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Monday, Jul 27, 2009
The author grapples with his adolescent obsession with Fiona Apple's Tidal

Why was a 12-year-old boy captured by an album that seemed almost wholly obsessed with female sexual confession? Did it have something to do with my isolated childhood, or did it have more to do with the confusion surrounding my own impending sexual awakening? Perhaps these questions are futile. To generalize about why any one piece of music would appeal to any one person, is a difficult task to reconcile retrospectively.

Still, there is something deeply moving about Apple’s first release – an album fused with intricate rhythms, and righteous piano playing.  Though only 18 years old at the time of production, Fiona Apple’s Tidal is a stark, brutal, and often beautiful portrait about a young girl’s physical and emotional growth. The opening track, “Sleep to Dream”, professes this clearly. “Don’t even show me your face, don’t bother to explain”, “go back to the rock from under which you came”, “I’ve got my feet on the ground”, and “my own hell to raise”, barks the frustrated teenager. Time and again, throughout the album, and sometimes, within the very same song, Apple reaches the brink of personal resolution, only to do a complete 180-degree turn on herself – encapsulating the fickle nature of adolescent decision making.


At other times, she replaces her contradictory outlook with conflicted helplessness. In “Sullen Girl’ for example, the artist relays the traumatic experience of being raped at the young age of 12. She wrestles with the burden of her despair and isolation, quietly hoping to be saved. Anchored by its smooth sonic landscape, and her restrained voice, it is very easy for one to grow engrossed in Apple’s intimate narrative. With its opaque and painterly lyrics, “it’s calm under the waves, in the blue of my oblivion” – “Sullen Girl” is able to elevate itself from a simple retelling of sexual abuse (i.e. Tori Amos’ “Me and A Gun”), and instead opens itself up to a variety of interpretations. For me, the song was about grappling with the weight of my desires, for my mother it might have been a song that captured the loneliness of depression, and I am sure that for many other listeners, it was about finding the courage to accept their silent anguish.


Elsewhere, Apple tackles female exploitation, as is evidenced by “Criminal”, a lavish track that is ambivalent about the tension between exploiting one’s self sexually, and protecting what is sacred. And despite her young age (and innocence), her breathy Nina Simone-style vocals echo a maturity and understanding of a woman twice her age.


By the end of the record, Apple is still teeming with unresolved questions. She wants to “walk away” from her “decaying” relationship, but she equally finds herself wanting to “save” the person that she has grown to love. It was this sort of confusion, this inability to let go that had me so engrossed with Tidal. At 18, Apple was staring back at me from the other end of childhood, warning me of the pitfalls that were yet to come. Nevertheless, her delivery assured me that I would survive, even if it meant the journey ahead would be wrought with puzzles, and perhaps even a sense of bewilderment. Yet, for all of the difficulties, there was also a feeling throughout Tidal that echoed the excitement and discovery that the future would bring.


Looking back now as an adult, I realize that the album played a vital role in my development. It was a continuous source of comfort, for which I will be forever grateful.


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Friday, Jul 24, 2009

In the beginning, there was Britney Spears, dressed as a Catholic school girl with a bare midriff, short skirt and pouty lips, selling sex and CDs to the tune of “Baby One More Time”. It was easy to predict Britney Spears would become a major force in pop from the moment the school bell rang in her first video and the iconic notes of “One More Time” began to play.


In the music industry, imitation is the sincerest form of profit, so a legion of young girls began flooding radio stations and MTV countdowns.


Although most would argue that Christina Aguilera is far more talented vocally than Britney Spears, it hasn’t helped her much. Even with twice as many number one hits and four Grammy Awards to Britney’s one, Christina seems forever destined to be overshadowed by her former Mickey Mouse Club co-star.


Jessica Simpson had a beautiful voice, but her affected vocal style and lazy annunciation hurt her chances of ever being a major star, so she found success by making ignorance look charming on reality television.


And then there was Mandy.


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Thursday, Jul 23, 2009

For my money the most interesting new band going is the West Vancouver duo, Japandroids, who recently released their debut, Post-Nothing. I know it’s trendy to talk about the new wave of art rock and/or grungy lo-fi blues two pieces from New York and the Upper Midwest. But as we shall see Japandroids spring from their own noble and older left coast tradition. First to the band and the disc. Their instrumentation is spare guitar and drums. Formed at the University of Victoria in 2006 the band features Ben [E.] King on the former and David {No Not Darth Vader] Prowse on the latter. Originally thought about being a trio but settled on duo format and shared vocal duties. To early self-released EPs appeared -- All Lies (2007) and Lullaby Death Jams (2008) -- before they signed to the Canadian indie Unfamiliar Records and released Post-Nothing.


They probably will make you forget fellow Canucks Death from Above 1979 with their… fill in the blank. The single getting all the buzz is "Young Hearts Spark Fire" and it is a doozy; here's the video:



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Wednesday, Jul 22, 2009

Michael Jackson left us—all of us—the harmonies, melodies and complex beats to which he popped, dropped and locked it like a Dogon dancer in the plains and cliffs of Mali. One imagines that the little brown boy that visited Senegal with his folks in the early seventies left with more than artificial antiques. No sooner than he could debark from the plane, Michael danced with the people who assembled to sing and dance to welcome the Jackson 5 on their first trip to The Continent.


Yet, we fear this power and far too often demonize power out of fear. We fear the creativity and genius necessary to penetrate through a world where, for example, it really, really matters if you’re black or white.


All the children of the world should be
Lovin’ each other wholeheartedly!
Yes it’s alright,
Take my message to your brother and tell him twice.
Take the news to the marchin’ men
Who are killin’ their brothers, when death won’t do.
Yes, we’re all the same:
Yes the blood inside my veins is inside of you.



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Wednesday, Jul 22, 2009

It is undeniable that Jeff Buckley’s posthumous legacy has turned the little-known avant-garde artist into something of a pop legend. Indeed, his record label’s persistent desire to churn out Buckley infused live song collections is almost unparalleled. With no less than nine releases since his death, the hunger to consume all things produced by the late musician has become a point of obsession for some of his followers. Now, with the release of Grace Around the World, another series of performances and a DVD can be added to the already overflowing collection of so-called “rarities”.


In this, the listener is privy to some of the first live recreations of Grace, which (despite my reservations), turned out to be as enthralling and devastating as the original work itself. It is obvious from listening to this material that Buckley was an artist consumed entirely with his own image and performance. On this, the original tracks extend into long, free-flowing productions, which suggest that Buckley was more preoccupied with experimenting than promoting a mainstream musical persona.


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