Just 'cause you feel it doesn't mean it's there
Hey, sorry I'm late. You know how it is. Sleep, and all that.
What am I going to talk about? I don't know. Do you know how hard it is to do this column? Not that I can't come up with ideas - I have too many. You know me, one thousand times as many enthusiasms as executions. Already I've got ideas that will never see fruition, as will some of the stuff I've already mentioned, I'm sure.
So what to write on? The apocalyptic encounter at the end of Sarah Harmer's 'Lodestar'? How, on Trust and specifically on 'Little Argument With Myself', low have moved from writing about what they believe to why they believe? An alternate history of Blur? Scott Walker's Tilt?
Ah, you caught me - the title gave it away. 'There There', the first singe from Hail To The Thief. Interesting song, isn't it? It's been a while since I've seen a Radiohead single so divide critical opinion, everyone's been saying it's either the best of the worst thing on the album.
So we were sitting around in the apartment of a friend of Pete's, and somebody's popped on Hail To The Thief, and the conversation turns to Radiohead. Everyone there is a fan, which I personally thought was odd.
At one point a guy named Zen pointed out that Radiohead is today's Pink Floyd. I'm not sure how I feel about that; I certainly think that in terms of actual music it's a bit off (Radiohead thanfully have no equivalent of Ummagumma or Atom Heart Mother and haven't yet begun experimenting with 20-odd minute long songs), but in terms of their role it's getting closer to the truth. Radiohead and their music is remarkable, not so much for any level of innovation or quality by itself, but because they do the things they do while being one of the biggest, most written about, rock bands in the world.
What this says for everyone else I'm not sure. Does that make the Mars Volta our generation's King Crimson? Who gets to be Gentle Giant or Van De Graaf Generator?
But anyway, what 'There There' itself means to me is entirely seperate from that. One of the criticisms levelled at Radiohead again and again after OK Computer was that they stopped being a rock band making rock music. What 'There There', and 'Optimistic', and 'Dollars And Cents', and even 'Idiotique', says to me is that they never abandoned their rock side: They got rid of their pop leanings.
I mean, listen to The Bends again. Listen to those choruses! If pop is ultimately accessability and to some degree predictability (and there's nothing wrong with that), then Radiohead have slowly worked to eliminate most of that from their music.
'There There' itself is a sturdily constructed rock song, built on a solid drum thump, pealing guitars, and Thom Yorke's vocals. So far so standard, but by the end we have a howling, surging beast, Yorke wailing We are accidents waiting to happen. The man actually cried when he first heard the final version of 'There There'. The only other time I've heard of that happening was with Abba and 'Dancing Queen'. Both times, I think, the emotion was a result of hearing exactly what you wanted to hear, exactly what was in your head (and anyone who has tried to make music can tell you how hard that is).
But that snippet of lyric brings me to the other issue I have with 'There There' - the assumption of negativity. I don't think 'There There' is a negative song, and I don't think Radiohead is a negative band. Which is why it frustrates me so that my favorite record critic, Glenn McDonald, should view OK Computer as suicidally depressing and consider Hail To The Thief such a failure that I don't think he's even going to review it.
The key couplet in 'There There', I think is not the one quoted above, but rather There's always a siren singing you to shipwreck/Steer away from those rock, you'd be a walking disaster. He's not bemoaning the existence of sirens, the dangers of life; he's warning you about them. He's trying to help. I can't see that as being negative. And as for the lyric at the top of this page, Just 'cause you feel it doesn't mean it's there, isn't negative either. What if this is directed at a depressed person (as Thom himself has been)?
My problem is that Glenn has liked and will like records that are manifestly more depressing, more defeatist, more poisonous, than OK Computer. Sometimes he's even liked them because they are depressing on the surface. Why? Because in each case he's managed to find a rationale that makes that album inspire thought, or growth, or hope. But I think that follows from his liking the other albums, and not vice versa. Otherwise, why would he have not been able to do the same for Radiohead? He was able to for Kid A and Amnesiac, because he kind of liked them, I guess.
I'm not trying to pick on Glenn, he's basically my stalking horse for all the commentators that have been trying to nail Radiohead for depressiveness. Yes, some of the songs are sad or down (but some aren't - 'Airbag' is a song about surviving car crashes and how good it makes you feel), but the knack of picking out only those aspects from the songs, and ignoring context (listen to the way Yorke sings Just 'cause you feel it doesn't mean it's there, or You fell into our arms on 'Backdrifting', or even Somewhere I'm not/Scatterbrain on 'Scatterbrain').
And most importantly, to close out the least coherent WES yet, once those extra guitars kick in and Yorke is claiming Heaven sent you here to me, 'There There' is musically irresistable to me.
Emotional Setup: How You Sing Amazing
Grace Wednesday, July
23, 2003 11:07 am,
my favorite of some of being
in standard low
style cryptic, vaguely menacing It rather
than vice versa. What ultimately made me Cast My
ears/That this is the
sinuous, slow as we left
to use one of his splattering, intense
for reunions. It rather than
four. not fast. It
stretches out of his
splattering, intense for years
or the poor bastard was
dealing with K.,
So I'm back home. The Squarepusher concert was amazing, although I didn't care for the opening act. The temptation to use one of his splattering, intense 'songs' for this week's WES was there, but the car ride home changed my mind.
K. showed up, bless her, and we dropped Pete off back in Oakville. The poor bastard was dealing with more sleep deprivation than I will hopefully ever have to endure. As we left Oakville I popped in low's Trust, my favorite of their albums. And the sinuous, slow '(That's How You Sing) Amazing Grace' was the first thing out of the speaker.
I know low have recently had trouble with their bassist, although that's since been resolved. But I've also noticed that parts of Trust seem bassless, even when you can make it out in the back if you focus. '(That's How You Sing) Amazing Grace' is one of those moments, Mimi Parker's dead simple drum beat and Alan sparhawk's winding, chiming guitar part and their voice.
I have often wondered about low which came first, the band or the marriage; did they fall in love once they realised that this is what they sounded like together? Or is it the other way around? In either case '(That's How You Sing) Amazing Grace' is sung entirely in harmony, the lyrics being (in standard low style) cryptic, vaguely menacing (It sounds like razors in my ears/That bell's been ringing now for years or I knew a girl when I was young/She took her spikes from everyone) but ultimately of some sort of devotional, liturgical nature:
Oh can you hear that sweet, sweet sound
I once was lost but now I'm found
Sometimes there's nothing left to say
That's how you sing Amazing Grace
And then they launch into the chorus again, just those two voices wrapping around each other, intoning Amazing Grace again and again. It is truly beautiful.
'(That's How You Sing) Amazing Grace' is a great song for night driving. It's a great song for reunions. It is hushed, it is lovely, and it has the best fractured, five-note guitar solo I've ever heard. It stretches out for a full seven minutes, and the first few times I heard it I could have sworn it was no more than four. It's not quite as slow as some of low's older material, but it's not fast. It has it's own pace, and it forces you to match it rather than vice versa.
What ultimately made me pick it rather than a Squarepusher song is its measured calm. After a long weekend (five days) of being mostly constantly amped up, it was a relief and a joy to sit in the jeep, chat with K., drive through the night, and almost literally unwind. '(That's How You Sing) Amazing Grace' is the sound of an unwinding.
Hopefully by the time I write and post this it'll still be Wednesday, as I forgot about it (for the first time) this morning.
Originally I was going to do a song from Elefant's fine new LP Sunlight Makes Me Paranoid (the review's a bit naff, but gives you the idea), but today at work once I remembered that I forgot to remember, the urgent '1995' from Luna's best album, last year's Romantica, became lodged there.
Luna have always sort of been indie classic rock, a contention borne out by the sturdy stylings and extended guitar bliss of their live album (it's indie my dad might even be able to love). But as worthy, and indeed good, as Luna have been, Romantica is noteworthy because it is where Dean Wareham and company strip most of the extraneous material from the songs and produce 45 minutes of fine, off-kilter pop.
'1995' marks the most drastic shift on the album, as it is loud, short and sharp. As most of Luna's endevours are wry rather than surging, '1995' sticks out like a sore thumb.
A very good sore thumb, mind you. Starting off with Wareham's bitchy assessment of a male rival (Talking to your friend was like talking to a shoe/His hair was stupid blonde and his eyes were stupid blue), it quickly thrashes into the chorus, as succint an explication of a certain frame of the male mind as I've heard:
Searching for the crime
Searching for the crime
Something slipped my mind and I'm searching for the crime
In 1995 I told a thousand lies
Let me tell you 'bout the agony of love
He knows he's done something wrong, or at least, he knows he's done something wrong according to her. He doesn't remember it either because he's a cad (who's told a thousand lies), or more likely just because us guys quickly learn that it all too easy to accidentally piss off the fairer sex. It's not so much that he's done wrong as that it's slipped his mind.
In other words, '1995' is the purest musical evocation I've heard of that sweaty, desperately nervous moment when you realise you've forgotten something, but can't remember what. You just know she's going to think you did it on purpose.
It is, of course, the bloody cat.
So, as previously mentioned, my friends sent me a survey a while ago. It had about twenty entries, each for a particular scene in the movie of your life, and they wanted to know what song you would pick for each.
Knowing me, of course, I was all over this like white on rice. Also knowing me, I couldn't just pick some songs and send it back out. No, that would be too easy! Instead I fooled around with it for some weeks, slowly tweaking it into something approaching perfection, given that I wanted all of the tracks to fit onto one CD. I also tried to limit myself to one son per artist.
And then the computer died. So I let it go for a while, and when I finally got this thing working again one of the first things I did was go back and review the list. A few more changes, and I figure it's probably good.
And, of course, I can't let it pass without giving at least some small comment. So, without further ado:
01. Opening Credits / "A Modern Way Of Letting Go" - Idlewild (2:22)
This one has possibly the least ostensible reason behind it - I love the song, and sympathize with some of the lyrics. Short and sharp, as the opening credits should be.
02. Waking-up Scene / "Sharp Little Guy" - Rushmore OST (0:42)
Is it okay to steal a song from another movie? This is the kind of snippet that sounds like someone bounding out of bed and getting ready for the day - so I think it'd be funny to have it soundtrack my slowly dragging my ass out of bed and stumbling into the living room.
03. Average-day Scene / "Questions And Answers" - The Apples In Stereo (2:53)
The only song, as far as I know, that the Apples have done that is written and sung by Hilarie Sidney, their drummer. I kind of hope it's the only song she's done, because it's nice to think her first try knocked one right out of the park. It's got kind of a laid-back, ramshackle feel I associate with average days, and it's indie, so all my friends accusations of indie-worship will have another target.
04. Best-friend Scene / "Relive Yr Unhappy Childhood" - Kid606 (1:25)
The best friend scene is going to involve at least some footage of us sitting around playing video games at 5 or 6 in the morning, and this has the right air of (a) disorientation (b) verisimilitude and (c) enjoyment. Shame about the title, though.
05. First-date Scene / "Kung Fu" - Ash (2:22)
First dates are supposed to be fun. And hopefully exciting. Sure, the song is about Jackie Chan, but it's also kind of a date song. It's FUN, that's the important thing.
06. Falling-in-love Scene / "I Found A Reason" - Cat Power (2:00)
A cover of an old Velvet Underground song, just Chan Marshall and her piano. It perfectly conveys, not love, not the dating process, but those actual moments when you realise you're falling in love.
07. Love Scene / "He'd Be A Diamond" - Teenage Fanclub (2:56)
I'm not saying I'm the sort of person whose 'love scenes' would be soundtracked by this song; I'm saying I'd like to have the sort of love scene (and I assume we're not necessarily just talking about sex here) that 'He'd Be A Diamond' would be appropriate for. Sure, the song is about a guy saying that if you'd just take him back he'd be much better, but his initial sins are never really enumerated, and the song winds up really being about the fact that she still has feelings for him. I personally think the lines and though you feel like shit/He says you look beautiful are terribly romantic; your mileage may vary.
08. Fight-with-friend Scene / "Oh Shit!" - The Buzzcocks (1:38)
Oh shit I thought you and I were friends/Oh shit I guess this is where our love ends/Oh shit I thought things were goin' well/but it hasn't turned out so swell/Has it/Oh shit/Oh shit The song was designed for this scene. It'd be criminal not to use it. I'm picturing an actual fist fight, for some reason.
09. Break-up Scene / "English Fire" - Bush (3:31)
I know, it's Bush. A bit of a joke. But on their second last album, the one nobody bought, they actually have some pretty good songs. 'English Fire' is the prize of the bunch, an endless riff and muted cries of all my love and let's be free. Sounds to me like the dawning realization that you've done something irrevocable, and then waking up the next day and remembering it. If a breakup is included in this film, it's going to be a messy one.
10. Get-back-together Scene / "Warning Sign" - Coldplay (5:31)
It has to be mushy. It has to be soft and sentimental and utterly, utterly contrite, because even if by some miracle it wasn't my fault, how often has a guy gotten very far while clinging to that fact? And let's face it, it probably was my fault anyway. The ladies tend to like Coldplay (and hey, so do I), and since the song moves smoothly from heartbroken pronouncements that you were an island, and I passed you by to the denuemont where she does, in fact, take him back, it's perfect. Just not dignified - but hey, it never was going to be, right?
11. "Life's okay" Scene / "Imitation Of Life" - REM (3:56)
All of the effective scenes like this take place only after the character(s) involved come to some sort of hard fought conclusion that life is, in fact, okay. So the song for the scene shouldn't just be a simply 'HAPPY HAPPY JOY JOY' type thing, but a little more nuanced. Not only does 'Imitation Of Life' make me very happy, but it's got nuance up the wazoo.
12. Heartbreak Scene / "Hamburg" - Readymade (5:03)
Those echoing guitar chords. I was/Taking speed in Germany That long, long ending. I'm pretty sure if I'm good, when I die the closing chords and synths from 'Hamburg' are what I'll hear. Breaks my heart every time.
13. Mental-breakdown Scene / "Bad Man" - Six By Seven (2:36)
If I'm having a breakdown, I'm going to be trashing something. 'Bad Man' is a, well, bad man, coming to terms with the fact that he's been a shit. Very, very loudly. And the desperation inherent in Chris Olley's I have a soul to change adds into the breakdown part.
14. Driving Scene / "Hippy Death Suite" - Clinic (1:18)
And if they're filming me driving, I'm probably trying to kill someone. Possibly a hippy.
15. Lesson-learning Scene / "Battery In Your Leg" - Blur (3:19)
Hard one to pick - what soundtracks a lesson? Ultimately I went with the last song from an album that feels like the process of learning something important. 'Battery In Your Leg' is shaky and fragile, but dammit, we got there, didn't we?
16. Deep-thought Scene / "Another Green World" - Brian Eno (1:36)
It's Eno. It's ambient. Seems like a pretty obvious choice for quiet reflection.
17. Flashback Scene / "Popular" - Nada Surf (3:34)
First of all, I loved this song as a kid. Second of all, it's about highschool. Third of all, it's viciously sarcastic. Fourth of all, it's really fucking loud.
18. Getting ready-for-the-party Scene / "Thank You For Sending Me An Angel (Live)" - Talking Heads (2:09)
This may be a bit weird, as the lyrics to 'Thank You For Sending Me An Angel' are anything but party-like. But I do actually listen to live version when getting ready to go out - it gets you all worked up.
19. Party Scene / "(A) Touch Sensitive" - Super Furry Animals (3:07)
All the best parties take place in time lapse photography. That cut-up, shuddering bass. The porno moans. The disco strings. Everyone at the party is really drunk, you know?
20. Drug Scene / "Squares" - The Beta Band (3:46)
The lyrics sound like me after shrooms, and the sound is pristine, going from minimalist beat to sweeping psychedelia for the chorus. Sounds multicolored to me - no bad trips here.
21. Happy Dance Scene / "Miss Lucifer" - Primal Scream (2:28)
All of New Order's songs are too long. Ridiculous lyrics, but tons of attitude and style. And you could dance to it.
22. Long-night-alone Scene / "Open Ocean Sailing" - Radar Bros. (4:14)
A slurred acoustic strum, someone crooning Fight the ways of a slow production day, and the drummer only connects every couple of attempts. Yes, this is the sort of thing I listen to at 4am when I'm alone and insomniac.
23. Death Scene / "How I Made My Millions" - radiohead (3:08)
The saddest song ever made, by Thom, alone at home, while his girlfriend does the dishes (you can hear here). I'm sure there are words, but I don't know what they are.
24. Closing Credits / "The Day After The Revolution" - Pulp (5:52)
I, I could do anything/If I could just get round to it/And I could be a genius/If I just put my mind to it Cocker's brilliant summation of how cool life is and how we routinely fail to take advantage of it. See here.
Total time: 71:26
Ian Mathers is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in Stylus, the Village Voice, Resident Advisor, PopMatters, and elsewhere. He does stuff and it magically appears here.
imathers at gmail dot com