Good Writing. Bad Music.
A music blog in Seattle called Levee Breaking allowed me the opportunity to write some album reviews for them. I listened to the latest recordings from a Vancouver, WA band called Foreign Talks and a band from Shreveport, LA called Super Water Sympathy. I listened to them with my friend Matt Bryan and we just made fun of the album the whole time cause we didn’t like them and wrote these reviews at the same time and the writing made us feel better. I never head back from Levee Breaking, not sure if they published them or not, but I never got a “hey thanx these look great!” so…
Anyway, so I’ll run them here:
by Eva Avenue & Matthew Bryan
If you really want to dissect why you listen to the music you listen to, why you like the stuff you like, you can make a Venn diagram encompassing the history of your personal taste, cultural understanding, and technical/nontechnical musical knowledge. I suppose if I were younger and within the culture/mindset for which it was being made I’d have a greater appreciation for it.
Foreign Talks puts on a fun, jump-jam show for a younger crowd or older goofy boozy souls, but whatever people stick around for in the audience doesn’t translate to the debut album, Foreign Talks. They’re probably just cool guys with a lot of friends and that’s why people have fun at their shows. All four members are less than 20 years old.
About their album Foreign Talks, released April 17, I’ll just get right to it: The lyrics are redundant. Instead of expanding upon an idea, its one idea said over and over in different ways. And the excessive rhyming makes me feel he’s more obsessed with rhyming than with the meaning. Sounds like they’re almost attempting some kind of linear harmonies comparables to those of the Dirty Projectors but they’re not as tight or soulful. There’s an element of that white-boi R&B rap that has been stagnating now for about 20 years.
The general aesthetic is a Jack Johnson, Dave Matthews type festival music, but vapid and lifeless. The singer’s inability to sing is only relieved by his inability to rap. In his mind, he probably doesn’t see it as an inability, just a way of making his difficulty seem cool or unique or interesting . It doesn’t come across as being very powerful because this technique is indecisive. He’s not rapping or singing. It just makes me cringe. This idea that you can just combine different types and styles of music as if you were in Photoshop is just very unimpressive. There is no real originality, no original thinking. Just a combination of styles that have already been established. It’s kind of like channel surfing. Those brief meters where he’s singing attempted rap just doesn’t have any soul.
Track three is better than the first two. Again, though, this doesn’t really deliver in that none of the instruments sound very expressive. The vocals sound honest but they also sound very amateur. The way they’re using space in this song is maybe to convey feelings of anticipation or surrender in the music, something very powerful — but really just very boring. There’s not very much happening musically. It’s like watered down Smash Mouth, Barenaked Ladies-type rap. Not very melodic or aggressive. I feel like Sublime, god bless Sublime, is responsible for this culture in general, this whole mellow beach rap thing, so not my thing. I have to say something about the general lack of dynamic; they don’t escalate or grow in energy. It’s the same thing the whole time. The ending of this song is a great example. It could’ve gone somewhere but it didn’t. As civilized Man started to design his own environment, sacrifices of receptivity were made.
Having an appreciation for classical music makes you look at really decorated styles of indie music that utilize lots of instrumentation and notice the potential of working with many instruments or something as simple as counterpoint. You hear a lot of indie bands that will use classical instruments or lots of instruments with no sense of counterpoint, or they’ll create melodies and rhythms that interact in a boring way. Sometimes the most you’ll get out of it is a new sound; unless that sound grows and changes, it doesn’t really do much for me.
The technical aspects of one’s knowledge of music are incorporated into one’s musical taste. Naturally. You can’t appreciate music without being exposed to some sort of technical form. Wow, that is like some Theodor Adorno philosophy right there. Music is a technical form - even in its most abstract state, it has technical characteristic. These things are ever present in all music.
There’s this guy who represents a sound art type of coalition based out of Toronto who was discussing sound art and towards the end of the interview he went off on this great thing with the perception of sound versus music and he pointed out if you’re trying to focus on something and you hear a noise in the background that is distracting you will perceive it as noise. But if you give it your full undivided attention it could just as easily be perceived as music, which is like the entire basis of Zen Buddhism.
Historically a primordial man did not require that type of meditation because he was busy surviving on a basic-necessity level; it’s about removing all the filters so that your senses are completely open to your surroundings and what your surroundings are doing, whether it be temperate or touch or light or anything. This enhances your art. Some people just like to have a good time with it, and that’s great too! But they also have to put up with bad album reviews from jerks like us sitting here in Austin, Texas on vacation from the world, seeped in the spices of our own little words of our own histories as if any of this matters, as if we’re not hurling through space like pasta in a wagon.
The interview was really smart, this guy being interviewed by a weird art critic. They were promoting their recent festival and the guy was totally intellectual and he went on a rant and his final statements summarized the beauty of life: He was talking about how there’s an ebb and flow between people in society who are trying to expand definition and people who are trying to narrow it. And that that alone is what makes life beautiful.
There are people in our society who are trying to narrow the definition of what music is, and there are people who are trying to expand it. I’d never say artists are exclusively on the side of expanding; there are artists on both sides. Some artists are conservative and traditional; they don’t want to create new music but just recreate it. Those who expand it literally make progressive music. Progressive music, too, has been spun into a genre.
Are we still talking about Foreign Attack or whatever?
SUPER WATER SYMPATHY
Eva Avenue & Matthew Bryan
SWS’s second album Hydrogen Child sounds like it could benefit from some hydrogen puberty.
Second track opens up like music you’d hear at the end of movie credits to get everyone to leave the theater. It’s hard to imagine any 25-year-old woman sing “kiss me on my tummy” and it being anything but a joke. I don’t know, I could be wrong about that. But it certainly sounds contrived.
This is really difficult to listen to. I recently read that some neurologists somewhere were doing some tests and determined that one of the reasons why we enjoy music is because it challenges our minds, challenges our brains. This music does nothing to stimulate me on any level creatively or intellectually. It sounds exactly like a million things I’ve heard before. And I suppose there’s a market for that, but I guess that’s all that matters, right? Is there a market for it?
Generally people like music that is honest, or at least I’d like to think so. It sounds like a band trying to get on the Clear Channel robot list. College radio is great though. I think if we’re going to listen to college music or indie rock, we should hold that music to the same standard we hold our college radio stations, which is to provide the listener with something that is new, unexpected, and may entertain any kind of growth or education for that listener. To recreate music that has already been made a million times over without any attempts to make it original or different besides that fact you are the one who is playing it is bad musicianship.
This type of slow ballad accessible anthem is great for selling things like shampoo and Hollywood movie trailers. It’s not bad, but again, very predictable and uninteresting. All of the energy is in the production. Maybe if the music were performed live, I don’t know; the instrumentation and parts are just not stimulating.
As far as female singers go, this type of music takes a lot of steps back for women trying to establish a new feminism, where they are appreciated for the merits of their individuality. The simplicity of the music and the way she delivers her vocals gives me the sense she is very easy. Like pick-up-at-the-bar easy. A cheap date, if you will. There’s a hell of a lot of women out there who are so incredibly talented and are really changing the tables for the history of music within popular culture, and music like this is just such a step backwards for real, progressive artists.
The song “Shadow” comes on. “Oh god,” Matt rubs his face with his hand. “Not to get mythological but there is a special place in hell where they play music like this and you have to listen to it and it’s your punishment. I don’t know why, I don’t know what you did. But it just keeps playing and you know when all the changes are going to happen. You know everything that’s going to happen as it happens.”
It gives one the feeling one’s mind is shrinking. Maybe in another time and another world I could appreciate music like this but it’s so debilitating, and when I hit play I just hear cheap commerce debit cards swiping in my heart. So as an American I also hate it.
It’s like listening to good musicians who aren’t comfortable letting themselves go. Not just having energy, which Super Water certainly has, but a willingness to make a special album, to be a little ugly sometimes or a little abrasive or something. God, anything. Every transition, climax, drum fill, refrain, is a little too clean and predictable; not very challenging to understand, hence very challenging to listen to. Do all bands introduce their song for two measures before singing. Isn’t that what I would expect. Why do they keep doing it.
The lyrics are all clichés strung together haphazardly in a convenient rhyme scheme. I walk away from these songs not feeling like they’re really about anything except maybe the singer’s personal life, which also doesn’t seem particularly interesting. She actually sounds a lot like Emily Haines when Metric first came out. But Haines developed as an artist and I always appreciated them.
Super Water Sympathy singer Ansley Hughes sings about guns a lot, and roses, ironically. By the seventh song, I couldn’t distinguish one from the next. It was draining. It is draining. By the end, we were feeling a little sick and disturbed. The one emotion that surfaces among all these songs, more than any other, is one of maudlin. I get an overwhelming sense that I’m getting presented with a great deal of emotion and meaning but never ever convinced that any of it is real.