Wednesday, July 20, 2011

... Presenting The Dresden Dolls (An Unrelated Post)

One of the first albums that I ever truly fell in love with was this gorgeous studio debut album from the Boston “Brechtian punk-cabaret” duo, the Dresden Dolls.  Made up of the irreplaceable Amanda Palmer, and her quieter, more stoic drummer Brian Viglione, they reinvented genres, broke boundaries, and simply made great music.  This, in my opinion, is the most exceptional album to come out of the so-called gothic/cabaret/punk style that was fashionable a couple of years ago.  While they later succumbed to their own buzz, this is the album that has the near-perfect balance between personal and flamboyant, between whispered confessions and blistering shrieks, between the gentle caress of piano keys and the crazed striking that Palmer has perfected, and Viglione is simply brilliant – no wonder that without him, Amanda’s later solo work suffered.
The album gets off to a brave start with the strong “Good Day”, an expression of scorn for an ex-lover, and a defiant declaration of independence.  It is one of the few songs on this album that uses guitar, but it blends well the crashing piano and drums, and is the better for it.  With this song, Amanda establishes herself as both a gifted singer and songwriter; while this song doesn’t delve into the subtleties that come later in the album, it perfectly shows the situation – “God, it’s been a lovely day, and everything’s been going my way, every since you went away, yeah I’m on fire… I’d love to have you up to see the place; I’d love to do more than survive, I’d like to shove it in your face.”  After the song ends, the track continues to the sound of Amanda and Brian singing a nursery rhyme – a fascination with youth, and the dark side of child-like innocence, is a recurring symbol throughout this album.
If “Good Day” seemed like it crashed in places, it was nothing compared to the hysteria of “Girl Anachronism.”  To summarize, this is a song about a girl verging on insanity, who blames all her problems on the fact that she was born via Caesarean section.  Again, not incredibly subtle, but it is deliciously eery, and the vocals perfectly match the feel of the song, and the piano crashes haphazardly, building tension right up the climax.  ”I don’t necessarily believe there is a cure for this so I might join your century but only as a doubtful guest and I was too precarious, removed as a Caesarean, now behold the world’s worst accident, I am the girl anachronism.”
Now, for the creepiness.  ”Missed Me”, sung throughout in a slightly squeaky, childlike voice, is the tale of a young girl who falls in love with an older man.  The use of that children’s saying (“Missed me, missed me, now you’ve got to kiss me”) now seems chilling; I’ve never been able to hear it the same way since then. The singing is halting, the piano methodic and plodding, but it accelerates towards the end – as do many songs in this album – and Amanda’s voice reach heights of incredible despair as the girl shrieks for her lost, older lover.
“Half Jack” is one of the lesser known Dresden Dolls songs, and I’ve never understood why.  From the very beginning, it was one of my favourites.  But then again, I can relate to it very easily.  As with all of their songs, it tells a story, of a girl who is pulled between two parts of her personality, one – the good, or more specifically, not the bad – that is represented by her mother’s blood, and the other – the bad – represented by her father.  Her voice perfectly conveys the confusion and desperation that comes when you are not even able to trust yourself, and again, it reaches a desperate climax towards the end.  Sometimes the use of this device can seem a little bit worn, but the thing is, they do it so incredibly well that they can pull off doing it a little bit too much in this album.
“672″ is not really a song; just an old recording of Amanda improvising.  It’s very good, definitely, but I’m not going to spend any more time explaining it than that.
So, now for the popular one… “Coin-Operated Boy”.  A tentative, very cabaret, childish song about a girl who wishes that things were less complicated; hence, a coin-operated boy.  I’m somewhat torn on this one; on the one hand, it could be an absolutely genius interpretation of our confusion with love, and our desire for simplicity in a complex culture, or it could simply be Amanda finding a bunch of clever plays on words, and delivering them in an overly precious manner.  Whichever one it is, I still like the song quite a lot; just not one of my favourites.
Moving on to “Gravity” – a crashing ode to loose morals and delusions.  While it isn’t entirely clear what she’s singing about, some lines (“Down at work I’m getting too familiar with the floor/Trading in my talents by the mouthful”), mixed with some of the jeering in the background towards the end (“Fuck him then cower… watch out, posture!”) seems to imply that it is about someone who was pressured to perform sexual favours at their work… maybe I’m getting too much into plotlines, but it is really interesting trying to think of stories that fit these songs.  You could almost trace a wide storyline that stretches throughout the album, although it might be stretching things in a few places… such as our next song…
… “Bad Habit.”  I’m not going to say anything more about this song, except that it is about self-mutilation and I don’t like it very much.  Not that I dislike it, but – for whatever reason – it has never appealed to me.  I don’t think that it has so much to do with the content as it has to do with the musical style; I’ve always preferred “Half Jack” style Dresden Dolls, or some of their later songs, to the delivery of this and “Girl Anachronism.”  Sometimes I think that Amanda uses her incredible emotional range to breathe life into songs that, honestly, do not have much lyrical depth or wit, and this is one case where I absolutely believe that.  On the other hand, though, I have no personal connection to the lyrics; for those who have experienced the things that she is singing about, it might be an entirely different story.
Ahh, “The Perfect Fit.”  I don’t know what to say, except for that it is stunning, a beautiful interpretation of a girl who is falling apart at the seams, searching desperately for acceptance and love in the midst of her self-loathing.  Again, it starts off quiet (“I can write a song/and I can sing in key/I can play piano but/I never learned to read”) to the climax (“Fuck, I’ll give you anything if you can end this hell… I only want to tell you my name/Hello, I’m good for nothing/Will you love me just the same?”), probably the most effective usage of this device.
Out of all of the songs on this album, “The Jeep Song” in undoubtedly the most lighthearted, and fun.  Even though it is a story of lost love, the melody bounces along cheerfully, and there are even some “ba-ba-ba” back up vocals during the chorus.  (“But with every jeep I see/my broken heart still skips a beat/I guess it’s just my stupid luck/that all of Boston drives that same black fucking truck… I’m thinking about skipping town awhile/until those cars go out of style… so don’t tell me if you’re off to see the world/I know you won’t get very far/Don’t tell me if you get another girl baby/Just tell me if you get another car.”)
“Slide” returns to the loss of child-like innocence through apparent molestation that they explore in “Missed Me.”  This, along with “Bad Habit”, is just one of those songs that, while I like, I am somewhat indifferent to.  It’s written in the slow, creepy style, but seems to drag along a little bit, and just isn’t as compelling as “Missed Me.”  I still like it; but I have some significant reservations.
Clocking in at 8 minutes 34 seconds, “Truce” is an appropriate album closer, again using the quiet and slow at the beginning, loud and fast at the end style that they seem to like so much.  It is the tale of two ex-lovers who are mapping out the world to ensure that they never run into each other again; for all the creepiness that Amanda tries for in “Slide”, the most chilling moment in this album comes when she hisses “Now get off my side of the state!” during this song.  And the end… ahh, shivers – “So take whatever you like/I’ll strike like the states on fire/You won’t sleep very tight/No hiding, no safe cover/Make your bed and lie just like you always do/You can fake it for the papers, but I’m on to you.”  Not to mention the jagged string arrangement at the end perfectly compliments the feel of this song, and the entire album, beginning melodic and pleasing before turning squeaky, jagged, harsh and broken sounding; yet in the seeming ugliness of that sound is a kind of harsh beauty, and vulnerability – all of the characteristics that Palmer and Viglione’s cast of characters display throughout this album.
If it is not obvious already, I’ll say it one more time.  I absolutely love this album.  It is not my favourite album (although it is up there, but Blonde on Blonde will always rest on top in my heart), nor is it a great album, but it is so raw, so vulnerable, yet so brave at the same time, that its flaws just make it that much more endearing.  When I first bought this, I lay in my bedroom for weeks listening to it over and over again; I’m sure I’ve heard it hundreds of times, yet every time I listen to it, I can extract a little bit more meaning, delve a little bit further into the true depth of these songs, and for this, I absolutely worship it.  It isn’t for everyone, but I would recommend it to everyone.  Buy this album; as long as you keep an open mind, you won’t be sorry.
I realize that this was a post that was completely unrelated to what I say I am going to write about, but I contain multitudes, y'know?  And besides, I am so happy that I was lucky enough to discover this album, so I feel like I have a certain amount of responsibility when it comes to passing it forward.  Check this out! 

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Day One

Well, Day One has come and gone, and I have to say that it was quite interesting.  I didn't quite realize how hard it would be to go without all the foods that my diet as a vegetarian has been based on - milk, cheese, eggs, etc.  A brief outline of my day would look something like this...

9.45 - Wake up.  Remember that it's summertime, and there is nowhere to be.  Be happy, and listen to Modest Mouse.  Then, remember that the lawn has to be mowed and I have work today, and now I am vegan, and say a few choice swear words.

10.10 - Look through my fridge.  Realize this plan would work better if I had any control over the food that we have in our fridge.  End up eating 2 enormous, crispy Gala apples for breakfast and smear them with some homemade almond butter.  Gulp down water and coffee.

10.25 - Mow the lawn.  It is too hot to mow a lawn.  Ugh.

12.00 - Look completely befuddled, trying to figure out what to eat for lunch.  So perplexed that I consider skipping lunch, then remember the nightmare that I am when my blood sugar drops too low.  Cut some veggies, and blend up hummus, and eat another big apple and some blueberries.  

1.00 - Work.  I scan, and I file, and I answer phones.  I love my life.

6.00 - Eat whole wheat spaghetti and basil and tomatoes, and glare across the table at my brother as he smacks down 4 pizza pops.  How is this fair?  FOUR of those things, and he weighs about 80 pounds.  This really makes me hate guys.  Search the freezer for something that I can maybe whirl into a smoothie for dessert, and stumble upon gold... a container of Dark Chocolate Coconut Dream that my lactose intolerant grandfather left by accident when he visited us a month ago.  Wow, truly amazing...

7.00 - Went to the barn and rode ponies, all the while dreaming of Coconut Dream.

Then, I came and wrote this.  So, evaluation of the first day?  Not terrible, but I think I need to plan this stuff out more in advance - it's harder work than I thought.  I'm not going to post my eating schedule every day (or ever again) but I thought I would today since it's the first day.  Looking forward to 182 more days!

This is my new love... farewell, boyfriend.  I'm Coconut dreaming on such a summer's night...

Monday, July 18, 2011

So Why Veganism?

So, there are a lot of questions that I have been asking myself in the past couple weeks, as I move towards six month free of any animal products - eggs, dairy, honey, the works.  Some of the questions have been more sordid, such as how the well am I going to survive for six months plus without ice cream, cheese, or an omelet on Saturday mornings, but some of them have been more serious.  The main serious one is - why veganism?  Why is it something that I feel that I have to do, have to try.  Why not watercolour painting, or classical music, or tarot card reading?  Why is it this that I feel is a responsibility, almost my duty to try?

Some of the reasons that have contributed to my decision to embrace veganism are...

  • Moral issues.  I have been reading a lot lately about factory farming, and the conditions under which my food is made, and frankly, none of it has impressed me.  Do I want to be eating eggs, when I know that they have been raised by chickens juiced up on steroids and subjected to horrendous conditions, packed tightly into a warehouse, barely able to move, let alone get a glimpse of the outdoors?  My omelet is becoming less appealing every second I think about it. 
  • Personal preference/upbringing.  I have been raised to show respect for all humans, and all animals.  I would not abuse any animal, not in a million years, but am I not equally guilty if my actions cause the animals to be abused?  I really can't walk around bearing that burden.  This is obviously a very personal decision, and I do not judge anyone who does not share my beliefs.  I would not expect such a commitment from anyone else, but I expect it of myself. 
  • Health issues.  Vegan food is healthier; that is all there is to it.  And while this is at the bottom of my list, I have been looking to drop 10 or 15 pounds lately, and I am hoping that with a little hard work and exercise, weight loss will be a consequence of my newly acquired dietary habits. 
So, here it goes for me.  I am ready for a new part of my life, and here it goes.  From tomorrow morning, my six months have started, and I am fully devoted to my cause.  


So, basically, this is me.  (Picture taken several weeks ago by one of my best friends, and one of the few pictures of myself that I can look at without cringing.)

I am seventeen years old, and live in a lovely small town in Canada.  I like to do karate and kickboxing and horseback riding, and listen to indie/alternative music, read books, write, and hang out with my wonderful friends.  The reason I am blogging here is because I am about to embark on at least 6 months as a vegan, and hopefully using this will help me work my way through it, as well as allow me to share advice and stories with anyone who is interested!  So please, follow me.

I don't intend for all of the posts to fall under the subject of "Vegan", but I am too lazy to run more than one blog at a time, so forgive me if this place every feels like a bit of a hodge-podge.  Feel free to comment, share, leave advice.  I don't expect anyone to at first, but hopefully we'll get there eventually!