Saturday, February 9, 2013
New Music 2-9-13
It's getting to the point where Bad Religion are just starting to go through the motions. I think that's almost the consensus among their fanbase, kind of in the way established artists can keep releasing music without strongly affecting their legacy, for better or worse. For a lot of people, Bad Religion are the handful of albums they put out between 1988 and 1993, and anything they do two decades later isn't going to enhance or tarnish that body of work. There is probably some disagreement over when an artist like this reaches the point where who they are is set in stone and any subsequent releases are either so bad that listeners ignore them in favor of the classics or decent enough but still not quite measuring up to vintage [insert artist here]. For me Bad Religion was releasing exciting music up until 2004, after which point either they changed or my view of them did. I know that they aren't about variety, or melody, and that I should have known not to expect those things from True North. However, those things have incidentally happened over the years (songs like "Sorrow," "American Jesus", "Whisper in Time" are catchy and have an intense passion to them not present in all their songs). Bad Religion is all about pointed messages crammed into the same blueprint. If they can deliver their lyrics in the mold of a 2-minute, fast, virtually amelodic, punk song, then they've done their job. It's a sort of tightly-wound punk rock, and on True North, it comes across as sort of unpersonal. It's fast but it isn't messy, or raw, or impassioned. It's about as clean as music can get and still be undeniably punk. I'm not really feeling it; I guess is what I'm driving at.
Psychedelic folk artists tend to be rather prolific. This is Grouper's tenth album in nine years, and her fifth in the last three, and I tend to look at these artists' releases as them sort of dumping music and ideas on us rather than ceremoniously crafting a record. It is irrational to associate the speed with which they put out music with the effort put in, but I do. Fortunately, I'm not deaf to the merits of the music and the viewpoint I just described almost always fades upon my actually hearing the album. Grouper (otherwise known as Elizabeth Harris) has put out a few records I really enjoy. She does this sort of droning ambient folk very well. This is an eerie listen but it also has a warmth to it in places. It's pretty and haunting and I like it.
It's weird how context dictates the way people respond to an album. My Bloody Valentine's last record came out 22 years ago and more or less defined one of my favorite genres, and though Loveless (1991) isn't my favorite shoegaze album, it's definitely one of the better ones. It sounds like this album could have come out in 1993, which isn't to say it sounds old (this genre doesn't feel stuck in a specific time period anyway), but there's nothing here to suggest the band has undergone any radical metamorphoses. Whatever people would expect a two-decade layoff to do for a band doesn't surface in the sound of this album, which is solid. It's on the poppier end of the genre and if one thing changed from Loveless to mbv, it's that this one feels a bit mellower. They apply great effects on the vocals, at times, that give them a sense of airiness, and they don't often bury the vocals under layers of guitar noise. The guitar sound is never too dense in its texture. It doesn't create an atmosphere that is totally immersive, stunningly beautiful or haunting. A lot of these guitar tones are pretty, but the album as a whole just sort of feels pleasant, which has probably disappointed the many people who expected something profound. Definitely inferior to their last album but I hadn't taken it for granted that it would be and it'll be worth more listens for sure.