Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Shellac Dude Incredible

So, it's been seven years. So, Touch and Go "retired" back in 2009. I can understand why folks might be excited at a new Shellac record on Corey Rusk's label. It is a good record, yes. I like it, but a few things nag at me about it. I want to just say " It's awesome, you need this", but that doesn't feel honest. I've seen the positive reviews, and they seem a bit forced and hyperbolic to me.  I'm not saying that I hate it. I've listened to it about six times already, and I just got it on Saturday. But, like I said, something about it nags at me.
One thing, right away, is that I'm just not in love with the sound of it. The bass is too clean and rubbery- like a jazz bass sound. The guitars are a bit too stately, with just a "tasteful" amount of distortion. I'm willing to bet it's the usual  guitar, into pre-amp, into tube amp. The microphone placement is superb, like Tony Visconti's on Bowie's "Heroes"- and creates an atmosphere that's both "dry" and ambient at the same time.
There are some new elements- a bit of country blues pedal tones on some tracks, some Jazz time signatures on others, and things keep on getting clearer to me- I have  heard this sound, Thirty five years ago, I heard a band that sounded a lot like this, only they played with fire, passion, and a steely eye on cutting out all distractions. In 2014, Shellac sounds like a jam session I heard the Minutemen playing in 1979. Only slower, and more academic, and dry.
Now, don't get me wrong, The Minutemen were glorious. Quite possibly the best American Punk Rock band, ever. But, after you've seen Dennes and Mike and George lay down the law- effortlessly fusing the British Art Punk of Gang of Four and Wire with Creedence Clearwater Revival roots, and Steely Dan  pop jazz, and doing so while stoned and spouting poetry that cannot be repeated- it's like a Sunrise over the Vermilion lakes in Banff National- the world comes alive in a way it never will again, and somebody pointing out another sunrise to you, and saying "See? See? Isn't this like it?"- you have sympathy for them, because they weren't there, but you just smile and hide your annoyance, and say "Yeah, that's kinda like it". You realize that it isn't fair, and that your experiences are yours alone, but it's hard to generate enough enthusiasm to  cover up your wistful nostalgia.
So, yes, it's a good record, but no,  I cannot play along to the hype. It's just a good record. A pleasing combination of notes. No Satori to be found here. My favorite tracks are " The People's Microphone" and "Gary". But, really, if you want  slightly mathy, slightly rootsy, super precise but noisey rock, with some punk, and post punk Aesthetics? Get some Minutemen records. Sorry to be such an old hipster about this, but truthfully, it's like the difference between glimpsing something  sublime, and seeing something pretty.

Marquee Release

So, as I type, I'm watching last night's Colbert Report, with his opening bit about Hilary Clinton's obnoxious "I'm Baack"- and it dovetails into what I want to talk about: We've got a new U2 and a new Shellac record this week.  I've heard, and enjoyed both, but I've got reservations about both, and those reservations have to do with fame, expectations, and hype. See, U2's new record came bundled with the new Apple's product, and the new Shellac record came out on a "retired" record label.  In both cases, the attempt is to create a "marquee" release- the assumption is "Hey, you like this band, and therefore you'll like us". That rankles me a bit. I won't do Apple products, and Touch and Go is just a record label to me, not a mark of quality. Still, I did get both, and I do like both. I'm not going to automatically do anything- I won't judge based upon anything other than the quality of the music. So far, both have some strengths and weaknesses. Neither one is what I'd call "10 out of 10"- both feature some coasting on the part of the band, and both follow some worn out tropes. But, I'll actually go over what I think of each a bit later- right now, I'm talking about the machine behind either release.
So, the point is?
Here's my point: I don't care that U2's record was auto-bundled with the new I-whatever, and I don't care that Shellac are "Indie Stalwarts", coming out on a hoary old label. I don't think anyone should care if U2 are this or that, or if Shellac are comprised of Uber producers, or whatever- the ONLY thing that should matter is if you dig the music. That's it. It's disheartening how little the actual music matters, whether people hate the machine ( U2) or love it ( Shellac).
This where Hilary comes in- people are talking about whether she'll run or not- but it's based upon her "profile"- just once, I wish it would be about her policies, instead.  Once again, it's about the machine, which is narcissism disguised as news. That has infected out discussion of art, philosophy, and aesthetics for too long- so, yes, I still want to know how long must we tolerate mass culture?