Friday, November 20, 2009

a study in space-rock depression

Last week I had a couple difficult sessions with kids. There’s something so affective about depression that just pulls at me, sometimes feeling like a separate entity all together that feeds of the energy I pour into the sessions with the people I work with. Efforts to assuage the terrible thoughts and feelings that a kid may be feeling do more harm than good, and sometimes I feel at a loss. Driving home one night, listening to “Dirty Blue Balloons,” Failure really got to me. “Nothing helps and no one else/can make it feel alright float me through the night/I cannot let them go.” “Solaris” didn’t help much, and haunted me so much that I couldn’t listen to it anymore that night.

But that’s what’s so good about music, its malleable ability to adapt to fit individual moods and passing feelings. The album seemed to me about depression, and I got the feeling throughout that Andrews was taking on the persona of someone going through some unknown but debilitating ordeal. The long fade-out on “Pitiful” kind of freaked me out; it was taking so long to end and kept drawing out and felt like an editing mistake, but clearly, to me, was a deliberate attempt to strain the listener along with the fading instruments. The transition from “Leo” to the subsequent segue felt cavernous and heartfelt yet somehow empty, dripping with the sadness and hopelessness that permeated the aforementioned lyrics.

The two highlights for me on the album were “The Nurse Who Loved Me” and “Daylight.” The former I had only heard in Maynard James Keenan’s cover version with A Perfect Circle, and I reveled in the smooth and eerie progression of this version, which I obviously prefer. “Daylight” just scared the hell out of me. I really don’t know how else to put it. It affected me in an “Exit Music” kind of way. The songs leading up to it seemed even spacier and losing control, but Daylight is a whole other beast entirely.

I love the segues. The way in which Failure explodes into the first one from Sergeant Politeness reminds of one of the things I love the most about hard rock: the sheer power of the music. To me the guitars could have been turned up a little bit in parts, but their tone (I looove tone) is superb. After my first listen through I spent about 40 minutes with “Smoking Umbrellas” on a loop, trying to recreate the guitar’s sound with an EQ and my glorious Metal Zone pedal. I never quite got it, but that’s something I rarely do, since the majority of my tonal-tinkering usually focuses on getting one distinct (and much heavier) sound. I also love the mixing of the acoustic guitars, when they’re used. They seem to fall on the physical extremes of the presentation, and the strum strum stummm of the guitars cuts right across the whole spectrum from the extremes of each channel. Stuck on You is a great example of this: during the acoustic bits, it feels like the guitars are coming at you from the periphery. I kept moving the speakers further away from center to enhance the effect.

Some of the entries sound more derivative than others ("Pillowhead," for example, sounds like 12 bands from my youth, including (but not limited to) Nirvana, My Bloody Valentine, and STP), and for much of the album I felt right at home with their 90s grungy rock sound that I loved so much in my adolescence. Perhaps that’s why I felt so comfortable and familiar with the music despite never having heard them before, their sound just put me at ease. I’ve been listening to so much indie rock lately that its sometimes a shock to go back to stuff like this, a sound so familiar and replicated yet unique to a specific period of my life. So, I really liked Fantastic Planet. A lot. Even though it kind of freaked me out.

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