Monday, November 24, 2008

The First Star I See...

Originally, i wanted to write about Jimmy Eat World in general but, seeing as next year will mark the tenth anniversary of this album, i thought i would write more specifically about it; either way, most of the points don’t change if the subject of band and album are traded.

I encountered Jimmy Eat World in the late 90’s, while investigating on the sounds of the then-intriguing tag of “emo” that no one liked and is way more hated today; still, i didn’t listen to Jimmy until the early ‘00s when i downloaded two songs, “Opener” and the demo of “If You Don’t, Don’t” from the then forthcoming Bleed American album. I related to both songs and liked them.

Clarity, i found later on, while investigating further into the band’s career; funny enough, i don’t remember the first time i listened to it, i remember not thinking or feeling anything afterwards, which is odd. Now, it figures as one of my favorite albums ever, not because it’s groundbreaking musically (which isn’t, really) or lyrically, but it’s a collection of songs that are so well arranged, sequenced and played that, most importantly in my book, i can relate and makes me feel something (which is something that happens with most of my favorite albums, no matter if it’s Bardo Pond’s Lapsed, Boredoms’ Super AE, Wigrid’s Die Asche Eines Lebens or Merzbow’s Venereology).

The songs are all delivered with such sincerity without too much vagueness or too much specification, the music and imagery is balanced in such a way that they evoke something personal to you, while making you sing along to their songs; it’s a great album to wallow in your own misery or to scream along in excitement.

One of my favorite parts of the album is the continuity throughout, especially during the first part; “Believe In What You Want” could be a new section for “Your New Aesthetic” while “Crush”’s verse vocal melody is not that different from some found on the previous song, “A Sunday”, to the point where “Crush” seems like a more aggressive coda to the other song. Another thing that strikes me about this album is the use of strings that is so common to disposable pop these days, but it doesn’t sound cheap or corny, sounds like something that fills the sound, gives it something extra it might lack.

The rocking parts are passionate and loud, the quiet parts are melancholic and earnest, but nothing is what it seems; the aforementioned “Crush” might sound violent (by their standards) but it’s actually an euphoric number about feeling good and happy, while the sadder “A Sunday” talks about losing someone over bad decisions and drugs. Of course, the choruses of “Like a breath” and “As the haze clears from your eyes, on a sunday” might have a different interpretation for every listener, and that’s part of this album’s greatness, in a big way.

Undeniably, there’s a centerpiece in this album in the form of “Just Watch The Fireworks”, a song that begins fairly straight, both lyrically and musically, with arpeggios adorning the verses, a simple drum beat propelling the song and the lyrics all describing...well...watching fireworks, a promise of seeing them again with “you”; strings enter the picture but they are fairly unintrusive, as they have been on the album so far; the real meat of the song, comes on the bridge when Jim Adkins “said said said out loud over and over”, while the strings add to the song without making it a dumb power ballad moment, just giving the music enough strenght without relying on distortion to give it a more noble feeling, one which is reflected on the part where Jim sings after the aforementioned “loud over and over” part that he’ll “stop now, just enough so i can hear you; i’ll stay up as long as it takes” It turns the lyrics from a lonely person’s lament on missing an actual human into someone that might not be with us anymore, it comes from something completely specific (wishing a certain someone was watching the fireworks with you) to something more ambiguous, stopping now to hear a person there or someone in your memory? The way the rest of the song unfolds, it becomes both an emotional confession and a chant of celebration, “as long as it takes” is both a lament of sorrow to hold onto someone and a shout out of happiness to, somehow untangibly, be with that person and share the moment the fireworks go off. It’s not bittersweet, it’s bitter (or more like sad) and sweet.

My favorite line in the whole album is “The first star i see, may not be, a star”, a song that probably means the most to me now right now, “For Me This Is Heaven” contains some of the band’s most ambitious music compressed into a palatable song format, while it asks big questions for small people, it talks about the end of the time we have now, about how if he doesn’t let himself be happy, then when? And about still feeling the butterflies AND the last goodbye. Is this really heaven? Is it “the comfort of being sad” or is it about still feeling a sublime way about times gone and cherishing them, since we don’t know when our time will end? While i ask myself these questions (after all, i don’t care if it’s about something specific to Jim or anybody in the band; the song is about stuff i relate, that’s why they are important to me), i can’t stop feeling like there’s no need to answer these questions because i already feel what it is about. Whenever i listen to this song, i feel like it’s not only something i know and understand, but something about me.

I love all the songs in this album, but “Goodbye Sky Harbour” has a special place for me, because it proves how great artists Jimmy Eat World are; lyrically, it’s the shortest song on the album but musically, it’s the longest; the lyrics are far from under-realized, they are in fact, as good and expressive as the rest of the album, relying in simplier images and more ambiguity. The music continues with the rockier, Dischord-like angularity the mightier side of Clarity possess, but soon leaves it away for an odd timed, layered and repetitive instrumental, recalling a bit of Slint, Tortoise, Tristeza and early Mogwai, after which Jim adds layer after layer of non-wordly vocals, accumulating a big mass of them, with the band leaving and an IDM piece takes over, a track of dancey yet challenging electronica noodling that reminds of Autechre and the gentler side of Aphex Twin. An epic finish for an epic album.

This album is a very personal thing for me, i can't think about objectively much, but i guess it could be that way for everyone who likes it, by design. There's something oddly melancholic and warm about their songs, especially here, that makes it feel like something to play on a gloomy day during your teenage years, or whenever you think about someone you're not with, for a reason or another; perhaps if you turn the volume down for a bit, perhaps you'll hear her/him with you, perhaps all it takes to hear her/him is listening to these songs.


Jimmy Eat World - Lucky Denver Mint.mp3
Jimmy Eat World - Crush.mp3
Jimmy Eat World - For Me This Is Heaven (live at La Scala, London 2002).mp3
Jimmy Eat World - Goodbye Sky Harbour (live al La Scala, London 2002).mp3


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