A couple of days prior to writing this irrelevant love-letter spiel, this whatever it’s going to be to Times New Viking’s Dancer Equired
, I spent an unrelenting few hours watching episodes of Louie
with my best friend. I don’t know how to describe that experience exactly. It wasn’t uncomfortable, because it’s not often uncomfortable as a show, but it delivers uncomfortable laughs between two people. It’s not often a communal show, if at all, because Louis CK isolates himself from steady participation, unless it’s detached from him in some way. His constants are his ex-wife and his kids, people that are removed from his life by history or too young to understand it. It’s not all that useful to have another person by your side while you watch Louie feel through his world, in part I think because it’s distracting to have someone experiencing the same tantalisation as you. I sat through the Parker Posey two parter completely immersed by the new experiences getting ticked off Louie’s list, one by one, but the ambiguity of these events lends itself to questions you don’t really want to hear answered. As a couple, someone’s going to pose them. Louie
lends itself to questions you’d otherwise silently accept, but together you risk having that conversation.
After spending hours choosing episodes on the fly, enjoying the free-form, mixtape approach of the show, we ended by watching “New Years Eve” separately, an episode that takes turns feeling how it feels: it’s maudlin, yearning, disappointed, purposeful, accepting, and finally it earns its elation. The final scene pictures Louie, lost in the outskirts of Beijing, sitting down to a meal with a bunch of strangers who don’t speak his language. The friendships he forms with these people in a few fleeting seconds are seemingly about language, specifically the one he can’t speak; he repeats their words, louder, more comical, than they would say them, like a caricature he feels he’s been invited to make, and the laughs grow big as he tries to feel his way through the conversation. If you could call it that. He doesn’t see what’s funny about the words – he doesn’t have a translation to hand – but he sees his performance being received in the eyes of his hosts and can see, without knowing why, that it’s funny.
Like so many scenes in the episodes of Louie
we watched, there are layers of ambiguity to this final moment, like what Louie knows, how he is limited, and what the people around him are saying and having him say. How, I wonder most of all, do they all get a laugh out of it? How does Louie get to bring in the New Year with a smile on his face when he himself has so many questions? I wish we had been together to watch this episode, my friend and I, because if we were we would have asked all of these questions, or at least one of us would have. If we felt confused by Louie
, mixed up as to why Parker Posey’s smile faded, and then as if on cue, the episode did, it was because we weren’t on the same page.
I’m reminded, by this scene, of a video shared by someone I admire very much, in which Terre Thaemlitz (DJ Sprinkles) decries the notion of equality in art. The idea that our experiences are universally felt is an easy comfort maker, but it devalues so many things: context, like she rightfully cherishes, or just the individuality of our minds. Scenes like this one, where I don’t have the ear or the tongue for what Louie’s friends are saying, are not felt and shared like objective resources, as if art could transcend a barrier that’s been purposely put up. There are no subtitles for this scene, and that might be the point, that we don’t understand what Louie’s relieving himself with, but someone who speaks that language, or even learned it out of curiosity, knows that there’s nothing “universal” between what’s being said and what’s being felt.
Thaemlitz is right to think about context outside of the “humanist thinking” box of tricks. That Louie
scene can change; so can its focus. When I listen to Shugo Tokumaru, I don’t know the words. I love his music because I love pop music both baroque and twee, and it’s a particular fanciful sound that carries me to the end of Night Piece
. It’s the wonderful ukulele jams I talk to people about, but I’ll challenge anyone to tell me I can find an “innate beauty” in it. I don’t know everything about Night Piece
, and that’s my context; the absence of something can work to limit my experience or to enhance it. You can take away the poetry in favour of the music’s focus, but you can’t make me understand everything about Tokumaru’s intention. For a favourite musician, I can’t understand what he’s saying, and saying is probably the thing I find most important in music. For a favourite musician, I can’t quote his lyrics on Facebook, and that’s really one of my favourite things to do.
It isn’t just language, or at least not in the sense of languages
. Context rides so heavy on us that an event set to music is a language of its own. Context beats us down all the time, making up riddles about the albums we’re listening to, and tells us we’re wrong when we finally solve them. I know that sounds obvious, the whole ten page, “music is subjective” comment thread, but you don’t always know until you hear a story, or experience one yourself. Sputnik staffer Lewis Parry recently explained to me how oddly comforting Silent Shout
is to him because of a near-death experience spent with the album, and while we both see the same disaffection in what is considered the Knife’s classic record (until, um, this week, I think that holds true), he is able to know it in a way I don’t. I feel nothing in Silent Shout
; he has actually felt it. As Lewis says himself: “We are experiencing the same album, but viewed from ends of a spectrum. Mine being an active listen (for my sanity?), yours from a passive listen (entertain me?). Like, what are we asking of the album and why?”
I’ve spent so long putting off trying to talk about Dancer Equired
out of fear of that question, and because my only argument has been an unreasonable one, basing context as an excuse and that sense of “asking” as useless. But I know there’s truth in it. I’ve called it a personal record, like they all are, because no one else has really latched onto it – it’s just Alien Lanes
with keyboards and less antics, or a really average album influenced by Beat Happening. Basically an indie record by a band that was a lot cooler a few years and way more 4-tracks ago. To me, though, Dancer Equired
is a whole funny language, one I was learning for the first time, I guess, because my experience with Times New Viking began here. Its language is one that is indecipherable but sometimes jumps out like you alone possess the feelings and the thoughts to make it happen, and so I think it’s for different people at different times. Just about the only lyric everyone will hear at the same time on this record occurs on “Don’t Go To Liverpool”, where the band jump out together for a chorus and yell, pointing at us, “I WANT TO KNOW! EVERYTHING ABOUT YOU!”… which is just about the only thing they think is important enough that the guitar clashing can’t speak for it.
No one has ever talked to me about Dancer Equired
, anyway. It completely and utterly exists unto me, and other contexts just seem to reinforce that sense of isolation, the bracing of critics to an album they understand in how it was made: it’s cleaner, said Pitchfork, it’s a six point something. That’s fine, and I don’t need to reroute this conversation to explain how fantastic I think the writing is on Pitchfork at the moment, but for who is Dancer Equired
going to be universal? As far as I know the two opinions that exist for it are Pitchfork’s indifference and my personal affections. In this situation context is everything between these two pieces of writing – the concise, intelligent reaction to the album’s own historical context that was made there and the long sentimental one I’m writing here. Dancer Equired
totally rips; it storms through its songs in no time, thrashing through them and only ever hitting sluggish, gross patches like “Try Harder” if they’re loud and abrasive. But to others it just rips off.
I could share “Don’t Go To Liverpool” on Facebook or on a mixtape to a friend and expect them to love it like I do, but I’ve long given up. Even if they loved the song (and it wouldn’t take long – it’s a slice of heavenly proto-indie pop, under two minutes, beautiful choruses and adorably off kilter keyboard motifs), it would probably be for different reasons. Like: which voice do you hear first, the woman’s or the man’s? Which startles you? To who would you relate the song? The idea that we’re all equal when we’re all treating ourselves as the epicentre of our favourite song is ridiculous. But I know within me that “Don’t Go To Liverpool” is a beautiful song.
The way Dancer Equired
ends is creating new content to me even now, after I’ve listened to it so many times. And I’m not talking about subtle content, stuff I’m finding with each new listen; "No Good" is a pretty vacuous song, under two minutes with a detuned acoustic guitar strummed and a voice distorted like it’s underwater. But in spite of its loudness, and its relative clarity to the rest of the album, it’s only now I’ve noticed that lyric, Beth Murphy yelping “but there is one thing that you can do”, actually existing. I think it’s always within us to overlook the clearest things, and that’s how much context matters – the idea of an album needing “further listens” isn’t about us being able to find what everyone else found in it, to accept, like hypocrites, that we’re all individuals… liking the same stuff! It’s about us creating new bonds with those albums, even the ones we’re not all that enamoured with. Now that I think about Dancer Equired
as an example, I don’t think I’d want anyone to come up to me and tell me they “get it” now. Not unless they told me how.
Seeking a universe where Times New Viking’s album is the same to everyone is a fu
cking hilarious notion. It simply does not exist, and these songs cannot be conflated into some collective consciousness that goes into them with the same intentions and indie rock ideals. Adam Thomas will probably always hate this album, if ever he chooses to listen to it, just like I will have to spend more time getting to know the Knife before I become more than a fan by proxy of my friends. And if anyone asks, I’ll tell them this shi
t’s personal, just because, well, what else do you say? It’s jangle pop and the lyrics are muffled underneath. They’re speaking Chinese to Louie. Is it a cop out to say this is my feeling in the here and now, and that I own and appropriate my context? Probably, but I’d rather hold it close to my chest than lie through my teeth and tell you that music is one thing and one to all. It’s not – it's thousands. And that is simply the best.