Monday, 1 October 2012

Play To Z: Drastic Fantastic to Feel Good Lost

This is the first time I've managed to cover an entire letter in one of these posts, and it's not even the biggest chunk of music I've covered. "E" proved to be the shortest letter so far, but that's not to say it's been bereft of great music.

Some Observations

"Dueling Banjos" from Deliverance has so successfully lodged itself into popular culture as an indicator of redneck, backwoods locations that I'd wager most would recognise it, but few will have actually listened to the blistering skill displayed by the two musicians. It's one of those songs you're tempted to keep rewinding because you can't quite believe the talent on display.

Blondie's "Atomic" remains an essential piece of new wave beauty. One of the most flawless songs of its era, it doesn't put a foot wrong, weaving the propulsive beat and bass line with Debbie Harry's almost gospel-like delivery of the lyrics and that instantly recognisable guitar riff.

The Weeknd's trilogy of mixtapes peaked early with House of Balloons, but Echoes of Silence still has plenty of great songs on it, especially his slow, paranoia-infused cover of "Dirty Diana" by Michael Jackson.

"A Better Son-Daughter" is one of the best and most accurate portraits of depression I can think of. There's a weird catharsis in listening to someone explain how you're feeling more precisely than you ever could yourself.

Fantastic Playroom by New Young Pony Club is a great album that I always forget to listen to more. It's kind of weightless, but it's sexy electro-pop fun, so you don't exactly want it diving into existentialism, and it's short enough that it doesn't repeat itself or outweigh it's welcome. It's a perfectly formed sly little treat.

Intention, Meaning and the Five Star Rating

I was listening to Feel Good Lost today, Broken Social Scene's 2001 debut, from back when they were at their most ambient and instrumental and it got me thinking about intention in music, and applying Barthes' "Death of the Author" thesis to music.

  Rather than give everything on iTunes a star rating, which sounds exhausting and doesn't allow for a lot of factors, I simply give things no stars or 5 stars. 5 stars means a song meets a loose set of ill-formed criteria; am I happy to listen to this song no matter my mood? Does it have enough of a musical identity to make it easy to recognise? Does it have some emotional connection or effect on me? Is it, for want of a better term, great?

  Some albums manage to be great but lack in 5 star tracks. For example, Electro-Shock Blues by Eels is an album I would point to as being fantastic, but only about half the songs merit 5 stars. The rest, while no means bad, don't stick in my mind enough to warrant 5 stars, but help make up the overall meaning and atmosphere of the album. Some songs can be the key to understanding a record or even an artist, but fail to tick some box somewhere in my brain.

  The problem Feel Good Lost presented is that, as a piece of largely instrumental, ambient post-rock, it sort of blends together and fades into the background, but that is, I'd imagine, the intention. As an album, it's meant to create this sort of dreamlike, meandering etherium, and it does so entirely successfully, but few individual tracks stand out. It's a good album, but that doesn't translate to great tracks.

  So, when I'm thinking about marking a track down as "great" in my own personal tally system, do I take into account where a track sits in the wider context of an album? Do I allow for an artists' intention? For how they want the track to be consumed? If I do, then how? And if I don't, then that album will, in all likelihood, be listened to less. It's a tricky proposition, and one without an easy answer.

Ho hum.

Rediscovered Gem

"Can't Do Nuttin' For You Man" by Public Enemy

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