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Sat, May. 23rd, 2009 08:40 am
Shocking the Taliban

I play tonight at the Iron Horse, Northhampton, Massachusetts. It's a college town, but the students are currently on vacation, so I expect it's going to be an intimate affair. The Bennington Banner makes me sound somewhat right wing in its preview blurb: "If U.K. authors Evelyn Waugh or Kingsley Amis had ever decided to make music, then perhaps the result might've sounded like Momus." As a matter of fact I am a bit of a Waugh fan. Amis not so much. I hope this Playground column, which adopts a critical tone towards the "good taste Taliban", doesn't sound too much like something an Amis would write.



Momus
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.)

25CommentReply

eclectiktronik
eclectiktronik
eclectiktronik
Sat, May. 23rd, 2009 01:15 pm (UTC)

"We end today with the music I feel warmest about -- music I totally approve of on every level. It's Spanish music!"

...my thoughts exactly.
look at who I discovered on a found tape hunt around Madrid a few years ago!!:


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(no subject) - (Anonymous)

(Anonymous)
Sat, May. 23rd, 2009 03:24 pm (UTC)

When most people reach puberty music starts to matter more to them. This can be explained by the fact that youth cultures revolve around musical genres. As a youth tries to find his place in the world he gravitates towards a specific scene and adopts their lineaments, inclusive of the specific musical genres representative of that scene.

You make it sound like anthropology, but it is just marketing.

In the 50's they discovered they can market to teenagers. They market it as a lifestyle choice (or accessory).

That's all there is to it.

In the past --and in places not bitten by the music industry and marketing--, youth does not have its own music (besides being naturally familiar with latest artists as opposed to older ones). There is just the music of the community that everyone enjoys.


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(no subject) - (Anonymous)
bugpowered
bugpowered
Mon, May. 25th, 2009 06:53 am (UTC)

even punk?

Especially punk.

He got his start in the early 1970s with then-partner Vivienne Westwood running a clothing boutique in London called Let It Rock.

While in New York City in 1974 he ventured into CBGB's and witnessed the very beginnings of punk rock. He saw The New York Dolls and The Neon Boys. Greatly impressed with Hell's torn clothing, studded dog collar, leather jacket and dissolute attitude, McLaren returned home, changed the name of his boutique to SEX and started to sell clothing designed by he and his partner featuring the new punk look he had seen in New York.

The newly renamed SEX began to attract many of London's disenfranchised youths who were attracted by the rebellious nature of the shop.

McLaren has always understood that music is inextricably linked with fashion. So with the idea of attracting more customers to his new SEX boutique McLaren decided to put together a house band of sorts.

He found two local amateur musicians named Steve Jones and Paul Cook, added in a store employee named Glen Matlock, and held auditions in the store for a singer, which was eventually won by a surly young man named John Lydon who changed his name to Johnny Rotten.

McLaren called them The Sex Pistols, dressed them in his punk rock clothes, filled them full of the ideas he thought a punk rocker would have and set them loose on an unsuspecting public.


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qscrisp
qscrisp
Sat, May. 23rd, 2009 02:49 pm (UTC)
Walter Norris

Hello Momus.

You share Berlin with a jazz pianist called Walter Norris. Do you know of him?

Recently a film about him has premiered:

http://www.chuckdodson.com/index.php?page=film

I don't actually know anything about him other than what I've read here, but I want to see the film.


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qscrisp
qscrisp
Sat, May. 23rd, 2009 02:52 pm (UTC)
Cannibal Corpse


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realrealgone
realrealgone
realrealgone
Tue, May. 26th, 2009 10:05 am (UTC)
Re: Cannibal Corpse

nice to see some of Jeremy Clarkson's early work...


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qscrisp
qscrisp
Tue, May. 26th, 2009 10:34 am (UTC)
Re: Cannibal Corpse

And the interesting thing is, it hasn't dated at all.


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qscrisp
qscrisp
Sat, May. 23rd, 2009 02:56 pm (UTC)

I used to be into death/thrash etc. metal (by the way, visit the comments section of any thrash etc. clip on YouTube and you'll find hilarious falme wars about whether the song in question is actually death metal or doom metal or black metal or speed metal or whatever). Anyway, I think most of it is 'cartoon violence', but, even so, I have to admit to finding the following song disturbingly unpleasant, which is interesting:


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(no subject) - (Anonymous)
desant012
||||||||||
Sat, May. 23rd, 2009 08:41 pm (UTC)

The Get Up Kids: Best Nu-Metal Band of the 90s?


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jdcasten
J.D. Casten
Sat, May. 23rd, 2009 11:09 pm (UTC)
Discriminating or Discrimination?

For those who've tried making music, how much of one's own narcissistic tendencies have made them favor music that sound like what they are ABLE to make?

I tend to be a bit more open minded than the Taliban when it comes to genres, but specific songs are another matter. However, I found that after trying to make music with the only instrument I'm proficient at (the computer) over the last year, that "all of a sudden" music that can be made with computers (like techno and trip-hop) has become more appealing to me:

http://tr.im/SkyInside1

(I realize I may have opened myself to critical crucifixion here, at least in private, for anyone that cares to listen!)


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fishwithissues
fishwithissues
jordan fish
Sat, May. 23rd, 2009 11:12 pm (UTC)

but the most guilty pleasure was using the term.

i like internet2, we're myspace friends now.


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hypocondriaque
hypocondriaque
hypocondriaque
Sun, May. 24th, 2009 02:45 am (UTC)

Wish I had known about this gig in Northampton- it's very close to my home in upstate NY. Hope it's going well... It's a cute town.


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krskrft
krskrft
Sun, May. 24th, 2009 03:57 am (UTC)

I've mostly been listening to italo-disco



Japanese new wave



and early Soup Dragons



lately.

The last new thing I was excited about was "Parallax Error Beheads You," but it lost its luster after a couple weeks of slightly obsessive listening. I can't recall the last new music I was into before that. Maybe Silver Jews around 1998-2001 or so.

I don't have an internal Taliban, per se. I'll listen to pretty much anything at least once, but I don't have a voracious appetite for all music all the time. When I'm into something, I spend most of my time digging around for other stuff like it, from the same period/scene/tradition, etc. So I have a tendency to pass up good stuff temporarily, but I usually keep it in the back of my mind, so I can return and peruse once I'm in a different headspace.


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krskrft
krskrft
Sun, May. 24th, 2009 03:59 am (UTC)

Another great italo-disco cut


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(Anonymous)
Sun, May. 24th, 2009 09:29 am (UTC)

The Japanese New Wave track is fantastic, thanks for sharing.
If you like Italo Disco so much, I'm sure you already know them - but what do you think of The Chromatics?


ReplyThread Parent
krskrft
krskrft
Sun, May. 24th, 2009 11:37 am (UTC)

I like what I've heard of them okay, but they seem to be a little slow/gloomy for my taste. They have more of a live band vibe as well, while I prefer the cold precision of drum and bass programming (a la the BWH track above).

Also, there's something about it being retro ... I feel like acts that are decidedly "retro" are usually just giving me the easy/recognizable stylization, smoothing over any evidence of the oddities that existed in the original sound. For example, the vocal part in that BWH track doesn't sound to me like anything that a retro italo-disco group would replicate. Similarly, I can't imagine a retro new wave band replicating the bassline from the Takumi track I posted above. These things just seem like such outliers. And that's what I'm always seeking out in older music... the stuff that gets flattened out of remembrance.

By the way, if you like the Takumi, I can link you to a vinyl rip of the album. I'm fairly certain that it doesn't exist in any other format, and is probably an incredibly rare find at that.


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(Anonymous)
Sun, May. 24th, 2009 08:42 pm (UTC)

I share your thoughts on retro bands, but there's also my very vanilla view that they're exploring possibilites in a certain style that has been abandoned because it got out of fashion. That said, "In The City" is the only Chromatics song I really like.

About the link to the vinyl rip - that would be great. My knowledge of Japanese music history doesn't really go beyond the genesis of Shibuya-Kei (apart from Yellow Magic Orchestra). Will you just post the link in here or how would we do that? I am inexperienced.


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krskrft
krskrft
Sun, May. 24th, 2009 10:08 pm (UTC)

You can grab the album here.


ReplyThread Parent
hazmat70000
hazmat70000
hazmat70000
Sun, May. 24th, 2009 09:00 am (UTC)
Northampton

I loved your show, both the ipod backup and the kabuki stagehand. It was intimate, but it made me feel part of something unique, personal, and special. Thanks for a spectacular (and spectacularly minimal in the best way) experience. I hope you return some day to our town.

-My brother's plus-one


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(Anonymous)
Sun, May. 24th, 2009 04:15 pm (UTC)
Re: Northampton

I second this notion. I wish the management at the Iron Horse gave you another hour to work with, even though you were quite visibly tired by the end of your set. Oh well. I suppose you worked enough!

P.S. "Platinum" owned


ReplyThread Parent

(Anonymous)
Sun, May. 24th, 2009 12:19 pm (UTC)
Why did Momus turn punker?

Momus has so totally turned punker.

He's got a mohawk and wears chains and him and his dude buddies gatecrash birthday parties in Santa Monica and piss in the pool.

He shouts "Fuck you" and "I'll kick your ass" between songs on stage.

He just woke up one day and slammed all his stuff into a recycling bin. He shook up a beer and sprayed it around the walls, turned up some Black Flag and said "Get ready, Hisae, there's a new me as he's pretty hardcore."

Why did Momus turn punker?


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(Anonymous)
Mon, May. 25th, 2009 07:45 pm (UTC)
Translation

Just curious: does the author translate these articles into Spanish, or does someone at the magazine do it? (I'm guessing that they start out in English.)


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milky_eyes
milky_eyes
milky_eyes
Tue, May. 26th, 2009 07:36 am (UTC)
GRUNGE??????

Sorry, Superchunk isn't grunge. A real music snob would know this.

ah, hello momus.... grunge?


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realrealgone
realrealgone
realrealgone
Tue, May. 26th, 2009 10:09 am (UTC)

I like both field recordings of air vibrating in bottles and the sound of Barry White & His Love Unlimited Orchestra. It's all good.


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(Anonymous)
Thu, Jun. 4th, 2009 01:34 pm (UTC)
tinnitus

Hi,
I didn't know how to get in contact with you but your article in the wire interested me greatly. I play guitar in a band called Girls and have very slight tinnitus which I do not want to get any worse. I hate going to concerts as they are always too loud and sound awful to me. I am really scared. I never see anybody talk openly about this and so your article was really wonderful. There is so much which goes against making music quiet and I don't know how to deal with that. I like records. I am looking for help and advice.
Also I enjoyed the Gongs' record. Peter is friends of friends through Oberlin and I have liked all the music of his that I have heard.
Sincerely,
John Anderson
john_orbach@yahoo.co.uk


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