Find Me On:
Too many good spring releases. I wanted to reign in my listening habits this year but I can’t when every week I learn that Christmas is only a month away. Little Joy is the album that I, without fail, whip out whenever summer hits. Even if Cavalo is a more sparse and less collaborative release from Amarante in comparison to Little Joy, no complaints from me because the world could use more of his voice and songwriting.
Yeah, Taylor Kirk has been the most underrated artist on Arts & Crafts (I don’t remember him ever been associated with Broken Social Scene, so that might have been one of the reasons) for the past five or so years quietly (in respect to the U.S. because Kirk and crew’s last album was nominated for the Polaris Prize) releasing brooding folk, damaged doo-wop, and full band/orchestra fever dreams not without glimmers of hope and smirks cloaked beneath the darkness.
Probably the best description for TT’s discography is widescreen or cinematic because using just your imagination, certain songs could take you through the haunted (and sometimes strangely funny) surreal psyche that a David Lynch film might take you, or it could possibly soundtrack scenes from a Sergio Leone film (Simon Trottier’s composition work on the latest album brings to mind my favorite composer, Ennio Morricone but there are still traces of Angelo Badalamenti’s influence which I thought was more prevalent on Creep On Creepin’ On). Hot Dreams is honestly and most definitely an early contender for album of the year for me.
I totally missed that battle unless it is being waged right now? See I always thought that the attachment of art to the rock genre as a sub genre was more of a signifier, more negative than positive, that critics used to divide bands and solo acts that studied at a conservatory either for music or something else. It was like them saying even though most jazz and classical musicians had this background it was “cooler” to be undisciplined and free when it came to rock ‘n roll. But then in some people’s minds the “art rock” genre seems to have changed into some other monster that encapsulates everything from certain progressive rock bands to compositional bands to experimental bands to no-wave bands to present bands that are influenced by some of those bands but also many other different types of bands.
I’m not playing dumb; it’s simply confusing as fuck to use the terms art-rock or art-pop and expect them to conjure the same ideas and sounds for any two people. For example, I’ve see and heard critics and fans lump Robert Fripp, Brian Eno, David Bowie, and David Byrne into art-rock and that makes the most sense to me because of the fact that most of these guys have collaborated or crossed paths at some point and seem to approach their music in ways that might not be limited to this one art form. But my ultimate question is even between these giants whose music discographies are diverse enough that they have all been credited with their own completely different music genres at different points in their respective careers, where do you draw the line on which parts of these projects past, present, and future fall within this ever changing genre of art-rock? Do you change their genre from art-rock to art-pop when their influences have been felt enough around the music world that any attempts to recreate this sound by voice, instrumentation, production, or arrangement is instantly recognizable by many and becomes a trend?
If I fast forward to today, even though St. Vincent is associated with David Byrne and seems to also be influenced by Robert Fripp, Brian Eno, and Daivd Bowie (Mike Garson being one degree of separation between the two), I would say that her approach to meshing beautiful and ugly sounds with the more accessible coming out on top in her songwriting seems to be something that would be labeled under art-pop. Then, I would say that a band like Wild Beasts started out in the art-rock territory because of how unfamiliar their meshing of sounds was on their first two albums but as familiarity towards their approach to music came with each new record and they began to accentuate the more rounded edges of their sound, I believe that they have approached the art-pop territory on their latest album. I don’t know Wild Beasts educational background but knowing from interviews the origins of their name, they seem to be very well versed in literature, poetry, and art history in general at the very least. The fact that they are knowledgeable in those realms shouldn’t count for or against them or necessarily change the approach of critiquing their music. Samuel Herring and the rest of Future Islands have art school backgrounds and have talked of the influence of David Byrne and Talking Heads approach to art and music in interviews before. Also, a point of past interviews with Herring has focused on his connection with language and the types of authors that he not only enjoys but also those that influence his work with the band. In a Venn Diagram (horrible), I would say that these bands aren’t very similar in terms of influences but they all seem to be connected by the mindset that further exploration and integration of ideas from other art forms helps to inform the music they are making (reaching a bit further…but maybe this breeds familiarity and accessibility if they are looking for universal themes…a simple truth?). What other bands come to mind besides Future Islands when you think art-pop, Tom?
Then, does anyone have any reservations about me lumping the Flaming Lips, Radiohead, Animal Collective and Liars together as bands with five plus albums, which try out and shed new approaches (like Buffalo Bill..never forget), have histories of flirting with the fringes of the mainstream but then retreating back into either dense and/or unfamiliar territory with each consecutive release, and had their origins of beginning as some type of guitar and drum based band? If not (in regards to the aforementioned question), I would have to say then that maybe just one key difference between art-rock and art-pop is based on how willing the band is to challenge the audience perception of their sound with each following release. And maybe further distinction would fall under the limits of accessibility with respect to previous releases by the band and how that relates to audience recognition of any artistic points of influence (Would it be too controversial of a metaphor to say then that Star Wars is art-pop and Star Trek is art-rock and maybe that is the bigger divide here? Yeah, I’ll save it for the thesis of a fictional university student named J.J. in my next novel, Everyone and No One Cares ).
tldr: I know it is a bit of joke but those art-rock and art-pop labels are a tad bit frustrating to the point where I spend too much time thinking about them when much less time was probably spent coming up with and using them. Could we perhaps…do away with them?
They will realize their oversight when they discover that “Mask Maker” aligns with the Buffalo Bill dance scene more appropriately than “Seasons (Waiting on You)” (even though the latter is much funnier). Sure, I might have just forever altered those songs for all of you, but I also shared my secret as to how I determine my top ten songs of the year list. Today, everyone lost…
R.I.P Bank Account (2007-2014)
I know people are tired of seeing Interpol and the Strokes grouped together when they have completely different influences and sounds (biggest similarities being NY based, blowing up around the same time, having similar career trajectories (“perfect” first album that the band will never approach again in the minds of critics or fans, more of the same the second time around, ambitious third album that is panned by fans and critics, then a fourth album that is an attempt at “returning to the formula”, we’ll see in a few months how each fifth album compares in their discographies) and both front men releasing criminally underrated solo albums including the first name, Julian).
However, I am bringing them up together in conversation because it is very fascinating to me how both third albums were received. I said that I would trim tracks and change the order of First Impressions of Earth, but Our Love to Admire, I wouldn’t touch. I am not of the opinion that Our Love to Admire was a flawless album but I definitely believe it to be their riskiest and most beautiful (arrangements and engineering still hold up to my ears).
It’s wild to think of how different the careers of the Strokes and Interpol would be if they took more risks with their second release instead of waiting for release number three to up the ante. I would say of other “NY” bands releasing albums around that time period, the Walkmen experienced a similar predicament, but Liars and Yeah Yeah Yeahs avoided similar trajectories and were given more room to be different with each release as a result of how different their second release was with respect to their debut albums.
Anyway…bring on album number five!
Very cool track. I would love to hear a full album collaboration but maybe they should just combine their band names for the release. I highly doubt that The Assfires is taken.
Releasing their first fully independent record since 1991 and reuniting with the producer of 90′s classics Soundsystem and Transistor on 3/11? What are you, Tom…a butterfly in the wind without a care? I will bite my tongue for the time being, but there is no doubt in my mind which album will move supreme when the votes are tallied up at the end of the century.
I spent an hour or two one day last summer trying to make a ten song album out of FIoE because 1. I’m a jackass and 2. I thought (as I’m sure others have) that the biggest problem with the album was the excess (not necessarily filler because there are some pretty intriguing ideas on the songs I left off the final list). If you get a chance and haven’t already mangled the album yourself here is my “First (and Final) Impressions of Earth”:
1. Ask Me Anything
3. Heart in a Cage
4. Juicy Juice
5. Vision of Division
6. Evening Sun
7. Red Light
10. Ize of the World
Because Tom trolled you into doing so. Nothing against Mrs. Cyrus (she is more talented than her critics give her credit for being) but in my opinion, you really could have linked to any of Wild Beasts songs in this argument. However, Tom doesn’t like “art rock” (he thinks they are pretentious), so I don’t see anyone convincing him otherwise. Very sad because I wholeheartedly agree with your statement about them being one of the best (singing, writing, playing, and performing) and more creative bands going at the moment.