Ordinary language is all right.
One could divide humanity into two classes:
those who master a metaphor, and those who hold by a formula.
Those with a bent for both are too few, they do not comprise a class.
I spent a lot of last night and today listening to DJ Vadim's first album, USSR Repertoire. I bought it last fall and didn't even make it one time through because the first time I played it it was so utterly unprofoundly boring. That is, not the kind of boredom I like. It felt like Vadim had deliberately (at least, I hope deliberately - if it was an accident that would be very very spectacularly unlikely) squeezed all the rhythmic vitality out of hip-hop. And also made it slow.
It was of course better last night. For one thing, I had barely even heard it once, and I was trying to give it a fair chance last night. Also, liking hip-hop even further in the intervening time may have helped some. But I think mostly it was the actually trying that mattered. Vadim didn't exactly remove the rhythmic vitality; a lot of the times you can still feel it there. Picture it this way: a really bad way to do hip-hop beats would be to just have something flat, featureless, like a concrete floor - and every so often you hit it, just smack. Smack a floor like that - it's deadening, the floor has too much mass compared to your hand, all of the motion from the hit is just immediately dissipated. Beats with vitality are more tied to the body, maybe. There's a hit, and before the next hit something goes with it - because it's more like the thing doing the hit (your arm, you jumping on the floor) is busy in the interim, maybe saving up energy, waiting for the next beat to drop, slight tension.
So, yeah. I could hear some more of that last night, but it's hard to hear, because Vadim works in a small range, apparently trying for subtlety. It could be that part of my confusion stems from Vadim's (and the music press's, and listeners') insistence that this is abstract hip-hop, with all kinds of attendant self-important rhetoric (complete with liner note quotes from Luigi Rossolo!) about how his music is real hip-hop, how it's not pop like what's currently taken to be hip-hop, blah blah blah, bullshit you've heard a million times before whatever the genre being claimed as special.
B-b-but it is hip-hop, right? C-cuz there are beatz n even guys mumbling every once in a while! Well, yeah. Obviously the music on this CD has some connection to hip-hop. Initially I was bothered by the "abstract" ("abstract hip-hop") because it seemed to me that the word was being used not to describe the music as some more general kind of hip-hop, particulars cleaved away - or whatever (like, I didn't really get it, that's just a guess, no one ever says what they mean by "abstract") - but as a kind of label of approval: "this music is for boring chinstroking backpackers who want to like hip-hop but feel for whatever dumbass reasons that they can't like Jay-Z et al - a-and cuz it's abstract it's better." Compare to manifold uses of "progressive" (rock, altrock, trance, house, jazz, whatever).
Well I was wrong! The "abstract" in the genre-label-classification that people slap on Vadim's music is by far the more accurate of the two/three words. I think it really does sound like he's taking the materials that hip-hop music is traditionally made from, and then playing around with those ("formallistically," if you will) materials, seeing what happens. The bad part, the thing that should've set me off more, is the crap talk about how he's expanding the boundaries of music, how that's what hip-hop really is all about, blah blah, because that talk obscures the fact that his relationship to hip-hop is not at all as direct as the one he claims. Am I going to say what it is? No I am not - I don't think that's a question to be answered lightly, and though I have a few jars in the closet I don't really feel like butterfly collecting right now. Is it OK for me to avoid that question and still say I think he's full of it? Well, maybe - here's why: Vadim's rhetoric ignores the real history of hip-hop, the fact that, yes, KRS-1 and Public Enemy were great and all, but they were part of a huge complicated thing that also involved MC Hammer and Puff Daddy - and all that stuff was somehow hip-hop or involved with hip-hop. And not just in a simple "real hip-hop" / "pop crap stealing hip-hop's style" dichotomy (please, step to the side, DJ Adorno).
(Does this conflict at all with what I think about Wynton Marsalis? Maybe. Maybe not. Shut up.)
Hooray, I found my Monk boxed set. Unfortunately it wasn't what I wanted either.
The first track on the last Morphine album glides.
I heard an old Michael Jackson song (I know it was him because it was obvious, and I know it was old because I didn't recognize it) on the radio while we were cruising around in Murph's jeep tonight. I liked it. But Murph made me change it. Oh well. I'll have to set up my antenna soon for my stereo.
I've been in the mood for horn sections lately, but I don't really have much music that fits what I want (not jazz - though the closest thing that would've pleased me right now, Monk live at Town Hall with his orchestra, I couldn't find anyway because it's in a box of books somewhere). What I picked instead on the spur of the moment was Milestones. Have just realized, after an extended section without Miles, that this variety of bebop seems to suit him the least well of all the styles he assayed. I suppose I thought that before, but hearing a passage without him this time through made me think, hey, this could be someone else's record. Compare the higher-tempo athleticism here to that on display in the second quintet's records - there it seems like Miles is playing more with his own voice in both slower and faster tempos. It's well known that early on he developed a voice on the trumpet which played up his strengths (especially his lyricism and dark tone), and avoided his weaknesses (fast and high technique). But maybe he pushed it a lot further than that - by the mid-60s he had reformed bebop (the whole style and structure of the songs, the way the bands played - rather than just his own voice) even more radically to suit his voice.
Tonight I was listening to "Angels vs. Aliens" from Mogwai's early singles comp, Ten Rapid, and reading Gravity's Rainbow at the same time, when I came to this:
It's all gibberish to Slothrop - it will be months yet before he runs into a beer advertisement featuring the six beauties, and find himself rooting for a girl named Helen Riickert: a blonde with a Dutch surname who will remind him dimly of someone. . . .
The 'someone' is Katje, who Slothrop has a passionate affair with earlier in the book, during his house arrest in the Casion Hermann Goering. So 'months' later Slothrop will have forgotten about Katje - she'll be little more than a faint memory. This isn't really because the affair meant little to Slothrop, or because so much more happens in the future to make him forget her, I think - it's just that he 'dissipates' into the Zone later on in the book.
I normally find this sad, but hearing the faint, echoey guitars at the beginning of the Mogwai track made it seem a lot more poignant. A lot of the reviews of this comp remark, rightly so, on how distant the music sounds. I'd like to say it's 'obscured' by or 'shrouded' by very delicate guitar noise, but the sound is a lot more three-dimensional than that, and it's never obfuscatory. So it accomplishes the trick of sounding clear while also being noisy and far away. That extra distance intensified the feeling I had, from reading, of Slothrop's loss - one he won't even know the magnitude of once he's reminded of Katje.
I dug out The Joshua Tree today as it occurred to me I hadn't heard it in years - and I never really listened to it much when I first got it, which was maybe sometime before tenth grade in high school. The first four songs were superb. After that I found myself wishing I was listening to Big Black again. The first thing that occurred to me, and that I can't shake, was that those initial songs are much straighter. That doesn't really make sense - I suppose it's something to do with the direct, solid rhythms that drive the songs, and that don't really let up over the courses of them.
But then again I've also heard those songs a million times on the radio. Do I really want to listen to the album enough to see if I start to like the rest of the songs better? No I think I do not.
This one's for Scotland, man - for Scotland!
Clive has a nice music weblog, somnolence, which you should check out if you have not already done so. I would put a link to it on my links page if I had one, but I don't (I'm not sure yet if I really want to remedy this: I used to have one but I didn't like having to decide whether to link people on it, for whatever reason).