ON THEM 777 FLIGHTS WITCHA | 2018-10-26

Sometimes cross-channel influence, cognitive association, and topical inspiration can strike from the weirdest, strangest angles in life, working perhaps in a subliminally unconscious way yet yielding their initial igniting spark when one least expects it. While I’m not really here looking for interpretation or struggling for inherent meaning of what I’m about to stipulate, it’s true that to many a readers this pairing of sorts will appear rather odd, as if permeating through the meanders of algorithmically computed processes. First things first. There is a visual album by Frank Ocean called Endless, his third music project overall, that was released in August 2016 as his last commitment with Def Jam Recordings so as to ingeniously fulfil his recording contract with the Universal Music-owned hip-hip imprint, shortly before dropping his highly-anticipated and critically acclaimed official second studio LP Blonde. Overlooking for a moment the scope of the very query beyond what the hell a visual album even is in the first place in today’s creative industries, Endless was initially distributed exclusively through Apple Music as an on-demand streaming-only 45-ish-minute video, before getting the sound recording re-issue makeover earlier in April this very year. The thing is, throughout its artistic and sonic existence, Frank’s audiovisual art piece always and forever existed in the shadow of his companion major album release and, needless to say, hitherto lived a life of critical overlooking and unwilling negligence.

I’d hate to be that guy, but this wasn’t the case for yours truly, who sincerely immediately connected with the boundary-pushing flair of the project’s experimentation, and almost continuously and consistently rated it above its sister (or perhaps, mother) marquee summer drop Blonde, the latter promoted and sponsored by antiquated industry ideas and appraisal canons supposedly ascribing what kind of attributes an album ought to have in order to be even considered as such. Speaking of reviewing conventions, and calling for a need of scrutinising standards, the auditory experience of Endless clocks in at about 40 minutes and change in length and, depending on which specific rendition one might be referring to, rocks about 20 quote-unquote cuts, ranging literally from atomised skits of a handful seconds to techno-reprises of intense seven minutes. What’s very interesting about this album is that it contains a special song entitled “Sideways”, sitting idle at number thirteen on my version of the track list, glowingly melting in a gorgeous fashion between crystal acoustic gem “Slide On Me” and choir-fuelled celestial “Florida”. Also, it’s interesting and noteworthy here to point out, in light of future revelations further down the piece, how the number thirteen is often viewed as carrying bad luck connotations by many superstitious cultures the world over and, more importantly, believe it or not many commercial airlines avoid its numbered seating row onboard their planes, out of that same superstition affinity. The track was crafted by London-based electronic music artist and sound engineer Vegyn, although further production handling on the song is credited to NY-based experimental glitch artist Nolife, who allegedly worked on the track with Frank himself while he was a temporary resident of New York City’s Mercer Hotel, even though he might as well have paid the whole mortgage for what he was spendingWhat I’ll do next is providing you with the full transcription of “Sideways”‘s lyrics, as a deep courtesy of genius.com:

[Verse]
I was in all them hours in it
10K, tokin’ mid strokes
Prime prime time of my life witcha
Puttin’ prime numbers up though
On them 777 flights witcha
Take a shower with it, gotta cleanse it
Keep the safety off innit
Now we finna have a mini
Outta wedlock, God forgive it
Then forget it
‘Cause only God can forget it
All this hotel living
Might as well pay the mortgage what I’m spending
Said the dick long as a swan neck
Put some real swans in the pond then
Fell asleep in the foreign
After the free show at the Garden
Let the LED roll, deer hunter
Leave the stage, watch it from the audience
Bet we sell the bickets out next week
On me on, my bodness

[Outro]
When I’m up they gon’ hate
When I’m sideways, yeah, I set me straight
When I’m up they gon’ hate
When I’m down they gon’ celebrate
Sittin’ sideways, too sideways
Nah, it’s not too late

Bear with me as here comes my main point. So all the while relentlessly tasting and indulging in repeated heightened listening experiences of and with Endless and specifically “Sideways”, I somewhere, somehow, sensed a sensorially bridged journey onto a a Swedish internet-based service displaying real-time commercial aircraft flight information on geographical maps, named Flightradar24. This freemium software includes flight tracks, origins and destinations, flight numbers, aircraft types, positions, altitudes, headings and aerodynamic speeds on a global scale. For affluent paid users, it can also show time-lapse replays of previous tracks and historical flight data by airline, aircraft, aircraft type, area or airport. Weirdly, this web app has become one of my biggest life companions as of late, given my quasi-frequent flyer programme status, which led me to reply to pretty standard – “where are you?” – questions from acquaintances on the phone with a weighted average value answer of – “on a plane” – during the past three to six months. My point here though is that every time I listen to Endless’ thirteenth track, or conversely spend enough time on Flightradar24, I am intensely reminded of the other one object, as if connected by a dotted figurative line, respectively. Something about the transcendent epistemology of both cultural artefacts was pointing out their intrinsic correlation, beyond my grasping almost in an ontological manner.

Now, it’s probably worth spending a couple words on Flightradar24 and its life-saving servicing protocol – just mainly as a public service announcement – without which many a times my airmile consumption patterns would have turned out even more painful and dreary than what they actually were. Like that time were I was quicker than the actual airline ground crew themselves to spot the mysterious air location of the aircraft that was supposed to come pick us up from Milan Malpensa (MXP) and fly us all the way to Barcelona El Prat (BCN) on a late Sunday evening. Or, that other time at Stockholm Arlanda (ARN) airport, where the service helped me figure out how big the apparent official flight delay actually was IRL (I was once again flying to BCN that time), given the incoming airplane’s route and location (unsurprisingly, there was a delta of about one hour and a half. Oh, no, not that Delta, this delta). Or again, and this might be my favourite inclusive utilisation modality of them all, when I would sneakingly monitor the exact route and location of family and friends I was supposed to go pick up upon their arrival at their destination airport, everything logically unbeknownst to all of them. Trust me when I say that you’d be glad you’d have used Flightradar24 before leaving your house to the airport when the specific plane you’re waiting for accumulated a delay of 2+ hours at source. At this point – and I beg your pardon if this comes too late – I would also like to point out that this is not a paid promotion advertorial in any shape or form whatsoever, but rather just an earnest and sincere shout out to not only an excellent travel companion, but also a subliminal Frank Ocean reference item.

You people have to trust me that the fact that this piece comes out into the Interweb on the very immediacy of Frank’s 31st birthday (he was born on 28th October 1987) is honestly a pure alignment of the stars coincidence, or perhaps yet another symbolic semantical component in the bigger meaningful design floating between 1) an Endless audiovisual art experience, 2) a software-as-a-service platform monitoring worldwide air traffic, and 3) a grander scheme of flight journeys. However, recently something perhaps too minuscule to itemise was able to cut through the reality distortion fielded mould and hit me with a sudden illuminating epiphany. I decided to get rid of all existing preconceived notions and mental conjectures that were supporting my struggle for meaning up until that point. Suddenly, I got it all. I got the apparent reason for the metaphysical connection between “Sideways” and Flightradar24, now all of a sudden so clear and yet at the same time always so latent throughout my consumption history with the New York City-nursed composition of 1:54 minutes. While it’s extremely hard to precisely and tangibly put a finger on it, at the end of the day it all has to do with Frank being my flight companion and travelling the world with me on airplanes. At first it might deceivably seem that a single line out of “Sideways”‘s lyrics score sheet could be the key to the mystery kingdom surrounding the opacity of such an obscure symbiotic and visceral connection, however upon closer inspection, it quickly becomes clear that there is so much more to it than simply those five words.

Frank Ocean has actually always been the high-mile flight travel companion one would and should wish for (or is it Tyler Durden?), and he knew about Flightradar24 even before the Swedish folks who spun up and deployed its first source code of the beta software version knew about it. He was there ever since the free show at the Garden, when Kanye West introduced the idea of a living-breathing and upgrading album project to a puzzled and denying music business and mainstream press scene, at the time more concerned with his unbearable production delays in dropping the record and the elevated unpredictability surrounding his whole artist persona – an aspect notoriously shared with Frank Ocean himself – than the actual creative content embedded in the TLOP (w)rapper altogether. In a way, with Endless Frank followed Kanye’s advice, taking up the teachings of the grand master, in that he not only updated sonic and production elements of the original audiovisual album on the go, but effectively warped the whole nature of the artefact turning it into a CD-quality like studio album two years after its first release as a visual album. Very similarly, Flightradar24 tracks and updates flight movements on the fly across the world’s skies, no pun intended, drawing yet another parallel with the epitome of real-timeness which is the aural meditative immersion encapsulated in the minute and fifty-four seconds and the twenty-seven verses of “Sideways”, by Frank Ocean.

I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time. And happiest birthday Frank.

AV

Flightradar24

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ALEX REVIEWS MUSIC (ARM): TAKING BACK SUNDAY – “YOU CAN’T LOOK BACK” MUSIC VIDEO | 2016-08-28

Watch the video first:

So last Tuesday my favourite band of all time Taking Back Sunday released a new single off their upcoming seventh studio album Tidal Wave (out on 16th September on Hopeless Records) titled “You Can’t Look Back”, which obviously got me overwhelmingly excited and all. Then, a couple of days and hundreds of plays later, I stumbled across a very funny and interesting article reminiscing about early Noughties punk-rock/emo nostalgia in which the author scrutinises frame-by-frame and with extreme meticulosity the band’s cult music video for fan-favourite track “You’re So Last Summer” released in late 2003. I immediately really liked the idea – less so the form and method used though – and hence thought to myself that, considering that thus far within my critically-acclaimed music review feature Alex Reviews Music I’ve only considered full records and or live shows, I might as well have a try myself at considering a music video as fundamental unit of my analysis. So here I am taking a closer look at the New York emo veterans’ latest single disguised as official music video (do they even still exist?!) directed by Anthem Films‘ DJay Brawner, also responsible for the band’s videos for Happiness Is‘s singles “Flicker, Fade” and “Better Homes and Gardens“. Yet, before I’d dug into any kind of reasoning or reflection and therefore somehow influence someone’s understanding of the track, I’d like you, my reader, to immerse yourself independently into the video hence why I copied it at the top of this page. Please do have a look at it before continuing reading if you’re interested in what I’m writing about.

The video starts off with a young man in a bright jeans jacket picking up a girl from what one understands might be her job place then driving off across desolated desert streets with a middle-range pick up truck. The couple then appears to be riding through unpaved roads before joining other friends at an outdoor party surrounding an impromptu fireplace on an empty clearing, all in an extremely joyous and intimate way. Nothing too spectacular so far. But more importantly, nothing that could somehow be misinterpreted or that is left hanging searching for meaning. This is when Taking Back Sunday themselves come into the game, as we find  – in order of appearance – lead guitarist John Nolan, drummer Mark O’Connell, singer Adam Lazzara, bassist Shaun Cooper and rhythm guitarist Eddie Reyes all already gathered around the festive rendezvous.

It is exactly from this point in time onwards that finding a common and indisputable meaning to the developments in the video, especially when paired with the enigmatic lyrics, becomes truly hard. That is, for example, as soon as the couple of leading actors joins the rest of the group I start noticing dark expressions and moderate discomfort on frontman Adam Lazzara’s face, who in the end is the one not only writing but also singing the lyrics in question. This impression doesn’t fade with time as Adam incidentally remains the only one not pouring with joy and light heartedness even when the lead actors mix themselves up with the rest of their friends and everyone else seems to be having a good time. In fact, this theory appears to be confirmed from minute 2:47 onwards, as an unexpected dramatic twist hits the so far linear and harmonic plot of the video, when Adam suddenly starts throwing up tons of blood from the depth of his stomach and searches his way through the crowd surrounding the fire, seemingly unaware of the whole thing.

Adam then starts to touch, approach and cover up other people with the dark blood coming out of his throat while every single one of them doesn’t bat an eye and keeps going on with what they’re doing. At one point, he then reaches for the lady who got picked up by the main character at the beginning of the video by touching her shoulder but even herself, albeit with a small and quick sign of awareness, ignores him altogether and keeps flirting with her alleged fiancée. Adam then collapses on the floor suffering in pain and rolls on his sides while at the same time covering himself up with sand and everything else that’s on the ground, before walking away from the feast and the group of people on a small path, not without falling back down the hill and adding to the existing damage even more. The video ends with Adam reaching the young couple’s truck parked not far from the party starting its engine seemingly ready to leave.

I guess my overall interpretation of the music video depends greatly from a few lines of the song’s lyrics that to me seem to ornament and complement the actual development in the visual story line. These verses are “I’m not the same man / not since you came in”, “Still feel the same way / Still don’t know where I’m going”, “I’m going to get you if it takes me all night long” as well as “Don’t know how you did it other than you did / I was there beside myself in my own skin”. My takeaway from them is that the young lady who joined the party with her man at the beginning of the video is the one Adam is (metaphorically) referring to in the song and obviously played an important part in his life, most likely sentimentally. Then, as soon as she joins the game he starts losing control of himself and so begins his physical downfall until he needs to leave the gathering altogether (“I’m not the same man / not since you came in”). Since he doesn’t seem able to explain such kind of reaction (“Don’t know how you did it other than you did”) he thus seeks time for himself and acquires ownership of one of the only things that could take him back to her later on, her fiancée’s car (“I’m going to get you if it takes me all night long”).

At heart, the track sounds to be about not being able of letting go of the past but at the same time convincing yourself that looking at the rearview mirror is only making things worse. As with all best songs, there’s much juxtaposition to be found and while for a great part it is a song about emotional weakness – not least when considered alongside its music video – after having listened to it one can’t help but feeling motivated to overcome said challenge and convincing themselves that moving forward in order to stop suffering about the past is not only an option but also the right one.

All in all, the beauty of art pieces is precisely that everyone is allowed the privilege of drawing different meanings and interpretations from them, sometimes very far off from what the creator first might have wanted to transmit, and this latest music video by Taking Back Sunday is probably no exception. I’ll leave you below with the complete lyrics for the song, perhaps they might help shed some clarity on its original meaning for the band and Adam most of all, looking back at how it all ties together with sounds and images. Or did we not just learn that we can’t look back?

[Verse 1]
I was living day to day
As the meetings they would suggest
Sitting pretty having one foot out that door
I didn’t know how to act
Started running and I didn’t look back
Still feel the same way
Still don’t know where I’m going
Oh, then you let me in
I don’t know how you did it other than you did

[Pre-Chorus]
You cut your wrist and said ‘come get you some’
It only works if you don’t look down
Bought the ticket, now you’re on the track
You can keep it but you can’t look back
You can keep it but you can’t look back
You can keep it but you can’t look back
You can keep it but you can’t look back

[Chorus]
I didn’t know what I was looking for
And come to think I wasn’t looking at all
I’m not the same man, not since you came in
I’m going to get you if it takes me all night long
I’m going to get you if it takes me all night long
I’m going to get you if it takes me all night long
I’m going to get you if it takes me all night long
I’m not the same man, not since you came in
I’m going to get you if it take me all night
I’m going to get you if it takes me all night long

[Verse 2]
I was nearly four states away
Mamma calling from the other end
Something about someday a woman’s gonna need you most the time
I didn’t know how to act
I started running and I didn’t look back
Still feel the same way
Still don’t know where I’m going
But now I’m in it until the bitter end
So if you’re gonna do me then you do me like that

[Pre-Chorus]

[Chorus]

[Bridge]

[Outro]
Don’t know how you did it other than you did
I was there beside myself in my own skin
Unfamiliar, I tried it on and liked the fit
I don’t know how you did it other than you did
I’m going to get you if it takes me all night long
I don’t know how you did it other than you did
I was there beside myself in my own skin
Unfamiliar, I tried it on and liked the fit
I don’t know how you did it other than you did
Don’t know how you did it other than you did
I was there beside myself in my own skin
Unfamiliar, I tried it on and liked the fit
I don’t know how you did it other than you did
Don’t know how you did it other than you did

I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.

AV

TBS_CantLookBack