Monday, April 28, 2014

2014 so far so... what?

For 30 April session, here are some predictions for 2014 (also note the 40-band tip at the end) - so what's going to happen (to you) in music this year? Any finds in this list, or are the best new sounds elsewhere?

We'll also discuss Paula's The National review (see below)

And as a blog extra this time, here's The Singles Jukebox discussion of that Future Islands track

Monday, April 21, 2014

The National/Trouble Will Find Me (2013)

       It’s not like The National is my favourite band. I have no personal lengthy relationship with them, it’s just a sprout of attraction, maybe signalling a start of one, that sometimes flourishes beautifully, but other times it’s on the verge of drying up. Nevertheless, I would go to their concert if I had the chance, push my way to the front row and possibly buy their T-shirt after the show. The ambiguity of my feelings towards the band is a riddle, but not a very difficult one as will become evident with my experience with their most recent album Trouble Will Find Me.
       Bad news first, right? I cannot help but feel especially dissatisfied with songs like “Fireproof”, “I Need My Girl”, and “Slipped”. It’s like there’s this flow of tiring monotony running through half The National’s repertoire – melodically, vocally and lyrically. Usually I’m a sucker for melancholic songs if the aching feeling is conveyed so that I almost feel it, too, but this kind of feeble, relentless, almost numb, and ‘produced’ sadness that these songs offer is just not appealing anymore, and thus, they lose the point of their existence. More to the point, they appear as if they are cheap replicas of other songs by The National, replaying the themes and melodies and nuances of vocals, but all that in a downscaled manner, with an emptier feeling attached to them. Consequently, it is difficult to cherish these songs, if they don’t seemingly offer anything original or thoroughly felt, as compared to some of their more enchanting songs on the album that will be discussed later.
       At the same time, I must say that the choruses just might save these songs if the conditions are right. For example, there is a ridiculous difference to the effect and impact of this album based on whether it’s listened during the daylight, or when the night is looming closer and it’s dark outside. If I had to suggest anything with this album, I would recommend listening to it closer to the night time as the difference to it, in my experience, is curious and profound. It cannot be denied that this is highly subjective, but I think it’s worth a try to hear for yourself. Another thing I would point out is that it might not be a good idea to listen to the whole album at once for it’s truly loaded with heavier themes and sighing-matters, and maybe, just maybe, because of the overload of these themes and respective sounds, I couldn’t fairly appreciate all the songs on the album. Although, “Fireproof” would still most probably remain an unpleasant stain on the whole album.
       The good news about this album is not only good, but great. There are songs on this album that cause the aforementioned sprout of attraction for the band bloom all the way. Songs that are alive and whole, beautifully conceptualised, uniting the three facilities – melodic, vocal, lyric – into a true force of authentic, felt music that has a true, established and respectable character. “Sea of Love”, “This Is The Last Time”, and “Humiliation” – these are the songs I would go and push myself into the front row for and buy the T-shirt even if it means I’ll be completely broke. That’s right.
       These songs cannot be elaborated on as if they were one homogenous group; each one of them has its own unique elements that add greatly to the sound of the whole album. Songs like “Sea of Love”, “This Is The Last Time” and “Humiliation” are the first I would put on the pedestal. “Sea of Love” starts with this feeling of urgency, owing it to the rhythm, as if some emotional outburst should be released via this song, of course the matter is grave, too, hence the implication. Also, it seems like during the bridge the release was achieved, and from then on the song sounds fresh and vibrant, plus the urgency is gone. It is this existence of structures and elaborate concepts and stories within the songs that work so well together with the harmonious synthesis of the three facilities mentioned above, that give The National’s best music the air of quality. For example, “This Is The Last Time” is undoubtedly the song I fell most violently in love with, just the magical melody, the singer’s devoted voice perfectly adjusted to the music, the faint female vocals in the background, and the feeling of false calm (because the lyrics suggest the opposite) have this soft, but also a pinching and slightly aching sense to it. “Humiliation” is different from all the songs in the album due to its atmospheric quality and a sense of motion. I bet it’s the song to listen to while driving a car on a particularly magical day, or better off, night.
       The air of urgency describes most of the songs in one way or another, and urgency urges, yes, for instance, it urges me to search for my own metaphysical tunnels on the inside in a mild frenzy, because the music compels me to somehow, and I think it’s important that it’s capable to produce such an effect. The National also makes good use of repetition, in most cases I find that it works, and the result might be that these repetitions become thought-provoking lines on the mind. This actually applies to the lyrics of this album in general, just the repetitions could leave a stronger imprint, naturally. So, if you need to take a good look into yourself, this might be the album for some.
       The title Trouble Will Find Me is not a name of a particular song, but rather a theme for the whole album, which finds complete justification if you listen to the songs. It’s kind of a bittersweet world, but mostly a rewarding one at that music-wise. 


Much as I mentioned taking up genres at the end of the last week's session, I ended up choosing reading matter that problematises genres rather than confirms them. Chuck Eddy's "Everything Rock Vs. Collage Rock" and David Keenan's "Childhood's End" (the article that defined "hypnagogic pop") are uploaded as PDFs on the course site under the Study Materials section. Additionally, here's a Guardian list of (faux?) genres from a couple of years ago and (in Estonian) Madis Aesma's Yacht Rock primer.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Blind test tracklist, 16 April

1) Dave Greenslade – Miasma Generator – The Pentateuch of the Cosmogony 1979 (this track starts at about 1:03:35; also check out 1:15:35 for The Tiger and the Dove, moody and rather different ambient closing track)

2) Elly Kasim – Ayam Den Lapeh – 1969? [I suggested 1970s but someone refers to 1969 under another link - she seems to have a whole album available track by track on YouTube] – Folk and Pop Sounds of Sumatra vol 2 2004

3) Neil Young – Sample And Hold – Trans 1982 (CD contains an extended mix)

4) Seljatatud Ilgus Lumise Vao Ergastatud Rüpes – Salamõrtsukas, keda oli võimatu tabada + Ellujäämine mägedes - demo EP, early 2000s, publicly unavailable (but check out his current alias Pinktool)

5) Uku Kuut – Mystery [vocal version] – Santa Monica 2006 (track recorded 1982)

6) Thompson Twins – Vendredi Saint – A Product of... Participation 1981 (plus I played a snippet of their major hit a couple of years later, Hold Me Now)

7) Vaiko Eplik – All I Have To Do Is Dream – Laulukarussell 1992-2002 (track recorded 1996)

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Simon Says

For 16 April session, here are five interview nuggets (SR himself being the respondent) from that ReynoldsRetro blog (for some reason, #2 and #3 have swapped places but the order isn't crucial here anyway). Plus, we'll have another blind test of not-so-obvious tracks.

Blind test tracklist, 9 April

Clear Creek Missionary Baptist Church Congregation - Prayer/I Love The Lord (excerpt) (1987), available on Fire in My Bones: Raw, Rare & Otherworldly African-American Gospel, 1944-2007 [CHECKED AND CORRECTED THE DATE OF RECORDING, IT'S 1987 ACTUALLY - NO MAJOR DIFFERENCE; JUST IN CASE YOU MIGHT EVER NEED TO QUOTE IT SOMEWHERE]

David Tuhmanov feat. Mehrdad Badi - Good Night (1975), available on Po volne moej pamyati

Tuljak - Ninur kimbus sitturiga (1995-97), publicly unavailable (but you can get most of their other stuff from here)

Pairoj - Khor Tan Gor Mee Hua Jai (The Beggar Has a Heart), aka The Night Chicago Died, available on Thai Pop Spectacular: 1960s-1980s

The New Year - My Bleeding Wound (1974), available on Personal Space: Electronic Soul 1974-1984 (and on the latest Mojo Magazine freebie)

Geordie - Electric Lady (1973)

Friday, April 4, 2014

Have chair will travel

In our next session (9 April), I'll raise some issues from Reynolds' essay on David Toop and play a few more off-the-wall tracks as a blind test. Also, your feedback is welcome in the blog as well as in the session to Karl-Gerhard's entry below (here's the album)

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Bell Tolls for Sacred Cows: AC/DC’s Back in Black (1980)

So many copies, highest-selling this and that, all-time flotsam and jetsam. AC/DC’s renown Back in Black is unjustly hallowed for the milestones it consecrated and the levees it decimated, not justly exposed for its contents. Well, is it not? I have no particular aversion to hard rock, rather an affinity, but nothing of AC/DC’s output has thus far resonated with me. I cannot help but regard the group, especially the album Back in Black, as decidedly mediocre – as neither good nor bad, but as a lame dog that refuses to die. This album stands precisely on an obscure divide, evocations of good emotions on the one hand, bad emotions on the other – a destitute abyss of ambivalence and irrelevance.
I wish my dispassion for the album was a conundrum but it is not. Back in Black has undoubtedly infiltrated a the expansive canon of popular hard-rock albums, alongside the likes of Led Zeppelin IV, Van Halen, Paranoid and even Who’s Next. I find no redemption in an album which provides me no inlet to its composition, concept, lyrics or disposition. The aforementioned milestones are entirely detached from any form of veritable or noteworthy merit. To me, the commercially successful hard rock albums are, in general, exceedingly concerned with appeasing popular, or dull, taste. Therefore I am especially beset by the non-descript character of Back in Black, a collection of simple songs that imitate one another. I cannot discern any semblance of artistic innovation or daring, of true spirit and ambition. The album exists outside its own self – it is suitable as background noise, as a live rendition or as a musical cue during sports matches. My intent listening of the album marred me with an imprint of acute tediousness.
The Young brothers, incorrigible 'riffmongers'. © Thomas Weschler
How does this simplicity manifest itself? On its most basic level it is a function of opposition to complexity. The title track has a whopping three guitar riffs, two pentatonic solos and a bridge lick some ten seconds in duration. Hells Bells has an astonishing two guitar riffs, a bridge and an outro lick and the mandatory pentatonic solo. You Shook Me All Night Long has a dazzling three riffs and a solo. Critics and fans alike laud the apparently exorbitant proficiency of the guitarists Angus and Malcolm Young, whose “riffmongering” somehow lends credence the band’s musical variety, feigned or not. Christian Hoard of Rolling Stone magazine wrote in 2005 about the reissue: “Synergistically soused brothers Angus and Malcolm Young conceived the songs' riffs first, defining each track with adrenalized blues blurts so archetypal that the sheet music ought to be chiseled on stone tablets.” Seen from my vantage point, this is a concise critical remark, not unabashed praise, which was Hoard’s intention. This album is indeed so unsophisticated that it might have well been fashioned by primeval cavemen.
The crux of Back in Black is roaring rhythm, a musical MacGuffin. If it does not appeal to instrumental substance then it sure does to man’s innate militancy. Those hoping for profound political, social or philosophical reflections by way of the lyrics are bound for disappointment, because lines such as “Back in the back / of a Cadillac. / Number one with a bullet / I'm a power pack. / Yes, I'm in a bang / with a gang.” abound throughout this exceptional album. When the extraneous musical layers and components are cast aside, what is left is nothing but a discharge of chest-thumping to arouse and pique the simple mind – a universal and timeless message for the uninitiated. The barbaric howling of vocalist Brian Johnson only serves to assert such a hollow message, something not a message at all.

            It confounds me that something so wearisome has been lavished with such acclaim. I have given AC/DC numerous chances but they have not yet captured me and I doubt they ever will. Naturally it is related to tastes, expectations and standards but it is not that Back in Black is a simple album. ‘Simple’ in form can still yield much emotion, response and content. It is that Back in Black is so simplistic that I feel personally insulted. And I am helpless to regard it as something else than a one-track album for a one-track mind. So much brilliance in dimness.