The Monday Mess – The irony of good music – 19 Nov 2012

YupWelcome to the Monday mess, where this Monday we shall, mainly because I had most of this written, and I didn’t want to start anything else, via the medium of a small essay, take a flying look at the irony of good music. Will you still love me tomorrow?

I do not know this woman, she is just appreciating the irony of good music.
(Image courtesy of Morguefile.com)

In times gone by, that being the time before it was easy to get music off the internet and download individual tracks, the single used to be the selling point, and often the introduction to a new album. Originally the album was just a collection of tracks used to get more money from the consumer. Then Artists like the Beatles, The Beach boys, The Who, and many, many more utilised it for larger artistic statements. Record companies realised early on that they could make bigger profits from the album. Artistic statements aside, the album needed to be made, it needed to be sold, and some singles from the album was the way to sell it. Problem is, this often leads to albums with some good singles and some filler. Early Stones or Who anyone? The reality is there are good albums and bad ones. Singles are or were, not always a good indicator of how good the album is, or was. But unless you read reviews you had nothing else to go on other than the singles. Another problem is a good album does not always have good singles, or singles that catch on. Those albums might not get heard much no matter how good they are. Love’s “Forever Changes” being one example which has become a cult classic over time, and is genuinely a great album.

Of course this is the scenario in very general terms. Bands often built an audience through touring or word of mouth. But the point I’m getting at is a single is not always an indicator of how good an album is. The same tracks aside, you could almost say the two are unrelated. You could easily miss a lot of good music, and easily build up a collection of dross. The irony of good music, is that unless you get proper access to it, and a time to explore it, then you could easily not even discover it. Let me explain a little further.

Often good music or great music is layered, or the quality is not always fully apparent on the first listen or two. It takes our brain a couple of listens to decode it before the qualities begin to shine through. A quick listen on the radio isn’t going to get you that. But from the radio, that is what most people want. We more often need something that is catchy, that has the hooks that pull you in straight away. So receiving music that way, is mostly only a certain type of music. In most instances, anyway. That explains why when you buy an album, even one you soon come to love, it does not sound too impressive in the first listen or two. Unless of course it is full of catchy pop hooks. I cannot remember the amount of times I have bought albums and then had to give them a few days of plays to bed into my mind before deciding whether I really liked it or not.

Generally though, even if you don’t buy a lot of music, you will have some variety of taste. You might have been exposed to it from your parents, family or friends. You might be exposed to it through some constant radio listening, or certain tv shows. There will usually be something that didn’t grab you instantly but crept up on you over time. And there will be the opposite, something that stuck in straight away and sounded brilliant. But after a few plays that initial buzz has worn off. It’s ok but not that amazing. Then a few listens later and it is starting to do your head in. A simple truth in music is that writing music which is catchy, and stays with you, and maybe even reveals more detail over time, is difficult. Some are lucky to put together a good one on the fly, but repeating it? Not so easy. You see the irony of most good music is that it takes some time to grow on you, and reveal itself. It’s like a good friend, more just keeps on coming, even if the way you met was nothing special.

And if you survived that, or just skimmed over it, here is the same argument in “Nonet”:

To your ears, I do not sound like much

but I don’t give it up like that

I’ll tease, and let you taste it

draw you in, be your muse

wonder wat you missed

listen again

soon I will

grow on 

you

So with that, I’m signing off.

Have a nice week, and tune in somewhen further down it for the next brainsplats blog post.

Lexicon word of the day: etymology.

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Am I too addicted to buying new music?

Some recent buys and yes, I’m boring enough to burn downloaded music to CD so I can also play it via my stereo.

No results to “the experiment” parts 1 or 2 this week, I haven’t got round to writing it yet. My mind is on other projects, so I had to add a bit of finish to this half written post, instead.

I love music. Regular readers of this blog will know and understand this. An early post of mine discussed how music influences me, or more specifically, what music and writing have in common, to me anyway. I’ve blogged on music lots of times, although not too much recently. I’m always hearing new things I like on radio Sirius XMU, or reading about music that sounds interesting in Mojo magazine or on Pitchfork. So I like getting hold of it. I’m mostly talking about albums here. The snob in me looks down on just buying individual tracks. I’m an old timer in that sense. You can tell I’m a music fan when I love the album over downloading seemingly random tracks.

My current dilemma involves buying new music. Although I prefer CDs (for the quality of the format), I’m quite willing to try new music as downloads, especially when the price is good, that always seems to serve as a good introduction. But naughty Amazon.com keeps putting albums on a $5 or sometimes even less, price. So what is a music fan to do I ask you? Ok I shall give you the answer. Buy some music. Bring it on…

So I both do, and did. And you know what, it’s great. Problem is, when you get a new album, especially a half decent, or good, or great one, they take four or five listens to really open up and to begin to get to know the songs a bit. Your mind needs time to decode the layers. Usually a song that sounds great straight away, rarely lasts that long, before fading into the sometimes played. So time is needed to play new music, to fall for the lyrics, the melodies, the beat, the timbre, or whatever facet grabs you most. And I’m now getting a bit of a backlog of albums I’m trying to familiarise myself with. Here is a list of recent buys, loosely grouped into genres although admittedly some could cross into several groups:

Pop / Folk

  • The idler wheel is wiser than the driver of the screw and whipping cords will serve you more than ropes will ever do – Fiona apple
  • What we saw from the cheap seats – Regina Spector
  • Thats’s why God made the radio – The Beach Boys
  • Yours trully cellophane nose – Beth jeans houghton
  • Home again – Michael Kiwanuku
  • Tramp Sharon Van etten
  • Valtari – Sigur Ros
  • Bloom – Beach house
  • Master of my make-believe – Santigold
  • Dr dee – Damon albarn
  • Huh? – Spiritualized

Rock / Alternative

  • Maraqopa – Damien jurado
  • Oceania – The Smashing pumpkins
  • Neck of the woods – Silversun pickups
  • Open Your Heart – The Men
  • Celebration rock – Japandroids
  • Ghostory – School of seven bells
  • Funeral Blues – Mark Lanegan
  • Blunderbuss – Jack White

Dance / Soul

  • Hurry up, we’re dreaming – M83
  • Wonky – Orbital
  • The bravest man in the universe – Bobby Womack
And this is not everything either, there is probably some I’ve missed. Some of the above I am more familiar with than others. Thus far I would recommend checking out tracks from the Bobby Womack album, Fiona Apple, Jack White, Damien Jurado, Spiritualized, and if you like a good rock / slightly punk album, Japandroids. Though that said, none of the above strike me as bad thus far. For example if you’ve liked Orbital in the past, you’ll probably like that one. Oh and I’ve also bought the Sugar “expanded” reissues (when I was in the UK where they came out earlier and had dvd discs). I loved that band, they are one of my all time favourites. I’m obviously familiar with those though.
To help with this fun problem I recently received (a few weeks ago) an expensive but completely fabulous gift from my lovely wife and son. It was a pair of these superb Grado Labs SR225i headphones. You can keep your Dr Dre, or Bose headphones, I’m not criticising them, and I do own a few pairs of Sennheisers which are decent, but I prefer Grado Labs.

quiet now.. come to daddy..

This particular pair are open headphones which means if you are sitting nearby you will also be able to hear what is being played. But as anyone familiar with how headphones work can tell you, you can get a much better sound out of open headphones than you can closed ones. It is to do with the airflow. These headphones really are fabulous, they do a great job of opening up the sound, great clarity on instruments, great separation, they introduce things you have not noticed before. As a downside, they also show up when MP3 quality can be bad (the detail isn’t in the file to play), or when something has a dense mix and the separation is not there. These headphones are great, noticeably different from e.g. a $50 pair. An upgrade from my older pair Grado Labs Sr60i (also very good). And more encouragement to buy more music. Oh well, I love music, what can I do.

Music. It’s my addiction. Am I addicted to buying new music? Well of course, and old music as well. I love it. It is entertaining and inspiring in so many ways. If only I had time to do it justice. This addiction I’m ok with. Oh by the way, suggestions for other new good music are welcome below.

Lexicon word of the day: pudendum.

The Grammys.

It’s not about the Grammys, but a small nod to this blog here (by Aly Hughes) which is in similar spirit to what I’m trying to do with writing lately, and has had to put up with a couple of my comments this past weekend.

I am not American, I am English, and I live in California. I’m not a big fan of the Grammys anymore than I am of the Brit awards, the English equivalent. For me they are an excuse for big mainstream acts, i.e. those which have sold a lot, to back slap each other and tell each other how great they are. It excludes plenty of bands who may do well critically, but for a variety of reasons, have not hit the interest of the public at large, and thus not had the sales. They are mostly flirting with acts I’m not overly thrilled at, with a token indie act pulled in as though to show they’re making an effort. This year see Bon Iver. For a comparison, here is a list of albums I really liked from last year (currently in order but the order may change over time) :

  • 10 Bill Callahan – Apocalypse
  • 09 Tom Waits – Bad As Me
  • 08 Washed Out – Within and Without
  • 07 White Denim – D
  • 06 St. Vincent – Strange Mercy
  • 05 The Horrors – Skying
  • 04 Elbow – Build a rocket
  • 03 Wilco – The Whole Love
  • 02 Laura Marling – A Creature I Don’t Know
  • 01 PJ Harvey – Let England Shake

To add to that, you could say these ones where floating around the surface:

  • — Radiohead: The King Of Limbs
  • — Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds – Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds
  • — Arctic Monkeys – Suck It And See
  • — Girls – Father, Son, Holy Ghost
  • — Drive-By Truckers – Go-Go Boots
  • — My Morning Jacket – Circuital
  • — Bon Iver – Bon Iver, Bon Iver
  • — Kurt Vile – Smoke Rings For My Halo
  • — Kate Bush – 50 Words For Snow
  • — Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues
  • — Lykke Li – Wounded Rhymes
  • — The Decemberists – The King Is Dead

So I say compare this with the Grammys. See what I mean? Now I’ve nothing against Adele, she is very good, but not really for me, so well done to her. The Foo fighters I like but I’ve not listened to that one much so it is not on my list above (yet). The rest, I cannot even remember even though I watched the tv coverage! However that said, the live performances are often decent. The highlights for me:

  • Bruce Springsteen opening.
  • The Beach boys reunion. Brian Wilson kind of looks like an old man let out for the day who is not entirely sure where he is, or what he is doing, but thinks he ought to soldier on anyway. – Still it was great to see.
  • Adele’s live performance. Good return from surgery, knocked that one out.
  • Paul Mccartney’s finale with the “guitar off”. It put me in mind of the “Base off” that Spinal tap did at (I think) Live 8. It was clear that Dave Grohl & Bruce Springsteen were really enjoying themselves, although I think the latter broke a guitar string. That shines through and was fun to watch. I liked the bit where Paul sang at the end but Dave was still in shot over his shoulder and singing along as though it was him on the mike. This for me is a little of what music is about.

I suppose I should mention Whitney Houston. Not a fave of mine it has to be said, although she was an incredible vocalist. I could have done without the prayer at the beginning but no big deal. I suppose they treated the scenario in a dignified way without going too much over the top. However if this had happened a few months back, I cannot help think that she would have been little more than included in the “those lost” section with Amy Winehouse et al, and a song tribute would not have been necessary. It is only as it was the big news item the night before (and likely for the next few days) that it was felt as needed to be dealt with here

So no PJ Harvey even mentioned at the Grammys or no Wilco either. I’m not sure what the cut-off is for inclusion (and quite frankly have no wish to look it up right now). I saw Wilco live a few weeks ago, they are fantastic right now, playing like a band who know each other and are comfortable together.

I was going to write about the album “Copper blue” by Sugar, twenty years old this summer today. I will do that another day. A great album, and Bob Mould is a music legend. He demonstrates my point about the Grammys too, in that in music circles he is a legend for what he has done / written, but as never a big seller, is not part of that club. It is almost like he might not have existed, where to us who are fans, he means a lot more than many of the forgettable acts who have appeared on the Grammys over the years (This year Chris Brown, however much you try, I’m talking about you).

N.B. 2 PM update. I remembered earlier something I forgot to mention about token indie act Bon Iver. He won best new act – for his second album under this monicker. His first album was a critical hit although not a big seller. Why is that best new act? Are they referring to breakthrough, as in sales?

Lexicon word of the day: Mountebank.