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.
Tonight I listened to the Flaming Lips' Soft Bulletin for the first time in months and actually enjoyed it some (I hadn't much really before). But I had the strangest experience. I'm not normally synaesthetic - maybe there have been a few times where I felt like that. I think I was listening to "Suddenly Everything Has Changed", but I don't know the album that well, so maybe it was something else. Every sound I heard - and there were loads of them - seemed to me to have a color, but I couldn't tell which ones. The sensation died away after about ten seconds or so. I know it had something to do with the way everything sounds, sort of super-intensified. I've heard "day-glo" applied to the album before and if not the colors then it certainly fits the intensities of the sounds.
This pleases me some because earlier I had been listening and wondering how useful a description 'psychedelic' was for any music that didn't actually have some kind of unusual mental effect. So what if a song can replicate or at least approximate what it's like for someone on psychedelic drugs to do x? If it doesn't do it to you then isn't it kind of like having all the meaning taken out? The Flaming Lips album wasn't doing anything to me, which made me doubt the worth of its being a supposedly fabulous psychedelic pop album. Now I'm reconsidering.
Listening to what sounds like it must be a really great album to love can be frustrating for me, because I know that if I had enough of the right kind of time with the album, enough time for all the key affective experiences to just happen, that all the things that seem interesting about the album would take on an entirely different character. The frustrating part is that it's not something that I can usually push. Those affective appearances have to happen in the normal course of listening, the normal course of life, and that means that like any other thing that needs to just happen, they might not. In which case there's not much to do but wait. And if I have to wait long enough it may start to seem like music that other people think is really great might just pass me by.
I've thought this when listening to some older albums recently too - some Tortoise and Autechre which didn't do as much for me as they once did. It's probably also key in many cases that I keep having the right kinds of affective experiences so that when I go back later I still 'know' how to have them, if that makes any sense at all.
I had a theory to explain it but it was getting hard to keep the corners of the sheet to stay on the matress when I was stretching it across to the opposite sides. If you follow me. So I'll just keep it succinct and get on to the next song. I'll try again the next time around.
Things we have here that are absolutely cuckoo: our singer (so he sez), our addressee (surely, once she falls for our singer and he snaps), our music (jaunty ukelele songs are by definition a bit off), our production (ukelele backing naturalish soundspace singer-narrator connotes psychological realism at some level, but then you've got the multitracked Stephins - little voices all over the place!), our album (indie-pop gospel technopop gay eighties rock musical vaudeville pastiche country lovesong tiny epic personal producer-driven traditionalist deconstructive meaningful trifles I have to stop now)... Q.E.D.
Yes, I know he said the running order was randomly chosen.
"I pull my collar down low, to show my sucking chest wound..."
The Dismemberment Plan's "Rusty" starts with two minutes and forty-five seconds of instrumental, so it's a disappointment when the song ends at just over four minutes. It's got a tempo that hovers just between andante and something a bit more driven, almost marchlike, and when it ends with a scream and some damped feedback, it sounds like it's ready to keep going after a moment, with a giant crash. But it doesn't.
What did you listen to today, Josh?
Jay-Z, The Blueprint. Everything just sounds so overdriven on "You Don't Know", especially the dut-da-dut-dut drum machine part, because the rhythm feels so rigid and snap-ready next to the surrounding tempo.
James Brown, Foundations of Funk. There are lots of things I listen to that I just enjoy, and then there are things like this, that I'm astonished by. (Actually I'm astonished by most of the music in this entry but that's beside the point.) In a range of ways, too. "I Feel Good" and "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag" make me overwhelmingly joyful, and in a way that feels different from all the other music that engenders similar responses. Classical music is too refined, jazz too restrained, rock music too intent on being abrasive or powerful, rap too cool. (NB: I reserve the right to retract all these statements by the end of this sentence.) And things like the rhythm section (i.e. EVERYTHING) on so many of the later songs, like "Give It Up or Turnit A Loose", are just technically astonishing (well not JUST...) - and so exciting because they're so strangely awe-inspiring.Sigh.
The Dismemberment Plan, ! I've barely listened to this, especially relative to their other three albums (this is their first). But I had the urge after hearing "OK, Joke's Over" and uh the other one at the show on Tuesday night. (I haven't put the name to it yet.) It's a better album than I gave it credit for initially, though it's hard for me to tell how much I would be able to like it if I didn't already love their other albums. (That's partly due to the album, and partly due to my lessened affinity for a certain range of "basic" post-punk guitar music, at least when it's outside my zone of familiarity.) The songs are generally good, some better, and even in the songs I don't think as much of there are at least parts I like better. I noticed today that I seemed to unconsciously approve of the parts which are most similar to the band's later stuff, i.e. bass and drums doing something 'interesting', guitars playing something supporting but not primary - and when they move to bigger punk rawk chords and stuff, which is generally during choruses, is when I'm less satisfied. I think I do something similar, but to a lesser extent, on Is Terrified. So what I suspect or at least am telling myself at the moment is that over time they a) became more interesting about their big-chord parts, and more key, b) found better ways to integrate those parts into their songs so that they make more sense musically and emotionally, if not c) avoid those parts altogether as Travis has indicated in interviews re avoidig post-Nirvana song structures. Oh, and also: the sound here is thin and I generally take that to be to an album's supreme detriment, but it's growing on me now. It has the interesting effect of making the drums really crunchy, which is of added appeal because the drummer - Steve Cummings, who was replaced on the next album - has kind of a drum-n-bass snare pop going. And the bass takes on an interesting quality, pretty low but damped somehow so that it feels more subterranean, despite not sounding that way when considered 'objectively'. A-a-and the guitars... they're more metallic and clangorous, Shellacy cheese shreddery.
Miles Davis, Filles de Kilimanjaro. At times this seems far more abstract to me than lots of other 'abstract' (no forget the scare quotes) jazz, running the gamut from bop to free jazz. The thing that's most obviously 'abstract' or difficult about free jazz is that all the recognizable stuff disappears - the usual tonal and rhythmic structures, especially. But on this album especially - more than the other second quintet albums, I think - things are more abstract because of the way they shift and flicker. It's harder here to figure out what the underlying structures are like, harder to follow what's going on, because what they are is never fixed, yet they are still an important point to the music, so you have to follow them somehow. Compare to out enough free jazz where it may not really be helpful to follow those kinds of structures because they're no longer the point, they're not playing that game - so in a sense you don't have to try as hard. (There are other things to try hard at.)
John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman. His voice glides so effortlessly i.e. apparently effortlessly to the listener that the slow-to-mid tempi are frustrating me a bit, because what he seems to be hinting at is that he could sing as slowly and gently as he wanted, and that's what I want to hear, that voice, hanging in mid-air, unrushed by the band even at their relaxed tempi here.
I've been very tired and busy lately, and it's given me trouble writing anything down. I'm sorry.
I saw the Dismemberment Plan, for the fourth time now, Tuesday night. Maybe I'll write about it eventually.
I don't have the energy to expand on it at the moment, but a thought: Tom Waits has admitted to being too much of a wuss to be really really avant-garde, ca. his Rain Dogs period albums. But they're clearly marked by a sense of weirdness that sets them outside the realm of 'normal' accessibility in some way. People have made a similar observation about Radiohead being avant-but-not-too-avant-garde. This bears further scrutiny (on both sides).
One more thing: tonight I heard a big part in the Mozart quartet that sounded like a rhythm guitar part.
I wanted to wait to write this down until after I had written something about Arnold Davidson's book, The Emergence of Sexuality, but I'm doing it now so I don't forget.
Listening to that Mozart string quartet tonight, I was extremely struck at times how by how dramatic the music seemed. Not just because it was dealing in intense or extreme emotions, somehow - but dramatic by design. Given how often the idea of tension comes up in discussions of the classical style (it's all about tension, by some accounts), the presence of drama shouldn't be surprising. After all, drama is based on tension, conflict, and the intense emotions which come with those.
The reason this is important to me at the moment is that I've been thinking a lot lately about how the success of lots of rap (and not just hyper-real gangsta rap) seems to depend heavily on a very particular kind of theatricality. I don't understand drama or theater that well at all, so I don't even know why I think "theatricality" with respect to hip-hop, and "drama" with respect to Mozart. It may be that I sense more readily that some kind of persona or front is being adopted in rap, which is in keeping with the pretense or artificiality denoted by "theatrical". Of course, what I want to insist is that the stance, the attitude, involved in the string quartet is just as artificial.
It would be nice if I had a better understanding of this stuff, because I think it would make for a useful way of thinking about the emotional dynamics of lots of music.