Playground Column, May 2009
Shocking the Good Taste Taliban
"Music? Oh, I like every type of music! A little bit of everything!"
The person speaking clearly isn't one of us. This person isn't, in other words, a highly discriminating, highly opinionated music nerd. Nevertheless, this is probably a good person; a warm, flexible and inclusive person, a person who refuses to exclude, refuses to judge, and can see the good part in anything and anyone.
I'm totally the opposite of this person. I sometimes think I've defined my tastes so narrowly that no music at all can meet my standards. For an entire year I listened to nothing but field recordings of air vibrating in bottles. Seriously! The artist is called Toshiya Tsunoda. He uses piezoelectric microphones. And air. And bottles.
And then -- just when it seems like some kind of Good Taste Taliban inside me has banned all music from my house -- I hear something that I like. It's often something completely wrong, something completely at odds with my taste, my ideology. For instance, this. "American Psycho" by Mower:
Now, in principle I hate metal, Cali-punk, thrash, whatever you call this stuff. It isn't even on my radar. So how did I even hear "American Psycho"? Well, for some reason I wanted to hear the grunge band Superchunk. They happen to have a song called "Mower". A comment under the YouTube video is from a fan of the band Mower. He insults Superchunk: "This whiney pussy cunt rot indie rock sucks!" Inclined to agree, I went off to listen to his suggested alternative, the band Mower. I found them much more interesting than Superchunk.
Mower transgress against my own carefully-laid taste standards, my Good Taste Taliban. The band give me the thrill of feeling like a son rebelling against his own father. There's also, behind the wall-of-noise, an interesting delicacy, subtlety, and morality. "American Psycho" transitions from full-on assault into a strangely poignant melodic section. And the Mower song Road Rage, despite sounding initially fascist and nihilist, turns to be about the importance of driving responsibly. The Taliban is placated.
Here's another song I find myself liking, completely against the grain of my normal tastes. It's by a band called Snowden, and it's called "Black Eyes". I heard it by accident in the background of a vlog about the life of a schoolteacher in Japan:
I suppose I like this track because it reminds me of Gary Numan's band Tubeway Army, but also bands on the 4AD label in the early 1980s. There's a bit of Modern English in there, a bit of The Cure and Joy Division. Now, normally I would call this revivalism "Retro Necro" and give it a harsh critical flogging. But something about this song (the way it develops after 2.30, the plaintive downward brushstrokes of the vocal) hooks me. It's a guilty pleasure for a puritan cleric.
Other music I've liked recently has been slightly more within my taste parameters. My internal Taliban almost approves of Hilde Tropengold, for instance, the indie-girly singer-songwriter project of Chrizzi Heinen, a Berlin-based ethno-musicologist from Cologne. This music is plaintive and simple and direct and charming, though I suppose the Taliban in me might sentence it to life imprisonment for being "twee".
I found out about young British band Cleckhuddersfax via a nicely-designed canvas bag a musician friend brought to a picnic. When I got home and googled them, I found the music as quirky as the bag. I suppose Cleckhuddersfax sound like early Blur mixed with Prog Rock. There's some Captain Beefheart in their sound too. They're pretty good.
Since we're now getting closer and closer to my official music taste, here's the obligatory Japanese band. Delaware are essentially graphic designers who apply their low-res, jaggy, 8-bit aesthetic to the music they make too (with twangy guitar and milky beatboxes added). Pond Frog Plop is their latest album, also available as an iTunes app (with Delaware's own custom scratchable vinyl interface).
We end today with the music I feel warmest about -- music I totally approve of on every level. It's Spanish music! Internet2 is the musical project of Carlos Carbonell, who works with his partner Jordi Ferreiro in the art and design group Comte D'Urgell. When I wrote about Internet2 on my blog I noted the incredible originality of their music and their presentation (MIDI underwear! Fake documentaries! Folk dances!), and described how I felt their musical spirit was close to mine.
"Internet2 are yet another sign that Spain is producing some of the most interesting, fresh culture in Europe just now," I wrote.
Uh oh! Are my Good Taste Taliban reasserting their control? Are they about to seize Spain? Time to play another Mower song, perhaps.
(This column was published on May 20th in Playground music magazine under the title Escandalizando al talibán del buen gusto.)