Thursday, December 21, 2006

Musicology

Over at his secret blog, amateur gadfly and music critic Andrew Mister discusses friendship, Bonnie "Prince" Billy, and Pavement haters.

I will fess up--I'm the dude who doesn't like Pavement. I first tried to get into them in 1992 or 1993. The cassette (old school!) was Slanted and Enchanted. I'm all for lo-fi, but something about Malkmus's nasal whine and the deliberate sloppiness just failed to click for me. But that's me. I know lots of folks who love Pavement. I also know plenty of people who hate the Beatles (not me, but Michael Stipe). I'm sorry that this makes my friend Andy angry, but that's the way it is. I once had a roommate named Hippie Marty who played "Gold Soundz" incessantly. Not the best time in my life. Oh, while were at it, I think I should mention that I don't like Built To Spill either.

A lot of this is, I assume, generational. Though only 7 years separate us, our musical tastes are rather different. Specifically, Mister calls 1997 a great year for music. Maybe it was, but I didn't listen to any new music between 1991 and 2002. That baker's decade seems to me (even though it wasn't) a wasteland. But back to the generation gap. Or the half-generation gap. I was having a beer with a friend of mine last week and we began to talk (well, I began to talk) about the Pixies. This friend's husband is more of a music snob than Mr. Mister, and he HATES the Pixies. Frank Black Francis a.k.a. Charles Thompson lives here in our little backwater burg, and when I spot him on the street I get all giddy like Marcia Brady meeting Desi Arnaz Jr. (Remember how she vowed never to wash her cheek again?) Anyway, my friend said, "I like the Pixies. I mean, I don't mind them. They're fine." My response was a long sigh, to which she responded "Tony, I'm too young." And she's right! The cut-off age, it seems, for the Pixies fanhood is 30. If you're younger than thirty you most likely heard one of the Pixies many posthumous imitators that flooded MTV and the new "Alternative" radio stations in the mid-90s. You heard Nirvana before you heard the Pixies. You heard Better Than Ezra before you heard the Pixies. You certainly didn't hear Husker Du.

But I digress. The first time I met Andy Mister, we sang a drunken rendition of Bowie's "Life on Mars." Common ground.

Now I must clarify some things. I never said that the recordings on Greatest Palace Music were better than the originals. I simply said I liked the album. I still do. On the other blog a few months (or a year or so) back, I tried to explain this. Here's a recap. I'm more into songs than musicians. I love Will Oldham not for his cracking voice but for his songs. GPM just contains different versions. I think they're good. Sure, they're glossy, but can't we have both? Back in 1991 or so, I came into possession of a cassette called Deadicated: A Tribute to the Grateful Dead. I was fascinated because this featured the music of the Dead (which I was sure that I hated) performed by the likes of Jane's Addiction, Los Lobos, Elvis Costello, and others. Surprise! I began to LIKE the Dead. Or rather, their songs. I still hated hippies and their extended jams and live shows and so forth. But I realized that they wrote some pretty amazing folk-country tunes. I think Will Oldham writes pretty amazing folk-country tunes too. I'm not going to cry foul when he covers himself though.

And, btw, Mister is wrong when he says that Bonnie "Prince" Billy marks a downward turn for Mr. Oldham. Ease Down the Road is a nearly perfect album. Master and Everyone can be intensely boring if you're not in the mood for it. But when you are, nothing else will do.

And I'm glad to have friends who challenge me. Andy made me a mixed CD once. It was REALLY good.

9 comments:

andy mr. said...

I like the Dead, American Beauty and Workingman's Dead are both great. I also like Moby Grape, but what does that have to do with anything.

I don't really understand your generation gap argument here, Tony. I was 18 in 1997 which was the first year that I started to really pay attention to current music (I guess this really started a couple of years earlier, but I wasn't looking at Pazz and Jop, etc.), but I kept following contemporary music (especailly indie rock) really obessively for the next 8 years or so. So by your generation gap logic, you should have been finding out about all the great 90's bands while they were coming out (Royal Trux, Pavement, Smog, Palace, The Sea and Cake, this list could go on and on...). But instead you say that you didn't listen to contemporary music after you turned 18 or. So what were you listening to? I don't think this is about a generation gap as much as it's about emersion is a certain genre of music. Or a obsession with music that makes very little difference of 7 years. I just don't see the generation gap here.

You know what band I like a lot, The Kinks.

K. Silem Mohammad said...

For what it's worth, I'm 44, and I love Pavement.

I also think *everything* Oldham has done, as BPB or otherwise, is great. He could just make pig noises into the microphone while hitting his guitar with a shoe and it would be great. Though my favorite album is probably I See a Darkness.

None of this is intended to confute or prove anything. It's just fun to talk about music.

noah said...

KSM,

This is an under-40 blog.

Mr. Mr.,

1997 is the year I stopped paying attention to current music

AR,

enjoying yr chap

andy mr. said...

Hey Kasey, I See a Darkness is definitely my favorite BPB album. And glad to hear that even the old folks dig P-ment!

Noah, I'm curious, in 1997 did you stop actively trying to find new bands (I mean old bands/music that was new to you) or did you just listen to your old favorites? I was thinking mainly about seeking out contemporary music, which I don't really do anymore, but I still obsess over obscure bands from the 60's-80's that are reissued. I've definitely slowed down even in this respect over the years, and I am beginning to wonder if this activity will one day stop completely.

Latest find: The Blops!

Tony said...

Kasey,

Nice to see you here. And yes, I like pretty much anything Oldham-related but will continue to champion _Ease Down The Road_ as I believe it is severely underrated.

Andy,

Congrats on the secret blog. Your post today on the Nascimento cover send me over to Thrill Jockey where I just listened to the entire album. I can't believe I hadn't heard it sooner.


NEG,

I got your books. Glad you're enjoying the chap. I'll read yours soon and post a scathing commentary on this very blog!

Tony Tost said...

I love Sings Palace Music as a concept, of testing out great songs through an entirely different persona and context. I'm also a complete country music nut, and I love the album because it does a type of traditional country that I love but that hardly any Nashville-type country artists do well anymore -- the sort of Don Williams/Charlie Rich intimate song that has a lush, but not over-the-top, production.

I have to go song-by-song as to what versions I prefer. Although I love the original Gulf Shores, the Sings Palace Music version might be my favorite single Oldham track -- just beautifully cinematic, and the arrangement and playing set up lines perfectly ("you have let the family down . . "). Let's see, other tracks where I prefer the Nashville version: Agnes Queen of Sorrow, The Brute Choir. I prefer most of the original versions of the Days in the Wake tracks, as well as New Partner. The rest I'm about even on.

Another aspect that I like about the album is that I don't get any sense of ironic distance in the performances, or insincerity, whatever that word happens to mean. I think Oldham gets that sloppy playing/cracked singing/lo-fi values don't have the monopoly on expressiveness or sincerity. Maybe, at some point, they did as a kind of negation of certain systems of production and distribution: a slick production job had connotations of an entire structural apparatus that went along with it, one that seemed to get in the way of any kind of human emotion, invention, etc. And a lo-fi recording would connote the opposite. But I don't know if that's the case anymore.

But who knows, I prefer the Basemant Tapes versions of just about any song the Band, Dylan, the Byrds, Fairport Convention or anyone else re-recorded under more professional conditions.

andy mr. said...

Hey Tost, I wonder what your thoughts are on lo-fi GBV vs. slick Rick Okasick production GBV. This is something I have thought about a lot and maybe should blog about.

noah said...

Hey, anyone have a copy of the Rain like the Sound of Trains CD? that's what I need!

Tony Tost said...

I think Do the Collapse is the worst GBV record, and that Alien Lanes, Bee Thousand, Propellor & Vampire on Titus are the classic GBV albums, w/ Under the Bushes being near-classic. But I actually think the slippage in quality is related to the slick production, but isn't necessarily tied to it -- I think the large part of the slip is Pollard's attempt to write songs with more traditional structures and lengths. Which he's competent to good at, but which makes for much less inspired listening than million great ideas and hooks an hour pace of Alien Lanes.

It's a complicated matter, though: the more competent post-Tobin Sprout lineups probably necessitated different structures than the more bashing around lineup of the great albums. But I think it's not necessarily the production (tho Ric Ocasek's production job is just brutal), but a shift in approach. So maybe in this case the slicker production signaled a different structure. But I think of Oldham's album along the lines of maybe Nashville Skyline, an idiosyncratic figure outside the Nashville system utilizing that system as a kind of instrument for an experimentation that doesn't sound 'experimental' in the usual sense, but is so within each singer's body of work.

Dunno. Kind of stabbing at my intuitions here.