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Friday, January 25, 2013
Listing To Port

Once again it is Rock 'n' Roll Top Ten Time. Or rather several weeks past time. Who to champion? I got no idea. I don't pay attention to things like I used to. Dead in the water and listing to port, that's me. But I have a post to write, so its time to trim the ballast tanks and start bailing. I don't really have an extensive nautical metaphor thing lined up. Wish I did, but that last sentence was it. Maybe next time.

My modus operandi is that I keep a little list during the year, mostly at work, where I write down any song which impresses me distinctly, and which I don't immediately recognize. Nothing else goes into it. The last few years when I parse the list at the end of the year I find that I've been noting fewer new bands. This brings me to a question my nephew Grant asked one day recently. This while looking through my iPod: "Is there anything anyone my age (14) listens to that you would listen to?" The short answer to that is probably no (and to the implied verso). Although Nicole, his cousin six years older a junior at Radagast college in Providence, liked Thao Nguyen who I also like a lot. Their (Thao Nguyen and the Get Down Stay Down Band) third album We the Common comes out in a week or so.

There are, I imagine, reasons for this Venn diagram of separateness in his and my playlists. I'll make a stab at a pop culture casuistry. Music among its many almost infinite facets functions as an affinity identifier. By this I mean that that a band; its music lyrics personalities and crafted image can be used as signifiers marking your desire to belong to or be included in certain groups. This portion of popular culture exists as a ready-made artifact especially for the young to accomplish this express task. There is a difference between expending effort singling out new bands versus liking music. I don't listen to music any less than I did before, and I still play my guitar, as in-artfully as ever. It is that I do not care as much whose music it is, or what scene (industry vector) it's emerging from.

It is also true that as I get older and see waves of bands come and go It's easier to spot artists that are getting by on style, often borrowed style, alone. Usually these bands will not be around long. I know there are differing rules for judging style, I've got nothing against retro style, I've loved every rockabilly, garage, ska, soul, Beatle-pop, Tex-Mex and punk rock revival that's come down the pike, believe me.

Now it could be that as a middle-aged person I do not resonate to the themes and obsessions of 12-24 year olds as much as I used to. Or even when it comes to it, comprehend them. The problem with that line of reasoning is that I still thrill to those same anthemic testaments of youth when sung by bands from my youth. I suppose it's simply a matter of privileging one's own cohort. I recognize that all youth is largely a parallel experience but ever in a different country. What I'm saying is that I'm talking 'bout my generation. Of course The Who were not really my generation, rather the Jam, the Clash, Mission of Burma, Dream Syndicate, Minor Threat were. I have mostly been in the alt/punk subculture community since '77 when I first heard the Ramones and Sex Pistols. It is certainly part of how I relate to music generally, that pop music exists mainly as an exterior set of reference points to me.

The way I listen to music also influences things. I like radio over Pandora or Pandora-like things, but not programmed robot pop radio either. Nor college radio for reasons rendered earlier. WFMU is similar to (volunteer djs and self-programmed), but not the same as college radio. Call it curated radio. Stuff happens they react. What-they-play-is-what-you-get. My view is: a good radio station uses the whole road when they drive.

    2012 en-noted favorites. In no order, numbered to obfuscate.
  1. First up Caetano Veloso. One of the founders of Brazilian Tropcali. Another of 1968's irreducible flames. I've written him in my notes before, but this year after listening to Maria Bethania I knew he had to go on the list. He wrote an autobiography in 2002 Tropical truth : a story of music and revolution in Brazil and I'm aware that there is a feature length documentary on Tropicalia out now and making the rounds on the film festival circuit Tropicalia (2012) - IMDb. I saw Searching for Sugarman at the Rehoboth Film Festival last year, maybe Topicalia will be there this year.
  2. Next a band that called itself the Flower Travellin' Band - Wikipedia. They were a late sixties/early seventies Japanese hard psych band. I'm not sure whether the song I heard was "Satori part i" or ii. There are at least that many parts maybe more.
  3. In a very similar vein, really, the Groundhogs - Wikipedia a late sixties/seventies British band in the mode of the Pretty Things or Pink Fairies led by one Terry McPhee. I find it surprising that I continue to come across great hard rock bands from that period I was not already familiar with. This shows again that history unless pressed tends to tell a small ordered tale and just pretend it is the whole story. The song I heard was "Garden", but of course there is also Cherry Red
  4. Another band I liked that turned out to be a contemporary band from San Francisco were The Wrong Words and their song "I will change your mind" a nice example of pop garage psych.
  5. A song called "Joa" by a Chicago band called Disappears which are a garage rock ensemble with a droney experimental side makes this list too. By the way I wouldn't want my inability to deploy a full suite of modern rock adjectives to keep people from thinking I don't like a sound. It's just that, as yet, there's no app for that. Steve Shelley from Sonic Youth was in this band for about a year early on.
  6. Next I have two bands named Holmes. First, the band I initially intended New Jersey's Holmes a Lyres-esque rocking band and their song from last year "Free the Preacher" which was possibly my most persistent ear-worm all year.
  7. Then while I was searching the Internet for something on that Holmes I came across Sweden's Holmes on bandcamp Holmes (Sweden). A very different band but I liked them. Under the unified rules of serendipity both Holmes need to be included in this list. To me they seem a cross of Band of Horses and the Decemberists, even moodier perhaps.
  8. Takako Minekawa - Wikipedia is a Japanese singer active in the 1990's and on. Her quirky indie-pop is not the same as j-pop by any means. Her song "Plush" is probably the best song about brushing hair you're ever likely to hear.
  9. Another Japanese singer I heard this year was MI-GU (Yuko Araki), the song was called Spiders. The Mi-gu project seems to involve a Hirotaka Shimizu as well, both from the band Cornelius. She has also done a collaboration with Mike Watt who I still remember from the Minutemen (I saw the Minutemen once).
  10. Last up David Kilgour - Wikipedia and the song "Today is going to be mine" this song is from his solo career and is off the 2002 album A Feather in the Engine. Kilgour was in the New Zealand band the Clean with which he occupied both ends of the 1980's defining indie pop.

As an addendum to this year's list and perhaps cutting across the new music/old music divide. One takeaway I've had from many years of paying more attention to the lesser stars than the Big Stars of the world, is an appreciation for the quotidian musician. The guy or gal who has to go out on the road and play live in front of people to put food in the refrigerator. This includes those who may in fact make money off their recordings, but must tour so that people know they have recordings. It includes the DC barber who years ago came to an English class at the University of Maryland to talk about the narrative of the Blues, his real vocation. It doesn't matter whether they play because it's their preferred means of living, or having made a youthful start playing in a band and learned no other trade, it remains their only assured way of making money. I'm afraid sometimes that we've made pop music into too much of a young persons game That it's harder to earn a living from it, even as you learn and get better at it.

Part of the problem is that Rock and Roll seems unadaptive as a medium. Too caught up in its role as the purveyor of youthful rebellion. Songs of girls guys and fast cars. Or, at that. songs about slow cars and fast girls. A medium ill-prepared to carry narratives of middle life concerns well. The work that you do just to meet other financial necessities. The entire web of obligations, car payments, marriage and children that is the character of mid life.

You might make the argument that with its fast syncopated rhythms and loudness rock is preternaturally disposed towards the kinetic concerns of the young and nimble. However with its polyglot and polymorphic nature rock and roll is certainly structurally suited towards a wider range of emotional and psychological stances. Yet by and large with bands that get by age thirty let alone forty and continue to put out records the results are revealingly conviction-less. Romanticism and the popular quest always seem the true north of rock, where it ought to be heading, and everyone feels they're leaving sugar mountain too soon.

There are counter examples to this. Those who by design or luck fail to embody the successive layers of precocious juvenilia that marks pop music. I ended this years list with David Kilgour to highlight music of this nature. Mature patient, from the New Zealand that also gave us the Go-Betweens. Closer to home there is also the Pernice Brothers. Whose albums speak of love, and life's transience with an authentic (New England/Cape Cod accented) rock voice. You just don't hear enough Pernice Brothers on the radio.

11:03:11 PM    ;;

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