Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Summer 2009: P.O.S. and Chickenfoot

I think that it is pretty common for music consumers to use music to mark time.  For me at least, life is chronologically organized by the albums that were released during that time or by the music I happened to be listening to.  Sometimes, this takes the form of a mental snapshot, like sitting in an old blue Oldsmobile listening to Porcupine Tree’s Stupid Dream after working the door at a basketball game at the high school where I was employed in 1999.  In other cases, it recalls a whole array of associated emotions, like the feeling of uneasy freedom that I was living with as a freshman in 1990 at UNT as I drove back and forth to Austin on the weekends, desperately trying to cling to two lives with Trevor Rabin’s Can’t Look Away blaring away in my Subaru.

The listening habits that I engage in now purposefully capitalize on this tendency.  I never know quite when it will happen, but often I find that the music I listen to imprints itself on experiences that are attached to a given time in my life.  This happens most often when there is a change in my routine, so I often isolate my listening during the summer break.  When the school year is up, I take everything out of the CD player and replace it all with totally new stuff that I try to keep in for the duration of the summer.  Usually, by the summer’s end, I have some music that really stands out as belonging to “that” summer.

Two years ago, in the summer of 2009, I moved to back to Austin from Denton, where I had basically lived since 1989.  I was working at a summer arts program to make ends meet as I finished my master’s degree and looked for more substantial employment.  It was a pretty stressful time, in retrospect, with a lot of uncertainty and self-examination packed into every day.  Two albums that came to be the soundtrack for that time and, coming up on two years later, I can still get behind them.
Never BetterThe first one was given to me by an ex-student (and present blog reader) right before I moved.  Never Better by P.O.S., more than any other album, became the soundtrack for that stressful, sometimes frustrating time.  Never Better is an engaging, intelligent mix of introspective hip-hop and aggressive skater-punk that spoke to me on many levels.  It may have been the album of the year, in retrospect.  Although the entire work is spectacular and highly recommended, this particular track was the one that kept me going when I was feeling beat down by the nerve-wracking tone of the time (although the video is a little Wang-Chung-esque).

P.O.S. opened up my interest in underground Hip-Hop, although I have not found much else that compares to Never Better.  It really is a unique beast, and as such it marked that unique time perfectly.  If you are at all curious, I would suggest getting a hold of it.
ChickenfootThe other album was hardly unique, which was perhaps the reason that it spoke to me that summer.  In the 80s, Van Halen’s 5150 and Joe Satriani’s Surfin with the Alien were both standards among me and my high school friends as we enjoyed the days of open campus lunches.  Returning to Austin in 2009, however, I found myself driving through parts of town that I had not traveled for almost twenty years.  The roads were physically still there, and, although they predictably were more overgrown and worn than the roads I remembered, they seemed haunted by past experiences.  It seemed fitting, then, that the debut album of familiar stadium rock from supergroup Chickenfoot served as the counterbalance for P.O.S.’s distinctive hip-hop.

Chickenfoot boasts some guilty-pleasure nostalgia-rock moments, and it seems very clear when Satriani takes over.  His distinctively fluid and melodic guitar approach often steals the show.  Despite its compositional strengths, however, Chickenfoot, as an album, is somewhat torpedoed by clichés.  In the summer of 2009, it was clear that, although Hagar and company are arguably good at what they do, it is simply was not the late 80s anymore – for them or me.  Chickenfoot served as a musical “safety valve” (after a fashion) that provided me with a perspective that was probably healthy for me at the time: to realistically look both at where I was and where I had been, flaws and all, as I returned to my hometown after twenty years.

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