Three months ago I came to a tough realization.  Although the thought had been manifesting itself for close to a year, on this day it was official:  I had enough. 

Although Geometry was the only class I ever failed, I didn’t need any geometric points, lines, curves or even an abacus to finally understand this simple equation : the sum of all potential music listening time – correlated with the stacks of new music + added to the hundreds of “I would seriously kick someone’s ass over this song” classics = just did not equate.  The harshest realization was that it was those “I’d die for this band” portions of the iPod that suffered the most.  It is depressing to acknowledge that the last time I hit play on “New Day Rising” was measured in months or (gasp) years. 

Instead of consistently bowing at the temple of Mould/Hart for those 41 minutes and 19 seconds, I’ve tethered myself to some unexplainable need to experience the vast array of new releases.   I suppose I see similar things in my son.  At first all he wanted to do was crawl, once accomplished, that was yesterday’s news… now it’s time to walk, then run, then shake what his mama gave him, next summer it will probably involve a skateboard and the ensuing nervous breakdowns his stunts will cause this bundle of parental nerves. There is definite appreciation for building blocks, but the thrill of discovery cannot be minimized.  This certainly was not an issue when time was on my side.  Now the older I get – through the shortening of days, and the shrinking of my life’s playlist, it has become painfully obvious that there was an imbalance.  As a Libra, I just cannot stand idly by.  74 days ago I came face to face with the realization that something needed to be done, and I took inspiration from Neurosis and their masterpiece “Lost” “Because we don’t know when we will die, we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well, yet everything happens only a certain number of times, and a very small number, really. How many more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood, some afternoon that’s so deeply a part of your being that you can’t even conceive of your life without it? Perhaps four or five times more, perhaps not even that. How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps twenty. And yet it all seems limitless.” 

It was on this day, I was getting ready to go camping with my son, I created a play list on the iPod that would have taken 2 summers worth of campfires to listen to completely.  In the time it took to program the 236 songs, we could have already arrived and had the first veggie hot dog on the fire.  After a few songs came on that I didn’t recognize and certainly couldn’t sing around the campfire, I had a change of heart.  Selected “all songs” by Led Zeppelin, and then set the shuffle function to “on”.  The Zeppelin catalog provided a complete cleansing.  After the boy was asleep in the tent along with his new found best friend Kermit The Toad (yes, the real hoppy kind), and I was alone with Robert Plant’s yowl, a border-line pyromaniac sized fire and an ice cold PBR in my Cheap Trick can coolie.  The hammer of the gods came to me and provided the much needed understanding that I already had all the music I needed in the “essentials” of my collection. 

The seemingly endless cycle of actually seeking out for the latest and greatest thing was just a senseless search for what I already had.  As Motorhead once said, the chase was (most often) better than the catch.   I have every note recorded by Sabbath, Priest, Maiden, Bad Brains, Black Flag, Bowie, Zeppelin, Fugazi, Minor Threat, Phil Lynott, etc… What could a new band in 2011 provide that I haven’t already found a hundred times over?  The answer was obvious, and a unwavering commitment to ban any new music was officially indoctrinated.  In essence, the iPod library was now freeze-rayed. 

When I a woke and stumbled to gather wood for the coffee fire, I made one sensible alteration to my new commandment  which gave allowance to any band/artist that I’m already a fan of.  After all, I couldn’t NOT listen to 2011’s Gary Numan or Anthrax albums, could I?  Once I found a way around that issue, I immediately felt a sense of freedom.  I looked down at my worn in/out “Everything Went Black” shirt, wiped away the previous evenings ketchup stains, and remembered the feeling of sifting through my old crates of LP records, confidently seeking that ol’ faithful that would make the moment.  Back then it only took a hundred records, but now it seems like we need 180-gb’s to fill the exact same need.

During the next 74 days, there was a Saturday of Descendents, a day in the office spent with the Jesus Lizard, an entire weekend of T.S.O.L (yes, both kinds – Grisham and Wood), and a “special soup” dinner created while rediscovering the beauty that is Tin Machines’ first record.  There was no thinking involved – it was just moving the wheel to a top 100 band – pushing play – and exhaling with a “hell yeah”.   Each selection solidified and reinforced my belief that this was without doubt the best decision I’ve made in years.  However, there was one detrimental side effect that I did not anticipate.  I instantaneously felt older.  Not older in terms of black socks with shorts and AARP memberships, but older philosophically.  Similar to when Rick Moranis was possessed by “the key master” in Ghostbusters, without warning I had the strange sensation that I had a little Andy Rooney in me… “I just don’t understand you kids and that loud music you listen too”….  

I was able to work through the detox days and for over two months (similar to my year 6 month ban of Subway – perhaps that’s another post of another day), I was strong in my resolve.  Admittedly there was some temptation to sway from my pledge, and I was surrounded by heckling doubters who responded to my declaration with wagers on how long it would take to break my streak….

If you picked 74 days in the office pool – congratulations, you won.

Yes, 74 days after I swore off all new music, I received the following text message from my wife: “La Dispute is your band.  I know you swore off new music, but I heard them on Radio K and you will freak the proverbial freak”.

It’s important to understand that my wife ONLY listens to good music.  When I mean good music, I mean the kind of music that no one with any sense could argue over its’ virtues.  Her taste is incorruptible.  I am well aware, and in some weird way, am attracted to the fact that most people don’t share my undying love for the Venom’s or Lungfish’s of the world.  However, if you don’t appreciate the songs on my wife’s play lists – then sir or madam, you need to be committed and dispensed with some shock-shock-shock treatment.  I may not be a smart man, but my bulb burns bright enough to know that when my wife says “this is good”, proceeding to multiply the statement with a confident “you’ll like it even more than I do” –  it’s time to throw out the 74 days sober medallion, q-tip the ears and listen closely…. and listen closely I did….

Part II :

La Dispute entered my life two days ago, and hit me square on the jaw.  The impact of this introduction not only dissolved my resolve to stay “old school”, but also provided the much needed motivation to start a blog which has been on my mind for a long, long time.  In response to my wife’s text message – La Dispute is my band and I did freak the proverbial freak.

So what about this band called La Dispute?  What it is about this band that struck such a powerful chord not only with me but my wife as well?  What is it about them that made her demand that I break the oath? 

The only way I can accurately describe this band is that they are the perfect storm.  They are a melting pot of styles corralled together and conjoined as a brutal, rattle my bones natural force that just leveled me to my foundation.  They have the post-punk power of Snapcase, the pleading, heart on your sleeve, vocals like early Suicidal, the Lungfish stream of consciousness, with a Ian Curtis type hypnotism that draws all of attention from the get go.  They capture and command a sense of urgency and full-on emotion that is reminiscent of Rites of Spring.

I haven’t researched anything about this band – they could all be kitty-cat-hating, Pepsi over Coke jerko‘s for all I know.  What I can probably assume is that since we are living in times wrought with a need to categorize everything, followed up closely by blinding tossing it into one of the ol’ Recommend If You Like buckets.  Le Dispute are probably looped into a genre of music that has become tired.  I can only imagine below the belt “scream-o and emo” comparisons that are completely off target.  I feel this overwhelming need to tell everyone that there is nothing about this band that has been done before.  I feel this overwhelming to need to scream at you, with all the breath in my lungs, that “Wildlife” is a revolution.  “Wildlife” is a revolution primed by its presentation and delivered upon by the bands unrivaled depth.   La Dispute is one step beyond.

Listening to “Wildlife” over the past few days was a blessed event.  Like an ice jam, each song just pushes upon itself.  It’s all so stormy – whether the calm of the eye of the storm, or the full force propulsion of the eye of the tiger – this entire group just swallows the topic and spits it in your face.  The singer has an amazing command of each lyric, each phrase sang with the sense of urgency you’d expect to hear from someone fighting for his or her life.  A sense of conviction you’d hear from someone begging for understanding when they know they haven‘t got a chance in hell of being heard.   Within each song there is a sense of propulsion that pulls energy back and then pushes forward.   There are short measures, parts and nuances that are perfectly timed to create a moment of realignment and offer gradual releases at each stop along the line.  All in, Le Dispute are utterly captivating.  This record is astonishing.  It shovels deep into my mind, digging up all kinds of emotions, thoughts and visions. 

It is definitely not a casual listen.  There is so much to every moment that it just floors you.  When certain parts go by, I would lose control and uncontrollable mutter “damn”.  In that split second I’ve probably missed more than what most modern albums provide in 45 minutes.

Lyrically, each song tells a story that is equal parts maniacal diatribe and fully thought out idea.  While discussing a murder in the neighborhood, there is a line about how everyone wants to know how close they lived to the family and the incident.  It’s this 360 degree focus on the humanity and reality of situations that makes this music so complete.  It’s an astonishing and riveting journey during which, the singer yearns for and then earns your heart and mind.  So when he takes the time to ask about the listener, pleading to know about our purpose and how we have learned to cope  during “all of our bruised bodies and the whole heart shrinks”, and then states that our worst fears are probably just like his, it’s almost as if you’re getting advice from a long lost friend.  There is a musical give and take experience in this record that is typically saved for live performances.  Due to the straight arrow lyrics that cut right to the bone, and the music that sets the mood so passionately it’s as if each passage is whispered in the ear.  It’s so easy to get spellbound by the vocals that you neglect to hear the music which as an instrumental release would justify the exact same adjectives.  It’s almost sickening to listen to –  power and beauty in a constant state of urban arguments.

Driving around listening to this record, I feel a sense of sorrow for those walking by.  It’s a pity that they are not actively participating in this experience.  In one song, there is a lyric that talks about not seeking a remedy because the singer figured it hurt for a reason.  It is this understanding of pain that really makes every word stick and ring with conviction.  There is suffering throughout the record, but each setting gives you an indication that somewhere somehow there is enlightenment coming even from the darkest of corners.  You end up with a sense of faith in the singer.  Take for instance the depressing finale of another song where a murderer is trying to make a split second decision as to whether suicide will somehow even the score with god – in a wild turn, this internal conflict now overtakes all of the emotion that proceeded it.  Somehow through the fullness of this drama, he gives a pulse to compassion for even the ugliest of human nature.   I cannot help but find a correlation between his writing and the best episodes of Breaking Bad – an exploration of complications caused by choices, the frustration and chaos of when their shock waves are absorbed and whether or not bad can actually be broken.  Or in reverse, whether good can be salvaged in even the darkest of depths.

Regardless of your musical tastes, this is the type of album that you have to engage with… and herein lies a problem with continuing to write about it.  I can’t help but have a fear that this is becoming too specific about the themes and therefore deflating much of the air that holds each song well above anything written in recent memory.  In consideration of this, and with some hope that anyone who stumbles upon my blog might actually take me up on this advice and listen – I can no longer continue down this path.  To do so would be considered criminal and I would be deemed a spoiler.  So although I feel passionately that there is much more to say.  Similar to how my boy fights for just 5 more minutes of LEGO time before its time to go to bed.  I have to give up the fight.  It’s time to just leave it as is, and move towards thoughts of day one of my new streak and how to face this new music dilemma.

Perhaps this is as good of a time as any to re-think my ban on new music. I can easily accept the fact that I’m a music addict, destined to fall off the wagon with predictability.  It’s painfully obvious that my appetite for music has no capacity, however the reason I started this ban in the first place has not diminished.  I need to spend more time listening to the albums that have made my life so full over the past few decades…. There is no doubt that I should listen to more “Master of Puppets” and “Rock and Roll Animal” than “Lulu”, however it would be an idiotic move to lock myself into a Musical Monastery to intentionally ignore all new bands, when there are La Disputes out there that need to be heard.  I want to be there when the magic happens.  I want to be there when the new Black Flag is born. Stealing a line from La Disputes “King Park”…  “I want to be there when the bullet hits”.

Perhaps the revelation found after 74 days of cleansing, is to not unfurl such a blanket statement.  What is the purpose of going so far as to disallow everything?  It would now seem appropriate that my first step would be finding a middle ground which would provide some grey area.  Undoubtedly, this will require a recalibration of my minimal acceptance level.  This standard will be the back bone of the entire procedure.  A process that weeds out any music that immediately falls short of this pre-determined satisfactory level of awesomeness.  

This would be the litmus test, which now needs a band/artist in which all new comers would be evaluated against.  For example – I would consider Papa John’s as pizza’s “satisfactory level of awesomeness”.  I would challenge any new pizza place to be better than them.  If the result is “more delicious”, then you can expect my return business.  If it’s worse, I’ll turn my back forever. 

The choice of band is the most important part of the entire equation. If you choose Lifetime-era Rollins Band as your measuring stick, the bar is too high and you’ll never hear another note of new music.  On the reverse, if you select too low – Creed – you’re destined to purchase every album released from here on out.  It is with almost complete certainty that you’ll never be able to find anything below their standard…. Oh wait, have you heard “Lulu”?