Monday, June 23, 2014

Taking Back Sunday's new album is the soundtrack to transition

There are particular albums that represent certain eras, relationships, and milestones. You hear a song and things that happened decades before come flooding back. Driving to Queens University for my first day as a graduate student three weeks ago I popped Taking Back Sunday’s new album "Happiness Is" into my cd player. Winding my way through the back roads of Myers Park that week, I fell in love with the album. By the third morning I was singing along with "Flicker Flicker Fade" and "Better Homes and Gardens" with no desire to listen to anything else that week.

Coincidentally Taking Back Sunday (which includes Charlotte transplants Adam Lazzara and John Nolan) just announced its return to the Fillmore October 8. Tickets went on sale Friday. I hope they play a lot of this album. 

I knew mid-week that "Happiness Is" would forever be tied to the experience of going back to school; stepping on campus after 16 years away from Queens, and diving headlong into an intense MFA creative writing program that I’d waffled about even applying to for years and was sort of floored that I actually got into (my acceptance came within days of mailing my application package, which added to the shock). 

But “Happiness Is” is about transitions, maturity, looking back and moving on. On "Flicker Flicker Fade" Lazzara sings "Destroy what you create," which could be an unintentional description of a creative writing workshop where your peers and professors talk about your work for what seems like forever. It's exhausting. It's the process of tearing down and rebuilding for the better. I hear some of those same themes on this record. 

I don't know exactly what TBS is writing about, but I get a sense from interviewing Nolan and Lazzara that we're in similar places in our lives. They're a few years younger, but they're both parents of young children negotiating married life and work (which isn't your typical nine to five lifestyle) in their thirties. Maybe that's why this album resonates with me. 

"Happiness Is" and Damon Albarn's "Everyday Robots" are my summer albums. That realization made me think about other albums that I associate with transitional points in life. Hoyt Axton, Ricky Skaggs' early solo albums, and Hank Williams, Jr. remind me of the summer my father lost his job. We cruised through the mountains of WV with the windows down, hiked through state parks with our dogs and swam in the Greenbrier River. 

For decades Metallica was unfortunately attached to my first boyfriend (I could hardly listen to them), while I remember other bands (the Accused, Gwar, Biohazard) more fondly because they're associated with better boyfriends. 

Rainer Maria’s "Look Now Look Again" reminds me of working at the East Blvd. Record Exchange right after college. Jack Off Jill’s "Clear Hearts Grey Flowers," and the Donnas' "Turn 21" remind me of the six months I spent in Phoenix. I remember painting my house to The National's "Alligator" and Nelly Furtado's "Loose" the first year I was married. 

Going back to Queens is like coming full circle though. As I was smiling for my new student ID I recalled my first - long fake fire engine red hair, parted down the middle and a Breeders t-shirt I got at Lollapalooza in Pittsburgh. That shirt is long gone, but the girl who tied so much weight to the music she surrounded herself with is obviously still here.