Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The Wooden Finger Five – August 2016

Sydney band Gang of Youths have released a new EP, ‘Let Me Be Clear’, which is made up of songs that they say didn’t quite fit on their album. “All our friends / Are dead and gone,” are the cheery opening lines of ‘A Sudden Light’. It definitely has an ‘80s stadium rock feel to it with its shouted lead vocals, its harmonies and synths, perhaps something like Springsteen in style and either Bon Jovi or Bono in voice.

Actually a bit more research revealed to me that the track is in fact three years old, which sort of blows my chances of a having a contemporary list of listening this month right off the bat. Fortunately though, I already planned to depart from being up to date with three out of my next four choices.

This is a new track, except for that it sounds a bit like Joy Division. But Creative Adult’s new album has quite a range of styles so that’s OK.

Creative Adult are actually playing near me in a couple of weeks in a small club in Collingwood. I wonder what sort of crowd they will get … ? Is it only people in their thirties like me that listen to this type of music now, because it reminds them of music from their past? Are we on to the last generation of twenty-something indie music lovers? But then again even I’m too young to remember when the bands that Creative Adult remind me of – Joy Division and New Order, the Smiths, the Cure – first appeared.

For $15 I’m almost tempted to find out. Anyway, if you live in Melbourne and don’t have a kid you have to negotiate over caring for the night that sounds like a bargain price (by Australian standards) for a band that I reckon would sound pretty good in a small, dark venue.

I didn’t quite intend to start listening to Brazilian Tropicalia music before the Rio Olympic Games but it’s ended up fitting in well with the tone of the month. Caetono Veloso and Gilberto Gil are both worth a listen and from what I understand probably represent what this type of music is generally like.

But the stand-out for me is Os Mutantes. They’re as much psychedelia as Tropicalia, and I think they’re even one of the better psychedelic bands I’ve heard. Their Portugese lyrics and bossa nova harmonies make them clearly different from the more typical 1960s West Coast sound. That is they seem to inhabit a world that is theirs and no-one else’s (I’m not sure if this is completely true), which is pretty much what all disciples of the psychedelic aim for.

Judging from the count of plays on Spotify most people, like me, start with this track and then move on to some others. I recommend doing that as well. Unless you’ve already been listening to them for the last ten years, and are currently laughing at my naivety about music outside of the Anglo-Saxon heritage.

Last week I bought a book called ‘The Rest is Noise: Listening To The Twentieth Century’, by ‘The New Yorker’ music critic Alex Ross, which I had seen recommended in a couple of places when it came out in 2007. Though it sounded worthwhile I had been reluctant to read it for several years as I saw that it was not about the types of music that I listen to – i.e. rock and pop. Indeed rock ‘n’ roll has become so dominant in popular culture that Ross’ book feels at times like an alternative history of twentieth century music, with only passing mentions made of the more significant rock musicians, even though composers like Strauss, Stravinsky, Gershwin, Cage, and Stockhausen are more what music has traditionally been established to be.
I actually started my reading with one of the later chapters, titled ‘Beethoven Was Wrong: Bop, Rock, and the Minimalists’, which seemed like a good entry point for me into the book. That chapter covers Phillip Glass – who I have a cheap CD of somewhere – as well as Steve Reich, Morton Feldman, and Terry Riley. Ross is sparing enough in his praise for works, but so keen and eloquent when he gives it that it led me to want to listen to the music he was describing as soon as I put down the pages. Although not quite – it was 11.30pm, and I figured the works were probably more than a few minutes long so that didn’t happen straightaway, but it did have me searching around in areas of Spotify that I weren’t even quite sure were there.
On ‘Rothko Chapel’: “Feldman made his mourning palpable … There are voices but no words. Chords and melodic fragments float along like shrouded forms, surrounded by thick silence. [T]he emotional sphere of ‘Rothko’s Chapel’ is too large to be considered a memorial for any individual … It might be the chant of millions in a single voice.”  
On the wonderful ‘In C’: “No matter what choices are made in performance, the harmony tends to move into E minor in the middle and into G major (the dominant of C) toward the end … Tying the whole thing together is a pair of high Cs on the piano, pulsing without variation from beginning to end.” And a good choice of quote from music critic Alfred Frankenstein: “Climaxes of great sonority and high complexity appear and are dissolved in the endlessness. At times you feel you have never done anything all your life long but listen to this music and as if that is all there is or ever will be."
I’ll never understand music as well as that. Nevertheless I’ll probably be back next month, perhaps with some more second-hand recommendations from Ross’ opus.

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