Bad Genre, Good Music

November 24, 2008

Penn Jillette is one of my favorite celebrities. His chosen profession, magic, is one I have no interest in, but his comedic wit and philosophical musings have won me over.

In Jillette’s latest vlog, he talks about musical artists who defy his dislike for their genre. He mentions John Hartford in bluegrass and Bach in classical. 

Like Jillette, I’m beginning to realize that there are plenty of other artists I enjoy, in spite of not liking their genre. I’m not a big Motown fan, but I can’t help but enjoy The Temptations and The Supremes. I’m not into musicals, but I love the Sound of Music.

I love finding new artists in already familiar genres, but there is something amazing about finding those artists that transcend genre. Some artists are simply so good that I can look past their genre.

Sometimes their greatness can even force me to rethink my previously held disdain for their genre. I often hear of people with similar tastes in music as me who say they hate country or they hate rap.

If only the coutry-haters listened to a little Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson or Will Oldham. Or the rap-haters listened to a little bit of Lil’ Wayne, Lupe Fiasco, Kanye West or Eminem, before they right off the entire genre.

This week’s Saturday Night Live was hosted by country music star Tim McGraw with musical guest rappers Ludacris and T-Pain. It was an interesting pairing of styles. Hopefully, the people who tuned in just to see Tim McGraw enjoyed the Ludacris and T-Pain performance, and those who were waiting for Ludacris to perform, heard Tim McGraw’s opening monologue.

In his latest New York Times blog, Jeffrey Lewis talks about wanting to make a political song in support of Barack Obama.

Seems like an unnecessary idea seeing as how nearly every other musician stood behind Obama, as I noted in an earlier blog. Once I got past the mundane subject of his song, I enjoyed reading about his creative process in writing the song.

All of the blogs on the Measure for Measure New York Times series are amazing. It’s the only place I’ve found on the web where artists are so willing to reveal all the little details that go into writing a song.

Here’s what Jeffrey Lewis came up with:

If Paul McCartney gets his way, a previously unreleased 14-minute experimental track recorded 41 years ago may finally see the light of day.

Around the time this track was recorded, the band was pushing the boundaries of pop music with increasingly inventive releases like Rubber Soul, Revolver and Sgt. Peppers Lonely Heart Club Band. The Beatles were constantly seeking new sounds by using unconvential instruments and new recording techniques.

I don’t know what their reasons are for keeping this track private for so long, but I think it’s time for it to be heard.

It’s unlikely to garner the accolades of Brian Wilson’s belated release of Smile. Smile was the product of Wilson tirelessly working to create a masterpiece, and this Beatles project seems like the guys were just having a little bit of fun. 

The tension has built up for long enough. Let us hear it already.

Finding Meaning in Randomness

November 14, 2008

After parsing lyrics to find some hidden meaning behind The Velvet Underground’s song, “The Murder Mystery,” I discovered that the song had no intended meaning. It was merely Lou Reed composing a collage of interesting sounds.

The song first grabbed my attention because it creates an interesting effect by utilizing stereo to simultaneously feed one vocal into the left channel and another contrasting vocal into the right channel. The technique makes the listener feel schizophrenic and forces the brain to try and make sense of the chaos.

Many have concluded that because it is chaotic and random that it is devoid of meaning. I don’t mean to get too philosophical, but life is chaotic and random. And it most certainly isn’t devoid of meaning.

Like life, the song is what you make of it. The way the listener interprets lyrics in all music is more revealing of the listener’s beliefs than the artists intentions.

I believe the song uses chaos and randomness as themes. The instrumentation, especially the manic pounding of the piano that ends the song, reinforces my belief. I think there is plenty of meaning to be found in this fact alone.

Dylan and Lennon in a cab

November 7, 2008

The two video clips below capture an early meeting between Bob Dylan and John Lennon.

Dylan is wasted in the clip. This transcript will help make some sense of the conversation.

Part 1:

Part 2:

This video reveals quite a bit about both Dylan and Lennon. It still seems like a wasted opportunity, though. There is little in the way of substantive conversation or exchange of ideas. They both seem to be playing to the camera and trying to impress each other. It seems like their egos got the best of them, and they both come off as immature.

These are two of my heroes. They’re both lyrical and musical geniuses. It’s sad that the little existing footage of them interacting is spoiled.

I’ve heard a lot of good things about Deerhunter, but I’ve never actually listened to any of their music.

I could’ve said the same thing about Wolf Parade a few months ago or Clap Your Hands Say Yeah a year ago. The indie rock scene produces an endless supply of bands, and its hard to keep up with all of them.

I’m reviewing their new album based solely on first impressions. I’m going to listen to the album once and then decide whether I think the hype is deserved.

Some records are growers and get better with time as more and more. Others grab me quickly and then fade with each additional listen.

This is part one of my review. After spending two weeks with the album, I will review it again.

Okay, so here are my blow-by-blow thoughts on Deerhunter’s Microcastle:

Cover me slowly: Cool intro

Agoraphopia: “Four walls of concrete…six by six enclosed” I know this feeling.

Never Stops: Favorite song so far. I like the way it builds and then falls apart at the end.

Little Kids: The repeating of “To get older still” is hypnotic.

Microcastle: I knew the drums would come sooner or later. I’m glad they waited until the end. It caught me by surprise.

Calvary Scars: I think I might have a new favorite song. I love all the little ornamental sounds and the constant scraping.

Green Jacket: I think the album is hitting its stride. i’m captivated.

Activa: The last three songs have all been great.

Nothing Ever Happened: Tempo change. I was liking the slower pace. I like the line, “Waiting for something from nothing.”

Saved by Old Times: Good song. Next.

Neither of Us, Uncertainly: I’m losing a little steam. Cool outro.

Twilight at Carbon Lake: Perfect ending.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I first started listening. I was a little surprised but certainly not disappointed. I managed to feel off balance and at ease at the same time, which is the feeling I’m usually looking to get from music. If you want a more thought out review, check Metacritc.

A look back: Phil Spector

October 30, 2008

Phil Spector may currently be facing a  retrial for second degree murder, but I’m going to focus on his glory years.

Spector was a genious musician, producer, writer and whatever else he did in the studio. His work in the ’60s was a huge influence on John Lennon and Brian Wilson, whose work has in turn influenced nearly every band playing today.

His trademark was the wall of sound.

He’d add instrument upon instrument and pack as much punch as possible into a three-minute pop song. This moved music in a new direction. It shifted away from the standard Buddy Holly and the Crickets set up of two guitars, a bass and drums. 

It opened doors and allowed for endless possiblilites. Without Spector, there may have never been Pet Sounds or Sgt. Peppers Lonely Heart Club Band.