|By Nick Woodside||Friday, 31 Aug 2007|
Music is probably one of the most subjective topics we encounter in our everyday lives. So many judgments are made based on people’s musical tastes. Talk to someone long enough and the discussion will inevitably turn to who is on their playlist. As much as I try to avoid it, subconsciously I will judge someone based on their musical tastes. It sucks but I can’t help it. I’ll admit that I’m much better than I used to be. I really don’t hate on bands anymore for their career choices. I’m through disliking a band simply because they have some airplay. It’s a waste of time. Still, little bits of my music snobbery stick around. For example, someone who claims Dave Matthews Band as their favorite band is probably going to have to work a little harder to show me they aren’t a complete tool/deaf. Is it harsh? Yeah it probably is. However, I don’t think I’ve ever *really* gotten along with someone who loved DMB so I’m bumping it up from scientific theory to scientific fact for the time being.
If someone asks me what my favorite albums are I hesitate for a minute. I’ve got a lot of albums I love and think are great and play all the time. However, my favorite albums go way beyond musical merit. The albums I consider at the top of my list have emotional meaning to me. These select few make me think of times in my life where that record made a tangible impact on my situation. At this point anyone reading this is probably thinking, “Um, yeah no shit music is emotional. Is this supposed to be a revelation? What’s your point?” Well in a roundabout way my point is that Mogwai’s “Come On Die Young” is hands down my favorite album.
I’m not going to claim that it’s the best record ever made or that belongs on the same shelf as masterpieces of music like “The White Album” or “Bat Out of Hell I”1. Honestly, most people would say that it’s not even Mogwai’s best album and that “Young Team” is superior. (I could write a whole other piece building my case for “CODY” being the better album but that’s neither here nor there.) Regardless of what anyone says, this album means as much to me as any music I’ve ever heard.
I first heard this album my senior year of college, a little under a year after it had been released. Honestly, it was a pretty shitty year of my life. I had a sick relative nearly out of time, a 4-year relationship about to end, and an art school career that had been mediocre at best to this point. In that context, it’s pretty clear what this album hit me so hard initially. There’s next to nothing on this album that at first glance that would be considered upbeat (save the song “Christmas Steps”, which is going to get its own paragraph later). It’s a sparse, open album that sounds like it was recorded in the middle of nowhere. The only song with lyrics on this entire album, “Cody”, epitomizes a feeling of loneliness.
One memory of this album sticks way out from this time. I had to go to Kansas City over my winter break to do some research for my senior degree project and I brought only this Mogwai album to listen to. I borrowed a friend’s copy and recorded it to a cassette and played it non-stop. I clearly remember listening to “Helps Both Ways” lying alone in this hotel bed knowing that when I get back home everything is going to be fucked. It wasn’t a good feeling but somehow this song made it better. Maybe it was the fact that it was 1999 and I was still listening to cassettes for some reason.
What’s weird is that as I’ve gotten older and gotten my shit together, the feelings attached to this album have grown too. Admittedly I didn’t listen to it for a while after that senior year. Maybe I had played it out or maybe I was subconsciously avoiding anything from that era. I decided to break it out a few days before I went to see Mogwai live with my new girlfriend (now my wife). I was sort of surprised to see that everything about the album had changed for me. Instead of invoking feelings of sadness, it now seemed like it was all about being content. Maybe this album is one of those rare ones that enhances whatever mood you’re currently in2. I distinctly remember listening to it later on a warm Sunday afternoon. My wife and I were both quietly doing our own thing around the house but when it was over, she came in and said “That was the perfect album for today.” It was probably right around there that it got “favorite album” status from me. No other album has played a part in so many different eras of my life, good or bad, than this one has. (By the way, the show was awesome. I consider it the best show I’ve ever seen.)
Now, about the song Christmas Steps. It kicks a shitload of ass. Sorry to put it in such blunt terms, but those are the facts. I feel like it condenses down the entire feel of the album into one long song. It starts out almost silently as the feedback that ends “Chocky” cuts out suddenly and a barely audible guitar plays the opening riff. Slowly the song builds around this initial guitar, which is eventually joined by a second as the band gradually increases their volume. Around a minute and thirty, the bass comes in and mimics the initial guitar, building upon it and adding to the tension. Shortly after the 3 minute mark, everything but the first guitar cuts out, except it’s a little more insistent and choppy this time. They are setting you up. The bass comes back ominously, this time front and center, as the band picks up and starts gaining momentum. They keep churning forward until exploding for three plus minutes, before retreating back towards the song’s quiet beginnings. Yeah, I romanticize this song a bit, but I do it unapologetically. Like I said, it kicks a shitload of ass.
I think the ability to run on and on about an album like this is what defines a favorite. While it may not change music or anything it’s important to your life and your history. It’s part of what makes talking music with people so interesting. Unless your favorite album is “Busted Stuff”…
1. I’m kidding. This is the worst fucking album ever. I will not argue about this. It sucks.
2. Except if you’re in the mood to party. It won’t help you there. Put on some Les Savy Fav or something.