The war against silence

Glenn McDonald

Just thought that was a great title for a weekly music review and discussion column (now archived) by Glenn McDonald from Cambridge, Massachusetts. I used to enjoy his meandering musings about all things musical. He was a writer given to quixotic self-expression, but it passed the time, if you allow yourself to be carried along with it.  It takes him a fair bit of time to get around to his point, but sooner or later, he has one. I’ve read articles from him from many obscure artists, and some not-so-obscure artists such as Laurie Anderson, which makes his articles on Boston, Dolly Parton and Shania Twain rather jarring.  But still worth reading. He had also been a regular contributor to an online music magazine column in The Village Voice called Pazz and Jop, which had annual music lists curated by music critic Robert Christgau. The lists differed from the Billboard music lists in that it leaned more havily toward alternative and avant-garde music. The list couldn’t rely on album sales, but instead relied on what appeared to be a cryptic statistical system. Whatever the system, they appeared to be on to something, since the list was popular with musicians and music critics worldwide.

How to clear 'Recently Played' in your Spotify library ...McDonald’s TWAS column folded early in 2013, and Pazz and Jop had its last publication in 2018. And now we know Glenn McDonald as the brains behind Spotify. The 1,387 categories that Spotify generates are based on computers whose algorithms classify the music into the categories, genres, and sub-genres which clients could pick and choose from. And going by the success of Spotify, it seems to work quite successfully. I also find out that he was the brains behind the website Every Noise At Once, mentioned years ago in this journal. I am beginning to think that iTunes, who had braindead classifications which I discussed in an earlier article, may have been a casualty of this make-it-up-as-you-go-along style of classification rather than a beneficiary. If someone told me at a cocktail party that they like “nu-gaze” or “neo mellow” music, I would just think of them as pretentious and just trying to sound cool and edgy by name -dropping a few of Spotify’s 1300+ musical categories that may have popped into his or her head. I am sure the musicians themselves don’t set out to be the next great musicians in the “electrofox” or “fuzz pop” genre or whatever. These are the names that exist in the imagination of maybe Glenn McDonald and a few of his Spotify colleagues, with the classification itself being the product of a Spotify algorithm. No musician, and no other humans, have had a hand in classifiying their music if it is on Spotify.

As an update, The Village Voice upon which Pazz and Jop was based has been rebooted only a few months ago, sans Pazz and Jop. But gone are nearly all of the writers that made it a national  institution for alternative music, voices and lifestyle. According to their “Emeritus” page of contributors, and apart from Christgau, there were notable cartoonists Matt Groening, Tom Tomorrow, and Robert Crumb, and one of the founders was Norman Mailer. There were also novelists such as David Foster Wallace, Tom Robbins, and numerous other writers, music and cultural critics. Wikipedia lists other contributors, but they don’t check out with the emeritus list. For example, while it is plausible that Allan Ginsburg, Ezra Pound, Henry Miller, James Baldwin, e. e. cummings, and Katherine Anne Porter may have contributed articles in the past, one would have expected these names to be prominent on the emeritus page, but none of their names are there.

OOC Recipients 08: Rushing to the top

For the most consecutive gold and platinum albums by a rock band, first place is The Beatles, second is The Rolling Stones, and third place is the Canadian group Rush (24 gold, 14 platinum). The members of Rush have worked hard to reproduce their album sound in their concerts, so Rush concerts have been known for having lots of instruments about each musician. They have also made use of digital sampling to fill out their sound.

All three members of the rock band Rush received membership in the OOC in 1996.

NeilPeart_lost_somewhere
Lost: A middle-aged male drummer named Neil Peart. Swallowed alive by his elaborate drum kit, he was never found again.

Neil Peart – Each member has over the years had made the most of their membership by making themselves into multi-instrumentalists. Apart from drums, Peart has in the past included tubular bells, a glockenspiel, and other obscure percussion instruments, both electronic and not. Peart has been voted the greatest performing drummer by fan-zines like Drummerworld, and many fans attend live Rush concerts to hear Neil Peart do a drum solo. He certainly ranks up there with the likes of Ginger Baker and John Bonham. Peart is also the primary lyricist of the trio.

LAS VEGAS - MAY 10: Rush guitarist Alex Lifeson performs at the Mandalay Bay Events Center on May 10, 2008 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The rock trio are touring in support of the album, "Snakes & Arrows." (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images) Original Filename: 81050582.jpg
Alex Lifeson

Alex Lifeson – Alex is the sole remaining founding member of Rush, and possesses the ability to play several kinds of guitars, and on occasion some keyboards. According to Rolling Stone magazine, he ranks among the 100 greatest guitarists of all time, just below Eddie Van Halen and Queen’s Brian May. As for vocals, I could find no indication of  him doing more than backing vocals for the band.

Geddy_Lee
Geddy Lee

Geddy Lee – Bassist and the voice responsible for the band’s signature high-register vocal. He actually possesses three octaves, ranging from baritone, to tenor, and then to alto, reaching into mezzo-sporano. While his vocal styling may have received some criticism, his instrumentation rarely has. Besides bass, he also plays keyboards including synthesizers. He once did a cameo with Bob and Doug MacKenzie on their album Great White North, and the song Take Off was the largest-selling single of Geddy Lee’s career. While Geddy Lee cannot strictly be called a founding member, he joined when the band was 1 month old, and happens to be a high school chum of Lifeson.

In a world where all noise are created equal VI: “Christmas” music

Only 5 days to Christmas, and you need some music. Let me help out …

It’s that time of year again, and here are some musical genres listed at Every Noise at Once that have “Christmas” in the names:

celtic christmas This is a good, Irish-influenced way to hear Xmas music: Clannad, The Chieftans, Enya, …
christian christmas  As opposed to …?
christmas  The standard fare
christmas product  More standard fare
classical christmas Another nice addition to the holiday spirit. Why do you need to hear Burl Ives or Bing Crosby for the bazillionth time anyway?
country christmas Just about any country musician will do. Too many to list: ranging from Tennessee Ernie Ford to Dwight Yoakam.
folk christmas Folk? I am unsure how they justify listing Elton John, Natalie Marchant, and Bruce Springsteen as Folk. I can see Peter Paul and Mary, and Bob Dylan, but Death Cab for Cutie? Really? My favourite Christmas song, “Calling on Mary” by Aimee Mann is listed here. More bluesy than folky, though. Most of the names listed under “Folk” are notable for pop music.
heavy christmas If you want your Christmas tunes sung by bands like Warrant, Dokken, Faster Pussycat, or Ted Nugent, you’ve come to the right place.
indie christmas For those who wish to drink their egg nog to the musical styilngs of Fountains of Wayne, The Dandy Warhols, Ben Folds, Andrew Bird, My Morning Jacket, Weezer, Liz Phair, among many others.
jazz christmas There are all the standard Jazz names there: Chick Corea, David Brubeck, Herbie Hancock, John Scofield, and while Miles Davis is listed, there is no musical sample available of him. Boo!
latin christmas Latino Christmas music, not Christmas in Latin. Both exist. Could confuse people.
pop christmas A near-copy of the Folk genre. In addition, you have Cher, Bowie, Mariah Carey, Backstreet Boys, Carly Simon, and too many more to list.
punk christmas If you would rather kiss under the mistletoe to Blink-182, Jimmy Eat World, or NOFX, then this is the genre for you.
soul christmas Now, wouldn’t it be a good idea to listen to your favourite carols to the vocal stylings of Donny Hathaway, Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross, Chaka Khan, or Gladys Night and the Pips?
world christmas From what I can tell, what is listed here is mostly South American influenced.

In a world where all noise are created equal V: “Black” music …?

Music genres with “Black” in the names …

atmospheric black metal
black death
black metal
black sludge
black thrash
blackgaze
chaotic black metal
dark black metal
depressive black metal
more symphonic black metal
pagan black metal
raw black metal
symphonic black metal
unblack metal

In a world where all noise are created equal IV: names that sound like something else …

If you thought long enough about these names, they would have other (non-musical) connotations. Just sayin’. And yes, there are people who claim these genres really exist.

big room
bouncy house
catstep
charred death
corrosion
deathgrind
deep chill
deep house
deep liquid
experimental psych
fake
fallen angel
full on
funeral doom  If it was my funeral, I wouldn’t care
future garage
goregrind
gothic doom
guidance
hands up
hard alternative  Then, is it worth my while?
hauntology
jerk
lowercase
microhouse
minimal wave
nordic house
power violence
psychobilly
relaxative
rock steady
soda pop According to the samplings, this seems to be torch songs from the late 50s and early 60s.
space rock
steampunk
trapstep
vaporwave

In a world where all noise are created equal III: Absurdly obtuse genre names

Whether due to the fusion of too many genres or names which relegate the band to certain obscurity, these are ones I chose which I cannot even imagine what the sound must be like. To know, the website Every Noise at Once gives sound samples of most bands and genres they list.

alternative new age
ambient psychill  Most of these could just be labelled “techno”
ambient trance
anti-folk
antiviral pop  Pop that will never be viral … ?
crust punk
deep alternative r&b  More “deep” genres
deep happy hardcore
deep filthstep
deep space rock
e6fi From now on, genres will be given serial numbers
fidget house
ghettotech
gothic americana
grim death metal
happy hardcore
hatecore
heavy christmas
martial industrial
mathcore
melodic death metal  For your melodic death
melodic metalcore
necrogrind  Who gets to decide what the difference is between “melodic death metal” and “necrogrind”?
post-post-hardcore
progressive psytrance
progressive uplifting trance
rock noise
technical brutal death metal  For your technical brutality
turntablism  For all those turntablists out there
underground latin hip hop
vocaloid

In a world where all noise are created equal II: Futile Reinvention

Here is a list of names of genres that appear as futile attempts at reinvention of existing genres:

abstract hip hop
chaotic hardcore
brutal deathcore
deep disco Contradiction in terms
deeper house There are a raft of genres preceded by the adjective “deeper” which seem to exist.
disco polo
folk-prog
folk punk
geek folk
geek rock
grave wave A genre that admits that new wave is dead.
hard stoner rock
math pop There are a number of genres that are listed with “nerd” in front of the name, such as “nerdcore”, but this one is new to me. But “pop” implies popularity. Would you play “math pop” to be popular?
math rock
neo metal
neo soul
nu age One of a raft of genres made newer by the placement of “nu” in front of the genre name
post rock
protopunk
scorecore
screamocore
terrorcore
underground pop rap

Samplings and band names are located at Every Noise at Once.

In a world where all noise are created equal I: Genres I know nothing about

The website everynoise.com deals in some way with plotting the musical classification categories of all music that exists (to which they are aware) on their web page. The next few articles form a small sample of the nearly 1500 genres listed. On that website, if you click on a genre, you are given a sound sample. Click again, you are led to another page consisting of band names in that genre. Now, as a former college DJ, I have heard of a lot of these genres, but here is a list I have not heard of at all:

acousmatic
atmospheric post-metal
australian alternative rock
brazilian indie
brutal death metal This is actually one of many genres that are made new by placing the word “brutal” in the genre name.
christian hardcore
christian punk
classic chinese pop
classic peruvian pop
columbus ohio indie
freakbeat
funky breaks
hurban
hyphy
liquid funk
serialism
stomp and whittle
stomp pop
technical death metal Where music goes to technically die, I suppose.
triangle indie
ye ye
yoik

This is the first of a series of lists of strange music genre names listed at the site. For a complete list along with band names and music samplings, visit the site Every Noise at Once.

[Media Monday] The Difficult Listening Moment in Two Words

MacArthur Park.

I didn’t need to say anything else, didn’t I? MacArthur Park is that unlistenable 1968 hit whose only strength lay in the instrumental piece. How often does Jimmy Webb need to remind us that someone left his bloody cake out in the rain, then strech the metaphor until it loses all focus and meaning? But, ah! it’s that 90-second instrumental near the end that rescues it. That 90-second piece often impinges on younger ears as cliche beyond belief. But that is only because this original recording has appeared so often in advertisements, theme songs, and the like in the decades since, that it in fact has become cliche. Stuff like that only happens to really good music (unfortunately). And that 90-second part is so different from the rest of the 7-minute tune that it doesn’t seem to belong. And it’s the orchestration, not the words or the vocalist, that won the Grammy in 1969. For your edification as well as for a bit of nostalgia, here is the 90-second passage in question:

But of course, this is the difficult listening moment, and I’m afraid that wasn’t difficult enough to listen to.  And no, I won’t subject you to Richard Harris’s singing, or even Donna Summer. What I will do is to play for you the Cockney version by The Burtons. The whole thing reeks of Morgan Fisher.

Facts About Canada

I have some things to say in response to Mark Rayner’s article, as personal reflections. BTW, Rayner did the usual good write-up job with these kinds of articles. But you know, I can’t read these kinds of “What is a Canadian” article without making a lot of mental responses. Here are my responses to a selection of his articles.

Gordon LightfootInternational Stars. The Canadian vocalists who obtained international fame which Rayner focuses on are the later stars of the past 20 or so years. One exception is his mention of Joni Mitchell. Contrasting the music of Joni Mitchell or The Band with anything in the past 20 years is interesting. For one thing, raw talent is passed up for what becomes instead a compromise between good looks and talent. Today’s talent are more the product of focus groups than anything. In the past 2 or 3 decades, I doubt that anything will have the same staying power as a song like “Big Yellow Taxi” or “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down”. The only really compelling conclusion is that our music has become more American. I only thank God he didn’t mention Justin Bieber.
Toronto Maple LeafsHockey. My connection with hockey is that my dad drove the Zamboni in Maple Leaf Gardens back in the late 60s/early 70s when rooting for the Leafs actually meant something. Strangely, I was never that much into hockey, and only vaguely know the rules. I also find it obscene that, as of late, the season now goes into mid-June. I don’t know what impression that gives the rest of the world, but trust us you guys, we do have other things to do with our spare time aside from watching or playing hockey. Frankly, since the Leafs are probably now one of the worst teams in the NHL, and have been for decades, I wouldn’t mind if the team got sold to, say, a franchise in Florida or something. Hey, it isn’t that far to go if you want to see them that bad … want to see them lose that bad.