Thinking About Music
Hello ladies and gentlemen...
Sometimes we humans are lucky enough to find things that change us, things that alter the course of our existence. For example, the discovery of T.S. Eliot turned me quickly into a poetry junky. Stanley Kubrick or David Fincher or Terry Gilliam taught me the difference between a good film and a bad film, between a hack and an auteur.
Currently in my iTunes folder I have 188 bands. That seems like an awful lot of artists to me. I feel like talking about a few of them in this post, but one in particular, citing them as one of these afformentioned catalystic discoveries. Standing out, shining brilliantly before 188 competitors right now is...drumroll...The Magnetic Fields. I adore the hell out of this band. They are incredible! The peculiar thing about them is that they aren't necessarily groundbreaking, their music isn't terribly unique or experimental. For me though, it's been the same as discovering another Elliott Smith or Stars: just another artist/band who is extraordinarily good at doing what they do. The songs are typically tight, concise, and conventional, though they seem to utilize more instruments than your average indie-pop band. And could I speak kindly enough about Stephin Merritt's songwriting??? I don't think I could! The dude is brilliant. He's not a poet--he's a songwriter. There is a difference. While I am awfully fond of the poets, (Dylan, Oberst, Smith, Ol' Dirty Bastard, etc.) there is something spectacular about just being really good at writing verses to be sung. "I Don't Believe You," "All My Little Words," and "100,000 Fireflies" are all PERFECT examples of PERFECT songs. Now, I'm not sure how the discovery of The Magnetic Fields is going to spark an evolutionary change, but I'm sure that it will, or maybe it already has. In any case, if you haven't noticed, I really love them. So will you.
Also recommended are Stephin Merritt's side-projects The 6ths and The Gothic Archies.
Tom---how is your relationship with Bright Eyes these days? Do you listen to any other Saddle Creek artists? Cursive? Tilly and the Wall? The Faint? Son Ambulance? Azure Ray? Older Rilo Kiley? Just curious. Speaking of Rilo Kiley though...if you may be considering checking them out, "Three Hopeful Thoughts" is a good jumping-in song. Or "The Good That Won't Come Out." Or if you just want to fall in love with Jenny Lewis and let Rilo Kiley come later, "The Charging Sky" is such a beautiful song. "So my mom, she brushes her hair/and my dad starts growing Bob Dylan's beard." Tiz-ight.
Recently discovered was John Vanderslice. He produced The Sunset Tree and We Shall All Be Healed, (The Mountain Goats,) and apparently played several instruments on each album. I just got his album "Pixel Revolt" featuring the backing vocals of John Darnielle and also some incredible songwriting. "Dressed like that/you are the flag of a dangerous nation." Check him out. He's pretty rad.
Nine Black Alps have been getting alot of playtime lately. I heard the song "Intermission" and was sold.
And as a novelty I've been enjoying The Dresden Dolls. Sometimes I generalize and think of theatrical music-making as sort of gimmicky. The Decemberists are a pretty good band, but sometimes their gimmicks bother me. As a result I can't listen too much. I just think that the music is cheapened by being too thematic, too centralized in one idea. Maybe this thing with The Dresden Dolls will be short-lived, but I've been enjoying the showmanship for now.
(Okay, before anybody calls me on it...I realize that the whole concept of The 6ths is to be gimmicky. There are exceptions to every rule. Get off my back already. Geez.)
Other gimmicky bands:
The Fiery Furnaces...but that's okay
Animal Collective...that's okay too
Belle and Sebastian
uhhh....Bjork? Sometimes there is a fine line between art and marketing...has she ever crossed it? Could she really be so...weird?
You know what...this has been a revelatory post. I've changed my mind here, right before your very eyes. The mark of the artist is experimentation and exploration. While some artists are interested in exploring themselves and the way they tick, other artists are interested in exploring ideas, the way their ideas tick. Nevermind the whole gimmick nonsense. I could just go back and delete it, but that would deprive you all of something profound...a bildungsroman experience. Ironic how exploring my own reactions triggered a change of heart. I'm gonna log off and write an album about mutant butterflies attacking Salt Lake City. Peace!