Album Swap with Ms. Tully


Photo Credit: Ms. Tully

Two music fanatics. Two epic albums. One awesome swap.

I traded my copy of Crystal Castles’ album “Crystal Castles” with Ms. Tully for her copy of Neko Case’s album “The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You.”

Here is what I thought of “The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You:”

I turned this album on while I was making a morning commute to school on the Metra. Half-asleep from waking up at six in the morning and grouchy because I had to get on a train within thirty minutes of waking up, I turned off the album after the first song.

Luckily, I took another listen to the album on a Sunday that I had to myself and I really enjoyed it.

The first song, “Wild Creatures” did not stand out to me in any particular way, which was my initial reasoning for turning the album off. However, as I listened on, the second song, “Night Still Comes,” blew me away. Neko Case’s lyricism is what makes her music so special. The instruments were nothing extremely impressive or different from other Americana/Indie Rock music, but her sophisticated voice singing poetry is impressive and different from others.

As I progressed through the album, I enjoyed the American songwriter’s poignant lyrics. In every song, she told a story directly through her words. Given that every song’s lyrics are important, I found it hard to pay attention to the words of each song.

The sixth song, “Nearly Midnight, Honolulu,” was composed of voice alone, and was one of the strongest songs of the album. Reflecting on her relationship with her mother, no music or deep listening was needed to hear the emotional response Neko Case had to her experience.

As I listened on and on, I enjoyed the varied use of the acoustic guitar, but Neko Case’s voice always overpowered everything else being recorded.

I would definitely listen to this album again, except I would take out the first song. It is true that people judge a book by its cover. Likewise, listeners with judge an album by its first song.

Here is what Ms. Tully thought of “Crystal Castles:”

I just met Regina Trejo at the start of the semester, and already she’s trying to change my mind about music. Thankfully, she knows I’m a busy lady, and that my precious time is packed full of papers to grade, lunches to make, and socks to fold—as glamorous a set of activities as ever there was. So, I appreciate that she asked me to listen to an album without distracting melodies or catchy lyrics.

The electronica album “Crystal Castles”—which is nothing close to what’s in my normal paper-grading lunch-making sock-folding listening rotation—is meant to fill the air while one does other things, and this background music accompanied me and my boring chores, on and off, for a week and a half.

I admit that I was judgmental at first. Mostly, I was incredibly turned off by track two, with a person named Alice screaming at me. I have an eight-year-old daughter named Alice, and I don’t like to be screamed at by her, so why should I let this Weird Alice scream at me?

Indeed, my least favorite parts of this album are when the vocals of this particular singer take center stage. I’m sorry to say that “Alice Practice” (track two) sounds like someone getting really frustrated while playing Miss Pacman. I sympathize, but I don’t want to have to listen to it. However, I persevered.

The third time that I listened to this album, I was actually folding socks. My own Alice (afore-mentioned eight-year-old) came in and started moving her head back and forth to the song “Magic Spells.” (Did Alice help fold the socks? No. She did not.) I began to really listen this time around, and started to assess each song individually.

“Courtship Dating” I found to be danceable, as did Alice, who continued to not fold the socks. “Crimewave” gave me a robot-alien vibe, but rather than be terrified that the aliens were coming for me, I found it oddly soothing. Alice agreed, and said it reminded her of floating in Lake Superior, which “always calms” her. (“Why do you need calming?” I asked, and invited her to fold some socks.)

Instead, she decided to pitch in on my review and had this to say about “Good Time,” “Vanished,” and “Knights,” respectively:

“It makes me think about the things people do in the ocean and what good times they have.”

And “This one makes me feel like I’m in the dark. It also makes me feel like I’m watching Harry Potter.”

And “I’m on a roller coaster in a tornado.”

Alice and I agreed that “Tell Me” is more sunny and upbeat than the other songs. It downplays the vocals of Weird Alice, as she whispers alongside an acoustic guitar. (This is of course a relief after all the screaming.)

The song which truly turned me around from skepticism to enjoyment, however was “Air War.” There’s a progression to this song, as instruments, vocals and whatever else intentionally accumulate. We’ve actually talked a lot in Creative Writing class recently (where I met Trejo) about how we find stories/narratives everywhere, and my experience with “Air War” is a perfect example of that.

This bizarre little song, without any discernible lyrics, tells a story. While listening, I imagine a futuristic corporate office where everyone wears white and punches codes into machines. Wow. Where’d that come from? There’s a claustrophobia that comes with all this sonic piling on, which is the intention of Crystal Castles. By the end of “Air War,” the mood changes as obscure vocals pick up and the keyboard becomes increasingly melodic. Here, I imagine the liberation of the office workers. How did Crystal Castles create a narrative out of all of these weird sounds?

I liked Crystal Castles very much in the end. Maybe it was my Alice. Maybe it was the sock-folding, which in my old age I find soothing. (Is this why she refused to fold? Because she knows I sort of like it? Do not give her this credit.) Or maybe I was won over by the ability of these artists to tell stories and set mood through music that had, until now, been foreign to me. My thanks to both Alices and to Trejo for giving me a reason to listen.