100/10: Massive Attack’s 100th Window –10th Anniversary

February 10th marks the 10th anniversary of Massive Attack’s controversial and extraordinary album, 100th Window.

100th Window

The group, a trio comprised of Robert “3D” Del Naja, Grant “Daddy G” Marshall and Andrew “Mushroom” Vowles, had essentially imploded during the intense recording sessions for the previous album, Mezzanine. After 1997, when Mezzanine dropped, Mushroom had left the band entirely, while G was slowly but surely drifting away.

Mezzanine: intensity very much pictured

Mezzanine: intensity very much pictured

D was driving the whole thing, leading the post-Mezzanine sessions with fellow Bristol band Lupine Howl, creating long, guitar-heavy workouts that sounded like Mezzanine 2.0. But the years were passing, and the magic wasn’t happening for D. By 2002, it was just D and longtime collaborator Neil “no nickname” Davidge in the studio, creating the digital dreams and textures of what would become 100th Window. It call came together in a sudden six month period during 2002, and in September of that year, D announced that 100th Window would be released the following February, 2003.

D in the Butterfly Caught video

D in the Butterfly Caught video

Even though it was for all intents and purposes created by just D and Davidge, 100th Window is possibly the most “Massive Attack-y” Massive Attack album. It revealed that D’s vision was in a lot of ways the soul and consciousness of the band’s/brand’s sound. Despite the inexplicable reviews that labeled it the band’s darkest and coldest album yet, 100th Window is in fact an incredibly warm and gorgeous album, full of Del Naja’s digital lullabies, beautifully layered textures and atmospherics, where all the instruments and sounds and even the vocals were hypnotically choreographed and manipulated into a distinctively Bristolian yet utterly otherworldly landscape that existed in a mesmerizing dream-time.

G and D

G and D

It had menace, of course. It evoked flickering neon lights in deserted tower blocks on the edge of lonely cities late at night. It had relentless, messed-up beats. It glitched and stuttered like neurons firing when you’re deep asleep. Naturally, the basslines were… massive: sinuous, streamlined, slinking, beating like alien hearts. Sometimes the album was simply beautiful and pure.

It worked whispering to your soul via headphones, or blasting earth-shaking beats in front of 20,000 people.

It also saved me. It came out the day before a cataclysmic event in my life, one which reset everything, ending life as I knew it up to that point, leaving me in a new, empty wasteland. For a long time, there was nothing. I couldn’t watch movies, or TV. Or read books. Or listen to music.

What came back first was writing; that was the life raft that saved me. Words came out of the darkness and took my hands and showed them how to make more words. And then came 100th Window, which I’d been holding onto, waiting for a time when I could really hear it. I listened to it, over and over again, writing furiously all the while, as all my emotional systems came back online. I listened to it as the sky turned magic hour dark blue and held in a twilight stasis, the light lingering in the west until dark finally claimed it, bringing stars. It became the soundtrack for the rest of the year, as I used writing to change my life, to change everything. I remade my world while 100th Window still played, still kept consuming me and my imagination and my soul.

It’s a set of tracks to lead you out of darkness. The title came from the admittedly paranoid (and classically Massive Attack) idea that no matter how impregnable you think your defenses are, something can always get through (if you put bars over 99 windows, someone will break into the 100th window). But it works the other way too. You may think all your paths are blocked, that nothing can get you through this. But even if 99 paths are blocked, the 100th is there waiting for you to take it, follow it, and find your way to wherever you need to be.

Thank you, Robert Del Naja and Neil Davidge, for creating this extraordinary piece of music.

Californication: “…the truth is what you need to finish this song…”

In Love Song, the sixth episosde of Californication‘s fifth season, creator and showrunner Tom Kapinos wrote a soulful, wistful and melancholic look at missed opportunities, love and authenticity.

Samurai Apocalypse (portrayed with insane style and panache by RZA) ordered his Santa Monica Cop screenwriter Hank Moody to write lyrics for budding songstress Kali. As Hank forced Kali to delve deeper into her memories, he got lost in his own, giving us black-and-white flashbacks to the moment when Hank and Karen first decided to stay in L.A.

(Whenever Kapinos shows us Hank and Karen’s past, he writes scuffed and dirty emotional riffs that move you. These episodes are rock-n-roll ballads, bluesy guitar solos, romantic, whiskey-soaked tales of all that could have been, and all that might yet be, if no one f**ks it up.)

As Hank re-lived this moment in time, while drawing lyrical inspiration from Kali’s increasingly painful memories, the theme became abundantly clear:

What makes your writing truly yours, what makes it really sing… is you.

Your soul. Your authenticity. Your truth. Nothing less than the absolute revelation of what you really, truly, need and want. Getting to the truth of who you are and why you do what you do. What drives you, what do you dream of? What makes you want those things, and what will you do — and give up — to get them?

Find the truth about who the f**k you are and how you fit into this world. Because you do fit into this world, even if you don’t know how yet. Some people know right away. Some take thirty years, some fifty or more. It’s OK. Your life is all about you, m***erf***er. Act accordingly.

Nothing you write will be good until you inject yourself into it. It’s what Dave Grohl talked about at the Grammys when he said music isn’t what happens inside a computer. He wasn’t ranting against technology itself, against any of the tools of making music; he was ranting against soulless music, which can just as easily be made with a guitar as an iPad. And the flip side is true: soul will always come through, must always come through, however you make your art.

Consider two extraordinary and seminal albums: The White Stripes’ Elephant, and Massive Attack’s 100th Window. The first made only on equipment dated pre-1963 (it’s a Jack White thing), the second made on laptops and in digital worlds, with songs and textures that couldn’t exist before 2003.

Both have beauty and soul, in different ways: Elephant is rough, heavy, pounding and wild, while 100th Window is hypnotic, evocative and dreamlike. Both are true and truthful, and it doesn’t matter how they were recorded or how we listen to them: the souls of the people who created them shine through, make them real; making them connect.

Whether you write poems, stories, novels, songs, or scripts, you need to make them yours, write them your way. Quentin Tarantino kept getting told that True Romance wasn’t written properly, that this wasn’t how scripts are done. He said, f**k you, because this is me and this is mine. Then he made Reservoir Dogs, and Tony Scott shot True Romance, and then came Pulp Fiction. Tarantino-esque became its own literary style and took over pop culture. All iconic & unique writers do.

Ultimately, being a writer, being any kind of artist, is all about you being authentic. That will shine brightly; the rest will follow.

So find your truth and finish your song.

Then let the world hear it.