White boy talks about hip-hop or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Hip-Hop

•July 19, 2011 • 1 Comment

I would class a lot of hip-hop and in particular early hip-hop as more of a political statement than it is a form of music. Using music as a vessel for their political and sociological views, hip-hop has produced some of the most politically and socially poignant albums of the the last 25 years (e.g. Fear of Black Planet – Public Enemy). But more than that, I’m actually intrigued by the music of hip-hop, hip-hop has produced some of the most musically diverse album of recent times, sampling world music and all genres. Looking at Mos Def’s 2009 album “The Ecstatic”, you see that he has samples from a whole range of musical genres from around the world. From Jazz, to Latin music, to Soul, it creates a musically genre-less genre in a sense. In a sense what makes hip-hop is the fact that the lyrics are rapped and what this creates is a form of music that allows for rock samples middle-eastern samples and basically samples from anywhere in the world.

In the last few years, a few artists have emerged from the internet and the most high profile is the collective “Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All” or simply “Odd Future”, releasing their album for free on blogging website tumblr they attracted a number of music sources and what really puts them apart from other bands is the quality of their production and the creativeness of all the members in the collective. I find it amazing that more artists are not being discovered, considering how the internet and new technology have made it easier to release music and make music respectively.

It seems as though most countries have picked up their own style of hip-hop as well, in Australia that is definitely the case. There’s a wave of Australian Hip-Hop bands (e.g. Hilltop Hoods, Drapht, The Herd, Urthboy) at the moment and the “scene” seems to be pretty popular at the moment (Drapht’s new album recently debuted at #1 on the ARIA charts).

Sampling is definitely the backbone of all good hip-hop and I think as a form of music it is quite amazing. The ability that hip-hop has of being creative and diverse, makes it a form of music that influences music in a great way.

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The backbone of all music.

•July 15, 2011 • 1 Comment

Adorno’s argues that all popular music is standardised in a manner that stifles the ability to create songs (or pieces of music) that are different to each other. I would argue a song in itself it only a subset of music, and in turn what makes a song a song is it’s structure and in general a song has to follow a certain structure, or it becomes something that isn’t a song.

I would almost liken a song to a poem. While a poem can be structured in a multitude of ways, I would say that a song can be as well, but what a song can’t do is disregard structure. While you can argue that a song can only be structured in a few ways (and you would probably be right), it’s not necessarily a bad thing.

I also think it comes down to the fact that audiences don’t like things that they perceive as different. I mean look at bands like The Mars Volta, I’ve got a lot of friends who don’t listen to them because they say they are too “out there”. And that perception is probably a bit unfounded, take a look at most of their songs and they sill follow a relatively simple verse-chorus form, it’s just that they’re warped to allow for improv. In the end to please the listener it has to be structured in a way that allows for familiarity.

I can’t think of too many bands that totally disregard structure, Sunn O))) being one, and I think it comes down to the fact that (rather ironically) experimental music can be too easy to replicate and potentially sounds same-y.

I entirely agree with the fact that some (there are a few that break some rules, you occasionally hear songs that start with a chorus, say) pop songs sound too constructed and there is no form of experiment of the structure of a song. But in saying that people will always try things that are different because there is always a new trend that people like better at one point or another.

Liars’ “Scissor”:

•July 10, 2011 • Leave a Comment

It gets inside your head; fucks you up like a bad trip. White, concierge ceilings open-up a world of fantasy-misery, replacing stark whiteness with dappled, hallucinatory shadows of scissors. Angling about, aimless almost.

Momentary bursts of explosion-crescendos vibrate the room. Bookshelf speakers flail helplessly in the aftermath of subsonic throbs unmanageable without a subwoofer. Silence beckons an obligatory choral continuation of shock and awe, like some figurative strafing run. Lyrics so enthralled in a melancholy of despair that the walls begin to melt, and with it any chance of consciousness. Fading away helplessly, into blinking movements like a fishbowl fish somehow realising its futile existence. Seconds drag across the room like a dog with an itchy arse: palpable, material-somewhat – yet, unexplainably pointless in the wake of LiarsSisterworld and its confirmation of some surrealistic Absolute. What makes sense anymore tips inadvertently upside down, and one feels numb. This subtle, floating sensation meanders from the Root Chakra – the Kundalini – upwards, into what would later inspire Morrison to call The Doors. This pseudo-spiritual awakening spawns an inexplicable passion seemingly fed by Scissor, displacing an otherwise anaemic reality with fleeting glimpses into unfathomableness. Whereupon the listener’s transformative encounter renders them unwittingly a conduit: a living projector of imaginative possibilities to the meaning of this chaotically alternative, non-mainstream composition.

Scissor is like some cutup scrapbook, an amalgam of orchestral/contemporary instrumentation. Tchaikovsky-reminiscent outbursts, screaming abusively like an ADHD-child craving sugar, coupled with Beethoven-esque subtlety and nuance only a sensitive-deprived individual can fully appreciate. Pitiable, bestial howling undercuts this hybridisation of 1812 Overture meets Moonlight Sonata, while Angus Andrew invokes the spirit of Tunde Adebimpe to the effect of Pray for Rain. All of it sounding like a B-side Pink Floyd song, somehow misbegotten – prog-rock at its disregarded-best. Its ephemeral, four-minute lifespan is as morose as it is moreish, delivering instead where it cannot in length, in replay-value. One’s progressive realisation of perfection does not waver in the slightest face of a hundred repetitions, nor a thousand.

It only adds to its seduction.

And yet, only once psychologically embedded does its consequential toxicity become fully apparent. It starts off with a whistle, following the chorus in an almost childish ditty.

Harmlessly.

Innocently.

Before long, lyrics begin to manifest themselves through symptomatic humming during awkward silences. Uninfected listeners will obliviously smile, unbeknownst to them its disturbing, hitherto-unspoken morbidity. Prejudice and fear reign-in predictably with the utterance of its opening phrase“… I found her… with my scissor.” (L1-2; Liars) All it takes is a wrong look and a wry smile to end-up smothered in fists, or worse. Urbanity becomes a quasi-musician’s playground in an attempt to recreate key sections of the song – detonating impulsively at the sight of garbage cans, Coke tins, tabletops and armrests. Feet squirm uncomfortably in response to some freak-apparition containing rhythm; the thump-thump of a train along the tracks, for instance, enough to rouse one’s internal iPod into action. Before long, mental bastardisations of the song begin rearranging, recreating and amplifying crescendos with one-off, individual solos. For better or worse. All in an effort to perpetuate this growing, narcotic fixation which leaves one craving Scissor, and only Scissor

* * *

Angus Andrew on vocals/guitar, Aaron Hemphill on guitar/percussion/ synth and Julian Gross on drums, comprise Liars: an American indie-rock band established back 2000. Four albums down, and a label-shift from Gern Blandsten Records (2001–2003) to Mute Records (2003–present), Liars’ pioneering single for its fifth studio album Sisterworld featured as a free download early December, 2009 – entitled Scissor. The album received largely positive reviews (8.1/10, Pitchfork; 7/10, PopMatters) following its release (10/3/10), with Drowned in Sound’s Luke Slater citing it had:

“… [Its] own space, completely devoid of influence, somewhere remote from the false promises and discarded dreams amassed in LA… [exploring] the underground support systems created to deal with [a] loss of self to society.”  (Slater, 2009; p1)

Being Sisterworld’s introductory track only underlines Scissor’s infectiousness: a three-and-a-half-minute tirade, quickly absorbing fan and newcomer alike. An accompanying video clip – directed by Andy Bruntel – captured Scissor’s feel, emulsifying its isolation in an abstract, oceanic environment. Nevertheless, its negation of Scissor’s ballad-like lyrics proffered a dualistic response: viewers saw one thing, but heard another. Bruntel’s imaginative recreation of Scissor oozed symbolism, yet somehow failed to take into account its straightforward – albeit unsettling – anecdote about its protagonist stumbling across a botched suicide-attempt. Much like an interior monologue, the music’s accompaniment only heightened its overwrought, situational emotion. It is only when listeners are unknowingly dumped into Scissor, and forced to endure its nail-bitingly tense chorus without distraction, that their relationship towards the music shifts. Both are so vital – unified in an inseparable symbiosis where music and lyrics and person are one and the same.

My first encounter with Scissor was mistaken, unintentional: smack-bang in a new-age mixtape I’d put on, just to eat away some hours of the day. And all I could notice was the hypnotically dreary oboe, undercutting its beginning – choral voices wailing like some mongrelised church-choir full of wolves. Slowly, I let my eyes to sleep; lulled into wicked dreams. Then the chorus, in what can only be described as a deafening clamour of percussion and guitar: as if nails on a chalkboard were my teeth and rusty pins and needles were my skin – the air about me, suddenly electrified, fuzzy with invisible movement. Senses sharpened, somehow, tickling my basal ganglia into full reptilian action; indeed, we were both “… Alive!” (L19; Liars). Andrew’s deep, baritone voice was like an emotionally-laden minefield of boundless suffering, which he then again relived, over and over, at my invocated whim. Lyrics from the perspective of some overwhelmed Good Samaritan, who’d found a slashed-wrists girl on the verge of death. All of it so wonderfully macabre…

I returned daily – as prescribed – remedying my incessant craving for Scissor’s oboe. Was it an oboe, though? Could it be a bassoon? A previously unheard bass-riff throbbing tenderly beneath, discovered and later anointed with piano, dripping delicately overhead, became audible within a few daily run-throughs. Misheard lyrics expunged in place of new-ones; no-longer confused by the ruminations of a “soft-porn army”, but a “self-built” (L7; Liars) one instead. And originally repulsed by its mood-destructive chorus, now loyally partisan and prone to bouts of air-guitar and table-drumming at any hint of its utterance. But what any of it meant, was beyond me – why something so beautiful could likewise be so ugly in another light. How suicide could just as easily mean murder; Scissor being so wrapped-up in its contextual ambiguity. It wasn’t just a narrative, but someone’s internal monologue, the music an empathic-overture, in an A-B-A-B format: a verse followed by the chorus, repeated in a fluctuating common-time. Everything seemed to flow with a sort of elegant complexity, emasculating its banal, melodramatic posture in an antithesis of volatile passion. The first choral interlude was like a brief glimpse into the chaotically overrun mind of Scissor’s protagonist, visibly shaken – hands “… flipping out…” (L6; Liars) – and in a state of near-debilitating shock; its climactic conclusion from the same approach, a sundry thrill of surprise and joy at the sight of her “… blinking eye.” (L16; Liars). Dividing verses hymn-like in appearance, emphasised with the inclusion of twisted, evangelic singing and tacky, electric church-organ – writing off the incident like a makeshift, drive-in funeral. And just when things get interesting, an abrupt, dissatisfying ending without closure: whatever happened to them both?

Scissor is one of those rare songs, that the more you think because of it and the more you think you know about it, become obscured, discontinuous – like a loose-ended skivvy, unravelling quickly into nothing. We demand answers, and reason, where there is none. We get caught-up trying to pin it somewhere in reality when it’s just a piece of fiction, stifling it in a love-hate relationship depending on our (philosophical) mood. You start off cringing, and go from there – like most of Sisterworld. Scissor isn’t for the faint-hearted, nor would any of its elements – bar construction – resemble pop music.

Scissor just is.

And with all good music, our attitudes towards it changes. I went from radical discontent, to frustration, to narcotic fixation, pseudo-spiritual awakening and back again, through the course of this dissertation. And all the while, kept asking myself: who is it? Whose song is this, and who is this protagonist?

An innocent bystander?

A friend, boyfriend; ex- or else?

A murderer?

A priest?

Just when you think you know everything there is to know about a song, Scissor comes along and challenges preconception. It’s an alternative ballad from one perspective – professing its love (if at all) physically rather than verbally, in-between the lines – but at the same time, unique and in a realm all of its very own. It needs to be heard by itself, alone, preferably within an enclosed environment; like I did. It’s a one-on-one between listener and song, like a confessional; private and cathartic. It just won’t do to listen to this in public, because – like everything good – needs to be heard loud.

 

LYRICS:

I found her
With my scissor
This heart fell
To the ground

I’m supposed to save you now
But my hands are flipping out
I’m a coward in a self-built army
I leave this blood to dry

I leave this blood to dry

I dragged her body to the parking lot
I tried to find her
A saviour right there amongst the cars

Just then I
Began to quiver
When I saw her
Blinking eye
She was alive
And she’s breathing
Alive

[Safe and sound]

Also, see this fantastic post for an alternate analysis!

Shamanism / Pseudo-religious Worship: Part VI

•July 9, 2011 • 2 Comments

Fandom, unlike mainstream popularity, is in direct response to quality rather than quantity: a collective manifestation of adulation and respect. It knows no restriction. Other than monetarily supporting an artist – either through purchasing their merchandise or attending their performances – fandom is our way of physically showing our appreciation towards the music. And our degrees of fanaticism range from the appreciative to the obsessive: both positive and negative impacts of idolisation through pseudo-religious worship. The why is as complex as the how; primordially, an artist’s immaterial talent is otherwise nutritionally valuable to us. It is food for the soul, in other words – it makes us feel good, and we humans do love our pleasure…

But there’s more to it than simply feeling good. In response to a Mars Volta concert, I had this to say about Cedric Bixlar-Zavala and his vocal performance:

Cedric comes between the rails and the people, he reaches out, like some forsaken angel teasing us mortals for sheer pleasure. At this, the crowd becomes dangerous – people push in front of each other, squeeze between the legs, as hands reach up, out, over, below, behind, all for famous-touch… He is like a shaman, the first to be entranced, and we are his followers, waiting for divinity.”

(Gig: The Mars Volta)

Music’s shamanistic approach is a cathartic alleviation of reality, a dispossession of the self. We aren’t ourselves because we are all Bixlar, or Morrison, or Presley. Musicians tap into society’s non-identity, our willingness to substitute the self for ersatz-stardom. Why? An exchange, albeit temporary, of reality for fantasy – but perhaps an unconscious yearning for the same reciprocation which we are in turn giving. A symbiotic giving-receiving, then. If anything, individuality is exorcised within an audience: it acts as a whole, comprised of individuals, becoming a multi-vidual unto itself.

It is only when a plebe (or person of similar status) wishes to (ineffectively) replace the shaman – almost tribalistically – that the aforementioned appreciation shifts into obsession, obsession into jealousy, jealousy into retribution, retribution into Lennon. It is only when an individual dismembers itself from the collective unconscious of fandom that they become a dangerous representation of oft-misguided idolatry.

Collective Unconscious / New World Paradigm: Part V

•July 8, 2011 • 1 Comment

Popular Music is tugging on the heartstrings of society’s subconscious; what Jung called the ‘collective unconscious’. Philosopher Henryk Skolimowski later described something similar in his book The Participatory Mind, in which he postulated that human beings were not simply “of” the universe, but co-creators of its distinctive features (and corporeal existence) instead. This may have then been unintentionally squandered by such books/films as The Secret, under the guise: visualise, then materialise – think about something long enough, and low and behold, you shall receive. So Pop Music can be envisaged as a sort of parasitic leech on the Achilles Heel of communal unconsciousness – tapping into popularity’s mercurial lifeblood. Somehow industrial-divination of the past century has been slowly substituted for marketplace-manipulation; better the devil you know, will sell…

Popular Music at mainstream’s forefront has already been demonstrated to regurgitate music with a sort of incestuous  attitude; why deviate from a monetarily productive formula in an effort to sell creative individuality?

Alternatively, running undercurrent to Popular Music’s stale disposition, is its extremely impulsive competitor, indie – an emergent genre in the eyes of conglomerate labels, but a lifestyle choice for its ardent followers; more akin to anarchic politics, rather, than music itself. Fresh, eager bands nurtured on the unprofitable, unrealistic teat of idealism proffering (beautiful), unprofitable, unrealistic music. As liberating as technology might be, indie is just a reflexive action borne on the collectively unconscious whims and fancies of fed-up youths rebelling against conformity. Strangely enough, the same conformity segregating and disposing of prominent indie material in an effort to keep-up with a struggling financial portfolio because of it…

Too much of a good thing, perhaps?

This new millennium signals the departure of corruptive, dogmatic, 20th century principles strangling the world and its inhabitants on the pretense that: money makes the world go round. Its replacement paradigm: the world was turning long before it came…

Continued Part VI

The changing environment.

•July 7, 2011 • Leave a Comment

In every sense, the music industry seems to me to be a horrible inefficient business. I have absolutely no commerce/business/economics knowledge at all, at times I even forget how to spell business, that’s how often I use the word in writing. But from an outsiders perspective, the music industry seems to be persisting that it is something it is not. In my opinion major labels are essentially promotional companies, basically ad men, if you want to be blunt. With increasing technology and the internet becoming the primary form of distribution (e-books have overtaken their paper companions in number of sales), major labels have lost a lot of their need.

The interesting thing that I took out of the reading was the mention of Netflix as one of the frontrunners in this phenomenon and also the mention that they are becoming a major player in DVD’s. The film and tv industry is going through the same problems (or reshaping) as the music industry, there has been massive developments in the last few weeks that would essentially make this article change it’s tone. Here’s why.

Netflix just announced that they are commissioning a TV series, it’s no small show either, Kevin Spacey apparently heading the cast and David Fincher working on the project as well. Netflix outbid HBO in fact, what this shows is that these internet companies are going to become frontrunners in all aspects of the industry, and companies like Netflix may be the norm in the future.

What this means for the music industry basically hinges on what the major labels do, many independent labels are moving for a web presence and seem to be more willing to do so. What I think is possibly an exciting possibility, but also at the same time a quite scary possibility is that a company like Apple expands it’s iTunes store to become a producer of music and act as a major label would. In theory this seems fine, a more streamlined business that also allows for more creativity in music as bands would be able to get their music out there, for a far less amount of money. But in reality, I think it opens the door for a company like Apple to shut the door on other services, and create a monopoly.

For good or bad, the music industry and in general the entertainment industry needs to change.

A Friend of a Friend of Meme… Part IV

•July 7, 2011 • 1 Comment

It’s no surprise that the internet has birthed one of the most infectious, time-wasting contagions voluntarily invoked by man; internet vernacular labels this “The Meme”. This inconspicuous, contemporary opiate of the masses is responsible for some of the most outrageously pointless videos, pictures, websites and discussion-boards harping on current ephemera like moths to a flame. Blame it on interconnectivity – a by-product of networked, tech-savvy sapiens sharing information and contaminating as they go. So when it comes to conglomerate promotion, why bother wasting money on an ad-campaign when you can get the people to inadvertently do this for you?

It’s like introducing a new strain of herpes, hoping it will catch on…

Case in point: Highly Evolved. A joint venture between myself and Michael Hodder – independent, indie-networked bloggers proffering autonomous, opinionated reviews on artists and their latest albums. And with our growing reputation, our already established network of sites, channels and artists, makes us a prime target for small-time record-publishing firms who feverously outsource wherever they can, with whomever they can. They tempt us, lull us, insidiously whisper sweet nothings in our ears – promise giveaways, interviews and free tickets – all so we can grind our fingers on the ‘board and pump out a review somebody, somewhere, thinks tickles their fancy.

And what sweetens the deal, is that we do it all ourselves – for free.

We spend hours, even days, dutifully listening to an artist’s hard-work – especially if we’ve been asked to do it. And, hell, we may not even like it all that much, come the end. When we have to mash all our feelings into words retaining critique rather than criticism – flare over offhand bastardisations any illiterate moron can spuriously fathom – it’s often crossed our minds just who will read this, and who will take it seriously…

But why? Why do we do it all for free? It’s inherent in human nature, I suppose. Something base, instinctual, harking back to simpler times when one Neanderthal said to his Neanderthal friend, who told his Neanderthal cousin that: “this shit rocks beyond belief; you just have to try it!”

Continued Part V