A few weeks ago a friend reminded me of an argument we’d had at university that had sprung from a statement I’d made about human capacity for flight. I’d read something about how at this present evolutionary pit-stop we only use a teeny percentage of our brains. I had reasoned that somewhere else in the grey mush may lay the ability to take to the skies, no plane required. My friend had a field day. Part of me still wants to believe it, a little to ruffle his feathers but mainly because it’s just so much more fun. Imagine! ‘What if…?’s are where the magic lives. The unknowable is richer and the maybes more beautiful that any static certainty.
It’s my last day in New York today. I’ve been here almost a couple of weeks and a little of that fabled American dreaming has got to me but I’m grateful for the reminder. It’s too easy to be cynical sometimes, almost a reflex to sneer, and really difficult to dream when the weight of everyday presses down.
What’s more, believing that anything is possible is simply shit scary: the odds that the evidence will stack against us, let us down, are high. But the opposite is grimmer: a life of mapped out monotony, of never trying to strive for anything because it probably won’t go the way we want it to. Well, yeah, it might not but then, guess what, we might discover a different way that spins us off on a whole new tangent. That feels alive.
So, yeah, while the screen dream skyline of NYC has definitely perked me up, it was the music I went to see (Mount Kimbie, The xx, Warpaint, Teengirl Fantasy, Gatekeeper, Blondes, the Roulette group) and musicians I spoke to (FaltyDL, Meredith Monk and Blondes) that really got me excited again, got me believing again. What they share – what all artists share – is the daring to imagine their own worlds, to build something beautiful out of uncertainty and invite us in. It’s in these maybe-places I want to live.
I say ‘just’ a lot. I just can’t wait, I just think this, I just want that, I just don’t know. Just just just. There is nothing just about the way I feel though. I fall hard and fast. No half measures, all or nothing…all of those clichés. Everything LOUD, BRIGHT, FULL ON. I wear myself out. My heart can’t take it. The xx always make things better though. Listening is like two hands on my shoulders, forcing me to sit and pause. To breathe. Album of the year, hands down.
It’s impossible to beat live music. Music happening right there in front of you, in the same air. But it’s also a risky business. A thrill that’s part anticipation, part nerves. When you’ve felt every chord, every beat, every word of an album in your head, there’s always a fear it will fall short in the real world. Roland Barthes wrote about death of the author – one very loose interpretation of which being that the reader of a text also becomes author, infusing it with layers of their own meaning. The same can be applied to music. Our experiences shape the way we listen. We all hear things differently.
Last week I saw The xx at Hoxton Hall. I spent it, hands clasped, on the brink of tears – partly because their music is just so damned beautiful but also because I was relieved it lived up to my own personal experience of it. Man, they’re good.
I first wrote about The xx back in April last year on my (previously) anonymous super-emo blog when I was too much of a scaredycat to have a proper one. I didn’t write much. Just declared my love. So I was more than just a little bit excited to meet them to chat about their bloody beautiful debut album for Dummy Mag (you can read the interview and get a free download here). They were very lovely indeed – not an ounce of ego – and completely up for getting lost in the dense orange smoke of the the flares that photographer Mikael Gregorsky brought along for the shoot.
The album is called xx. Cos they’ll all be 20 when it’s released on August 17th and also because “they’re like kisses” said The xx’s Romy. It’s a very apt name. My favourites – ‘Islands’, ‘Night Time’ and next single ‘Basic Space’ – have all been adding a layer of melancholic romance to the 133 down Brixton Hill. It’s felt like a long time coming but these four young Londoners have made my album of this year.