Thursday, October 29, 2009

How Does It Feel: Annie, New Order, Grief and the Dance Floor

While wishing Don't Stop would start already, "Songs Remind Me of You" got prematurely imbued with Anniemal's second coming. Something retrospectively necessary as the rest of the album was not, though when it comes to the dancefloor, the 12" means more than the LP anyways. Standalone, the single crystallized the underlying thrust of Annie's larger thread, the healing power of really good dance music. On its surface it renditions that residual flickering of a burnt out old flame, but really picks up right where Anniemal left off, with the residual flickering of a phantom.

Back in 1999 Annie broke through with a false start. After kicking around the Bergen music scene as a DJ, her penchant for melodies and a voice made for singles locked up with the talents of house producer Tore Andreas Kroknes. Madonna-sampling The Greatest Hit seemed to echo their subsequent coupling, with their made for each other revelation substituted by the song's "why'd we ever break up?/this moment probably won't last forever" abandon. The real world counterpart didn't. In 2000, Tore's degenerative heart condition kicked in with unprecedented malice and by 2001 he was dead at 23.

After that, I was so depressed I just wasn't able to do anything. I stayed at home, away from everyone, completely in my own world. I wanted to make the album with Tore — that was the plan. After he died I just didn't think I had the heart. But then I thought, 'Right, you're really depressed now but you have to make this album. Tore would be quite pissed off if you just stopped doing anything.'

"Sssh! Let's start the record!"

Kicking off with the coyest, most playful clarion call, Anniemal's intro met Animal Collective at their Wild Things Are fountainhead, yet the rumpus she was starting didn't forsake immediate gratification for Kid A knob twaddling and ruptured tribal thumps. A solid dance record straight up instead of straightforward it proved the form didn't belie the function with an emotional convalescence that denied no history.

The Greatest Hit's "you are my" now also reads "you were." No Easy Love's skeptical commitment issues are saturated with a broken engagement, but Chewing Gum's bubble yum suitor disposal doesn't insist on crying out "versions of you." First of the album's songs proper, it's Annie pep talking herself from her subconscious, chimney sweeping "settling down" into the aether, owing guilt to no one, owning up to heretofore buried fun. It's the wide, mischievous grin playfully hidden on the LP cover, ruse ready with a hole under the rug and an edge sharpened by a too soon trip around the block. At the same time it's an expression easily capable of answering Foreigner's 1984 power-ballad plea. re: Heartbeat. An autumnal reverie of what The Greatest Hit's dancefloor reunion hearkens back to, sweet moves at a dance party before the rest was history. *

But it's Come Together where the preceding activity's potential gets set in stone with a paean to the communal power of dance music. That the final track, My Best Friend, is about the aforementioned residual haunts, Tore figuring prominently, it's also uncharacteristically not made for the dancefloor. Not that off the dance floor the music's jurisdiction fades, but the rest of the album's m.o. reworked the lyric "last night a DJ saved my life" and brought it full circle so that last night the dj might have saved their own life, too, with a window into the artistic process before the record a la the tomato sauce stain in that Daft Punk video.

In total it distilled the trajectory of an unlikely but fitting historical precedent, New Order, into one knockout debut. Consider their impetus, the death of Ian Curtis. Stroszek and the Idiot might have filled out the ritual aspect of his suicide, but the denouement is at odds with the sly, wicked humor embedded in both. Joy Division's catalog on the other hand, connects the sendoff with the pantheon of death it belongs to. Outside of Disorder's liberatory potential, Curtis lived in black clouds with black linings, his baritone at the level of the focal point he viewed things from, a looming concern duly revered with depression and exacerbated in real life by the physical trauma of epilepsy. On their unanimous decision to carry on:

"The first meeting we all had, which was the Sunday night [Curtis committed suicide], we agreed that. We didn't sit there crying. We didn't cry at his funeral. It came out as anger at the start. We were absolutely devastated: not only had we lost someone we considered our friend, we'd lost the group. Our life basically."

It didn't hit me until I sat down with Substance, but the initially murky hesitance of New Order's first rumblings had turned into one of the most touching responses to suicide. Superseding The Myth of Sisyphus' narrow definition of the absurd, New Order inverted the doom and gloom of Joy Division's paradigm and created MDMA worthy dance tracks brimming with reasons to live.

New Order didn't drop the concerns Curtis previously articulated, but the increasing integration of electronic material, as well as brightened flips to atmosphere, into the song structures ended up creating what would have been the proper backbeat for Curtis' legendary epileptic pantomimes. By Brotherhood it became an ebullient forward motion, that when underscoring philosophical panic attacks like Weirdo and Broken Promise instead emphasized the freedom exhibited in confusedly scratching against the void, the boundaries of one's processing skills overshadowed by the act of processing itself. Sumner described the act of writing lyrics as haphazardly subconscious, jostling epiphanies and going "wtf" after intentionally not trying to figure out the Ian Curtis songwriting method.

In retrospect, Sumner's described the darkness that permeated Joy Division as not just a reflection of Curtis' inner turmoil in that nearly every person in the band had some kind of external issue (like many in Sumner's family dying off from physical illness) that hampered lots of the potential for pleasantry in growing up. Completely out of context and totally pretentious on my part, this quote from V. seems to echo Joy Division's mindframe from the standpoint of New Order's, looking back at those moments in youth when becoming acquainted with the world makes hopeless angst a coping mechanism.

For that moment at least they seemed to give up external plans, theories, and codes, even the inescapable romantic curiosity about one another, to indulge in being simply and purely young, to share that sense of the world’s affliction, that outgoing sorrow at the spectacle of Our Human Condition which anyone this age regards as reward or gratuity for having survived adolescence.

"That outgoing sorrow," while not necessarily a universal trajectory, is a statement I greeted with momentarily relief when I read the book at 19 before I realized bated breath is exhausting in itself. New Order plays out like the process of the outgoing sorrow, mitigation as maturation in the face of "the spectacle."

Cue Blue Monday. The song was made as a ruse to sate fans' demand for an encore, something they could play without having to stick around to finish, but its structure is hardly tossed off. The bassline is potentially lifted from Sylvester's You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real), the beat from Donna Summer and Giorgio Moroder's Our Love, and that synth line in the beginning from Kraftwerk. Perhaps not original, but not tossed off. I bring these up also on account of the lyrical content.

Defiantly flamboyant (drag) Queen of Disco Sylverster James' HiNRG powerhouse is stripped/slowed down and lyrically reversed, but with confusion. Donna Summer's contention that "our love will last forever" doesn't seem to pan out. Kraftwerk actually turn out to be robots. And Peter Hook is not helpful: "They're not about Ian Curtis; we wanted it to be vague. I was reading about Fats Domino. He had a song called Blue Monday and it was a Monday and we were all miserable so I thought, 'Oh that's quite apt.'" All the same, Blue Order came out in '83, and while their public image gave off bad vibes (mercilessly short sets, declined interviews, the pall of Curtis) their music was already picking up the italo disco they turned to in the wake of post-punk's newly dour stain. Blue Monday was bookended by Temptation and Confusion, and it defies its thematic content with a less dark, lively vitality, dancing the pain away in action if not in thought. In turn, the two became one long before Technique.

And so, "Songs Remind Me of You"

Blue Monday's metareferentiality as identity fortification is here reiterated by Annie. While the spite in Blue Monday is better complemented by Happy Without You*, the melody and the drum patterns recall the band's makeshift rummaging. While for Annie this music's her bread and butter, that it provides comfort was a remedial factor for both of them. True, New Order were subsumed under the subset's potential aegis only after Curtis died, whereas Annie's attempts at being in a straightforward band were over far before she met Tore, but both find the trappings of italo-disco/disco disco/house/etc. as the most inviting framework within which to work out their grief, transforming it into something of great import.

"Songs..." brings us to My Best Friend, back to the beginning. While convalescence entails recovery, phantom ailment still creeps up.

once upon a time there was a girl
met a boy that said he'd change the world
promises he only made for me
vanished into what he cannot be

The song's chorus nods to how their mutual musical affinities created an association that undercuts the innocuity of listening to something as arbitrary as the radio. Blue Monday's rhetorical question of "How does it feel" in which the other person is guilted for mistreating the narrator is here directed at the self, but the agony of the question is implicitly a burden on the (de)parted. Yet it doesn't come on like the end of the world. Its omnipresence instead fuels the desire to play it back, repeatedly, as something therapeutic, "so good" and "so clear."

it doesn't matter where I seem to be
the sound of you remains eternally
rewind it back so I can start again
and play it 'till I reach the very end

Don't Stop: Redux

I'm not sure of Annie's standing in Norway, but her presence in the States is curious. A DJ who paired up with a house producer to put out a Norwegian variation on the dance record, her primary circulation stateside was within the indie community. While indie® might not be as insular as it used to be, there's a difference between indie fame and Kylie fame, where Kylie Minogue's popularity isn't predicated on the dispatching of irony. Now that i've heard Don't Stop i'm afraid the potential for that has been somewhat jeopardized. "Songs Remind Me of You" is a singular presence. The previously stated thematic concerns and reconfigurations are still apparent, but the primary outlet for elation is for the most part no longer part of the dancefloor pantheon, but a different kind of radio pop altogether.

All of this becomes increasingly frustrating when the All Night EP and other discarded tracks are taken into account. A 5 song bonus disc attached to the special edition of Don't Stop, the songs contained there actually correspond to Anniemal in a way that that expands on it instead of recycling for diminished effect. While Don't Stop's association with Alex Kapranos more closely associates it with the 2005 indie community she got saddled with, the 5 songs (or 3 of them, at least), along with at least three others that didn't make the EP, constitute what would have been an amazing second album. Thus I offer you, the ideal version of Don't Stop:

1. Hey Annie - As an intro track and a bridge from the last album this functions perfectly, with both the thematic continuation of Come Together's communal power, grappling with post-recovery notions of reverence, cheeky come ons, and a stated commitment to something new, all weaving through a killer drumline pattern.

2. Don't Stop - The bubbling effect on the synths, the time after time cyndi lauper vocal stylings over a beat to put you in the mood for tearing it up, it's warm.

3. I Know UR Girlfriend Hates Me - Yeah, the Chewing Gum redux, this is wicked, and perfect for flippant posturing on the dancefloor.

4.. I Don't Like Your Band - This song finally has an appropriate revue to appear in, as telling someone to get a sequencer and hit up Kraftwerk, Bobby O and Moroder had no place on the actual album.

5. Two of Hearts - the awesomely beefed up power hour assault of a cover, subtextual relevance obscured by surface ecstacy.

6. Ferret Summer - A breather, slight interlude with a winding hallway vibe, "sitting in an empty room, late in December" is preparatory for the glacial italo sheen of Anthonio (plus weirdo line "the touch of your ferret" layered in for intrigue).

7. Anthonio - coupled with Ferret Summer, Anthonio displays the other realms Don't Stop could have dabbled in for diversification of the Anniemal template, this could be a Sally Shapiro song.

8. Songs Remind Me of You - Hearkening back to Two of Hearts, the subtextual relevance of an arbitrary classic becomes the surface tension worked out on repeat in hook heaven here.

9. All Night - From the talkbox intro/backing pipes, to the double layered main vox, to the numero group roller jam comp backbeat, yet again Annie's potential trajectory is glimpsed. This also echoes Come Together, but with the action instead of the demand.

10. I Will Get On - For nostalgia, rarity, and dearth of tracks to choose from, the other track Annie and Tore made before he passed on. It's also a good flip side to The Greatest Hit, in that it plays like the breakup before that song's one night reunion.

This will probably make my top ten. Considering what she was working out in the chaff re-instated above, Don't Stop could have continued the conversation being had in Roisin Murphy's Overpowered and Hercules and Love Affair's debut, Antony's vocals in the latter especially, which underscored the roiling maelstrom underneath the surface of that good time luster, its inevitable fixture in life and that one method for imbueing it with tractability - the dance floor.

*Happy Without You's hypothetical disillusionment doesn't easily lend itself to her public record, and it agitates the previous paragraph's conception of the album's grieving process, At the same time, it's recovery from another kind of tragedy, the Alvy Singer-type breeder of in-their-image companions. Tore appeared in her life no earlier than 20, and the song looks back at 16, so if autobiographical it gives credence to the notion that Chewing Gum style dating isn't without merits.