Thursday, January 13, 2011

Okay so maybe I'm sort of a hippy: Yeasayer.

At a bar a month or so back two friends 1.5 times my age told me I looked like John Lennon. Appending a picture so you could judge for yourself would require taking one (my hair is longer than it's been in a while, my logic being I'll get it cut when it stops looking charmingly shaggy) and also looking at my own face, which I find endlessly uncomfortable. I don't actually like the idea of looking like John Lennon, whose face I've always found a little grotesque.

Right now I'm waiting you might say breathlessly for a record by Akron/Family called, I kid you not, S/T II:The Cosmic Birth and Journey of Shinju TNT. Akron/Family is the sort of band that records an album called Love is Simple and on it there's a song called "Love is Simple" without the slightest hint of irony, and then after making the album they lose their singer to a Buddhist Dharma center in the midwest. They're the sort of guys that wear beards and take band photos of themselves swimming around shirtless but not really sexy. (Although those may be some of the sexier band photos out there, precisely because they weren't meant to be, but only records of bodies.)

About once every four to six months I promise myself I'm going to interact with the people around me in a strictly loving, open, and generous way. I decide to let people know how warmly I feel toward them even if maybe I also sometimes feel cold. This resolution rarely lasts long, mainly because my anger when faced with human incompetence or laziness is what you might call intense. As in like you can, if you follow me around for an hour or so after I've dealt with someone who doesn't respect the actual needs of his or her fellow human beings and the responsibilities of his or her station, you can hear my language degrade like stop-motion footage of an orange left out to rot -- and then at some level of obscenity I satisfy myself and sort of snap back into a reasonable adult sort of mood.

But I do love people and feel very warmly toward them. My books are meant to be long, honest meditations on this love, and for instance why it hurts.

And so for years and years I didn't like music because I thought music was about being cool and getting laid. And often it is. But there were bands like Dufus where it wasn't about either. Years ago I interviewed the guy from Dufus and I asked him about this and he said, quite simply, he'd already had sex. I didn't take this to mean he was done with sex (why would he be?) and he has since then reproduced. What I took it to mean was mainly that he had done that thing and that he had some reason to suspect there would be more coming, and so he could focus on making music that made him feel good. So for instance:

(Here is another performance of the same song, this time solo. Also here is a song he did called "Farting Without Fear," and believe it or not it's good. Dude gets more sound out of one guitar than most bands get out of three.)

When I found out that I did like music it was because I learned their were bands as weird and messy as I felt. I used to listen to a fair amount of hardcore, which I still like, and noise rock, which is still good stuff, with of course my ideal being Modest Mouse, which was a loud weird angry miserable confused band. What I wanted was a full spectrum of sound and a full spectrum of confused mingled feelings all mixed up together in the same song, which would direct my feelings and in some way exhaust them, so I could feel nothing.

But it wasn't really nothing I wanted, precisely. There is a low-level buzz of love behind the rest, when you peel or cut or burn the rest away. What I wanted was to find a way to feel that thing behind the other things for longer periods of time. And as I grow older and become some sort of adult I find I can enjoy longer periods of serenity. And in my serenity I maybe feel like John Lennon. Or what I feel like is the sort of person who could record that sort of music. (And then maybe die a violent death.)

When I close the cover or document on a story is when it becomes crass or cruel in a way that tells me the writer never bothered to love. 

It's been easy perhaps to dismiss Yeasayer as a sort of lesser Akron/Family, the Akron/Family you listen to between Akron/Family records or while said band tries to figure out how to be as good as they were before their singer went away to be a Buddhist. They were supposed to be "World Music Akron/Family" when their first album came out, I think, which is another way of saying Akron/Family. And well "world music" is generally not attractive as a descriptor, because apparently, judging from where I've seen the term used before, the world's music sort of sucks. But listen: thing is "2080" really rocks.

And when Odd Blood came out people were describing it as some sort of psychedelic '80s retread, which a) were the '80s often psychedelic? and b) the '80s are probably my least favorite musical decade. In terms of the last fifty years I would, generally speaking, rank the decades as follows, as far as my enjoyment is concerned: 2000s, 1970s, 1960s, 1990s, 1980s. And it might be kind to say the songs from Odd Blood don't give good sample. You can listen to thirty seconds of anything on eMusic, which is still how I get my music, though that subscription is becoming less attractive every year. But so recently, well after the point where everybody else had moved on, I decided to download Odd Blood. And it turns out I like it! Not just "Ambling Alp," which like you'd have to be a monster not to (I forgive you if you are one), but "Madder Red" and also "O.N.E" and "Rome," and others. You can see what they meant about the album's native decade, particularly in the production style actually, but a hippy is a hippy any decade you find him: he wants to dance, he wants to hug. Both of which things I will do with you at any party or place where we can call beer our excuse, or also without excuse.

But maybe the best way to enjoy Yeasayer or to introduce yourself is Live at Ancienne Belgique, a Christmas gift to their fans. You can download it for any price, including free. Having been recorded in October it's got a nice mix of their songs new and old. And yet also being a live show it has a warmth that sometimes the production of their records proper doesn't capture, because vocals slightly smoothed (not autotuned: merely rehearsed) and because all errors removed. "Red Cave" becomes one of the sweetest songs you'll hear anywhere.

It's all so delightfully earnest. There's a keyboard choir on "Wait for the Summer" and it's not apparently a joke. "Mondegreen" makes about a thousand times more sense awash in crowd noise. The weird sort of gastrointestinal synths are an invitation to dance. Guitar out of a cop drama. Reverb reverb. And "Ambling Alp" is even more fun: explicitly a sing-along.

Anyway you can go get it if you want. It made me feel nice, and love.

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