PERMANENT RECORDS: LEAVE BEHIND YOUR BEAUTIFUL MIND WHEN YOU STEP OUTSIDE
Permanent Records is a year-long project. Each Friday (or thereabouts), I will post a new entry about one specific album, chosen due to its significance to myself as a fan. Though the list is numbered, a particular record's placement should not be considered a ranking. There will be 52 albums in all.
03. GENEVA - WEATHER UNDERGROUND (2000)
Personnel: Andrew Montgomery, vocals; Steven Dora, guitars; Stuart Evans, guitars; Keith Graham, bass; Douglas Caskie, drums
Producer: Howie B., Tommy D. ("Dollars in the Heavens, "If You Have to Go," "Killing Stars," & "Cassie"), Jeremy Wheatley & Magnus Fiennes ("Museum Mile")/Label: Nude
Geneva was a band that came to my attention by way of Suede. They often opened for Suede and were part of Nude, the record label the band helped to establish. I would try most of the music put out by the indie, leading me to cherised records by the likes of Sharkboy, Black Box Recorder, Lowgold, and Ultrasound. Geneva is easily my favorite, though.
Geneva stand out because their music never falls short of being beautiful. It's hard not to sound like you're being beamed straight through Heaven's stereo system when you have Andrew Montgomery singing for you. The boy sings like an angel, his high register akin to a choirboy frozen in amber. He found his perfect foil in Steven Dora, who wrote songs that acted as melodic pillows to cradle the signer's tender pipes. If Montgomery sang like an angel, then the other four guys played like the clouds the cherub rested on.
The band's debut, Further, was a slab of melancholy loveliness. It sounded a bit like a refugee from some of the more influential post-punk bands, like Closer-era Joy Division ("Further," "In the Years Remaining") merged with the Bunnymen ("Into the Blue"). For the follow-up, Weather Underground, Geneva went for something radically different, settling into skin that was completely their own. The album was properly named. It sounds like a storm contained, emotion trapped in a bottle. It's also as radical and idealistic as the organization it borrows the moniker from.
Though several producers are credited on this album, Howie B. gets the top credit. B. made his own ambient and hiphop-influenced electronic music, and he produced tracks for Björk and Tricky. So, he was kind of a surprising choice for an indie guitar band like Geneva, but I would guess he had something to do with the overall shape of Weather Underground, pushing the bass guitar forward in the ensemble (think the fat lines on "Killing Stars") and also experimenting with random sounds, samples, and stray patterns. Weather Underground's finale, the epic "Have You Seen the Horizon Lately?," closes out the affair with a mammoth tornado of music.
I would say the overall effect of Weather Underground was to take Geneva past the common mental picture most people have of Heaven, past the blue skies and the fluffy clouds, and out into space for something more cosmic. Indeed, much of the album's art direction had a space motif, and songs like "Rockets Over California," "Guidance System," and "Killing Stars" even evoked such images lyrically. "Museum Mile" combines orchestral washes with static and distortion, and the odd percussion, acoustic guitar, and dark bass of "Morricone" sounds like a tripped-out remix of one of the Maestro's spaghetti western scores, the jumble of riffs giving over to one large steel guitar and primal shrieks from Montgomery. You can just see the ponchos and the stubby cigars as some bad dudes square off.
Weather Underground is my favorite kind of album because it sounds like its own symphony. You start at the beginning--the lead single, "Dollars in the Heavens," which works better as an overture because it's more straight-up rock than the rest of the record--and move all the way through without stopping, without skipping any tracks. To do so would be to mess it all up. You don't get a multi-layer cake and then try to take out one of the layers in the middle. That would just ruin it.
Over the years that followed, I lived with Weather Underground as a real part of me. I would listen to it often, each time taking in all 11 tracks as one piece. It was an album that fit any mood. I could walk in the rain with it on my headphones, or put it on the stereo as I was going to sleep. It was also a great travel record. On train rides or plane trips, I would turn to it to provide a soundtrack for the passing scenery. Best of all, though, wherever I was, whatever I was doing, Weather Underground would transport me. Like the image of the space capsule breaking away from its rocket boosters that graces the cover of the "If You Have to Go" single, listening to Weather Underground pushed me out of my own space and set me adrift in a world all its own, separate from the boundaries of everyday life.
I suppose that's what makes it a good candidate to lend inspiration to my forthcoming novel, Have You Seen the Horizon Lately?, named for the previously mentioned big finish.
Have You Seen the Horizon Lately? began life as They Are All In Love, named after the song on The Who By Numbers where Pete Townshend gives a big kiss-off to the youthful attitude that dogged him into the second phase of his career. It was a rash decision on my part, because at the time I probably imagined that was what I would have to do, that Cut My Hair would be some kind of albatross in a leather jacket I would have to discard somehow. Naturally, that isn't true, and I couldn't make the novel fit in a pair of shoes that weren't right for it. I toyed with using another song from the same Who album instead and call it Blue, Red, and Grey, and thus give the Romance Trilogy a full circle return to a Pete Townshend title, but that wasn't doing it either.
The proper key, obviously, came from Weather Underground.
Two songs in particular were essential to establishing the mood of Horizon. "If You Have to Go" is the first, and six years later, it's still one of the most desolate, heartbreaking records I've ever heard. "So you're leaving/ If you have to go/ Then go, but my heart's going with you": those three opening lines could be the opening of the novel. As the story is set up in The Everlasting, Lance and Tristan's youngest brother, Percival, has lost his wife to suicide and disappeared. Horizon gets deeper into that, and "If You Have to Go" is a dramatic lovesong about a lover who leaves you but whom you never let go of.
I could definitely relate in my own life, and this gut-wrenching tune often found its way back to me whenever my own guts were being wrenched and I needed to remind myself what it was all for. I could have actually saved us all the trouble of having to indulge my semblance of a career and quoted this verse from "If You Have to Go":
"And I don't know why I want you
And I don't know why I need you
But you know you have my love
So silently you threw me
So silently you woo me
It's the silent time for me"
That's all my books summed up in six lines. But more important for my characters, and definitely for Percy, is one of the verses that follows:
"So if you get to thinking
The same as I've been dreaming
Then let me know
Just let me know"
It's the romantic dream, the big question. When will my feelings and yours align? It's the problem all of my characters struggle with.
The second song is, of course, "Have You Seen the Horizon Lately?" The book is about a man in exile, who has withdrawn from life. I don't think I am spoiling anything by telling you that the plot line is the attempt to extract Percy from that exile, and for a man in that situation, this query holds many meanings.
The tune itself is built almost like a collage. Repeated vocal burps, underwater drums, rolling bass lines, electronic squiggles all orchestrated to create an otherworldly effect, of weightlessness and floating through a vacuum, the alternating phrases "Trying to get back to/from you/here" coming in and out, shattering, distorting. For a man like Percy, who now lives only as an interior being, both locked in a house and locked inside himself, the instruction "Don't leave behind your beautiful mind/ When you step outside" could take on a tremendous importance. Those are actually the first direct lines in the song, and their emergence from the noise, from the unclear and messed-up mumblings of "trying to," sound like a real breakthrough. Montgomery sings the stanza twice, getting louder on the second pass, before fully taking over as the drums really begin to pound. That's when the song breaks apart from everything else, breaks the bounds of Earth, goes off towards something far more astounding.
A place I hope I can get Percy.
Listening to Geneva while writing at least acted as a lighthouse of sorts, a beacon illuminating mine and Percy's path. Whether we get where we're going will ultimately be up to the readers, but if any of them aren't sure, they can just play Weather Underground and see if it matches.
NOTABLE B-SIDE: "Mindreading" is one of the tracks on the flip of "If You Have to Go," and I was immediately drawn to it because it's about one of my favorite subjects for pop songs to cover: the power of music. Even better, it's about listening to music and interacting with other people, of the silent communication that passes between individuals on the dancefloor. I could actually hear "Mindreading" fitting in amongst the mix at a roller rink. The music has a circular feeling to it ("Listen to the sound/ Listen to these sounds/ As they go around"), maybe even a little bit of a carnival vibe with its warbley organ. The lyrics are a string of pick-up lines, "What's your name and where are you going?" and "I already know what you think," and some of the space imagery from Weather Underground carries over ("The oxygen's thin when you're going nowhere"). The seduction continues to the 2:50 mark ("I'll go on when you won't sing along") before one more loop through the chorus and the full victory for music: "You don't have to tell me/ Take it to the DJ/ I know, I know, I know/ I'm reading your mind."
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Current Soundtrack: David Bowie, "Everyone Says Hi" B-sides
Current Mood: working
All text (c) 2006 Jamie S. Rich