Monday, February 13, 2006

It’s weird, when I read Mark’s riposte, I can still feel the pull of this ultra-futurist rhetoric, the allure of this severity stance….

A number of points to be made … I’ve lost track, though, if they’re in reference to Mark here, or other outcrops like here, or K-punk guest worker Alex Williams

* record collection rock

See, AM’s music doesn’t strike me as that really…. “record collection rock” in my usage has a much more specific application than just "the group has precedents" or "they work within a tradition" or "sounds familiar". R-C-R is music where the listener's knowledge of prior rock music is integral to the full aesthetic appreciation of the record ("full" because the creator put the allusions there for you to spot with a smile). Prime exponents include Jesus & Mary Chain, Spacemen 3, Primal Scream, and--to a lesser degree but still part of the sensibility I think-- Stereolab; there's many many more. Oasis are the paradigm case: you get Beatles deja vu flashbacks from the melodies, the title “Wonderwall” is sampled from a George Harrison album and “What’s the Story Morning Glory”, slightly more esoteric, comes from “Tomorrow Time” on John and Beverley Martyn’s Stormbringer (someone I only realised the other day playing the recent reissue, and imagine my surprise!), and ooh just check out this for a list of Noel Gallagher’s Top Ten blags , and that's just scratching the surface I’m sure. But AMs strike as more along the lines of The Smiths: precedented, for sure, but not a pastiche, you don’t listen and spot specific steals and quotes. The hints of Mozz and Gallagher in Turner’s voice here and there are fully integrated into a vocal identity that's totally sure of itself; the guy is very much his own man. Is it even "retro"? Not in the sense of intentionally flashing us back to a specific era or lost golden age (e.g. The Cult circa "Love Removal Machine," any number of nouveau garage punk bands you care to list, et al), or being taggable to a single illustrious ancestor band.

* indie
And you know, there’s moments when I don’t even feel that word applies, except as a vague and derogatory social designation based on their assumed audience. See “indie” to me always implied a certain lameness, what Carducci calls a “feeb” aesthetic, you think either of twee C86 tunesmithery or Wedding Present-type scruffiness; deficiency is part of the music’s point and appeal, its rhetoric of sound. Musically AM’s strike me as simply a British rock band; the key difference is the way they’re plugged into the rhythmic power and fluency of British beat music of the Sixties, ie. the side of the Sixties that indie always used to ignore in favour of melody/guitar-jangle, or was simply too inept to duplicate. In that sense AM’s are very much a post-White Stripes band, which won’t placate the futurists one bit, but at least they’re reactivating some of what’s actual worth keeping in rock and something which most British bands since baggy have been grievously lacking in (Stone Roses being one of the last UK bands with a really moving rhythm section, although it should noted that the Libertines are relatively dynamic on that front).

* “be reasonable, capitulate to the available”
The angle I pursued last time--nothing really futuristic around at the moment, so non-innovation is more forgiveable--is of course way too negative. I actually think this would be a splendid album in any year, that it would stand up to the competition like Pulp’s Different Class did in 1995, a futurism-crammed year by any measure. Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not is in fact the strongest record of its sort since Different Class, and if Turner isn’t yet the match for Jarvis Cocker lyrically, he’s real close. Plus he’s, like, 16 years younger than Cocker was when he wrote those songs. What does “of its sort” mean though? I think Mark hits the nail on the head in the various places he’s brought up “New Wave”. If musically the sheer potency of Whatever People Say shakes off the limp designation “indie”, lyric-wise the content is New Wavey--songs of love and lust with bite and a hint of bitter; social realism, observational lyrics. In 1979 it would have been filed alongside Costello, Specials, Dury, The Jam.

The Specials seem worth picking out from that list, because the title Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not is something Arthur Seaton the bloodyminded young wage-slave in Saturday Night, Sunday Morning says, and the best songs on the AMs album remind me a bit of “Friday Night Saturday Morning,” the last great Specials song (give or take “The Boiler”), track 3 on the Ghost Town EP. Turner's songs give much more sense of the lust-for-life boiling inside the teenprole leisure treadmill than Terry Hall on that tune (or “Nite Klub” on the Specials debut), but he’s just as aware that the short-term-buzzy bad things are long-term bad for you, dissipating energy and life-force as well as money. That’s why the CD front cover of the lad smoking a cigarette down to its nub opens up to display a CD picture of an ash-tray crammed with fag-ends. It seems significant that two tunes on the album--probably the two most subtle and evocative and no-one’s-written-about-this-before--involve young people being locked inside a vehicle by authority figures, “Red Light Indicates Doors Are Secure” and “Riot Van.”

To me, what AM’s are doing is analogous to someone working with the conventional novel form and coming up with something fresh, if not precisely innovative. Like Jonathan Coe’s The Rotters Club; now, that guy is very interested in avant-garde literary form, he wrote that biography of B.S. Johnson Like A Fiery Elephant, but his own novels are fairly conventional (in fact his big cited influence is Henry Fielding). But that doesn’t stop Rotters being an amazing book Actually, a better comparison with AMs, given the youth landscape it depicts, is Alan Warner’s The Sopranos. And then in a clever touch, seemingly to circumvent the romanticisation of W/C teen life that invariably wraps itself around or permeates from the inside out such depictions (Warner being a case in point), the album ends with a song set off on its own in the credits, as a coda or afterword: “A Certain Romance”, which says, no, actually, there’s no romance in this life, this place--nothing glamorous about it at all.

* daft comparisons and the impulse to make them

Whether it’s kingmaker/cud/wonderstuff, or ruts/members , to me it's no different to someone saying "Dizzee Rascal, Kano, that's just Derek B and Rebel MC all over again--more black blokes, boasting over beats, heard it all before." Indeed I think there is a sense in which, for a certain ‘informed sector,’ hating indie-rock saddoes and NME readers is an OK form of bigotry, almost an inverted racism.

* turn to face the strange change-lessness

Correspondent Matt Wright wonders whether "advocating for a return to a past aesthetic ideal”--“the modernist principle of pushing forward and advocating the Truly New”--as espoused by K-punk and (most of the time) myself, whether that was in some senses “anti-modernist /nostalgic”, in so far as one of the salient features of modernity as it's been for some while now is the fading away of the idea of the vanguard, its retreat from the centre of cultural life.

This is an idea I’m presently trying out, like a new pair of shoes that are slightly uncomfortable, that you have to wear in a bit: the idea that we are now in different times, or more profoundly, living with a different sense of temporality. Indeed, have been for some while.

I do think the uncanny persistence of indie-rock, the fact that it has outlasted all the obituaries written for it, is something to reckon with. Explaining it by positing an inherent lameness or laziness to its audience seems… inadequate. Perhaps it’s a format that does a certain thing particularly well, and the mystery is not the survival of the format, but the survival of the need for it (society's to blame?). Maybe it’s that indie-rock is actually like metal, a fixture on the music-culture menu now, again serving a certain population that keeps reforming itself and rewewing itself, again because of a certain stasis in society. Most of the time, metal's internal fluctuations are no interest to those not immersed in it, but every so often it'll throw up something that grabs the wider world's ear. And yet, metal does change, almost imperceptibly; you put a metal track from 2006 next to one from 1984 and they’re not the same. And so it goes with “indie,” that increasingly inadequate term; if you tele-transported an AMs song back to 1985, it wouldn’t, actually, fit right in.

Talking of a sense of temporality changing radically, the fading or disruption of a former sense of forward propulsion through time… Alex Turner is 20, which means he was born in 1985, the annus disappointingus at which Rip it Up ends; the year when Retro-Rock displaced the early ideals of “independent”; his is a generation that was born under the sign of anachronesis, perhaps.

Except perhaps not… because in the 90s there was a sense of future-tilted motion, largely due to E-lectronic music (do all the hurtling-into-the-future period--sixties, punk/postpunk, rave--have in common the quickening of culture caused by amphetamines?).

Then again, it’s bizarre how "indie" has outlasted the irruption of “faceless techno bollocks,” the culture of DJs, beats, and E’s; how it’s outlived the future-surge of the ‘90s*. This struck me really forcefully with the unexpected appearance, near the end of “I Bet You Look Good On the Dancefloor,” of the phrase “banging tunes in DJ sets”. It suddenly made me wonder what dance music meant to this generation. The last convulsion of dance culture in Sheffield presumably would have been Gatecrasher, and that would have been 1999-2000--six years ago, an eternity when you're young. It would be something that AMs’ older brothers and sisters would have been involved, maybe; music for the AMs generation begins with the Strokes most likely. Jesus, for some of the young kids getting into AMs-type music now, the ones aged 11, 12, 13, raving might even be something their parents did! Or perhaps--and this is almost worse in a way--perhaps clubbing-and-drugging is something that’s around still but relegated to a leisure option, something they’ll dabble in a bit for a while (a teen rite of passage, doing your first E’s), or even to keep on dipping into, now and then…. but not a cause or a creed, no longer based on the military/religious models that underpinned rave in the ‘90s, not even a vibe-tribe or AWOL.

* while writing this I’ve been listening to that Boxcutter Breezeblock set that folks have been bigging up, except that the mp3 is of the whole Breezeblock/Mary Anne Hobbs show, which I’d never listened to before, and pretty diverting stuff it is, mix of dubstep/grime/drum’n’bass/UK hip hop/weirdbeat/melodic IDM/all sortsa beatz-oriented electronic music… but then I got this sudden feeling that "the future" itself had somehow become a minority interest, a niche market to be catered to... An enclosure where the Nineties never stopped happening.

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