I'll be back before you can dream of it...
It all started when...
I first visited the American Museum of Natural History in New York City in 2005. I wandered the Hall of Vertebrates for hours, overwhelmed by the scope and arc of life's history on this world. From this, over the next few years, came a series of songs that all worked on the idea of the natural world and how human beings, human industry, and even individual human lives fit into it. The result is here.
My first "Industrial Theme Park" band was formed while I was attending Grinnell College. My second iteration came a few years later in New York, and this was our "hit single." My first year in New York I recorded an album called "Late Night Voyeurism" that was absolutely dreadful. This was the first song I recorded after completing that album, and signposted a way forward for my music. This tune is heavily influenced by new wave, and I do think it holds up nicely, but it's tough to listen to these days because it reminds me of a simpler and more innocent time in my life that's not coming back.
Super Future Commuter
Best drum riff I've ever done, but clearly made using a computer because no actual drummer could play it without a third arm.
Written in the run-up to the 2008 elections, and at a moment where I was unclear about the future direction of my career, this song marvels at the American political class for their ambition and their devotion to a single path. The guitar chords owe much to Andy Summers.
I freestyled these lyrics at midnight in New York, to the annoyance of my roommates. I confess I've never been to Jakarta and was relying on descriptions of it. The line "Java East of Java" is a dig at the film "Krakatoa East of Java," the creators of which failed to look at a map to notice the Krakatoa is actually west of Java.
This song could be interpreted in multiple ways. It could be about humankind's veneration of and necessary destruction of apex predators in natural ecosystems -- see David Quammen's "Monster of God" -- but it could also be about the fall of Mobutu in Zaire, who famously wore a leopard-skin hat. Either way, it's about the end of things.
Wearing Black on a Summer's Day
Looking back, the lyrics to this are kind of creepy, but it's just some musings about natural history museums and taxidermy. The Age of Discovery was when we searched for and catalogued the natural world. The Age of Regrets is when we came to recognize how much of it we destroyed in the process. There's a certain funereal resignation and inevitability to this whole album and to this song in particular, and the listing of random weekdays in French kind of tied the mundanity of post-industrial service sector commutes as the apparent end state for the human race back to "Super Future Commuter," which otherwise would seem lyrically unrelated to the rest of the record. I was giving mid-90s U2 and Depeche Mode a fair number of spins when I wrote this number. It's also one of the first songs where I used the "D-Beam" on my keyboard, a Roland Fantom X-series. The D-Beam is basically a laser that reacts to the movement of your hands in midair and creates a pitchy, squealing synth sound, and you'll hear it all over this song. It's extremely fun to play around with. Listening to this song, and comparing it to the album opener "So Sleepy-Eyed," I realize how much my production abilities matured between 2007 and 2009.
The Uses Of Light
I'm a not really a spoken-word kind of performer and this is the only one I've ever done. The soundscape-y-ness is one part Lifeforms-era Future Sound of London, one part Remain in Light-era Talking Heads. I imagined myself as an awkward professor at a blackboard lecturing on the evolution of sight, leading up to our present ability to see the entire spectrum with modern technology, and the natural next step of being able to control our visual reality. The line "It's not my eyes that see" is lifted from a blind assassin in the TV show "Samurai Champloo."
The Abuses Of Light
Okay, I cheated. This song was recorded several years after the others, but it fit the theme so well that I included it here. The opening sounds are samplings of indri, a Madagascar primate notable for its beautiful song. I found out about the indri from David Quammen's masterful book "Song of the Dodo: Island Biogeography in the Age of Extinction." I can't recommend this book enough. It's half natural history, half mystery novel, and it explains the state of the world better than anything I've read. The lyrics on this track aren't my best, but sometimes lyrics are more vomited out than written, and that was the case here.
The Only Dry Corner of the Metropolis
My take on an instrumental song called "Moa" by Mikhail Sapozhnikov of Taos Hum. I'm pretty sure I was reading a lot of Corto Maltese, particularly the South American adventures, when I basically freestyled these lyrics in one take. This track features some of my best electronic composition and layering work, but sadly, the original audio files were lost in a data transfer so I can never go back and tinker with, edit, or sample from this piece again.
Rural To Urban Migration
Another Sapozhnikov jam. He and I were in a band that performed this song live quite a few times, always last in the set, and he did most of the instrumentation in this recording. I've had a long-standing interest in rural to urban migration, and migration in general, which will have much to do with defining the 21st century. (See my blog post and podcast episode on the subject.) At the time I was reading about the Sahel pipeline to Dakar, from which migrants would attempt to reach the Canary Islands and get into Europe. As the migration crisis mushroomed in 2015 and into 2016 due in part to the Syrian civil war, with resultant political consequences, I feel this song holds up. Lots of musical shoutouts in the lyrics, including to Banco de Gaia's "Last Train To Lhasa" (also about migration, in a fashion) which was one of my favorite electronic music records growing up.