Wednesday, January 23, 2002

This week, I want to cover the other genres that fill out my ragtag music library.

Alternative Rock
Gosh, it pains me to write those words. They're so "early '90s," and reek sorely of music industry marketing jargon. I remember visiting Edmonton in '94 and being distraught at seeing separate "Alternative" sections in the record stores. "But surely," I thought, "there is only good music and bad music. Do patrons feel smug and superior if they shop only in the Alternative section? Because they shouldn't." Of course, the Alternative section (which was sizable in those days) would feature totally mainstream fare such as Smashing Pumpkins and Pearl Jam, amongst other major-label pawns. It just didn't sit right with me.

Fast forward to the present day--today, in fact--and I'm trying to come up with an all-encompassing genre label for the other sorts of "rock" music I listen to. Maybe "indie rock"? I ate up bands like Sebadoh, Superchunk, Seam, and Erics Trip throughout most of the '90s...and I'll still pull out their albums for a spin once in a while. But what about Sonic Youth, PJ Harvey, Bjork, and a host of other godly entities who reside on major labels, but who've never sold out (except for that GAP ad featuring SY's Kim Gordon)? They're not indie, but you don't generally see them hangin' with P. Diddy and J. Lo at the Billboard Music Awards either.

So, what to do? I wish I had a link to some comprehensive site devoted to rock/pop music that doesn't suck. Perhaps I should make my own when I've graduated and am jobless--temporarily jobless. In the meantime, check out any of the above artists' websites if you're curious.

Stoner Rock
This is an offshoot of metal that's come into vogue recently. Blame Black Sabbath for everything, I say. Heck, blame the '70s for everything. That's why I love stoner rock so much. I'm inclined to agree with Homer Simpson that rock attained perfection in 1974, and this genre honours and perpetuates the tube-driven, fringe-jacketed, loose-jammin' values of that hallowed era.

Visit StonerRock.com for a glimpse into the hazy universe where "punk, grunge, doom and sludge...combine with a fuzzed-out '70s psychedelic groove to create a new and intense rock 'n' roll vibe." Uh, right. This is a site that rallies a community around a generally ignored type of music, but I think it tries to do too much. There's an MP3 jukebox, fan forums, an online store (the site's commerce angle is rather in-your-face), features, interviews, news, and probably the kitchen sink, too. The colour scheme is appropriately garish or plain hideous, depending on your point of view. I also don't like how you have to register to take part in the fan forums. I have too many user names and passwords to remember already. Overall, though, it's a very useful site.

Jazz
My friends and I often joke that our new-found appreciation of jazz is simply a sign that we're getting old. It's true; jazz didn't mean anything to me until I reached my thirties...if that's what you'd consider old! I regret that to a certain extent, but I'm making up for lost time now. I'm listening to a lot of jazz-rock fusion these days--the whole late '60s, early '70s Miles Davis, Tony Williams's Lifetime, Mahavishnu Orchestra scene. To me, it's a celebration of unfettered musicianship, a satisfying combination of structure and improvisation that massages my brain just right.

I've been trying to find a web resource for jazz for quite a while--something fan driven and alive with passion and debate. I don't want to go on Usenet, lest the spambots get me again. One site I've just discovered is All About Jazz. It's huge and imposing, but I had a brief-yet-rewarding visit the other day. Lots of discussion about Ken Burns' Jazz series, Desert Island picks, and tons of other nerdy stuff. I like it very much, except for certain pages that use black lettering on a dark blue background, making them unreadable.

Neil Young
My hero! Serious respect is due, so I can't lump him in with everyone else. He's a genre unto himself. Needless to say, there are gazillions of Neil Young sites out there. The most popular unofficial site is apparently HyperRust, but what a dog's breakfast. It hurts to look at it--I don't want to read words of a purple hue! Nevertheless, it appears as though the webmaster is a diehard Neil Young fan. As the Orange County Register wrote, "The page is an exhaustive compilation of everything you could possibly want to know, with unbelievably complete discographies and the definitive list of unreleased Young songs. I've never seen a page this complete on any artist."

Neil's official site looks like it isn't quite up and running yet. All I could find there was a RealAudio file of an unheard (by me) song, "Let's Roll." Shame about the site, but the song's pretty wicked!

Friday, January 18, 2002

Prog Rock Continued
I don't think it's all good, though. In fact, Sturgeon's Law applies to progressive rock as much as it applies to anything. Here are some of the things that bother me about the genre.

  • Hands off that mini-moog, grandad!: Face it, the great prog-rock albums of the early seventies were created by young men. As such, the music had a verve and vitality that disappeared as those young men entered their thirties, forties, and (in the case of Steve Howe) seventies. So, with any given prog band, the first half dozen albums are generally cool. The ensuing 23 releases are pure dross. Except for the box set of rarities.

  • The fans: Hordes of humourless nerds and music snobs. I've done my time on rec.music.progressive and a number of band email lists, and it's scary, I tell you. Especially the young ones who believe that Dream Theater are better than The Beatles. But what can I say here? I'm a prog fan myself. Except I'm so open-minded and groovy that I should be revered as an icon by music lovers everywhere.

  • Deservedly obscure bands: Here's a story: It's a quiet day at work, and I'm reading my brand-new issue of Progression magazine (NERD!). I become absorbed in a lengthy article about Kayak, a Dutch band who seem pretty cool. "Maybe I'll see if I can track down one of their albums on the way home tonight," I decide. So 5:00 rolls around, I lock up the office and walk up the street to Noise Records. There I find that coveted Kayak album--according that article, it's one of their best releases! I have a euphoric SkyTrain trip, get home, power up the stereo and delicately place the precious vinyl on the turntable. I drop the needle, and what do I hear? Disco. Really bad Dutch disco. I felt shamed, violated...like my mum had opened my history folder. Did I learn not to be seduced by the cachet of obscurity? For that day, yes. For all time? You've got to be joking.


I do love the prog, but like a fond old friend, I like to have an occasional laugh at its expense too. This is why I worship The Glitzy Cape. Rodborth and Walmanwee, the gentlemen responsible for this site (I guess it's more of an e-zine), gleefully take the piss out of their beloved genre while still deriving great pleasure from its occasional triumphs. There's lots of off-colour humour, in-jokes that only the nerdiest prog geeks would get, and cheap shots at aging rockers' expanding girths. I must also tip my hat to their taste in music. Their playlists in past issues have featured Grandaddy, Air, Godspeed You Black Emperor! and other modern bands of an adventurous bent. Hail the mighty Cape!

Tuesday, January 15, 2002

The next genre I want to discuss is indeed a "difficult" one. Over the decades, the almighty tastemakers have mocked, dismissed, and derided it. Though I understand their arguments, I'll defend this genre like it was my own timid, bullied child. Yes, I'm afraid I'm talking about...

PROGRESSIVE ROCK
Because I am docile and slender of figure, progressive rock is very dear to me. I like it because it is ungainly yet graceful, because it poses the question "what if?" (for example, "What if we made a concept album about Shastric scriptures?") and tackles it with blinding optimism and enthusiasm, because sometimes it's really loud and you know it'll become quiet and pretty very soon, because it generally avoids sex and adolescent rebellion as subject matter (particularly important when you're a 15-year-old virgin who hates his classmates more than he hates his parents), and because, hey, we all need a little pseudo-intellectual stimulation to wake us up to larger possibilities as we stumble into adulthood.

As my friends know, I'm loyal to the things (and people) I love, and so my passion for ornate, prissy music made by people who practise way too much has stayed with me since I was 12, when I was riveted by a hideous shriek coming out of the stereo in Mike Schmidt's basement--Geddy Lee, take a bow. But I think everyone has a bit of the prog-freak in them. One of the most punk rock people I know sometimes fancies a bit of Supertramp. 54-40, my mortal musical enemies, took an album title from a Genesis lyric. An ex-classmate claimed he saw Gentle Giant in concert (the bastard!). 'Fess up, everybody. You liked getting high and listening to Yes as much as the next spotty oik.

So, how do we define progressive rock? The records speak more eloquently than I ever could, so check out Strawberry Bricks, a site I just discovered that provides a great timeline of progressive rock from 1967 to 1979, describing the key albums from each year. For example, the year 1971 includes The Yes Album, Led Zeppelin IV, and Aqualung. Suits me fine. When I have a spare nanosecond I'll make a return visit.

Thursday, January 10, 2002

Let's begin by discussing genres. I enjoy several of them.

HEAVY METAL
I'm probably the least "Metal" person you could ever meet—I'm rather placid and slight of frame—but god, I love it. I crave it. Being a surburban white boy, I'm genetically predisposed to metal, I suppose. I'm addicted to it—it's like drugs or porn. You start soft (in my case, Kiss, who are more bubblegummy than soft, I guess), then you slowly become aware of harder, stronger stuff. Before you know it, the soft stuff doesn't do it for you anymore, and, in search of a more powerful jolt, you end up in dark, obscure territories. That's what happened to me in the '80s, and I still haven't emerged. Motörhead, Metallica, Slayer, then hordes of speedy European bands kept me enthused through the decade, and I'm now at the point where nothing much sounds new to me on the extreme end of the metal scale. What I am enthused about, however, is the slew of excellent bands from Europe (mainly Scandinavia) who've grown out of the "extreme for extreme's sake" ethos and incorporated influences outside of metal into their sound. I'm thinking of groups like Ulver, In the Woods, Opeth, Anathema, and so on...not exactly household names. All of them are more inclined to sound like Massive Attack, Pink Floyd, or Nick Drake than, say, Megadeth.

Anyway here's a site with a gleefully academic slant on all things metallic and extreme: The Dark Legions Archive
Some sample text: "Black metal is dark and fast music using melodic development to express its themes. Of all the metals, this is the most communicative with the modern listener, expressing nihilism and a heroic anti-social assertion of the self. Evolving simultaneously with death metal, this genre includes all of the technique and rhythmic intensity of the former with more emotive and comprehensible poetic communication within the music."

Nice.


Tuesday, January 08, 2002

Here I go. This is my first post. I'll try not to bore you to death with all this obscure music stuff. I find it interesting, and I hope I can make it interesting for you. At the very least you can have a chuckle at how much time I waste thinking and worrying about the sounds that entertain me. Questions or concerns? Get in touch.