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.
One of the diverting causes I alluded to below is my inability to keep up with my shifting taste. It's been frustrating to find just how much my critical skills are wedded to the kind of music I grew up listening to. I would like to write more entries that, as in the past, attend closely to the connection between what I feel and what the music sounds like. (I don't know if I have a reason for that, I'm probably just an unreformed autonomy-of-the-work slut.) But with music that's substantially different from rock music, two things falter. I'm less likely to feel the music as anything, as far as ho-hum preschooler emotions go (happy, sad). Then it has more to do with lyrics, if there are lyrics, or it feels as if my responses are more formal somehow, in the sense that some classical music formalists prefer (oh no no lame everyday emotions for us, this is some abstract shit): being excited by rhythms, tensions and releases, structure. This thing is minor, though, because I do still respond to the music emotionally. The bigger problem is that I don't know how to describe lots of the things I feel, particularly when I want to describe them in close relation to the sounds. 'Describe' is probably not the right word. My reactions aren't to ineffable things - it's just that I don't have the right way of talking at my disposal. Some of that's down to experience. I've had an enormous amount of time to pick up the nuances of the conventions of both rock music and rock discourse, compared to music that's newer to me. But I suspect more of it's due to the way the rest of the world treats other kinds of music (partly because the music is made differently, sounds different, but also just becasue they regard it differently). The language isn't out there for me to pick up somehow.
For a brief, shining moment on Sister Sonic Youth 'sound like' Mogwai circa Young Team and a few other spots, promising to make the easy genealogical links (the ones made by people who think ''sounds like'' - did you see what I did there? - means the same thing as 'influenced by').
It doesn't shine that much, though.
I feel totally disconnected from whoever my current audience is. If you you think you check this page regularly, please drop me at least a quick note saying hello (anything more about yourself would be welcome) at my email address, email@example.com. Response to this kind of request has been historically poor. I hope it won't be this time.
A number of things have conspired to divert my writing here. In the coming weeks I hope to get a better view of how this has happened.
I think Stevie Wonder pretty much always sounds believable when he sings "there'll be brighter days ahead". This is significant to me especially because so many of the sentments and emotions expressed by other music I love, especially the positive ones, never seem guaranteed to work completely. There could always be a time - there are times - when I play them, perhaps just feeling bad and playing a record, or perhaps deliberately hoping to feel better through playing them, and they fall short. The happy songs ring false or never seem to rise beyond the level of musical convention ("they're doing this happy thing there and singing about being happy but it's only supposed to sound happy because that's how you're supposed to make happy sounding music"). Maybe this is why sincerity and its relatives authenticity and soul and etc. are so important to people, at least in the way they talk: the hope is that these failures will never happen. They must be guarded against, because we don't want to be let down by the things we love (a danger: that we stop loving them).
This is surely misguided, but it seems so easy to persist in thinking this way.
LCD Soundsystem, "Daft Punk is Playing at My House (live)"
If rock bands insist that they can too make "dance music" by hitting the snare on 2-4 and leaning on the cymbals, then I insist on not listening any more. Don't be afraid. Give up your snares, dance-punk drummers.
If it seems to you as if, when I start edging toward admitting unflattering things about myself (see also here, regarding Basement Jaxx), I also become defensive and apologetic, you're not right but not totally wrong. I know I do it. I know that in any case like this, there are ready-made stories out there. My ad hoc attempts to evade those stories are meant to serve as reminders to me (and you) that my own story (like yours) is never that simple.
I don't know why this never occurred to me before, but I think part of the reason Kardi's "Bakardi Slang" sounds slightly lame slash desperate to me - lame slash desperate in the our scene can too produce stuff like what the cool kids slash cool Americans slash cool black people do sense - is that about half of their T dot slang sounds like upper Midwestern Germanic-Scandinavian idiom, or more pointedly, like Bob and Doug McKenzie ("mind where ya step," eh hoser?). This may be either perfectly justifiable given that they are representing the significantly corny Great White North ("my style's off the thermostat plus I'm comin' from the cold!") - or that they're playing off the novelty song potential provided by being from a nation stereotyped as characteristically bland (just like, yes, the Midwest). I'm open to either possibility.
I suspect though that if I counted up the Berlitz entries dropped into the song, only a small handful would sound like the Red Green Show, and most of them would be the almost etymologically incomprehensible West Indian derived slang. But elsewhere I once noticed another reaction of mine, which has thankfully disappeared mostly - every now and then Kardi's voice had in it a hint of American black parodying square white accent for comic effect. Early on I assumed this was just his Canadian coming through, but it still poisoned my experience a little, not just because he didn't sound as black as I expected from a rapper, but because I noticed myself wishing he sounded more "black" - a dangerous thing to wish for, although I'm not totally sure why I wished it.
But form is sedimented content, and sedimented residue of not just moral decisions and deliberate or implicit affiliations made, but social and musical affiliations (if these are even different): the sediment in the case of rap includes vocabulary, intonation, syntax, a plethora of tiny little particularities of language that help constitute the norms: these are rap songs and those are like rap songs (at best). To turn up a substantial amount of this sediment and fill in the hole with what you brought with you, you have to sell it, or you face the danger of making not-quite-rap, which is in theory no problem at all from a musical perspective ("I'm just, like, exploring a slightly different area, man"). But it's an enormous problem when the music belongs to someone else - then it courts either disrespect of that ownership and its importance to the owners, or worse, the threat of theft if you do manage to sell it (to someone, like say the suburbs) and pull a Gresham's law on the original product: no one could care anymore where rap came from.
This is all tenuous.
Charles Rosen on concerts, excerpted from his new book.
[Thanks to Barbara for the link.]
"I always stop reading immediately whenever the first thing I see on your page is a quotation mark." - Jess