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Qualler Visits the Classics: Interpol, "Turn On The Bright Lights"

This is the first in a series of posts about the ten albums that have meant the most to me in the 00's (or is it aughts? When are we going to get this past decade down to an easy-to-remember catchphrase?) Not meant to be a "these are the greatest albums of the decade" type of list, I intend to write about the ten albums of the past decade that have meant the most to me personally. Yep, how emo. And yes, the decade isn't technically over yet, but I like any excuse for a list.

It's easy to forget now that an album like Interpol's 2002 debut Turn On the Bright Lights was seen as something of a groundbreaker, a return to the kind of reverb-filled guitars that were so prevalent in the 80s with The Smiths, The Cure, Joy Division, etc. But there's no doubt that when the album came out, it was cool. Very, very cool. Pitchfork was all over it, declaring it a Best New Music entry immediately. These dudes wore leather jackets and mumbled a lot. And for a college sophomore who was at the time more into the emotional heart-on-your-sleeve Jimmy Eat World / Get Up Kids scene, the idea of dudes who were cool playing music was somewhat foreign and exciting.

The first time I heard a strand of this album was when I downloaded the demo version of the now-seminal-since-it's-on-Rock Band 2 "PDA" onto my computer, which I converted to audio CD, which I (somehow) recorded onto a cassette tape. (iPods were still new and I was a poor college student. Give me a break.) One day, I was going for a run across the pedestrian level of the Washingotn Avenue bridge, early evening, October, 2002, cool breeze blowing against my face, and the bottom dropped out of the song, revealing only the chiming, strumming guitars playing with each other. I think I actually stopped running to take it all in; that this super-cool band had the audacity to stop a song in its tracks and reveal the lonely strands of heavily-reverbed guitars. Whoa, I thought. This can be emo, too.

And it's true -- while this album is no doubt a hip album, it's also stark in its emotional content. Opening track "Untitled" opens with chiming reverb-heavy guitars that scream of the loneliness of living in a city alone, while the slow-moving dreamlike echoes of “NYC” introduced me to the feeling of riding the subway in the city and feeling totally alone. "Obstacle 1" and "Stella Was a Diver But She Was Always Down" were also the perfect rockers that I could listen to on my headphones and get that feeling of killing two birds with one stone (a trippy headphone experience and that intense "rockin'" feeling.) Though there are many like-sounding albums that came out not long after this one came out, the experience of listening to this album transcends the superficial "cool" vibe.

Though later albums by Interpol wouldn't come close to the songwriting heights of their debut (2005's Antics felt like warmed-over leftovers from a Bright Lights steak dinner re-heated the next morning -- kinda-sorta the same thing but nowhere near as memorable and leaving you a little queasy), the impact of their debut album was such that I felt like I could be a little cool, too, while secretly knowing that I was actually really into a headphones album. It's good to know that I can listen to an album that makes me feel cool externally AND speaks to the emptiness of our lives and culture internally.

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  1. Blogger Brigitte | 10:07 AM |  

    I like saying "aughts" personally. aught four was a great year.

  2. Blogger chris | 12:48 PM |  

    WHAT AN ALBUM. I have to admit, I'm very jealous you came up with this idea before me. On Jan 1, 2010 I will make my list and compare it with yours, but I know this one will definitely be on mine.

    I look forward to future entries.

    My favorite moment on the album: "She puts the she puts the weights into my little heart."

    DID HE JUST SAY "SHE PUTS THE" twice in a row?! It blew my mind. I can't explain it really.

  3. Blogger Brigitte | 2:14 PM |  

    wow, you recorded it onto a cassette tape??? is that even possible?

    good write up qualler. it stirred feelings in me that i hadn't felt for this album in awhile. it also made me want to play rock band.

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