At some point in the last 15 years, I stopped paying attention to popular music trends. Call it the consequence of aging: after a while, you simply lose the ability to be surprised, and you start either sitting comfortably in what you know you like, or you start exploring newer, more off-beat sounds. Either is reasonable, because as adults, music, especially popular music, no longer occupies the emotional place that it once did. You’ve got a slice of the world to manage; who cares what the kids are listening to?
But I still enjoy the exploration, in finding new things to listen to. As I stopped paying attention to What’s Popular, I became more interested in What’s Good. What I discovered is, almost anything can be. Remembering the Reality Principle (“Whatever exists, fills a need”), I decided that every genre of music has merit, has created tunes worth hearing. I might not be a giant fan of Hip Hop, but I have some in my collection. I like some of it. This is true of anything: country, metal, disco. No matter how much you don’t find it to your tastes, it found an audience. It made its mark. This isn’t to say critical preferences and larger aesthetic distinctions can’t be made, and obviously, there’s no law that says you have to like anything (recall Aesthetic Approach Theory). But it doesn’t hurt to find new things.
Thus, Doom Jazz.
I don’t recall how I became introduced to it, but I’ve found myself listening to Bohren & Der Club of Gore on Spotify. They’re the progenitors of the term “doom jazz”, and they seem to have evolved to the concept by way of adding jazz elements to a drone rock vibe. A bit of Fusion-era Miles, minus the funk.
Obviously, not the thing to listen to when you’re looking for that sugar burst to get your day started. It’s not fun-time. But in the dark heart of a snowy winter, it awakens embers of the heart, recognizes the truths your eyes observe.
Apparently Nolan has been utterly corrupted by his early Hollywood success and is now incapable of directing something better than mediocre (which is kind of the vibe I got from Dunkirk). Apparently Tenet is two hours of rampaging nonsense. I don’t know if that is true or not. But I’m even less inclined to see it now.
This is part of a longer Thread of Worse 5 Movies of All Time, which are also somewhat interesting, and relatively obscure, so it’s worth reading, if only to absorb another human’s thoughts about Art. 50 First Dates, is on there, and who can resist Adam Sandler films getting savaged as they deserve?
But why lament Bad Art, when we can discuss Good Art? In the next Shallow & Pedantic podcast, we’re going to be chatting about the nexus of Samurai films and Westerns, and part of that is going to be spent on Sturgill Simpson’s 2019 film Sound and Fury, which is not really a “film” so much as it is, well, honestly, this YouTube commenter summed it up best:
Have you ever wondered what would happen if a respected alt-country star went into surgery and, in its aftermath, refused pain killing narcotics and instead just took a bunch of weed?
Imagine then, in his fugue state, he decides to take a departure from country and produce a crazy good synth rock album. Now imagine he decides to have the entire album animated, writes a vague anime screenplay, goes to Japan, and has some of the top anime artists compete to see who could be the nuttiest in producing his vision. He then puts it all together in a 45 min montage that can only be described the three way love child of Heavy Metal the movie, Akira, and The Wall.
I actually thought this level of unrestrained creative expression from a popular artists had died sometime in the 1980s. Maybe it did but, if so, Sturgill Simpson resurrected it here.
Abandoning the old Rate My CD’s project earlier this year gave me freedom to listen to my music whenever the hell I wanted. Not having to listen to one old blues album after another, dreaming of the day I’d make it to my tiny Hip-Hop collection, was a positive pleasure. Now I can actually just enjoy my music. Which Paradoxically, puts me in the mood to write about it.
The kids today don’t remember this, but the early-aughties (did we really use that term? We did. Is there a better one? No.) enjoyed a marvelous explosion of old-school treble-bleeding rock n’roll, which went under the name of “garage punk”. A lot of it was Millenials dressing up in Boomer or Gen-X costumes, but not all of it (Jack White, who’s a year older than I am, is comfortably Gen-X). But while the rising tide didn’t lift all boats (what Spin said about the Jon Spencer Blues Explotion in 2002 has not been forgotten, nor forgiven), some bands were able to climb aboard as the Ark took off. One of them was Sleater-Kinney.
I was already a fan of this crew, just from jumping aboard the love train for Dig Me Out, which I got just because I liked the album cover. It’s a gold-plated rock classic, something they were minting relatively few of in 1997, and almost everyone agrees on this today.
The album delivers what it promises: a gutbucket blast of screeching guitar (there’s even a song called “Words and Guitar”) that keeps it simple and tight. You don’t, and shouldn’t, analyze these tunes on any other level. There’s no intent behind them beyond playing Russian Roulette with your car speakers and hoping you lose (and that metaphor doesn’t even make sense). I like it much better than other albums of theirs such as 200o’s, All Hands On the Bad One.
The Woods, however, is better.
Ever have that wonderful feeling of getting into an album you’ve had forever but never really really sunk into. I’ve been doing that this week. Usually I have three CD’s in rotation in the car for driving (there are six, and the wife gets the other three slots. This is the arrangement we have in both cars). These change and vary according to my mood. I’ve been using that space for music I was officially reviewing for the Every Damn CD project, but now that I no longer have to do that, I’ve embraced eclecticism. Currently The Woods is in the number 2 slot, in between Illmatic and Midnight Boom by the Kills. Nas is what he is, i.e. that nexus of gangsta rap and jazz-hop that was chemically engineered to move units in 1994. Which is to say, it’s easier to listen to if you don’t pay attention to anything he’s saying. Which has always been the problem I’ve had with hiphop. But that’s another story.
Midnight Boom is one of my personal favorites, a grumbly blend of electronics and skiffle-punk, a nicotine-patch for the soul. But as the week has gone on, The Woods has been winning in the “giving me an itch to listen” sweepstakes. I seem to keep wanting more. Considering I grabbed it used at the mall an unknown number of years ago, that’s saying something.
I’ve always been a sucker for the no-bass approach, and Sleater-Kinney gets how to do that: have two guitars, and let them fight it out like cats in an alley, slashing at each other, while the drums sound like garbage cans being hit by a drunk. It’s raw and its ragged, which has always been S-K’s trademark, as has the almost-yodeled lyrics. Bleeding Edge is the aesthetic idea, hell-for-leather. Leave nothing on the field. This album adds to that a heavier, more-distorted sound, drawing reference from old-school hard-rock and classic metal. So this one just hits you harder, from opener “the Fox” on, pausing only at “Modern Girl” to take a gentle melodic breath.
“Let’s Call it Love” is the ambitious moment, 11 minutes of rolling thunder that builds which each iteration. When a man needs to headbang while he commutes, theres’ been nothing better. It got the usual critical acclaim from the usual suspects back in 2005, but as the group went on hiatus not long after, it’s never been built up as the worthy contributor to the tradition of Rock that it truly is. The full album is on YouTube below. RIP your ears, as the kids say.
The ease of digital recording has made it fun to collaborate with yourself.
All of these were made on Garageband, which is to say, they’re me on Guitar and bass, with drum fills borrowed. The exception is the opener, “Do Another One, Dad” which was just a series of fills created with the AuxyPro app on my phone, then transferred to Soundcloud and then Bandcamp.
I’ll probably do more of these, as it encourages me to actually learn and practice my instruments. Let’s face it, practicing is boring, and I’m the sort that won’t do it unless there’s a goal to work towards. I realize these are basic, and not examples of great songwriting, but I had fun with them.
As coronavirus and protests continue to disrupt the country and its economy, many have asked the best ways to support musicians who suddenly and abruptly lost their main form of income. The usual answer is “buy an album or merch” — and today (Friday, June 5) offers a rare opportunity to maximize the amount of…
Bandcamp is the kind of website we were promised when the internet started disrupting the music industry at the beginning of the century. It’s just the consumer and a million indie artists, with zero in the way of getting between you and what you want. There’s an exploratory aspect as well — you get the opportunity to discover things you wouldn’t have found otherwise. I’ve discoverd a handful of bands, some in genres that would never have occured to me, Via bandcamp. Behold, a sample of the really good ones.
See? It even embeds in WordPress. I can’t even get Apple Podcasts to do that.
“something much more existential, it’s just surfing on nothing. Being lost in your head or in your imagination but you know, whenever I listen to music I always find myself off somewhere. Somewhere in space. You know, in mental space and it’s a reference to that.”
In other words, daydreaming. I always thought they sounded a big shoegaze.
But is that why I like it? Did I, on some semiotic, unconscious level, get that about them?
Or did I just like the way the words sounded together?
Maybe I’ll try and figure that out. And maybe get one of their albums.
Sometime I create music as well. I consider them sonic doodles. Learning to play an instrument or absorb music theory feels like work. Because it’s work, and with you as your own taskmaster, inevitably you will be ridiculously lenient on yourself. So creating little sonic doodles and throwing them out on to the wild free internet gives you a sense of accomplishment and a reason to keep going.
This track, Butterfly Figure Skater, started as a deconstructed walking bass line, that I added a Guitar counterpoint to. The drums are a sample. It has aspirations to Jazz but is really just Rock.
The artwork is done with Adobe Spark.
Initially, I wanted to record enough tracks to put a 5-song EP on Bandcamp. I haven’t felt ready or had time to do that. And really, for that to be worthwhile, they’re going to need to be… good. And I’m not quite there yet. So this is a way for me to make stuff, get that feedback, and have fun with it.
Has any major pop star, of any era, required the level of indulgence that Kanye West demands? He’s a brilliant producer, an ingenious curator, and arguably the most consequential pop star of the last decade, but liking Kanye has always meant making peace with the arrogant, petulant, sometimes infuriating character in the foreground. For a…
For the record, I can take or leave him, music-wise (in terms of personality and politics, I take him about as seriously now as I did when he declared that George W. Bush didn’t care about black people). His stuff is interesting but I wouldn’t be heartbroken if I never heard any again. But I am not at all surprised to see the caste that held him up now prepared to drop him. And to be fair, this review does us the courtesy of not pretending that their reception isn’t colored by politics. So that’s something.
I liked Pop Culture better when it didn’t take itself so seriously.