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August 4, 2011 | by  | in Music |
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Falling Through a Field

After 9/11 some of us got angry, stocking up on shotguns in the name of family protection, spitting on anyone with dark skin for their “resemblance” to terrorists, and sticking flags and “GOD BLESS AMERICA” signs in our front yards as more of a “fuck you if you aren’t us” than a genuine love of country and all it stands for, whatever that may be. Some of us got sad and mourned lost friends, family members, and fellow citizens, as well as our broken city, and everything else that broke that morning. And some of us got scared, refused to fly in planes or travel anywhere, and every morning as we kissed a parent or a sister or a lover goodbye, we feared they wouldn’t be there when we got home.

Then there were the kids who hid in basements and did drugs. But they’d always been there, underground while the war of everyday society raged above their heads: husbands beat wives, high school freshmen shot themselves in bathrooms of public schools, eight-year old girls got raped by uncles and fathers and family friends. In the eyes of the basement kids, their greasy heads resting on the fringe of society, dreaming of a peace unknown, there was no difference between this war and the imminent war in Iraq.

The members of Black Moth Super Rainbow, a band whose psychedelic inspiration gave rise to hyped comparisons with The Flaming Lips and Boards Of Canada, hung out with these droopy-eyed, washed-out subterraneans, and made love to them and music with them, and they got high with them to forget that people walked above their heads, dazed and disillusioned from the world trade center bombings, while their government sat in pressed suits and schemed a bloody revenge that no one wanted.

It was no coincidence that the members of BMSR released their debut album, “Falling Through A Field,” in 2003, the same year that our country went to war.

The band’s title track, “Falling Through A Field,” reflects schizoid mindset of American culture in 2003. It was a year of distractions, cheap laughs, and recovery from the weight of September 11th. We didn’t want to think about the war overseas, so we “shook it like a Polaroid picture” to Outkast’s “He Ya,” and laughed at Jessica Simpson’s question, “Is it fish or is it chicken?”, as we immersed ourselves in the life of her and husband Nick Lachey on their reality show “The Newlyweds”. Ugg boots provided us a little comfort, so we wore them despite how ugly they were. And we tuned in eagerly to over forty makeover shows with the hope that improvement and happiness was possible to achieve in a one-hour block, all you needed was the help of five men with “Queer Eye[s]”.

The theme of 2003 was “escape.”

And BMSR wanted out of the basement. They wanted out because they were scared like the rest of us; scared of an impending battlefield death in Iraq, scared to be bombed at home, and scared to call American society their own. But it’s the latter they feared most. They were scared of what Americans had become as a result of their despair over the September 11 attacks and their apprehension about the War in Iraq. Americans’ fear had impelled them to revert to child-like tendencies, in a futile attempt to return to simpler times. Adults not only joined their children in playing video games, they spent hours doing so. They unearthed old gray sneakers from the back of closets and hopped around on the game pad of Dance Dance Revolution in an attempt to “dance” away their worries (and all those calories they’d inhaled from “lovin’ it” too much at McDonalds.) After they finished playing, they embraced the new-founded text-speak on AOL chat, abbreviating and simplifying their speech so they could “LOL” with their friends (or strangers in chat rooms) all they wanted, even if they were straight-faced and alone.

BMSR wanted to escape these people. They wanted out of their city of Pittsburg; they wanted out of all cities and anywhere crawling with inhabitants whose ideals of ignorance and simplicity characterized an American culture trying to distract itself from the wars around it.

So they fantasized passivity, lying in a field instead of the basement, physically separated from society.

Falling through a field

Dandelion grave

I will lay here

Forever and ever and ever and ever and ever

In the age when machine gun casualties spread their bloody, tattered bodies across TV screens around the world, BMSR turned to nature, but not as a means of hope: all hope was gone. Instead of the heated calls-to-action that characterize the Vietnam protest songs of the late ‘60s, “Falling Through A Field” reflects more of a sadness and hopelessness in the face of the present conflict, as emphasized by lead singer Tobacco’s lethargic vocals and the song’s slow, echoey instrumentation. By releasing the song in the same year as the war, and using vintage techniques as opposed to modern convention, BMSR show their discontent and hopelessness with post-9/11 culture without explicitly saying as much. This is a modern anti-war song.

Hollowness and emptiness characterize the sounds of “Falling Through A Field.” Lead singer Tobacco’s voice sounds far away, as if you’re listening to him sing while underwater. He sounds lethargic, drugged, tired, his voice a languid whisper crackling through the recording. He sounds vulnerable. He sings without energy, as if utterly apathetic about the song. It’s as if he has no ownership, or takes no pride in the song because, after all, it is someone else’s sound.

BMSR embrace vintage techniques in opposition to anything produced by modern society. They emphasize their respect for old methods through their record company, named “70’s Gymnastics Recordings,” on which they released “Falling Through A Field.” In the song, they employ analog synthesizers from the ‘70s to create lysergic sound droplets that gather into vibrating waves. The slow beat is slightly off tempo, adding to the effect of its lo-fi recording. It’s sounds like an unearthed demo some acid-inspired kids recorded way back when, found in the backroom of a dusty record shop. It’s a sound that you’ve heard before on your dad’s old Kraftwerk records, or even your mom’s Car’s demos: the synth bass line, coated in more synth basslines, to create a semi-danceable beat (if by dancing you mean the slightest head bob and hip rock.)

And you’ve heard the guitar before, too. You’ve heard its technique of reverberation; the repetition and distortion of the initial echo sound produced. The repeated echoes contain just a little less emphasis than the original, giving the song a sort of washed-out and half-hearted feel instead of the surf-rock punch intended by its inventors, Dick Dale and The Beach Boys, in the late ‘50s.

But were times really better back then, before the aftermath of September 11th? On the west coast in the ‘50s did they really surf all day and party all night, falling asleep in the soft sand, counting the stars in the summer sky? While Brian Wilson sang about all those “California Girls,” he was on a substance-abuse trip that would ultimately lead to a mental breakdown.

Little did BMSR know that apathetic vocals, analog synthesizers, and reverberation would characterize modern “indie” music, the genre classified as part of the new-founded “hipster” movement. The bands in last year’s breakout genre, “surf-rock revival,” employ heavy reverberation in their songs, not to disassociate from present times like BMSR did in the face of post-9/11 and the oncoming Iraq war, but because they can create nothing new. Bands like “Wavves,” “Best Coast,” and “Beach Fossils” mimic the sounds of Dick Dale and The Beach Boys because these artists inspire them and they wish to embody the same cool vibes. But copying their sound explicitly points beyond inspiration and toward post-modernism.

BMSR set the stage for the post-modern predicament that is hipster culture. “Falling Through A Field” rejects a forlorn American culture looking for a quick-fix through cheap laughs and stupidity. Their rejection suggests they saw no hope for improvement of this polluted culture. And they were right to be hopeless: what has improved since those days of fear and degradability? Culture has yet to evolve, and instead has submitted to stupidity and laziness. Uninspired by these times, us hipsters turn the past for happiness.

Music is not the only thing we take from times past. We are obsessed with nostalgia and all things vintage, and the clothes we wear best illustrate this obsession. We don heinously over-sized glasses that not only make us look like reject space creatures, but also give us dizzy spells because of the varying prescriptions of previous owners. We squeeze into jeans with waists up to our chest because they belonged to our mothers and fathers in the 70’s, we wear shiny leggings because Jane Fonda did in the 80’s, and our jean vests ironize 90’s ambitions for hedge fund billions. Are these clothes really any more fashionable than the Ugg boots we consider to be the baseline of ugly?

So we try to embody a past we perceive to be the epitome of fun and beauty and coolness. But this past never existed and we don’t actually feel connected to it. For BMSR, the past was a means of diversion from the present. For the modern hipster, the past is the present. A recycled past provides predictability for those insecure about the future. We feel like we’ve already heard the newest songs, thus we feel connected to them. We already own the newest trends, we only have to unearth them from our parents’ closets. A recycled past means we will always know how to be cool, to be liked, to be happy. Or at least convince ourselves as much.

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