Rewind Reviews 11 - By Volume

I wanna piss on the walls of your house! Against Me! - Black Me Out
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Rewind Reviews 11

Driving Music: Shout out to the rolling scenery. Author: on March 12, 2014
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I really like driving, but not in the sense where I find cars to be a hobby, or that I like racing. I like contemplative, quiet driving, particular in the country. Southwestern Ontario is actually a pretty ideal place for the kind of driving I like to do: it’s far from difficult, with a complete absence of hairpin turns or steep mountain passages, but it also contains enough hills and bends to avoid the sleepy, very dangerous, thought-coma. I’m also not a very good conversationalist when driving; as I have explained to my girlfriend on many occasions, you should never say anything important to me when I’m driving, because I’m not fully listening. I like the rolling scenery too much, I like the control and the sense of destination (or lack thereof). It goes without saying, then, that I also love a great driving song. But since I don’t particularly care for speed or for a daredevil sense of vehicular machismo, I don’t care much for Balls to the Wall or ZZ Top when I’m driving. When it comes down to it, I’m not really sure what exactly makes a great driving song. By no means are the following my top three driving songs, which is why this is only part one of an indefinite number.

Titus AndronicusThe Battle of Hampton Roads

The more I return to Titus Andronicus’s 2010 epic The Monitor, the more I realize what a revelation it was and still is. On the surface it’s all angst and an unwavering commitment to the rejection of institutional commitment; in other words, on the surface it sounds like a whiny kid who read Camus once and thinks nobody understands him or her. But to only look at that surface is to beguile the subtle but revelatory moments of self-awareness streaming throughout the album. There’s a lot of humour here, not just pessimism, and there’s also a keen sense of recognizing the abiding contradictions and uselessness in maintaining only the strictest sense of rebellion without thought to your surrounding environs. In short, it’s not only bluster, but also intelligence. That comes to a head in the fourteen minute closer, “The Battle of Hampton Roads,” where every slogan that might gloss the surface of The Monitor is summarized into a few really good lines (“And I’ve destroyed everything that wouldn’t make me more like Bruce Springsteen,” Steckle moans at one point). And the climax of the song comes in the form of a slow-building, whisper-to-growl, evisceration of all things suburbanly normative. But just when you think it might end on the vague, almost cliché ejaculations of one pissed off white dude, the song returns for one last verse that puts everything in check: “but my enemy is your name on my lips / As I go to sleep / And I know what little I’ve known of peace / Yes, I’ve done to you what you have done to me / And I’d be nothing without you, my darling, please don’t ever leave.”

But this isn’t necessarily what makes “The Battle of Hampton Roads” such a great driving song. For that we have to look at structure. In fact, it remains generally true for the rest of The Monitor, but the flow and composition of “The Battle of Hampton Roads” is simply stellar. It has to be the quickest fourteen minutes of music I can think of, and it constantly builds up to break back down again, to build back up again. And then there are those bag pipes. In an album that fuses the aesthetics of early hardcore punk with the classic rock sentiments of Bruce Springteen, it’s always difficult to get a real handle on what’s coming next. You think you have the musical motifs all figured out, and then the rug is pulled out from under you (once again). So at the end of the closer, the instrument you most expect to hear is also the one you least expect to actually hear: bagpipes. And to that end, the drums don’t back down either, pummeling away until they fall right into the trap and play a traditional snare line, just to push things over the edge. It’s to the band’s credit that all of this works, because it could all so easily become a heaping mess of embarrassment, because we all know bigger isn’t always better (cue countless other bands and a lot of the 70s). So when you’re driving down the road, in the sort of consciousness that only driving a particular way can bring, that sense of fluidity, of temporal contraction, is just about perfect.

 

Meat LoafBat Out of Hell

Of course, this is the quintessential driving song, isn’t it? “Bat Out of Hell” was a central figure in the first part of my Summerfolk write-up from earlier this year. And how could it not be? The song captures everything ludicrous about the rather vain suburban-raised-twenty-something ideal of the ultimate road trip; the pretty, sun-dappled moments of quiet, the breeze in the hair, the aimless wanderlust with a compass always pointed to the town of Catharsis, population: you. But as vain as this ideal is, there is a palpable pull. I mean, let’s face it, I loved my mini-road trip through Southern Ontario’s vast farmlands because it at least hinted at some sort ideal and Meat Loaf had a big part to play in what made the trip so enjoyable. When in Rome, turn up the motorcycle guitars.

It’s that complete willingness to push head long into the camp that distinguishes Bat Out of Hell, and especially its eponymous track, from the rest of Meat Loaf’s and Jim Steinman’s œuvre. It tries so desperately to be epic, with a bevy of classic rock tropes, but never loses its self-reflexivity. In the end, “Bat Out of Hell” is just a really fun song to sing out loud in a car full of your friends—nothing more, nothing less. There’s a space for these kinds of songs and Meat Loaf really goes for broke in trying to capture the gleefully ridiculous. Guitars rip, power chords drive, and Meat Loaf’s vibrato quavers to the point of tearing a hole in the space-time continuum.

TV On the RadioLover’s Day

“Lover’s Day,” the closing track from TV On the Radio’s fantastic album Dear Science, is the sexiest song around, because it’s a little bit embarrassing, a little bit steamy, and a little bit over the top the way a lot of sex can be. In an album that continuously treads between anxious pensiveness and bursting pop optimism (poptimism!), “Lover’s Day” flourishes as a coital ejaculation (pun…intended?) of celebration. The militarist snare-drum underlines the very everydayness of this kind of sexual celebration: Tunde Adimpe’s last lines are in the imperative, but instead of telling his lover to do something demeaning he tells the lover to mark the calendar (probably a Wednesday) for the day of the week in which they will have sex. It’s kind of gratifying, really, because the society in which we find ourselves, particularly in this internet age, seems to want to uproot sex and sexuality from the everyday.

Of course, the previous paragraph doesn’t have much to do with driving, but rest assured the same elements that make “Lover’s Day” such a great song about sex also make it a great song for the road. That propulsive drum and base interplay is a big reason for its quality as a driving song. The low-end really pushes the song to its climax (pun definitely intended) and the lyrics candidly sway us a long for the ride. The instrumental finale really brings the song home: horns, saxes, flutes, and clarinets all combine in a vaguely New Orleans-style march that is positively joyous. It’s buoyant, propulsive, and just plain old fun. There certainly needs to be space in music and its criticism for the important work of dissecting sex and culture, but there also needs to be room for sex as pleasure in and of itself. I think there’s a cruising joke in here somewhere, but whatever.

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