let’s be honest. This column’s inherently self-indulgent. But that’s the nature of the beast. Simon Reynolds wrote in Rip It Up and Start Again of how the advent of the walkman (cum-Discman) for the first time really allowed people to soundtrack their own work-a-days. A Week in the Musical Life takes that logic a step further. It’s an attempt to trace our aural crutches through an average week. This is all normal; it’s unexciting. That’s its potency.

In many ways, A Week in the Musical Life is a columnist’s tribal hymn put into type: all of the trivial shredding that passes through our ears every week and informs our moods and our daily minutiae. This is a stream-of-consciousness squeal through our private inanities: tasks, thoughts, encounters, etc. Making epic soundstories out of crude details, we all musictrack our days. We’re audiophiles. We need music to push us beyond, to swell our intrinsic merit. It’s a revolving obsession, and one that’s often as dizzying as it is monotonous. It’s why you’ve html’d Stylus on this stewed late-summer day, and it’s why I’ll notate everything I’ve heard for an entire week to present to you. Sure, it’s narcissistic. But for those of us bound to share everything we hear, it’s just another call against the tedium of silence.

My week began in fits more than starts. I awoke Monday to the stewed heat of Minneapolis’ hottest summer since the late eighties (yes, it gets hot up here, as soon as the snow melts in mid-July). The sky was already swelling into its deep swamp-egg blue. No relief in sight. The air was thick and dank by the time I even left for work.

I’m a man of habit. Each day has its recurring themes, its stopping points for music and sheer inert pleasures. I make great ritual out of picking out my drive-in record for the morning. I’m really particular about mood and weather music, and I pick out a day’s worth of music for my small Case Logic each morning before leaving. The crux of that selection is the records I’ll listen to as I drive in and drive home, making my slow city crawl to the University at which I work. This day, feeling the cool Monday sludge to come, I chose the Junior Boys’ Last Exit. Its icy tech-rhythms and polar synth lines picked to cool down the morning.

Of course, most of the day’s music gets played on the small Sony bookshelf system in my office. While I proofread scientific papers and create images for my day job, my little Sony is on a constant burn. I rarely choose anything too distracting, anything that might poke through my work. Now, that doesn’t preclude the volume; many a strange, open-eyed stare’s been issued for playing Abba’s Arrival at stadium-volume. Monday, I sorted through Donna Summer’s I Remember Yesterday, with its gorgeous Moroder-produced climax “I Feel Love”; ELO’s forgotten mid-late-era classic A New World Record; my favorite Can record, Ege Bamyasi, its tattered rhythmic shroud covering my skinny-poor man’s lunch of Chili-flavored ramen; and My Morning Jacket’s Z, bound to disappoint both fans and critics alike.

Driving home late that afternoon, with the post-noon heat simmering downtown Minneapolis’ blacktop, I decided to jog to my favorite Missy record, Miss E. . .So Addictive. With a heat warning out for the city, the concrete seemed to swallow the heat whole and breathe it out hotter and more damaging than on receipt. The horizon, a deep smudge of smog and haze, smothered the skyline in thick, foul air.

I drove in to Out Hud’s glorious synth-funk Let’s Never Speak of It Again. Hennepin Avenue, the main theater drag in Minneapolis, was puddled with the night’s lost rain. There was no welcoming break from the heat. The rain failed us.

The work-day settled in, another blank canvas already filled to frame by habit and task. I slurped morning coffee to Sigur Ros’ Takk, an album that sounds amazingly refreshing and nuanced after ( ). It’s sort of the ideal morning-starter, wall-papered enough to focus on matters at hand and compelling enough for sporadic distractions. I played through a comp of LCD Soundsystem b-sides, Black Mountain’s self-titled debut, Panda Bear’s Young Prayer, and DangerDoom’s The Mouse and the Mask, probably the best hip-hop record I’ve heard this year in what’s, by and large, been a pretty slow year for the genre.

The jog’s a time for escapism and contemplation. It allows a pretty intense consideration of the album on the headphones. Typically, I select something I’m not that familiar with, maybe even something I’ll be reviewing soon, as there’s little separation between you and the record at hand. I jog along an unused train track that slips down Minneapolis’ skyfront towards the Mississippi, a barren stretch of land as remarkable for its faded camp-outs for the homeless and garbage dumps as for its stark, post-human emptiness. I pass maybe five people any given day.

There’s an annihilative quality to it I can’t help but admire. I see bad Van Damme films in its weedy simmer. It allows its own disabilities and vacant prohibitions to fade, at least as compared to my headphoned solitude. I pass professional bikers bent down slow to their handlebars, and geriatrics fighting their slow blood-bone-fade. On this day, I chose Annie’s Anniemal, and again marveled at the magnetic stir of America’s IT-underground. Sure, it’s another sensual outpost for the other, produced and marketed for those still uncomfortable with known and thereby overground names, the Stefani’s and the Beyonce’s. Grand mal producers and a bright Scandinavian blonde to boot. But after those first four tracks, it’s a stern bore. I cycled back and finished my jog to “Chewing Gum.”

For an audiophile so driven by rhythm and circumstance, Wednesday was a still gap of arrhythmia. My Mom had a hysterectomy, and it cast a strange gummy quality over everything I listened to that day. I tried to lose track of it all with The Strokes’ Room on Fire as I drove in, but it didn’t hold. Appropriately, the morning went slack and grey. The weather clammed close. I gave into melancholia, playing a comp of Elbow’s b-sides and The Mobius Band’s City vs. Country EP. I zoned out to my impending divorce, and my Mom, three buildings over, under heavy sedation. Work faded, and I faded in turn. Guy Garvey’s gritty falsetto almost brought me to tears, and I had to switch veins.

I tried to stir myself. I put in my favorite Iggy Pop disc, The Idiot, and overcame my soggy mood with Bowie’s prodding. Bo Diddley and Company was next, and it pulled me up again; the presumptive power of the blues. After Animal Collective’s Feels got me all Aoxomoxoa, a patched-up summer’s fit of sound and drugged purple bliss, I stayed as cool and calm as I could with Serge’s Vue De L’Exterieur.

I visited my Mom at the hospital that afternoon. Ashen and deep-calm, she looked like every hour passed in the neon-white sterility had drained a pint of blood. But she was alive and well; the surgery was slightly longer than anticipated, and more complicated, but she was fine. I mean, girl wasn’t making no sense! She was nirvana-deep on morphine and lack of food, but it was good to see her. I stashed my Discman away in my shoulder-bag.

An overnight storm spread leaves and garbage through the streets. The heat broke, finally, and as I got into my car that morning, you could feel fall’s approach. I drove in to the freezer-love of Stellastarr’s Harmonies for the Haunted. The trees were full, and the sky still pouting with sparse summer clouds, but the symmetry behind the music and the oncoming cool was undeniable.

The office in which I work is on the edge of an old University outpost. When the heat comes, it takes a few days for the central air conditioning to catch up. As the cold creeps in, you might as well wear mittens at the keyboard before the heater swells. This day, on the cusp of a rapid cool-off, the air was almost blue. I warmed my morning coffee to Donovan’s Barabajagal, Grandaddy’s intriguing Excerpts from the Diary of Todd Zilla EP, and Aretha’s Young, Gifted and Black.

After a quick pauper’s lunch (oh the reheated pizza), I took my first, and last, listen to DCFC’s Plans. Why I felt like I needed to hear it, so underwhelmed by previous associations with the band, is an Achilles I won’t address. I ended the afternoon with Steely Dan’s last valuable effort, Aja, short on the heels of explaining to fellow Stylus editor Todd Hutlock just how important the schmaltzy blue-eyed jazzsoul of Steely was in holding down the fort for rock in the late-seventies. He said I’d have to burn him a comp and prove it to him. Damn fool.

Friday. Music’s almost unnecessary. Almost. I drove into work with Ghostface’s The Pretty Toney Album. After a short lay-off, it began to sizzle again outside.

Once in the office, I started a pot of coffee and settled in to my morning e-mails with another listen to Animal Collective’s Feels. Though only a recent convert to the band (I came around with Sung Tongs), I can’t get this one out of my head. Its textured fire-pit swan-songing seems fit for every mood, for every time and place. Those swirling tales done, I kept it calm, if a tad sparkly, with Kraftwerk’s Autobahn and Abba’s Abba from 1975. The dancey glam-rock of Datarock, and especially their alternate-universe smash “I Used to Dance with My Daddy,” picked things up after lunch, and soon, as the day turned to its end, I put on Superpitcher’s Today mix and The Rapture’s pre-DFA-dominated Out of the Races and Onto the Tracks EP.

Jogging that afternoon to Cee-Lo Green is the Soul Machine, I marveled at the late Friday afternoon calm. I had friends coming over to my place downtown. Saturday was to be my high school’s Ten Year Anniversary. It’s impossible that much time has passed. As always, I would avoid the ceremony itself, but I expected to see several people in town for the event. With a useless tint of nostalgia and senseless mourning—cheap sentiments formed for their own sake, completely undesired and unnecessary, just more time and change—I turned later that evening, waiting for friends to arrive and reading Saul Bellow’s Herzog, to the voiceless pummel of both Vitalic and Isolee.

I woke up late on Saturday. Obvious reasons. It felt like September, and I felt like shit. I put !!!’s debut album on the headphones and went for a jog, trying to scrape myself clean of the previous night. I went through Loring Park, families bunched four-deep on small blankets and lovers crouched against the backs of trees, and continued through the Walker Art Center’s statue garden. !!!’s pulsating rhythms made everything move through calm frames. The passing scenes, shut out of range by headphones, were out of step with the beat of my movement. Motion seemed fragmented and still-born, without goal or grace.

I’ll admit. I was a lazy bastard all day. I loaded the stereo with a slew of comfort-food favorites: Bobby Womack’s Communication, Aretha’s Spirit in the Dark, Sibelius’s 2nd Symphony, and Ferenc’s Fraximal. Then, I gave myself over completely for the rest of the afternoon to Bellow and his crippled hero, Herzog. I could read the first fifteen pages of that book in a blue-streak the rest of my life. Bellow himself had aged from his Augie March days, and in the process twisted himself into someone sharper, more shrewd, but colder. The hours stuttered past through the day, and before I knew it, I loaded up Kid A for the car ride down to my parents.

We have sort of a standing date for Indian dinners early Saturday evening. My Mom clearly wasn’t feeling the spicy lamb vindaloo this evening, so she had Thai spring-rolls. My Dad and I feasted on our usual Indian fare. Glasses of red wine followed, flowed freely, and I was on my way back downtown. I started Kid A over, turned it up far too loud, and felt the cold sterile cruelties of its sub-basslines and sharp beats. Not exactly Saturday night music, no. But I wasn’t in synch with Saturday. It felt like a Sunday to me. I hate Sundays. They feel like an end. Still tired from the night before, I didn’t have the energy to devote to any more music. I’m sure you know the feeling. Maybe after reading this, you know the feeling more than ever. Either way, I shut the stereo off, turned the TV on, voided and quiet, and was content, for that dark turn of hours, to forget everything that passed through my head this week.

By: Derek Miller
Published on: 2005-08-15
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