The other day, I was fortunate enough to find myself in a car that was filled entirely with philosophers. Admittedly, this is not so rare as it might seem, when one is at grad school to study philosophy, but I nonetheless jumped at the chance to over-intellectualize the mundane with like-minded colleagues. The topic du jour, as it happened, was music. I had off-handedly mentioned to a friend that an artist he endorsed (Neko Case) had made it onto the college rock Top 10. We began musing wistfully about the musical styling of our youths, lamenting the post-nineties Death of Rock (fuck you very much, Clear Channel and friends.) On a lark, we surfed the radio, looking for music that was both new and aesthetically gratifying.
This was, predictably, a failed endeavor.
As the evening continued, we found ourselves at the Launchpad, Central Avenue’s place-to-be for rock music. For those of you not aquainted with ‘Burque, Central is in actuality the oft-mythologized Route 66, yet it seems to attract predominantly a crowd full of “ballas” and “popped collas;” which in this author’s less than humble opinion are never indicators of a quality establishment. I would like to take a moment here to thank the Launchpad and similar institutions for their efforts in keeping rock alive, despite the fact that Lennon is long dead, and Jagger seems to have mastered the arcane knowledge requisite for lichdom.
Having bitched marginally about the state of contemporary music, I would like to follow the Launchpad’s example by actually conttributing something positive to the scene. To that end, I have contrived a “Recommended Listening” sort of endeavor, that I might use my energies to promote art instead of bantering ad nauseam about its perceived absence.
One of the better headliners I’ve seen at the Launchpad, Ghost is soft enough for the non-metal types, but possesed nonetheless of virtuosity, dynamics, and diversity of instrumentation. The typical rock line-up is still present (guitar, drums, bass, keys), but is augmented by chimes, gongs, woodwinds (sax, clarinet, wierd oriental pan-pipe thingy) and an electric cello. Also, I believe I may have spotted a theremin at one point.
In addition to having more instruments than a small marching band, Ghost plays each of them well and many intricately, easily hurdling the “melody barrier” that bars many modern schlock-rockers from serious musical consideration. Inspired and dynamic song structures combine with these elements to give Ghsot a sound that is recognizably rock and roll, but happily post-modern.
While I will attempt not to inundate readers with selections of metal bands, something must be said for a sound that is heavy enough for the Scandinavian crowd, yet ambient enough for the perpetually stoned. To boot, their lyrical content is far and away more mature than most of their peers’ (for example, their album “Panopticon” deals with the thought of Continetal heavyweight Michel Foucault.)
While the band’s sound could, in this author’s humble opinion, embrace more melody on the whole, they invoke a heavy ambience reminsicient of Tool’s later sound. If you’re intriigued by thematic depth and enjoy minor-key groove (the keboardist is very probably a hippie), this band may just be your panacea.
Hailing from Cleveland, Marc is a Berkleee musician with a visionary approach to softer rock. Combining layers of string-driven polyphony (guitar, piano) with Berklee-caliber singing, Marc’s band Plight of Pious grabs the listener afresh with each new heartbeat, playing with their dreams and their fears in ways both subtle and engaging. The instrumentation is far from static, as timpanis and what I believe to be a bizouki (?) leap unexpectedly into and out of the song structre. Also, the inner socialist in all of us will be delighted by the album’s free-ness at plightofpious.com.
Marc also recently released a solo effort, entitled “Eye.Sea.Land;” a trippier, more acoustic venture in a similar though not identical aesthetic vein. For fans of less abrasive stylings, either (read: both) of these offerings should prove revolutionary.
OK, so I’m 2-2 for metal and ~metal. I bring these musicians into a “secular” list, however, because out of seven songs on their recent album “Watershed,” only twice do they venture into the realm of truly brutaliscious metallizing. For the rest of the piece, they flow easily and effectively between prog, jazz, and a classic rock sound a la Pink Floyd.
While many metal bands are content with the crunching rhythm/indulgent solo appraoch to twin guitar music, Opeth departs from the norm by adopting a classical guitar style, over which the lead melody soars as much as shreds. Keys are also present, leavign the band with a well-rounded wealth of sounds, any of which might be invoked at a moment’s notice as the album flows seemlessly between genres and above the status quo.
Is totally not on this list. I secretly believe that he began his career as a gaoler for the soviet Gulag, and that “Kiss Me Thru The Phone” was relegated to American radio when the Party deemed it too cruel for punitive use.
Redpillneo is a contributing writer for Project Group Think. Get regular updates via Twitter @ username: PGTblog.