Revisiting a haunting from a sound in the past.
There are some songs that I revisit time and time again just because I happen to be scrolling past an artist’s name on my iPod (I’m the only person I know who still holds onto one of those mega Classic models) and I’ll remember oh hey, there’s a pretty decent song associated with that artist. Some examples include “Discotech” by Young Love, “White Lily No Soul” by Helicopters, “Narcissist’s Waltz” by Die Romantik — one-off tunes whose origins in my memory are hazy. They’re decent songs on their own, but no one I know in person knows any of those songs or those artists, and even I’m not sure where I found them, and why it is I happened to add them to my iTunes library.
These are tunes that aren’t quite Music Slut (I remember when they still used their Blogspot subdomain) or Stereogum or Pitchfork material, that aren’t electro enough to be on Hyperbole or ’80s enough to be on Valerie (the label behind the bitchin’ tunes in “Drive”). They might’ve been able to charm the Hype Machine crowd, except I’ve had these songs since forever, during the time before HM hit their current tastemaking stride.
“Chemical Girl” is one such song in this group, and unlike many of those other tunes, for the longest time I did vaguely know where I had first heard the song, and then how I had gotten myself a recording of it.
And yesterday, as the birds started chirping through the morning suburban silence, I found myself listening to the song again. There’s one line in particular that always stands out to me:
…her eyes are so dilated and still…
The word “dilated” always jumps out at me; “Requiem for a Dream” is a favorite movie of mine, and whenever I read or hear “dilated” I immediately think of Aronofsky’s close-up eye shots (of which many parodies have been made) (grammar?).
Anyway, yeah, I listened to “Chemical Girl” again, and at the close of the song, I thought: Damn, where exactly did I first hear this?
To borrow a trope from “Pushing Daisies,” these were the facts: I had definitely heard the song used in a movie, and I had searched high and low on the Internet for an .mp3 or something of it, but ended up ripping a recording off of Rhapsody or a similar music streaming site. I’ve had the song in my iTunes library on my current laptop for almost exactly two years now, crazily enough — its add date is June 27, 2010. However, I’ve had the track itself in digital form before then, since I’d switched computers and thereby iTunes libraries quite a bit in high school.
Well, I did a little digging, and what do you know: the track itself was released on a 2006 EP by a Swedish indie music man named Gustaf Kjellvander, who also had a number of side projects. After some creative Google searches, jackpot: the song was used in a Spanish movie released in 2008 named “8 citas,” or “8 Dates.”
And with that, boom. I’d probably scrolled through Continental’s interactive media headrest contraption during a flight and landed upon “8 citas.” Perhaps I’d first listened to the song during my flight back from Beijing that year (my family had gone back to the motherland for the summer Olympics), and then been so enamored by its lush tones and hushed delivery that I had had to track it down, and it’s since then been hanging out on my iPod, clamoring for attention against everything else (there’s a lot of everything else).
The song itself is a hazy lo-fi ode to someone the singer can’t, and won’t, pursue, and it’s chock full of lyrical gems. There’s the aforementioned “dilated” line, but besides that, this line
where the should-have-beens mix with the never-wills
stays stuck in my memory too. The entire tune brims with a lethargic energy (as paradoxical as that reads), the audio embodiment of smoke. There is a kind of heartbreak in Kjellvander’s voice, but it’s coupled and eventually overpowered with a resignation that ah, this wasn’t anything anyway, so what’s the point pretending. I felt in love with you — but nothing’s really there.
While I was looking for information about “Chemical Girl,” I found out that Kjellvander had passed away in June of last year. He’d been 31, and had, along with The Fine Arts Showcase, also made music with groups like Sideshow Bob and The Radio Dept. Now that I know more about this song, I think I’ll be tracking down his other work too.