Monday, April 25, 2016

Only By The Night

I've been doing a bit of digital spring cleaning and rerating of iTunes music recently. The part I've been loving the most during the whole process is rediscovering old artists and albums I haven't listened to in a while. When you have a digital library of over 20,000 songs it's easy to lose music in the shuffle. Even though my taste in music is constantly evolving, I rarely (if ever) get rid of music after I grow tired of the sound. In a way, I think of my music collection as a scrapbook, something I can use to piece together different people, places, emotions, and periods of my life.

Some of the music on my computer is only there for nostalgia purposes, while other songs provide consistent background noise for my daily routine. The albums listed in my iTunes library don't represent a single point in time but many. There's a few playlists dedicated to high school and college favorites, songs that got me through some of my happiest and saddest days. Others that center on a specific mood, or songs from a TV show that I like to watch. I still listen to those old playlists, not to relive the past but to remind myself of all the directions my life has taken (that, and the music is still good). My musical tastes change at the drop of a hat but it tend to come back around sooner or later.


I honestly can't remember when or where I first heard of Kings of Leon. I don't think it was before 2008, but I could be wrong. I lay no claim on knowing the band before they were "discovered." As far as I can remember I found them somewhere between the end of 2008 and the beginning of 2009 (probably along with everyone else in America). I had heard Sex on Fire and Use Somebody on the internet somewhere (I know it was before the songs blew up on the radio) and enthusiastically downloaded everything of their's I could find online at the time.

To me KOL has always sounded like a classic rock band with a successfully modern vibe, especially in the early years when their nods to the past were more than subtle. I like that you can pick out each individual instrument without the songs sounding like a hodgepodge of noise. Unlike certain pop or rock music these days, Kings of Leon is a band in whole. Much like rock bands of the past, each band member is showcased, and not there simply to play backup to the lyrics. You can tell it's a collaborative effort.

Like most musical experiences, my love and obsession went in phases. First I listened to just the singles, then to entire albums on repeat, then slowly developed connections with each individual song. I went months, sometimes a year, without listening to KOL until eventually they'd release a new album, or I would suddenly be in the mood for their sound again. I liked the edge I found in the songs, the sexiness of it and the angst. Only By The Night is the first album that I can remember loving every single song on the track list. Usually there's one or two weaker songs on an album; ones you aren't as inclined to listen to the third or fourth time around. That isn't the case for me with Only By The Night. When I did go back to KOL, it usually felt like returning home.

I studied their lyrics. I spent hours lying on my bed and playing certain songs on repeat until everything started blending together. KOL songs are like water to me, they're fluid. The music ripples and crashes in natural succession. Eventually it washes me clean, satisfying whatever it is that claws at my insides.

Last night, as I was listening to OBTN for the first time in over a year, I was amazed by how fast I fell back in love with that music. OBTN, and Kings of Leon in general, was a staple throughout my college years. The album made appearances off and on, but would always manage to show up at least once a year. The band has amazing albums both before and after OBTN, but my strongest connections are to those songs.

The live version of Manhattan reminds me of sitting around NMC during my first semesters of college. Songs like Notion and Crawl put me back on the train to New York City in 2010. Frontier City returns me to Western's campus and the walks between classes with Biggby coffee in hand. I Want You reminds me of a certain crush I had during those years, and Cold Desert usually brings me back to all those nights I cried myself to sleep after finishing a bottle of wine alone in my room. For all of those reasons that album feels as much a part of me as those memories do. OBTN got me through all of those times, and I'm entirely grateful for the tiny moments of understanding I felt along the way.

So I can't tell you if Kings of Leon is the most talented band out there, or if Only By The Night is one of the best album of all time. Music, like most artistic endeavors, is entirely subjective. These days it's enough just to play those songs again and tack new memories to the list of old ones.