Initial Listen: Americanfootball LP2

 

af

When the announcement was first made that Illinois-based band, Americanfootball was going on tour in 2016-2017, I was psyched. I unfortunately missed out on their short string of shows that they played a few years back, having been out in Austin when they were playing in the northeast. I don’t think I’ve ever bought a ticket quite as quickly for any other show in my life. Here was an opportunity to see a band whose debut album (and only album until recently) was, and still is one of the most important records that I have had the privilege of listening to. I remember coming across their name at some point in the early 2000’s on a local band’s Myspace page. One of their members listed Americanfootball as one of his favorites, and one of his influences. Always on the lookout for new music, I found the name interesting, and I was intrigued enough to look them up. I was led to Amazon.com where there was very little written about the band itself, but I was able to stream 30-second clips of each song on their album, complete with a fuzzy blue sound wave graphic that went along with the music. To this day, I think I will always connect that blue sound wave graphic with the whimsical sound of a trumpet intertwined with intricate guitar lines and drums that would not sound out of place on a jazz record- a sound that I had never quite heard before, at least not from any of the artists I was listening to at that time. I was hooked, and ordered the album immediately. I continue to be just as entranced by the music today as  I was the day I discovered it.

Fast forward about 12 years. Not only do I have the opportunity to see live, those who are responsible for 40 minutes of some of the most beautiful music I have ever heard, but it turns out that we are also getting an album of brand new songs. That is fantastic, but not without it’s own caveat. I was ecstatic to hear that we were going to hear new tunes from a band that I held in such high regard. However, as with any favorite music, tv show, film or book, there is a strong level of hesitance that goes along with a follow-up to something that you have connected to on such a deep level. And with albums in particular, there is always the fear of the sophomore slump. Well…

I’ve now heard the album once through in its entirety. I’m so happy that I can say this: I am not disappointed in the least. It’s great. Without giving an in-depth track-by-track review, I will just say that the album is the true spiritual successor to Americanfootball. Everything that I have come to love is there – the intricate jangly guitars, the odd time, jazz-like drums, TRUMPET!, little melodic flourishes of guitar and feedback that, simply due to their subtle placement in the mix can evoke feelings that I didn’t even know that I had. And Mike Kinsella’s vocals are on point. With a crooner like him, it’s not so much the words that he sings, but (to quote My Morning Jacket)…the way that he sings. The production is much cleaner than it was on their 1997 debut, but Kinsella’s at-times-croaked vocals can still convey strong emotions with very little vocal theatrics. Sonically, the band sounds like they’ve never gone away. Somehow, they were able to pick up where they left off without missing a beat.

Having read a few interviews with the band members over the past few weeks, the majority of questions seem to be focused on the fact that it’s been 17 years since their last release, and how they’re coping with the pressure of following up such a monumental work of art. Other questions reference the fact that the music and lyrics for that album were written from the perspective of love-lorn, desperate, hopeful teenagers (which they were – as all of us were)- probing to find out just how the band operates and continues to find inspiration as a group of guys now approaching 40. All I can say from my first listen is that it’s clear that these musicians have not lost that sense of urgency that permeated the first album. There is still an atmosphere of searching, both from a lyrical standpoint as well as musical. These individuals are not settling for easy answers to some of life’s big questions. The youthful sense of exploration is still very much alive, only the questions and observations have been refined to reflect new circumstances. You cannot really ask for more than that.

I am looking forward to listening to this album as obsessively as I did the first one. And I cannot wait to hear these new songs (as well as some of the older classics) live for the first time.

Advertisements

10 Devastating Portrayals of Grief in Twin Peaks

cropped-the-black-lodge-twin-peaks-15897690-1280-102411

Twin Peaks, perhaps best known for essentially inventing water-cooler television with its quirky characters, coupled with soap opera-esque plot lines and an incredible soundtrack, is at the same time a brutal commentary on grief, and the startling effects it can have on an individual. What truly made this show so powerful and compelling to watch was its stark portrayal of grief as a universal, yet intensely personal experience. Although the show does have its share of goofball tender-hearted moments, the creators were not afraid to delve into various states of confusion, frustration, helplessness and madness that can accompany great loss.

10.) Harold Deceived by Donna

Lonely and agoraphobic, Harold, whom Donna meets during her stint delivering meals on wheels, finds what he believes to be a true friend in Donna. The looks on Harold’s face when he catches her stealing Laura’s diary says it all. His is the face of a man betrayed. He took a chance, and put himself out there, only to find further reassurance that the world outside is one that is manipulative and cruel. Ultimately, Harold decides that the only proper course of action in response to such a toxic world is to leave it behind.

9.)   Donna’s Frustration with Laura

A turning point for Donna’s character, as we see her move beyond grief as a one-dimensional feeling of loss. You can see the emotions churning and welling up inside of her, ready to explode as she begins speaking to Laura on her grave. What starts out as a grief-stricken monologue, quickly gives way over to anger as Donna chastises her deceased best friend for leaving her to pick up the pieces of Laura’s troubled life.

8.)  Bobby Briggs Afraid? Afraid?!

Major Briggs, Bobby’s strict and military-minded father, attempts to console his son who is clearly uncomfortable with the idea of attending Laura’s funeral. Bobby’s usual calm, cooly detached exterior quickly burns away in a matter of seconds, replaced by barely-contained rage and confusion in reaction to the sudden death of his girlfriend.

7.) Leland and Catherine Share a Dance

In a particularly difficult-to-watch scene, Leland cracks under the weight of his own grief at a party celebrating the Ghostwood Estates project. His inability to stifle his own cries prompts Catherine to dance with him as a way to distract on-lookers from the sad truth; here is a man who has been broken. Leland swings wildly back and forth between brief moments of joyful dancing and crippling despair as the people around him, blissfully unaware, continue dancing the night away.

6.)  Donna, James and Bobby at the Pub

There is something deeply cathartic about this particular scene set in the pub. Donna, James and Bobby become visibly distraught as Julee Cruise croons Rockin’ Back Inside My Heart to a crowded room. Although not yet aware of Maddy’s murder, those in the pub seem to become collectively aware of something awful happening. It’s almost as if those who were close with Laura in life, now share a preternatural sensitivity to the darkness pervading their small town. From deep within the walls of this pub, the town itself seems to be crying out.

5.)   Crybaby Andy

The first of many moments in which Andy is moved to tears, this introduction to his character expertly conveys the concept of innocence lost. Andy embodies a childlike sense of innocence, and to see him break down at the sight of a dead body is just the first of many moments where the town and it’s inhabitants are forced to accept that very bad things happen in this world, whether they’re prepared or not. Although Andy’s bouts of hysteria are the backdrop of some tender moments as the show progresses, this initial show of tears brings a real sense of humanity to the show. More often than not, television portrays law enforcement officers and detectives with tough exteriors, having become desensitized to a loss of life. Andy has not yet shed that which makes him empathetic to a life lost.

4.)  Leland Gets Happy

Poor, poor Leland. You would be hard-pressed to find a more sympathetic character on Twin Peaks (that is, Leland without Killer Bob). This scene in particular finds Leland among close friends and family, struggling to maintain a sense of normalcy, overcompensating with a manic musical number. Ray Wise’s acting chops manage to convey humor, desperation, sadness and despair all in a manner of minutes over a familiar upbeat tune. As the tune grows faster and faster, the surrounding guests become more and more aware that something is very wrong. In typical Lynch fashion, the show takes a song about casting away your troubles, and creates an almost unbearable sense of crushing despondence.

3.)  Worst Nightmare

Few scenes in film and television (as I am sure any parent can tell you) are as difficult to watch as a mother or father learning of a child’s passing. Sarah Palmer’s bloodcurdling howls over the phone with her husband are the auditory equivalent of a horrific car accident. Her screams are the sound of a worst nightmare unfolding ever so slowly. As the show goes on, Sarah oscillates between wild hysteria and paralyzing despair.

2.)  Leland’s Last Dance

This iconic scene just exudes desperation as family and friends witness first-hand their friend’s on-going battle with grief over the loss of his daughter. Overwhelmed by his loss, Leland affectionately begins dancing with Laura’s framed picture. Spinning around the dance floor holding his dead daughter’s likeness at arm’s distance sounds like something out of a horror movie. As uncomfortable as it is to watch, much like a car wreck, it’s next to impossible to look away. Leland’s complete inability to cope is made all the more horrifying by playing out his manic-depressive episode in front his friends, family and members of the community. The town of Twin Peaks is once again forced to confront the embodiment of devastation.

1.) The Empty Seat That Started it All

The pilot episode of Twin Peaks is an exercise in dread. The entire episode exudes an atmosphere of shadows encroaching. It feels very much like the electrified air just moments before a violent thunderstorm. Now that the stage is expertly set, a simple awareness of an empty seat in a classroom cuts through, and sends imaginations running wild. Donna’s suspicions of something awful are confirmed as a scream tears across the grass outside their room. She casts a knowing look at James, and the rest is television history.