Thursday, October 27, 2005

Losing My Edge, Pt. 1: Macrocosm

Top: Old Hotness the Fall; Above: New & Busted Art Brut

Tuning out is a side effect of living in a country whose language you don't speak. Since moving to Tokyo, I've become estranged from pop culture. The last movie I saw in theatres was The Life Aquatic; the last CD I purchased was Fantomas' Suspended Animation, an album well-known only to readers of the obtuse monthly tome The Wire. I now engage the entertainment industry the way parents do via their teenage children: from a distance, with a mix of bemusement and slight disgust at the parade of misguided attention-seekers. It's mildly entertaining but hardly worth investing much time or energy in.

And I'm not even out of my early twenties. Why bitch and moan as though I'm already old and grey? Why come down on what the kids are doing? Why regard the slang-slathered blatherings of musical otaku with the same mix of pity and piss-take that Triumph regards Star Wars fans?

Because it's bullshit, man. Let's not kid ourselves into thinking that the music industry/indie-stry is enjoying some new synergystic convergence of creative capacities when in fact it's mediocre pablum that offers nothing but a Pro Tooled repackaging of older (and better) ideas. Entrance is minstrelsy in Syd Barrett's chiffon scarf, Charles Manson beat Devendra Banhart to the punch by almost forty years, why listen to Louis XIV if you already own Electric Warrior, every band that's awarded above an 8.5 by Pitchfork qualifies as a Talking Heads tribute act, and don't even get me started on the ersatz twee escapism of fucking Animal Collective.

Now, I'm not didactic or conservative enough to believe there is no worthwhile music being made these days. Nonsense! But more often than not, the modern music that I get genuinely excited about is not what is being ushered into the cannon by the rest of society, mainstream or otherwise.

So I'm left railing against pretenders to the throne who steal the sounds of superior bands who I was too young to enjoy the first time around. Let us examine, for example, Art Brut:

18,000 Lira - Art Brut

Here's a band that has garnered the attention of the Underground Party organs with their recent debut, Bang Bang Rock 'N' Roll. The London band specializes in the spartan, snotty rock birthed by 1970s proto-punk bands like the Modern Lovers. Come to think of it, this sounds identical to the Modern Lovers. But then, that'd be asking too much that a band who gallingly call themselves "Outsider Art" to be, uh, not derivative, eh?

But it's not bad music. Bang Bang Rock 'N' Roll lives up to its name as a solid, unadorned, wham-bam-thank-you-Ma'am album; the proof is in songs like the minute-long romp of "18,000 Lira". A panicked narrative about a botched bank job, it's clever without being smart, but I can't help but notice the guitar riff's resemblence to a much older song:

Mere Pseud. Mag Ed. - The Fall

Backed by a dual-drummer batterie and Beefheart-class guitar butchery, Mark E. Smith unleashes one of his most scathing social critiques, perfectly skewering the press poseurs who cast themselves as prophets of the music world. A classic track from a classic album, the song kicks and flails so fiercely that it threatens to unravel at any moment, and yet the band never loses its locked step. This is true Raw Art, all the more impressive when considering the cultural climate at the time.

Lest this plummet into too much pining for post-punk, let's check back in with the Fall a full twenty-one years later when they excavated the song during a Peel Session:

Mere Pseud. Mag Ed. (Peel Session, March 13 2003) - The Fall

And the prosecution rests. To this day, Smith & Co. play with a rancor and conviction that makes other bands twenty years younger than Smith sound like self-indulgent exercises in irony and nostalgia. It's not a new offense for a band to build a career by aping the Greats of Days Gone By, but that's just a bad idea when said Greats are alive and kicking, showing these weak little whippersnappers how it's done. I doubt anyone ever suspected that the Fall would one day have members younger than the group itself, but why stop when all the young dudes have failed to render Old Man Smith obsolete?

No comments: