Tag Archives: shoegaze

The Sounds Of Inspiration, Part I: M83

I made a big decision last week. Miss Pink has officially signed up as a participant in NaNoWriMo. I’ve had a story simmering in my brain for years, and since nothing else seems to jump-start me into writing, I know that a competition will do what years of good intentions have not succeeded in doing. And I am very competitive, little earbuds. In an attempt to streamline my creativity and force me to have no alternative other than to writewriteWRITE, I’m going “offline” for the month of November. That means no email, no Facebook, no Twitter, no TinierMe, none of the hundreds of online ways that my time gets devoured. As for my beloved bevy of blogs, I’m scheduling Hot Pink Headphones and Otaku Haiku to update automatically. (Yup, that means from here until December every entry will be pre-written, how organizational and unexpected of me!) I’ll hop online for just a bit on Fridays to update The Procrastinator’s Project Journal just to keep track of how I’m doing, so for the curious, that’s the place to go.

But enough with the chatter! In honor of me striving to complete one of my dreams, the next month’s entries will be a new series devoted to the music that inspires. Everyone gets their inspiration from different sources. Music is obviously at the top of my list, as it is for many others. However, I’m quite particular about what music I listen to when I write. For me personally, the music can’t have a lot of words, or else I’ll be distracted trying to decipher them. If it’s music with words that I’m familiar with, I’ll stop writing and start singing. I love soundtracks, but I can’t listen to a soundtrack in full because I don’t want my work to be shaded by whatever film the music is describing. There are even particularly evocative pieces of classical music that are off limits due to the fact that I made strong memories of it whilst reading a favourite book as a youngster. (For example, I used to listen to the Amadeus soundtrack on repeat as I read Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles, so that one, beautiful as it is, is out.) What does that leave me with, dear reader? Quite a huge amount, actually, as every year my music collection expands exponentially.

My inspirational music comes in many forms. The summer between my freshman and sophomore years at university I stayed up incredibly late and wrote in a personal blog to the seemingly endless beats of techno. That was a very prolific summer! These days my go-to writing music is ethereal/dream pop/shoegaze. That genre is immediately atmospheric and always sets me in a mind frame of wanting to be alone with my thoughts and my characters, “in a world of my own,” as Alice (the one who travels to Wonderland and back) would say.

Today’s artist love (and video of choice) is M83. I first heard them several years ago thanks to a random iTunes playlist that included their breathtaking song “Run Into Flowers.” I loved that song so much that I delved deeper into their catalogue, and that’s when I found one of my desert island albums, Saturdays = Youth. Every song is a gem of pure moodiness and otherworldly ambiance. It continues to inspire me every time I listen to it, and I listen to it quite often (especially when I need to get into a creative or contemplative state of mind). I don’t have to skip a single song on this album, which, as any music fan knows, is quite a feat. Oddly enough, one of the songs that induced me to purchase said album, “Graveyard Girl,” is now the track that I listen to the least. However, I know the reason is because that song already has such a strong story to it, and as I mentioned above, I need less structure and more general atmosphere in my creative music. I could pick any song from this album to share with you, but since I only have time for one today, I’ll begin at the beginning: “You, Appearing.”

This video perfectly expresses what I crave in the music that inspires me: ambiguousness, and vague undertones of an unnamed mood. This song, and indeed this album, provide the paint. It’s up to me to draw the actual picture. What more could an artist ask for?

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Asobi Seksu Or Spaghetti? I Choose… Spaghetti.

Oh goodness, little earbuds, that drag show was amazing! I took lots of video, but with a so-so camera (bless it) and I have yet to start going through it all. But rest assured, should any prove to be decent and non-static sounding, I shall post post-haste! (See what I did there?) In other news, despite an excellent mini-break with my most excellent younger sister, today I am tired and sore and just a wee bit cranky. Between having to break up cat fights (and I don’t mean the derogatory slang term for a fight among women, I mean literal cat fights among my furry darlings) and surfing the crimson wave, not to mention yet another looming tornado warning in the area, I am missing a concert that I would otherwise be all over like white on rice: Asobi Seksu. Pour some of this loveliness in your eardrums, dear reader:

You may or may not have heard that song used at the end of a particularly touching episode of Ugly Betty. I actually discovered Asobi Seksu (whose name in Japanese roughly translates to “playful sex”) yet again through my beloved Logo. Out of the blue I was jolted off the couch by not only the swaying, smooth beats of their song entitled “Me & Mary,” I also could not look away from the stark visuals of the video itself. It looked old but sounded new and dreamy; the performers kept changing outfits, trees and arrows and Dr. Caligari-esque lamp posts were being drawn over the background, and feathers were floating everywhere, all in a bold palette of mostly black and white. The entire thing drew me in and led me to the gorgeously phenomenal album Hush. Take a gander at the video that began this particular Artist Love for me, if you will:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Hush has been on constant rotation on my stereo since I purchased it a few years back. However, after checking out Asobi Seksu’s most recent album, Fluorescence, I was disappointed. What I heard sounded decisively less shoegaze and more like traditional alt rock. Less dream, more pop, if you will. While there’s nothing wrong with a beloved artist branching out, and their new album would still catch the ear amongst any given smattering of standard radio fare, I just couldn’t get into it. And we all know that unless it’s a greatest hits tour, if there’s a new album out it will usually comprise a good deal of any given artist’s show. So despite the low, low ticket price of $8 and my love for their former work, tonight I’ll stay in and make spaghetti instead of venturing out into the current gale storm to see Asobi Seksu perform an hour away. But I wish them well in their current tour, and should they return under the banner of a new album that I fancy more, I’ll be there in a shoegaze minute (which is more like an hour in actual time).

 

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Fragments of The Wolf: The Music of Red Riding Hood

Oh Red Riding Hood. There was so much potential there. You have a great cast that features Gary Oldman, Amanda Seyfried, and a couple of young hotties that include the son of Jeremy Irons. You have that whole fairy-tale period-piece feel to you (though exactly what period, and where, are you supposed to take place? This is neither verbally mentioned nor evident in the scenery. Did you blow all the budget on catering and forget to hire a historian to glance over the script?) And let’s not forget what’s best of all: you’re one of the most interesting of the “traditional” fairy tales that we all know and love. On the surface it’s a simple story about minding your parents and not being thrown off your chosen path by strangers. However, at its heart Little Red Riding Hood is sexual, bloody, and disturbing (as are many of the original fairy tales before they were relegated to the realm of “children’s stories”). So Catherine Hardwicke had a lot to work with coming into this horror-tinged remake. And yet, somewhere along the line, it didn’t quite live up to its promise.

Perhaps it was my fault for expecting too much. When I hear that Gary Oldman is in a remake of one of my favourite fairy tales, I expect quality across the board. And to be fair, there were good things to be found. The snowy setting was a nice touch that helped make the red riding hood a visual star of its own. There were a couple of honest-to-goodness seat-jumping parts, which is always delicious in such a film. And the music was quite good (see the videos below). But overall it was cheesy, so terribly, terribly cheesy. I can enjoy a cheesy film when I’m prepared for it. But when I’m looking for a romantic horror along the lines of Bram Stoker’s Dracula or Interview with the Vampire, cheesy is disappointing. As I watched Red Riding Hood I discovered that I was straining to force myself to enjoy it more than I actually was. Once I realized that it just wasn’t going to be the film that I had hoped, I was able to let go and enjoy what was onscreen. Such as the soundtrack to the film, of which I am sharing my top three songs.

1.) Brian Reitzell – Towers of the Void

You might recognize Brian Reitzell as the guy who did the music for several Sofia Coppola films. I’ll give Catherine Hardwicke credit for having a good ear when it comes to her movies’ soundtracks, as Brian Reitzell is an excellent if underused choice in the movie biz. In regards to Red Riding Hood, while the rest of the score worked well enough with the film, this is the only track that I find myself wanting to listen to without the visuals. It’s eerie and cold, and the delicate reverberations of the strings remind me of melting droplets of snow falling from branch to ground. Very appropriate for a desolate mountain fairy tale.

2.) Fever Ray – The Wolf

Ooooo, I’d been waiting for this track for months! I looked for it as soon as the first trailers ran for this movie last winter, but sadly it was not available at the time. Now, however, we finally have it! This song speaks to what I wanted this film to be: raw, animalistic, sexual, powerful, and dark. Sadly, not even the scene in which it was utilized provided even half of that. (Pig masks, why did it have to be pig masks?!?) Still, I get shivers whenever I hear it. If nothing else came from this film but this song, I would still be a happy bunny.

3.) Alex Gonzalez & Brian Reitzell – Just a Fragment of You

The other Fever Ray song used in the film was good, but as soon as I saw that Alex Gonzalez of M83 worked on this track, I knew it was a winner. To be fair, I adore M83, as they gave me one of my top albums of all time (otherwise known as one of my “desert island albums” [Saturdays = Youth, for the curious]) so I was biased going in. But I think that even the uninitiated will find something beautiful and special in this track. It takes the eerie coldness from the first track that I shared and softens it, stretches it like taffy into a dream-like state of bliss. Like all the best ethereal music, I feel as though I could swim in an ocean of this sound. It’s gorgeous, and a surprising bonus gem from this film’s soundtrack.

So there you have it, dear reader. Personally I dislike movie reviews in which I am told which films to see and which films to skip. There is merit in this one, just as there is merit in pretty much any film. See it if you wish, and perhaps if you are forewarned of the impending cheese you will enjoy it even more than I was able to. Had I known then what I know now… Ah well, at least there are some kick-ass songs to take away from the experience.

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Ethereal Roots Part I: Cocteau Twins, Changelings, and LSD

There are many different categories of music that can be discovered taking shelter under the black umbrella term of “goth music.” I found goth through a life-long love of vampires, which means that my deep-seated roots lie in classical music. Organs and harpsichords and violins were all that I listened to as I read Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles and wrote poetry about ghosts and incense, longing and blood. When I was introduced properly to goth as a musical culture at the age of 15, I have to hand it to my goth mentor that I got proper exposure to all the classics. I was sent mix tape after mix tape of Bauhaus, Siouxsie & the Banshees, Sisters of Mercy, The Cure, and Christian Death. However, I was also introduced to slightly more esoteric bands that blurred the line between gothic rock and the classical that I already loved, bands such as Love Spirals Downwards, Bel Canto, Cocteau Twins, This Ascension, and Love Is Colder Than Death. Through research on the newly burgeoning internet I discovered that most of these bands were considered “ethereal.” They are distinguished by hazy, dreamy vocals (mostly female) and lush, shimmering instrumentals that make me feel as though I am swimming through oceans of serene sound whenever I listen to them. I knew that I wanted more.

Somehow I managed to get my hands on a Projekt catalogue, which is a label that has specialized in ethereal, ambient, and neo-folk music for many years, and I must have flipped through the pages of that small magazine (more like a brochure, really) over a hundred times, wondering what a band called “Black Tape For A Blue Girl” would sound like. (As I discovered several years later, they sound amazing.) While my exposure to ethereal music during high school was limited to the occasional mix tape song, once I went to college in Boston the floodgates opened. I frequented a marvelous music store called Newbury Comics that carried all the bands I ever dreamed about listening to and more. Suddenly I had entire albums of the artists that I was previously limited to owning one or two songs by. Though several of my most beloved ethereal bands from the 90s are now no longer together, they remain my most turned-to albums for inspiration and meditation. Ethereal is definitely a sister to dream pop and shoegaze, both of whom enjoy moderate to rising success in the current musical climate. However, true ethereal music does as the name promises: it transports you to another time and place by the simple act of closing your eyes and listening. And so, dear reader, I shall share three of my most beloved ethereal tracks with you here and now.

1.) Love Spirals Downwards – I Could Find It Only By Chance

Love Spirals Downwards is the first band that comes to mind when I think of quintessential ethereal music. I could literally have chosen any song from either of their first two albums, Idylls and Ardor, to share as the ultimate example of what otherworldly music sounds like. I chose this song from the latter, “I Could Find It Only By Chance,” because I discovered this beautiful fan made video that accompanies it. The creator of said video was spot-on in using so much water throughout, because this song is the sound of swimming at night, floating on stars, feeling weightless and at ease.

If you like this song, I can not recommend their first two albums enough. Magical things have happened to me when I’ve been listening to these albums, as well as magickal things. Dreams have been intensified, creativity has been unleashed, and my inner sense of calm and peace is always restored after an hour in a locked room with this band on my headphones. Their third album, Ever, has some lovely gems as well, but their fourth and final album together, Flux, is a vast departure from their earlier works, so be warned, angel seekers. Both LSD vocalist Suzanne Perry and instrumentalist Ryan Lum have begun other musical projects since parting ways (Melodyguild and Lovespirals, respectively) but in my opinion, their best and most significant works are to be found as Love Spirals Downwards.

2.) The Changelings – Earthquake At Versailles

The Changelings are particularly dear to my heart, as they are from Atlanta and I am a “dark southerner” myself. In this author’s country opinion, the southern United States has a certain ease to its gothic nature: you don’t have to travel far to find dilapidated graveyards with crumbling angel statues and mausoleums engulfed in kudzu. Every time that I drive to the nearby town to buy groceries I see rotting wooden barns and abandoned houses that were once white but now radiate an eerie blackness glimpsed between the dusty shards of shattered glass windows. I’m not sure why we keep these rusty cars and broken bricks around us, but we do, we have evidence of our humid, disintegrating lifestyle all around us. Perhaps it’s our way of trying to keep time standing still, by filling our yellowing parlors with antique artifacts from generations past. Whatever the cause, here we are, country folk all but swallowed in green foothills and the grey skies of thunder storms the likes of which you would never feel in an insulated city.

We southerners live with darkness and decay and death, and while we don’t claim to fully understand it, a great number of us have made peace with it. Many if not most traditional southern songs deal with death, but often in an uplifting way, speaking to the hardships of life and the joy of being reunited with loved ones in heaven. The Changelings are not as overtly heaven-focused in their lyrics as much southern music is, yet their songs are just as otherworldly as any ethereal band. While LSD is the sound of swimming in the stars, The Changelings delve deeper into the ethereal nature of all of the elements, utilizing fiery stringed instruments from all over the globe as well as earthy drums, airy vocals, and tinkling electronics like drops of rain at sea. This song in particular, “Earthquake At Versailles,” speaks to the beautiful decay that we southerners know so well. Each of their albums is an intoxicating blend of elemental magic, but their ghostly self-titled masterpiece remains my favourite. Though the band broke up in the early part of the last decade, happily they have recently announced that they are reunited once more. I look forward to more from this magnificent band, and hope to catch them live this time around.

3.) Cocteau Twins – Sea, Swallow Me

Chances are, even if you aren’t familiar with ethereal music as a whole, you’ve heard of Cocteau Twins. Choosing just one song to feature was a near impossible task (and one reason why today’s entry is posted much later than Miss Pink would wish it to be). Many folks argue that Cocteau Twins are dream pop, or post-punk, or simply alternative, but whatever genre you use to describe them pales in comparison to their actual music. The lyrics are sung in trills and half words/half noises, which could sound like cacophony with another vocalist, but coming from Elizabeth Fraser sounds like whispers from another realm, and Robin Guthrie turns any musical project he touches into gold for fans of this type of music.

This song is from a collaborative album between Cocteau Twins and renowned composer and pianist Harold Budd, called The Moon And The Melodies. “Sea, Swallow Me” is the first track of an amazing album, and it has always stood out to me because when I purchased the album I didn’t quite know what I was getting into. I was still in high school (re: limited musical exposure in those days before the glorious internet) but I had heard of Cocteau Twins, purchased one of their albums second-hand from the local indie record shop, and was eager to find more. During a trip to a huge Media Play in Chattanooga one weekend, I found The Moon And The Melodies. But whereas Four-Calendar Cafe (my first Cocteau purchase) was dreamy in a warm, sunny, summery way, this album was completely different: cool and quiet, an album for nighttime listening. I thought that it was so strange, but also fascinating. Listening to this album put me at odds within myself and led to much self-contemplation. Re-listening to it now reminds me of those times when I was questioning everything in my life, but it also provides a sort of cold comfort that keeps me on my toes. And above all, it is quite simply beautiful to hear.

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