Monday Musing: Musical Experience and And The Location Of Meaning

I often mention in the reviews I write, that I locate musical meaning in the experience of listening. This is in contrast to linguistic meanings, which are located somewhere other than the sound of the language, which points you at ideas to which it is only arbitrarily connected. This can be a difficult thing to grasp: this is what it sounds like, one might say, but what does it mean? If it means anything, then it must be something further, or deeper, than just its sound: otherwise, the word ‘meaning’ doesn’t really mean anything, does it? Or even if we concede that it does, surely a form of art that means only what it sounds like, is self-referential, abstract and navel-gazing?

Neil Cousin – Bonfire (folksong/ roots rock)

Specifics are important. Little details are the warp and weft of life. Neil Cousin knows this: he knows that a hole in a jumper, a night-time swim in the sea, a man with painted toenails and hair worn in plaits are all important. Not important as in important to someone, or important in respect of something, but important because this is the stuff the universe is made of. All those fleeting glimpses and experiences make up the lives we lead, and it’s the holes in jumpers, with their own particular ragged edges, that make them specifically our fleeting glimpses, not somebody else’s. His songs are full of those detailed specificities, observations that, although made generic the moment they are put into words, locate his meanings in this experience, on this day…

Pam Shaffer – As We Are (popular song)

‘Literary’ is an adjective customarily applied to works of popular music when their lyrics use words of more than two syllables, or when they attempt to convey meanings more sophisticated than ‘I like your tits, lets dance.’ Sometimes it’s warranted, when the music adopts discursive strategies that bear some similarity to those more often found in poetry or prose fiction, or when its meanings are primarily located in its lyrical text (although I tend to argue that the very act of setting words to music supersedes the determining force of their denotational value). Only rarely are either or both of these justifications combined with a concern for literature itself, or, as in As We Are, for a literary figure.

Monday Musings: Your Local Scene Is A Weapon

On Saturday I went to RoastFest, a beautiful extravaganza of creative and utterly idiosyncratic music, all independent or unsigned, all uncompromisingly true to its various muses, and all performed for the sheer love of it (free entry to eight hours of music, including some acts who are pretty well known in their field). To see so much genuinely creative and original art on show in one place was more than a treat, it was moving; but it also struck me that I was seeing an accumulation of cultural capital to compare with anything mustered by a government funded national institution.

Northern Oak – Monuments (folk metal)

Fusions are fickle things. Some that seem initially fruitful quickly date, sounding to ears beyond their immediate time and place of production like one thing stuck to another thing; others seek a level at which whatever edge their parent styles possess is lost in the anodyne mush of a lowest common denominator. Folk and metal might strike some as unlikely bedfellows, but they have a history together. The metal part of Northern Oak’s fusion casts a moderately wide net, but it takes in black metal along the way…

Dialect – Laygate Hallways: unreleased 2001-2006 (hip-hop)

It seems that Dialect have been around for a good while. Even if you’ve never done anything (or nobody’s noticed you doing anything), just being in existence for long enough to release an album of early rarities is something of an achievement. I should like to point out that I’m in possession of some earlier and rarer Dialect tracks than most of those collected on Laygate Hallways, but Chattabox has made it quite clear he’d prefer those not to see the light of day (although I actually like them a lot).


It has become something of a cliché to describe a vocalist as ‘using their voice like an instrument’. It’s usually intended as a compliment, but it’s a pretty much empty statement, or even a self-contradictory one. After all, in music, whatever is used to produce sound is an instrument, and we don’t gain much by being told so; the suggestion is usually implicit that, even though the vocalist is ‘just’ a singer, they do some things that are characteristic of a ‘real’ musician, as though singing was somehow too easy to count.