Monday, March 22, 2010
All music is local.
People die. In this case, the death in question is that of Alex Chilton, former Box Top (“The Letter”) and Big Star, arguably the first ‘indie band’ and huge influence to REM, the Replacements, and everything that came after. Just last week I caught myself thinking, “I wonder whatever happened to Alex Chilton?” Now maybe that’s not so strange until you consider that I’d never heard the man’s music until yesterday. Flashback to 1985, and I’m living in
There was only one hope left, ‘college radio’, an undefined but apparently thriving underground entity that celebrated the process of creation and discovery itself, real R & R, ‘teen spirit’ if you will… more than album sales. Though the groups all differed and were hardly a genre, they all said the same thing- it started with Alex Chilton. Now he’s dead. He was supposed to play SXSW with a revived Big Star, but died three days before the gig. Cause of death- too much life, maybe? I like the death certificates in
Thursday, March 04, 2010
Then there’s Sweet Electra from
The album leads off with the ambiental ditty ‘Ignition’, and then moves right into their single ‘A Feeling’… ‘inside of me… forget about everything’ which pretty much sets the tone for the album, sparse but evocative lyrics and drum kit-driven ambience. ‘Love You More’ ups the emotional ante without really coming to any conclusion- ‘Every time I look at your empty face… I know I love you more… I didn’t mean to be this way, but I never thought I’d feel so empty…’, leaving us in a swirl of ethereal ambience and disembodied voices. ‘Backyard’ then leads us to the graveyard, crashing into chaos with strings- ‘I just wanna’ see the world from my backyard… see your face one more time. Is anybody out there…?’ ‘The Killer Silence’ is one of the album’s best tracks, with succinct lyrics- ‘the killing silence, the killing time, the killing loneliness, the killing words’- and a succinct melody… with good ol’ guitar. ‘I Am’ is a bit of an enigma, reintroducing the album and re-establishing the ambience with vocal wails over drum and keyboard-driven instrumentals, but then ‘It's Over’ returns to lyrical top dead center, the pain of love and the pain of just being- ‘I was wondering what would come next… I realized we’re together pretending… it’s all over, my love’.
The two parts of ‘Give Up’ then paint a beautiful, if stark, vision of life in the city, the first a percussion-driven version with guitars grating, the second a more orchestral version of the same thing. ‘Te Fuiste’ (‘You left’) seems to be thrown in almost as an afterthought- as if we gueros might not appreciate anything sung in espanol, but in fact is one of the albums better tracks, and if nothing else serves to prove that the sparseness of the English lyrics is not due to scarceness of English chops. The Spanish lyrics are sparse, too, not much more than road-signs to suggest something to meditate upon while you swim in the ambiance. After the spacey instrumental title track, another ‘DJ re-mix’ version of it and ‘It’s Over’ close the album… no comment. I’ve already expressed my feelings towards duplicative, if not duplicitous, ‘re-mixes’, AND THIS FROM AN ‘ELECTRONICA’ ALBUM! Fer Chrissakes, it’s all re-mix! Make up your m-f mind already! Maybe someday someone will come up with a musical ‘auteur’ theory to decide who gets the final ‘director’s cut.’ Maybe I’ll do that over lunch. ‘Re-mix’ tracks at the end of an album are starting to seem about as relevant as bloopers during a movie’s credits. How’s that for ‘no comment’?
But I like this album, even with its flaws, it settling in my mind somewhere at the crossroads of sub-conscious earth-bound pain and escapist ethereal ambiance. I can relate. Sometimes the only way to tolerate a world of human cruelty and incompetence is to create a parallel world of non-human perfection, whether it be mathematical precision or hyper-emotional ‘happy ending’ caricature. The crossroads and border areas are always fertile ground for creation and heterotic survival. To say that there’s a lot of repetition on this album would be to repeat the obvious (pun intended), but that’s not a criticism, just a ‘heads-up’. Repetition is one of the programmer’s tools, but if it all starts sounding like one never-ending song, then it’s time to go back to songwriting fundamentals of chorus and verse. Need another ‘H’ for
Of course there are other questions, too, like… does ‘electronica-twinged pop’ have to be sung in English, and… does it have to eschew all regional and historical influences? I doubt it. ‘Indie’ music certainly doesn’t. Café Tacuba has been doing that for years (but that voice!), and you’ve got to see ‘Maneja Beto’, an