Edicts of Nancy

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Friday, December 30, 2005

Sister Nancy Beth's Musical Memories of 2005; or, A Not-So-Random Friday iPod Ten


One of the few holdouts from my former life of selfish hedonism is listening to music that hasn't received the imprimatur of my theological instructors -- yet. But I've read enough National Review articles to know how to navigate around the potential moral shortcomings of those whose music I enjoy: Annex them in the name of Conservatism. The following artists, I'm sure, are latter-day Sudetens eager to support the Cause; or if not, they should be. Praise Him!

One aspect of my life that I thought that even being in a relationship couldn't affect is my music consumption habits, but I was wrong. Somehow, in the course of moving in with Jesus, I've ended 2005 with less music than I started with. I bought fewer cds & lps in anticipation of the move, I had my first sizeable purge in order to merge Jesus' cd collection with mine, and now this iPod is making it possible to transfer the lone decent track from an otherwise crappy cd to my computer and finally be rid of it. Despite the contractions my musical universe underwent in 2005, I still found a number of songs I connected with, and offer this not so much as a "best-of" as more of a "most meaningful." Or something.

"What if we do?" - Mia Doi Todd
"My Little Lark" - Marissa Nadler

Mia Doi Todd's album Manzanita has some of the most excruciating womyns-studies lyrics ever penned; however, I'm willing to overlook all of this for the one gem on the album, "What if we do?" She's created a "Help Me" for the low self-esteem generation, in which she replaces Joni Mitchell's giddiness about falling in love with anxiety and trepidation. I listened to this song repeatedly as I drove to work each morning, wondering if I should take the leap and move in with Jesus. The antidote to all of this uncertainty Mia and I felt was Marissa Nadler's "My Little Lark," in which romantic love seems like an inevitable, though circuitous, destination. I remember always listening to this one driving home.

"King Of Spain, Part Two" - Galaxie 500

After we moved in together, Jesus decided to acquaint himself with my cd collection and would play discs at random (until He hit the mildly sucky Jarboe/Neurosis collaboration). Galaxie 500 was a serendipitous discovery for Him; He really likes the album This Is Our Music. I've been grateful to rehear it. At the time I bought it, I was too swayed by what the critics wrote: listless, and not as good as their prior albums. I lost patience with it, and came to think of there only being one good song on it, "Hearing Voices," the second track. I don't think I ever made it all the way through this album, certainly not without hitting the skip button a few times. After repeated listenings to it in its entirety, though, I've come to like all the songs on it, and "King of Spain, Part Two" has replaced "Blue Thunder" as my favorite Galaxie 500 song ever. Having dismissed this album for so long, I find it refreshing to hear it after taking in a decade's worth of the music Galaxie 500 inspired -- the whole slow-core movement, of course, but especially Low, who picked up the baton where Galaxie 500 fell asleep. I've always been something of a music snob, so seeing Jesus enjoy this makes me wonder how different His life would have been had He abandoned the dancey pop He (and everyone else) was listening to in His early twenties and become an indierock kid, or perhaps how different my own life would have been if I hadn't.

"Panis et Circenses" - Os Mutantes

I'm ashamed to admit I'm a latecomer to Tropicalia. Within minutes of hearing the Soul Jazz compilation Tropicalia: A Brasilian Revolution In Sound, I was asking myself, "Why wasn't I listening to this 10 years ago?" Maybe I was just scared off by the endorsements of Beck and David Byrne. The last time I had this same feeling of excitement at discovering an unknown world was when I bought the double LP Fairport Convention sampler, Fairport Chronicles, when I was a junior in high school. That album still affects my listening habits, and I suspect this album is likely to have a similar effect.

"Here Before" - Vashti Bunyan

I wrote about this album previously, and if I were to claim a best album of 2005, this would easily be it. While the roots of this album are in tradional Britfolk, this track, either a meditation on the foolhardiness of youth or reincarnation, contemporizes the sound with mildly trippy pscyh effects, like backwards glockenspiel and multiple vocal layering. A small miracle.

"Pyracantha" - Fursaxa

There's something strangely beautiful and affecting in this track of Tara Burke's wordless and almost genderless ululating over a strummed acoustic guitar, playing all of two chords. Maybe it's its emotional directness; when I figure it out, I'll let you know.

"She Passed Through" - Dirty Three

This song encapsulates everything Dirty Three does well -- expressive as hell musicianship, magisterial turns of melody -- and condenses it into three and a half minutes, as opposed to the usual ten. The first time I heard this was lying on the couch with Jesus; I think He might have fallen asleep. He may not remember, but I do.

"Soma II" - Maeror Tri

A lot of ambient music tends to sound spongy, a condition I attribute to its being too reliant on synthesizers. The basis of the late great Maeror Tri's sound was electric guitars -- maybe the reason their music never lapsed into sonic flabbiness is because there was simply too much voltage coursing through their strings. There were at least two Maeror Tri reissues this year, The Beauty of Sadness and Meditamentum I. Soma II comes from the latter, on the redoubtable Manifold label. Every time Soma II played, I was compelled to get up to look at the cd package to see which track was playing.

"1/2" - Andrew Chalk

One of the great losses for sound art for 2005 was the dissolution of Christoph Heeman's and Andrew Chalk's musical partnership, Mirror. Fortunately they saw us off with three exceptional albums (Figures in a Landscape, Still Valley, Viking Burial for a French Car), and Andrew Chalk has launched his own label, Faraway Press. His first release is Shadows From The Album Skies, whose honey-like drones offer the luxurious feeling of being completely suspended in sound.

"Fuku" - Kawabata Makoto

I once read an interview with Kawabata Makoto (or is it Makoto Kawabata) in The Wire in which he stated that when he was young, he once heard music falling down from the heavens. Later he learned that it was most likely Stockhausen's performance at the nearby World's Fair in Osaka, Japan. This song always bring to mind that synesthetic image. I feel as though its bouzouki and electric guitar haze are being absorbed directly through my skin.

On a related note, I've discovered a prime mail-order source to protest: Fusetron. They take Pay-Pal, their turn-around time is quick, and they tend to have the items in stock that their better known rivals sell out of quickly.

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