The Soundtrack of My Summer

Do you ever hear a song come on the radio and suddenly you’re taken back in time to when you first heard it? You might have liked it so much that you played it on repeat for the next week, until you got sick of it and never played it again. Then you hear it on the radio and you fall in love all over again, but this time it’s even better, because you remember how great it was listening to it the first time, and it’s associated with a different time in life, where things might have been better or worse, but all you cared about was that one song. I experience this all the time, partially because I overplay things, but also because I’m constantly listening to new music. It’s a great feeling to rediscover a classic, and briefly but vividly remember an amazing moment from years ago. This effect also makes me more conscious about the music I listen to in the present, because I know that the music I listen to now will define my nostalgia in the future. Basically, an over-complicated way of saying that I like to relate certain songs or albums to certain times in my life. This last summer I struggled to find interesting or new music; not that there wasn’t a lot, just hardly anything that I wanted to put on repeat. However, two albums gradually rose to prominence and inevitably became the soundtracks of my summer: “Igor” by Tyler, the Creator and “Relaxer” by Alt-j.

“Igor” came out at the beginning of summer and I listened through it in its entirety the night it was released. It was a memorable project with an amazing atmosphere, unique aesthetic, and bass-heavy rhythms, but I didn’t see much replay value in it at first. It was like reading a book: the first time the story is great and the plot is constantly surprising, but attempting to read it again is daunting and pointless. However, faced with no alternative albums that peaked my interest, I resorted to picking out some of the catchiest, most interesting tracks and started listening to them daily (it was better than nothing, and I can’t live without music). Songs such as “EARFQUAKE”, “WHATS GOOD”, and “NEW MAGIC WAND” became favorites, mainly for their experimental vibes and driving bass lines. Overall the album isn’t bad, but the pitched vocals and gritty aesthetic get old fast, and I was more a fan of his aggressive and dark style on older albums.

The second album I overplayed was “Relaxer” by indie/alternative band alt-j. This album is true to its name, consisting of mostly rhythmic, gentle, and natural songs that feature a lot of acoustic instruments and samples. Only 8 songs long, there isn’t a lot to the album (especially since I can barely stand one of them), but the best ones truly shine, namely “3WW”, “In Cold Blood”, “Adeline”, and “Last Year”. This is an album for long car rides or adventures into the woods; it has a spirit of wandering and mystery that yields endless replay value, as both foreground and background music. It also served as a great contrast to the heavily produced and experimental Igor, meaning I could alternate the two albums and neither of them would get old. The two albums make an unlikely pair, but they complement each other in such a way that helps me appreciate the styles of each. Regardless, these songs came to define my summer: I played them on camping trips, beach trips, long drives, before work, and pretty much any other time I could play music.  Even though they aren’t my favorite albums ever, I can’t wait for that feeling, years later, when one shuffles into my playlist and I can briefly relive the summer of ’19, if only for a few minutes of nostalgia.

 

Super Cool Singles – “Fireworks” by Animal Collective

Over the summer, I had the pleasure to explore a lot of great new music. Amongst them was an experimental pop indie band named Animal Collective. They’re quite popular in the indie scene, but I had never heard any of their music before. Their albums Strawberry Jam and Merriweather Post Pavilion are considered “essential” within the indie community.

Animal Collective has a very distinct sound that places them within a niche that I don’t think many other bands could fall under. The closest I can think of might be Neutral Milk Hotel (of memedom fame). First listening to AnCo, and Avey Tare’s + Panda Bear’s unique vocal performances, has been described “like having ice water splashed on your face,” and I couldn’t agree more. They’re a great band for expanding your “listening range” of music, if you want to call it that.

I don’t think it’s easy to see why “Fireworks,” the first single on Strawberry Jam, might be genius – I certainly didn’t get it the first few listens. The melody is kind of catchy, but the brash nature of the song is off-putting and too busy on the ears. However, having given the track a more in-depth listen, I’d like to break down my own opinion on why this is perhaps Animal Collective’s most beloved song.

The album cover gives us a good first hint on what kind of tone AnCo is going for on Strawberry Jam (and “Fireworks”).

 

Image result for strawberry jam album cover

 

Context for this photo is provided by Panda Bear, the band’s main drummer, in which he wanted the production of the album to sound like how the jam looked, “that is to say, something that’s really synthetic and sharp and futuristic looking,” but also “tangy and sweet, almost in a kind of aggressive way in terms of the way it tastes”. I think they pretty much hit this idea on the money.

The jam in the photo is messy and sticky and melted, saccharine in taste and likely cooked in some mid-summer afternoon. It’s a deep dark red, blood-like in color, perhaps providing as the bridge between the physical properties of the picture and the very physical feelings that it evokes – which, to me, is a Midwestern summer Michigan-y feeling of sweat and heat and the malaise of suburban life, or to put it experientially, like walking back home after a long night, mouth dry and eyes squinting. It’s hard to translate this into concrete emotional terms. Not pleasant. Lonely. Like a post-breakup hangover.

Texturally, “Fireworks” is pretty rough – not only is the underlying drum repetition grainy and punchy, Tare’s vocals are strong, yelpy at times, and certainly not the kind of pitch-perfect singing quality you’d hear on a radio hit. You could get a “better” vocal performance from any of the ten-year-olds on America’s Got Talent. But unlike the scripted stage of viral-video public television, you can tell Tare’s throwing his weight and soul into his words, as if, at times, he literally can’t contain the emotion he feels anymore. Just listen to how he sings the climax of the chorus –

 

“And I can’t lift you up, cause my mind is tired
It’s family beaches that I desire
Sacred nights where we watch the fireworks
They frighten the babies and you know
They’ve got two!
Flashing eyes and if they’re color blind
They make me feel
That you’re only what I see sometimes.”

 

I feel that it’s hard not to be moved by how strongly Tare tears open his heart. That final line in the chorus, “that you’re only what I see sometimes,” is delivered with so much conviction it’s almost childlike. And I think that might be what makes Animal Collective such a popular band. In an age of radio-pop and rap focused on experience too simple or too far-removed, Animal Collective comes across as both refreshingly relatable and catchy, and expresses this fundamental, tired, and uncomfortable feeling of missing someone close to you in such a cohesive manner, from album cover to production quality to vocal performance to lyricism, that it’s really a cathartic joy to listen to, as well as an artistic triumph. At its core, “Fireworks” manages to convey a primal emotional stew of love and want and sadness – that abstract feeling of suburban heat, sunburned and sticky and gross, alone, watching the fireworks.

Starting Film Photography

After admiring film photography from my friends’ instagram, I decided that I wanted to try it out too. I was excited by the process, slowing down to take pictures, to think about it and most importantly, accepting my mistakes openly. I also really liked the aesthetics. So when I traveled to NYC, I stopped at the local camera store to check it some cameras out and I bought myself a Pentax K1000.

One of my friends’ husband, Brad, asked me why I wanted to get into film. Being a photographer himself, he was puzzled by my decision. “It’s not the same as digital,” I told him. He told me tales of having to wait weeks until you get the results back as well as labs who mismanage and cut or don’t return your negatives. “You could just use a filter to get the same look ,” he said. Though I agreed with him, I didn’t think I would feel the same satisfaction as taking it with film.

The first mistake I made after sending out the first roll to be developed was that I did not attach the roll properly. Thus I sent a blank roll. Bless the shop for giving me a partial refund. The second roll had mistakes too and I did not set the proper ISO according to the film. Nonetheless, I am now currently on my third roll so hopefully this one turns out well.

Film used: Kodak 200 Gold

Picture 1: my favorite coffee shop

Picture 2: seen at the Ann Arbor Art Fair

Picture 3:taken at Church st,

Picture 4: taken of a shop at Nickels Arcade

Picture 5: my bedroom window and a light leak seen when I exposed the film to light

Picture 6: East Quad’s roof during sunset

 

First Sun: A Photo Essay

I created this photo series in June while studying abroad in Copenhagen, Denmark, this summer. Taking a photography class for the first time opened my eyes to a medium that had been elusive to me for years, and I finally felt like I had produced something I was proud of. After an initial onslaught of cold, cloudy days, a sunny day made for a great opportunity to enjoy a nearby beach at Amager Strandpark. I wanted to capture fleeting moments that documented the joy and relaxation of the beach, while also highlighting the harmony between man and nature. Enjoy!

Proverbial Support

This finals season is most definitely a bag of bricks to the face. When your inner circle is slammed with assignments of their own and your family might not necessarily understand the heftiness of the “Michigan difference,” where do you turn for support? I tried proverbs.

A common misconception is that proverbs are religious. Proverbs are short pithy phrases that state one general truth or a piece of advice. Here are some that felt particularly salient to this dreary day. Feel free to disagree with my projections of meaning.

“If you bow at all, bow low.”

If you’re going to do something, don’t give it any less than a 110% effort. Nothing done is worthwhile if there was no intent in the first place.

“One beam, no matter how big, cannot support an entire house on its own.”

Leaning on others is inevitable. No one is immortal, all knowing, perfect, or fully self-sufficient.

“Every step makes footprint.”

I saw a dual-meaning in this one.

  1. Effort, no matter how small, is still effort. Taking tasks one step at a time is admirable.
  2. Aggression, no matter how small, is still aggression. Think of the one thousand tiny cuts metaphor for micro-aggressions.

“Qui n’avance pas, recule.”

Who does not advance, recedes. Aka, keep on keeping on.

La Fresque

Ballet Preljocaj’s performance of La Fresque showed a surprising amount of variety in an hour and a half. There was ballet, folk dance, modern, contemporary, theater, graphic design, and aerial elements at play. I don’t think all of which were necessary to supplement the intended plot of the choreography, but they were unexpected and interesting nonetheless. The ballet sought to investigate “the mysterious relations between representation and reality, sites at which the dance creates the bonds that link the fixed image and movement, instantaneity and duration, the live and the inert” via a traditional Chinese tale about a painting.

The original story of “The Painting on the Wall” was included in the program to better contextualize the evening length performance. It is as follows.

Once upon a time, there were two travelers, one called Chu and the other Meng. One a rainy, windy day, they arrived at a small temple. In this peaceful place where the silence was disrupted only by squalls of rain, a hermit who lived there invited the two travelers to look at a magnificent fresco painted on the temple wall. The fresco showed a group of girls in a corpse of parasol pines. One of them was picking flowers. She was smiling sweetly, her lips were bright as the flesh of cherries, and her eyes were bright. Chu was fascinated by her long, loose dark hair, the symbol of girls and single women. He stared at the girl so intensely for such a long time hat he felt as if he as floating in the air and was transported inside the painting. The adventure lasted for several years, years of idyll and happiness, until one day some warriors chased Chu out of the world of the fresco. When he returned to the real world, his friend mend had only been looking for him for a few minutes. The two friends looked at the fresco. The girl was still there, but her hair was now in a magnificent chignon, the symbol of a married woman.

Before this show, I’d never seen a story told thoroughly through contemporary/modern dance forms. It felt like a reprise of a story ballet, rather than interpreting the piece’s meta meaning, which is what Im accustomed to doing. The passing scenes onstage corresponded perfectly to the provided traditional Chinese tale, which was beautiful to see. The two men were introduced first then taken to the anticipated painting. The fresque was denoted by stage elements enclosing the space on a vignette of women. They devoted themselves to a dance with their hair before inviting the man inside their world. Before my eyes, a love story unfolded between a young woman and man, just as described in the program. Their pas de deux was tender and grateful, mimicking their growing kin. It was clear that time was passing. The stage darkened, a door smacked the ground out of nowhere, and let light leak through exposing outlines of warriors; the same warriors that banish the man from the painting. Just as quick as he stepped into the frame, he rolled out of the frame: back to his real life. No time had passed outside of the painting, but he’d lived half a lifetime inside the painting. The show ended in that realization, bringing hush and heartbreak over the audience.

I had initial reservations about this performance. Given Ballet Preljocaj’s company ethnodemographics, I was worried that a classic Chinese story was going to be appropriated by Eurocentric culture. Tokenization and exoticism are concepts that I am extremely sensitive to as a Filipino American, and I definitely did not want to see in-genuine fascination with a culture that’s largely unsupported outside of trends. I think the performance was definitely a Western version of the famous Chinese tale, but more importantly, I think it was the concepts within the story rather than the culture that were being examined and used as inspiration. The choreography was less about Chinese elements, and more about the idea of what it means to overcome the laws of time and space and jump between dimensions.

(Image credit: Google images)