Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Josh on music

Several memorable thoughts on music over at josh blog recently:
I don't like going to philosophy conferences, but I like it less when I'm frustrated enough to lose sight of why they're dissatisfying. One way of putting it: however little it makes sense or however obscure it is to think this, I somehow see artworks as having the same standing as works of philosophy; or, art as having the same standing as philosophy. I have a fantasy of beginning a paper-reading session at a conference like this by playing a piece of music—giving the audience a chance to listen and then displaying an attempt to put into words what is heard, giving a demonstration of the fact that there are phenomena in life with the structure of calling-for-articulation. The difficulty of putting things to words seems to get short shrift among philosophers.
All of this is worth reading, too, albeit hard to talk about.

And finally this: I used to prefer 'Protection'. Now I prefer 'Safe From Harm'.

Thankfully we don't have to choose, Although I wish foreign policy were directed by someone with the hardly extraordinary insight of whoever wrote the words to 'Safe From Harm' (i.e. people don't always like being 'liberated'). 

Predictably all I got from josh's recommendations was the discovery of Kacey Musgraves, by far the safest music on his list. I don't think of myself as liking country music at all (except when it's done by non-Americans), but I like this. Perhaps because it sounds a little like Mary Lou Lord (not this song, really, but others). 

I don't have much to recommend in return, but I liked Tracey Thorn's autobiography a lot. I think of this blog as a diary as much as anything else, so even if it's of interest to no one but me let me record that it was nice to read something that felt as though it came from my world. I'd forgotten that was a world and not just me. (Not that her world is quite the same as mine: there are regional, age, and gender differences that matter, as well as some differences of taste. And I never became a pop star.) But if you like 'Protection' enough to want to know more about its singer then you might want to know that she's written a good book.  


  1. thanks, duncan.

    i don't exactly mind that kacey musgraves borders on straight up pop, but if she gives you enough of a taste for country that you're curious, you might try some of her confederates. the brandy clark album is quite good, a bit more classically sad-country, with lots of clever songwriting; clark wrote some of the songs on musgraves' album. ashley monroe's debut was grouped in with both of those; it's less pensive than clark's, a lot more mainline country in its sound and songwriting. and monroe is in the pistol annies with miranda lambert, which would take you most of the way to contemporary country radio, i guess.

    i don't remember where your head was at during the second summer of love, but if you had any taste for rave, breakbeat, happy hardcore, the harder end of uk garage, etc., you might find the dj rashad album interesting. it's coming from the recent juke/footwork scene in chicago, so there's a deep hiphop strain in it, but it sounds something like an american refraction of some of that stuff (which is why it's on hyperdub, i guess) - sped/chopped up vocal samples, bass, super-fast hi-hats. there's a touch of footwork sound in the chance the rapper album, too - he's from chicago.

    i have yet to do my research into hawkwind so that i can target metal recommendations effectively to you. but i think half the songs on that carcass album are about veganism, so there's that. the rest of my metal voting for the year was also heavy on screaming, shrieking, growling, and cookie monster noises, but you could have a taste for uncle acid and the deadbeats (a slightly doomy guitar-psych rock album) or in solitude (who have kind of a gothy 80s metal sound), both of which have actual singing instead of 'vocals'. or inquisition, if you're ok with a vocalist who sounds like they took one of those replacement robotic voice boxes and put it inside a frog.

    you might like joanna gruesome's debut—a noisy welsh indie-pop (more rock, i guess) record. i did, but i didn't listen to it enough to have anything to say about it by december.

    i've been listening to the big EBTG album, and one of thorn's solo albums, for a few years now. it always feels a little weird to me—displaced. i never checked her out after i came to love 'protection' in college, and once i did i remembered that all kinds of people in my rural midwestern high school seemed to have a copy of walking wounded around (somehow—since it came out the year i graduated, so i don't know how i could have had many opportunities to see it). it doesn't fit with my image of those people at all that they would have been listening to it. and if i would have listened to it fifteen years ago in college, it would have been exactly what i wanted to hear. so now there's always a tinge of there-but-not-there about it when i listen. and i played it at night during a train ride through the mountains, still snowy in april, on the way to vancouver, so it's picked up even more of an otherworldly quality for me.

  2. Thanks!

    Slightly doomy guitar-psych rock sounds very good. And I've heard of Joanna Gruesome, in a way that made me think I would like them (recommended by The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, perhaps).

    Walking Wounded doesn't seem very rural midwestern, no. I've been listening to Tracey Thorn since I was a teenager, and I like it all, but some of her stuff is definitely better than others. She admits as much, not surprisingly, in her book, and I think I agree with her about which is the less good stuff. Actually, all EBTG's earlier albums are at least a bit crap, even if it's crap that I like. Too jazzy for me, and too miserable in general. When they're at their most miserable I like the extremity of it, but sometimes they just seem a bit down. Baby the Stars Shine Bright is good though. Cross My Heart is the best song on it, so if you don't like that then don't bother with the rest of it. "You'd be appalled/If you knew what I was doing when you called." Could be sung by a serial killer but it's just massive self-deprecation with a sense of humor. Her first solo album is great, too, but a very different kind of thing. Just acoustic guitar and her singing. And if you like that then you'll like her first band, the Marine Girls, too (her and two friends doing the same kind of thing--it's a classic, so perhaps you already know this, but it's old and English, so perhaps you don't).

    The only metal and hiphop I seem able to like is what I know from the 80s, and not much of that. I should expand my horizons, probably, but what I feel like doing is listening to more pop music. Probably not a good sign.

    1. it's interesting that artists can go back and do that (if they're honest, or overly hard on themselves). if you think about a philosopher looking back at old work, they seem more likely to say it was wrong than that it was bad (or not really up to a certain level).

      i feel like the embrace of electronic arrangements, styles, etc. was important for her/them, maybe because it places her in the extended moment of contemporary life in a way that seems appropriate for her songs, which wouldn't be true of, say, girl-and-guitar. (as much as i like laura marling, there's something about her embrace of traditional instrumentation, styles, etc. that seems like it will always be backward-looking in comparison.) but. i haven't ever really thought about the lyrics carefully, so that's just a loose impression.

  3. Yes, she doesn't quite say it was bad, but she does say it wasn't great, or words to that effect. She seems more prepared than most philosophers would be to admit that her heart wasn't always in it, or that she didn't do her best work at all times. Philosophy seems to rely on a character-based view of people. Not: this person has done some good work, but: this person does good work. So one bad (or just not great) thing actually harms your reputation. I suppose this discourages overproduction of work the world doesn't need, but it seems likely to deter people from taking chances or doing work that might be of value to a small number of people. It also seems unrealistic.

    I think the electronic move was definitely good for her. In general I don't think they knew what they were really doing with either jazz or generic indie music. The book bears that out (at least a bit), and the whole what-do-you-do-after-punk question is a tricky one for everyone. I'm reading Lipstick Traces now, so probably more on that later.

    1. i like that about 'character-based view'. i would suspect that a lot of philosophers blur that even further and think that, if they're a philosopher, they -must- be somewhat good (exempt from being bad, in some suitably evasive sense). (in contrast, musicians, like other artists, must accept by default that there is something bad about them.)

      i wonder if it has to do with performance. i just read an interview with the singer/bassist from carcass, and he pretty much immediately admits that he has fallen behind on his instrument. where there's a palpable measure of your goodness, it's hard to deny when you're falling short of it. so, somewhat similarly with recordings, which are kind of like performances in the way they're made, and released to the public.

      after punk, you sell your guitars, and buy a sampler. wait.

  4. Philosophy is supposed to be like intelligence, I suppose, so if you're good then you'll always be good, just as a smart person will never say dumb things. Except that smart people do say dumb things, and being good at philosophy isn't simply the same thing as being smart. (I'm not sure about this. I'm starting to feel that I'm attacking a straw man. But I really dislike the idea that the best philosopher is a kind of boy wonder or genius.) Musicians don't think like this, as far as I can tell, and know their own limits. Even Tracey Thorn, who has a great voice and isn't shy about referring to her own songs (or one of them, anyway) as "smash hits", acknowledges that her voice has limits. Maybe Jim Morrison thought he was a genius, but most surely know that they have to practice and that there are some things they just can't do.