Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Why I Don't Like Mumford and Sons

Image by Andrea Sartorati. Original available here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/tomjoad/7498960470/

On one level, I like Mumford and Sons. However, it is incredibly trivial to like something. On a base level, I like sleeping. I enjoy it. I choose to perform it daily. However, there is no depth to sleeping. I don't have much to say about it besides whether it went well or not. Sleeping does not reorient the world for me in interesting ways, nor do particular sleep sessions take into account the history of my previous naps and provide insight into them.

Maybe a much better example is soda. Coke is successfully designed to be an incredibly tasty and universally accessible drink. It is true that Coke has a cultural component that would prevent me from claiming "everyone who has ever existed, or even the majority, would enjoy Coke no matter their cultural background." However, as it stands now, Coke is drank by many. If I was to attempt to duplicate Coke, I would probably make something similar enough to be enjoyable--it would be fizzy, caramel-flavored, a dark tint of black, and taste great cold. I would not have to be aware of the history or origin of coke, or contribute anything new to the taste of Coke. I could even blend in a slightly different flavor, so that it tasted like Coke plus something extra. Maybe a tad more sugar.

Mumford and Sons are generally considered 'folk.' It would be uncontroversial to claim that they are held to be a success story for those who like "Americana," "bluegrass," acoustic guitar, and sincerity. I dislike them not because they are bad musicians, or because they are popular, but because, as representatives of "folk," they mis-represent the genre in their shallow interpretation of it. They do not add to the likes of Woody Guthrie, Joan Baez, Donovan, or Vashti Bunyan (or even The Byrds or Bob Dylan). "Folk," or any other genre, is not reinterpreted, developed, or addressed by Mumford and Sons. Instead, the vague group memory of what "folk" is--banjos, guitars, really fucking up this time is recalled and meshed with a four-on-the-floor pulse. Unfortunately, part of the problem is that Mumford and Sons are popular, and so represent the history of folk music, which has the effect of obscuring the work of actual artists.

All this goes for that Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros song too.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Review: NORTHWEST COAST MUSIC - Paper/Upper/Cuts

NORTHWEST COAST MUSIC is a misnomer. Though Paper/Upper/Cuts hails from Portland, Oregon, his product is nomadic. Recalling El Guincho through his appropriation of the nebulous place we call "Latin America" and "West Africa," Paper/Upper/Cuts assembles a strange Frankenstein of music, though unlike Frankenstein it does not seem cobbled together or decidely monstrous.

The assemblage that is NORTHWEST COAST MUSIC arrives without beginning or end. It is not East-meets-West, West-meets-East, Blue-Eyed Soul, or Fusion. This is to say that all the parts work in tandem--the sense of genre-crossover or half-assed experimentation is absent, and in its place is a smooth space of beautiful sounds. Northwest Coast Music displaces the ear, and places it back on a psychedelic plane to get lost in.

[bandcamp width=100% height=42 album=3605955358 size=small bgcol=ffffff linkcol=0687f5 track=3511169481]




Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Song of the Day: Animal Urges - Curlew

[bandcamp width=100% height=120 album=348306743 size=large bgcol=ffffff linkcol=0687f5 tracklist=false artwork=small track=100263351]

Curlew play shimmery music in the poorly-named post-rock tradition. The vocals have an otherly edge, and the main attraction is the pulsing interplay between the guitars and percussion, which move around, away, and towards each other like electrons in a hydrogen bond, and ultimately never meet.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Songs as Medium

I think about songwriting a lot. Recently, I read a comment on the treatment of videogames as requiring a specific attitude towards their lack of a medium, which, while on a productive track, struck me as ignorant. It is on the right track as far as attention must be given to the delineations, clear or murky, of given aesthetic mediums in order to set the terms and concepts of their discourse. To argue that videogames are not a medium is to attempt to shift the terms of the discussion and get caught in the mechanics of settling on precisely what medium we are talking about. The same can apply to the song.

The song is an irruption between the musical composition and the poem. Or maybe it's a page torn from prose and rearranged into semblances of meter. It is rhetoric and foley artistry, oral tradition and aural condition. However, despite all its possibilities, it is now something very specific. In considering a medium, the history cannot be discounted in order to discuss its contemporary manifestation. To do so is to remove the product from its historical trajectory, make it a priori and examine it from an armchair as some kind of cosmic object that has always existed. The song is a product of many things, and to remove it from the conditions of its production threatens to render it meaningless.

I do not have a thorough grasp on the totality of the history of the song. I can identify snatches of it. In many ways, this can prefigure a discussion on genre, which I will write about some other day. The song as a medium cannot be separated from genre, but hierarchically sits above genre as the one unifying 'genre.' The song is a combination of music and words. Does its hybridity threaten to relegate it to a status below the 'pure' word or musical event?

I do not think so. If anything, the musical composition is beholden to the song. Music does not carry intrinsic meaning. It does not rearrange the world in the same way that language or art does.

Monday, March 24, 2014

How to Raise Awareness​/​/​How to Start a War - a pamphlet

Adam Bishop is as exuberant as Andrew W.K., pre and post bricking.  How to Raise Awareness​/​/​How to Start a War opens with a reworking of the "Brown-Eyed Girl" riff, and the up-beat never comes down. The Old Refrain is incessant in its rock-and-rolling, and this attitude is exemplified in the cute cheerfulness of "Hate," a love song. For all the critique and political discourse at play on the record, nothing seems to slow down. Genre is primary for the band, and any kind of weight or musical stakes on given lyrics is rare. In this respect, the music bears much in common with pop. Kanye, Drake, and Beyonce all have club-ready songs that deal with cry-into-your-pillow subject matter. The strongest exception to this theme is "Folk Singer," the (ostensibly) final track on the album. I have to assume that, at this point, Adam is ironic when he sings that he "has no message in [his] song." Is it a moment of parody? Document of history? Dialogue? Post-modern reference party? The album arguably depends on the interpretation of its closer.

But wait, let me explain.

Adam Bishop, especially as frontman of The Old Refrain, is concerned with genre. The trajectory of his songwriting reflects this preoccupation, centered as it is around country, rock, and assorted minutiae. The songwriting is less nostalgic, more anachronistic. I shouldn't have to specify that music, as sound event, does not intrinsically impart content, in the same way that the word 'tree' does not contain any objective connection to a tree. When I say there are no musical stakes on the lyrics, I mean the specific relation of The Old Refrain's choice of genre to the lyrics.

Adam has written a protest album at a time when real-world protests far outnumber their musical representation. The album is critique through music. It fixes its gaze on a theme and apprehends it through variously negative, sarcastic, and ironic commentary. In this sense, the record is severe. The themes are navigated, however, by a face that smiles through pain. The "bonus" conclusion, "By and By," is emblematic of Adam's tendency to conflate cheer and mirth. What fascinates me then, is the decision to employ given song containers.

Genre is a valuable tool. It provides frameworks that allow for the relation of different musics. Interpretation occurs against a relative backdrop, and genre allows for the relation of history to the artistic object. Sad, serious music these days has specific containers. Adam does not opt for screamo, flannel folk, or whatever: he puts his words into rock-and-roll structures that draw freely from punk, 90s indie, and Adam's cataloging of Carter-Family songing. I wonder then, if his lyrics would have more weight in a different setting, and how Adam's choice ultimately impacts the message in his songs, or what genre itself does to the procession of medium/message.

P.S. the music rox.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Interview with Chris Haupt

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="564"] Photo by Queen Bean Open Mic staff.[/caption]

On May 1st, 2012, I interviewed Chris Haupt. Chris has been playing in Modesto and the area forever. I don't know his full resume, but I at least know he played in A Colourado (with Travis Vick and Lindsay Pavao), Project Fairway, not an Airplane, Matt and Rosie, and Alto. It's been a year and a half since I recorded the interview. At the time, I didn't think I had the full story and thought I'd fish it out over various interviews that I never did. The story grew bigger each time I tried to put a rubber band around it. So here is the first half of the chat I had with Chris Haupt, mostly unfiltered.

Ricardo: Where did Project Fairway come from?

Chris: So it was the Almond Blossom Festival in Ripon, and Steve’s girlfriend, Amanda Cookson, had just been crowned the Almond Blossom Queen. So we were going and celebrating, and Scott Bartenhagen walks through the door. All of us had this idea at the same time: we need a fourth member (for Project Fairway).

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Review: Broken Things - Micol Cazzell


Last year, a friend asked Micol Cazzell who is biggest influence is. I drunkenly interrupted to say that it was definitely Elliot Smith. Who knows what the real answer would have been, because I am a bad person. Either way, Micol Cazzell's Broken Things goes beyond any Elliot Smith pretensions. The five song EP is carefully knit together; more crochet than stitched. The songs are founded on a guitar with aspirations of being a piano laid on the perfectly flat horizon of an August sunset in the Central Valley; the mountains are visible as green-screened fantasies beyond the grasp of the tired subjects stuck in pits and ruts. 

Cazzell's musical vision is spare. The writing is less Roy Harper and more Leonard Cohen. If Cazzell is a folk artist, the sound is not "wild, thin Mercury" or the various pop-folk thieves of the 60s, but interweaving counterpoint not unlike the production of Closing Time or Linda Perhacs. Drums appear in the middle of the album on "The Unraveling" and "1961," lending the EP the feel of a traditional narrative structure with "The Waiting Song" sitting at the end of the album as a definite conclusion to the mystery of "1961." 

Broken Things is a flawless album. It was the best release of 2012. Visit his website and purchase the album at http://www.micolcazzell.com/.