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.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

All You Need Is Drums to Start a Dance Party, and You're Invited to Our Dance Party

There's something of a curse to trying to keep an open mind about music: the last post I made, over two weeks ago, hints at this.

Of course, that only addressed that particular time frame for purchasing music, not including the recent releases of a new Baroness record, a new Mission of Burma record, the hinted but otherwise unmentioned new Elephant Kashimashi record (albeit delayed--but, hey, I have to import the things!). I stumbled into the remaining FYE while out to see The Dark Knight Rises and found myself walking out with a number of severely discounted items that caught my eyes, either fulfilling curiosities existing or beginning new ones and being irresistible at the price of $1.50 for an expansion of experience, taste and ideas. These releases were, by and large, obscure in the near-extreme. One has befuddlingly misplaced cover art on Amazon and is out of print--actually, many of them are out of print--and another is easily found to be out of print (and semi-valuable!) by notice of the very artist behind it, with only a tiny bit of Googling. And, of course, they were on top of an existing backlog of material I've only skimmed, aurally speaking. I have made it a habit to listen to all "new" music I acquire, but that doesn't mean I am able to give it time to quite sink in.

There are a few ways this little problem makes itself most readily apparent, and is fed and pushed to move further into the abyss. Of course, wandering into a new place with hidden nooks and crannies (even those technically out in the open) of music does not ever help me, as I've noted above and previously. However, there are some other things that are problematic. A coworker recently asked for a recommendation starting from the song "Crystal" by New Order. Unfortunately, I've not gone past my initial experience of New Order, at least not much. I did pick up Substance 1987, the New Order companion release to the Joy Division compilation Substance (the "1987" was added to differentiate). A number of alternate cuts and edits are present on that release, some unavailable elsewhere. I still have not gotten the last of those reissues though, 1989's Technique, let alone the work New Order did after they left Factory Records. This gives me the impression that I've somehow failed to complete a branch of music knowledge, which drives me to go further on.

Beyond that, we've got the trap of reading liner notes for any release I pick up, and that's a lot of reading considering the volume of re-releases, re-issues and similar items I pick up. In the best case scenario, someone will establish a band by listing contemporary bands, often more popular ones, and then move on to talk about the artist in question whose release I'm reading notes for. In the worst case, there will be a comparison--something about how this or that track is reminiscent of this artist whose name pops up consistently in my reading, and I know I have to pick something new up, or at least keep an eye out. Sometimes a completely oppositional stance is taken on an artist I've previously left in the "can be skipped" stack. I'm often affected if an artist with a reputation for being banal is held up in the context of experimentation.

Sometimes these ideas sprout from the obsessive cataloging I perform on my digital collection, as splits, compilations and similar releases pass my eyes. This only got worse with the unreasonably exciting additions to my actual book library:

Mark C. Strong wrote a number of these books in the late 1990s and early 2000s, publishing an edition or two before losing interest, or the market fell out--I don't know why he stopped, but the end truth is it gave me details I simply could not find elsewhere on the internet in each case. To finally know the month of release for Leon Russell's "If I Were a Carpenter" single, or when the Blue Thunder EP was released by Galaxie 500 isn't a huge deal, but the fact that it ends some searching and fills out an intended chronology of music is its own victory, in my weird way. Of course, as one flips through books of 1,000 or more pages of concise multi-artist discographies, names jump out, and the knowledge that those artists had to be chosen for inclusion means something, or seems as though it certainly ought to, anyway.

I've already got a list of artists and releases in all my Android accounts to carry with me when wandering stacks of CDs, which grows periodically, often from episodes of Nevermind the Buzzcocks that I watch online and hear hints of (bringing me to the Skids and the Ruts, for example, but more on all that some other time).

All of that and the rest of life can make it difficult to know where to start to write something here: the albums or songs appealing to me personally?--Often, if I'm honest, whatever Ryan Adams album I happen to be listening to, and this is not supposed to be a blog about him exclusively, much though I seem to have difficulty avoiding the subject. Perhaps the historically important artist I'm currently exploring? That's often dangerous: I've had a recent fascination with the Byrds, for instance, but am nothing like an expert on the subject, and feel utterly out of my depth in trying to discuss a band as heavily established as that one, so I don't much plan to do it. But there are of course others I'm always looking at from smaller branches of history, like Mission of Burma, who released "Academy Fight Song" as a single back in June of 1980, but just released an album two weeks ago. Maybe the obscure favourites of my own, like my renewed interest in the strange rhythms, melodies and peculiar instructions--linked by absurdly catchy choruses--of The Fall of Troy?

I don't know so often that I am left unsure what to even write, as I bounce from song to song and album to album and artist to artist, sometimes suffering an attention span of easy distraction, sometimes just following a mood or an unknown mental thread to an end I can't rightly describe or elucidate.

Right now I'm listening to Death Is Silent, the album I mentioned is noted as out of print by its own author, Kno of Georgia's CunninLynguists. Sure, the name is an old gag, but it has its relevance for independent rap, and Kno is doing something rather dark and unhappy largely with this album. Haunting ruminations on death, albeit mixed with interesting side-points like "La Petit Mort (Come Die with Me)," which is a far-from-unusual-in-rap discussion of sex (the French phrase meaning "the little death" being a term for orgasm), but in an unusual lyrical fashion.

Yet, in front of me is Sunny Day Real Estate's Diary, which is known as some of the earliest "second wave emo," when the term began to change from bands like Rites of Spring to bands like Dashboard Confessional. Of course, much like some other genres, the secondary meaning eclipsed the first and the original meaning was lost to the mountains of derision poured upon the second. Inevitably, "emotive hardcore" bands on YouTube are stuck with a deluge of "pro-emo" and "anti-emo" comments, be it defense of the original terminology, repeated ignorance of that original meaning (usually in defiance of explanations thereof), or the linguistic acceptance of the more universally-understood meaning, regardless of alternate meanings, however original they may be. I first heard the name of SDRE about ten years ago, more off-hand than anything else, in a context that didn't light enough of a fire under me to consider looking into it. Discovering, via documentary Back and Forth, that the Foo Fighters' bassist Nate Mendel came from the band, that there was something more than personal associations driving the continued presence of the band's name, and that a reissued copy was hanging around the shelves of a local used record store, I gave in and picked it up, though I've yet to listen to it.

I still want to write about all these things. However, the feedback I receive here tends toward the idea that I know quite a bit about music--usually expressed in a vaguely awe-struck and overwhelmed sense, with the idea that all the knowledge I try to imbue my writing with for the purposes of detail, context and explanation, is too much for those unfamiliar with these details. Of course, my familiarity is often limited or purely contextual: the intent, nonetheless, is purely to inform, explain, praise, endorse and otherwise encourage experience of the things I write about, not to show off what I know. It's to establish what I know for those who know things themselves so that a certain bridge of trust can be built, and to give background to explore or couch the topic at hand in for those as yet unfamiliar.

I explore music by experimentation: it's usually planned and cautious, but occasionally drifts off into impulse and emotionally-driven grabs at things that just hit the right note. There's no right way to do it, of course, and I can't make anyone listen to or like anything--nor would I want to. Well, I do enjoy it given a captive audience of a kind, but less for controlling (or torturous!) purposes and more for the chance to spread the wealth, to pull out the things others may enjoy but may not have had the chance to hear. It's hardly intentional, but I find myself thinking, again, of John Peel--while his drive was to be the first to hear anything, to be sure he caught a new sound immediately, mine is more to find all the interesting sounds I can, to gather an understanding and appreciation and then disseminate them.

Some I know have gone to the trouble to cut, pare, and simplify their tastes on occasion once they discovered how wide-ranging their taste may be, but I can't see myself doing that. All the different sounds fit into so many different places, I can't fathom skipping any of those sounds when those places are still there, emotionally, visually, or physically, where those sounds fit best.

So, off I continue--perhaps, as Travis once sang, all you need are drums, but I guess I want a party with more than just dancing, so I need more than just the drums.

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