Friday, March 6, 2009

The Soft Bulletin

It's happened! Just when I think I'm doomed to another bored stretch of not having a current music obsession, I chance upon another gem. This time in the form of The Flaming Lips masterpiece The Soft Bulletin.

It didn't take long at all to draw me into their beauteous psychadelia. I got the album over the weekend, and listened to it for the first time on Monday while at work. It was exactly the kind of rush I hope for in newly discovered music. The songs were badly labeled, and it was out of order (two things that I hate; I'm a total nut for having an organized music library), but I fixed that as soon as I got home. I don't like to use shuffle when listening to a full album - if by chance the artist actually had the time and scope to make an album, versus a collection of good singles and filler, I like to be able to listen to it as it was intended and gain that big picture perspective of the music. But even with the initial out-of-order listening, I knew that I'd found something good. I didn't have any standout songs yet, but I knew that they were there. And the album as a whole was just so incredibly beautiful; I knew it would become one of my regular rotations. And as I expected, over the past week the album and the band have become one of my new favorites.

I had never listened to The Flaming Lips before, other than "She Don't Use Jelly" and that song they played in Batman Forever; "In Your Dreams" or something. And I'm sure there have been other unknown listens on my part. It's not like The Flaming Lips are a super obscure band.
I was very impressed, upon my initial listen, with "Race For the Prize," "Slow Motion," and "Waiting for Superman." Over the rest of the week, I've come to adore "Buggin'" (the harmonies and what sound like harp flourishes are to die for), "Feeling Yourself Disintegrate," and "Sleeping on the Roof"; the latter two and "Slow Motion" probably being my top favorites on the album as a whole (so far). There aren't many pure instrumentals which I enjoy as much as songs with lyrics. There are a few instrumentals which I do enjoy as much as or even more than some lyrical songs (some random Sufjan Stevens and Cut Copy interludes, and "Lamb on the Lam" by Band of Horses come to mind). "Sleeping on the Roof" may be poised to become my most favorite one of all.

There is a recurring theme in the music. It's almost melancholy. My impression of the album was that it was about death, and how it's inextricably connected to life. The songs reference wounds, blood, death, keeping up the fight, but with each of these grim references is an accompanying reference to love. It never connotates violence, but the simple fact that death is around us, that it's a part of life, but there is still unspeakable beauty in the fight for life and love. Lead singer Wayne Coyne's tenor, almost boyish voice is a perfect compliment, adding even more depth and sincerity to the music and lyrics.

There is a great quality to the music. It's layered, but not too dense. There's a lot of reverb on guitar, which is one of my favorite effects. I had never given much thought to the term psychadelic pop before, but that's definitely what this is. It has an almost Dark Side of the Moon quality to it.

I'm always happy to have good, new music. I love discovering and exploring a new sound, a new voice, a new musical technique. Just like in any industry, there has to be those producers - the ones who create and challenge and discover new ways of making melodies, changing the way we think of music. Nothing can accurately describe the effect an extremely well crafted album can have on a person. It happens when I listen to a lot of my favorite artists; I hear the bounce and pop of "Soon" by My Bloody Valentine, the epic 16 minute "Only Skin" by Joanna Newsom, the simple bassline and drumbeat of "Our Swords" by Band of Horses, or "Paranoid Android" by Radiohead (which pretty much defies description), and I feel so lucky and so blessed to be able to listen to and enjoy a true artist. Someone (or a bunch of someones) who followed a vision for a new sound, a new concept, and succeeded. One of my favorite things about Loveless and Joanna Newsom's Ys is that the artists knew what they wanted, and they didn't let their vision be affected by anyone else's opinion. Joanna Newsom knew that her album would be a little hard to swallow (it's only five songs, and "Cosmia" is the only one under nine minutes - it's about 7), but she didn't let that stop her creation. Loveless took over two stressful, only spradically productive years to create; MBV's record label even refused to work with Kevin Shields afterwards, because he was such a perfectionist. There are times when compromise is beneficial; Joanna Newsom had to work together with Van Dyke Parks to ensure the orchestra fit well with her songs and her harp, and that she fit well with them. But in the end, a very personal dream was realized. Too much compromise on an artistic work is never good; the outcome of committee thinking is never good - it's an average on an average (just think of network television). It's the artist's work, and they made it for themselves. This staunchness in holding on to one's vision is what makes these albums so great. Well, that and the superb talent of the artists.

1 comment:

Jessica said...

You're so cute when you talk about music like this!