Musings on music, old, new, popular and obscure. Post punk, metal, hip-hop, funk, and rock in general. A music fan with a desire to lose boundaries on what should and should not be listened to writes about experience in music from a listener's perspective, hopefully unhindered by prior expectation.

Friday, March 9, 2012

When It Comes to Making Dreams, It's All Mixed Up

Sometimes I don't know where to start. There are decades of music, and plenty of it I've never heard, and plenty of it you've never heard, dear readers. Do I come in an emphasize a long-time love of my own? Do I try to bring one out that I feel people will not know? Do I try to pull a band out from the sturdy position of independent fame and influence, showing it to people who never heard of it? Address resources for music? Point to only the things I'm looking at in the immediate?

Any of these is an intriguing idea, and, unfocused though it may leave me, I want to address all of them, and leave this a discussion of music from an unusual viewpoint--not restrict that viewpoint to only certain elements or factors of the entirety of music.

I'd like to write about a band I love dearly and have spent horrifying amounts of money on, to say nothing of what a few family members have spent on them as gifts, but to cover エレファントカシマシ¹ known in English by the half-translation, half-transliteration "The Elephant Kashimashi," but that's a massive undertaking. They released a new single in November (yes, they still do that in Japan!), and another is coming in April. The album they are likely to appear on has not been announced yet, though. This seems like a solid place to bring them up, but it's effectively guaranteed that I'd have to address something like the totality of that band--which has existed, unchanged, for the last 24 years, with an album release almost every single year in that time, to say nothing of non-album singles, non-album b-sides, and EPs like Dead or Alive (no relation to the British band, video game or movies). This isn't the time for that, as that will probably take a few entries, perhaps to discuss them by "era."

Similarly, while I've recently acquired the reissues of The Fall's Cerebral Caustic and Shift-Work, that's another band that would need a lot of time devoted to try to make an accessible discussion work. That's 29 studio albums, a number more lives ones, endless compilations, EPs, non-album singles and more music in general than one can shake a stick at, no matter how vigorously.

Perhaps something from my trip to Hunky Dory today? Maybe the Echo & The Bunnymen album I picked up today (Crocodiles)? The Elvis Costello one, Trust, which might be my favourite? The Cult's Love? I don't feel comfortable getting into Echo yet, as I'm still learning about them, and the same can be said of The Cult. Costello also feels a bit daunting.

There's an itch to put something out here now, though. I'm listening to The Cars, giving Heartbeat City another full spin (however digital), as it's one of the albums I haven't taken in in its entirety much if ever. For some time, I sort of equated the band with the "other side" of New Wave. Many a punk documentary will address the idea that "new wave" was just the radio-safe term for punk, and bands like The Talking Heads simply rode under it on the airwaves, while still playing at CBGB's and associating with that scene. But there was often something a bit off about new wave bands, when compared to punk, whether one takes it as a complete split descendant or merely an exploration of what the full envelope of what "punk" was musically at the time.

I've often repeated this notion in conversation, but suggested, then, that perhaps bands like The Cars took it in a different direction, being a rock or pop band that appropriated or incorporated the sensibilities of the beginnings of new wave, excised the "punk" sort of elements and merged the genre into what it is often now understood to mean. Genres are both fascinating and frustrating in this respect: where does this one end and that begin? Is it possible to categorize many bands by genre, or should it be done by album? Song? Sure, there are nice major umbrellas to work with, and my own music collection has a handful of divisions. I keep my rap, metal, jazz and electronic music separate from my "everything else," but what about the things that straddle, or ride an edge? Is that division not artificial in some respect?

I have friends who live or die by genres (thankfully, so far it's live), but I have difficulty with boxes. I like the advantage of them, as it tells someone a bit about what to expect, but I always think that maybe it will be too limiting for a person's expectations. I like genres like "post-punk" and "post-hardcore," because there doesn't seem to be any real, clear unifying element at their outset, meaning they never gelled into this singular sound that means "Oh, that is, and this isn't." It means I can hear a band is "post-punk" and know only that it's going to be different from other things. Maybe it will be similar to some, but in general it will be anything.

There are a fair number of guarantees with the bigger umbrellas, like rap or metal or jazz, so that makes it a daunting task to address any of those. "Oh, it's a metal band." Okay, well, is it black metal? Death metal? Thrash metal? Heavy metal? Weird, experimental jazz metal?² It tells me enough to possibly feel a sigh come on, because it means something specific, but it's not all that specific. A lot of people discount a lot of those umbrella genres straight off, but find themselves exposed to the curious exceptions, the genre-straddlers, the experimenters and the carefully crafted masters, and realize that perhaps there are exceptions.

It's here, I guess, that I have my mission statement: I don't like approaching music and hearing, "You like metal, right? Check out this band!" and just sighing and moving on. Music is reaching a point of confusing saturation as quality production tools, recording methods and tweaks are more and more available, and accessibility is increased a thousandfold from where it was even ten years ago, let alone twenty or more. But that does not mean that all new music is awful, or all of it is great, or that either of those is true about any time frame.

It makes the mission of advancing anything short of a single band or genre without militant focus a goal of quite probable impossibility. Yet, that is my goal. I don't want to just tell people about the brilliance of indie-rap crew Doomtree, who have five emcees that range from an ex-punk to a couple of poetry-oriented lyricists to a sometime-singer to a brash "standard" one. I don't want to just talk about the lost post punk bands of the late 70s and 80s, known only to those of us who have heard that term and associated it with good things.

There's so much out there, from before and from now, that's lost to people in the flush of availability, but moreso in the intent refusal to expand beyond familiar bases. I don't advocate an internal superiority in myself for this approach, but it's rewarding enough that I wish to share it with others. To find that metal band, that rap group, that country singer who is an exception to your existing rules, to poke at notions about how all rap "sucks," or all metal is unlistenable, or all new music, or all popular music, or all punk is junk.

That is the intent here, and it's muddled and unfocused and it's difficult, but I think the end result is worth reaching for, even if it's only here and there that you find yourself thinking, "Hey, this band is actually pretty good, I'm glad I found out about this."

That's what I hope for in anyone who wanders in here--something new to enter your life, something interesting and exciting and peculiar, because those are the best parts of mine.

¹Apologies to those who do not have MS Mincho installed, though it is at least becoming standard.

²I'm thinking of Ephel Duath, here:

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