Makeup For The Silence

The digital home of music writer Jesse Richman

Makeup For The Silence

Tag: the future

Simple Math 2011

Manchester Orchestra – “Simple Math”

One thing I’ve learned this year is that to be part of the critical conversation, you basically have to choose to play in the same corner of the sandbox as everybody else, even if the toys there kinda suck. I don’t know whether it’s nature or nurture, and I don’t know whether it’s correlation or causation, but it seems that as a general rule, the people who are interested in a critical dialogue about music are by and large also interested in rather specific genres (and largely only in those genres) of music.  There’s a very clearly- and rather narrowly-circumscribed Canon Of The Now; its contents are ever-changing, but it’s always almost instantly apparent what’s In and what’s Out.

This year, for really the first time, I took it upon myself to engage that community in some way.  Generally by just sort of inserting myself into the conversation, but hey, I’m not above kicking down a door or two if that’s what it takes to get into the party.  (Which is not to say I’ve ruffled feathers merely for the sake of ruffling feathers; I’d at least like to think I’m above that.)  But, really, ultimately, I’m much more interested in bringing the kids over to play in my corner for a while.  I’m not sure they’ll bite; maybe I just need to really do a good job of pointing out just how interesting this corner is. Maybe I just need to find new friends to join me over here, ones who are equally unpleased with the dirty, overchurned sand over there.  Whichever of those it is, it starts with elevating the level of critical discussion of the music I’m interested in discussing; if I have a goal for 2012, that’s it.

But perhaps the biggest issue of all this is simply one of time: there’s only so much time to listen to music, only so much time to spend relistening to and really examining it, only so much time to write about it and go through that process that often generates two new ideas in my head for each one I lay out in text.  And there are so many releases that it’s quite literally not possible to have a deep understanding of more than one or two focal points at a time, and maybe a passing familiarity with a few more.  Simple math says you can’t get to it all.*

There’s actually been some discussion this past week about genre-dabblers and “token” albums – how many other r&b albums have people who love The Weeknd listened to this year? how many other hardcore albums have people who put Fucked Up’s “David Comes To Life” in their year-end lists listened to? – and I’ll admit I’ve snarked it up a bit there.  Really, though, token albums are a godsend; they’re a way to ensure you’re at least getting good stuff (if not the best stuff) from a genre you’d be missing out on entirely otherwise.  It’s not a flaw to only have a shallow understanding of certain genres; it’s a fact of life in a universe where time is finite but human creativity is near-infinite.  Which is why it seems a somewhat Sisyphean challenge to bring people over to music they might not give critical time to otherwise, but I think it’s one I’m up for.  If you spend your life tilting at windmills, but people still tell your story half a millenium later, well then maybe you were winning after all.

The irony, of course, is that this blog is specifically not intended for that kind of critical examination and dialogue; this place exists, or at least has come to exist, more for personal storytelling.  Most of that discussion, for me, happens elsewhere: my personal twitter, my personal tumblr, even to a degree in my reviews at PropertyOfZack.  I’m still working out how, or if, I want to integrate all of these together in the coming year.  I do know that one of my goals is to expand my writing to other places, and with that I’d like to push myself into other kinds of writing as well.  And ultimately, that means writing more.  It’s something I’ve intentionally carved out time for recently, but now the hard part – pushing myself to use that time to write, and not either wasting it or spending it on valuable-but-other things – begins.

*(Tomorrow, in Simple Math Part II, I’ll actually dig into the numbers)

Motion City Soundtrack – “Skin And Bones”

Motion City Soundtrack – Skin And Bones

All through my life there’s been a path of sorts laid out for me.  Going through High School there was never any question that I was going to college.  After college, I knew I was going to go back to school for something, so I was fine with just finding whatever job might pay the bills for a bit while I figured it out.  That led naturally into law school.  I found a long term temp job right out of law school that smoothed my transition to NYC.  Sure there were some surprises along the way – a marriage, a divorce, a couple of moves, some friends lost, some friends found, an opportunity or two I hadn’t counted on – but even the surprises were the sort that you expect to find on your journey, the kind that your path winds around and through, that become landmarks and signifiers and might call for a slight redo in the layout of the path but are never an impedance or even really a distraction.

This is really the first time I’ve found myself without some beacon, some idea of what I could and should do next, and I feel completely adrift.  I don’t know where I am supposed to go or even necessarily where I want to go, and I sure as heck don’t know how to get there. It doesn’t help that my efforts to find a stopgap have been both fruitless and demoralizing.  I’m left facing the odd combination of ennui and uncertainty that spiral out from the pulsar of existential angst, like microscopic particles of pure confusion that whiz by me, nearly imperceptible, at least until one wings off the back of my head when I’m least expecting it.  Technically I’m probably too late for a quarter-life crisis and too early for my mid-life one, but this certainly feels like it fits the bill.

Motion City Soundtrack’s “My Dinosaur Life” sunk its teeth into me on the first listen and doesn’t look to be letting go anytime soon.  Marrying the best of mid 90s “alternative” – the grinding swirl of Sugar and Superdrag, the rhythmic wordplay of Eve 6, the punny pop and buoyant melodies of Fountains Of Wayne –  to their own slyly original brand of pop-punk, it’s easily the best album of their careers.  But while the whole album is stellar from beginning to end, it’s one track in particular, “Skin And Bones”, that keeps finding its way onto my iPod, ten or twenty repeats at a time.

It’s really hard to write a song about the Big Questions without it turning into either bloated bloviations with little grounding or pithy dime-store philosophizing.  For every “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” that manages to get it at least part-right, there are a thousand ugly, embarrassing “If Today Was Your Last Day”s. How can a band answer questions to which nobody has the answer?  And moreso, how can they do so without appearing to the world to have a titanic Messiah complex?  How do you credibly do the incredible?

I think maybe that’s why “Skin And Bones” is such a success. Songwriter Justin Pierre recognizes that sometimes, maybe all the time, the Big Questions are just cover for the small question, the question that only effects the tiny speck of dust alight in the universe, “lost slowly drifting through these dead and lonesome heights,” the only speck that really counts in the end.  We may wonder “if consciousness can’t expand,” or muse on the reasons for “deja vu and acid rain,” but when it comes down to it, we only really want the answers to these questions because we hope they might lead us to the answer to the real question, the deepest one, the only one.

“Will we be all right, left alone tonight?”

In bypassing attempts to answer the unanswerable questions and sussing out the real heart of the matter, the song stays humble and honest.  Justin’s voice may ask it again and again, hypnotically, but the question doesn’t really remain unresolved – the answer’s right there, in his repetition, and in the music itself, swirling but propulsive, insistently pressing forward, especially in Tony Thaxton’s brilliantly hyperkinetic drum fills preceding the final chorus.  We may ask the question each night, but assuredly we’ll be there the next night to ask it again.  No fear, no hesitation, just momentum.

To quote one of the Motion City Soundtrack’s earlier songs, “the future freaks me out”.  Well, maybe not “freaks me out” exactly – I wouldn’t say I’m scared of the future, just a little confused and uncertain, hesitant, wary.  And that’s ok.  Maybe I’ll figure it out eventually; maybe not.  Either way, I’ve got music to keep carrying me forward.

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