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flag Mare Smythii - Full Moon 77 - 01/18/03

New Year
New Hope for Lifesaving Sound

I'm not talking literally here - of course, most people who read this site are from developed countries in Europe, or perhaps from the States, or even further afield. Music is rarely (ever?) a matter of life and death. It's more that when you're staring down winter's dark barrel, and the new year seems like it's just going to be a repetition of all the worst bits of the last 12 months, music provides an alternative rhythm to your own measly heartbeat.

The end of year polls for 2002 haven't produced too many surprises: the Lips, Wilco, Boards of Canada, Trail of Dead, Sonic Youth. But one album that I didn't know that has really shone for me is Turn On The Bright Lights by Interpol.

I only bought the CD because Pitchfork voted it number one. The Luna Kafe review was brief and fairly dismissive, focusing upon the hype and the influences, saying that the record simply doesn't transcend its weighty precursors. Fuck it: I think it's an excellent record. It may not be my absolute favourite record of 2002, but it's definitely up there, so I thank Pitchfork, and Matt Le May's review of the Interpol live spectacle, for persuading me to overlook all the bullshit and just listen to the music.

I started to get into rock music when I was 16. It was 1993. The record was Siamese Dream by the Smashing Pumpkins. (I've told this story before, but it's relevant, so bear with me . . .) At that time in my life it didn't matter what kind of day I'd had, all I had to do was put on Siamese Dream and I would be lifted into a glorious, furious, expressive, dreamy world of roaring, heaven-bound guitar music. Since that record I've spent plenty of time dabbling with other genres - what self-respecting music fan hasn't? But over the course of the last 10 years, you can bet that the records that really blow me away are created with guitars.

Turn On The Bright Lights was created from basic, familiar ingredients: a reverb-laden, lightly distorted electric, enormous basslines, thumping drums, and a man moaning about his life. It sounds a bit like Joy Division, a bit like Kitchens of Distinction (which is a good thing - I don't care what anyone else says), a bit like The Cure, and a bit like early U2. In fact, it doesn't really sound right for 2002. While all the tedious 'The' bands are busy ripping off garage rock and metal with the kind of studied, self-conscious arrogance that you can't help but ignore them, Interpol resurrect that golden era of indie when men wore black and created massive, doomy songs, full of self-loathing yet shot through with an unshakeable faith in some kind of salvation.

This record has meant more to me than any other recently because I nearly broke up with my girlfriend. We've been together for a year, and nearly broken up several times before, but over the new year period we've been so close to breaking up for good that it's been excruciating. The kind of distance opened up between us where we were both sorely tempted to run into the open space, free and able to start anew. But we didn't. We stayed together because we love each other.

In those times of darkness it's no good listening to anything overtly upbeat: it's too much of a contrast and makes you feel like a morose twat. Instead you need something that makes you welcome in your despair, comfortable in the sadness . . . but able to rise, phoenix-like from the flames. Turn On The Bright Lights is my little something. I appreciate my girlfriend so much more. I realise how foolish I've been. And I've got another great record in my collection.

And this month there will be new records by Jim O'Rourke (with Jeff Tweedy and Glenn Kotche) as Loose Fur, Will Oldham and The Sea and Cake. Roll on 2003!

Copyright © 2003 Tim Clarke e-mail address

You may also want to check out our New Year articles/reviews: The End Is Near, The New Year.

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