Friday, March 9, 2007

Apocalypse Muzak

Is it a good sign to discover metal in your fourth decade?

We live amid a cacophony of aural stimuli, a non-stop barrage of jingling musical referents mostly designed to get our attention so we will spend some of our money. If the average urban Westerner is exposed to something like 5,000 brand images a day, surely if we started keeping count we would find we are exposed to several hundred crappy songs a day. Mostly of the nominally ambient sort, playing over the speakers in the grocery store, backtracking the advertisements, blaring from another car, or playing in the car the character is driving on the television show whose secret purpose is to put you in a mood to shop. You tune it out, but those insipid lyrics are bopping around inside your head, a chorus of well-moussed twenty-something Narcissists from five decades of so-called rock and roll declaring their raw and eternally adolescent emotional needs. A continuous loop jabbering soundtrack of pop banality dominated by Baby Boom demographics and sclerotic Big Chill daydreams, persistently burning itself back over long-cauterized neural pathways, degrading your brain like a twenty-year old TDK audiocassette taped over with a dozen different mixtapes.

For me, at least, I long ago got to the point where my *chosen* musical selections need to be devoid of lyrics and flagrant violators of the laws of accessible melody. I load my car with sonic suitcase nukes designed to clear the semiotic landscape. Music devised by secretive instro-sorcerors decrypting the keys to the hidden dimensions lurking in the interstices of the ordinary day.

So, I have been developing an alternative soundtrack for my self-imposed suburban surrealism, aural missiles in my campaign of psychological counter-warfare against the nonstop memetic onslaught of the modern mediapocalypse.

One essential ingredient is KNCT 91.3, the public radio station that serves the massive Army base north of here, Fort Hood. Most towns still have one of these, if often on AM: non-stop honest-to-God old school elevator music infused with unintentional irony. Nothing quite beats the feeling of cruising in your Oldsmobile through downtown Killeen, past the war wounded basking in the sun around the courthouse square, listening to a 101 Strings remix of "Midnight at the Oasis" counterpointed by the booming rhythms from the nearby artillery range. The playlist, believe it or not, even includes Angelo Badalamenti's soundtrack to Twin Peaks. As the call sign says, "Simply Beautiful." And yes, they stream.

Another is the insane new jazz being created by guys born after the Baby Boom. Not just the earnest irony of The Bad Plus, deconstructing FM rock with a Ritalin-age piano trio, but more adventurous horn-based improvised music. Like the myriad projects of the insanely prolific saxophonist Ken Vandermark, including the amazing funked up trio Spaceways Inc. with drummer Hamid Drake and bassist Nate McBride, that connects the dots between Don Cherry, Sun Ra, and George Clinton. Or the Scandinvian Super Skronk of saxophonist Mats Gustafsson, drummer Paal Nilsen-Love and bassist Ingebrigt Haaker-Flaken a/k/a The Thing: pure punk jazz that channels 60s garage rock through the instruments of European free jazz, blaring DIY civil defense alarms to hasten a postmodern Götterdammerung. Check out the catalog at Atavistic for a sampling.

While these guys get in touch with bop's inner Ramone, a bunch of younger American guys have been discovering metal's inner Beethoven, producing instrumental heavy guitar music with sweeping strokes that paint massive sonic landscapes of the 21st century Zeitgeist. Bands like Isis, Zebulon Pike, Sunn O))), and my personal favorite, Chicago's Pelican, who will be in Austin again this week for SWSW.

Pelican's music is upbeat Apocalyptica, if you can imagine such a thing, setting out on a different path than its art metal peers, playing in a higher key. The sound of light pushing through grey clouds. You can see the Midwestern influence. Big skies filling up with cumulonimbus the size of the Titans. Global warming-scale storms that bring sustenance in one hand and destruction in the other. And that always clear, suffusing the world with ethereal light.

Pelican dates:
March 10, 2007 - Nashville, TN
Exit In
9pm - 18+
w/ Russian Circles, Young Widows

March 11, 2007 - Atlanta, GA
Drunken Unicorn
w/ Daughters, Russian Circles, Chinese Stars

March 12, 2007 - Birmingham, AL
Bottletree Lounge
8:30pm - 18+
w/ Daughters, Russian Circles, Young Widows

March 13, 2007 - Baton Rouge, LA
Spanish Moon
10pm - 18+
w/ Daughters, Russian Circles, Young Widows

March 14, 2007 - Houston, TX
w/ Daughters, Russian Circles, Young Widows

March 15, 2007 - Austin, TX
SXSW Hydra Head Records Showcase
w/ Jesu, Big Business, Daughters
Oxbow, Stephen Brodsky's Octave Museum

March 16, 2007 - Austin, TX
Club Deville
SXSW Insound Party
w/ Shout Out Out Out, Black Lips, Walter Meego

1 comment:

St. Anthony said...

There comes a point in every man's life when he wants to get a bit heavy ... out goes melody, in comes good, horrible noise.