Sunday, December 21, 2008

Dreaming of a bittersweet place. Some songs take you to a happy place, but are also filled with sadness because the happiness is mysterious and ephemeral.

I had a pretty shit week last week, and despite my bravado, I am pretty depressed about the whole Christmas thing, and about my life in general. At one stage this week I was full of such dread that I started getting those fantasies again of leaving my entire life behind - just running away somewhere else and starting up again.

This song is 'Dawn Of The Dead' by Does It Offend You, Yeah? They are a British band named after David Brent's catchcry in The Office, and while they use the usual indie-electro tropes and have played the festival circuit, they've been mostly ignored in Australia. I got their obnoxiously titled album, You Have No Idea What You're Getting Yourself Into ("Barely adequate dance-rock to keep you occupied until the next Klaxons record", was Pitchfork's riposte), from the Unwanted CD Box at jmag.

Despite the name, 'Dawn Of The Dead' is not really a zombie song. It's a confused song about running away, and the video is equally confused. But when it came on my iTunes the other day, at the height of my despair, it took me to that bittersweet place. There is something euphorically '80s-indie about the instrumentation that gives me that feeling of ephemerality: of love and hope simultaneously invoked and lost. I also get it from songs like 'Head Over Heels' by Tears For Fears and 'Alive And Kicking' by Simple Minds.

Daft Punk's song 'Digital Love' does the same thing more coherently, I think. It has been hip to like Daft Punk over the last year or two, but I was thinking about this song back in September 2006, when Daft Punk were a forgotten late-'90s dance act and I was writing an essay on my Headtapes project for Shane's excellent zine Music Review Quarterly.

The song ebbs and flows over the same few repeated chords, and the lyrics are goofy, charming and opaque in their Frenchified English:

Last night I had a dream about you
In this dream I’m dancing right beside you
And it looked like everyone was having fun
the kind of feeling I’ve waited so long

Don’t stop come a little closer
As we jam the rhythm gets stronger
There’s nothing wrong with just a little little fun
We were dancing all night long

The time is right to put my arms around you
You’re feeling right; you wrap your arms around too
But suddenly I feel the shining sun
Before I knew it this dream was all gone

Ooh I don’t know what to do
About this dream and you
I wish this dream comes true

Why don’t you play the game?

I love this song because it captures the sublime precariousness of dancing and love. There’s a tantalising sense of what could have happened and what might still happen. And splendidly, it’s the song’s actual catchiness that communicates all this – as though it was itself the tune to which the dream-lovers danced.

The dream metaphor also works in 'Dreamchild' by Strawpeople (later remade as 'Juice' by Headless Chickens), where the singer struggles to pin down the ephemeral nature of "the feeling I taste in my dreams", and locates it hazily in half-remembered, nostalgic things from childhood.

I would try to collect these songs and make a mixtape of them, but I fret that it would destroy their power to evoke these feelings in me.

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