on music (old and new) and yearning

In a different lifetime and timeline, I used to work the graveyard shift at a recording studio in west Athens. Work meant little more than holding the keys to the studio and fixing coffee for after hours clients who fell into two categories strictly: really shitty folk singers with their sugar daddies in tow or equally crappy and somehow even less tolerable metal bands, groups of high school friends pushing thirty, tragic in their seriousness. You wouldn’t catch me saying it out loud back then, but it was more of a squat situation for me rather than a job thing – I’d left home on bad terms with my folks and basically lived in the studio as the owner who was also my boyfriend at the time was desperately trying to fix it up; however, a performing artist himself, he was often away on tour or recording with his partner, so the studio was a perpetual work in progress. For a few months and as the relationship faltered, I slept alone on a sunken faux leather couch, abused the coffee machine and enjoyed the rare luxury of virtually nothing but downtime during small hours on the sixth floor of a building that was mostly empty anyway. It was all spartan, but it was mine – blurry blue lights glimmering from buildings in the distance through windows stained by muddy rain, a solitary car speeding on Lenormant Ave., the comforting silence, blankety-thick, all-encompassing. I’d put on my headphones and listen to Burial’s first album that had just come out. I’d read all the triumphant reviews – there was always a small pile of foreign music press in the studio: Mojo, Uncut, Future Music, The Wire. To me, a person with a long-standing affinity for punk and guitars that usually allowed no space for anything else, the album was revelatory, like being submerged into oceans of longing, lighting a secret fire inside, a liquid yearning for something unmarked and unexplained, not shadowy like the city after hours, just elusive, the perfect amount of out-of-reach to sustain a desire I did not know existed. It was the first time I experienced music like that; in my formative years, there had been other records that shook me to my core, but they all sort of melted into each other, all tied together by the commonality of being landmark albums for angsty teens with no outlets – Never Mind The Bollocks, London Calling, Earth A.D, Unknown Pleasures, The Stooges, you get the gist. But that brand new dubstep record from a nameless, faceless artist was somehow more personal than the sum of all those other staple works. The genre died a relatively quick death. So did my relationship. By the end of that year, I’d moved out of the studio. But the record stayed with me, as did the yearning. 

After coming to terms with the realization that kiddo won’t accommodate my past habit of listening to records thoroughly and peacefully, I’ve become a lot more selective with what artists I choose to pay attention to. I’m looking for that feeling again. Can’t say I’ve found it yet, but lately I have been playing a couple of albums over and over. I rarely say, “I like this a lot” these days. But these two are strong contenders for the small list of exciting new releases that lives in my head. 

My good friend and fellow blogger Raggedy Man, being the clairvoyant with impeccable taste he is, wisely alerted me to The Armed a couple of years back, when I was in a much different headspace. I remember finding them unpalatable, uninviting and didn’t grace them with a second listen. This time around, I read up on them and their ties with bands I used to adore in my late teens – Converge, The Dillinger Escape Plan, QOTSA et al. This invocation of familiarity meant I approached Perfect Saviors with a more open mind, and was greatly rewarded. This is an outstanding release. I have grown to appreciate how unapologetic they are in their genre-bending although I still partially stand by my initial sentiment; they remain an uninviting band, despite the bored and boring outlet that rhymes with fish spork likening the new album to Barbie, blockbuster movie of summer 2023 and labeling it as the most conventional one yet. Sure, it’s a more polished record than its predecessors, the corners are definitely more rounded now. But there is so much detail, such turbulent intricacy woven into the songs, such blistering ambition; there’s bold, brash, playful moments, but you’ll need more than a couple of spins to truly acknowledge its complexity and reel it all in. To quote a beloved Spongebob episode, the music of The Armed is an acquired taste, like freeform jazz. A very rewarding one, if I do say so myself.

Speaking of jazz, my husband turned me onto Jaimie Branch’s brilliant posthumous release Fly Or Die Fly or Die Fly or Die. The album radiates with joy, a roaring, commanding testament to Branch’s raw talent. I’ve been playing it in the mornings to make for bouncier breakfast feedings for me and kiddo and it serves its purpose well. The album veers into euphoric territory almost immediately; see if you can get through borealis dancing without fingers drumming to the beat or a foot tap. There’s a restlessness throughout the record, an urgent, visceral need to be one with the cosmos, which in light of her death feels more tragic than transcendent, agony and ecstasy walking hand in hand. It’s a future classic. 

I hope this one finds you well, and yearning.

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