Thursday, February 09, 2006


Two ruminations on previous SYF posts.

One: The Lumping of Singer/Songwriters
I've been mulling over something Troy posted about
a little bit ago: "Truth be told I rarely like the whole singer/songwriter genre, male or female--it typically seems uninspired and recycled."

I agree with him, but started wondering where this reflexive dismissal comes from.

For starters, there's the seventh child syndrome. I can't say exactly why previous First Name Surname stars loom so large, but if you play music with a single face as a focus, there are giants to overcome. An anecdote: I had my mother-in-law over a while ago and put on SYF and all-world fave In The Aeroplane Over the Sea during dinner. After two minutes, she said, between bites of salad, "What's this fake Dylan trying to do?" Somehow, I don't imagine that Kyuss had to endure Led Zeppelin barbs from the grandmotherly population.

Why? I wouldn't stake my life on this analysis, but a single face is much easier to parse, to like or dislike on first contact, while the cluster of a band has a much better chance of communicating its vibe, of getting an actual listen.

The other major hurdle I came up with applies specifically to band members striking out on their own. I'll admit to the reforming comic book addict's desire for completeness, so I'm usually compelled to check out any solo work by members of bands I like, but it's very hard to listen to those songs clearly without the finest moments of said band hovering. Case in point: the shambling, sometimes transcendent Rodan and band member Tara Jane O'Neil. I can safely say that many of my favorite Rodan moments are the result of her voice and phrasing among the somewhat (intentionally I think) monochromatic noise. See if you agree with me about "Tron" (here pulled from the outstanding Half-Cocked soundtrack).

Tron - Rodan

Generally loping and forceful, it's truly dramatic when Tara Jane cuts through like in the line "same as your skin" which triggers the coda.

Now, Tara Jane's project is obviously totally different on Peregrine, her quiet, first solo album, and I was prepared to weather that along as the songs carried some of the same drama in a different form. Not fair on my part, perhaps, and perhaps impossible to deliver. After all, those Rodan moments are great largely due to contrast and a solo record, with that one force up front, is about anything but contrast. I'm likely asking for too much and these songs do have some of the space and drama of Rodan's Rusty, but the singularity of voice definitely sounds like a factor in the "uninspired and recycled" lumping.

Sunday Song - Tara Jane O'Neil

Two: My Money Note
In my post
way back when, I mention the money note, a phrase defining an incredibly expensive, hyper-produced moment that makes for a memorable, popping single. For better or worse, I'm still thinking about it, or, more accurately, about how it bothers the shit out of me that the work of scientists, engineers and creative people have led us to such arid, toxic, wonderless places. I'm not surprised, but still it rankles.

However, a bunch of recent Mission of Burma news had me recall what I think a money note should be: an unexpected moment of pure brilliance. So, here's mine, the strange, tuneful turnaround in Burma's B-side, "Anti-Aircraft Warning."

Anti-Aircraft Warning - Mission of Burma


Blogger Amy said...

Your mother-in-law's not alone. On hearing ITAOTS a few years back, a mutual friend of ours made remarks about "whiny white boys with acoustic guitars." (Email and I'll tell you who.) I think we all hate the genre on principle--perhaps because it seems to encourage and embody solipsism--but we also all have our darlings.

12:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Count me out on the hating. I'm a fan often, but here's a question -- would you lump, let's say, Peter Gabriel as a bandmate gone bad? Or is he more of an "artiste" rather than a resident of the narrowland of "singer/songwriter"? He's just the first example that popped up.

And on the continuing adventures of the $note, I would add my own definition/interpretation: it's all about a visceral response to the music. Surprising, yes, over produced, not required, brilliant? Maybe too brainy a register. For my money, it simply has to get you in the gut, goose bumped, and hair raised.

Toxically yours,


5:27 PM  
Blogger -tr0y- said...

what a great post!!! we need more of this commentary from you more often jon! i only have one friend who gets ITAOTS--the rest think it's exactly why "indie music is listened by no one."

8:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If indie music isn't listened to, it's mostly because radio these days is doing a complete diservice to musicians and fans alike by not playing it. A recent "Rolling Stone" survey concludes that CD's are priced too high and today's music stinks. From what I've discovered via blogs like this, good music IS out there but what's left of radio doesn't touch it. Alternative formats are dropping like flies and what's calling itself Classic Rock is beyond disgraceful. So-called Classic formats shouldn't be old hit machines. Stations were successful in the beginning because they played a huge variety of everything from metal to southern rock and back again.I better stop before I go on and on so I'll wrap it up by saying,video didn't kill the radio star,consultants did.

12:30 AM  
Blogger Jon said...

amy: Do I want to know that info or will it only serve to rev me up?

jc: If I give you one Peter Gabriel, do I get one Slash's Snakepit?

There's actually an amazing number of tendrils you can pull out of the earth on this whole topic, but it's safe to say that at the very least I should have included some sort of Iconoclast corollary. Gabriel, Eno are there, Lou Reed and Jonathan RIchman too.

Perhaps most perplexing? Phil Collins. Does that case get to the heart of my "hating?" So unkind, that cut, Mr. Toxic.

Troy: Thanks. I'll see what I can do about frequency, but I am *so* slow.

anon.: Also, thanks for the post and the close reading. SYF are largely Chicagoans so we know how bad radio can be. I can honestly say that outside of the couple difficult to pick up college stations from Northwestern and Loyola, there's very little to listen to on commercial or public radio. However, have internet/satellite radio and ipods/music blogs solved that problem? Or will it as WiFi goes really wide? Does that long tail start shaping taste in a more constructive way?

I know that I'm saying technology solves a cultural problem (and says nothing at all about the economics, a massive factor), but maybe there's something there...

5:19 PM  
Anonymous David said...

that Mission Of Burma is a money note of the highest order

8:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Technology shouldn't be the start of a cure for ails music fans. I agree that the economic factor is huge, It shouldn't be. The free airwaves should get back to doing what they used to do. (a voice in my head is saying,"When I snap my fingers you'll awaken"). College stations are the laat bastion of radio. It's up to the blogs now. Album Rock stations would play several album cuts and now blogs are taking that same tactic to expose new music and some old great stuff that gathers dust. That along with bands with their own blogs are just about the only ways to get mass exposure. Comparing the cost of satellite and the price of CD's they seem to cancel each other out benefit wise. Sorry to say we're in a mobius strip of imcpmetence. That sounds pretensious as hell but I can't think of any other way to put it.

10:56 PM  
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7:21 AM  

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