “what’s the meaning of jazz?”
and I said “we’re the misfits
and all I can tell you
is while you’re still sleeping
the saints are still weeping
’cause things you call dead
haven’t yet had the chance to be born”

I have two reasons for citing these particular lyrics: (1) I always felt like a misfit when I was in jazz band in high school (it was apparently a sin to be a bando between the ages of 14 and 18 when my “peers” thought it was best to turn disengagement into an art form) and (2) I discovered that what you might call Larkin’s idealism wasn’t necessarily a product of his mid-90s dance beat stage persona (anyone familiar with “Scatman (Ski Ba Bop Ba Dop Bop)” should be experiencing déjà vu).

The whole story of John Larkin is worth reading if you have some time — his fortune in turning what is usually regarded as a hindrance into a success story is heartwarming (if perhaps too predictable for folks familiar with how things tend to develop in the music industry). Larkin passed away in 1999 — it’s hard to say what he would have done into his 60s and 70s but I maintain the naive hope that he would have revisited his jazz origins in the form of an album of original work. It’s my opinion that his current legacy — though it contains a message of hope to those seeking to turn a disadvantage into an advantage — is incomplete. By offering this tune for your listening pleasure, I feel that I’m helping correct this oversight in some small measure.


Author’s Note: An official Myspace Music page for John Larkin does not currently exist; I hope the Facebook page maintained by his widow will suffice.