Sunday, February 15, 2009

Don't make me a target

gush
Image: Gush O.

Like other music bloggers, I've started to think about the best songs of the decade. After doing a fast, rough sweep, I culled more than 200 songs--and that doesn't include anything from 2009!. Many that won't make my personal top 50 or 100 or whatever are still excellent, and, more important when you're writing about music, interesting. So I'm hoping to jot down thoughts on some of them over the course of the year (and several top-of-the-list tracks too, of course).

No promises that these public musings will be anything you haven't heard before, and you're absolutely welcome to leave your own brilliant insights in the comments when these songs mean something to you too.

So You'll Aim Toward the Sky - Grandaddy

This song has always seemed to me Grandaddy at their most vulnerable. I think there was often some misunderstanding about how the band engaged its subjects, with plenty of listeners taking the cheesier synth lines and Jason Lytle's high lonesome cries for an elaborate game of irony (and yeah, the matching beards and flannel shirts were effective red herrings). But playfulness and hyperbole don't necessarily equal ha-ha. I've always heard more wist and even despair in Lytle's voice than he's usually credited with. It's the same problem, in fact, that plagued the Beta Band--their cleverness read as insincerity. Of course the two bands share a historical moment: the late1990s into the early 2000s. Arguably a time when the irony era yielded to the post 9-11 period of anxiety, earnestness and massive uncertainty.


The Sophtware Slump
came out in June 2000, on the very cusp of the technology sector's implosion and decade's first recession, and about a year before the terrorist attacks. It's impossible not to view it, retrospectively, as prescient. But, to be fair, Grandaddy had been pounding away at these issues for at least a couple years, arguing the fragility of a human existence in which the technology we're no longer able to live without is in many ways fundamentally hostile to us. I'm no Radiohead scholar, but Grandaddy always seemed to take a more even-handed, humorous approach to these kinds of concerns. The beauty of this song (besides it's soaring, ornate, obvious prettiness) is that it doesn't come down hard on either side of the pro-tech/luddite divide, instead surfing subliminal anxieties while celebrating the magic inherent in technology's possibilities.

Using space travel as the metaphor (and given the mixed history of humans shooting for the stars, a well-chosen one), Grandaddy plays things particularly twee and diffident, with slow, trebley arpeggios, cymbal hissiness and an extra dollop of yearning falsetto. All of which you could read as a little mocking, if not for the poignancy of the song's lyrics, from the opening "dream dream dream dream" to the chorus' "fly away, far away, far from pain" to the final "goodbye." Is it a human drifting into infinite space, a robot or both? Or is this a robot's escape fantasy--one that really is just a dream from the factory floor? One of Grandaddy's favorite strategies for coping with the technological conundrum was to anthropomorphize machines. Not the way they're usually imagined--as evil and scheming--but as lonely beings with a human capacity for hurt. Whatever path you choose to follow, it's an awfully sad song.

Buy The Sophtware Slump (eMusic, Amazon).

4 Comments:

Anonymous Curtis said...

Fantastic song, fantastic read. Thanks very much.

11:36 PM  
Anonymous moka said...

The idea of you giving us a guide on the best songs of the decade and the year makes me extremely happy. This is a beautiful headstart.

11:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

have you heard Jason Lytle's new song? http://stereogum.com/the-gum-drop/song.php?tid=57482

2:09 PM  
Blogger Lope de Aguirre said...

Yes, great read. Got me into Grandaddy again.

2:38 PM  

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