'Under the Blacklight' and the Romance of CDs


24 Ene 2008, 11:32

It's strange how format can make all the difference in the way I perceive music. Perhaps I just hold on to this silly romantic notion that albums need a physical form, to house and contain the works inside; to give it a proper sense of cohesion, in ways that a folder on a computer screen or MP3 player never can. In that sense, CDs and vinyl records become a kind of fetish (in the traditional, quasi-mystical sense of the word).

Case in point: when I first listened to Rilo Kiley's Under the Blacklight as a collection of MP3s downloaded from Soulseek, I was quite disappointed. And this was not a random assortment of songs; I was listening to the tracks in the exact same order that they appear on the CD (as the band intended, perhaps?)

But somehow I just couldn't make the necessary emotional connection to appreciate the songcraft, without a tangible object to hold it all together. (Note that I didn't have such a problem with More Adventurous, which I also listened to initially as MP3s, in 2005. Or even Jenny Lewis' solo album, and Blake Sennett's recordings with The Elected, for that matter.)

I was particularly bummed out by the bass-driven, classic rock-ish strut of (first single) "The Moneymaker". It wasn't offensively bad; just very un-Rilo Kiley. The rest of the album wasn't that much of a departure from the band's signature blend of indie rock, folk overtones, and hints of countrified pop Americana. But it was starting to feel like all the diverse influences of the members' side projects were diluting their sound, threatening to make them indistinguishable as a band.

When I finally bought myself a CD version of ...Blacklight, over the Christmas holidays, my view of it began to shift radically. It didn't have anything to do with the album sleeve, by itself. (The photos from the inlay nicely expand on the rural bar motif, and strengthen the record's key themes. But the absence of lyric sheets is rather disappointing.) Really, it was just the idea of owning the music as part of a larger cultural artifact, which made it easier to reassess it. It was still not the record I hoped it would be, but I started to appreciate it for the record it is.

The bluesy French horns on "15" took some getting used to, even if they feel like a natural progression from Lewis' material with The Watson Twins. And the weird R&B pop beat on closer "Give A Little Love" still feels like an odd bid for mainstream crossover appeal that RK are simply too emotionally honest to achieve. Oh, and the awkward Miami booty bass strains on "Dejalo" remain as unforgivable as the first time I heard it. But in spite of these lapses, i've grown rather fond of the album. And I have no doubt that happened because I finally consumed it in a way that I personally regard as most authentic.

Someday, in its own little way, my odd fixation with the power of CDs will contribute to the mountain of plastic that will engulf our planet in a vicious chokehold. (To say nothing of the mess in my bedroom that defies proper organization.) But until that happens, I remain a loyal follower of the silver disc.

Albums referenced:
Under The Blacklight
More Adventurous
Rabbit Fur Coat

Tracks referenced:
Give A Little Love
The Moneymaker
Envíos aceptados
I Still Buy CDs


  • quimtessence

    Hmm, I still have the album in mp3 format and, okay, this might just be the fact that I'm generally a mainstream person as much as an underground one, and basically anything that a band produces, whether it's a drastic departure from previous recordings/style, is okay with me because I can most likely relate to it in terms of other artists who now share a similar style. But! Not the point. What I was trying to say was that I know what you mean by the physicality of a CD can affect the music. It won't make it better, it probably won't make it worse, but it does give it that extra something. It's the feeling that the record is suddenly part of something larger, and I don't mean an industry, but a atradition. It makes me pay more attention, which usually has positive results on the whole music-listening experience. Hi. I stumbled acctidentaly on this here journal post of yours. And I'm outspoken. :) Don't mind me.

    24 Feb 2008, 20:21
  • fakehead

    I agree with and appreciate your comments on the silver disc. I hate that it's being phased out. Also your description of "Dejalo" is spot on.

    4 Abr 2009, 2:48
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