Archive for the ‘Virginia Astley’ Category

Music For Dangerous Times

Tuesday, November 29th, 2016

I always find it interesting how my own tastes in music (and media as a whole for that matter) change whenever I’m faced with some serious cause for anxiety and stress. I remember a long time ago, after getting dumped particularly hard, I just repeatedly watched High Fidelity up to the point where John Cusack got it on with Lisa Bonet.

We all cope with heartbreak in different ways I suppose.

I’ve actually written about this quite a bit. Right around the time I moved to Tokyo I faced a serious bout of depression and anxiety brought on by becoming “woke” to the urgent nature of the climate change crisis. I found a lot of ways to cope with that, one of them being repeated listening of Yes. I still don’t entirely understand how that worked, but whatever, it did so I’m grateful.

I also wrote about how I’ve turned my back on “serious” horror as of late. As the world has become a far more horrifying place in recent years, turning to media to be horrified seems like an exercise in masochism. I highly suspect that’s why The Walking Dead’s ratings are finally starting to plummet (that and it’s a horrible show).

Now, faced with the terrifying prospect of a Trump presidency, I’m finding my musical and film tastes changing even more in an attempt to shield my psyche from the worst of it. In terms of films, that means it’s nothing but pure comedy and/or escapism in my house for a while. A solid dose of undying optimism doesn’t hurt either. Basically, I’ve been watching a lot of The Muppets.

In terms of music, I don’t think it’s effected me all that much. At least not in in terms of what I’m listening to. It’s more effected me in what I’m not listening to, if that makes any sense at all.

I bought two new albums this month. The Sleigh Bells’ latest, Jessica Rabbit, and the new Metallica album Hardwired to Self Destruct. Both are very, very good records. Of the two, I probably like the Metallica one more. It’s a tight collection of songs, and a good balance of their classic thrash sound, their more epic-guitar solo driven stuff and even some of their more mainstream work. I really recommend it.

I’ve listened to the whole thing twice.

Look, I just can’t deal with Metallica right now. I can’t deal with an album whose title literally could be the title for a thesis about the current global political climate. It’s just too much.

The new Sleigh Bells, on the other hand, has a good mixture of love songs (both of the optimistic and dark varieties), a few good bangers about fucking shit up, and plenty of poetic and abstract tracks whose true meanings are beyond me. Calling it escapism would be doing it a disservice, but it’s allowing me a chance to escape in another world, and I’m jumping at it.

I usually just can’t listen to “feel good” music. It always sounds fake and phony, like the lead singer is trying to convince him or herself that everything is going to be alright and even they don’t believe it. I think the only two “happy” songs that can actually cheer me up are Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds” and that cover of “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” by Israel Kamakawiwo’ole.

And “Rainbow Connection” by Kermit The Frog. Because Muppets.

So, instead, right now I’ve been listening to an album that I’m pretty sure is mostly about death. But it’s really pretty.


Virginia Astley
Some Small Hope
A Father

Tree Top Club
I discovered this LP on a fluke, it was stuck in the Shibuya HMV’s YMO section. I thought it was a mistake, until I flipped it and saw on the back cover that Ryuichi Sakamoto produced the album. So I bought it on the spot. Such decisions have proven disastrous in the past (Sakamoto has a penchant for jazz) but it paid off in spades here. Within seconds of dropping the needle on the record I knew I was in for something special.

Every track on this record, which has the amazing title Hope In A Darkened Heart, has an ethereal feeling to it, very reminiscent of Cocteau Twins, Kate Bush or Bat For Lashes. It oozes beauty and a dreamlike quality, with Astley’s childlike delivery serving as constant centerpiece to each song’s wonderfulness.

It’s all so beautiful that it took me at least five listens to realize that almost every single track on this album is about death and/or sadness. The cheery-sounding “Tree Top Club” is a sad journey about the futility of nostalgia. “A Father” sounds like a lovely and twee nursing rhyme, but it’s about abandonment. And the duet with Japan’s David Sylvian, “Some Small Hope,” well, I think that’s literally about death. A lot of this album is about death.

It’s also really, really pretty! Like, the prettiest. Its ridiculous how pretty it is. And it does feel like a dream. It takes me away to another place, a better one (despite all the death). Sakamoto’s production is top-notch on this, it’s minimal and electronic, but its still organic and breaths life throughout. And the relative lack of instrumentation make Astley’s unreal voice stand out even more. Brilliant all around.

So of course it’s out of print. Even in Japan, the only place where it was apparently popular at all, it’s out of print. And while in the past that would mean I would share the record in its entirety, I’m trying to cut down on that. Because, I really believe damn near everything goes back into print eventually, and I would hate to steal some sales from an artist like this, who desperately deserves them.

Instead, here are a few highlights. If you enjoy, do your best to track the album down. Maybe even pay for it!

And don’t focus too much on albums about death, even if they are really pretty. Listen to some disco or something. I recommend Sylvester.