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June 8, 2004

Aural Pleasure

False Start #1:

Last week I was going to write an in-depth analysis of the new Pedro the Lion album, Achilles Heel. In the original plan, this week's column was then supposed to be a nice introduction to the summer, possibly centered around the track list for the summer mix CD I would make. However, after being necessarily shafted by the alumni issue last week (and thus unable to write my amazing Pedro review), finding myself currently more concerned with passing my classes than choosing songs for a mix (for once), and feeling flabby and out of practice from the week off, I seem to be out of material

False Start #2:

Whoa, kids! I have been totally immersed in new-slash-awesome music recently. Not only have I been paying my respects to the old school, I've been getting high off of some smokin'-good pop and rock music recently. To catch you up, let me give you a list of some of the albums I've recently purchased-slash-been jammin' to:

Stevie Wonder—Innervisions

Bob Dylan—Highway 61 Revisited

The Beatles—Revolver

The Stooges—Fun House

Of Montreal—Satanic Panic in the Attic

Bob Dylan—Bootleg Series Vol. 4, Live 1966, The "Royal Albert Hall" Concert

The Darkness—Permission To Land

To Begin Again, From The Beginning:

OK, I'll admit it: I am no more prepared for this school year to end than you are, and if by some chance you are in the lofty position of being on top of your finals, having a great internship lined up for the summer, and possessing a clear conception of how this past school year has fit into your personal development, I salute you. Pay no attention to how many fingers I am holding up.

At the beginning of this year, I was told that second year was the worst. I was told to expect depression and frustration, with the total upheaval of my world being implied. At the time, the worst thing I felt was a sense of redundancy, but I was determined to make this a year of quiet changes, especially in the area of my work ethic. I rolled my eyes at the third- and fourth-year prophets who had come to warn me of my impending downfall. I was in a long-term (albeit long-distance) relationship with a girl that I loved, and I had tangible plans for the improvement of my future (a transfer application). But before my eyes could come back down and refocus, everything crumbled. And although I now know that, for the most part, things had to be the way they were with her, and I have chosen to stay rather than transfer, the point of this story is that this year has not been particularly cohesive for me. We like to think that we only move forward, but the best I think I can do after my second year here is argue over just how many steps I have taken backward or to the side.

So I don't have a big summer preview (read the online edition of the Maroon this summer, though, because I know I'll have something eventually), but of course I have music to talk about. What I have are two albums coming in the form of recommendations to pick up as soon as you possibly can. They are Nada Surf's Let Go and Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros' Streetcore.

Nada Surf's solace comes in the form of reveling in the painful beauty I have experienced this past school year. They sing about an id that is "always searching like it's on junk," about "making out with people [they] hardly know or like," and treading not only water but white wine. But the way that singer Matthew Caws atmospherically croons lines like, "What I want is difficult. I must try," makes the album ultimately hopeful: if not abiding in something more than the present emptiness, at least desiring it.

Streetcore is the last record Joe Strummer made before he died of a heart attack in December of 2002. In fact, the album was technically incomplete before a couple of his bandmates finished producing and arranging it. It is a wonderful thing that they did this, because Streetcore is one of the smartest, most proactive, most inspiring, and most rocking albums I have heard in a while, the Darkness notwithstanding (as far as rocking is concerned, at least). It sounds like a contemporary, indie rock version of The Clash, and Joe Strummer does a great job of combining the intelligence, sneer, and wound-up energy of early Elvis Costello (one of the highest compliments I can give) with the sincerity and wisdom of recent Johnny Cash, which I'm pretty sure makes him one of the best songwriters/frontmen in rock ‘n' roll history.

Like Let Go, Streetcore speaks in a coherent way to the incoherent struggle this year has been for me, but where Let Go is focused more on absorbing and decrying the undesirable situations we get ourselves into, Streetcore is intent on taking your hand and leading you into the promised land. In "Long Shadow," a song Joe Strummer originally intended for Johnny Cash, Strummer sings, "Well, I'll tell you one thing that I know. You don't face your demons down. You gotta grapple 'em, Jack, and pin 'em to the ground."

Both of these albums are truly breathtaking in their beauty and the ways in which they speak to my experiences in the past year. Let Go allows me to make sense of the time that has elapsed since late September. Streetcore offers me a way to begin moving forward again.