Monday, February 6, 2012

Some Reflection... (or) Altering Your Perceived Musical Paradigm (A.K.A Giving Your Musical Taste A Shot In The Arm)

It's certainly time to wake this blog up a bit... I've been incommunicado for a while as my band Hutson finished up our first LP, "From A Transistor Radio"  - (due out in March 2012)...
  Since that job is done for a bit, I have returned to the blogging sphere.
  What I'm going to talk about is the life-changing aspects of certain albums. I'm sure most of you who are true music fans, (and even those who are casual listeners), have at least an album or two that "changed your life"... Or an album that you continuously come back to for inspiration, etc...
  However, here is where I need to make a distinction... There are those albums whose discovery
coincides with certain events in one's life... An example: you bought album "x" in 2003 after a bad breakup with your girl-friend/boy-friend of 4 years, and it helped you get through a tough time, etc ... While I'm sure everyone has plenty of those, that's not the kind of life-changing album that I'm talking about. What I'm talking about is when you've bought an album, and upon listening to it - it has shifted your paradigm or changed your understanding of music from that point on.
    Albums like this, are not as common....
   In this blog, I'm going to examine one album that did this for me.

  I'm guessing that it would be in the first couple of weeks of January 2000, in my first year of college. Me and my girl-friend at the time had seen "Girl Interrupted" at the theater, and I had the urge to purchase the soundtrack to this movie. Now, in hindsight, the movie has made little impact on my life and seems to have been only a means to an end to purchase the soundtrack. As far as that soundtrack goes, it's a fairly solid collection of late 60's rock and pop tunes, (see: Petula Clark's "Downtown" and/or the Band's "The Weight")... Some good songs on there, but nothing necessarily mind-blowing... Except for one song.
   The odd one out is a song by Wilco, called "How To Fight Loneliness."
   I found this song most interesting on the soundtrack, simply cause I knew it was a current band at the time, and yet the song sounded almost as if it had come from the same time-frame as the aforementioned song by the Band. I'd heard of Wilco, read some random magazine articles, etc... but hadn't picked up any albums by them. Still, I found it kind of invigorating to hear a band playing this type of music now, so I decided I should track down an album by them.
   Probably a few weeks later, I made the trip into Walla Walla to the only good record store in town, Hot Poop, (say what you will, but Hot Poop was, and still is, a seriously awesome independent record store)....
I found the Wilco album that also contained the song I loved so much. That album was "Summerteeth."
   This was a fairly big leap of faith for me, cause in most articles I'd read of Wilco, they were portrayed as an "alternative country" band, (and yes, I'm aware how stale and over-used this genre term has become in the past several years - especially since my understanding of it was that it was a rock/country hybrid, but it turns out to be mostly a bunch of boring-ass folk music in the past decade... but I digress...).
    The idea of anything "country"  being anywhere close to rock music gave me reason to shudder at the tender age of 19.... My reasoning? I grew up in Oklahoma long before I moved up to Oregon, and was exposed to a ridiculous amount of country music, and by the time I hit my teenage years I found anything in the genre revolting - having grown into my teenage years with the so-called "alternative rock" music of the early-mid 90's.... (It should be noted that the "country music" that is played on heavy rotation on CMT or on nearly every country station in town is still equally revolting to me, but for different reasons....)
  So, while I enjoyed "How To Fight Loneliness", I was a bit skeptical if I would dig this entire Wilco album, but I figured it'd be worth the 15 bucks to find out.
   Now, at this point I could easily do a track by track breakdown of the album to explain all the great things about it, but I think a listen on Spotify could fill in all that information for you.  But there are certain important aspects about it that made it life-changing for me. First, and foremost, it changed my perception and disdain for "country music." The type of "country" music that was incorporated into these songs was that of the 60's and 70's, even the earlier Johnny Cash stuff. This type of country I could tolerate and even like -  mostly because it wasn't the glossy, Nashville garbage that had been going on for the last 20 years - (I'm looking at you, Garth Brooks and Shania Twain...)
After hearing this album, instruments such as banjo or pedal steel became less foreign and added a fascinating touch to what were basically straight-forward pop songs, buried beneath some cool studio flourishes.
      Case in point, the song "Via Chicago" that ripples beneath waves of  feedback and intermittent squalls of detuned guitars - accompanied, (at times), by drums that sound like they were recorded in the apartment next over... These are all tricks that Sonic Youth had been doing for years, but at the time, it was rare to hear these being incorporated into a sad acoustic ballad. Not only that, with lines such as "I dreamed about killing you again last night, and it felt alright to me" - Jeff Tweedy was writing cryptic lyrics that held way more weight to me at that time-frame than anything from the KornBizkitNickelSum182 bands that covered the radio...
       So, I guess in a nutshell - "Summerteeth" made me not afraid of country music anymore, which opened me up to a broader range of music and artists, (i.e. Son Volt, the ever amazing Uncle Tupelo, the Byrds, the Jayhawks, Jerry Reed, Cracker, etc....), that I wouldn't have found otherwise.
    And really, it's just a freaking awesome album. Do yourself a favor and give it a listen.