Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Record Low, or Just Trust Me About the Headphones

Sometimes you don’t know if something you like is going to maintain, going to make it. Sometimes you’re sorta sure it won’t and you selfishly just hope it does long enough for you to enjoy it a few more times, maybe share it with a few friends, even change the tide. The last of course can be viewed as either romanticism or hubris, or both. But, after all, in addition to a drawer full of ratty ticket stubs and a slight case of tinnitus, aren’t these the makings of a music fan?

I came across The Record Low in a fairly roundabout manner. I attended a small play produced in an old, beautifully drab church, where I strained to hear the dialogue but was nonetheless mesmerized by the actors’ presence in the middle of it all, their relationship to one another shifting in the dry light of the kliegs on the minimalist stage. Good way to spend an evening.

While reading the program afterward, I saw that the playwright made mention of a local band whose songs had inspired much of the work’s mood. In fact, it was one song in particular, “What If I’m Wrong.” I asked those who’d attended the production with me if they’d heard it. To which I received a few pained looks and the explanation that it had been played at least twice in the course of the evening—before and after the performance. I shrugged sheepishly, muttered something about how it mustn’t have been very good if I hadn’t noticed, and then again sought refuge in the program till the waiter brought our food and drinks. Though while doing so, I reminded myself that I had been pretty enthralled with the venue—the organ’s towering and tarnished pipes alone merited the price of admission—and it’s not unlike me to fixate on something, try to capture it somewhere in my mind, all the while oblivious to the three-ring circus complete with human cannonballs brushing against my aisle arm.

So I went home and pulled up the band’s website. They had a pay-what-you-can Mp3 server. I ponied up what I thought fair, downloaded the album entitled Away From Us, and then listened… not bad, a little dreamy, emo for my tastes, but I sorta got it. I listened to the album on my stereo while reading a book, then closed my laptop and went off to bed, unofficially condemning the album to the deep, forgotten recesses of my hard drive, probably forever.

However, the next day, while loading up my iPod, I came across the album and decided, what the hell, and tossed it on. That night, as the sky added yet another coat of snow to the city, I popped it on, and what came through my headphones was much richer than what I’d heard the other night (and excuse the pride here, but my home stereo isn’t a total piece of crap, either).

The songs were soft and sad without being lugubrious. Solemn in the way an adult should be permitted to embrace now and again without indulging in atavistic desires of bodily mutilation or other such gothic teenage posturing. And one of the great things about the lyrics was, even though their delivery was often melancholy, their import was not a constant stream of lamenting, of surrender, but rather that of a man in a desolate environ chiding the cowardly while promising his own eventual victory over the forces that had brought the land to ruin in the first place. The music had pathos, not bathos. Theatricality, not histrionics. It transcended its genre and made you want to write stories (or plays, I suppose) based on a few key phrases hovering in the fog of the guitar’s effects. As the hiss and reverb of the vocal track cut in and out (which can only be heard on the cans), you got the feeling that the message was being transmitted from a bunker. Not an SOS or a cry for sedition. Rather, just a message declaring, for the time being at least, that they survived.

A few weeks later I was just as pleased with the live show.

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