Today the AV club ran an astute – if overdue – article by Stephen Hyde about how Rock is no longer an appropriate catch-all term for popular music. The article itself is worth checking out, but the basic gist is that since Rock is an inadequate signifier since its place atop the charts has been taken over mostly by hip hop artists. The same can be said for pop: the radio station I used to help run, WOBC, lumps all tonal music into the pop category when it doesn’t fall into another genre. I actually like that, since its connotations are pretty nil. Rock is a different case, however, since the term itself implies a kind of benightedness when it’s bandied about as frequently as the AV Club thinks.
I wrote this article for Oberlin’s Wilder Voice’s May ‘08 issue. I’m reprinting it now, in honor of SMiLE’s release, which happened last week about forty years too late. The gist was to take a look at the allure of unreleased albums through the eyes of perhaps the most famous one, and the one that got me hunting for more jettisoned gems like the ones you find on this blog.
It isn’t hard to say why The Beach Boys’ music survived the 1960s. They were a band in exactly the right place at exactly the right time; they were making Rock n’ Roll records when the teenyboppers were screaming for Rock n’ Roll, and they made weirder shit when the same teenyboppers found drugs and stopped getting haircuts. As to why they survived the decades that followed, that’s a different story altogether. There’s a reason you’ll always hear about The Beach Boys before you hear about a band like The Zombies or The Turtles (other ‘60s pop bands). It’s that The Beach Boys embody something much darker than California Girls and muscle cars. And it’s got nothing to do with the music. The music is only a window into to the eye of the Beach Boys zeitgeist.
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“A Topography of Boils”
STNNNG - Dignified Sissy (Modern Radio, 2005)
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A big no-no in review-writing (or any kind of writing) is to lead off with a cliché, e.g. “never judge a book by its cover.” In this case, though, it’s truly appropriate and truly inapplicable. If you don’t judge Minneapolis pigfuck band STNNNG’s (pronounced “Stunning”) debut album by the image above, you’re missing the point.
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“Last Ditch Protocol (John Velveteen)”
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Elyse Weinberg released her debut album, Elyse, on David Crosby’s short-lived Tetragrammaton label in 1968 (re-released and reconfigured on Orange Twin, 2010), so she was a part of a scene that included Crosby, Joni Mitchell, and Neil Young.
For better and for worse, mimicry is one of pop music’s great inevitabilities. Every band has at least one reference point – the successful ones go further than their influences in some respect or other. That said, the problem with this sort of aping isn’t mimicry itself, but the fact that people rip off the same bands. So it’s refreshing when a band takes cues from someone who isn’t necessarily a household name.
Take Vermont’s Happy Birthday, for instance.
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Persona - Som, 1975, Unknown Label
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There’s something to be said for parsimony in pop music, especially pop music coming out of the ‘70’s. In an age of rococo decadence and ornamentation (as well as that whole post-dandy aesthetic I still can’t quite wrap my head around), it took hutzpah to make a no-frills album. That’s, in part, where punk rock came from, and it’s at least part of the impetus behind the minimalism that took shape over the preceding decade. Whether or not that kind of ascetics actively played a role in Persona’s album, Som (1975, Brazil), it’s hard to say.
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