Tuesday, May 31, 2011

My Haphazard Relationship with My Morning Jacket

My relationship with My Morning Jacket began after my freshman year of college. I went to Lollapalooza, my first ever music festival, that summer with three of my best friends. It was my first experience with the most heavenly days of life, those filled with back-to-back concerts, chasing from one field to another to catch the next show, standing until dehydration and exhaustion overtook my body.

We watched My Morning Jacket at the Bud Light stage, one of the two huge stages. You could see the Chicago landscape behind the stage, but my focal point was on this wasted lady in a long dress and heels, dancing off to the side of front pit, waving her arms in oblivion to the minutes-long jams into which each song eventually morphed. I could do without it. In fact, I grew bored, stared vacantly into the shade of the trees to the side of the stage. I couldn't for the life of me understand the appeal of My Morning Jacket. I've never been much of a jammer. Not sure if I lack a chemical in my brain or the capacity to injest mushrooms. Either way, I felt nothing.

My friends proceeded to travel up to Cleveland -- my hometown -- sometime that fall to catch another My Morning Jacket show. I stayed behind in Athens. Forget it, I said. No way I'm paying to see them.

My sophomore year roommate, Lauren, was on an MMJ kick. She would play "One Big Holiday" every morning as soon as we woke up. Along with that one stupid album by the Format that everyone except me loved. I would cringe when she played it, but eventually it became habit, and it kinda settled into the depths of me, and I accepted it. (And this is no dis to Lauren. She also played Paul Simon some mornings. She has lovely taste. To this day, the mix CD she made me before I went to Spain is the best mix CD anyone has ever made for me.)

I saw My Morning Jacket the next summer, once again at Lollapalooza. But this time, they played the opposite large stage, and we sat on the hill by the baseball field. The Chicago Youth Orchestra (I believe) came onstage, and it was sort of unreal. Yet I still didn't get it.

The moment I really heard My Morning Jacket was May of 2008, the first time I heard Evil Urges. This album was unlike any other MMJ album. Falsetto, Prince-like, or Winnie-the-Pooh-like. Spacey electronics, ambling love songs and an ode to a special librarian, tongue in cheek, so clever, so embraceable. "Highly Suspicious" was highly messed up, and one of the best weirdo songs I'd ever heard. I rated the album as my #3 favorite of 2008 (after Fleet Foxes and Bon Iver's debut albums). It was all over the place, the kind of sonic adventure that makes you want to dive off a cliff into musical oblivion.

I explored their older material, finding that even the songs that once irritated me were so incredibly magical. All that time, I had under-appreciated what was right in front of me.

When I decided to move to Louisville, I had no idea I was moving to the band's hometown. In fact, I knew pretty much nothing about Kentucky or Louisville or horses or the fact that it was on the Ohio River. I didn't know that My Morning Jacket recorded one of their live albums partially at Ear X-tacy, an independent record store here. I didn't know until I listened to that live album, which my friend Josh had just made me a copy of, and heard Jim James pledging allegiance to Louisville and the store. And then it was fate for me to love the band. And the city, for that matter.

I went to Ear X-tacy last night. They were releasing MMJ's Circuital at midnight. I wanted to see the excitement. At least a hundred people showed up. The town felt alive. On a Monday night, it was alive. The record has been on repeat all day, and I think it might just top Evil Urges for me. The first three... hell, every song has roped me in. "Holdin' on to Black Metal" is maybe more courageous than "Highly Suspicious," "Wonderful (The Way I Feel)" is completely devoted, and I can't even begin to get my head to stop spinning from the title track.

The band is playing at the Palace right now. I didn't get a ticket before they sold out, but strangely, Todd Haynes (I'm not gonna go off on too large of a tangent, but I kinda worship the guy. His short film about Karen Carpenter that I watched in a women's studies class made me cry. It was made entirely of barbie dolls that he carved to the point of emaciation. And those barbie dolls made me cry. That's how good he is.) is directing a live youtube streaming event of the concert. I've been watching it all night. The last song in their first encore? "One Big Holiday." Huh.

I'm about ten minutes from the venue, yet I'm sitting in my room, wondering how I fell so hard in love with a band that I once stood so strongly against.

Maybe I'm growing up. Maybe I'm growing weirder. Maybe, just maybe, I'm just riding the path that is my life, and as I travel farther, I grow closer to understanding all these things I've missed along the way.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Handsome Furs - Sound Kapital

The greatness of Handsome Furs lies in duality. Husband-and-wife team Dan Boeckner (of Wolf Parade) and Alexei Perry have the unrestricted energy of fiery lovers, which they display in full force during their onstage spit-swapping and bodily jerks in each other’s direction. That passion typically comes through their music when Boeckner’s steamy guitar squalls meet Perry’s infectious electrobeats. The dirty quality of his ax somehow meshes perfectly with the precise yet spontaneous rhythm of her synth blasts. Sound Kapital was written primarily on keyboards, and the result feels more club, less rock and roll. It has the same jarring claustrophobia as Handsome Furs’ previous two albums, but misses some of the impulsiveness. Still, their latest demonstrates more of a patience for song-craft than ever before. “What About Us,” the first single, meshes an intermittent bee-buzzing effect with a simple keyboard melody, only to break off with a spacey bridge where Boeckner begs the song’s subject to break his heart. “When I Get Back” works up a dance fever of the highest order, while “Damage” begins with fuzzy samples of radio broadcasts they collected while touring Asia. Sound Kapital is missing some of the duo’s bark, but it certainly maintains their bite.