string vibrating undistorted
Thursday, April 5 2007
The other day I began listening to Elbow, a Brit-pop alt-rock band from Manchester. I've downloaded a bunch of their music but so far the only song I really like is "The Everthere," which is a masterpiece of the mellow, softly-mumbled variety. Elbow is like a more ethereal and less-anthemic Doves (also from Manchester), or perhaps like a Coldplay on morphine, though Elbow's lyrics tend to be superior to these other bands. There's a distinctly British sound in this music that isn't heard in American "indie rock." This sound embraces subtle mood contrasts as opposed to the musical dynamics preferred by all American rock bands since Nirvana. In "The Everthere," the darkness of the lyrics and their delivery is set off against a strangely-cheerful arpeggiation of guitar strings, a technique I've also heard from Badly Drawn Boy (also from Manchester!) in "Camping Next to Water." (As a complete and unnecessary tangent: the musical soul of "Camping Next to Water" seems to ultimately derive from the inspiration for all British alt-rock invasion music: Nirvana, in this case the song "Something in the Way.")
Being cheap and seeking immediate gratification, I try to avoid buying CDs whenever possible, but sometimes it's just easier to order them from Amazon.com. Most of the CDs I want (the ones whose MP3s can't be found in Gnutella) cost less than ten dollars and can often be obtained used. The first thing I do when they arrive is rip them to MP3s, and I never touch the CDs again. Today I took delivery of three CDs: Everything All the Time by Band of Horses, and two by the Silversun Pickups: Carnavas and an EP called Pikul. The Silversun Pickups are sort of a retro-grunge band, if that genre can be said to exist. On the surface there is nothing innovative in their sound, and on their EP they even do that long-tired Nirvana thing of hiding a final track after a long period of silence - a trick that makes no sense in the world of MP3s. After a few listens, though, one realizes the Silversun Pickups have their own sound, one whose center is perhaps closest to the Smashing Pumpkins. For one thing, they're not afraid of the sound of a guitar string vibrating undistorted, even in the heavy parts of songs where a band like Nirvana would have all the pedals punched down. In other places the guitar has a wonderfully-retro early-70s sound, reminding me occasionally of Jimi Hendrix. Mind you, Brian Aubert, the singer/guitarist is no Jimi Hendrix, but he's fond of interjecting little melodic licks and harmonics into his rhythms that spice up the otherwise-ponderous default grunge sound. One final thing that endears me to this band: I've never heard vocals coming in so early in the middle of a drum fill as one hears in the gorgeous "Well Thought Out Twinkles."
I drove through Woodstock today en route to a housecall and, along the way, past the recently-thawed Ashokan Reservoir and perpetually-bustling Hurley Ridge Market, the mountains forming the backdrop were unusually gorgeous. Earlier today there had been a fierce, though brief, sleet storm that had immediately melted. But above a certain contour on the Catskills, that snow had stuck and remained, giving the higher slopes a magical glazing of white.
That was the beautiful thing I saw today. The ugly thing was a
freshly-built mcmansion on a cobbly floodplain along Wittenberg Road. It had probably been built speculatively and wouldn't have been started in today's autumnal real estate climate. I hope my taxdollars are never used to pay to rebuild that house when it is inevitably ruined by snowmelt floods.
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