The Albums that Made Me- Part 3

Without music life would be a mistake – Friedrich Nietzsche

Of course, for lamentive Nietzsche life cannot be a mistake because it cannot be deliberate either—there is, he says, no agency behind it all. But in the pleasure of music, one forgets worry for long enough to appreciate living at all.

The pleasure of music I rarely want to blemish by making it a social matter; much of the music I enjoy I keep to myself. But with the emergence of stream services and the superabundance of collected arranged-sounds, I’ve become less of a loner, come out of my comfy shell. Music has always, of course, been social; since even the Neolithic drumming on a stone, presumably.

The discrete categories humans make for music compared to noises or sound is fascinating. The in-out group behaviour of taste making is fascinating. The communicative ‘song’ of whales and birds and singing of messages to even the mate advertisement that evolutionary psychology explains as why we often fancy music stars is fascinating (they arouse emotions we misattribute to the performers). That it’s automatically assumed harmless that, say, Ed Sheeran singing “I’m in love with your body” isn’t wrong word choice promulgating the conflation of love and lust, likewise that music never affects behaviour or thoughts at all beyond inducing movements and sounds—is fascinating.

All this shows how integrated into human consciousness music is, proving our brains are musical; not just linguistic. But the distinction between linguistic and musical overlooks how both are sounds that rely on stress and pitch and learned codes. Take that whale and birdsong is sex and food talk to those species; but ‘song’ to us. This is what bothers me about claims that music is ineffable, especially when by ‘music’ people mean tracks with obviously effable lyrics. That music is ineffable is little different than any passionate experience being ineffable—you can describe the parts but never the whole sum of an experience. This treatment of music as an exception is just a curtail end of romanticism and the magical ineffable spirit – in my opinion – trying to outrun rationalist explanations, acquainting itself with omnipresent music sharing.

“All art should aspire to the condition of music” wrote Walter Pater, Oscar Wilde’s aesthete mentor. The implication being that no art should have to justify itself with reasons for its existence other than arousing pleasurable emotions. But neuroscientist, musician and music producer for groups like Blue Öyster Cult, Daniel Levitin has accessibly explained how music works in the brain and how our modular model (a music part, a language part) is flawed, oversimple. And the parts of emotion can be described, and the parts of music can, and the parts of the brain also but never the glorious sum we shortcut with a deceptive – ‘ineffable’.

John Wesley Harding- Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan with The Band has Dylan working with musicians in a way that effaces his ego. The personality of Freewheelin Bob who wanted to be a new Woody Guthrie and a poet makes for good albums, but the artist came out for me most in this album; the good temper of Dylan among other musicians, Danko and so forth, seems to free his lyrics from relationships – the routine song theme, usually about their start or end – to worldly and obscure subject-matter be it religious, philosophical, or dreamy vignettes in acoustic folk. In a way, no other album ever does. Demonstrative of his interest in Verlaine and Rimbaud, the lyrics to “The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest,” and All “Along the Watchtower” excised of melody are pure poetry—more metrical and sensical than most. Where other pupils listened during a level classes I’d write out Dylan lyrics instead of notes. The conclusion of “The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest:”

“Well, the moral of the story

The moral of this song,

Is simply that one should never be

Where one does not belong.

So when you see your neighbor carryin’ somethin’

Help him with his load

And don’t go mistaking Paradise

For that home across the road”

Saturation II- Brockhampton

These rappers met on a Kanye West fan forum, proving that something great other than fascinatingly hateful exchanges can come out of fan forums. The brash attitude and the non-sequitur videos of older hip-hop are still here (thank god) but as a crew there’s no clear leader. There is fraternity here and a seriousness-to-irony by turns that offsets the hip hop rhetorical performance of rousing and toasting: ‘I’m gonna X and how I’ll be like Y to all the Z out there.’ I like these guys as people too, a chorus of brothers that take turns rather than mess up each other’s flow. As I age, I became sadly suspicious I’d never like anything new as much as what used to be new. So when a best friend introduced me to them this October – I say introduced, really it was dancing to Junky in my kitchen – I was delighted. Take these antitheses from Gummy:

“Call me king of the niggas, I need a crown made of thorns

God said let there be light, on the day I was born

Step off the ship with the slaves, then I go hit the stage

I just left in a whip, all I need is a chain

I don’t trust no niggas, and I don’t trust no bitch

‘Cause people talk too much, I bought a black four-fifth

And a brand new clip, that’s my new best friend

‘Cause I’m a brand new nigga, In a brand new crib

I ain’t sellin no more, but got my hand in the zip

Whitey gave me the check, I ain’t ask for the fame

I used to deal with the grams, ’till they put the cam on my face.”

Rubber Soul – The Beatles

The album that rumour says stirred Brian Wilson to go a bit mad – piano in a sandbox, aliens or something – and create Pet Sounds; out of a desire to compete with the mania raining band. Of course, this is not an album that can encapsulate all they offer – no prominent sitar, spare jangle, no pure rock n’ roll – but it is the one that combines their angelic harmonies and ever novel instrumentation and lyrics—Greek instruments, say, in Girl just for the sheer joy of it. For me, it best encapsulates the tightness of Lennon-McCartney Beatles songs that rhyme right and have a satisfying solo and pristine harmony vocals, in an album in which every song is good. For years The Beatles were my favourite band (some days, they are again). Along with Sam Cooke, it was the first music that I found on YouTube probably in 2008 and really enjoyed. Before then I’d been indifferent to tunes from looking through you:

“Your lips are moving, I cannot hear

Your voice is soothing, but the words aren’t clear

You don’t sound different, I’ve learned the game

I’m looking through you, you’re not the same

Why, tell me why, did you not treat me right?

Love has a nasty habit of disappearing overnight

You’re thinking of me the same old way

You were above me, but not today

The only difference is you’re down there

I’m looking through you and you’re nowhere”

…Like Clockwork- Queens of the Stone Age

Rock music that succeeds at being badass without cringe side-effects. The slide guitar and production is impeccable. An album that’s actually unique at a point when rock music rarely is, fallen instead into vaguer echelons of indie and a naive romance or dance song dichotomy. Queens manage to sound like new rock but be as Mosh-Pit-Spirited as the old. Playing this back in school-college-uni days always reminded me of my friends, and a safe future. When I was trying to not quit neuropsychology for a semester in Wales, being able to listen to this band always kept my friends with me and genuinely helped me at a very dark time beyond the now mild term ‘existential crisis’, and time again.. For it now to be the party tune, ‘pregame’, of my Hawaiian housing is gleeful to me—just how different things can become.

Take these aggressive lines from “Smooth Sailing:”

“God only knows

Where love vacations

If reason is priceless

There’s no reason to pay for it

It’s so easy to see

And so hard to find

Make a mountain of a mole hill

If the mole hill is mine

I hypnotize you

And no one can find you

I blow my load

Over the status quo

Here we go”

Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders from Mars- David Bowie

When I listened to this in school, Mick Ronson and David Bowie had me transfixed. I forgot hours of classes listening to it time and time again. No other music was worth putting in my ears for a year or so afterward. It’s a space opera, it’s a drama, it’s a weird thing unlike anything else. This was the first time I paid attention to lyrics, memorising “Five Years” – a song lamenting but celebrating an apocalypse due in a mere five years. While “Suffragette City” can get tired quick the tracks shine, from lovably kind rock n roll suicide to the soulmate promise of “Lady Stardust.” Take these tragic lines that, I believe, evince the influence of Frank O’Hara in the cafe milkshakes and ‘makes a scene out a song in a way probably influenced by The Beatles’ A Day In The Life

“A girl my age went off her head, hit some tiny children

If the black hadn’t a-pulled her off, I think she would have killed them

A soldier with a broken arm, fixed his stare to the wheels of a Cadillac

A cop knelt and kissed the feet of a priest, and a queer threw up at the sight of that

I think I saw you in an ice-cream parlour, drinking milk shakes cold and long

Smiling and waving and looking so fine, don’t think

You knew you were in this song

And it was cold and it rained so I felt like an actor

And I thought of Ma and I wanted to get back their”

My Maudlin Career- Camera Obscura

The perfect music for dim lights and kisses or sunlight and books or crying at irreparable mistakes and unchanging personalities. Anything goes with this thin and vanilla band whose instruments and vocals extend behind the sickly and lyingly sweet pop tunes but remain humble; about nothing other than happily vague emotions. I first heard them when I was making Leonardo Da Vinci inspired minestrone in in a Melbourne Airbnb just two nights after meeting two English girls I’d be living with for a while, with no idea what’d happen to me. The lyrics rarely read well, though with melody they become wonderful.

Hatful of Hollow- The Smiths

This is an album The Smiths production comes together on, compiling better radio sessions and songs that run well together.  The first woman I ever asked out liked The Smiths and because of that I disliked her enough to love her. She said Hatful of Hollow was the best gateway album because it manages good beats that offset the ennui driven suicidal lyrics. I asked her out and she said she had a boyfriend (she actually did, it was a strange relief to learn) but The Smiths will always be there, it’s true— “people don’t see much worth in you but I do, I do”; what a lyric! And so is her advice. I’m wary and ambivalent about them for as one friend put it, “it’s the whitest music I’ve ever heard”, it lacks a backbeat, plays with being serious by dropping names and forcing bad rhymes, is self-congratulatory and narcissistic and feeds on bad emotions for success. But they did that when it was rare and Johnny Marr stealing the jangle off Roger McGuinn who himself took it from George Harrison did make a new, pleasurable, sound when blended together with new production technology. And a personality doesn’t choose to be obnoxious, if it already is. And I’m not exactly having Sunday brunch with the band; I’m listening to their songs. Their music is cohesive in one album entirely – this one, In my unhumble opinion. These Things Take Time:

“Mine eyes have seen the glory of the sacred wunderkind

You took me behind a dis-used railway line

And said “I know a place where we can go

Where we are not known”

And then you gave me something that I won’t forget too soon

But I can’t believe that you’d ever care

And this is why you will never care

But these things take time

I know that I’m

The most inept

That ever stepped”

Nirvana Unplugged- Nirvana

Kurt Cobain can sing and scream in tune. Yes, it’s a point of irony that most songs aren’t Nirvana’s or even Grunge, but what an album captures in time a live album also captures in three-dimensional space. Seeing them perform so casually and good humouredly, the surprising reticence of Kurt and the harrowing take on Leadbelly’s “Where Did You Sleep Last Night” kept me happily awake some nights. To be there, man, seeing Nirvana be the most chilled they can be is worthy of a TARDIS journey. The Meat Puppets’ Plateau:

“Nothing on the top but a bucket and a mop

And an illustrated book about birds

You see a lot up there but don’t be scared

Who needs action when you got words”

Anthology- JJ Cale 

Heartland America misses a worthwhile export that plays shy guitar in country rock n roll style that’s not obnoxiously showy but brilliantly rhythmic, nuanced yet rockily repetitive. This album was mine for all of college. Where non-guitarists see louder and faster as impressive, stringing a subtle song with a guitar is a feat supposed Guitar Gods fail time again. JJ, Eric Clapton’s favourite guitarist, succeeds. Take the breezy freedom of “Call Me The Breeze.”

“They call me the breeze,

I keep blowing down the road

They call me the breeze,

I keep blowing down the road

I ain’t got me nobody,

I ain’t carrying me no load”

Live Wire/ Blues Power- Albert King

A loveable stage personae that oozes personality, a deep love of the become-electric blues. “Some people call them the pinks, the reds, but when you get down to it, it’s the old-fashioned country blues”. His genuinity, irascible humour and goodness comes across in the tracks that keep a monologue and story to the songs in a style inimitably unique—his guitar tuned in a hidden way, his fingers play blues and Hawaiian tunes as effortlessly and needfully as I breathe air.

“You take the little baby that’s layin’ in the cradle

He can’t get that milk bottle fast enough

He go to kickin’ an’cryin’

An’ goin’ on, tearin’ up the little baby bed

He got the blues

Can ya dig it?

Yeah!

Ha, ha, ha

You take this girl that’s got this main squeeze

That’s her boyfriend, that is, you know”

I could live without these albums: I’d still be what I am but with a scarcer repertoire of feelings. Less happy. While an album selection obscures the influence of songs just as novels obscure better short stories, these albums though are very special. These albums at times have made being me worthwhile.

Ed Sudall of http://www.fondthinker.com/

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