Portugal. The Man is at the perfect level of hipster. There are enough people who don’t know about Portugal. The Man, but there are enough people that do. Its cult following that is starting to expand out into the masses of indie fans with their most recent album Evil Friends. Whenever people ask me about the band, I always like to gloat and say “Oh yeah, they have a bunch of albums. I think The Satanic Satanist is my favorite.” I don’t even try to hide how smug I am. Yeah, I’ve known them for awhile. Yeah, they’re great. Yes. Yes you should listen to them. Join me.
I can’t really claim that I was a true hipster fan, though. I started to listen to them my freshman year of college. They were a little too bizarre for me in high school, so good thing to know that I’ve gotten even weirder as a person as the years have gone on. The first song I heard by them was “Lay Me Back Down” and I was uncomfortably drawn to it. I didn’t think like the wavering vocals but… but maybe I did? The psychedelic swirly sound? Was it musical or was it noise? What I did dig was the groove. So my senior year of high school ended with me listening to the band feeling confused… but glad that I was confused. Sort of explains how I felt for that year in general.
Then it was freshman year of college, the trial-and-error-and-cry-a-lot year. The year where you have extremely weird peaks of happiness and life fulfillment (“Oh my GOSH I love this TARGET RUN the school is doing for freshmen I’M GOING TO TARGET WITH MY NEW BRETHREN”) and extremely weird lows (“The dining hall DOES NOT HAVE ALMOND MILK my life is RUINED”). All in all, freshmen year is great but unsettling at times.
I was used to a pretty consistent existence. I never moved around as a kid (being eight-months-old moving out of the city doesn’t really factor into my memory) and the kids in the area were largely people I grew up with since I was little. They knew that I was sensitive and emotional and artsy and sporty. Everyone had context. Then I got to college and no one knew anything about me. I can’t begin to count the amount of people I have freaked out with my own freak-outs. The worst are the banal experiences that turn into catastrophes: burning popcorn and having everyone leave the dorm as the smoke detector goes off. Yep, that was me wallowing in my tears outside on the sidewalk. Oof, it’s painful to think about. It’s even more painful to think that I’m still that emotional at times.
As my life felt more surreal, I turned to the psychedelic sounds of Pink Floyd. If things were confusing for me, things were even more so for these guys. Listening to Pink Floyd my first semester set me up for the wealth of psych rock that I have grown to love and heavily listen to today.
Second semester, I needed a little something more than just one band. Experiencing winter was tough. I felt alone at times and I was far from home and needed to not feel alone. Why do we forget that so many people love and care for us? It’s like we shut off part of our brain that is filled with logic.
Claire, come on, you’re not alone, I’d tell myself.
I didn’t feel like that all of the time though. When I was sitting down with my head in my hands, it could take me a long time to be able to get back up again.
I tried listening to music and it’d sometimes work if it was calming enough or interesting musically. The best song, though was “Sleep Forever.” It just matched with how I felt. It wasn’t exactly an uplifting piece, but it was what I was looking for – it made me remember that I wasn’t alone.
After that, Portugal. The Man went from a casual listen to a band that I was affectionate towards. I got stuck listening to that one song for awhile, but as I continued to feel better and as winter dissipated, I started listening to “The Sun” and “Senseless” and a few others here and there.
Then, last summer, Evil Friends came out.
I found out about the album through the music video they made for “Purple Yellow Red and Blue.” For those that are unfamiliar with the video, this is how it plays out:
Moody singer in a kitchen okay that seems pretty normal for a music video.
Oh, I like this – cool composition with the screens and the silhouette.
You… you having fun there in your… slumber party?
You sure do like your blankies, sir…
Your friends seem like they could use a bit of pep there…
AH OH GOD oh I’m sorry total Poltergeist flashback geez don’t do that again please.
SHIT THAT’S A LOT WORSE PLEASE DON’T STEAL MY SOUL.
That’s not even the half of it, either. The music video for”Atomic Man” you say? Fluttering eyelids and distorted head movements?
Just as unsettling.
But I loved it.
Here was my ticket into the fandom, my way into their weird world. The album’s composition was tight and each song was like a moment in their minds. So much of our life is about fulfilling a story but it’s nice to find those things that momentarily suspend that drive for a beginning-middle-end. Things that just are. And things that just are strange.
It became the soundtrack for the moments where I could turn off my brain and focus on an action rather than a thought. I ran with “Hip Hop Kids” in my ears. I commuted everyday on the train into the city with “Do You” playing as I stepped onto the platform to begin my walk to work. I didn’t have to think about anything in those moments. I didn’t have to plan or strategize or analyze. It was just me walking or running or sitting and just listening for the sake of listening.
After having the comfort of those songs for a few years, it felt so rich to finally see them at Lollapalooza. My dad and I walked up to the edge of the field, the first sounds of the set beginning to echo through the park.
No. No way.
“…another brick in the wall!”
They were starting their set with a Pink Floyd cover.
“Dad! Dad they’re starting with Another Brick In The Wall!” I exclaimed, practically skipping to the stage.
“This is cool,” he said while looking to the stage, bolstering my excitement.
We got up close and met up with a few of my dad’s colleagues, all happy to be here and instead of at the Perry’s stage. They laughed at me as I kept inching closer and closer to the stage but making sure that I hung back enough to be with them.
“Claire, you can stand in front of us, it’s fine,” my dad sighed.
“Oh, okay! I’ll do that then,” I said, my mind off lost in the music.
My favorite part of the entire set was that a good twenty minutes of it is was a string of songs all blended together. I could pick out where one song ended and the other picked up, but it all remained so solid and the transitions were so fluid. I felt like I was lifted up into the clouds as the rain started to trickle down.
The pulsing rock never disappointed either and added to the pace of the songs, some songs more driving than others. It was a psych rock ballad pieced together like a montage of melodies and rhythms.
As they closed with a cover of Queen, I could feel the moment linger in my head after the music had stopped. I felt so in the moment and so in the present and nothing was in my mind. The rain felt so cold and the brisk air made everything smell earthy and so… real. I felt so real and it was so weird to be so much in the present but I liked it. I liked feeling so real. And I liked feeling so strange.
As the band says, we all get strange and we know it, but we’re cool with it.
Insomniacs have a tendency to let their head fill up with thoughts and memories and worries. Whenever my introspection is excessive, I combat it by filling my head with music.
These albums have a special place in my heart. While I’ve always dealt with the difficulty of falling asleep at night, whenever my insomnia is worse it’s because I’m dealing with change or stressful environments or even just feeling self-conscious. These are the albums that relax me to the point of serenity. These albums are able to take away the buzz of my mind and allow myself to just relax. Just relax and listen.
Sometimes, though, when an album can help you get through something, it can be lodged with that feeling for a long… long time. So your once saving grace becomes an uncomfortable reminder of the stress that you had to get over.
With these sorts of things, it’s best to just let those songs lay dormant in your music play-through. Those songs won’t show up for awhile and, even though you got so used to having it be part of your every day life, you’ll learn to be okay with it.
Some of these nighttime albums have become this, some of them not. Some of them are just calming and nice to listen to while I sleep. Some of them I listened to so I could fall asleep.
With In Rolling Waves, it was a little bit of both.
I didn’t use it to fall asleep often, but boy, did it calm me down. I attribute this to the first time that I ever listened to the album the first time, which was last year when I was in London.
I had been extremely excited for the album ever since the band released “Hearts Like Ours” during the summer. Its energy was infectious, a perfect compliment to my experience in the East Village. I couldn’t wait to listen to the catchy synth ballads that were to come.
Months passed and I moved back home for two weeks from the city and then to London. My life became exciting and full of opportunity and fulfillment but also filled with uncertainty and distance from family and stressors that I had never accounted for before. Things that I was always just used to kept becoming more and more different. I kept a smile as much as I could but sometimes the stress was debilitating. I could feel myself wanting to make sure that I was doing things perfectly, that I wasn’t making wrong choices. I was trying to do everything and I wanted to be good to everyone.
After walking through Covent Garden with my friend, we happened upon a fantastic media shop with a focus on CDs. And there it was – I had forgotten about the release date but it just so happened that In Rolling Waves had come out the day before. I dropped the quid on the album and downloaded it into my computer as quickly as I could. My iPod synced, the album was ready for me.
I waited to listen to it.
“Hearts Like Ours” wasn’t just any other song and I knew that this wouldn’t just be any other album for me. I had to treat the music with respect and wait for the perfect setting to listen to it in.
Deep in the late hours of the night, I shut off my computer and laid down. The window was open in my tiny room and the breeze fluttered in. It was still relatively pleasant outside, so the air billowed into the room, making everything feel so fresh.
I put on my headphones and I started.
“A Stillness” buzzed into being and I was wrapped up in the sound already. I loved the dreamy quality of the song, the little build-ups and fade downs. And of course, the crescendo into the release of sound near the end of the song was the perfect emotional transition into “Hearts Like Ours.”
I had never listened to the album before, but I could already feel myself nodding off. It’s one of those special things where you know something is so right when right away it just works so well. I was so used to manicuring my listening pattern before falling asleep but here I was, dozing to “Waltz.”
“Rolling Waves” was the definitive song of my trance. It felt like waves crashing on the beach. It was such a peaceful discovery of a song. The waves of sound pushing and pulling like the tide pulling me into sleep. The lyrics itself were about sleep and it just fit so well with the quietude of the night.
I went deeper and deeper into the beginnings of sleep and didn’t even realize I had listened to “The Mess.”
“Grow Old,” however, was a different story.
Again, it starts small and muted and like a story in the background. It’s a song to easily underestimate.
The climax, however. The one that comes at 3:05. It ripped me into hyper-awareness. I gasped as the guitars and keyboard and vocals came crashing together, everything exploding. I felt like it was such an example for how I had been feeling those past couple of months. That I was dealing with a lot of different things but that it was going to be okay because I could at least feel myself express myself through the music. It was okay that I was growing up and that I was changing.
And then the song ended just like how it began. Just a voice, small and dialed down.
The mental effort that took to listen to that song is why I fell asleep for the rest of the album play-through. Normally I would have chastised myself, but I didn’t mind. It was one of the best listening experiences of my life and that feeling still is so vivid in my mind.
So much so that I felt it a few days ago, completely mirrored with my first time listening through. It took a long time before that could happen again.
That album became a staple of my London experience and helped me be able to settle in a place that was a country different from my own. It helped me learn how to navigate new places and people and experiences.
But because it was such an emotional album for me, I had to take a break from listening to it.
I never had bad memories associated with any of the songs, but the songs became a vehicle for emotional release. I didn’t want to over do it, I wanted to still enjoy the songs for the sake of enjoying the songs. I had to find other things to listen to, which I did.
Throughout the rest of the year, I’d perhaps listen to “Hearts Like Ours” or “Rolling Waves” from time to time. Never “Grow Old.”
But the album would pop up in conversation from time to time. I kept thinking about it and how it had such calming qualities.
Coming into senior year so far has been an exciting and wonderful but extremely surreal experience. Again, change. I have to take extra measures for myself to process change just because I know I feel it so fully.
So I listened to the album again. I didn’t even mean to recreate the first time that I listened to it. I just was lying in bed and it was nighttime and there was this summery breeze coming in through the window. I felt at peace and that feeling of dreamy tranquility came back to me. I felt like I was in two times at once. The wonderful thing, though, is that this time I wasn’t using the songs as an emotional release. I was listening with fresh ears and enjoying the music for how it was. The memories of those songs just made the music even more powerful.
I didn’t finish the album, but this time purposefully. Not soon after, I fell asleep, thinking of the waves of the Thames, but also thinking about how I could listen to those songs now in new places. How they could grow into new parts of my life.