05 August, 2008

In Defense of Gothic Architecture

In 2003 and 2005, Apollo Sunshine released themed albums. They weren't concept albums per se, but both Katonah and Apollo Sunshine had tying threads running through their songs.

Katonah was experimental and playful, a bit psychedelic, and undeniably original. All of the songs were well-written, capturing different emotional manifestations of the same feelings. "Fear of Heights" propels the listeners forward and in the direction of their dreams, but discusses the pain that results in watching the people around you refuse to fly, refuse even to try, and instead stay firmly planted on the ground. It's followed by "I Was On the Moon", an ode to siblings and to family with a bittersweet dose of regret at the prospect of moving into adulthood. "The Egg" discusses sexuality, and that uncomfortable place between childhood and adulthood; while "Sheets With Stars" takes on the other half of the difficult relationship equation: emotions. These are the highlights of Katonah, and you can probably see a theme peaking through the guitar solos. Katonah is about all of the fears and excitements that go along with growing up.

Apollo Sunshine was a little less delineated, but there are still themes to find, if you some careful listening. Musically, the album separates itself from the pure phantasmagoria of Katonah, moving closer to the country rock of the Band and Creedence Clearwater Revival. "Flip!" is about being transported to "the other side of the world", while "Ghost" is an eerie exploration of an out of body experience. Both of these songs are actually just great metaphors for shifts in mental and physical reality, and both explore in greater depth the loneliness and uncertainty that were so prominent on "Fear of Heights. "A Finger Pointing At the Moon" is a little interlude whose lyrics I will copy here:

What we think is
less than we know.
What we know is
less than we LOVE.
What we love is
so much less than
what there is,
We are so much less
than what we are.
Words are simply
a finger pointing
at the moon,
They’re so far away
and so out of tune.

You can see that it states clearly the inability of words to perfectly capture feelings, but this revelation doesn't seem to lead to frustration. Instead I think it flows neatly into the realization that most important things are uncertain. You aren't ever on stable ground, and the only constant is change. "Phoney Marony" and "Today Is The Day" are about capturing the spontaneity of a moment; while "Eyes" centers around regrets and the importance of following through with your feelings. "Phone Sex" is about relationships that have gone stale because of miscommunication, and "Magnolia" dances all around the discomfort that comes from returning "home" after making your home somewhere else. Apollo Sunshine continues many of the themes on Katonah, but discusses them from a different mindset, and a more mature perspective.

Today, Apollo Sunshine released Shall Noise Upon, which looks to be the most epic of their albums. At sixteen songs it's the longest album released by Apollo Sunshine, and with a quick listen it sounds like it's the most musically varied. I'm not going to break down the songs for you (today), because I feel like Apollo Sunshine's albums benefit from listening time. Many of the nuances of the songs are only experienced after many listens.

Apollo Sunshine are creating tonal puzzles, and it would be inconsiderate of me to try to review the album after only a cursory listen. Instead, I will give my lovely readers something to think about, and hopefully I will explain my post title a little bit.

The title is a small homage to the architect John Ruskin who believed that Gothic architecture was the embodiment of the purest emotional feeling in architecture. In his mind it was the epitome of architecture as art. Where the Greek and Roman arches were wishy-washy, Gothic arches were absolute and unyielding. The often monstrous decorations on the Gothic structures were viewed by Ruskin as the purest expression of freedom by the craftsmen. Many architects believe that beauty in the many forms of architecture is expressed when the artist perfectly adheres to the prescribed form, and with this in mind architects often argue that Gothic architecture is crude and simplistic. Ruskin believed that the true beauty of Gothic architecture lies in its variety and the creativity expressed with raw, harsh, and often wonderfully human (flawed) designs. As I clicked through the songs on Shall Noise Upon, I couldn't help but think of Ruskin and his Gothic architecture. Some people will argue that Apollo Sunshine's music has become less stream-lined on this new album, and they're correct, but this doesn't mean that the music is any less poignant or layered. Instead, I think the band has reached a new level of freedom of expression, one that is uninhibited by adherence to genre or structure. Shall Noise Upon is raw like the best Gothic architecture.

No comments: