Tuesday, August 17, 2010

We Can Never Get Away From The Sprawl.


"They heard me singing and they told me to stop
Quit these pretentious things and just punch the clock.
These days, my life, I feel it has no purpose
But late at night the feelings swim to the surface.
'Cause on the surface the city lights shine
They're calling at me, come and find your kind..."

Music criticism has always escaped me. I consider myself a decent film critic - no, I'm no Manohla Dargis, which is probably a good thing, 'cause bitch sounds angry. But I can competently state why a film is good, bad - or more often, somewhere in between.

My reasoning for liking most songs? Because it sounds, like, cool and stuff.

Expressing myself regarding music is difficult, bordering on impossible, bordering on absurd-for-even-trying. I find most music falls into one of two general classifications, but I have no way of explaining why a song "sucks" or "doesn't suck." If a song sucks, it is usually because it is "stupid," "obnoxious," or "boring" (or some combination of the three). "Party in the USA"? Stupid. Soul Train's "Hey, Soul Sister" and anything by Soulja Boy? Obnoxious. (Not a big fan of the word "soul," apparently.) James Blunt, Lady Antebellum, Shontelle? Boring. And in the rare illustrious achievement of hitting of all three, the prime candidates are all pretty old (and have only gotten worse with age): "The Thong Song" and "Who Let The Dogs Out."

I'm the first to admit that this isn't a hard science. Personal taste biases me against softcore pop-country, whiny men in love, whiny women in love, underage country-crossover superstars claiming to be Jay-Z fans when they clearly are not, pandering rappers who force ridiculous rhymes, artists trying to be hip by name-dropping recent types of technology, and songs that were primarily recorded to play during movie trailers for family films centering around canines run amok. (And that's just a few of my biases.)

If I like a song, on the other hand, it is simply because it is "awesome." Artists falling into this category currently from the Top 40 are Katy Perry, Rihanna, and La Roux, as well as plenty of others who aren't charting as high but are even better. I can't speak to the genius musical arrangement or expert playing of the instruments (or computer simulation of such). It's rare I would notice such things. I often can't even identify which instruments are being played in a given song. Is that a drum, a triangle, or a ukelele? I'll wonder. But I never can tell.

I find music criticism to be a strange animal. One can be trained to appreciate certain aspects of a film - bold cinematography, brilliant screenwriting, dynamic performances. I suppose one can also be trained to appreciate similar aspects of music, but can that ever trump whether or not you like it? No amount of musical knowledge will ever help me enjoy a song I just don't like. It's either sonically pleasing or it isn't. I am willing to concede that The Beatles' "I am the Walrus" may indeed be a great song, but that doesn't change the fact that I'd rather gore myself on said creature's tusk than hear that track ever again.

Like many, however, I definitely sometimes hear a song and find myself rather blase about it, only to find that it grows on me. The opposite also happens, when I really love a song at first but then overplay it and never want to hear it again. Take the life cycle of the typical Black Eyed Peas' song: first, I'm not sure how I feel about it. It's sort of catchy, but something feels a little...off. Hmm. A few listens later, I might kind of dig it. I never love it, but it can be fun in a party atmosphere. Then it gets played, and played, and played, until I scream "ABSOLUTELY NOT!!!" every time it comes on the radio (which is every 15 minutes, on every station) and rush for the tuner even at the expense of my own safety. And now pretty much any Black Eyed Peas song that has ever been released as a single makes me want to gouge out my eardrums with the nearest sharp instrument so that I never have to hear it again.

That's about as good as I can do as a music critic. I don't suppose Rolling Stone will be calling any time soon.

All of the above is leading up to one simple point: I'm going to recommend Arcade Fire's new album The Suburbs. Because it's awesome. And that's all I can say about it. Music critics are already raving about it, and while I often don't understand why they all flock to certain albums to herald them as the year's greatest - Grizzly Bear, I'm looking at you - I must say they're right about this one.

As far as I can tell (without picking through every lyric with a fine-toothed comb), every track is actually about the titular suburbs. Clearly, Arcade Fire has plenty to say about that age old war: city life versus suburbia. But you could just as easily listen to it without picking up on any message about modern-day American life, and that's okay too. Chances are, you'd still catch that same intangible whiff of greatness coming off it.

It's not life-changing. It's not the sort of album where a bunch of individual tracks jump out at you as favorites right away. In a single-driven world where other tracks tend to be filler, this is a real album that has to be listened to all the way through, several times, in order to be fully appreciated. Actual music critics have plenty to say about why it may even be a masterpiece. I have nothing.

In short, I love this album.

But please don't ask me why.

Check out these tracks:

"Month of May"

"Deep Blue"

and especially the gorgeous "Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)," which I can't stop listening to.

"Sometimes I wonder if the world's so small
That we can never get away from the sprawl.
Living in the sprawl,
Dead shopping malls
Rise like mountains beyond mountains -
And there's no end in sight
I need the darkness, someone please cut the lights."

Living in the sprawl,


1 comment:

  1. I know I can always count on you for helpful music hints. I've already downloaded "Sprawl." Thanks. :)