Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Brewed-iful Letdown

Every morning I need two things to get me going: coffee and music. This morning I was chatting with the barista about the awesome Switchfoot song that was playing while he was making my coffee. Wait, what do you call a male barista? A baristo? A barrister? No, that’s a British lawyer… Anyway, we were reminiscing about what our earliest introductions to Switchfoot and music in general.

The song on the radio was the first track off their Beautiful Letdown album, which was one of the first albums I ever really fell in love with. I still have a copy of it. I would maintain that it may be one of the best albums ever, right up there with the Beatles's Love album, Quadrophenia, Slippery When Wet, and Meteora. In terms of artistic flow, there is a musical cohesiveness across the tracks which is rare to find in general, but especially more recently. Of course, I didn’t realize this when I was a teenager, I just like the music.

It’s funny how we can like something without knowing why. I liked that album so much that in retrospect, I can see how much it has influenced me and my taste in music. Completely oblivious to its technical brilliance, its elements seeped into my developing preferences. Now I realize that that one album may be why I feel compelled to download and listen to whole albums in their entirety, instead of just buying one or two hit songs. Thanks for that expensive habit, by the way.

The guy-making-my-coffee (for lack of a better term) said that the first CD he ever got was a burned bootleg of Switchfoot’s New Way to Be Human from his babysitter’s sister. Of course, he didn’t have anything on which to play it, so for his next birthday his parents got him a big, knock-off boombox from Walmart. I had one of those too and I would bet you did also. Remember, the ones that looked all shiny until you turned them around and saw it was just cheap plastic and crappy wiring? Yeah, just don’t turn them around. Problem solved.

I remember the first non-Christian CD I ever got was Linkin Park’s debut Meteora. One of my friends burned me a copy and I smuggled it into the house with great, exciting fear and trepidation. That puppy got hidden under the mattress, you can be sure of that. Of course, now I know that under the mattress is the first place any decent parent looks for contraband. Although the fact that I’m still alive suggests they never checked there—certainly never read the diary I stashed next to the CD.

Life has themes which we can identify without consciously recognizing and music reflects this. As an angst-filled teenager, I identified with the Beautiful Letdown and Meteora albums while unknowingly recognizing the similarities: the repetition of themes, both tonal and lyric, the natural progression from song to song… everything that makes a good record. The only “new” album to come anywhere close to a similar perfection is Train’s Save Me, San Fransisco, and that makes me sad for the future of music.

All the way back to Handel’s Messiah, good music resonates with its audience on many levels, from technical to emotional. Even if we don’t know all the fancy terms for what we’re hearing, genius is easy to appreciate. Same goes for the cappu-mocha-frappe-ccinos we drink everyday; just cause you can’t pronounce it, doesn’t mean you don’t enjoy it… and you never forget your first real album.

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