His bed is made
I was a hero in the morning
I ain't no hero in the night
I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when I first heard Wolf Parade's debut, Apologies to the Queen Mary. It was sometime in the second week of October 2005. I was already anticipating that weekend: I would be driving to South Bend, Indiana for what turned into a pretty famous football game: Notre Dame v. USC, better known as the Bush Push game. Nearly twenty years later, I'm still salty about the refereeing at the end of that game – not the no-call on the actual Bush push play, but on the spotting of the ball with its nose on the goal line when the ball went out of bounds at about the three-yard line.
Suffice it to say, two pretty momentous events in my life took place that week. One of them I shared with 80,000 very, very loud people the evening of October 15; the other, now that I think through it, would have been the evening of Monday, October 10th when my roommate Dave returned from a weekend at Denison. After grad school, I moved to Cleveland for a year (10/10 do not recommend) and Dave's girlfriend was a senior at Denison, so he'd frequently go back to campus to visit. When he got back to our loft, he was excited to share this new album that he heard.
So we did what we always did: we fired up our computers, loaded the Civ 2 game we had going, and blasted the digital burn of the album Dave returned with.
Modern world, I'm not pleased to see you
You just bring me down
Let me set the scene for you a bit. I've always felt that this setup would be a perfect set piece for a short film. Our place was in an old, remodeled industrial building. Twenty-five-foot ceilings, exposed duct work, polished concrete floors that we covered in old oriental rugs. The main room was a good thirty yards long and fifteen wide, with these gigantic old windows facing due west.
There were a total of 10 or so guitars and assorted instruments scattered around, a ton of books, a sparse sitting area that we rarely used, and a shitty old tube TV that I don't think I once turned on.
Dave and I each had large desks, which we set facing each other at a remove of about ten yards. In between the desks was a bookcase along the wall and nothing else. No man's land.
We would spend hours at these desks, facing each other, playing Civilization II Gold Edition, communicating exclusively through our diplomats, in perpetual war.
A herald from the Emperor of France has sent you a message: Yo, let's order a pizza. Should I pack a bowl?
Apologies to the Queen Mary has one of the most distinctive opening moments on any record I've heard. A spare kick drum and snare jitter in, haltingly, as though the record was skipping or the drummer was stuttering. The album doesn't really let up from there. It's an absolute pop masterpiece, but man, is it a weird record.
One of the things that become more and more difficult to fathom with time is how jarringly different something sounded when it came out. There are parts of Apologies that still sound strange, but as with anything, the bits and pieces that were so striking in 2005 have become part of the musical lexicon, in the same way that Joyce's stream-of-consciousness narration was a paradigm shift in literature, but is now employed by hacks. Things are only shocking until they become tools in the toolbox; then they're just something to employ when it suits.
I got a hand
So I got a fist
So I got a plan
It's the best I can do
Now we'll say, "It's in God's hands"
But God doesn't always have the best goddamn plan, does he?
By the time we reached "Shine a Light," I began thinking that something about the recording was familiar. So I, Caesar, sent a Roman emissary to Napoleon, asking if he heard hints of Modest Mouse in the recording – not in the songs, necessarily, but in the way the music was recorded and produced.
Napoleon's emissary instructed me to prepare a defense of Antium.
But I was right: Isaac Brock was an early advocate of Wolf Parade and helped them record Apologies to the Queen Mary. His touches are all over the record. If you listen to other music that Spencer Krug was recording at the time, you will immediately hear the smoothing effect of Brock's production.
Let's take "I'll Believe in Anything" – generally regarded as the best track on Apologies. Here's a link to the album version. Notice the build of the synth part to the steadying snare beat, the guitar line that matches the vocal melody. The song is composed, if a bit edgy.
Here's the version Krug recorded as his alter ego Sunset Rubdown:
Good lord. Listen to that! Everything is so distorted it's a bit difficult to tell whether that's a mix of a guitar and keyboard or just one of the more manic guitar parts I've ever heard. Krug sounds unhinged. "I'll take you were nobody knows you and nobody gives a damn either way" shifts from a soothing, romantic line to something approaching a threat in the different versions. "Give me your eyes, I need sunshine" moves from an endearing compliment to some vampiric shit.
Well, from the top of the mountain to the rotten sand
They dragged the dead farther west til they ran out of land
We walked five whole minutes to the dark edge of town
Took a long look at nothing and turned back around
It's probably not much of a surprise to you if you've read much of OTR over the past year, but I love the intersection of pop and weird ass perspectives. In fact, I notice now that I've used the word "weird" a few times in this OTR and the word bears a little exploration.
As kids, being weird was something to be avoided at all costs. No matter how old we get, our lives are keyed in on status and affiliation (this is my inner Seth Godin talking), but this is nakedly so when we are young. There is such pressure to fit in, to not stand out in ways that will garner remark or ridicule.
But weirdness is something to be celebrated and cherished. It indicates that there's something worth paying attention to, a novel and unique – an invitation into the uncanny and new. It's almost certainly the case that nearly all of the things you love are weird, but weirdness is a horizon that is always receding. What was once weird becomes normal because the weird is generally more interesting and so gradually – sometimes rapidly – replaces the normal.
Also revealing: weird is an old Scottish term for one's destiny. I really love that: our weirdness is, in many ways, our destiny. The vanguard. The bleeding edge of where we can go.
It was strange, constant blue
And the same ghost every night
I go walking just to find
My own breath
Sometimes in the middle of writing OTR I find myself wondering why I chose this album. I try to organically choose a record each Saturday, rather than plan out what to write about. It's more interesting to discover what stories and thoughts, what emotions these records bring to the surface.
Apologies to the Queen Mary soundtracks a fairly wrought moment in my life. (No, not the Notre Dame game, though I still sometimes wonder...) My time in Cleveland was an interstitial time, between deciding not to pursue my PhD and before law school. And it was right around hearing this album for the first time that I relented to the idea of going to law school. Stuck between stations.
This summer, I've felt much the same kind of fuzzy stuck-ness. Things fall apart and things get rebuilt anew, differently. Hopefully better, but you never know. I'm being intentionally vague here, but I hope to announce a few things by the end of the summer.
We fail, we continue on. As things don't work out, as excitement turns to disappointment, we see paths forward and mark off paths that didn't work. We follow the weird, the things that give us a little tingle.
It is, after all, our destiny.