Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Blonde Redhead - Misery is a Butterfly

In the last post I alluded to "comfort music" and I cant imagine that term needs much more explanation. Like a warm blanket you can wrap yourself up in it and let it coo you to sleep. I'd say that we're living in a generation defined by the idea, but it seems pointless to pick on emo when as long as music has been around we've been pouring our frustrations into it.

The only difference Is that as the entry level age for society endorsed romance drops you don't have to be an old blues-man to howl away the tears and testosterone. Self-pity has always been around in music. The idea that because of an explosion in technology is lowering the bar for the theatrical moping and catchy histrionics we should lay the bill at the door of self-pity and shoe-gazing is a little off aim.

The unspoken rule is that as adults were expect to leave all this comfort music behind and start taking a more positive pro active look at what were listening to. I think one of the unique burdens/choices that recent generations have had to deal with within a culture of constant noise is to consider what they idly end up ingesting and just how it effects their decision making processes. Each generation is expected to be able to dissect manipulation at a younger and younger age. Its little wonder why we look back at what we were doing just years ago with a tall order of condiscension and nostalgia.

Without straying further into rant territory, i'll get back on the point which is that as time wears on the wheat is separated from the chaff and what makes real artistic progress makes the trip to new generations like a little box of love letters we couldn't possibly throw away while lazy and unoriginal emoting gets left in the rear-view looking like Boy George's hat. No finer example than the recent success and influence of the Beach Boys Pet Sounds album-- essentially an emo album-- embraced on all sides.

The cruel hand of reason is unforgiving. I'm sort of afraid to say too much about Misery, or even find out what I really think about it taken apart and looked at under glass. The reason is that I still rely on this album as comfort music. It has a very pragmatic use, regardless of whatever intrinsic musical or cultural value it possesses. The conventional wisdom is that any album worth its salt would survive and be enhanced by such a dissection, still I cringe at the thought of touching this butterfly for fear that I ruin its beautiful wings.

This albums strain may be of a particular genus within comfort albums: "break-up albums". Singing duties for each track are traded off by lead vocalist Kazu Makino and multi-instrumentalist Amedeo Pace(half of "the twins" BR's identical twin brothers). The affect is as if the two were writing dear john letters back and forth. The musical ground they lay for this modern opera is a dense tapestry of synth and strings that fuse art-rock, pop, and classical chamber music pushing the despair to brand new/very old heights.

You might remember the scene in Bill and Ted where Mozart having been brought to the present chances upon a modern keyboard at the mall and proceeds to melt everyone's faces Victorian style. Given enough time he may have produced something close to Misery's baroque aesthetic.

Its hard to say much about the albums content that can't be felt. Makino's accent makes Bjork seem Middle-American by comparison and every song is as desperate as Vespertine's "Pagan Poetry". Pace's tone is equally hopeless. Together they capture the frustration of the too-needy-to-go...to self-absorbed-to-stay pain of a relationship gone sour.

This alternating of tracks eventually culminates into a frustrated and lonely 6 minute duet. Then with the opening chords of the albums last song "Equus" its as if the dark sky opens and beam of light falls upon the one or two trees which survived the fire. The song compares its narrator to a horse rider and her companion to a horse, and finds its inspiration in part from an accident involving Makino being seriously injured after being trampled by a horse. The production is a bright piece of pop which couldn't possibly serve as a happy ending, but makes sure to end the album at least ambiguously.

In lieu of actually studying the album any further:
Here's a list of 10 other great comfort/break up albums to sink down into:

The Cure - Blood Flowers
Fionna Apple - When the Pawn
Metal Hearts - Socialize
Cursive - Domestica
Elliot Smith - XO
Damein Rice - 9
Circa Survive - Juturna
Veda - The Weight of an Empty Room
Sunny Day Real Estate -Diary
Portishead -Dummy

Of course preference will change from person, what is one man's sympathetic masterpiece is another's whiny cringe machine.

There's always a rock musician who knows your pain. Give up. Tune in. Lay down. And let the man with the guitar and the woman with the microphone make it all better.

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