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…
- Neon Indian Reveals New Album Tracklist, Designs Mini Analog Synthesizer (pitchfork.com)
- Neon Indian Gives Us His HuffPost Playlist (huffingtonpost.com)
- First Listen: Neon Indian, ‘Era Extraña’ (npr.org)
- Neon Indian’s ‘Era Extraña’ Influenced by Helsinki Winter, Painkillers, ‘Blade Runner’ (spinner.com)
- Neon Indian: Era Extraña (Review) (popmatters.com)
- Neon Indian: Era Extraña – review (guardian.co.uk)
- Neon Indian – Era Extrana (sexbeatlondon.com)
- Neon Indian and Kreayshawn Announce Tour … Together (spinner.com)
- Neon Indian – “Arcade Blues” (stereogum.com)
- New Neon Indian: “Hex Girlfriend” (pitchfork.com)
- Psychedelic Chillwave: Neon Indian “Polish Girl” (thinksoul25.com)
- Neon Indian to Tour With Kreayshawn (pitchfork.com)
- LETTING UP DESPITE GREAT FAULTS: ‘Paper Crush’ (loudhorizon.wordpress.com)
- Phantogram – Don’t Move (jennyssongoftheday.com)
- Toro Y Moi: Freaking Out EP (vibbin.wordpress.com)
I was quite moved by metaphoricalgretchasketch‘s discussion in her most recent post about experiencing music, in a rather profound way, via performing it. She was talking about singing which I certainly have no talent for – however, her post resonated with me as I began thinking about all the years I spent in dance classes as a young girl.
I think it’s safe to say that anyone who knows me would not be surprised to hear that I was not an all-star on the athletic field. I didn’t play a sport, per se. However, I don’t think many folks who’ve hung out with me (particularly in college) would be shocked to know that I took dance lessons for several years, because evidence of those lessons resurfaces from time to time when I allow my inner “woo girl” to come out and play. It is also possible that some of my former students might not be surprised by this either, since I may or may not be guilty of allowing them to teach me to crank that “Soulja Boy” or to “Walk it Out”. I plead the fifth.
Dance gets a bad rep sometimes, because you hear a lot about girls coming out of it with lots of body image issues and the like. I can’t say I completely escaped all of that, but in my case, I’d say my self-image problems were largely due to the pressures communicated by the mass media – advertising in particular. My dance teachers, on the other hand, were supportive and kind. They challenged us to become the best dancers we could be, but that didn’t mean we had to starve ourselves or whatever. I was fortunate to have had the chance to grow up in those studios under the care of women who were really about helping girls feel good about their accomplishments…even if those accomplishments weren’t going to take us to Broadway.
I was definitely not Broadway-bound, but by the end of my senior year I think I could *bring it* on stage. I’ve always been able to hold my own in a dance club and I could attract attention if I happened to want it (Don’t you judge me! I’m just being honest – and everyone knows that a lot of the time, going out dancing is all about getting attention!). More importantly, though, the experience of studying dance (ballet, jazz, modern, lyrical, hip-hop, and my favorite genre tap) played a huge role in my development as a young girl and onward to womanhood. And I have Janet Jackson to thank for inspiring my interest. It all began with “Rhythm Nation”.[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OAwaNWGLM0c%5D
I was nine years old when the video for “Rhythm Nation” was released. I was old enough to appreciate the positive message communicated by the lyrics, but I was more intrigued by the choreography of the video. Even at that early age, I loved thinking about how to interpret music though movement. I hadn’t started taking classes yet, but I knew I wanted to after I heard this song and saw the accompanying routine. Looking back at the video now, I am still taken aback by the brilliant choreography. The dance is militaristic in its movement and if you’ve never studied dance before, I’m not sure you can appreciate the intricacy of the steps or the virtual impossibility of people being able to move in synch with one another to this extent. The result is powerful and the music video is, rightfully so, an important icon of the 90s. For my nine-year-old self, it was a beacon that led to me asking my mom to enroll me in dance classes and it was certainly not the last time Janet Jackson would inspire me to keep dancing.
“If” was released in 1993. I was thirteen years old and I had been in dance classes for a couple of years by this point. And, as pubescent kids are wont to do, I was becoming a little bored. It made me sad that I didn’t feel as excited about dance classes anymore. Luckily, “If” changed my mind.[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h-OXYotOguA%5D
I don’t think it is a coincidence that this video spoke to me at a time when I was just beginning to become aware of my own sexuality. I was starting to realize that I found boys attractive and I was starting to want their attention. And here was Janet Jackson, performing this incredibly provocative (though not too vulgar) dance with her crew and really owning her sexuality. She seemed to explode with confidence and power, and, as per usual, I thought the choreography in the video was amazing. When I had friends over to spend the night, I can remember us jumping up in front of the television set anytime the video was on so that we could try to learn the dance – eventually, I had to make a VHS recording and we wore out that tape within a few weeks. We managed to learn the dance, too, but we didn’t feel half as cool as Janet since we didn’t have any hot guys dancing along with us. Despite that, my love for dance was renewed and I continued with my lessons through the end of high school.
I mentioned earlier that I had some pretty amazing dance teachers. Jennifer, the teacher I had through high school, was the best of the best. I loved her and I loved that she allowed any dancer who was a senior in high school to perform a solo at the spring recital, regardless of her level of ability. I loved Jennifer even more for letting me choreograph mine.
I chose not to go the solo route. Instead, I choreographed a piece for two friends and myself to perform. In homage to the muse who kept inspiring me to go back to dance class, I chose her song “I Get Lonely” for my senior number. I was so proud of the result. The girls that danced along with me were amazing and they didn’t roll their eyes about me being the choreographer – I think that’s probably because they could tell that doing the choreography meant so much to me and because of the culture of mutual support and camaraderie among the students that Jennifer cultivated within her school. After the performance, I left the stage of the Springer Opera House with a full heart. I’m still extremely proud of that accomplishment, and full of gratitude for everyone who helped me achieve my goal of choreographing and performing that dance. It’s one of my most favorite memories from my youth and I count myself lucky for being able to transport myself back to that important night with the touch of a button on my iPod.[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GYK_pPJaWEg%5D
Have you ever been inspired by someone’s music or other artwork to pursue a personal goal?
Have you had a life-changing experience while creating or performing something that made you proud?
Tell me all about it in the comments, won’t you? Peace!
- Janet Jackson plays McCaw Hall (seattletimes.nwsource.com)
- Janet Jackson “Would You Mind” & J*DaVeY “Queen of Wonderland” (thinksoul25.com)
- A Review + Photos: Janet Jackson – Number Ones: Up Close And Personal Tour… (eof737.wordpress.com)
- Nothing but love for Janet Jackson at McCaw Hall (seattletimes.nwsource.com)
- Janet Jackson Lookin’ FIERCE! (lukewilliamss.wordpress.com)
- Janet Jackson Lookin’ FIERCE! (perezhilton.com)
- The Biggest Brother and Sister Stars In Show Biz History – Michael and Janet – Ebony Magazine August 1991 (vallieegirl67.wordpress.com)