Saturday, March 10, 2012
Friday, March 9, 2012
So, in a recent post, I was talking about how song craft is important. No less a figure than Wino would agree, at least in principle.
The first thing would be to describe what Songcraft is. Bottom line, it's about the discipline of finding a meter, and seeing it through. On the one hand, that can be very simple- iambic pentameter, 4 line verses, 2 line chorus, and you're done. In Rock and Roll, it's usually based around the 12 bar system of the blues- Tonic, subdominant, and dominant, and 4 bars to a line.
Music doesn't have to be quite that limited, and a song can be extremely well-structured on the basis of the 32 bar rhythm changes of 4 eight measure sections. But the point is that the meter makes the song. Ignore meter- and I know lots of 1970's era Prog bands that do ignore meter, and the song craft dies, in favor of the "jam". Well, to borrow a phrase from the mighty MC5- Kick out the jams, brothers and sisters ( Nope, I don't swear gratuitously- here's why- I want the content of what I'm saying make the impression, not the format)
See, what most listeners crave in music is some form of harmony. Sure, technically, that means vertical harmony, while what I'm describing in meter is closer to the melodic line, or horizontal - but, even Frank Zappa reached for a kind of harmonic tension in his compositions- in the meter.
So, when we talk about music the extensively uses dissonance- the "harmony" can be in the metrical use of dissonance-
Putting this in terms that everyone is sure to understand- no matter what you do in a song, make sure it sounds like you meant to do that, so that the listener, whether they perceive the individual bits and pieces as working together or not, understands that there is a plan- that, to me, is the essence of songcraft.
I think this is why people are willing to accept "music" with no melody- such as is found in some rap/hip hop and Industrial music, or where the melody is submerged to the beat, like in Grind, and Deathmetal, or where the harmonies are so odd that nothing sounds 'in tune' to western ears, like Math rock or free jazz.
Now, this is one of my underlying aesthetics. I can certainly understand, intellectually, how some folks just love the 400 bar free form "jam" that some bands indulge- "Dude, the drummer did a 20 minute solo, followed up by the bass player and flute player jamming for another 10 minutes! It was AWESOME!" but that has zero emotional resonance with me. This is why I hate 99% of guitar solos in hard rock and metal- in order for some dude to show off his ability to pull off 18 varieties of hammer ons, and achieve 164th notes, the whole structure of the song has to stop for "THE SOLO". Emphasize that crap too much, and it's like listening to somebody's workout routine- maybe that's entertaining for you, but I'd rather gouge out my ears.
Now, both require a kind of discipline- and I can always respect discipline, but ( and this is another part of my ever-evolving aesthetics) for me, I prefer the disciplines that aren't about inflating one's personal ego, and are more about serving some purpose outside of the self. Think about it- do you prefer someone who is single-minded in their pursuit of getting accolades, or do you prefer someone who wants to make something that other people will enjoy, even if that means that they will get less personal thanks? Either way can be validated, but i know where i stand.
I think most of us feel like I do, and I can prove it simply- I've got two blogs on blogger. This one which is a lot more focused on other people, and one that's purely self-indulgent,and probably more intelligent and sophisticated- people choose to read this one at about 500 to 15 ratios. There you go.
Ultimately though, the only aesthetics that matter are yours. If you can find stuff on this blog that serve your needs, fantastic! I'm not about to change it too much, but that's kinda the point of this whole thing- rather than mass culture- where we look for some kind of personal meaning in impersonal Art, my goal is to find those points where my personal tastes intersect with the public. Geddit?
Monday, March 5, 2012
Sunday, March 4, 2012
I'm not just a nostalgia act, I swear!
I'm also listening to some stuff that's new for me. Four bands- Thelema, Nonagon ,Tennis Bafra and Kathy's Clowns.
Thelema is neither original in their name, nor musical intent- but they execute quite nicely. I got Thelema! from Bandcamp, and that's about all I know about them biographically. I thought they were either the Italian goth band, or the Russian metal band, but evidently they're a stoner band from Argentina. Yes, I called them "Stoner' but it's not really true. This stuff is grunge from the metallic end of the spectrum- a lot of Alice in Chains, with some early Soundgarden, and more than a dash of Candlebox. But, on the fast tracks, like my favorite "Dystopia", they have enough swing and propulsion that I'll group 'em in with the harsher Stoner stuff. Good, not fantastic.
I've mentioned before when I've gotten something because it was a promo. It's that time, again. Nonagon sent me a promo email, and I downloaded their People Live Everywhere promo ep. I suspect it's because I'm a big fan of the United Sons of Toil, because I can hear some carryover. But, Nonagon sound a bit more traditional than USOT. Oh, this is still some dissonant skronky stuff, but I'm hearing more traditional structure to the songs, less math. Still, Rusty ( and I really cannot imagine that you haven't), if you haven't heard them, I think you'd like them. Still what does all this insider trading type talk have to do with why I'm writing about them? Here's what, this is another very rare example of a promo item I really like. They've got some heft and swing to the songs, and no matter how non-traditional the chord progression, time signature, or tuning, ultimately, I, as a listener want something that moves me both emotionally as well as mentally. So, much like USOT, I can tell they know what they're doing, and the craft shows. See, back in the day, Punk Rock said 'Anyone can do it", and ever since people have mistaken that for an invitation to disregard songcraft, which isn't what Punk Rock seemed to be about, if you ask me. Punk Rock was pretty much the opposite- it was saying "look, there are methods and ways of creating culture, and none of it is magic, or arcane formula- anyone can learn how to make a song, or design a shirt, or entertain their friends- follow the craft, and you can do it, too". So I'd much prefer to hear a band like Jawbox, Unwound, USOT, Jesus Lizard, or Nonagon who have a solid understanding of the craft behind making music, and then, want to play with the formula than hear some band who never understood the craft, to begin with- though, that can be fun, in limited doses ( See Germs, Flipper, "Fun House" Stooges, etc)- because that's the best chance of actually communicating through music. See, to me, the band should be something more than emphasis for the singer. I think that the music, itself, should communicate thoughts and feelings. That's next to impossible, if the players don't know what they're doing. I have to break it to any moody, artistic teenaged romantics out there- if you want me to see your heartbreaking genius, you're going to have to know how to display it properly. Anyway, so this is meticulously well crafted post-punk with a mathy approach. Yes, that's a good thing. The songs go zoom, thud, strum and smack in a most satisfying way, and the overall sense of angst, and wry humour with just a bit of nervous anxiety is a great formula.
Then, there's Tennis Bafra. Slackers! Seriously, they've been at it how long, and they're now releasing this? I've heard elsewhere that they sound like a more-organized Sonic Youth. I can hear a lot of Sonic Youth, and yes, there's more pop-song structure than Sonic Youth are wont to display, but these guys are just slackers. The songs, even when uptempo on Abulia Jubilee, seem to meander, and they seem to be coasting along on the tunes. I think that's why people hear Pavement and Sonic Youth, and so on, but the difference is this- Sonic Youth was pursuing a pose- these were well-educated Art school dropouts who were doing Rock as a kind of performance art, while Pavement were Ivy League dropouts who were defiantly rejecting the type A lifestyles that they were told to expect. Tennis Bafra seem like Skaters who get off on noise. And you know what? I get off on noise, too. Call this one a guilty pleasure. I dig it, because they do the kind of tough jams that Sonic Youth grew too tired to do, but I have no pretense that it's great Art. It's more or less a tribute to 1990, but I'm good with that, just as entertainment.
Kathy's Clowns win instant points with me for copping their name from You Am I. yes, it's possible they copped the name from elsewhere, but they are related, in some fashion, to the Blue Chairs, who really love the Church, which makes me think they're more familiar with Australian music than the Everly Brothers, or tropical fish. This is another band that I've got next to no biography on- I just saw the name, and the profile on Jamendo, and was impressed by the sound. Some clues seem to indicate they may prior have been known as the Tales, but I can't tell 100%. What I can tell you is they do some great classic power pop- some vocal resemblance to The Cranberries, but mostly is sounds more 1980's- Bangles, Pandoras- that sort of retro mod fascinated stuff.