Saturday, February 27, 2016

Three great articles from the past week

Neil Shah examined the global appeal of metal for the WSJ, which is one of the last places you'd expect to read such an article.  It provides a general overview of the astonishing global spread of the genre and highlights the leading bands in a number of exotic locales.  Unfortunately it's light on analysis of the whys behind metal's global reach, beyond a single paragraph about how metal can transcend language barriers because of the emphasis on the timbre of the vocals, rather than the meaning of the lyrics.

He does note that metal scenes don't develop on the cheap, in fact, they are often linked to economic booms in the area.  Metal is more closely linked to lifestyle that most other genres -- those clothes, music, and merch don't come cheap.  And when you're in, you're all in.  I don't know very many casual metal fans.

The most amazing thing to me about the global spread of metal is that it's transcended race and religion almost completely.  This isn't addressed at all in the article.  Shah notes that metal is often the domain of rebellion and the political left, which has helped it to find a following in so many different countries.  But hip-hop is also about addressing the "real" issues on the streets and giving voices to the voiceless and all that, and I don't think hip-hop has traveled nearly as well as metal (although I could be wrong).  But metal, which is strongly rooted in (let's face it) the culture of Norwegian white supremacists, has been adopted by countless cultures that many of metal's pioneers would have found revolting.  It's almost as if the Nazis or the KKK had been music pioneers and future generations decided to not allow their heroes' racism to inconvenience their enjoyment of the music.  It's a fascinating dichotomy that I sometimes see getting discussed online, but have yet to see a consistent, definitive take on the issue.

Jes Skolnik's short history of police boycotts of musicians (for Pitchfork) was a unique and well-thought out piece.  The gist is that the police occasionally overreact and decide to boycott people, but nothing ever comes of it because they always back down.  I didn't understand the connections to US presidential elections though.  First of all, election cycles are so long in the US that you easily link any issue to a state or federal election anywhere at any time.  Second, what exactly is supposed to be the connection between the police boycotts and political action, beyond simple coincidence?  Is it implied that the police pick and choose their spots to pressure certain politicians?  If so, then who?  Have these actions ever decicisvely swung even a single election, even on a municipal level?

Finally, Ned Raggett's primer on the Cocteau Twins for the Guardian might be the best intro to the band I've ever read, and his ten track playlist even contains four or five of my all-time favourite Cocteau Twins tracks.  His piece has received a ton of praise, even from former Cocteaus band members.

The Cocteau Twins might be the ultimate "sounding better with age" bands, and one of the most inimitable.  Most great bands have very faithful imitators, both good and bad, but I've yet to hear any band that came close to reproducing the sounds and atmospheres of the Cocteau Twins.  By now I think everyone has given up trying.

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