The Song I Listened to a Thousand Times and Still Like
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because we all long for a song that sings to our soul.
Some years back, I traversed the American Southwest in a tour bus with acrobats, contortionists and variety-show performers. Elements of this might sound appealing, but it was undeniably one of the worst jobs I’ve ever had. Whatever puerile visions I’d had of life as a roadie melted away somewhere along the road from nowhere to nowhere; sipping as I was, birdlike, from a coffee that would both sustain me for the death march ahead but also lead me to suffer the indignities of the bus bathroom.
“Work aids” were dispersed widely to smooth out the rough patches. But they soon had quite the opposite effect and became a commodity more prized than self-respect, or even life itself. The line between functional human being and walking, sometimes talking, skin-bag of organs got thin.
We’d been rehearsing for several weeks — each performer had individual choreography set to an audio track — so by the time we reached New Mexico, everyone had been subjected to the same 10-song playlist for close to a month. I’d heard Purity Ring’s “Bodyache” (I’d say “listened to,” but that implies choice) something like 400 times in three and a half weeks. And yet, though I hated almost everything in the world at that time, from the chills I’d get touching the fake-velvet bus seat upholstery to the very sound of my own breathing, I did not hate “Bodyache.”
Hailing from Edmonton, a city described by two Canadian friends as hands-down “the shittiest in Canada,” Purity Ring make emotionally earnest synth-pop that falls somewhere in the Beach House–Kraftwerk–Vengaboys Venn diagram. The songs are generously peppered with chilling, misery-inducing minor-chord progressions flitting beneath vocals that conjure images of a small female robot trying and largely failing to experience real human emotions — the end result of, say, Vicki, the house-cleaning cyborg from Small Wonder, spending 1985 in a windowless German leather bar and resurfacing to start a band with a friend in her garage.
As I was riding across a desolate landscape, sleep-deprived, drained of feeling, sick with visions of a fiery crash or terrible, Flying Wallendas–style accident, “Bodyache,” and the rest of Purity Ring’s excellent Another Eternity, seemed a perfect audio distillation of the entire tour experience: Am I a robot? Will I feel again? Why are elves telling me to set the bus on fire?
But like all things, the job ended. I emerged more or less whole. And a few weeks ago, I found myself engaged in a strange kind of Stanislavskian real-life sense-memory exercise in the iTunes store. I bought Another Eternity because I needed to feel what not feeling felt like.
All you need is 9.99 and a major credit card.