Generation Gap

Illustration by Olga Abeleva for Discorder Magazine

The Mainstream Between lié And The Fall

Daniel Geddes
Olga Abeleva

Recently people have been telling me that pop music is in a pretty good place right now. They say that the songs are good or that the production is amazing and every now and then when I hear music on the radio while I’m driving, I grudgingly have to agree. Additionally, some of these confections even have clever subversive messages, the kind that tell us that our collective consciousness may actually be evolving for the better. That can be very encouraging. And yet I still feel frustrated as a music fan, and I think I always will. Part of what I like about music and art is actually disliking the stuff I don’t like and defining it against what I do. And what I can’t seem to let go of is that, even when popular music contains messages, production values or melodies that I find appealing, it still just isn’t as open to directly confrontational or radical messages as less popular music. You still have to go to the underground to hear something that is free to speak openly about the world.

Listening to lié’s new album Truth Or Consequences reminds me of why I consider pop music to be slightly inferior in terms of its capacity to feel urgent and real. The album isn’t even particularly inaccessible: it’s fun to listen to. As somebody who has seen the band many times over the years, I feel confident in saying that Jordan Koop’s production suits these songs perfectly, and that the music is full of a powerful musicality with its pulsing rhythms and glowing, nuclear melodies. It just feels subterranean and vital, and gives you the sensation that perhaps you are being confronted with both the truth AND the consequences. To me, being able to grab hold of a bit of truth, even if it’s a dark or ugly one, is a good feeling. I won’t go into any lyrical analysis here. I’m talking more about a feeling that what you are hearing hasn’t been calculated for mass appeal, but rather speaks to you in a more specific, personal way should you be open to it.

The atmosphere of lié’s record reminds me of one of my favourite albums, and one that I definitely consider to be a triumph of rawness and truth-telling over smooth professionalism. The Fall’s second album, Dragnet is a much more sonically eccentric record, but that sense of absolute commitment to the genuine realization of the music is similar. Recorded in 1978, when making a record like this would have been much harder on a practical level, it sounds like it exists against the odds. In a way, the recording quality of the record actually kind of sounds like the forces of mainstream music attempting to snuff it out in real time. And yet, Mark E. Smith’s insistent, incisive jabbering persists through the tape hiss. Just as lié does, the band plays with an awe-inspiring energy and originality, not knowing whether there is an audience, but knowing that these things need to be said and done.

In 2016, it sometimes appears that the underground has succumbed to the same rat-race mentality that marred the mainstream music industry in the first place. New musicians grasp at the blog posts, ‘likes,’ and instant appreciation that appear just out of reach. But there is still a portion of the underground that is going about the business of saying and doing the things that need to be done against the odds, and to me this is still the truly important and enjoyable work, and the reason that, although I do find myself occasionally tapping on the steering wheel, I will always gravitate back towards the things that I have to seek out.

Ambiguous Music

Daniel Geddes
Eva Dominelli

Some music doesn’t make you want to dance or sing, it doesn’t have words (or they are inaudible), isn’t beautiful or ugly, and is neither shocking in its decadence nor beguiling in its minimalism. It isn’t pop, and it isn’t obviously original. Instead, it is ambiguous and exists somewhere in between all of these qualities along the infinite plane of imagination, possibility and potential. This music has very little commercial appeal because it demands an explanation, and offers even less definition than the average release. This is not what many people are looking for from music. The onus is on you as the listener to come up with an interpretation and to create meaning. Perhaps it is the tone, or the musicality, or a snippet of comprehensible lyricism. But only you can unlock it, and if you don’t try, there is no hope.

I think that the music of Jandek fits into this category. His first album, 1978’s Ready for the House, is the kind of thing that causes people to ask themselves, ‘Why am I listening to this?’ There is no obvious payoff, and no instantly pleasing attributes. Instead, what we have is one softly strummed, out-of-tune acoustic guitar, and one deeply disconcerting ghost of a voice, whispering what one gathers are fairly dour sentiments. No particular talent is on display here, other than for creating an unnerving atmosphere. But it is exactly this perplexing quality that can be so mind-expanding for us as music listeners. It is a feeling that I have always noted as I discover some new frontier on my musical horizon: the questioning of why it exists as it does. Ready for the House is essentially one chord throughout, and feels inert. It is the opposite of a lot of the music we hear, and is enjoyable to me because it lacks the qualities of popular music. This makes it fertile ground for all kinds of unique mental activity. Ready for the House makes my mind wander to places most music doesn’t cause me to go.

Similarly, the late 2015 album Vertigo by The Necks is devoid of common convention. But here there is one obvious difference: demonstrable musical talent. In some ways it is even stranger that professional musicians would set out to make this kind of fractured music than an amateur auteur like Jandek, but just as inspiring. After listening to the Jandek record, this album sounds rich with notes and textures, but I think it still exists out on that undefined vista of free and open ambiguity. There is no singing here, just constantly changing splatters of sound and music. The drones are consistently interrupted, which negates the effect that drone music usually has. But just as Ready for the House has an almost oppressive musical continuity, there is a relentlessness to Vertigo. There are no crescendos, it simply evolves. As people who live in a world dominated by popular music we are trained to listen for tension and release, and anything that only builds tension is bound to stand out. In fact, it is probably this quality which unites the two albums in terms of compositional approach.

I don’t think that all music must challenge our preconceived notions of what makes listening to it an enjoyable experience. Sometimes, in order for the more directly communicative aspect of music to take place, we must be able to accept it instantly so that we can comprehend it. This is what makes music such as folk and pop such potent vehicles for ideas, radical or otherwise. But it is also important, and pleasurable I might add, to be constantly expanding our boundaries so as to build new kinds of acceptance into our musical ontology. It is good to seek these things out because it reminds you of the limitless potential of creation in all mediums, and the boundlessness of human expression.