#30: It Gains The More It Gives

I’ve had somthing of a musical epiphany. Or more appropriately, a repeat of a musical epiphany. If you’ve been following the blog or reading up to this point, you’ll have noticed my recent interest in Tori Amos. I went all out like I always do, browsing her catalogue, learning some songs on the piano, reading and watchin interviews, and all that’s very well and good. The thing is, I’ve been having some problems lately and I’ve really needed something uplifting.

I can’t make a judgement on Tori Amos having only heard a good deal of material from about four of her eleven albums, but for me personally, so far I’ve found that while her music can be intense, it’s just so dark. I mean, really dark. And I think part of what makes it so dark is how off-center it is; any normal music you would refer to as dark probably has a lot of mention of the words “death,” “crying,” “lies,” etc. Tori Amos’ music is very abstract, particularly on the albums I’ve been listening to: Boys For Pele, American Doll Posse, Under the Pink, and even on Little Earthquakes. Her songs make abstract, nearly nonsensical lyrics into something so dark and depressing. Honestly, I don’t really understand anything in many of her songs, and that’s not necessarily so bad, because in many ways the songs communicate more feelings than they do literal message when the lyrics are so personal and difficult to understand. For instance, one of my favorite Tori Amos lyrics is in Caught a Lite Sneeze,

“The spire is hot and my cells can’t feed
And you still got that Belle dragging your foots, yes
I’m hiding it well, Sister Ernestine
But I still got that Belle dragging my foots, yes.”

I don’t know what that could mean literally, but it evokes so many images, the words just sound so good together, it’s like it’s crafted from the subconcious, and that’s really what’s probably magical about it. I think I’ve really just answered my own question: why are Tori’s lyrics so mystifying and obscure? Maybe it’s because they’re from such a deep place, that they don’t have to make coherent sense. The lyrical passage above proves that point, when I hear that section of the song, it just brings so many feelings up, conjures so many mental images.

The thing is, as depressed as I’ve been lately, and as really weak as I’ve been, I’ve needed something uplifting, and Tori Amos’ music hasn’t exactly made me giddy with excitement.

 And then, like a gift from Heaven, I just happen upon a few Imogen Heap collaborations and Frou Frou rarities I didn’t know about before. I heard a Frou Frou B-Side called Deal With It, and I found it absolutely hypnotizing. It was filled with this sadness, but it was so otherworly, and I really enjoyed it. Though I discovered Imogen Heap at about the beginning of this year, thanks to hearing Hide and Seek on accident, I really haven’t given much leg room to Frou Frou. I even bought Frou Frou’s album (currently the only one), Details, a few months ago, but at that time I didn’t really care for it, and I set it aside. In fact, though it be shameful to admit, Frou Frou made it to the very bottom of my CD collection (I often organize my CDs by rank: for instance, Imogen has been first place since I discovered her, and recently Tori has been number two). I mean, being put on the spare shelf with Kanye West and The Used is pretty embarassing.

But the thing is, I don’t think I was ready for Frou Frou. I was still primarily interested in all of Immi’s instruments, her method, and her personality, but I don’t think I was ready for her music. I don’t know that I am now. Her talent is so extreme that sometimes it’s like you have to be blessed with an incredibly adept musical ear to understand it. The thing is, the album that jumped out at me the easiest so far has been I Megaphone, but I’d listened to so much of Speak For Yourself with my ears instead of my heart, and I found Ellipse to have little backbone; but the reason for all of that was because I wasn’t prepared for Immi’s music. I’ve known about her for months, but I didn’t really begin to understand her style until I discovered Frou Frou. And discovering Frou Frou is not the same thing as buying the album.

A couple of nights ago, when I posted lyrics from The Dumbing Down of Love, that was really the night that I started to be digested than Frou Frou. That’s really the best way to describe it; I often describe my musical process as “digesting” an album, but with Frou Frou it was the reverse: I was being taken in by the music, rather than taking it into myself. That’s really how you know you’ve stumbled upon something special.

The thing about Details is that there isn’t a bad song on the album. Every song is special, and The Dumbing Down of Love struck an emotional chord in me that isn’t struck often. I’ve also got some B-Sides, rarities, and bonus tracks: Close Up, a rock-oriented B-Side from the It’s Good To Be In Love single; Deal With It, which as far as I know has never been released on anything official, at once reflective and otherwordly; Holding Out For A Hero, a cover of the original Bonnie Tyler song for the Shrek 2 soundtrack used as a bonus track on some editions of the album, it’s very Frou Frou and still a bit of a dance song; Old Piano, another bonus track on certain editions, which is mostly instrumental. Old Piano is actually my least favorite B-Side at the moment, it didn’t quite jump out at me like the other songs did, but it’s still Frou Frou. While I enjoy the B-Sides, I really feel that the album is complete in it’s original eleven track format; Let Go is perfect at the beginning and The Dumbing Down of Love is perfect at the ending.

Frou Frou is a very special musical project, and anyone can clearly see the influence Guy Sigsworth had on Immi when you look at her later albums, particularly Speak For Yourself. Frou Frou really puts Immi’s music in perspective. It makes Ellipse and Speak For Yourself so much more enjoyable.

I’m just happy that I’ve discovered Frou Frou. Really a great project, and maybe one day we’ll see another album; with how much Imogen has grown, and surely Guy has, I would have no idea what to expect from another Frou Frou album. Imogen’s albums are all drastically different, and her catalogue right now (I Megaphone, Details, Speak For Yourself, and Ellipse) is diverse as can be. I expect it would be something very new, I would expect no less from Imogen. I honestly don’t know too much about Guy Sigsworth, but I always wondered why I enjoyed In The Zone so much more than Britney Spears’ other albums, and after learning that Guy Sigsworth produced it, and had some help from Imogen Heap, it makes a lot more sense.

Really, after going through so much lately, even if it has all been mental, the last thing I need is to be constantly listening to music that offers me no comfort, and in fact causes me even more stress. Frou Frou and Imogen Heap just have this joy about them; when I hear Immi’s music I just feel so refreshed, so inspired, so new, and happy. Frou Frou and Immi really have done a lot for my mood in the last couple of days, I’ve honestly felt a lot better.

I don’t know why I often find it necessary to have an obsession, be it a musician, a video game, a TV show, but I usually need to have something to be engrossed in. Musicians offer themselves to this very easily, because there’s always more to discover, and there are usually lots of rare tracks, live performances, and interviews to hunt for. But I kind of consider Immi a role model; since I started watching her vBlogs back in January, I just find her to be inspirational, not just as a musician, but as a person. She just has this positive energy buzzing about her. Tori just doesn’t quite lend herself to being a role model for me personally. I’m not saying she isn’t talented, but compared to Imogen she just doesn’t offer me the inspiration to live my life with a smile on my face. Immi makes me want to play new instruments, explore new types of music, create create create. Tori has raw skill on piano, but I often find her music very skewed and not quite my style often, and as I mentioned, there’s so much darkness and negativity in her music.

There is one another little thing, and I don’t want to be offensive or anything, but I do want to mention it. Tori is a perfectly beatufiul woman, but at some point she started having plastic surgery. That I know of, she’s never commented on this, and for all I know it was necessary plastic surgery, how do we know she wasn’t in a terrible accident and she had to have plastic surgery to recover her face? But I seriously doubt it’s anything like that. Anyway, she just looks… absolutely alien now. In some of her more recent pictures, especially for her 2009 album Abnormally Attracted To Sin, she just looks sweaty and shiney, her face looks like it’s been pulled back and stretched over her bones, it’s really scary and sad. I’m not the only person to mention this either, I see a lot of comments from people saying that they’re still Tori fans and always love her music, but that they’re very surprised and dissapointed with what she did to her face. I guess it’s not my place to tell anyone else what to do, and if she wants plastic surgery, she’s absolutely as entitled to have it done as anyone else, but in my personal opinion, I think she messed up her face quite a bit. Alien is really the best way to describe it, she just looks completely strange, and I still almost can’t tell they’re the same person looking at her back in the beginning of her career andcomparing it with now, that’s how different she looks. Like I said, she’s free to do what she wants, but I think it was a bad decision.

Imogen is just a really good role model, and a good person to have at the forefront of my music collection. It’s funny how something like who I listen to can so greatly effect my life, but during my Tori phase I was just steeped in this darkness, this unsureness, this anger at the world. She’s certainly talented, but I’ve felt from the beginning that she might not be my cup of tea entirely. That’s not to say I dislike all of her music, but it is somewhat askew for me. I suppose it just has to do with what strikes you. Right now I’m really happy that I’ve found Frou Frou, and found so much joy in it. It’s not often I find music that truly touches me. The joy I’m feeling right now, thanks simply to this music, is just taking me back to other places in my life where I’ve been happy. It’s really unexpected, but truly, Frou Frou is helping me to recover from so much mental stress, and honeslty making me feel happier. That’s really something special.

I mentioned in an earlier blog (my first link to another entry! Milestone, anyone?) that after doing a live improv at Pop Tech, Imogen later performed another live improv later titled The Shepherdess at the Great Ormond Steet Hospital in Sheperds Bush Empire, London. The Shepherdess was made available for download, at the cost of at least one pound, and all of the proceeds went to the Great Ormond Street Hospital, where as a child, after being diagnosed with Osteomyelitis, a surgeon operated and saved her leg. At the beginning of this improvised piece, the key, time signature, and tempo had been chosen by the audience.

On her North American tour, Imogen did the same thing, improvising a piece every night of the tour, with the key, time signature, and tempo chosen by the audience, and making it available for downlaod, for at least one American dollar. At each stop, Imogen picked a local charity and set a goal, based on the maximum capacity of the venue, and all of the proceeds are donated to each respective chairty. 

All 23 of the improvs are now available for download on her website, in the charity section, and have been compiled in album format for 20 dollars or more, with all of the proceeds divided equally amongst the charities. The album, howevr, containes the “trimmed versions,” where each individual download contains the “trimmed” version, or the actual improv itself, and the full version, which contains Immi talking with the audience, their participation, and Heap getting the song in order. I actually will probably try to get them all individually, because I really enjoy anything with Immi talking and being her spritely self, besides it’s just fun to hear the audience partcipate.

So, now that Immi has pretty much been moved to my musical front burner, I’ve decided I’m going to get I Megaphone. I’ve gotten the album from the internet, but I don’t have the actual CD, and besides I’d like to contribute to Imogen’s continued work. I might actually order it from the manufacturer instead of eBay just for that purpose, but don’t quote me, because last time I tried to order a somewhat old CD from Barnes and Noble (where I usually buy things), it literally took about a week, instead of the maximum three or four days. eBay is cheaper, and the delivery time is usually quicker, but I suppose I could just go to Amazon. I’m pretty sure the proceeds would go to the appropriate places.

I Megaphone is really a cool album. Though it’s very much Heap, it’s primarily piano driven; the piano shows up on most tracks, and always provides a very solid and powerful foundation. Sweet Religion starts out with this brilliant jumpy arpeggio that had me on the hook immediately. I think it’s a really special album; it’s a little more approachable than her newer albums, and that’s really a testament to her skill, because if Ellipse were easy to approach after listening to mainstream music, it wouldn’t show off Heap’s talent. Her new albums are so much more uncategorizable because she’s grown so much. She just keeps making her own music; it’s whatever she decides to do, whatever she loves, there is no formula, there is no telling what the next album or even the next song will sound like. I Megaphone is very much a piano-driven rock ballad, with it’s soft moments. Details is truly a soundscape, absolutely brimming with emotion and brilliance. Speak For Yourself is probably the hardest for me to categorize of them all, and that might be because it’s where I began with Heap, and I wasn’t really ready for it. I need to take some time experience it again.

Ellipse is a rainforest. That’s really the best way I can describe it, it is at many times a rainforest to me. It could be because of the album art and the generally green, wooded theme, but it’s very elemental. I feel rain, soil, the sky. It really feels like nature. In fact, a good deal of it feels like the creation of the world. I know I’m speaking very abstract, but many of the songs, 2-1 especially, just feel like the world’s creation. The feeling of the album is many times that of creation in the dark, mystifying, organic. The visual theme of the album goes perfectly with this.

And there it is. There is much Imogen Heap in my life at the moment, and I really feel uplifted thanks to this. It’s funny how music can change the way you perceive the situations around you, and I think at first Imogen Heap’s music helped me to rediscover myself, and now it’s helping me to appreciate my life, and most importantly the people who live in it.

Along with the huge creative buzz I get from listening to Heap, I’ve been enjoying reading Pride and Prejudice. While admittedly I’m probably less than fifty pages in, the book is absolutely chock full of storyline and dialogue. You really have to keep up, I’m sometimes afraid that I’ve forgotten or skimmed over a character or situation I should have been paying more attention to. Chapters are brief, but full of important details. It’s a really interesting style of writing that’s very much to-the-point, and gives the dialogue a lot of room to be the centerpiece, while still keeping the narration moving the story along. I’m beginning to see why Jane Austen is such a renowned writer.

I’ve listened through details almost four times while writing this, if not more, and I feel I’ve sufficiently got out everything I wanted to. I’m feeling very creative, and a lot more positive, since discovering Frou Frou and rediscovering Heap. Go check out the live improvs on Immi’s website, and c’mon, you can buy just one can’t you? The audience participation is really a lot of fun, so I suggest buying one individually, so that you can have the full experience, see if you like it, and you only have to spend a dollar. I personally reccomend the very first one, in Detroit, Michigan. It’s the only improv I’ve really heard all the way through, and I found it really good, plus it has some vocals (they all do, but Immi actually sings a little in the middle, and even though her lyrics are kind of funny, it’s still so passionate and beautiful). Also, at this moment, it’s the one closest to reaching the target, and the page says that improvs are only available for two months after their release, and I imagine the reason all of the improvs are still available is because they haven’t yet reached the target. So hurry!

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One thought on “#30: It Gains The More It Gives

  1. I personally enjoy very melancholy music, or music that has sensual aspects to it. Although, when I’m feeling very depressed I’m very careful about the music I listen to. I try to listen to more upbeat music, dance tracks or live recordings. Even live recordings of melancholy bands or singers change the entire dynamic.
    The last few days I’ve been listening to Norah Jones, Rufus Wainwright and Michael Buble. Much to Stas’ dismay. I’m glad you’ve found some music that can positively influence you’re life. I’m sure I’ll do a music post soon.

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