It’s the anti-Christmas. No, not Hanukkah, but good guess. It’s at winter’s opposite end, when the evil merchant of feeling-like-shit swoops into the lives of the unlucky and gives them the gifts of high fever, chills, nausea, aches, pains, congestion and academic apathy. It’s flu season, and it’s now upon us. Those lionhearted enough to forgo a pre-season flu shot now sit alert, awaiting the pathogens preparing to invade and test the resolve of their immune system. My membership in this gallant category was brief and unglorified. I fell to the flu in the first wave last week. I was arrogantly cavalier, and I paid for it. My fault for not getting the vaccine.
Anyway, I woke up last Tuesday feeling like I had been run over by a train. After pathetically crawling out of bed, I decided I needed a soundtrack to contemplate how bad I really felt as I laid at home all day. But when I browsed through iTunes, I felt so awful that nothing looked appealing.
There’s music for every situation, but in the case of the flu, the list is pretty short. Face it, no matter how big of a Stooges fan you are, if you’re sick enough, Fun House will probably make you puke. After a week of agony, I found a few albums suitable for this compromised condition.
Belle and Sebastian: If You’re Feeling Sinister
Perhaps the prototypical sick-day album. Not that you’re having any problem remaining immobile, but for cliché’s sake, sit back, relax and allow yourself to be engulfed in its overwhelming melancholy. Stuart Murdoch’s melodies are sweet enough to soothe but never overly optimistic, which is good because you don’t exactly have anything to look forward to in the next few days. The understated, mostly acoustic arrangements create a gentle ambience that won’t compound your headache. Sure it’s a bit woe-is-me in places, but hey, woe is you. Suck it up and start feeling “good” about feeling bad.
Galaxie 500: On Fire
Any Galaxie 500 record could fit here, but On Fire earns the nod because it’s the best. Saturated in reverb, the guitars and bass buoy a cloud that invites you to jump on and float away into ache-less bliss. Underneath it all, a soggy organ washes in to fill out the three-chord, major-key progressions. The ethereal vocals carry simple, gorgeous melodies and always remain distant enough to let you fall back asleep. Dean Wareham often closes the songs with extra verses of bluesy guitar soloing, a revitalizing shot in the arm if you’re trying to shake your malady and start being productive.
Sure it’s Radiohead, so it’s great, but it’s actually poignant here. If it’s possible to “enhance” the experience of being sick, this is the album that can do it. Embrace your disoriented malaise by drifting down this gloomy river and plunging to the depths of despair in Thom Yorke’s fractured dystopian nightmare. The trance beats left over from Kid A will leave you hypnotized, as will the indecipherable mumbled vocals. Your journey to the center of confusion will peak with “Morning Bell,” when the golden chimes underpinning Yorke’s rising chorus pleas will give you the “release” that he desperately begs for. From there, recede into the disarray and ride it out to the jazzy fade.
Grateful Dead: Europe ’72
I know what you’re thinking: “You expect me to drop acid and listen to this hippie hoedown shit when I’m sick?” Well the acid’s up to you, but hippie shit it’s not. At the zenith of their live prowess, the Dead turn in some of their tightest and sunniest material ever with the melodic rockers that populate the first few sides of this triple-LP. Jerry Garcia’s jubilant soloing is smile-turning, and Robert Hunter’s American folktale lyrics evoke a warm nostalgia even if you’ve never heard the songs or their stories before. If that’s all too stimulating, flip on the second and third sides and zen out to the tranquilizing guitar jams. If your spiking fever has you hallucinating, this album will do it.
Jim O’Rourke: Bad Timing
With only four instrumental tracks over the course of 44 minutes, it’s like a jazz album without the jazz. If you’re still depleted, resign to bed, turn off your mind and wallow in its endless, therapeutic, sonic waters. Or, if your self-imposed bedroom quarantine has you hopelessly bored, spin it on repeat and pick apart the instrumental nuances emerging from the mix in the perpetually morphing movements. Don’t worry, the corrosive experimental edginess that O’Rourke dabbled in with Sonic Youth is just a far-off memory. Here, the only thing experimental is the challenging structure, as he opts for acoustic guitars and pianos; just what you need. Easy to listen to, but never easy listening.