In “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World” with impending doom, Keira Knightly’s character grabs several records before fleeing her home with the hopes of listening to them one last time. The Essentials is an ongoing series about the ten, in no particular order, albums I would grab in such a similar situation.
In 2012 Strung Out went on a tour where they played their albums Suburban Teenage Wasteland Blues and Twisted By Design in their entirety. These are both strong albums, and honestly I would see Strung Out if they were playing a Barry Manilow album. My pal Jon and I went and were not disappointed. As we walked back to the car after the show I made the weak joke that for an encore they should have played their album An American Paradox. Jon continued by saying or at least the song “Velvet Alley.” Then I added another, then he did, until we named most of the album. It was at that moment that I realized just how much I enjoyed An American Paradox.
Strung Out’s entire catalog is beyond fantastic, so the question that exists is why I would choose An American Paradox over any other Strung Out album? Twisted By Design has some songs that I love, and Exile in Oblivion is an excellent showcase of Strung Out’s musical prowess, and their other records have qualities too. But for me An American Paradox is the most complete album, meaning it is the one I can listen to from start to finish without skipping any tracks. I have my favorite songs from the album, but I know the songs in between are going to be satisfying.
While the completeness of the album is an important aspect, what appeals to me most is the way I connect to the songs. There are many Strung Out songs I really like, and have an emotional attachment to, but there’s a more personal feeling I get with the songs on An American Paradox.
In “Velvet Alley” when Jason Cruz sings, “A silhouette of you and me/ just negative space and time/ just reference to a simpler history,” I can put that to someone from my past and feel exactly what he means. Or the song “Satellite” in which Jason sings about the person who has inspired and encouraged him to take up music so passionately. I too have someone who has encouraged me to write and keep it going, and much like Jason sings, it can be hard to let that person know how important they are and what their support has meant. To me there is no more important song Strung Out has written.
It’s moments like this that make me absolutely love music, and art. The artist creates this art with their own thoughts and experiences in mind and expresses them however they feel they best can, then as an art consumer you have the ability and freedom to impose your own thoughts and experiences to what is coming at you. That is exactly what An American Paradox is to me, someone else’s words and emotions poetically expressing my feelings and experiences.
One final note on this first installment of The Essentials. What you might notice is that these records find their way into my essentials usually during a turbulent time. I’ve been trying to figure out why that is exactly. The obvious reason is just the mental healing quality of music. As I thought about it more I realized that punk rock has been a part of my life for 20 years, more than half my life. It has been one of the few consistencies I have had. That means no matter what I have gone through, punk rock has always been there to ease and help me along. All changes, good or bad, have had a power chord soundtrack. So when things are rough, I look for the old familiar comfort.
So recently, as I have been struggling with these new health issues, I turned to punk rock and just happen to go with An American Paradox. All the reasons above helped me deal with the anxiety I was having, but also these words form “Cult of the Subterranean” which I will leave you with and that have become my daily mantra:
“So take a deep breath and close your eyes
And be glad that you are here.”