Through A Note Darkly is a weekly feature on thegreatalbums.com in which contributor Chris Villalta searches for lessons in an album he's heard a lot about, but has never heard in full before
1. X: Los Angeles
Personal Favorite: "Nausea"
Summarizing Lyric: "Take it like a man" ("The World’s A Mess It’s In My Kiss”)
Every hug is disingenuous, every curvaceous smile flattens into a determined horizon, every personality is infected with hunger for stardom–L.A. is a lovely place. My adoration for the city wasn’t realized until I left and landed in idle San Francisco, where some hugs are genuine, some smiles flatten in defeat, and some personalities are looking for fame. The some-ness of San Francisco allows for genius to tower over the average, which explains how vertical the city is. Buildings seem to be competing for who can be the tallest, a competition made possible by those at the bottom being okay with being stepped on. Whether it be half-baked startups giving another step for Twitter HQ to take and get taller or half-baked comics making the good ones seems great or half-baked individuals okay with living the now extinct 60s lifestyle, there are people in San Francisco okay with being a stepping stone. In L.A., everyone’s looking to be the one taking the step, which explains how expansive the city is. San Francisco has distinct borders while L.A. is in many ways the Earth’s internal sun. Everything revolves around the city, whether it be other cities trying to beat L.A. with amusement parks and nightclubs (Anaheim, Burbank), suburbs which trying to beat it with film studios (Valencia), or the world so heavily influenced by L.A.’s number one export, entertainment. Los Angeles grows horizontally, leaking into every mind until all of the world becomes a lesser copy of it. To want the world to be a copy of you is to have little empathy for others, is to not want others to exist. This lack of empathy and encouragement of selfishness is why one friend, like so many others might, responded to my question of “Why not move to L.A.” with “It seems pretty depressing out there. A bunch of cannibals willing to eat their own skin if it’ll get them time under a spotlight,” it’s partly why I left, but now it’s the part I miss the most.
In a city where nobody wants to be stepped on, competition is intense. People are selling the best selves they could possibly sell, churning out the best jokes, songs, monologues, everything because there’s unspoken knowledge of the guy you call your friend reaching for the same influence over the world. And competition leads to some of the best art. Sure, The Band were buds making good music, but look at what happens when there are combating egos in a band: Page vs. Plant, Slash vs. Axl, Dave Mustaine vs. Metallica/Marty Friedman, Cuomo vs. Sharp. Competition leads to rage, and when rage is structured properly: Los Angeles. X’s record was in competition with its punk neighbors, rockabilly roots, and pop music. To be considered one of the best of all three, X had to be hungry, had to be ready to light themselves on fire and gather people around to listen and that they did. The album has songs with rockabilly chords played with the ferocity of punk and packed into the tight verse chorus verse song structure expected to leak from radios. On the occasion verse chorus verse was not followed, hooks were there, keeping people listening because the album needs to be listened to.
The need to be seen is often described as ugly. It leads to attempts at being seen and the trend in modern hipster culture is to consider trying hard as a weakness. You’re supposed to be you onstage all the time, but if L.A. teaches one anything it’s that “you” is not profitable, people want “You.” “You” puts on a show, but does not lose the core of who they are in the process. Los Angeles does this perfectly with its refusal to seek pitch perfect vocalists who’ll have less dissonant harmonies while having impeccably structured songs. The hooks are there, but they do not pander. Panderers do make it in L.A., but if this record pandered it would’ve died with the 80s and never entered my ears. The record hates L.A., hates the poverty, pandering, self-obsession, rape it promotes, but unlike I and so many others who leave, the record realized there are no angels in L.A., “there are devils in many ways,” but it took L.A.’s bullshit “like a man” and attacked L.A. from the inside to show it could be destroyed with its own weapons of catchy songs and profitable youth (“The World’s A Mess It’s In My Kiss”).