Wednesday, March 22, 2006

An ode to new weirdnesses

Listening: I do dig a certain girl -- Devendra Banhart
Mood: Fugitive

I love music writing. Whether it be a particularly good review in Exclaim or Pitchfork, an overheard conversation, or a friend who can put someone's sound into perfect, provocative prose, I reminded how music and writing go together, like celery and peanut butter. (Ok, I won't quit my night job!)

I remember discovering the University of Manitoba's radio station, (while robotically labelling millions of tax returns, back when I worked at Revenue Canada) and being truly amazed at some of the DJs' abilities to reference, to ramble, to make their writing resonate with the same magic of the music itself. They were gods of some underground religion of coolness. They were the ones who saved me through that monotony, the ones who made the fluorescent lights and Transcona trash-talk somewhat tolerable. They later became my friends. It was through this radio station and other less-tuned-into ones that I discovered good music. To them and to others who have mentored and recommended and dragged me out to unforgettable shows, I am forever thankful.

One of the best compliments I've ever received is as follows: "Jen you are a musical lexicon." Thanks, David. For some reason it is really important to me, like good coffee and black Uniball pens, to have a consistent dose of new and live music in my audial diet.

When I come across a description of music, or a name for a new and emerging genre that fits better than a pair of old jeans, I am truly pleased. These moments are memorable, like when I read a review of Sigur Ros that used the term glacial post-rock. I still can't shed that shimmering image of what a glacier should sound like if it decided to sing the Magnificat. So when a friend with very good taste introduced me to Joanna Newsome, pictured above, I immediately resorted to the tantalizing task of celebrating her voice with words. My friend won, saying she sounded simultaneously like a very young girl and an old woman. I haven't heard enough yet to form my own witty opinions, but I came across the BBC's Collective Magazine's review, wherein I discovered Journalist David Keenan's term for a new genre: The New Weird America. And I love it. Devendra Banhart, another one of my recent discoveries, fits into this cave carved out by some of our era's most skillful songsters. The term is a call-back to the stylings of Old Weird America's darlings, such as early Bob Dylan.

Music is like literature. Does calling it American (or Canadian or British) mean anything, other than that the writer calls that particular nation home? Does it have anything to do with content, style, or in this case, sound?

Last Thursday I had the opportunity to see Spirit of the West live. Though I don't listen to them much anymore, SOTW were instrumental in my musical formation. They were one of the first bands I saw live. They were one of the first "not-specifically Christian" bands whose lyrics and melodies seemed more full of glory and grace than any packaged Christian pop group's ever did. They opened their Commodore Ballroom show with Canadian Skye, a building, soaring ode to Canada that would put Great Big Sea to shame. “Here’s where I feel it, funny how it’s, funny how it’s here…” I couldn’t help but dance. By the time they’d hit two of my favourites, “D for Democracy” and “Political,” I was transported immediately to grade 9, to sitting on tour buses with choirs and bands, to holding my little yellow walkman, to my few kisses that meant anything, to feeling undoubtedly free. I was surprised that I still knew every single word.

Sometimes going to see a show is a better investment for me than buying the album, if the choice comes to that. What do all of you connoisseurs out there think?

Tomorrow I am going to see a friend’s band play. The last time I saw him he described his music as “Dracula Folk.” We’ll see if my neck gets good and bitten this time around. I’d better bring some garlic.

So here’s to all those struggling artists, to those impassioned collectives of soul and raw ability to articulate our most profound disappointments and hopes.

1 comment:

Mark said...

Here's the philosopher's hat going on.

You say: "One of the best compliments I've ever received is as follows: "Jen you are a musical lexicon." Thanks, David. For some reason it is really important to me, like good coffee and black Uniball pens, to have a consistent dose of new and live music in my audial diet."

I think that there is very good reason for why it is really important to you. That reason is that you value--very highly--being happy. Music makes you happy, that I know is true.

Another thing that you value is the ability to make other people happy. One way of doing this is by introducing people to new things that will make them happy. Music does this for many people.

This seems like as good a reason as any that I know of.

Here's the philosopher's hat coming off.

I like this post, I like Devendra Banhart, I like yummy coffee, I like 'micro' Uniball pens (the ones that feel scratchy when you write with them), I like Sigur Ros, I like SOTW, I like...I like...I like...

It seems that we like a lot of the same things... how weird. I'm glad you like weirdness.