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.

Monday, April 16, 2012

A More Casual Update on the State of Music and Me -- Gotye, Jeff Beck, and Poll Update

 I've written a bit on my feelings regarding immediate impressions of music, but it's not a perfectly strict rule. Now, that isn't to say that all, or even part, of what I wrote before is irrelevant. What I'm going to tell you now is, for one thing, likely not news to many people, or maybe some of it will be. That doesn't matter, as there are bits and pieces, at the least, that will be new to people. And newness isn't the point--were I to begin pursuing "unheard" music for dissemination I'd turn into the reality of John Peel (who I'm beginning to think is the soul I'd most like to aspire to be), rather than the reputation of the man. If you start pouring through comments on his actual show, or look at reviews of the box set of singles that his label, Dandelion Records (named for his hamster--true story), released, you'll find that some people feel there is an "ugly truth," in that for every Pink Floyd, Marc Bolan or David Bowie, there is Bridget St. John or Medicinehead. Some stuff apparently is pretty decent, and a lot is apparently considered forgettable pap.

Now, my own approach to things means I don't particularly care about that, and I'm actually kind of interested in that Dandelion material, mediocre or unimpressive though it might be, because it actually makes Peel even more interesting to me. Honesty and integrity of taste is one of the things I find most completely respectable, and it means that Peel saw something in those artists that no one else does. Not in the sense of a magic guru ahead of his times, but in the sense of a man who had tastes that weren't defined by what was cool, is cool, or would be cool--except to himself. He liked Sheena Easton and had no shame about it, he loved the Fall like there was no tomorrow, despite the rocky reputation their cluttered discography has when some parts are magnified.

So, rather than begin to pour in things you've never heard of and I've never heard of--the desire to hear things first is one I've long, long since abandoned--I want to simply emphasize the things I hear in the natural course of things. It can be random suggestions, names that prick up my ears, names I've read or heard a thousand times, or mistakes made from confusion of names that seem similar in my head. Sometimes covers lead me somewhere with no other clear origin. Sometimes an image comes up that attracts my eye. There's no telling, really.

But this brings me to where I am: Gotye. Apparently, the song "Somebody That I Used to Know" is gaining some meteoric rise in popularity thanks to a Saturday Night Live appearance and its usage in Glee. I won't claim to have seen either (I haven't watched a new episode of SNL in all my life, I think, at least not often, and I don't have an immediately positive reaction to most show choir-styled music, though, as with everything, I'd like to sample things a little more widely to get a better idea), but I'm not going to be silly enough as to pretend I knew the man's work before everyone else. Or, apparently, anyone else. I ran across the song quite by chance, and something clicked for me:

Someone asked what was so special about this song that it seemed to work for a lot of people, and I don't really know the answer for anyone else. I get the idea that Glee fans sort of glom onto anything the show plays, because it becomes associated with (nevermind sung by) characters they like on a show they enjoy, which makes sense. So I guess that might answer some of that.

Me? I've already mentioned my appreciation of distinctive voices, briefly noting on occasion an affection for less abrasive but more simply distinct ones like that of Lindsey Buckingham or Danny Elfman¹. Gotye--a stage name, it seems, for Wouter De Backer (who is Belgian by birth, but has origins in Australia)--has the bizarrely kinda-phonetic alternate spelling for Gauthier, but he mostly has an interesting voice. The way he sings the chorus, in particular, rubs me the right way. His guest vocalist, Kimbra (about whom I know even less) hits a similar tenor at the end of her brief phrase. The weird electronic beat behind them also fits very well to my ear, and makes a rather depressing and uncomfortable song terribly catchy. I'm kind of interested to hear one of Gotye's whole albums, but have not made the leap yet.

Jeff Beck is probably most known for his string of albums in the late 60s and early 70s, TruthBeck-Ola. Blow by Blow, and Wired, the former two being performed by and credited to "The Jeff Beck Group." Well, during my tenure at Borders, a late addition was the introduction of a "budget" music section composed primarily of SBME (Sony/BMG Music Entertainment) "Special Markets" re-issues. I snagged some pretty great stuff in there, but most of it is stuff that, for whatever reason, was left behind, even if by known artists. Lacking in hits, sometimes, or just not regarded as a superior album. This has rarely (if ever) stopped me. It gives me a chance to not focus on a known track (more on that some other time) and just listen to a collection of songs.

Jeff was one such album, Beck's 2000 "electro-guitar" work, which starts with the rather interesting mix of guitar and bombastic electronic music "So What":
I ended up liking the album straight through (side note: "So What" is an excellent, if speed-inducing, driving track) and took a chance on the preceding album, You Had It Coming when it snuck through as well. It's in the same vein, Beck playing over primarily electronic beats, though eventually he decides that an experience "jamming" with a blackbird is cause for a track and used recordings of them to play this pretty little piece:

To prove the irrelevancy of the Grammys, both albums hard Grammy-winning tracks ("Best Rock Instrumental Performance") but are largely forgotten and meet with mixed reviews in "professional" circles at best. It's interesting, though, that Beck is one of the few guitar heroes who has managed to sit in that comfortable space where criticism is often not felt warranted to bring him down a notch. This isn't to say there aren't detractors out there (I haven't seen them myself, but I can't believe anyone has an exclusively positive reputation), but they don't go after him for being a rip-off artist (Clapton, Page) nor a soulless "wanker" (quotes to emphasize the idea of "soulless wankery" as a description of musical masturbation from virtuosic players, often applied to a certain school of shredders like Steve Vai and Yngwie Malmsteen). I find this interesting just on the face of itself, though, and most likely just a statement on what losing visibility can do to level off reputations. You tend to be left with those who want to hear your stuff, and not enough availability for those easily annoyed to feel the need to comment.
Briefly, an update on polling:
Honestly, it's been interesting. Bad Veins, Slade and Dinosaur Jr have all tied with each other. Repeatedly. Right now we're sitting on Slade as the winners, which works just fine for me, as I wanted an excuse to hear more of them (less easy to come by, it must be said). Of course, it doesn't exclude the others from my listening, and I tend to have bits of each with me when out and about listening. Just thought a bit of an update might do some good here, so that you know I've not asked for this then ignored it. Just getting a feel for them so I can speak more clearly!

Back to Post ¹Danny is the vocalist component in my imaginary "dream band." While I've yet to settle distinctly on a bassist--personal 'voice' is the most important quality for me, forgetting comparative skill, or, probably most ridiculously, compatibility--the other known components are Keith Moon on drums (I'm mildly proud of being able to recognize that Who songs I know less well are Who songs simply because of Keith's drums, considering half the time I couldn't nail down anyone's style) and Mark Knopfler, mostly for his peculiar playing style, as well as the insistence he had on playing on "Beverly Hillbillies," "Weird Al" Yankovic's rendition of "Money for Nothing." When asked for permission to use it, he said "Only if I get to play guitar." To which Al says he replied, "Um, OKAY!" The ending licks, dare I say, sound even better than his orignal ones. Really.
John "The Ox" Entwhistle and Bazra's Kentarou Miura are my contenders for bassist, but there's not quite a distinctive enough element for me to settle on a bassist yet.
I only just thought about keys. Oh, good lord. Let's not even go there. Why did I have to think of keys?


  1. Gotye's other music is rather meh...however Kimbra has some rather unique things going on. That, and she's puurdy.

  2. I sampled a few things briefly, and didn't go too much for his other stuff, but this song didn't click immediately either, so I wasn't sure.


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