music

Catching Up On The Week (Mar. 14 Edition)

Aeon has a great article exploring the psychological underpinnings of our appreciation of music, specifically discussing the key that repetition plays in our unconscious love.  The article analyzes how the mere act of repetition has a specific psychological effect on our brains, and it can essentially even create the illusion of “music”, even though if we were removed from the process we would not give that objective determination.  It then goes on to discuss the significance of “rituals” and how music mirrors this concept, and their impact on our brains.  I find these scientific explorations fascinating, and I highly recommend reading it–I’m sure I unintentionally bungled some observations and that my imprecise language may have obscured some of the true results.  That said, the article still needs to explain how it could be that Krautrock is not the dominant musical genre of our time.

Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age (and many, many other bands) recently did a video where he answered questions from fans, covering such topics as his band’s treatment at the Grammys and the recent dispute with other members of Kyuss over the use of the band’s name.  It’s always fun to hear Josh pontificate, so it’s well worth a listen.

Repetition

Repetition

If you follow our Tumblr, you know we’re at the very least intrigued by Neil Young’s new digital music service “Pono”.   We’re not entirely convinced about its necessity, and to that end we’re looking into posting a discussion with an engineer experienced in the field of acoustics to discuss the technological merits of the service.  But we’ll save the technical mumbo-jumbo for another day–here, you could read an article from The Quietus with some bullshit about the “iPod culture”.  Here’s a frightening quote:

“The spontaneous practice of iPod users then comes to very closely resemble the model developed by researchers working for the Muzak Corporation in the mid-twentieth century.”

A much more enjoyable discussion of music culture comes from the latest entry in the AV Club’s series on punk rock in the 90’s (“Fear of a Punk Decade”), which discusses the impact of different labels on the decade’s sounds.  It looks at the rise of several independent labels, including some that had the impact of major labels (Epitaph and Dischord for example), and the mutual relationship between bands and their labels.

Switching gears, The Oregonian takes a look at the significance of a good van for the touring indie act.  It’s difficult to realize the various struggles that bands have to go through especially with things we take for granted like our own vehicles.

And finally, Wye Oak has a discussion with SPIN about their new album Shriek.  In this interview, they discuss lyrical themes, the move away from guitars for this album, and their (slightly) relaxed touring schedule.  Wye Oak is a band that that is pretty powerful live, though their albums haven’t translated in the same way; we’ll see if that’s the case for Shriek.

The Return of Slowdive

The biggest news from Monday was the surprise announcement of the reunion of seminal shoegaze band Slowdive.  While the news didn’t break the internet like the shocking release of My Bloody Valentine’s long-awaited followup to Loveless, it still brought a cheer to those who remember those lonely nights while Souvlaki played softly on the stereo of an empty apartment (though actual personal experiences may vary, it is has been my experience that these are in fact the optimal conditions for listening to the album).

For those who are interested in the particulars of the news announcement, the band announced that they will be playing the Primavera Sound festival, which takes place in Barcelona at the end of May.  Just take a look at all the other headliners–it’s hard to imagine a more loaded lineup.  In addition, the band announced a London show, and more dates will be added.  And have no fear American fans (like myself), the band is hopeful that they can record a new album together, so there’s reason to think it won’t be a one-off kind of thing like the Pavement reunion was (the new go-to example now that the Pixies have decided to release new music once again).  And while there were some publications that expressed reservations about the motives of the band (see Stereogum, AV Club), in an interview with The Quietus the band assured fans that this was done with more noble intentions in mind.

So, why should you care about this particular reunion?

In my mind, there were two titans of shoegaze, a peculiar genre that was popular in Britain in the late-80’s/early 90’s: My Bloody Valentine and Slowdive.  I’ve always appreciated the term “shoegaze”, because of all the various microgenres that the casual music fan might encounter, it gives the best idea of what the music actually sounds like (contrast it with say, “krautrock”).  It conjures up both ideas of melancholy (staring at the “shoes”)  and dreaminess/haziness (the “gaze” component), both of which appear in sizable quantities in the genre.  I always felt that MBV focused more on the former, while Slowdive’s great asset was its emphasis on the latter.  (For the record, if you are completely unfamiliar with My Bloody Valentine, I suggest you visit this link and then repeat the video ten times, because that will allow you to fully process what a mindfuck Loveless is to the uninitiated. )

The best introduction to Slowdive is probably their second album, Souvlaki.  Few albums perfectly capture the concept of “dreampop” like this one–there is an ethereal quality to the swirling guitars, but they don’t overpower the delicate hooks and melodies.  This is apparent from the very first track, “Alison”.

It captures the attention of the listener immediately, and gives a roadmap of what to expect from the rest of the album–layers and layers of echoed guitars with reverb to spare, a gentle melody, and those beautiful backing female vocals, all in a mid-tempo three-and-a-half minute pop song.  Another highlight is the haunting ballad “Dagger”.

The band strips down most of the effects and leaves a gently strummed down-tuned acoustic guitar, with suspended chords adding to the tension of the lyrics.  It is the quintessential melancholic 3 am song.

“Machine Gun” is another highlight, a ballad that features a great contrast between the vocals of Rachel Goswell for the verses and Neil Halstead for the chorus. I find that the song itself presents an interesting juxtaposition with its title, not only in style but in its lyrics as well, which focus on water-related imagery.

If you love what you’ve heard so far, then great news, there’s a strong chance you’ll love everything else in the Slowdive discography.  Their debut Just For A Day is stylistically similar to Souvlaki, though it doesn’t quite gel in the same way that the later album does, and suffers a bit from weaker production.  Pygmalion was a bit more of a stylistic shift, with some experimentation and an icier atmosphere, but is not a radical departure from the gorgeous Slowdive sound.  All of this should bode well in case we’re lucky enough to see a new album.

Welcome back, Slowdive.  You’ve been missed.