We all get strange: Portugal. The Man, moments of listening and the lead-up to Lollapalooza

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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:

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Moody singer in a kitchen okay that seems pretty normal for a music video.

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Oh, I like this – cool composition with the screens and the silhouette.

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You… you having fun there in your… slumber party?

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You sure do like your blankies, sir…

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Your friends seem like they could use a bit of pep there…

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AH OH GOD oh I’m sorry total Poltergeist flashback geez don’t do that again please.

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SHIT THAT’S A LOT WORSE PLEASE DON’T STEAL MY SOUL.

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YEP BYE.

That’s not even the half of it, either. The music video for”Atomic Man” you say? Fluttering eyelids and distorted head movements?

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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.

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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.

Was that…?

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.

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The National: Emotion, memories, and experience at Barclays Center

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There’s that one band where you have a very personal, private connection with them. Explaining your reasoning for liking them so much is something you entrust specific people with. Because you’re not just telling them why you like a band. You’re letting them inside your head. You’re opening a window to a part of your soul that feels really raw. But when you do let them in – doesn’t matter if you know them all too well, or how you feel about them – then it’s a great feeling. They see how much you care, and you don’t really need to finish the sentence. They get why you like them so much.

That band for me is the National. If I were going to delve into each song that I have personal connections and memories associated with, I’d write a novel. This is a blog post, so I will spare most detail. But, maybe that novel will come eventually.

I will admit that I was hesitant to write this post because of how connected I am. But I want to share some of the reasons as to why I love them. “Make the private public” as my writing teacher used to say. So I’ll open the window a little bit.

Seeing them live I ebulliently exuded my excitement. I was happy and enthusiastic, which isn’t really the style of the bands’ songs. But I was like that because of the simple fact that I was seeing them live. The emotions don’t match with the mood of the music, but for me it made sense.

The great thing about this band is that they aren’t afraid to really look at emotion and the range in which we react to different things.

I’m “emotional” and they’re “emotional.” They get it.

They started off their set with Don’t Swallow The Cap, a song that I had recently started to really listen to a lot. There’s an element to the song that’s sort of scary because of some of the lyrics. There’s urgency in the soft way “don’t swallow the cap” is sung. Beautiful way to start the set, though.

After that was Bloodbuzz Ohio. Bloodbuzz Ohio was the first song I had ever heard by the National. To tell you the truth, I didn’t like it right off the bat when I first heard it. They were mellow and moody, and I just wasn’t feeling it.

But I liked the way some lyrics stood out to me. “I was carried to Ohio in a swarm of bees” had such interesting imagery.

I became endeared to the song the more I listened to it. It started to feel rich, a song that I pulled out for gray days and moments where I was feeling drained. It made me feel like I wasn’t so alone in my intensity of feeling things.

This was freshman year of college.

By second semester, I found another one of their songs, Sorrow, through, embarrassingly, a fan fiction I had read about Sherlock Holmes and John Watson based off of the show Sherlock. And no, I don’t normally read fan fiction. And no, it was not erotic. It was a very touching piece about John taking care of Sherlock who had a terminal illness. It was called “Alone on the Water,” a lyric from Sorrow.

Another nerdy reason for liking one of their songs – Exile Vilify is an easter egg in Portal 2. I’m pretty sure I stayed in that test chamber a good ten minutes just listening to the song in the game.

I became obsessed with Sorrow, even if it was slightly inspired by the fact it was loosely associated with my favorite television show. I really did enjoy the band, though, so I looked up a couple of their other songs from High Violet.

Terrible Love. Hmm, not bad.

England.

England was it.

The swelling, the rising vocals. London.

I immediately downloaded it from iTunes and sent the YouTube link to my sister. She said she really liked the end of the song too.

I would listen to it as snow was falling at school, at night, walking around campus. I thought of how I was going to one day go back to London. I had so much hope while listening to the song. (I found out later that it wasn’t really about London, though, but the feeling still remains).

During the concert, they played England and went straight into Graceless. Both of those songs are my favorite songs from their respective albums. It’s a coincidence, but the moment spoke to me. And by that, I mean that I punched the air and smiled.

After I found England, I got the rest of High Violet and it became an album I could listen to anywhere, anytime, but only with a purpose. Arbitrarily listening to the National doesn’t feel right. There’s always a reason when I put them on, be it a whole album or a specific song.

There was a time this past spring where I was listening to them every day and it was becoming too much. I couldn’t stop listening to them, but I realized that they’re a band where you can’t always listen to them. You need to let the songs sink in.

Terrible Love became my next song of choice. I remember being on the train ride home for spring break during freshman year, and I couldn’t fall asleep. I was agitated and anxious and just wanted to sleep. I was in Cleveland and there was a large building across from where the train had stopped. The lights were still on – it looked like the ground floor was a dance hall of some sort. I put on Terrible Love and imagined myself dancing in the room, what it would be like to look out and watch the trains go by.

I started to close my eyes and I felt safe and calm.

“It takes an ocean not to break… it takes an ocean not to break…”

The repetition was a lullaby and I could feel myself start to relax.

A few more songs in the album played and I effectively fell asleep until Walk Off.

They played Terrible Love in their set, and I had been waiting for it.

It can be interpreted that the song isn’t really about a “terrible” love, it’s more about the fear people feel about love. Birdy does a really good cover of it.

There are these little hidden nuisances to some of their songs, but others are what they seem.

“This song doesn’t have any clever little metaphors. This is just about me missing my wife,” Matt Berninger said.

Then they played “I Need My Girl” from the new album.

They played a lot of songs from Boxer, High Violet, and Trouble Will Find Me, with some songs from their older stuff that I don’t know as well. I guess I can’t claim hipsterdom with this band.

Until this past spring, I had only really listened to Boxer twice through, and hadn’t really caught onto what all of the hype was about. I enjoyed it, but really only invested myself in Fake Empire and Start a War. Before the concert I listened to the album again and… I really liked Mistaken for Strangers. I mean, I really liked it – I felt like I was listening to it for the first time. And then the rest of the songs played and I felt like I was listening to the album new, and I loved it. That’s also a really cool thing about the band – you can keep listening and keep listening and new things will pop up in your mind.

I filmed when they performed Mistaken for Strangers as an experiment – I wanted to see what the quality of the video would be like. I also was indulging the nerd in me and wanted to feel like I was one of those videographers who filmed Queen in 1981 or Bruce Springsteen during the Born to Run 1975 tour.

Throughout the show they were funny, and that’s another why this band is so good. They have this humorous undercurrent and satirical edge. Even when Annie Erin Clark, otherwise known as St. Vincent, came on stage to sing This Is The Last Time, they were poking fun at her hugging and saying that she had to then “hug everyone.”

Even when they played Sorrow, they joked how “we’ve played this song a lot,” referring to their six-hour long set at MoMA PS1 where they played Sorrow over… and over… and over again.

I can’t imagine if that was someone’s first experience of the band.

I will admittedly sound preachy at this part: If you haven’t really listened to the National, you’d likely think that all of their songs sound similar. Surface level maybe, but take a deeper listen and you’ll find that their range is amazing. A great example of this is Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks, specifically with the higher vocals.

I wasn’t thinking about that when they played that live, though. I was thinking about something else.

I was in church choir for most of my childhood, and have some very dear friends from it. During high school, our choir would sing at different churches and road trip to different places during spring break. My freshman year was New York City (I got sick during the intermission of Curtains), I didn’t go my sophomore year but they went to New Orleans, my junior year was Philadelphia (I saw the Liberty Bell and explored a mall), and my senior year was Toronto (I have a picture with the Stanley Cup and saw Niagara Falls for the fourth time).

I’m still sort of figuring out my own views on spirituality and religion, but I loved those trips. I always felt like we were doing a good deed in the true sense of doing good deeds – we were making music for people. They’d come up and thank us after the show. We had host families and stayed with them overnight, getting to know a variety of people.

My favorite part of each concert was whenever we sang a cappella. Just singing, no accompaniment. We just were connected through voice.

Since leaving high school, I haven’t sung at all because I really can’t sing. I mean it, I suck. I don’t really miss singing in choir, but not in a cold way. It just feels like it was a full experience that lasted exactly as long as it should have gone. It was a great chapter of my life.

But when the National came out after the encore, I remembered. I remembered that feeling.

They played Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks unplugged. It was a trumpet, a guitar, and the band singing. Or, rather, the band conducting the audience. The whole Barclays Center was singing together. We became a choir, if just for three minutes. We all joined singing and people were swaying.

Then they left the stage and the crowd left the arena. But that feeling didn’t leave, not immediately. People left and were smiling and quiet. Some not saying anything.

Because you don’t really need to say anything.

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My photostream of the concert:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/68987032@N05/

Video I did of Mistaken for Strangers:

Facebook link of the photo they chose from my instagram page:

https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10151416242521010&set=a.10151416242466010.1073741824.11539801009&type=3&theater

Album of the Week: 5/13/13

Discovery – Daft Punk

The internet’s relentless drive for new information all of the time has proven itself once again this week with Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories leak. As thrilling as the new music from the French duo is, it’s important to take a moment and appreciate their previous albums, and in particular, the one that got me obsessed with the band: Discovery.

I came to Daft Punk way late into the game, and wasn’t immediately taken by them in the first place. The one song that I heard part of was ‘Emotion,’ and all I could think was When does it end?

Fortunately, I had the good graces of the internet and YouTube to change my mind – with this particular video that I’m sure you’ve already seen a dozen times.

And from that video, I ended up watching another rendition.

And from there, I ended up listening to the song on repeat for a good week.

Before Daft Punk, I had always had this sort of distaste for electronic groups. I just didn’t even venture into that genre, and the closest that I got to liking a electronic band was Passion Pit. Even then, though, Passion Pit still has the feel of an indie rock band.

With Daft Punk, though, I was being exposed to not just electronica. There was funk and soul and rock and techno and so many different elements all in one song, in one album, all coming from one band.

So, naturally, being enthralled with ‘Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger’ led me to become engrossed with Discovery. ‘High Life’ was perfect for the quick pick-me-up going to class on a dreary day (and it always reminded me of this hilarious Phoenix Wright parody video that I can’t seem to find again). ‘Face to Face’ gave me this giddy sort of feeling, with its smooth singer and funky beat.

After listening to the album continuously, it became a sort of ‘cornerstone’ album for me. These are the albums where I can be doing anything, and without fail, this album will work. It’ll be perfect for background music, allowing for reflection, or just great to dance to. Most importantly, though, it became an album that I can sleep to.

These albums are the best of the best. The albums I can sleep to mean a simple thing: it’s an album so dependable that is allows the same sort of thrills when I first listened to it, and I can rely on the positive feelings that the albums give me to the point where I don’t even need to be awake to enjoy the album. I’ll sift in and out of consciousness, and wake up happy, listening to a good song no matter which track it is on the album.

Discovery joined the list. Now, with Random Access Memories available for streaming, I’ll be able to see if I can add another Daft Punk album to the list soon.

Track of Choice: Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger