Shineanthology’s Weblog

An anthology of optimistic, near future SF

Music that makes you feel optimistic, part 1

This is not as easy as it sounds when you, like me, are a metalhead. Heavy Metal and horrific gloom go together like, well, bacon & eggs. Or to quote the Peaceville sampler I got free with my latest Aardschok (Dutch heavy metal magazine) issue: “21 years of Doom, Death & Darkness”.

It’s almost the polar opposite of what I’m trying to do with SHINE. Nevertheless, not all hardrock and heavy metal is immensely downbeat (and yes, I do love me some gloomy metal, too: last Friday I went to Slayer — not exactly messengers of the optimistic — and greatly enjoyed it).

So here is some music that makes me feel better, that can lift me up from a downbeat mood. Actually, much more than I can mention in a single post, so like ‘The Grapevine’, I’m making a series of it.

Today’s examples come from a 7-pack of discs (I have a CD-player that can hold up to 7 CDs) that I’ve been playing when writing two of my last short stories. Four of those don’t qualify as upbeat, but three do (or at least qualify partly):

galactic-cowboys1

  • Galactic CowboysGalactic Cowboys: the phenomenal debut. The Galactic Cowboys have gone on to make several more albums, and while most of these are quite good, none really captured the magic of the eponymous debut. My brother dislikes their music, calling it a cross between heavy Slayer riffs and Beatlesesque choirs, which is exactly what makes me go YESSSS! Everything worked: the way each song is set up as an imaginary letter — with faux letterheads — in the CD booklet, the mix of cowboy cheer and let’s-go-to-space sensibility, the tight metal musicianship combined with the melodic four-way vocals (each band member sang). The album also has a great range: from the nostalgic “My School” to the sarcastic, hard-hitting “Kaptain Krude”, from the ironic, self-mocking “Why Can’t You Believe In Me” to the “Kill Floor” sledgehammer, from the bittersweet “Someone For Everyone” to the cheerful “Ranch On Mars Reprise”, from the brilliant opener “I’m Not Amused” to the mighty “Sea of Tranquility”, from the superb silliness of “Pump Up The Space Suit” to the almost pompous seriousness of “Speak To Me”. This is one hell of a feel good album. After all these years, I’m still not tired of it.

last-crack-my-burning-time

  • Last CrackBurning Time: this was one of those proverbial albums that were too much ahead of their time. Paul Schluter and Don Bakken were a unique guitar duo: each with a very distinct sound, but the sum of their interplay somehow became greater than the parts. Add to that Buddo’s intense, powerful vocals, mix with phenomenal songwriting and you have an album that brims over with both eclecticism and emotions. There is so much variety, passion and sheer intensity in this album: a classic by my reckoning. I also don’t ever have one favourite song: that just depends on my mood, the time of day, and dog knows what. If forced I’d probably say “Mini Toboggan”, but every time I think one song is the best, another one somewhow reveals new depths, and so on. It’s also an album so full of energy, it never fails to energise me: check out “My Burning Time”, “Kiss A the Cold”, and, well, any other song. A true masterpiece.

Death Angel -- Act III

  • Death AngelAct III: Death Angel began as a very young (IIRC the average age of the band members was 17 at the debut album The Ultra-Violence (another happy metal title, even if quoted from A Clockwork Orange…;-) and highly talented band, but their true promise began to manifest itself with Frolic Through The Park, and found its zenith in Act III. This should have been the breakthrough album, had it not been for an accident which left drummer Andy Galeon critically injured. It took him a year to recover, and by that time the momentum was gone, Geffen dropped the band, and they went on as The Organization. Changing a relatively well-established name is — both in an outside the music industry, just ask Andy Cox when he decided to change The Third Alternative into Black Static: the flak was incredible — very hard, and often commercial suicide. The Organization was not successful, and after various other side projects Death Angel reunited in 2001, and has released two albums — The Art of Dying and Killing Season — since. While I certainly like these latest two, and saw the band on tour, neither of them quite captures the brilliance of Act III. The most important songs on Act III — IMHO, of course — are the opener “A Seemingly Endless Time”, and especially both “Discontinued” and “Stagnant”. These songs hail of a band mired in a frustrating twilight zone: talentful enough to be noticed, but not big enough to make a living from their art. They beautifully capture — both with the highly accomplished, fast tempo-changing, mood-breaking music and the accomplished, almost poetic lyrics — the phase change between being mired in a status quo, seemingly unable to break free to that moment of forward movement, to the deciding event of making a change, and live with the (possibly scary) consequences. Enormously inspiring.

OK, people: these are just three examples from my viewpoint. I would really love to hear what music inpires you to feel better, music that can lift you up, change your mood from a downbeat to an upbeat one. Please don’t limit this to hardrock & heavy metal: these are just the music forms I’m most familiar with. Tell me what music fills you with hope!

UPDATE (via BoingBoing): according to the University of Maryland:

Research team concludes the cardiovascular benefits of music are similar to those found in their previous study of laughter

Or:

Listening to your favorite music may be good for your cardiovascular system. Researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore have shown for the first time that the emotions aroused by joyful music have a healthy effect on blood vessel function.

So there you go: music that makes you feel optimistic is good for you. Even better if you can laugh at the same time. Does this mean that Spinal Tap will become official medicine for metal fans with heart disease?

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