Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Play To Z: Plug In, Plug Out to The Reminder

Some Observations

"Two Princes" by The Spin Doctors is a pretty fantastic example of early 90s college rock and is a damned fine song, but I will never, ever be able to separate it from Third Eye Blind's "Semi-Charmed Life" in my brain. The two are musical conjoined twins as far as I'm concerned.

  I don't own anything else by Madeon, the French DJ between this inspired mash-up, but if "Pop Culture" is anything to go by, he is a demon sent from Hell to make me dance.

  I've already mentioned my cheapskate decision to make my niece and nephews mixes this Christmas in lieu of the proper presents I couldn't afford, but to be honest I'm pretty damn happy with how they turned out, especially when they include introducing my 9 year-old manic-ball-of-energy nephew to "Fast Turtle" by Anamanguchi.

  If I had to pick a single band to soundtrack my life, I would without hesitation pick The Go! Team. Proof Of Youth saw them in fine form, not only expanding on their "70s car chase through Sesame Street with Sonic Youth in pursuit" sound, but also proving they could tackle the occasional smaller, quieter song. Still, it would be nice to have a life that consisted mostly of kung-fu action spectaculars and leaping off piers to avoid explosions.

  I've never had sex while listening to Purple Rain, but if you do, I'm pretty sure it counts as a threesome by every metric that counts.

Prince will sex you now
  "Ignition (Remix)" turned 10 years old last week. 10 years of being the best party song of all time. John Darnielle of The Mountain Goats started a masterful post of 100 reasons why the song is so brilliant, which just shows that A) John Darnielle is great and B) "Ignition (Remix) crosses all boundaries. It is the Great Uniter, because everyone wants it to be the Best Party Ever, no matter what they're doing at the time.

  I bought the first two volumes of Radio One's Live Lounge collections back when my music taste wasn't as well-defined and I thought "Hey, maybe I want to hear The Kooks cover Gnarls Barkley", but there are a gems amongst the echoing void of personality. Lemar's soulful version of The Darkness' "I Believe In A Thing Called Love", Franz Ferdinand's take on Gwen Stefani's "What You Waiting For?" that slides into Billy Idol's "White Wedding" and Corinne Bailey Rae's transformation of Justin Timberlake's "Sexyback" into a 20's enfused jazz number are all worth a listen.

  I am not much of a rocker (I know you all just fell off your chairs in surprise) but "Killing In The Name" by Rage Against The Machine will always hold a special place in my heart. When it plays, I can almost feel the sticky floors and smell the thick air of our local "alternative" club, The Waterfront.

  I only recently picked up (i.e. rented from the library and burnt onto my laptop) Taylor Swift's masterful Red, and as such, I've only listened to most of the songs once. That said, the other day I listened to "I Knew You Were Trouble" maybe 30 times on repeat, so I feel fairly secure in saying it's a spectacular example of a pop album. There are some missteps, of course, but alongside "I Knew You Were Trouble" and the peerless "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together", "State Of Grace", "All Too Well", "22" and "Begin Again" all leapt out on first listen as stellar examples of Swift's brand of country pop, managing to push the envelope of her sound while still feel classic and effortless.

  Sleigh Bells' sophomore effort Reign Of Terror wasn't quite as assured as Treats, and skewed a little harder towards the big stadium sound of bands like Slayer and Iron Maiden, but it stilled produced songs like "Born To Lose" and "Comeback Kid", and the way it moves from a big anthemic beginning to a more subdued ending feels like the hangover slowly creeping in as you wander home at 5 in the morning, watching the sun rise.

Coming Back To The Shins; or, Street Level Versus Cosmic

  Listening to Port Of Morrow, The Shins long-time-coming 2012 album, it never clicked in the same way their earlier records did. I could point the finger at the long gap between albums or the almost complete change in the band's line-up, but in truth I'm not the same listener as I was when I first discovered the band 10 years ago.

  To me, my defining Shins experience was indelibly linking the song "Turn A Square" to a girl I had a massive crush on in the second year of Sixth Form. When I heard the song, I pictured her, and when I saw her the song would be on the tip of my tongue. The crush ended up going nowhere - I harboured it through the rest of Sixth Form, and finally drunkenly confessed it to her towards the end of the first year of university, just before she left a club with another guy.

  As much as I can still appreciate the skill and artistry of The Shins' work, their songs have a certain amount of idealism and naivete to them, not just in the lyrics but in their whole atmosphere. It's not an exaggeration to say they were my favourite band at one point, but they've been replaced (with a few steps in between) by Los Campesinos!, a band you could never accuse of naivete. Their songs are filled with telling details that root them in real heartbreak, all bloodied knees and walking home in the cold, and when they aren't tragic, they're still founded in the knowledge that the happiness is fleeting.

  This all sounds very bleak, but that's all a matter of perspective. Acknowledging that most relationships end and most people aren't perfect doesn't mean you can't enjoy the good times. After a particularly drama-filled Hallowe'en last year, I awoke with an almost Zen-like sense of enlightenment at the thought that I am friends with so many hot messes. Our beauty is in our imperfections, our glory is in our flaws.

  This line of thought ties closely to something my housemate and I have been discussing for some while (and several of our friends have been dragged into), which we call the Street Level/Cosmic Spectrum. In Marvel comics*, heroes run the gamut in power levels, from characters like The Punisher who are non-powered humans fighting muggers and drug dealers, up through Captain America and Iron Man to figures like the Silver Surfer and Nova, who fight epic space battles against foes like Annihilus and Ego The Living Planet.

Indeed he is
  As well as the difference in the power of their respective protagonists, these stories also have distinctly varying tones. When a reasonably mid-powered Spider-Woman showed up in the street level title Alias, it was because she was being used as a source of superpower-granting drugs. When a regular human appears in a cosmic level story, they become a Flash Gordan-style figure, holding their own against the aliens and abstract universal manifestations.

  We've started applying these distinctions to our outlooks on life, and more specifically relationships. Street level denotes a certain amount of realism and an embracing of life's scummier elements. It's about grabbing hold of the whole of life, dirty parts included, and diving in head first. Cosmic level means taking a slightly more romantic view on life (it doesn't necessarily mean idealistic - an entrenched cynic who sees the worst in everything can be just as cosmic) and a tendency to see your own life in narrative terms. Cosmic types get their heart broken more often, because they fall in love harder and more readily. Street level types take love's slings and arrows with a weary shrug and move on.

  Of course, the whole thing is a spectrum. Most of the superheroes in the Marvel universe are not purely street level or cosmic: they sit somewhere in between. It's the same with most people - we're a mix of hard-worn realism and starry-eyed romance (usually the latter kicks in during crushes, the start of relationships and break-ups). The whole theory is a work-in-progress, but my own move from cosmic level teen to street level adult is definitely reflected in my evolving music taste.

*To be fair, this also applies to DC, but their universe tends to be more "cosmic" overall, so the metaphor doesn't work as well

Rediscovered Gem

Neon Indian - Psychic Chasms (The Phenomenal Handclap Band Remix)

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