10,000 Days

8 03 2011

Danny Carey is my favorite drummer of all time. I used to know every one of his moves from the EP and the first two records by heart. I may not have been able to PLAY it, but I could tell you exactly what he was going to do and when.

As obsessions tend to do, mine grew unhealthy. My own playing showed no signs of Danny’s mastery of both the aggressive and the subtle, so I essentially gave up. I wanted to be the best, or nothing at all.

In retrospect, it was a pretty extreme attitude, one that plagues me to this day, because I want nothing more than to be an accomplished musician. But this was not supposed to be about my attempts and (perceived?) failures at music. It’s about Tool’s fourth full-length record, 10,000 days, and how I seemingly denied its existence for what feels like that long.

When it first came out in 2006, I could listen to maybe three songs and still feel a glimpse of the symphonic rage and synchronicity of Tool’s previous work. But it felt to me as though an essential spirit was missing; either I had changed, or they had, or both. Indeed, as one of the most successful heavy bands, perhaps the hunger was no longer there, and in the case of Maynard James Keenan, much the anger of his youth had been vented through Tool and various other projects, and what was left to express was not as raw, as dark, as churning and retched.

On Lateralus the band began to show signs of becoming a parody of itself. And with 10,000 Days, I felt that lack of genuineness further manifested; the record was a thick, polyrhythmic cloud that I could not find my way through. Brilliant composition took a backseat to conglomerations of riffs and droning, melodic musings, telltale of the lack of inspiration and legitimate material to bring to the studio.

In the twelve years since I first hear Undertow, I had changed a lot as well. Back then, having a broad taste in music meant listening to James Taylor! Today I have records by Rodelius and Xenakis, have studied the structure of gamelan, and prefer the heat of a bebop jam to the oozy humanity of a general admission rock show. The point being that the weighty Tool riffage does not mean the same thing that it used to: I have a smoother soul. Like Maynard, much of my angst has been put behind me, but that doesn’t mean it’s all gone. Not yet.

It has matured, if that is even possible. And you get to a point where it’s boring going back to the same records. But the problem is that nobody did what Tool did as good as they did. Listening to every other derivative metal group just felt like slumming, like spending the best hours of the night in a dreary bar with dead end burn outs, drinking Lone Star and smoking menthol cigarettes, when you know you should be home writing music and drinking tea.

I am no stranger to the long way, so five years later and countless disappointing bands later, I find the first strains of Vicarious resonating within me. Resonating. That’s why I had to listen to Undertow five times a day when I was 17. It was as though the music was coming out of me, as if my anger and unhappiness were entirely responsible for the music, as though the band looked inside me and know what to play to soothe the abrasions. It was painful NOT to listen to it.

And now all this time later I find myself warming to them again. They do something no other band can, though I searched forever to find one, but that searching existed only for itself, because I thought I was supposed to find new stuff to listen to. And even if I failed to find something to take Tool’s place, the searching was not in vain, it only served to reenforce their dominance of the genre, whatever that genre may really come down to.


Gay For Sade

18 02 2011

It’s true. I can’t help myself. Her music may be one degree (or less) away from Kenny G on the smoothness factor, but I don’t care. It’s just got this vibe, takes me back to the rainforest, feeling moody storm shadows pass through me, sipping sweet rum in plastic chairs, making early afternoon love while tourists beach and shop, the locals talk about boats and politics two floors below. Below the thick green, leafy and moist, crawling and reaching for a taste of tropical sun, which peeks out intermittently when the billowing clouds pass by, searing the sense of place into your skin, browning by the instant.

Sade’s music may have a home on every soft rock radio station, every “Quiet Storm”, feathering its way around plasticine corridors and the fuzzy foam labyrinths of corporate America, but that’s precisely because it echoes from a place (and a bosom) more exotic, suggestive of days of sand pounded by air-temperature waves and rays of sun in single digit latitudes offset by steamy nights in side street cafes or clubs oozing with hustle and soul.

Many fans are attracted to the escapism that goes with such exotic origins. Sade sings from a heart that seeks soothing reassurance and mercy as much as it demands to be recognized as its own. The mainline, the IV drip, to our souls is established through the Brazilian and Afro-infused arrangements. It’s not an escapism in the vein of Jimmy Buffet, who is all country and calypso and who preaches to the overgrown college boy crowd. Sade has won the hearts of the third world and first world alike, a fierce soldier of love, and she plays to her army, unafraid to care and unashamed to feel their feelings, rather than a frat party.

That’s why she is so beloved, she builds her fans a fortress within which they are free to be and feel exactly how they are, and through her love she shows that we are all brave enough to love without those walls at all. In fact, those walls aren’t even there; they only exist as a guide, training wheels, if you will. The ultimate power of Sade’s music, her lesson, is that we are free…we should and can be brave enough to love and be and feel exactly how we do without any need for explanation or justification. Because what we are is beautiful.