It’s been a year since we first started writing, and I’d like to thank the co-author of this blog for his contribution and to those who have taken their time to read our musings. I thought I’d kick off the paper/cotton anniversary with a new project: to write a musical chronology for the past decade of albums and music that occupied a large fraction of aural attention over a block of time. I’ll start with one from the winter of 2005-2006.
I’ve never had an affinity for “hard” music, but reading about the tension between noise and melody in a review of this album piqued my interest. At the time, I didn’t know anything about shoegaze, a label often applied to the band’s music, but I took a chance and up it went into the iPod. I recall puzzling over the album in the subway. Listening to this album with (generously understated) subpar iPod earphones in the 70-90 db environment of a subway car was less than ideal – noisy was granted a serious advantage in the battle. Studying to crunching guitar riffs proved unproductive, and I never found the time during exam period to dedicate solely to listening.
On Christmas Eve, my family embarked on a week-long cruise to celebrate my dad’s retirement. It was our first family cruise, and a step up from the periodic, nostalgic two-day trips to Niagara Falls during which we were crammed into two hotel rooms. By the third day, one exhausts most of the activities on the ship (except, if you’re like certain elderly members of my family, eating), and I had a slight hangover. The day’s choppy seas were exacerbating the symptoms, and exercise hadn’t worked, so I decided to lie down on a deck chair to coax my skin into producing some melanin.
It clicked. The synergy of sun, breeze, and salt illuminated the logic of the one-two combination of “Sapphire Eyes High” and “Don’t Come Down Here”, and I began to see the care in the album’s sequencing and songwriting. The front is loaded with the pop-heavy and radio friendly tracks. “Drain Cosmetics” one-ups fellow Scandinavians The Soundtrack of Our Lives, and “Un Deux” does away with any introduction, cramming a lot of hummability in two minutes. These two tracks are separated by “Selina’s Melodie Fountain”, a six-minute riff & variations. The relentless one-note guitar is broken by a drum roll and a descending chorus of “ooh’s” and vocals. It erupts into a blast of feedback before deftly seguing into “Un Deux”. The compact “Un Deux” is proceeded by “Candlelighted”, which sounds like a meandering jam session anchored by a stuttering drum beat until the vocals flutter in, stealing the thunder from the guitars.
Three pairs of loud-soft follow. The fast pace and male vocals of “Beehiver II” are the yang to the stark beauty and the breathy female vocals of the slow, measured “Her Name is Suicide”. The ternary structure of “Sapphire Eyes High” provides the best example of the band’s aesthetic: a buildup of guitar and drums is interrupted by thirty seconds of melodic genius that then dissolves back into noise, like a whale breaking the surface of the ocean to take a breath. “Don’t Come Down Here” is a love song – the tenderness of the strumming guitar is accompanied by the caress of the snare, leading up to a synth chord and Emil’s whispers. A brief, heated argument (or a short bout of rough sex) abruptly erupts before the song settles back down to its previous glow. “Chorale Lick” is dense and layered and contrasts with the space that is hollowed out by the bass line in “Simplicity”.
“Your Blood in Mine” is the closing epic. Nine minutes of encroaching darkness reach a calamity that is pierced by the ray of a piano melody. It is the last reiteration of the band’s simple thesis: no beauty without noise.