Canada ho! – Osheaga 2012 Preview

I know. I know. I’m the luckiest sunnufagun there is. Why, you ask? Because I am heading up to Montreal this weekend to enjoy a 3 day music festival whose lineup was derived directly from my iPod. That’s right — I’m headed to Osheaga 2012. Perhaps you’re as lucky as I am, and you’ll be trekking north, too. Perhaps you aren’t, but you’re wanting some new musical discoveries. Either way, read on, my friends. Ahead you’ll find my favorite acts of Osheaga 2012:  old favorites, new favorites, and favorite favorites. Here we go.


Takk, Sigur Rós

In our first session together, the new therapist I’m seeing said, “I think you should focus on slowing down. You know — stop and smell the roses.” I felt like I’d just been read my own death sentence. I am petrified — that knot-in-stomach, headachey near-tantrum petrified — of slowing myself down. Not just in a literal sense, wherein I stop taking on so many projects (like freelance writing, putting in overtime at my event planning corporate gig, putting on showcases of local musicians, trying to take dance classes, trying to take drum lessons, trying to play my guitar…) Even more so, it scares me to let my brain slow down. My natural state is to let a barrage of to-do’s, self-criticisms and other discomforts swim around my head, in an effort to always be a little better, to never let myself off the hook, or “let myself go.” I am hyper-aware of my own mortality, and that coupled with a bad case of perfectionism forces me into a near-constant state of “Go!”

In my 25 years, I have found one antidote to my madness. One method to calm my nerves, slow my thoughts and begin to untangle myself, piece by piece. It’s the thing that everyone should find, that is their gateway into meditation or inner peace or just a really delicious nap. For me, it is Sigur Rós.

If you are unfamiliar with this Icelandic band, you are totally forgiven but must immediately get to know them. They have been recording albums since 1994, sometimes in their native language of Icelandic, on some rare occasions in English, and often at the beginning…in a language they MADE UP, called “Hopelandic.” Yep. They made up a language that includes the word “hope” and they sing in it. That was one of the first tidbits that really grabbed me about the band, and then the music began to take over. It is gorgeous, ethereal stuff, with bigger ambitions than any other band that I am personally familiar with.

The album that changed my life was Takk… which translates to “Thank you.” It was their fourth full-length album, and they toured on it. I’d heard a few songs from it because I was a student DJ at the University of Texas at Austin for KVRX, so I decided to see the band when they came to town. As I sat in my seat at a university concert hall, still only a freshman in college, I expected a beautiful, but somewhat sleepy and shoegazey concert, so I settled in and relaxed. They opened with a song called “Glósóli.” This song starts with piano chimes and what sounds like a line of soldiers marching gently out in a field. Then, lead singer Jónsi Birgisson’s angelic falsetto floats into the song, adding a childlike, sweet mood as the marching gets louder. As the band performed this live, they were all set up behind a large white curtain, so that you could only see their ghostly shadows stretching out, as stage lights flashed in different areas to the rhythm of the song. Something was building, and my eyes widened as the drums got deeper and louder and more urgent. Suddenly in a burst of fast-flashing white light we found ourselves drowning in a crashing, wild sea of raging guitars and insistent drums and howling vocals. My eyes wet, and I was on the edge of my seat for the rest of the concert.

Since that concert, Sigur Rós have popped up in my life periodically, always in these magical moments of the universe seemingly doing all of the work for me. When I studied abroad in Freiburg, Germany, I trekked up to London for a quick visit with relatives and friends. I visited Abbey Road, and there, on the gate, where hundreds upon thousands had scrawled their signatures along with their favorite Beatles lyrics, Sigur Rós had signed their names. They had recorded a track on their then-new album, Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust, at the famed studio, and must have felt compelled to participate in the tradition. I signed my name next to theirs, and they became the soundtrack to those magical six months spent studying in the middle of the Black Forest.

Jonsi toured on a solo album that was in English, and his concert was one of the first dates I took my boyfriend to. We held hands and got swept up in his theatrical and moving presentation, as the silhouettes of forest creatures leapt through a post-apocalyptic world he had created.

A week after my new therapist told me I needed to slow down, Sigur Rós had a worldwide listening party for their new album, Valtari. Each host space played the album in its entirety starting at 7 p.m. local time. I headed to my favorite local independent record shop, Waterloo Records, and climbed up into the makeshift stage area where bands will sometimes come and play short in-store sets. I sat there, on the funky blue carpet, and breathed slowly in and out as this new, anticipated music filled my ears. I watched other shoppers quietly move around, but mostly closed my eyes and tried to experience the album. This was the quietest, most subtle record I’d ever heard by the band, demanding a patient listener, and whenever I felt my muscles twitch, trying to break free of my trance and let my mind race with worry, Jonsi’s voice would pick up at that exact moment, soaring into my head and collecting anything that wasn’t just helping me to be present. Listening to Sigur Rós is the closest thing I think I’ve gotten to the kind of peace I believe will come when I’m dying. I know that sounds morbid, but it’s one of the most comforting things, to feel for some fleeting moment that everything is working together and so ultimately, when I do have to go, it will be time.

When the album ended, Waterloo announced the winner of a giveaway, including a Valtari poster and a test pressing of the record on vinyl. They called my name over the speaker system, and my heart just filled with happiness. Unbeknownst to this record store, they were giving me the gift of meditation and peace, and continuing on my strange and beautiful relationship with a band that speaks to me in some quiet place that I cannot otherwise unearth.

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