In case anyone hasn’t noticed, the nuclear musical group is quickly going the way of the nuclear family- whoever shows up for Sunday dinner is fine… let’s eat! If that offends those for whom a cigarette in the final fret inserted- incensed and wafting- is the de rigeur pose for rocanrolero true believers, then so be it. Some people will never embrace change, no matter what the form… and that’s fine, too. No change is better than mindless change. I hear they still have Grateful Dead nights at one of my old watering holes, though I had never wished it so, past perfect subjunctive. Most of these manifestations and methods of delivery- all for the sake of entertainment- are cyclical, constantly changing and returning. If you miss a certain type of music enough, just make a wish and bide your time- it’ll be back.
It’s always been this way to some extent. The 50’s garage bands were a response to Crosby/Sinatra slick orchestra pop, and early 60’s teen-idol Tin Pan Alley songs were a slick-rock response to that, in some sort of pop-music dialectic that plays out like an apocalyptic struggle between the kids and the companies to see who will win control of the local armory. Did Bobby Rydell have a band? Fabian? Bobby Vee? Who knows, or even cares? With the possible exceptions of Bobby Darin, Neil Sedaka, and the Four Seasons, not even the singing ‘star’ was important in the early 60’s, mere plug-in pin-ups to music formulated and manufactured to its lowest-common-denominator specs, sales measured by the lusty look in a teenybopper’s eyes. Then came the Beatles and Bob, of course, and all Hell broke loose for a decade or so, record companies crisscrossing the map trying to keep up with the Next Big Thing. They regained control eventually, though, so had to be taught another lesson in the late 70’s, just like the one they’re being taught right now.
The problem with electronic music IMHO has always been its self-conscious obsession with its own bells and whistles. Like a 60’s cinematographer playing with the zoom lens, there have always just been too many electronic arpeggios to suit my taste, mindless doodling, too mechanical and cold, not enough heart and soul. Things got much more interesting when electronic musicians and producers started working with ‘world’ musicians, of course, taking some of those hard-to-market abstract qualities and re-combining them with more modern and more Western ones for mutual benefit, both acoustical and financial. I’m not sure I could listen to straight Tuvan throat-singing now that they’ve been re-imagined (in my mind at least) as themes to imaginary Chinese westerns, thanks to Huun Huur-tu and Carmen Rizzo (and you can keep your “In-a-gadda-da-vida” and other Tuvan curiosities).
Still the one thing conspicuously lacking in most electronic music is the simple human voice, in all its beauty and all its language(s). This is where Telepath (Michael Christie) makes a real and genuine contribution to the genre on his new album ‘Crush’. With the addition of that one simple element you can go anywhere… though it hardly has to be limited to one, and certainly doesn’t have to be simplistic. After a jazzy brassy ‘Intro’ with much instrumental fussing and percussing, the album follows with ‘Justify’ (featuring Elliot Martin and Monsoon), a song with a post-modern reggae feel and strong influences from afrobeat and hiphop. From there we go into ‘In This Time’ (featuring Becky Ribeiro), classic jazz/pop with strong female vocals. It also features sitar and tabla percussion, setting us up for the batting order’s sweet spot, ‘Dust’, Crush’, and ‘Rohi’, featuring Pervez Khan, Stephanie Morgan, and Sarabjit Kaur Babbu, respectively, sub-continental-style electronic pop with influences that range from Mumbai to the Punjab, devotional qawwalis to Bollywood follies.
‘Mama’ and ‘The Ancient Ones’ (both featuring Kevin Meyame) have a Brazilly kind of Afrobeat feel, featuring Afropop guitar and Youssou-like vocals. ‘Down the Block’ has strong percussion and surf-rock guitar. There is a little bit of electronic doodling on ‘Critical Mass’ and ‘Connection X’- for those who like that- but it’s not overdone. ‘Carry the One’ and ‘Mirrors’ (which closes the album) both feature Maitrayee Patel and her non-verbal voice as instrument, bringing the experiment full circle- adding voice to contribute concrete human qualities to an essentially abstract genre, and then using that same voice to return to the ethereal qualities from which electronic music comes. Only a handful of musical stars have ever been non-vocalists, and they have all been crack instrumentalists, mostly in the jazz field. Modern producers and DJ’s are turning such simplistic notions on their pointy little heads, and improving our listening experiences in the process. Even more experimental here is the essential modus operandi- the majority of the vocals on this album were e-mailed in. Did somebody say something about re-defining something? If that sounds like too-easy jury-rigging, then I’d vote… not guilty. But don’t take my word for it, you be the judge. It’s called ‘Crush,’ by Telepath. Check it out. (I still prefer four woolly dudes and optional chick singer live, though. I guess I’m old-fashioned).