Monday Musings: What’s So Good About Music?

I’ve been thinking back recently to my abortive attempt to train as a secondary school music teacher, and the furious bout of self-examination it induced. The process, which was not a positive one, but from which I learned a great deal, forced me to question, and explicitly articulate the value that I place on music. This is a very interesting question: most people will not be able to provide you with a coherent response, and there is clearly no single answer, any more than there is one single music.

Shrine 69, Another Dead Hero, Meadows & Hobopope & The Goldfish Cathedral at The Northcroft Social Club, Sudbury, 20 May 2011 (metal/ pronk/ heavy rock)

The Northcroft seems to be going all out to turn itself into one of Sudbury’s busiest venues. They’ve been putting on a variety of local and regional acts from all areas of the musical spectrum, but tonight their upstairs room was hired out by some of the noisy bastards. The opening ceremony was provided courtesy of Hobopope & The Goldfish Cathedral, appearing in a duo configuration. HPATGC is Paul Rhodes’ name for some of the stuff he does, but he was accompanied by Ted Mint on guitar…

Hope and Social – Sleep Sound (alternative rock)

I remember at school my art teacher exhorting the class to stop drawing tiny pictures in the corner and to cover the page with bold strokes, to step out and give voice to whatever it was we wanted to express. Well, there are no bushels on top of Hope and Social’s light: they fill the canvas; they are bold; they are bright colours and big gestures; and they give every impression of having forgotten where their navels are.

Fresh Like Dexie – Step In The Sun (funk rock)

Fresh Like Dexie are funky. Very funky. I’ve been a fan of funk since I first heard Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters and the Parliafunkadelicment Thang in my late teens, and I devoted a lot of time after that to studying the music, so I have some idea whereof I speak.Funk can sound pretty busy to the uneducated, and it takes some application to strike the right balance, between putting in enough tasty links to make it exciting…

Fernando’s Kitchen at The Junction, Cambridge, 19 May 2011 (world fusion)

There are not many completely independent bands that can pack out a venue the size of The Junction (which is not huge, but it’s a substantial venue); and a smaller subset of those which perform something as commercially challenged as ‘world music’. Fernando’s Kitchen are playing a good game (admittedly with a strong hand), and do all the right things to reach, engage and retain a loyal audience.

Alun Vaughan – The Kindness Of Strangers (solo bass)

The long standing association between the solo bass release and a meaningless display of rippling technical muscularity is thankfully receding into history. It’s reasonable that it should have come about: to play something that is more agile and melodic than the traditional low thump of a bassline requires rather more application on a bass than on a guitar, and there was also, I think, a sense that if the bass player wasn’t displaying some extraordinary chops, why didn’t they stay at the back next to the drummer? The other thing of course, is that an album of any one instrument needs something to keep the listener’s attention, and even the most musical of players can make good use of some pyrotechnics to vary the texture.

Big Block 454 – Bells & Proclamations (folk-funk/ psychedelic rock)

Big Block 454, named for a 1970 Chevrolet engine, are one of the oddest bands I’ve encountered in a while. They are creatively out there, full of weird sounds and transgressive stylistic collisions, and yet they are, to me at least, accessible, pleasing, and decidedly danceable. Apparently they’ve been around a long while: well, it’s not surprising if you haven’t heard of them, because as good as they are, I can’t imagine any record label monkey having the first clue how to sell this stuff!

Knifeworld – Dear Lord, No Deal (psychedelic rock)

Kavus Torabi, Cardiacs guitarist, among many other things, originally pursued Knifeworld as a solo endeavour, but this EP marks the beginning of the project’s recorded life as a six piece band with a permanent membership. The initial release, Buried Alone: Tales of Crushing Defeat, had a particular sound, and a coherent one, from which this release is quite distinct, texturally at least. Dear Lord, No Deal has a denser, fuller sound, but it still pursues the same general aesthetic and formal agenda.

Archangel – Project Rave (8-bit/ IDM/ techno)

It’s unclear how much of this album might have been created using the genuinely simple digital resources it seems to utilise, and how much use was made of rather more sophisticated plugins standing in for them, but either way, there’s a lot more processing than would be permissible on purist chiptunes (i.e. some). The 8-bit vibe is convincingly nailed regardless, and I for one have very little time for purisms of any sort. This music’s agenda is to celebrate its digitalism, which it manages to present in a way that is surprisingly organic.

Marley Butler – Procras The Sample (ambient/ electronica)

Marley Butler had something to do; but, he also had a new software sampler he’d downloaded for free. The something didn’t get done: but he did record this EP, which strikes me as some pretty darn constructive procrastination. Each tune was written, recorded and mixed in a single evening, and two of them were embellished by Jamie Osborne, who wrote and recorded vocals under similar time constraints. A third has Butler’s own self-effacing and reflective rhyming.

Cutleri – Let Me Show You My Sweater (folk/ Americana)

Production standards for self released music have become so generically polished and exact, that it has almost ceased to be meaningful or valuable to release a well recorded album. I’m being facetious, obviously, and of course I like to hear music I like sounding good, but sometimes the slickness of everything becomes incredibly desolate; some noise, some artifacts, and the boxy sound of cheaper equipment can serve as a welcome reminder that a recording embodies something real.