Thursday, October 18, 2007

1998 all over again

I have only ever liked three musical groups enough to consistently buy their CD singles when I come across them (a measure of high respect if there ever was one): PJ Harvey, Radiohead, and Sigur Rós. Two of these groups released my favorite albums from them in 1997-98: Radiohead’s OK Computer and Harvey’s Is This Desire? Along with other, similarly haunting albums like the second Portishead album, 1998 was probably my best year in terms of atmospheric music for fall. As October arrived, I had plenty of melancholy, stirring music to listen to as I drove through the bleak Connecticut countryside.

In fact, the years around this time were probably my best falls per se overall, by which I mean that I was old enough to appreciate the beauty of the New England foliage, had a car in which to zip past the pumpkin patches and whatnot, and a good stock of music and literature to form the gloomy mental backdrop to how I saw everything. You’d think that being in Munich for five falls would have topped that, what with the Oktoberfest and it being the home of Rilke and Orff and everything, but in retrospect, Connecticut was the most autumnally satisfying place I’ve lived. As I discovered to my dismay, in Germany, the leaves don’t really all turn colors and fall, like they do in New England. They sort of individually rot and gradually surrender over the course of several months. It’s not particularly picturesque.

Anyway, my pleasant seasonal moods have taken a serious hit in the last few years, because I live in the frigging tropical rain forest. It’s hard to work up a real “halloweeny” feeling when you’re sweating like a pig in a Thai swamp. But luckily, two albums have just arrived that have saved my season: PJ Harvey’s White Chalk and Radiohead’s In Rainbows. To be honest I could have illegally downloaded both of them, but seeing that these are two of my very favorite artists, whose singles I’ve even gone to the trouble of buying, I paid to download the albums. They are both good, but the Harvey in particular is incredible.

It’s one of those old-fashioned, cohesive vinyl-LP sort of albums that barely goes over the 30-minute mark, but when it’s done, you can’t help pressing play again. Like a Beatles album or whatever. I have no words to describe how good White Chalk is. It’s precisely what the cover photo suggests: PJ Harvey channeling Emily Dickenson, or the protagonist of “The Yellow Wallpaper”. Most of the songs have rather quiet piano or dulcimer or whatever backing, and sound as if they were recorded on wax cylinders by some Victorian madwoman. There’s one particular line on the album that gives me chills every time I hear it. I won’t demean it by telling you which one it is. And so - and this is the point I’ve been laboriously leading up to - thanks to the ineffably great talents of the unfathomably great PJ Harvey, I have for the last two days sat here in sultry Bangkok feeling perfectly, exquisitely, joyfully “halloweeny”. The depth of my gratitude is inexpressible.


Anonymous said...

alex buddy, over a month and no posts? did you break your finger too?? hope not
will keep checking in,

albtraum said...

yikes you're right! I think the last month just flew by without me noticing. Make that the last few months. I still feel like it's mid-August or so.

I'll try to post something ASAP! Thanks for pointing out my lapse and hope everything's well over there!