We, as music lovers and collectors, are blessed and cursed I think. Here’s the scoop: we have at our fingertips a seemingly endless supply of emotional stimulants and downers. If elated one can crank up a particularly smasheverythinganddance record to conjure up even more jubilation; if supremely sad, the leveling quiet of, say, post rock or classical scores can calm frayed nerves. For most of us, music is never ever just background noise. For me, for sure.
The problematic slice of The Pie of Musical Self Medication is that for the astute listener, music carries some insanely heavy baggage. For example, the same music that lifted me on one low occasion can bring me to my knees in tears on an otherwise happy day as it reminds me of how awful a time I was having when it once cheered me up. Quite the conundrum, isn’t it? This notion was emphasized yesterday when I tuned into Sigur Rós’ website for ‘Valtari Hour’ when the world, time zone by time zone, could stream their exquisite new album Valtari. Never was there a band whose music could bend my despondency into bliss faster…and vice versa.
For fear of boring readers to tears with the sordid details, I will just say that my mid/late-20s were, emotionally, a tumultuous time. My 27th year was particularly crazy. I wasn’t happy with where I was living, I was bored with my job and wracked with worry about everything, blah, blah, blah. You’ve been there, or you will be. Just wait (I’ll bet you’re shaking with anticipation). I was traveling a lot, a lot more than I could reasonably afford, to explore possibilities…and escape reality, I guess. After first hearing Sigur Rós via a friend in the UK, I ended up buying all 5 copies of Ágætis byrjun Rough Trade had on their shelves one afternoon in 2000 while in London. For gifts. I wanted everyone to hear their beautiful nonsense.
So this particular album served as the soundtrack of my attempt at life reconfiguration. I loved it. The record, that is. I quit my job, I moved, I traveled, made mistakes, got a new job (incidentally, even more soul-sucking than the one prior). It wasn’t a complete drama fest. I mean, there wasn’t any blood or death, but it was an unsettled time. Along with friends and family who were amazing listeners, music helped me through, per usual.
Fast forward a decade and change and here I am: content. Seriously guys, not to be completely annoying, but I couldn’t be happier (ok, so I guess it’s possible, but I am not complaining). Long and short: we all have down times, this cannot be denied. And we’ll all survive them. In retrospect, these periods make life interesting. I still adore Ágætis byrjun, and Sigur Rós in general, but I listen to them less often than I’d like to. For me they’re like the emotional wake behind (watching) a super suspenseful film or having a nightmare. The feeling in the pit of the stomach one gets when completely wrapped up in the story; that blanket of distress? You know it? Thing is, in seconds, the excitement brought on by fiction can be shaken. When music sparks a memory of an actual not-so-groovy part of my own life those emotions aren’t so easily shed, so why do I go there so often?
Because sometimes the sound of music is so incredibly beautiful it can’t be resisted, that’s why. I’m a glutton for punishment like that. And I’m guessing I’m not the only one.
(Valtari is available worldwide on May 28)
[Abby’s Road is a Knox Road feature published every other Friday.]