Sunday, 8 January 2017

All The Colours of The Rainbow Blood My Face: Beat The Champ (2015) and Beautiful Violence
"Some things you will remember 
some things stay sweet forever"
-"Animal Mask"
If you know anything about the Mountain Goats, you know how unconventional their perspective on life is. The painful humour, paired with precision-oriented sound. I discovered the Mountain Goats through a friend introducing me via mix CD (with the unforgettable track "No Children".) He, and his friends and their persistent love for the Mountain Goats have encouraged my following of them as well. 

Beat The Champ is something really special. A story album that makes glamorous the act of professional wrestling. An album that manages to capture the rollicking violence, as well as a sordid sadness that peers into the mind of the wrestlers the band discusses. 

"The Legend of Chavo Guerrero" is an instantly memorable tune, one that includes funny and inspirational lines such as: "I hated all of Chavo's enemies / I would pray nightly for their death", and "I need justice in my life / here it comes." This song manages to infuse a sort of childish energy into the act of wrestling (something I have never been a devout fan of.) And there is an inevitable beauty to a song like this because, much like David Bowie's The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars, the Mountain Goats assume their listeners are an avid fan-base already. It's a lot of fake it until you make it. Bowie pretended to be a star until he became one, while the Goats pretend to be wrestlers (and to assume that their audience will be engaged with such a narrative.) Thus, I personally feel as though I am a pseudo-wrestling fan for the purposes of this art. The art compels you to care about something you didn't know you wanted to care about. 

Beyond being funny, and musically catchy, Beat The Champ is so elegantly put together. From the eerie shriek of strings, to the bullet-fast drum rolls, the Goats show they are masters of atmosphere.   

These songs have grown to take up more and more of my time, as I think of lines like "everybody's got their limits / nobody's found mine" ("Choked Out"), and "I came to you / hands wrapped in adhesive tape" ("Animal Mask"). The lines stick in you like a "foreign object," as John Darnielle sings about repeatedly in "Foreign Object."

John Darnielle has said that some of the songs are "really more about death and difficult-to-navigate interior spaces than wrestling." ( Thus, Darnielle gives the listener a permission to interpret more beyond songs about wrestling - to immerse their own messy lives in this splendid shower (or perhaps blood bath is more accurate) of musical genius, in order to reconcile with their own particular feelings. 

The album manages to be so much simultaneously, while it appears a jazzy, emotional ballad such as in "Fire Editorial", it is also a riveting excitement-infused experience, such as in "Choked Out" (which makes a great pump-up song, if you like to imagine your responsibilities as enemies waiting to be taken down. 

"Werewolf Gimmick" is perhaps the happy/sombre medium between the jingly depression, and the jangly violence the album evokes, opening with the line "I was not there for rehearsal / I don't need it anymore." This song reflects a sort of over-saturated attitude toward the speaker's career. A laissez-faire approach to a sport that requires invigoration, and palpable sparking energy. Here, one can understand Darnielle's discussion of death, and non-wrestling subject matter, as he navigates his metaphor aptly, and seamlessly to reflect a dark, and enveloping gloom. 

The first half of the album is a relatively gleeful (albeit maniacal) look into professional wrestling - or life issues disguised as such, while the last half of the album is contemplative, delving into the menacing factors we as listeners were all too willing to adopt with Darnielle's persona before. This album turns the idea of grief on its head, as Darnielle sings of "colours of the rainbow" blooding his face - a sort of prism effect is available here, where grief is on one end, and the permutations of this exploration take form in wrestling comparisons, and swaying jazz ballads. This album is successful in creating an energetic confusion, that leaves the listener wanting to solve it as though it were a Rubik's cube. To decode the emotions is to psychoanalyze the entire human psyche - it's simply impossible. I encourage anyone to listen to Beat The Champ, and subsequently find themselves in an adventurous realm that dives deep into loss, such as in the line "I don't wanna die in here" ("Heel Turn 2"), and more meaty, and scary issues where Darnielle sings "If you can't beat 'em / Make 'em bleed like pigs" ("Foreign Object"). 

There's nothing quite like this album, just like there's no band quite like the Mountain Goats. And while the Goats are influenced by bands such as Mission of Burma, on this album, they are ultimately guided by a foreign weirdness that lies in wait for us to understand, and indulge in (as if they were some bizarre import liquor). I encourage you to drink the strange brew that is the Mountain Goats, and I hope you find their approach to life both strangely charming, and persistently memorable, and meaningful. 
- K. MacFarlane


Wednesday, 4 January 2017

I Always Cry At Endings: 2016 and Belle & Sebastian 

"I could kill you sure but I could only make you cry with these words" - "Get Me Away From Here I'm Dying" 

"Write about love
It could be in any tense 
But it must make sense"
- "Write About Love"

Belle & Sebastian have experienced a truly beautiful, and poetic career. Their music is like the lace on a party dress. The dress is beautiful but it is the lace we notice - the poetry that encases what we had previously assumed to be mundane. This Scottish band embellishes the form that our individual worlds take, and punctuate with songs about love, religion, apathy, and some of the most beautiful irreverence imaginable. 

During University semesters, I come to rely and submerge myself in the music of Belle & Sebastian. I come to imagine myself as a delicate bird floating between the harsh notes sent my way by my ill brain, or via school stress. 

In lieu of a record review, I would much rather have provided this emotional piece. To dissect these albums would be to strip a certain life and refuge from them (not to mention I have about twenty Belle & Sebastian albums to catch up on.) 

All I know is that it is important to write what you feel. Passion is important. It's the dress behind the lace. Getting out of practice with your passion (as I have done with both writing, and music) leads to a sort of disconnection between your mind, and what you really want to do. 

My point then, is to find your Belle & Sebastian (I highly recommend them). Find those voices that can travel with your dives, and your stunning revivals. Find words that echo your own - filling a chamber with divinity, and art.  

I remember a truly wonderful walk that involved only me, Belle & Sebastian, and some friendly neighborhood cats. This is a world I strive to create, and recreate. Proactively for my mental health, and retroactively if I simply forget in the hustle and bustle of everyday life. 

I truly believe that music is one of many forms that can capture humanity - creating snapshots of who we are at one time, in one era, influence by all the messy media of life. In reveling in the anecdotes of the clever, and musically-talented, we may learn about their struggles, and their triumphs. Their art becoming a mirror for their life (as Oscar Wilde would prompt). Belle & Sebastian have captured a somber genius with wit that radiates like the sun's rays on the cat-filled walks of our lives, and though I cannot articulate extensively the joy their albums bring to my heart, I can take a bit of time out of my day to write a short little piece on their meaning. 

We make meaning. Whether it's short or album-sized. We can wrap the world in our lace, being dresses in residence. We have lost so many beautiful artistic souls this past year, that we cannot let their legacy contain a vacuum. You can create new worlds. You can write about love, space, sex, movies, heart-ache, laments, illnesses, plagues. We can come together, and listen to those voices that urge us on - that bring us to tears with their vitality, and brilliance - and we can become the voices we always needed. 

- K. MacFarlane