With the TV season more-or-less concluded, I’m going to be spending the off-season reposting topical pieces from my pop-media blog before I shut it down. Expect ‘new’ posts every couple of days or so for the next couple of months.
I don’t usually go for disposable pop ditties, one-hit wonders (unless it’s summertime, in which case all bets are off), or anyone you would find on a shirt sold at Hot Topic. I’m also not into finding the most obscure entertainment possible. I like mainstream books and music and film, but only if it’s quality stuff that I can return to, study, and internalize: I figure that with so little in common with most folks, I need something relatable to talk about.
Because having things in context (historical, chronological, or whatever) helps me see the bigger picture and thereby understand things better, I’m going to set this up with an abridged version of my personal musical journey.
Y’know, it’s funny how albums come into our lives at just the right time. When I was like, thirteen—after hearing references to Stairway to Heaven for years—I finally dug out my folks’ copy of Led Zeppelin’s fourth album. I sat down, spun it, and for the first time, really deliberately listened to a record. It was absolutely perfect timing, because it tied into all the Tolkien I was diving into, and probably saved me from the waves of generic nu-metal and raprock bands (and their fans) that were inundating my school and the airwaves around that time. After a childhood spent listening to artists like CSNY and James Taylor with my parents, Led Zep was my first musical foray out into the wider world, becoming the first well-regarded band I could call my own, helping me keep my head above water at least long enough for me to properly cultivate my musical tastes.
Even though I was somewhat familiar with it through mid-‘90s osmosis, it wasn’t until I was eighteen, right before I graduated high school, that I got ahold of Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness (yet again, I don’t think I’ve ever been able to really get into an album that’s been forced on me: it has to be an independent, organic—and sometimes serendipitous—discovery).
So, MCIS, the album that would see me through college? A loose concept album dealing with themes of fear of change and loss of youth, wrapped up in trippy Victoriana? Perfect for an undergrad with steam on the brain. Though it was probably the third concept album I’d listened to (after Sgt. Pepper’s and Ayreon’s The Dream Sequencer), the little call-backs between songs, the recurring motifs, and the visual style of the whole project really pulled me in. As a result, there were a couple of years where, if I was going to be in the car for two or—factoring in all the b-sides—three hours, it was a safe bet that Mellon Collie would be spinning in my Discman.
During my senior year, I somehow stumbled on the common thread between the other band that got me through junior high—Nirvana—and the Pumpkins: Courtney Love. Building on my penchant for 1990s female musicians, but needing something with a little more bite than the womyn of the Lilith Fair set, I quickly latched onto Hole, and soon along came Liz Phair, PJ Harvey, Veruca Salt, and the like.
Fast-forward: a year out of undergrad, after drifting around taking seasonal jobs here and there and watching about three-fourths of my friends get married in less than a year, I happened upon Regine Chassagne wailing about dead shopping malls and cutting the lights on SNL. Of course, it would figure that my introduction to Arcade Fire would be the song with the throbby beat, vaguely-eco- lyrics, and the chick singer.
“Oh, snap!”, I thought. “So all that talk I’d been hearing of this band was about an album of alienation, war in the ‘burbs, and how we relate to our built environment? Sign me up for that!”
And so, The Suburbs. Two years later, and I still think it’s the perfect album for Right Now. It’s got a long runtime (75 minutes with the extra tracks), but as a pretty tight concept album (translated to visuals in Spike Jonze’s Scenes from the Suburbs), it zips right by. And it’s funny how much I love this album, because I’m the last person you’d think would appreciate it: I’m about the furthest thing possible from the suburban kids this project focuses on, but I am an alienated Young Person who loves the Wild and/or hates the sprawl of civilization, and has carefree memories of friends who are now all moving away, settling down, and getting married, so the songs still speak to me in that way.
So, to mark this album’s second anniversary, I’ll be starting a series looking at The Suburbs—the songs themselves, the album as a whole, and the band’s associated multimedia experiments.