Wednesday's Emotional Setup: Stylus
The whole transition to a new job and school life again has fucked up my sense of time, and so this is a bit late. But here it is nonetheless: the pieces that won me admission to the Stylus roster. Nick Southall wanted to see two pieces each on two albums, in order to see different takes on them. I like the two more impressionistic pieces better, but Nick said any of the four were of publishable quality.
An actual journal is to follow whenever I find the damn time.
Teenage Fanclub - Songs From Northern Britain
Coincidence is always around us. A blog entry by a talented young man about the yearning possibility of all the things you think while you're writing, that you can't quite get down (that surge, that rush of feeling and potency and possibility, pressing against your skull from the inside). One of my favorite blogs changing its tag to 'KNOCK THAT MAGIC THROUGH MY VEINS'. It's been a beautiful day. Running into an old friend from high school while I was back home (she looks great). And, of course,
Even though it's complicated
We've got time to start again
the music I listen to. I first picked up Teenage Fanclub against the advice of an old acquaintance of mine who worked in the HMV I went to, a man who I trusted implicitly based on previous recommendations. The album was only $5, and he had said that although he had never gotten into them, he knew that those who liked them liked them a lot. So I bought it, but only barely.
That close. That close to never hearing this music, this
You've been an inspirational figure to me
sound, this impossible to describe surge of joy. I know plenty of bands who sound superficially like Teenage Fanclub, but no one sounds like them. 'I Don't Want Control Of You', 'Your Love Is The Place Where I Come From', 'Start Again' - you can feel the good will rolling off these songs even from a distance. Hope and possibility
Only you and me add up
and this love, this big love, that turns 'I Don't Care' into a love song, 'It's A Bad World' into a hymn of protection, 'Ain't That Enough' into the warm blanket you give the Other so they're not cold. Who else can elevate do what you gotta do from a resignation into a clear, pure belief that you'll do the right thing? The redemptive thing about Teenage Fanclub, about Raymond McGinley, Gerard Love and Norman Blake is their belief, expressed through music, that we really are good people. That
Sometimes you underline destinations
Sometimes you try to find inspiration
yes, you both really do feel that way, that things will be okay, eventually. That things are okay, when you look at it right, that they'll always be okay. It's a sunny day out, the guitars are chiming, the voices are in harmony, and all is right with the world. All you need is information/Everything is there to know
, they sing. And it is.
I wonder about the faith of the members of Teenage Fanclub. I'm not concerned, the way a priest would be, about it; it doesn't matter to me whether they are atheist, Christian, Muslim, agnostic, pagan, Hindu, or what have you. But the love songs of Teenage Fanclub (and most, if not all, of their songs are love songs) are strangely chaste and impersonal, hinting at some great Absolute that they stretch towards like the music of a sphere (I feel the planets surround me
I'm not accusing them of fanaticism or any of the other myriad possible negative consequences of dogmatism. But especially in Raymond McGinley's songs here ('I Can't Feel My Soul' stands out) there is the feeling of a helpless supplicant at the feet of someone, something, bigger and (importantly) better than yourself, better than Self. What is the image on the back of Songs From Northern Britain
? It is a clear vista of healthy green forest beneath a beautiful blue sky, untainted by not only human presence but by presence of any kind, existing only in and for itself.
If pop music is, as a wiser man than I once theorised, about melody, than Teenage Fanclub represent one possible Platonic Ideal of the form, all elements both sonic and lyrical and thematic mustered into a great harmonic whole, all playing the same melody, as it were. Love, McGinley and Blake are consummate craftsmen when it comes to the chorus, of course, and so Teenage Fanclub boast stellar harmonies for lying about on a summer day, for hot drinks on a winter afternoon, for rainy days inside or out, and for driving. Especially for driving, when that endless harmonic drive is sublimated into the engine thrumming beneath your feet, and the road ends past your field of view.
There is a humility in Teenage Fanclub despite the transporting melodies, a belief in the power of what's around them (Seasons change everything
Blake sings) and what runs through them and what they are, what we all are, that does not rely on a particular religious faith, or indeed any religious faith at all. But it feels holy, it feels sacred, and yet not unapproachable (as all truly holy things are). Teenage Fanclub do not require your belief in a mystical soul, in an afterlife, or in anything we would recognize as God (they are very similar to Spinoza in this respect), but they do evoke something more, something bigger, than us. This does not somehow elevate them 'beyond' pop music; this is one of the things pop music can aspire to.
Readymade - The Dramatic Balanced By
I'm at the end
I've broken the trend
Of being alone
Of hiding the phone
This record exudes calm in the middle of the storm. Just as Arch's dry, quiet vocals are often surrounded with a tsunami of fuzz guitar, drum machine and keyboards, there is at the heart of this record a peace that comes out of acceptance, or resignation; hopelessness, or confidence. It's hard to tell, most of the time.
You have to understand, this sounds like pop to me. 'Bloomsbury Boxcutter', with its refrain of the Lamplighters are dead again
, the heavenly 'Hamburg', even 'Head Falls To Shoulder''s lengthy coda. I wasn't exactly raised on what this band sounds like, but I was raised on the Clash and electric Neil Young, and so volume and distortion do not necessarily equal difficulty. Readymade may be neo-shoegazers or dream pop or noise pop or whatever you want to call it, but they are at their best as catchy as any other band more well known for that trait, even when it's just Arch murmuring And I wish that I would breathe
on the four-track hymnal 'Following A Typewriter To Sleep'.
It is a difficult thing to truly explicate in words how an album comes together, how the best ones become more than just a collection of songs, and it is no easier in the case of The Dramatic Balanced By
. Part of it is a sense of place, inescapable to my ears, that means I cannot listen to this record without thinking of a cramped, grey apartment somewhere in Vancouver during a rainy night, the city pressing down on your head, latent violence and heat and passion all locked down by cold and wet and muted fog. (and this can be nothing other than a city album - witness the mirroring of the poster and box art for Scorsese's Mean Streets that adorns the front of the album) This too is a type of calm, but not a pleasant one. A couplet from 'The Gloaming' by Radiohead summons up the feeling perfectly: When the walls bend/With your breathing
It is this feeling, this sense of place and personality, that renders The Dramatic Balanced By
more than the sum of its (amazing) parts. Normally I hate little meandering pieces placed between songs to connect them, but here they sound like part of the environment, like the brief 'Moten' is just as important as 'Head Falls To Shoulder' to the album. Even the lengthy, abstract closer 'The Lamplighters Are Dead' feels like it belongs, like it tells the end of the story.
What that story is, of course, I couldn't tell you even if I knew. You cannot transmit experience like that. It must be felt, and felt in total. Like all great albums, The Dramatic Balanced By is ultimately a personal experience.
Most of these stories, however, were written after midnight, when the world was quiet and there was no one left to talk to.
Cityscape driveby, buzz and hum of life, click track/drum machine/public transit, pavement and sky, no birds, no animals but us, no green. We make soundtracks for this; this one is fashioned out of static and hum and anthemic drive and the sound of the sky, and the rain storm wrapping itself around our building, the sky is never blue, never black, always grey, always cloudy.
Hear the joy in 'Lasting Real', in that endless highway drive, just looping the onramps and not going anywhere - joyrides for 'adults', no mischief, just escape from jobs, from rent, from responsibility. From politics. 'Bloomsbury Boxcutter' - again that feeling of setting out, a great journey, but always within the cities, the City, people and steel and cement and sky and wood all wrapped together tight so tight.
The City, the world, it's such an awful place. But not all the time. It's filled with people, and people can go either way. You can go either way. And right now they want to go up, to fill us all with sound and melody and fuzz and raise us up.
Endless uplift, always trapped back into the city. An effort to rise (to rise always, to go upwards and away forever) balanced by the vitality of the surroundings, by the fact that the effort itself is fashioned out of that which keeps itself down. You can't see the stars from your window, but you can dream them with your guitar and a drum machine and some sympathetic friends.
Finding your way. Suffocating under the layers of the city, taking speed in Germany
, occasionally bursting out in exuberance for a night, but the next morning it's you're asking for it/the closer I get
and it always gets closer, it always impinges, it gets closer and closer and closer and you just have to escape, to flee, to ascend...
And the soaring, pulsing heart of it all, head falling to shoulder, spirit lifting to city's grey sky... Uplift on uplift, those keyboards bearing you and your heart and your sickness, and your weariness, your terrible burden of fatigue, away from it. What are they singing? What are they saying? It doesn't matter, nothing matters, but the sound, that sound, that repeat, that cycle, that endless up up up up...
But not away from it. Never away from it. It's too much a part of it all. 'Dreamt I Fled'. You can walk. You can't fly. But maybe if you just play that chord again, that one, the one that feels good, maybe you can escape.
But why would you want to?