Through A Note Darkly: Like A Prayer, Kill The Moonlight, Unknown Pleasures

Through A Note Darkly is a weekly feature on in which contributor Chris Vill ranks and reflects on three albums he's heard a lot about, but has never heard in full before.

3. Spoon: Kill The Moonlight

Personal Favorite: "Jonathan Fisk" 

Summarizing Lyric: "Everything moves so fast I should know it won't last" off of "Someone Something"

Like the hands on the cover reaching out to something lost, the beauty that I know is in Kill The Moonlight slipped through my fingers. One reason is on my ears who have somehow grown very sensitive to certain sounds. I cringe when I hear someone whisper (ASMR is my hell), I leave rooms if I hear mouth noises, and while listening to this album I discovered that it hurts to hear a track with vocals panned all the way to one side of the mix. I don’t know why, this has never happened before, but one of the production quirks that makes this album great had my ears begging for mercy. But I kept listening because Spoon is great and knew the record would pay off in the end.

The album is rather empty musically, but a good, purposeful empty in that space was created for outside emotion to seep in and it did at times. “Jonathan Fisk,” made me feel like I was Fisk’s skinny prey rushing home on a bike to avoid losing another tooth to him, and the lyrics, “We go out in stormy weather. We rarely practice discern. We make love to ‘Some Weird Sin,’” on “The Way We Get By” helped me reach Stranger Things-levels of nostalgia, but I think that was the problem. I didn’t like Stranger Things very much because I thought it leaned on its 80s nostalgia too much. I wasn’t alive in the 80s (sorry, wasn’t my choice), so it didn’t click with me. Britt Daniel was a teenager in the 80s, so the nostalgia evoked in his lyrics didn’t quite grab me, a millennial who’s bike rides were replaced with hours upon hours of looking down at a phone, either. Oh well.

2. Madonna: Like A Prayer 

Personal Favorite: "Dear Jessie"

Summarizing Lyric: “The bruises they will fade away" off of "Till Death Do Us Part" 

Up until now, all I knew about Madonna was that Jim Broadbent covered “Like A Virgin” on Moulin Rouge! and that, well, bitch, she’s Madonna. I didn’t know why she was considered iconic, but everyone seemed to have respect for her as an influential artist so I figured I should get through at least one album to understand the phenomenon that was Madonna. I came in ready to hate, but “Like A Prayer” kicked the album off to a great start with a choir and guitar solos that give the song that “Bridge Over Troubled Water” element of epicness. Also, listening to Madonna equate the holy pleasure of prayer to the “sinful” act of sex through her influx of similes really had me second-guessing my initial dismissal of Madonna as someone who made songs purely for the spandex-wearing, perm-adoring people of her time. The next two songs–“Express Yourself” and “Love Song”–met my unfair expectations of Madonna, and I was ready to turn off the album because I didn’t want to rant about how much I hated something, but then the quirky intro to “Till Death Do Us Part” hit my ears. A few minutes later and I hear Madonna, the one who preached cliche “just love yourself” lyrics only a moment ago explore the idea of Stockholm Syndrome being perpetuated by marriage (“She's had enough, she says the end, but she'll come back, she knows it then, a chance to start it all again, till death do us part”) and from there I was under Madonna’s spell. I teared up inside during “Promise To Try,” bopped my head to “Cherish,” teared up inside even more to Madonna’s desperate attempt at reaching a world of “Pink elephants and lemonade” on “Dear Jessie” after having just gone through abusive relationships and the death of a parent, but what made me hit repeat was the final track. “Act of Contrition” is the album being rewound, Madonna seeing the mistakes, the struggles, the life she exposed on the record flash before her eyes, and in her final moments of life she confesses her sins only to find that there is no reservation for her up in heaven. The final lash out, “What do you mean it’s not in the computer!” had all the tears inside leak out; not out of sadness (although that definitely played a role), but because Madonna proved me wrong. I made her an underdog and she won, and I’m a sucker for underdog stories.

1. Joy Division: Unknown Pleasures

Personal Favorite: "Disorder"

Summarizing Lyric: "Guess you dreams always end/They don't rise up, just descend/But I don't care anymore" off of "Insight"

When I’m not attempting to broaden my musical horizons with this blog, I am seeking catharsis in sepulchral, lyrically poignant music. That seeking has led me to bands like Radiohead, Interpol, The Smiths, and a boatload of semi-guilty pleasures, and If you do enough Google searches of the aforementioned bands, Joy Division will pop up eventually. Most people would check them out and fall in love immediately, but not me. No, I’ve ignored them like an idiot until now, partly because my expectations were raised to a degree I felt the band couldn’t reach, mostly because I can be stupid and deprive myself of things I love for longer than necessary. 

Unknown Pleasures had me desperately reaching for its lips at Paul Morris and Peter Hook’s groovy introduction to “Disorder;” Martin Hannett’s production swoops, metallic birds flying through the song’s mix, had me saying “I love you;” and then Ian Curtis happened, the guide I had been waiting for to come take me by the hand and help me understand what Interpol called “those lonely parts” that so many possess, yet all feel alone in their possession of them. The iconic album cover, a black and white collection of cacophonous peaks and bone-deep valleys, perfectly matches the sound of the record as a fantastically sequenced collection of songs that can make you feel like you’re a go-go dancing mummy in the middle of a Scooby Doo chase scenes at one moment (“She’s Lost Control,” “Interzone”), and then make you start biting your pillow until it bleeds in the next, biting so you won’t feel like you’re the only one bleeding from an inner wound you didn’t know you had (“New Dawn Fades,” “I Remember Nothing”). Every lyric is an unnerving look at a man peeling himself from the world, and the suicide ending makes them all the more disturbing, but Ian Curtis’ fearlessness in presenting himself as he did left behind words for people that tend to struggle with “those lonely parts” to cling onto and find the needed catharsis in.

One Sentence Lesson: As John Green put it, "Pain demands to be felt," and whether that pain is the suburban type in Kill The Moonlight, the loss of faith in God, family, and relationships type in Like A Prayer, or the self-destructive type in Unknown Pleasures, it needs to be looked at reflected on before it can be bandaged, kept from turning your body into a walking scar looking for ways to erase itself from Mother Earth's face.