I Am Not Smart Enough For This

Approximately three seconds ago, I was trying to write a blog post about aesthetic vs substance, and about alternative vs mainstream culture. About three paragraphs in, I realised I had no goddamn idea what I was trying to say. I sometimes wonder if I’d been born with a conjoined twin, could we combine our brain power to write the greatest pop song ever known to man? I mean, the Madden brothers did it with that classic hit Like It’s Her Birthday, with ingenious lyrics such as, “She’s so wasted, acting crazy, making a scene, like it’s her birthday,” and they’re not even conjoined (they also have different tattoos which I think may have contributed to their declining songwriting abilities as their magic twin powers gradually fall out of sync).

This line of thinking is most likely thanks to the age-old fable passed down from generation to generation, the idea that you either have it or you don’t. I’ve heard this said about anything from singing and songwriting, to accountancy and equestrian expertise. In my less-than-entirely-humble opinion, this could be one of the most damaging ideas in the creative space. I’ve heard so many people tell me that they don’t have ‘it,’ so they’ll never be able to sing, write a great song, or train a horse to jump over a little pole thing. This unreasonable – neigh – absurd idea has proven, in my experience to be not at all true. Sure, there are always freaks who are born with the ability to write Beethoven’s 5th at the age of seven, but that’s not even really that impressive – I mean it’s already been written, they probably just found it on the internet and copied it down – but there are also people like me, who started out writing and singing pure trash, stuff that I would be embarrassed to have people even know I threw in the garbage, but after a considerable amount of practice and self-criticism, do things that they’re actually extremely proud of, in my case songs like Jamie and Pyongyang.

Sure there’s still stuff that I write that isn’t so great (if you think Erasure is bad like I do, you should see some of the shit I left off the album), but had I not stuck with writing I would never have even got to the point where I can write the stuff I write now, which will hopefully look like hot trash in comparison to what I do five years from now. The point is, music isn’t some elusive art form that’s only accessible to the caviar-eating intellectuals that tell you in exceptionally verbose terms how much of a scorpion’s penis you are, it’s something that can be done by anyone, especially in 2016 when any fool can pirate a copy of Ableton and some 808 samples and be making sick trap beats with six seconds.

I’m not exactly sure what the point of this extremely short post is, other than to hopefully motivate anyone who might be feeling underwhelmed by their own abilities to keep practicing that clarinet, Clarence, but I hope you got some semblance of interest if you were unfortunate enough to read it. Here’s a little extra something for those of you who might have made it this far; check out Dear and the Headlights, in particular their album Small Steps, Heavy Hooves. I heard it for the first time like a month ago, and I’ve literally listened to it every day since. It’s like early Coldplay, if they were 100000 times better.

Maybe She’s Born With It, Maybe It’s Autotune

“COMPUTERS ARE RUINING MODERN MUSIC, WHAT WITH YOUR PITCH CORRECTION AND YOUR BEAT DETECTIVE, EVERYONE SHOULD GO BACK TO RECORDING TO TAPE, SO THAT IT TAKES AN ENGINEER A MONTH TO MIX A SONG, BECAUSE THEY WERE WAITING FOR THE MACHINE TO REWIND” – Dave Grohl, probably.

I hear a lot of discussion about authenticity in modern recordings, whether it’s right for an artist to alter their performance in post-production. At the center of the discussion always seems to be pitch correction (or Autotune as the genericized name), an argument as to whether the more ‘human (read as; shit singing)’ aspect of a performance is lost to perfect pitch and timing. The art police would have you believe that everything not left in its original, imperfect state is less than genuine, a less authentic expression of the human soul in the form of loud screeches and percussive crashes. I, the truest, most correct person who has ever undergone the delicate task of writing words on the internet, would disagree.

The purpose of writing a song is not to flamboyantly parade a performer’s ability to scream on pitch, but to convey an idea, a meaning, some bizarre truth that was floating around the back of somebody’s mind, and one day decided to announce itself. The message in the song is what matters, someone’s ability to play fast guitar bits, or hit some drums really hard isn’t (although it can be fun to listen to). As such, a focused recording of a song should have one goal in mind; to convey those ideas in a way that is appropriate to the music, and does not distract from the ideas.

The most distracting possible thing, whilst listening to a song, is low production values, and right at the top of that self-recorded list is poor vocal work. Now, the easiest way to make your vocals sound good, is to have vocals that sound good. That’s kind of a no brainer (although it might surprise you to know that a person that has no brain is unlikely to think such a thought), but sometimes a situation arises wherein that just isn’t an option. The question, then, is, ‘Should someone who can’t sing be disallowed from producing good music due to that fact?’ I’d say the answer to that is a resounding maybe, depending on just how bad they are, but in most cases no.

It’s probably apparent to you, if you’ve listened to my music, in particular Pyongyang, that I do, in fact, pitch correct my own vocals. This is because I’m just not that great of a singer, and the style of music I make is preceded by the audience’s expectation for perfectly on pitch vocals, and any such deviation would be greatly distracting from what my songs are trying to say. Now, I could just leave some minor errors and it would probably sound mostly fine, but there would be this little voice in the back of your mind, telling you that this dude has some good music, but his voice isn’t the best. Even that small margin of difference can separate what you perceive to be your friend’s fun little song, and an actual piece of art that should be taken seriously, respected. By correcting myself, I’m allowing for the listener to more easily fall into the song, rather than worry about small errors and inconsistencies.

Even disregarding what I’ve written so far, an equally important argument is that of the nature of studio recording as a whole. Bands simply don’t sound the way they do in your headphones, the studio is a magical workshop of trickery and deceit, wherein guitars are double tracked (meaning performed twice, one take sent to the left speaker and one to the right) to sound larger than life, drums have countless microphones in carefully arranged locations to sound huge and impactful, takes are haphazardly slapped together, and performances are whittled down to their most refined roles. The entire act of making a studio recording is one of deception, espionage of the most personal kind, even more so than trying to sneak past a sleeping silverback gorilla, that time you fell into its enclosure and was unsure if you’d be ripped to shreds or just used as a frisbee.

The point is, we only think of vocals differently to other instruments because they’re shooting out of a hole in somebody’s face, and we have the expectation that this person should be a god among men, an infallible deity of operatic prowess. There’s nothing any less authentic about the words on the page if the voice singing them is made more perfect than the reality, the person still felt the same writing them, and felt the same way performing them, as long as you’re receiving the meaning then all is working as intended. Of course, there are times where the correction would be inappropriate, for example on Weezer’s Pinkerton, but if you’re making pop music, slap Melodyne (the current popular choice for pitch correction) across your voice and don’t give it a second thought.

As a great man (me) once said, “Who fucking cares.”

My Musical Tastes

Since this is my first proper blog post, I thought I’d give you a taste of the music that has informed my own, and run through some of my favourite albums as a means of deconstructing my own psyche to delve into the chasms of wonder and excitement. As everyone knows, the best way to accomplish this is in list format, Buzzfeed style.

Muse – Origin of Symmetry

Origin of Symmetry was the first album that really struck me as not just a bunch of songs haphazardly thrown onto a compact disc, but as a cohesive body of work that is an entire experience in itself, much like the classic film, Paul Blart: Mall Cop. On this album you can very clearly hear Muse’s influences, ranging from Rage Against the Machine to Rachmaninoff, with occasional flavours of flamenco, prog, and jazz, which combine into a mind-expanding experience of musical adventure and experimentation. If you’ve got a spare hour, just put this album on and let yourself be consumed, like a trust fall that’s eaten some funny mushrooms it found outside its apartment.

Favourite tracks: New Born, Hyper Music, Citizen Erased

Weezer – Weezer (The Blue Album)

Any Pitchfork readers amongst you may now be reading this with an insatiable desire for my blood, having picked Blue over Pinkerton. Whilst Pinkerton is undoubtedly the most personal album I’ve ever heard, an unflinching telescope into Rivers Cuomo’s brain, Blue is just way more fun to listen to. It’s like comparing Sharknado to Mega Shark vs Crocosaurus. We all know that one is better art, but the other is just so much more fun to watch.

I never really knew what the hell ‘power pop’ was until I heard this album, when it became apparent that it’s a load of nonsense, and it just means extremely well constructed rock songs. Whether it’s Undone (The Sweater Song) singing about social anxiety, or In the Garage about feeling comfortable only around the other dorks in your garage band, Weezer damn well knows (knew?) how to write anthems for nerds all over the world.

Favourite tracks: Undone (The Sweater Song), Say it Ain’t So, Buddy Holly

Green Day – American Idiot

If you’re around the same age as me, then you probably remember American Idiot as being a fun collection of hits from your childhood, along the lines of Hips Don’t Lie and The Ketchup Song. And whilst it’s definitely not as good as The Ketchup SongAmerican Idiot is one of those albums that make you wonder, ‘Is Billie Joe Armstrong wearing eyeliner?’

It’s really a testament to how damned impressive this album is, that I don’t even have to name its four iconic singles, and you could probably sing every word of them back to me right now. The production on this album is also phenomenal, the drums are huge, the guitars are monstrous, and it somehow still manages to contain a folky vibe, along with its strong punk rock roots and political messaging, the lyrics of Holiday being particularly phenomenal. If you haven’t heard this album, then what the hell

Favourite tracks: Holiday, Jesus of Suburbia, Letterbomb

Rage Against the Machine – The Battle of Los Angeles

RATM have become known as ‘the band with that song with the fuck you bits,’ at least amongst many of the people with whom I associate, however they also have other songs, all about political ideology that I’m not sure I can comprehend, but it sounds important so I’ll just bang my head in agreement.

The Battle of Los Angeles is one of those albums that grabs you by the throat on the first track, and shakes the living shit out of you until you’re certain you can’t take any more, but then you realise you’ve only just finished getting through Calm Like A Bomb and there’s still nine tracks to go. The raw aggression is combined with guitar playing so creative, that they actually write, “All sounds made by guitar, bass, drums and vocals,” on the back, and I’m still not entirely convinced. I actually met Tom Morello once, about two years ago now, and I still haven’t washed the hand that he shook.

Favourite tracks: Mic Check (Once Hunting, Now Hunted), Born of a Broken Man, Ashes in the Fall

Jets to Brazil – Orange Rhyming Dictionary

Some listeners may be off-put by Jets to Brazil’s outwardly punk aesthetic, like a lone Mel Gibson stumbling across an old, beardy man in a Kippah in a dark alley. However, like Mr Gibson, you will soon discover that the beardy man is actually a charming fellow named Howard, whose many talents include fly fishing, rally driving, and the traditional Australian art of the coward punch. In other words, the songs are really damn-well written, especially on quieter tracks like Sea Anemone and Sweet Avenue.

If you don’t like punk rock, this may be the second punk rock album you ever enjoy (the first was probably American Idiot).

Favourite tracks: Crown of the Valley, Lemon Yellow Black, I Typed for Miles

Radiohead – Kid A

Kid A is not an album I listen to all that often. However, it serves as the perfect soundtrack as you’re walking home alone at 3AM, and if you’re going to be mugged, you’d like it to be as melancholy as possible. It’s an album that’s often described as ‘challenging,’ and unlike many other albums with similar adjectives attached (I’m looking at you, Milli Vanilli), Kid A is purpose built with the express goal of making you listen to the music, man, with intentionally obtuse and repetitive lyrics. It damned well works too, as the tracks with few to no lyrics at all (Treefingers, The National Anthem) are the ones that stand out to me.

This album was able to make me feel like no other album had before, which was, “Hey, this music is strange, experimental and obtuse without feeling pretentious, or like I require a PHD in music to understand what the hell is happening here.”

Favourite tracks: Everything in its Right Place, The National Anthem, Treefingers

That’s all, folks

Those are pretty much all the words that I’ve got to fire at you today, although I’d like to give honourable mentions to The Killers’ Hot Fuss and The Gorillaz’s Plastic Beach, as well as all of Muse’s first four albums, because I couldn’t exactly fit them all in to a reasonable length, and frankly I’m impressed that you’ve even read this far. If you have, I’d like you to immediately contact somebody because you really ought to have something better to do.

Welcome to the Blog

You would think that the advent of a social platform, that allows any person to claim their own little soap box, would result in nothing but pointless drivel and silly marketing tactics from all kinds of vagabonds and weird bridge trolls alike, but in actuality, you will only find top-notch social commentary and fascinating factual information on the likes of these sites.

With that in mind, I’ve decided to start my very own blog about music. It’s mostly just an advertisement for my own tunes, but goddammit you’ve read this far, may as well slog through it all. I will hopefully be posting most weeks, though I can’t make any promises, as there are always bound to be international trade disputes that require my expertise and cunning financial manoeuvring, so you may as well sign up to the mailing list to be notified of all upcoming nonsense.

In all seriousness (no pun intended (or executed)), I’m going to be writing about the music that I’m working on (as a musician, engineer, producer, dance choreographer, whatever), as well as about some of the music that inspires me, some that I don’t like, and some that I see on a commercial for Nissan and think, “This track would be a lot better if there were about six more lutes involved.”

Tuesdays are my days off, so they will be the days that I procrastinate doing this, or perhaps procrastinate by doing this. Who knows, stick around and you might read something silly.

Anachronistic Anarchist Purple