Friday, September 25, 2009

The (Joy) Division Between Dark and Light

Writing about Joy Division is tricky because they are the most analyzed and revered band of the post-punk movement. However, most articles you read about Joy Division lead the unfamiliar listener to believe that their music is too depressing for an emotionally well-adjusted person to enjoy. Yes, if you focus only on Ian Curtis’ lyrics and vocal, there is quite a bit of weight there (obviously). The brilliance of Joy Division though, is that the weight of the lyrics and vocal are often juxtaposed with upbeat rhythm and melodies.

The Ian Curtis and Jim Morrison comparison is an easy one because of their similar baritone voices and stripped-down lyrical style. But Joy Division certainly shares other similarities with the Doors. The trademark high bass lines of Peter Hook serve to uplift Joy Division songs and shine light on them in the same way Ray Manczarek’s keyboard playing does for the Doors. Hook and Sumner’s playing add levity to the moodiness of Curtis’ singing. Despite their very different sounds, both Joy Division and the Doors have a rare hypnotic quality and frequently cross over from dark to light, or project both simultaneously.

I recently read a quote by Editors frontman, Tom Smith, expressing his frustration for how his band is constantly characterized as “dark.” What he said resonated with me:

“...dark is interesting, dark is exciting, dark can be funny, there’s real life in the dark, real life IS dark. When an album feels like this, the fragments of hope and love that do occasionally shine through shine through ten times brighter than they would normally do so."

YES!!! So true.

It’s hard to come by a clear definition of what “post-punk” and “post-punk revival” mean exactly, but I believe the answer lies somewhere in the interaction between light and dark, joy and pain, and the existence of both within the same song. When I listen to Joy Division, I hear all of the complexity and emotion that is part of the basic human experience. I believe that emotional complexity is a key component to what has made them such a sustainable, meaningful influence on musicians and fans over the past three decades.

-AZ

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