Sunday, May 9, 2010

Writer’s Jukebox – Short Notice Success

I’ve got to thank my fellow writers point blank for this week.  After one of the more hectic work weeks in recent history (not to mention that fancy new interview we just did), I’ve had a lot on my plate.  So much so that I didn’t start organizing this week’s post until…um, yesterday.  I’m quite thankful (and impressed) that these three gents pumped out such solid work on such short notice.

Onto the work!  Chris –as many of us have – took a stab at Animal Collective.  I suppose he wanted to know what all the damn hype was about.  Pankin dove headlong into Muse and emerged intact.  Jordasch attempted to master a number of genres, but he’ll admit it’s never as easy as it seems.

It never is, man.  It never is.

Chris – Something Old, Something New

In my desperate attempts to seem hip, I checked out Animal Collective's 2009 album Merriweather Post Pavilion from my local public library. The album appeared at the top of several "best of the year" lists last December, and I figured that I should see what all the fuss was all about. After a few spins, I still don't quite understand the buzz. I don't have anything against experimental pop music, per se, but it seemed like the group was far too eager to drench some relatively stable musical ideas underneath too many layers of experimentation. Those parts that did work for me worked by accident more than design. The album is different (which might explain all the buzz) and it's catchy in its own strange way, but I don't think it's the masterpiece that all the critics are talking up. I thought about keeping it around for a few more days to see if anything clicked, but instead I just returned it to the library for some other aspiring hipster to check out. Life is too short to waste time trying to like music that I don't.

Instead, I've been shunning the present and looking to the past. Way back in the past. I've been reacquainting myself with the works of the Venetian composer Giovanni Gabrieli. Gabrieli lived around the turn of the 17th-century, when Venice was at the height of its power, and his works (most of which were for civic holidays and commemorations) perfectly sum up the triumphant outlook of a city in its prime. Blending several choirs together with brass and strings, Gabrieli was one of the first composers to stipulate specific orchestrations for pieces combining choral and instrumental performers. But all scholarly interest aside, it's just damn good music, filled with grandiose trumpet fanfares and cathartic choral crescendos. You can keep your modern indie rock, and I'll keep my late-Renaissance Venetian music, thank you very much.

PankinThe Soundtrack For My Life

Muse. For a long time that's all I've been able to listen to. It was actually a previous Writers Jukebox post that turned me on to their 2003 album Absolution, which - if people still listened to CDs today - would still be in my CD player. As it stands, it was recently removed from my LaLa cue, with the impending collapse of the free listening provider. Everything about that album strikes a chord with me - a perfect balance between epic sensibilities ("Apocalypse Please") and personal, emotional issues ("Sing for Absolution"), a heavy influence from classical music (Matthew Bellamy's inspired keyboard break in "Butterflies & Hurricanes"), and impossibly fast and groove-tastic drums (Dom Howard shows his virtuoso talents on "Stockholm Syndrome").

Whenever I happen across new (for me) music that came out during previous eras of my life, I'm always a little nostalgic about how my life would have been different if I had kept abreast of new developments in music. Because the music I listen to during a particular period in my life defines that period so... definitively. It's strange for me to think that, while I'm only discovering this music now, in 2010, two years out of college, I just as well might have been listening to it regularly in 2003, before I even graduated high school. It's slightly different for music that came out before I was born - I got heavily into Tower of Power (which was a popular band since the 1970s) during college, but although it could have been new-for-me at any point in my life, but it would never have been NEW-new. This is something that occupies me when I think of a soundtrack for my life.

Black Holes and Revelations, while, for my money, a less consistent album than Absolution, includes the ultimate Muse listening experience ("Knights of Cydonia"). Watching them stray further and further into electronica ("Undisclosed Desires") and high-concept prog-esque multi-part suites ("Exogenesis Symphony") on their newest album The Resistance is more interesting from an historical standpoint than fun to listen to. (And Bellamy's god-awful, rudimentary rendition of Chopin's Nocturne No. 2 on "United States of Eurasia" doesn't help their case.) But in general, Muse has a dynamic sound, a relevant message, and (supposedly) an entrancing stage presence. And I'll continue to listen to them for the foreseeable future.

Jordasch - Expertise

I like being an expert.  Problem is, I'm so schizo that the best I can do is appear to be an expert.  Around the time of my last entry, I wanted to be a metal expert.  So I immersed myself in metal.  Easy enough, right?  Metal's a fairly specialized sound, so you'd think it'd be fairly easy to wrap your head around the thing.

I'm wrong, of course.  Metal's got subgenres comin' out its anus (available in shirt form), and, due to the overall (intended) offensiveness of its sound, certain metal heroes are familiar only among a tiny handful of people.  Can't say I'd ever heard of Pentagram before I wrote for a metal blog.  But, in terms of sheer fuck-I-can't-keep-up-with-this-shit-ness, metal ain't got nothin' on electronica.
Sure, it's fairly easy to stay abreast of the electro pop side of electronica.  Last year, for example, people was shittin' theyselves over Little Boots, Passion Pit, and jj.  This year, it's Sleigh Bells, Delorean, and Crystal Castles (just like 2008, incidentally).  But boy howdy is that only the tip of the iceberg.

Electronica's hard to pin down because it's so easy to pump out.  Not easy in the sense of skill (though it is a cinch to slap a four-on-the-floor onto a track and call it a remix), but easy in that it requires little monetary or physical investment on the part of the artist.  You may need a guitar, a rehearsal space, and some forgiving neighbors to put a rock band (or a Rock Band) together, but all you need to make a bangin' remix is a laptop and some free (stolen) software.

All this is to say that though I fail every time to become an expert in one genre of music, I've failed especially spectacularly this time.  My picks, accordingly, are fairly prole-ish (i.e., they represent the big names from the blogosophere and little else).

Scene fixture Sleigh Bells (featuring, of all people, an ex-member of flippin' Poison the Well) has a truly excellent new track called "Tell 'Em," which doesn't quite reach the heights of last year's colossal "Crown on the Ground" but comes damn close.

Crystal Castles just released their new self-titled record (a follow-up to their last, um, self-titled record) to near-universal acclaim.  Everybody's been repping "Celestica," but I'll take the eardrum-exploding skullfuck of "Doe Deer" any day.  The duo is a particularly compelling combination of accessible electropop and willfully abrasive noise rock.  I personally ignored the hype until I heard "Deer."

I've also been digging a bunch of electropop-inflected hip-hop, which I normally can't stand.  But the rapper from Philadelphia club pop duo Chiddy Bang flexes a smooth, gogo-style flow, and the producer is almost absurdly talented.  Their first single, "Opposite of Adults," samples MGMT's "Kids" so much more effectively than I could have imagined.  Treat.

Add a dash of LCD Soundsystem (gotta get ready for that new record!), Childish Gambino (yup, DongLover himself), and some stuff lingering from my metal phase (new records from Twilight, 1349, and Howl), and you have yourself a tasty Jordasch casserole!