A song of the year and its importance — part 1

Before anything else I should note this is a word-for-word repost from a Myspace blog some weeks back, but since I will continue this post here I feel it’s good to rescue it from there and include it here for reference. Anyway:

I consider this a rough draft more than anything else, but hopefully it will be of interest.

It has been a while I have had a particular song to hold on to, if that’s the best way to describe it. An anchor, something that provides a greater focus beyond itself and the specific hit it gives you (if it’s a good song, that is — I suppose a bad one functions in a similar but opposite fashion, but never mind that for now). To my slight surprise, I now have such a song, something that’s been almost inescapable in my mental landscape for some weeks now, and may well continue for some time yet. As time passes its importance will diminish accordingly — such is the way of things — but for now, right now, it is key and crucial.

A couple of weeks back, after going back and forth on it for a while, I decided to join some friends to go see the electronic act VNV Nation, who I’ve known about for some time but who I can’t say ever particularly followed closely. A couple of close friends of mine do, though, and I’d learned some small details along the way — that the band was led by Ronan Harris, and that it was his one-man show for a long while, that he was Irish but currently based in Hamburg, Germany, and that he’d been a mainstay of the Metropolis label in the US for some time.

A touch of background — in my own very magpie-like fashion, I’d learned about and followed a variety of acts that were prototypes to the style VNV worked in in earlier years, when I first started working as a radio DJ in particular. Like a lot of people, I suspect, Wax Trax! was a bit of a revelation in the late eighties, if also beholden to its own cliches, while perhaps more relevantly a group like Nitzer Ebb helped in showcasing the clipped, strident style of an aggressive dance approach pioneered by earlier groups such as DAF. As part and parcel of a large and ultimately protean ‘dark’ music scene — everything from skeletal folk to extreme noise and back again now seems to have been recruited to its ranks, and it resists easy and ultimate classification — it’s an approach I enjoyed, though as time went on and my interests expanded in further directions I stopped obsessively following the style and its various practitioners, as they seemed to bring little to the form beyond an increasing embrace of harder trance styles. This made sense, given the further lines of descent that could be drawn — not for nothing, for instance, did the Tamagothi parody game include ‘Raver’ as one of the final results for one’s skull-hatched pet — but it also seemed exhausted to me. Efforts like Apoptygma Berzerk and more recently Motor showed that something was going on still, but my inclination to look further wasn’t excited.

So much as background — I went off to the show, and these were my impressions, as posted first last that evening to some friends and then a bit later elsewhere, after some revision and meditation:

* More goth fashion variants than I’ve ever seen before. In fact more flat out full on goth/industrial types that I’ve seen at any show anywhere, period — conservatively speaking, I’d say every 9 out of 10 attendees were sporting the look. It was kinda impressive.

* I had no preconception of what the bandmembers looked like but I admit when Ronan Harris took the stage I didn’t expect to see a guy who looked like he could have been in the Mighty Mighty Bosstones (admittedly dressed in black) running around the stage like Bruce Dickinson and doing all kinds of hip-hop-as-interpreted-by-a-nu-metal-guy gestures.

* The open Depeche worship throughout was, of course, catnip for me. Harris said he first saw them in 1982 and combined that with a quick snarky rant about how people still give his band shit because they don’t use guitars. Also he pretty much has David Gahan‘s shtick down of getting the crowd going, ie turning on a dime from crooning along on something to “AWRIGHT LET’S SEE THOSE HANDS!” But he balanced that pretty nicely with good humor and what honestly seemed like a surprise at how packed the place was (Wiltern Theatre, mostly sold out — I was chilling at the back of the mezzanine) and how well they were received.

* I knew that trance has been the dominant element in whatever EBM evolved into some time back but I admit I was surprised at how well it worked for them. What I also found interesting was how the various lyrical hooks and/or cliches willingly embraced fit in with aspirational trance in general, especially “Perpetual.”

* Their iconographic approach is a logical descendant of things like Nitzer Ebb circa This Total Age and Laibach and other similar things, all cleaned up and post-rave to boot. It’s further reflected in the stage projections and the general design and instrumental set-up, lots of striking poses in the back and all. Jarring moments result — they play the beginning of one song which has an extensive sample from some guy about war’s destruction, and then all of a sudden the imagery is a CGI black/white cityscape that’s part Fritz Lang, part Speer/Riefenstahl with the band logo dominating the top of the tallest building while searchlights play up and down it or otherwise reach into the sky. Haven’t felt so unsettled in a live music context by what I was seeing and the implications one could draw from how imagery is reused and reinterpreted since I saw MIA two years back.

Still, all good in the end — it had been a *long* while since I saw a show heavily weighted towards that sonic approach in general and it was a good refresher.

With those as initial impressions, I returned home and, logically enough, fired up the band on Myspace (an easy assumption to make, and accurate). While the live experience was a treat, I wanted to see what they were like ‘straight up,’ for lack of a better term — in full studio control of the acoustics, without the (perfectly enjoyable) audience incitements, and so forth.

At the same time, I also scanned the Wikipedia entry and noted something that would soon prove of importance:

The “VNV” in the name stands for Victory Not Vengeance, in keeping with the group’s motto, “One should strive to achieve, not sit in bitter regret.”

More on that later, though.

The band’s Myspace site contains two tracks from its current album, Judgement, the first one being the second song on that album, “The Farthest Star.”

Now, those who know me well know my story about hearing “Soon” by My Bloody Valentine for the first time, and this is discussed in detail in Marooned, so I won’t repeat it here. My first time listen to “The Farthest Star” (well, second time, since it had been played at the show as well) was not like that at all, instead it was simply an immediate appreciation of it, late at night and running on little sleep. But because I didn’t have anything yet from the group, by default I kept coming back to it over the next couple of days.

And then again, and again.

At this point, if you’ve not listened to it yet, please click on the link to the Myspace page above and do so.  Meantime, in the relevant blog post, here’s what Ronan had to say about it:

2. The Farthest Star – Melodic, sometimes melancholic, sometimes uplifting, if you don’t care either way – it’s got beats. Seems to be popular with people who didn’t record it and hear it 4000 times.

This transcription site lists these lyrics, which as best as I can tell are accurate:

The will to greatness clouds the mind
Consumes the senses, veils the signs
We each are meant to recognize.
Redeeming graces cast aside
Enduring notions, new found promise,
That the end will never come.

We live in times when all seems lost,
But time will come when we’ll look back,
Upon ourselves and on our failings.

Embrace the void even closer still,
Erase your doubts as you surrender everything:

We possess the power,
If this should start to fall apart,
To mend divides,
To change the world,
To reach the farthest star.
If we should stay silent.
If fear should win our hearts,
Our light will have long diminished,
Before it reaches the farthest star.

Wide awake in a world that sleeps
Enduring thoughts, enduring scenes.
The knowledge of what is yet to come.
From a time when all seems lost,
From a dead man to a world.
Without restraint, unafraid and free.

We possess the power,
If this should start to fall apart,
To mend divides,
To change the world,
To reach the farthest star.
If we should stay silent.
If fear should win our hearts,
Our light will have long diminished,
Before it reaches the farthest star.

If we fall and break,
All the tears in the world cannot make
us whole
Again.

We possess the power,
If this should start to fall apart,
To mend divides,
To change the world,
To reach the farthest star.
If we should stay silent.
If fear should win our hearts,
Our light will have long diminished,
Before it reaches the farthest star.

Now, again, some people who know me well enough will wonder at the fact that I’ve quoted the lyrics in full — an old essay on Freaky Trigger is still my definitive statement on how I feel about lyrics in general.  But I had my various caveats and elaborations, and a key one here is this:

What needs to be kept in mind, though, is part of an earlier point — namely, that lyrics don’t simply not exist when encountered. As I hear music, again and again, things can and do slip through my straightforward enjoyment of the the music as a total unit….sometimes some of the really most amazing moments of a song’s words burrow in deep because for me they really are great. I can’t put my finger on what makes a truly great or memorable lyric any more than I can define a great or memorable song — and the two elements need not always be in sync, that greatness for both, for me to enjoy the song.

But perhaps, in this case, I can.

As they say, to be continued…

Posted in Life, Music. 2 Comments »

2 Responses to “A song of the year and its importance — part 1”

  1. EMP Pop Conference 2008 — starting gun fired « Ned Raggett Ponders It All Says:

    […] idea and it will involve VNV Nation’s “The Farthest Star,” as initially discussed here. This may mean more fragmentary discussion of said song in the future at best but I’ll […]

  2. Fern Says:

    So excited that I was able to get tickets to this show as well! I’m really looking forward to hearing them perform live. I love to feel the energy and the intensity of the performers that you just can’t seem to capture on any musical medium. Live music is always my prefered access point to new songs and bands. Thanks for turning me on to VNV Nation. They have such a wonderful blending of fantastic sound and meaningful lyrics that I long to hear in person. I’m sure it will be a night to remember :-)


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