Wednesday, November 19, 2008

November random notes on TRL, Wolfgang Voigt, and Animal Collective

1. Mike Barthel sums up the "TRL era" over on Idolator, and he gets it dead on the money. It's certainly true that "we" (music fans and most certainly music critics born before, say, 1980) didn't recognize the importance or influence of the show during the peak of it's popularity and had little inkling that TRL would come to represent an entire era of music tastemaking. And then there's the rapidity of the critical rehabilitation of this music in "serious" rock and pop discourse. Hardened indie types wouldn't have minded if the Backstreet Boys had disappeared down a rabbit hole anytime in 1998, but those same jaded people likely swoon to "I Want It That Way" in 2008 (as for my thinking at the time, that was the song and video that was just too snuggly and lovable for me to seriously hate the Backstreet Boys any longer). The Velvet Underground weren't taken seriously for nearly twenty years, but Britney Spears' music arguably spawns more rockcrit than any pop or rock act in this decade. Maybe in ten years, TRL will be even more entrenched in the accepted rock orthodoxy, with it's power to make or break artists considered on par with that of the Ed Sullivan Show.

2. Here is an interview with Wolfgang Voigt from the same Red Bull Music Academy series that presented the Moritz von Oswald interview I discussed a few weeks ago. If von Oswald's session left you a bit cold, with the feeling that you didn't get an open and honest look at the man himself, you'll want to check out Voigt's far more revealing interview. At length, he discusses the inspirations for his music, complete with an eye-opening examination of the mythology of the German forest and how those rural atmospheres affected him not only in his youth, but up to the present day. He also explains the multiple meanings behind some of the titles he's used over the years (e.g. "Auftrieb") -- clever word play that is likely lost on anyone who is not a native German speaker. But my favourite part, in something of a car crash sense, happens in the last few minutes, when someone from the audience asks "is Kompakt a gay label" in probably five different roundabout ways without actually coming right out and asking the question, and Voigt responds "yes" in his own five roundabout ways without actually coming right out and answering him.

3. I dug out a Feb 2005 recording of an Animal Collective show and as "Banshee Beat" came on (and its twelve minutes of slowly unraveling, enveloping goodness), I realized what I'd been missing from this band for the past couple of years. Simply put, Animal Collective are no longer a mysterious band. It made perfect sense to perform these songs behind curtains, screens, and sinister masks, accompanied by pulsing, swirling lights. I think I let out a groan in the very first second of the recently leaked "Brother Sport", because the vocals ring out clear as day, upfront and happy, with perfectly clear production and easily separable melodic elements among the bumping bassline and the layered, ringing synth lines. That's not to say that the track isn't quality, because it is, and this kind of recording isn't a necessarily bad thing given the groovier style that they're currently pushing. But the guitar-heavy, foggy sound of "Feels" was most certainly their peak and they're not likely to touch those heights again.

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