Thursday, April 08, 2004

Artist response day

Today I'm posting two interesting responses that I received from artists whose bands I mentioned on the site.

First, though, a couple of songs by a band from New Jersey called The Cucumbers. Recently, I stumbled upon a record store in New York that seems to have every single indie label record from the eighties that I never got around to buying. Even better, they're really cheap, so I've been filling in all sorts of gaps in my collection. I knew about The Cucumbers' sort-of hit My Boyfriend because the video used to play on this amazing local alternative to MTV called U68 that I watched incessantly when I was in high school. I should spend a day sometime talking about all of the incredible videos that I managed to catch on that station, but not today. My Boyfriend is a nearly perfect pop song with a melody as instantly catchy as any advertising jingle I can think of it and a cute verse (repeated several times in lieu of chorus) about a boyfriend who has his good and his bad side. It lasts just over two and 1/2 minutes (exactly the right length) and it's about as charming as boppy singles get. It originally came out in 1983. I was thrilled to discover that it still jumps off of the turntable (kudos to whoever produced/engineered/mastered the four song EP) and here it is. What I hadn't suspected was the presence of a second song, Susie's Getting Married, that might be even better. If anyone knows the lyrics to this, please let me know because the parts that I can understand sound pretty interesting and I just can't figure out what we're supposed to tell the man from the bank, among other things. Website with more info on the band is here.

On January 2nd of this year I did a very brief feature on a band called The Silly Pillows. A week or so ago, I noticed that lead Pillow Jonathan Caws-Elwitt had posted a few corrections in the comments section. But, given how old the post is, I didn't think that what he wrote would be seen by too many people. Then, a few days later, I got a nice e-mail from one of the members of Bipolaroid (a band I mentioned last week) that actually shed some interesting light on their album. I thought it would be nice to free the musicians from the cramped confines of my comments section, so here's what they had to say:

From Jonathan Caws-Elwitt of the (no longer extant) Silly Pillows [his corrections are still up for the 1/2/04 post, but he thought -- and I agree -- that the subject of twee/lo-fi (which have gone somewhat out-of-style since the mid-90's) should be addressed]:

It's funny, that whole "twee"/"lo-fi" thing. (Maybe I should have put "thing" in quotes as well, just for good measure.) Not perhaps since Dada, Surrealism, and Abstract Expressionism (these are 20th c. fine arts movements, not the name of a rock supergroup) has there been a genre that so consistently invites the question of intention vs. accident. Now, with world-class fine artists one knows enough to assume complete forethought and control. They take care to prove the latter by means of flawless conventional landscapes early in their careers, and the former by dint of tedious manifestos. But when it comes to indie-pop music . . . well, we're not always so sure, are we?

Speaking for myself, I've observed that some of my honest mistakes sound like intentional brilliance to certain listeners; while, on the other hand, some of my deliberate artistic decisions sound like amateurish clumsiness to other listeners. Some people mistake the painstaking studio-recorded tracks for casually-home-recorded "demos", while others feel that those same tracks have a "slick" quality that does a disservice to our delicate "bedroom-pop" aesthetic. Enthusiasts in the latter category might, by contrast, applaud us for having used certain "lo-fi" sounds at home that we actually never would have used if we'd had access at the time to something higher-fi.

Related (?) ramble: Sometimes I think about how my background assumptions can color my interpretation of "where the artist is coming from". With respect to my own band, a listener may have read something along the lines of "The Silly Pillows [original lineup] are a boy-girl couple who live in the hills of rural Pennsylvania." This is true, and perhaps makes the listener predisposed to find a certain lack of sophistication in what (s)he hears. (Whether this would be snobbishness or cultural sagacity, I'm not sure.) But what if one finds out that the boy and girl both graduated from Harvard? And that the girl grew up in Manhattan, catching up-and-coming bands like Gang of Four and XTC in club dates? Or that by the time the band's first vinyl was released, the "boy" was 30 years old? Do these facts (all true) change the assumptions one brings to the music? Maybe. But . . . is any of that even relevant? If the music sounds a certain way -- for better or worse -- to a given listener left alone with headphones, then is that all that counts, for that listener? In other words: for the purposes of our hypothetical listener's enjoyment of -- or distaste for --the music, does it really matter at all whether (s)he decides to label the band's attitude as "naivete" versus "studied idealism", or their execution as "unpolished" versus "self-consciously natural", "simplistic" versus "deliberately spare"? Eat-in versus take-out? Latitude versus longitude?? Lola versus the Powerman???

From a member of Bipolaroid [these comments actually made me much more motivated to hear what their next album sounds like]:

Hey, I was googling and found your blog. This is really funny for me to respond to, but I just wanted to let you know the band is only half American- the keyboardist is from London England, and the bass player was born in Italy.

I thought we did a good job spreading the sound out (for sixties and seventies at least). Here are the primary influences it would only be fair to credit:

Farwell & Godspeed - Pink Floyd and Hawkwind with Byrds on chorus
King of Cabbages - the Beatles!/Genesis
Callous Affair with Lady Godiva - Syd Barrett/George Harrison on guitar
Insect Religion - Pretty Things?Family/Gong
The Looking Glass - the Beatles!
Old Witch - Syd Barrett/Incredible String Band/Beatles orchestration
Dimension Five - Hawkwind/Stereolab/Spaceman 3
Madeline - Kinks/Pretty Things
Sympathy for the Swine - Pretty Things/Beatles
Galileo's Son - Pink Floyd
Time Machine - Genesis/Hawkwind

I'm assuming you already know these bands, but if not, you'll definitely pick out more of the subtleties if you pick any of their stuff up. I wasn't really interested in fooling anyone that this was a 60's record production wise. But you are correct, the reverb is way more 80's. haha

I just don't like rock'n roll after about 1978-1980. There are a few good rock bands still, but only the ones that stay true to the form. For instance, Guided By Voices can be completely brilliant when they're coping the Who!

The next record is written and I can tell you since only the Americans stayed in the band it will probably sound more like Bipolaroid.

[He also added, and I thought this was interesting, that the lead singer had tried his best to not sound like Syd Barrett. -- MB]

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