Songs that got me into music

Songs that got me into music: Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, 1st movement

 

The local Target used to have these panels where you clicked album art images to preview their CD. 10-year-old me went for the pretty-looking ‘landscape’ photos every time, which led to something called Beethoven’s Moonlight

So this downbeat piano faded in and hypnotized me. It had such a unique mood: teetering in and out of a shadowy dirge, relaxed but deep in thought. Like night-time, it’s shrouded in mystery but not inherently ‘evil’. Moonlight is antique mansion music, something a ghost pianist would play as everyone sleeps. Or maybe it’s a balcony’s view of the night sky. Somehow this movement suggests so much in a simple waltz rhythm.

Following my obsession for the melodic piano pieces in ‘creepier’ Nancy Drew games, this was the next root of my interest in gothic music (what with my  blog having ‘Moons’ in the name). Playing the CD often, I thought I’d be a ‘classical person’. As you might guess, I was quick to change course, but I regain that curiosity now and then. I just wish I knew more pieces like this one.

Years later I’d find a great synth version by cult library/TV composer Alan Hawkshaw.

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Songs that got me into music

Songs that got me into music: Kevin Manthei – Nancy Drew original theme, 1999

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Listening to full albums was beyond my patience as a 7-year-old, but I’d hum what I heard in my video games obsessively. Most often, these were songs from HerInteractive’s Nancy Drew PC games, based on the teen mystery novels dating back to 1930. Nancy’s detective formula was a perfect match for the story-centered point-and-click genre, resulting in a refined alternative to the chaos of action games. My fondness of the ND music predated almost all of my other early musical interests; I’ve enjoyed plenty of ‘canon’ VGM since then, but I still think this music deserved higher recognition.

Kevin Manthei, a relative unknown beyond a few TV themes, made the first 25 (!) soundtracks. His melodies stuck with me for years and I revisit them regularly to this day. Every game had a different setting, so Manthei tackled anything that fit. He’d go from springy pseudo-classical to circus music and French lounge but he retained his strong melodic sense throughout the whole series. I discovered several of my favorite sounds through this, like vibraphone, cello and hammered dulcimer.

This striking theme song packs danger, intrigue, drama, a hint of sadness and (of course) mystery into a single minute. With it’s multi-shaded mood, elegant styling and that old-software-game warmth, it well-represents the unique spirit of the early ND games.

I plan to make a proper post/list about ND music in the future – until then, you can hear more at this Youtube channel.

Anniversary · Songs that got me into music

Songs that got me into music: Yeah Yeah Yeahs – “Zero” (It’s Blitz!, 2009)

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Part of a new series where I look back at the formative songs that made me obsessed with music in the first place. The next entries will have a more chronological order.

My first memory of Yeah Yeah Yeahs is when I saw the iconic video for “Zero”, voted by Spin and NME as song of the year. It was a fresh, exciting, neon-lit burst of energy; the tempo and lyrics imploring to ‘climb, climb, climb’. The contrast of mellow cool with exhilarating heights was key to the appeal of the It’s Blitz! album itself. It’s been close to a decade since I overheard my older siblings play the CD, yet somehow it’s just as great as I remember hearing it again now.

It’s Blitz! is an album of twin strengths; an ideal blend of a punk/rock base with electronic flourishes. Uproarious synth-rock fusions take turns with rich, idyllic ballads. Each of the ten songs have their twists, adding up to one of the most well-rounded albums I know. “Soft Shock” shows this duality best in both its music and title: electric but therapeutic, it’s a lullaby with a groove; while “Runaway” is an ambitious pseudo-gothic ballad going from soft, lonely piano to a thundering string peak. Some uptempo songs even invert this pattern, like “Heads Will Roll” with its murky ‘Shut your eyes / you realize’ interlude or “Dull Life”’s haunting guitar shifting into a bold and determined chorus.

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Every member added something distinct; Karen O balanced grit with tenderness more seamlessly than ever, Nick Zinner blended his guitar fuzz with a host of sleek, icy synths and Brian’s drumming added thrilling momentum. The synths brought fresh twists to their sound and helped build on the balladry “Maps” did so well.

Something about It’s Blitz! sounds all this time later, even if it makes such a great time capsule. Maybe it’s the less obvious execution of the electro-pop influence: while I can enjoy most forms of this, including the kind synthwave that lives and breathes flashy eighties kitsch, It’s Blitz! doesn’t sound that ‘eighties’ to me in the end. I don’t know if it’s the critics overstating on the mere fact they dared to include synths (as expected for critics of the time + guitar snobs in general) or the sheer personality of the album.

Ten years on I’ve realized how much It’s Blitz! influenced my taste: the love of synths, fierce rhythms, genuine attitude, mixing beauty with distortion. While their debut remains incredible, it sometimes overshadows the accomplishment of their third album. With today being its tenth anniversary, It’s Blitz! is overdue for celebration.