Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Sad is the New Black - or - The Portishead-Lehman Brothers Axis

The scary and exciting season, or more accurately, long weekend of Halloween and Presidential Election seem to have inspired me to immerse myself not in harsh noise, Arthur Brown, or other traditionally frightening things, but in really sad music. This should be evidenced by my "very creepy" Halloween post where, in case you don't want to scroll down, I posted a YouTube audio only clip of a BBC session performance of Portishead's "Magic Doors" pretty much without comment. For a minute I thought that the things I was listening to were actually scary, or some of them were, but nope. Just sad.

I wasn't so into Third when it came out. I thought it was good, but my mood this past week has lead me back to it in a new way. This is wierd for a couple reasons.

When people tell me music is depressing I generally don't understand their point of view. Granted, there are some pieces of music that are genuinely depressing - things that depress you when you listen to them, things that you listen to when you're depressed. Third, I guess is one of those pieces. Maybe Pink Moon is another. But I've always disagreed with those who say that Radiohead or the Smiths are depressing. If it's depressing, why would anyone who doesn't like to be depressed listen to it? The conclusion I've gradually come to on this is that people who say that not depressing music is depressing are just using the wrong words. They don't actually get depressed when they listen to Radiohead, they just feel like Radiohead is something that people who are depressed would listen to.

Anyway, what I'm trying to say here is I usually would be the last person to label music as sad or depressing - if music comes of as sad or depressing and the music is any good, then the point must be to get at something beyond depression. Wallowing in depression has never made good music and maybe this is why I have a problem with the way some people react to Elliot Smith.

Third is sad, but listening to it, you don't feel sad. You feel disabled. You want to go lie down and do nothing and not talk to anyone for a while. What's wierd is that this is exactly the kind of musical masochism that I hate. Nobody needs Third to make them feel shitty. The problem, I suppose, is that it seems that Third fits so perfectly into this moment in history. It hits you with the exact type of numbness and despair that a financial crisis, the re-emergence of a Russian militancy, and the strange confluence of fear and malaise that exists right now on tends to inspire. You listen to Third for the same reason you listen to anything else: to feel tied into the world. It just so happens that the world is really fucked right now and this is the music that speaks to it.

Lost Wisdom, which is by Mount Eerie, is just as good, if not better. It's not the soothsayer of doom type of album that is, though. It's a breakup record. "You Swan Go On" is easily the best breakup song I've heard in years. Yes, better than "Woke Up New". It's the centerpiece of the record as far as I'm concerned, even when the first two tracks are much more epic and immediately effecting. "Lost Wisdom" is the great foggy awesomeness that Phil Elverum should be producing for ever. "Voice in Headphones" isn't as good of a song, but thrives on the choral feel that comes from the reverb on the backing vocals. It shows some of the only obvious "production" on the record, which is mainly just voices and acoustic guitar with some electric guitar textures thrown in.

So sadness is in, I guess. Parallax Error Beheads You should be the record I'm pumping these days, by all rights, but the funk just doesn't fit right now. I'll give that one a proper drubbing later on.

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