My Year in Lists chronicles one blogger's quest to understand why music matters to us and what makes it a lasting aspect of our existence. To facilitate this examination, three music fans have contributed a list of 52 essential albums. Each week this year, one album off of each list will be analyzed in an attempt to understand why some music sticks with us and what it means for our lives.
"I don't enjoy lengthy programmes. A 70 minute CD is similar to the old double album. And I never did like that."-David JackmanThis is going to be a "Morning After" installment of My Year in Lists. Before any of you horribly misinterpret that, what I mean is that, having gone on for far, far, FAR too long in last week's examination of Arcade Fire's Funeral, this week I'm going to do my best to make up for that by cranking out a very short column today. So sorry if you feel like I'm giving anyone the short shrift today, you can blame past-Jordan for being too loquacious for his own good.
Tab broke the rules this week, as he is wont to do. Usually when he played fast and loose with the confines of this feature (that is, turning in a list of 52 essential albums), he did so by giving me multiple albums to get through in one week, by over-programming me in hopes of indoctrinating me as much as possible within a one year period. This time around, he did the opposite. Instead of giving me several albums to run through in the space of one week, he gave me zero albums. This time out, we will not be looking at an album at all; instead, this week I listened to 17 singles by Organum (otherwise known, generally at least, as David Jackman).
Jackman works mostly in drone music, which tends to mean his work can run together pretty easily. Playing with the same repetitive sound over the length of one song could get incredibly boring (and some drone artists fall into this trap with over-long songs), but Organum mostly side steps the issue by keeping the songs short and to the point. "Kanal" hits one ominous tone throughout, but varies it u enough that it doesn't get boring within the song's two and a half minute runtime. "Drome" plays it the same way, this time with a mystical series of notes that sound like the musical cue tv shows tend to pull out when a character is on a spirit quest.
"Aeo/Shining Star" also plays up mystique and a feeling of seeking answers that may be difficult to find. The song is evocative enough that its simplicity is barely even noticeable. It isn't a complicated piece, but it does conjure emotions that are interesting enough to give time too. "Shovels (With Haters)" is a pretty docile song, considering its title. If ever Organum was going to devolve into angry, battering drone, it would have been here, but instead the whole thing comes off as a pretty muted affair (apologies for the lack of clips here. Youtube doesn't seem to know who Organum is).
If we're going to talk about Animal Collective (spoiler alert: we are), I should honestly reveal my bias where the band is concerned before we dive in too deeply. I feel like I am never on enough drugs when I listen to Animal Collective. I have always felt that I would better connect with their particular brand of freak folk if only I was really, really high, but I'm not and mostly wish they would go form a drum circle far away from me and talk about whether what they call blue someone else might see as green amongst themselves. That being said, the band's sixth album, and Collin's pick this week, Feels has its moments.
The opening track, "Did You See the Words" is catchy and fun without a single illegal substance coursing through my veins. It's a song that doesn't feel burdened by the band's need to come off as "out there." In other words, it doesn't feel like the band is trying to be something, which actually makes them into something much more enjoyable. "Grass" has that same unencumbered, infectious feeling, with just a hint more "you should have been handed some drugs at the door" feel. This is a song I would play if I were trying to sell someone on the positive aspects of Animal Collective. Seeing as I will probably never do that, I guess I'll just play "Grass" when I'm looking for some infectious power pop and that half of my ipod is looking a little worn out.
"The Purple Bottle" suffers from being a bit too long for its own good. The pop mentality is still present, but the band's self-indulgent side kicks in a bit too much here, which detracts from my ability to enjoy it. "Turn Into Something" has the same basic problem, opening on a strong riff then immediately hiding that riff below a cacophony of instruments and chanting until it disappears almost completely behind a wall of self centered sonic experimentation.
Ultimately, Feels is probably the best Animal Collective album I have ever been forced to sit through. There is enough likable material that the whole exercise doesn't end up being a huge, album-long eye-roll, yet I still left the experience feeling like Animal Collective is best experienced at a different level of intoxication. If the three Radiohead albums we will cover by this column's end can be considered as a trilogy, OK Computer is definitely The Empire Strikes Back: dark, paranoid, ultimately about our own futility against the forces that trump us and ending with Thom Yorke being frozen in carbonite (ok, that last one isn't technically true, but it sounds like a good idea, right?). This means The Bends is A New Hope, which I feel like I can make an argument for if pressed, excepting "Street Spirit (Fade Out)" which is definitely more Empire, and Kid A, which we will get to later this year will be Return of the Jedi (hopefully with fewer Ewoks. I have officially decided that comparing all albums to a Star Wars movie is perfectly reasonable. Get on board or get out of the way).
Perhaps the most famous song on the album, "Paranoid Android" is an epic, nearly seven minute long song, dividing itself into four sections and taking inspiration from "Hapiness is a Warm Gun" and "Bohemian Rhapsody." If any of that sounds less than awesome to you, it's a good idea to get off at the next offramp. The song began as a bit of a joke, taking its title from Martin the Paranoid Android in Douglas Adams Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series, but the song runs the thematic gamut from insanity to violence to meaningless slogans to objections to capitalism. Basically its one Tauntaun short of being the Hoth segment of Empire (this metaphor is pretty great, right?).
"Exit Music (For A Film)" was written for Baz Luhrman's Romeo + Juliet, but I won't hold that against it. It's a beautiful, moving song about two people fleeing together before the situation gets out of hand. I don't want to underplay the beauty and impact of the song by continuing my admittedly silly Empire Strikes Back metaphor (it really is a great song), but if this doesn't sound like the Han and Leia arc in Empire to you, we should have a talk (in fact, the more I force this reading onto the album, the more sense it seems to make. And I haven't even done anything that would let me enjoy Animal Collective prior to writing this!). "Karma Police" sprang from an inside joke between the band members about how if anyone did something wrong, they would call the karma police. The song developed into a catchy and clever examination of the way people look at you as if you're not doing all you could. If you listen to "Karma Police" under normal circumstances, it is another great song on an album full of them, but for the moment, and for the sanctity of this reading, let's all listen to it and think about Yoda.
I began this section of the column completely joking about Ok Computer's similarity to The Empire Strikes Back, yet listening to the album again as I write this, its kind of hard not to see thematic connections everywhere ("Electioneering" can be about Lando Calrissian, "No Surprises" about the Cloud City Sequence in its entirety, and "The Tourist" about the way Luke ends the movie). "Lucky," another one of the musical masterpieces that populate this album pretty liberally, is, for this current reading, a nearly perfect musical accompaniment to Luke Skywalker's suicidal decision near the film's end.
I am by no means suggesting that Ok Computer should be the Dark Side of the Moon to The Empire Strikes Back's The Wizard of Oz (I don't even suggest Dark Side of the Moon be read that way). I didn't even set out to compare the film and the album so closely. Yet I do think how easily it can be done says something about the resonance and mastery of the album. Ok Computer turned Radiohead into superstars and is widely considered one of the best rock albums ever made, a deeply meaningful exploration of modern alienation that just happens to line up thematically with the middle chapter of a trilogy (or at least one trilogy). Whether or not Kid A will keep up this trend I don't know (since the albums weren't intended as a trilogy I tend to doubt it), yet Ok Computer is a beautiful work of melancholy and paranoia, an album for the ages that manages to feel timeless and of its time simultaneously.
Great music can open itself up to meta-textual interpretations that were never considered at the time it was created. Often over the course of this year I have ascribed sounds and feelings to songs that may never have been there (earlier in this column, I talked about Organum reminding me of spirit quests, for God's sake), and while my Empire digression is more than a little bit silly, that doesn't mean it isn't also meaningful in its own way. Music makes us feel, connects with us on a deeper level than many other mediums, and it that way, like I demonstrated all too verbosely last week, opens itself up to personal interpretations that may or may not have anything to do with the music itself. Because music, like all great art, has a catch: Once it's out there, it's ours.
Read more My Year in Lists here
Next week on My Year in Lists:
Zoviet France is Shouting at the Ground, The Foo Fighters care about The Colour and the Shape and The Knife give a Silent Shout.