Friday, February 7, 2014

Soundtrack to the Snowpacalypse: Wild Belle's "Isles"

This whole “snowpacalypse” thing has gotten a bit out of hand here in Austin. The first time, it was fun. I went on a foot trek to get some coffee on streets that were noticeably free of ice, snow, or danger. The second time, it was embarrassing. It seemed as if someone had merely looked at the thermometer and decided it was just too cold to go to school. It might have been understandable if there was a reasonable expectation of rain, but the chances were at around 15% - hardly enough to justify a delay.

This was starting to get frustrating. These repeated closings were starting to threaten our summer break. I have no desire to celebrate the 4th of July in the band hall. More immediately, UIL Concert and Sightreading Contest is happening at the beginning of March, and no amount of added days is going to make up for the rehearsal time that I am losing due to shutdowns and mock STARR testing. The culture of fear that we live in is going to have a direct effect on my student’s success, a fact that I find almost intolerable.

Make no mistake, however - it is nice to have unexpected family time. I have really enjoyed spending some time with the Little One and the wife. We’ve all been in close quarters, which means that my listening habits have veered towards the accessible. Fortunately, I received the absolutely stellar Isles from Wild Belle in a pretty robust stack of birthday CDs, and this album has emerged as the "Soundtrack to the Snowpacalypse."

Wild Belle obviously defers to reggae and other afro-Caribbean music. The sunny, beachside association that I often associate with reggae styles, however, is absent on Isles. Instead, the throaty, sultry voice of lead singer Natalie Bergman and the distorted bari sax of her brother Elliot perfectly complimented the lone cup of coffee I had in the house that I was using to beat back the bright, cold day outside.

There are a whole range of interesting issues that can be addressed anytime there is a cultural schism between a music’s point of origin and its current form. No, they are not from Jamaica. Yes, they are white. No, they have probably never lived in a shanty, but they can refer to them out of respect for the style. None of this is really weird in today’s musical landscape. There are no record bins anymore, so it doesn’t matter if you call them “reggae” or “alternative.” They cross over, and in the process, write excellent, catchy tunes with a distinctive, consistent vibe that permeates the entire album.

I was listening to Isles last night as I was driving home from the dojo on a completely clear road when I heard that the school districts were closing today for the third time in two weeks. I refused to believe they would do such a thing until I started fielding calls from my CrossFit crew, asking if 5 am session was still on. I dismissed their fears, and told them that if they slipped on the sidewalk on the way to their car, not to come. I did not expect anything to actually happen, and sure enough, nothing happened. It was cold, of course, but there was not even any water on the ground outside, much less ice. We knocked out that WOD and I went back to sleep, to be met by unsettling dreams of embarrassing scores at UIL.

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