Tuesday, May 7, 2013

April 2013 - Popular Music

Bat for Lashes - The Haunted Man
Gomez -  How We Operate
Jars of Clay - Redemption Songs
Roisin Murphy - Ruby Blue

Not a lot of pop music listening this month (the reason for which will be apparent when I complete the post on classical music).  Two of the four albums are 'new'.  Gomez' album was another one of the pop albums I bought last year and put aside (like the Jars of Clay one).  The Bat for Lashes was a genuinely new purchase of an album that only came out last year - the one on the Christmas and birthday shopping list that I didn't receive for Christmas or my birthday, so eventually went out and bought myself.

How We Operate was in fact the first Gomez album I ever heard - or rather some portions of it were the first bits of Gomez music that I heard.  I had come across the name of the band before, but it was a podcast, of all things, that made me more curious in 2006. "Of all things" because the total number of podcasts I've ever listened to can probably still be measured in single digits.

The podcast was from Bob Lefsetz, a person in the American music industry who it seems is somewhat polemical.  The reason I was even listening to any episodes of his podcast had to do with Tori Amos (how surprising), but somehow he got my attention talking about and praising this band that, in his view, had not really played by the usual record company rules. It is perhaps worth noting that How We Operate was their first album after being dropped by a major label.

But I didn't buy the album. The reason I didn't buy it was because a very short time later I was browsing through the local second-hand CD store (which is now, 7 years later, entirely lacking in CDs) and came across a 3-disc set of Gomez' previous three albums.  Issued by their former record company. Nothing guarantees the release of your old material in a cheaper format than leaving the record company. Just ask Radiohead.

I of course took the opportunity to acquire 3 albums from a band I had become interested in at around $20 rather than buy 1 album for that price or more.  But it took a long, long time to really delve into those albums.  The roots of the band are perhaps in blues, but Gomez' music is not entirely straightforward.  More than anything else it is eclectic.  With several singers and songwriters, and also it seems to me an innate musical curiosity, some of their songs can initially sound like they were put together by a slightly mad bird that picked up shiny things in the area.

But the great success of the band is that it works.  The changes of pace and of texture are not, in the end, something totally random.  There is coherent structure behind the aural surprises.  It just took me a while to really grasp this.  Multiply that experience by 3 albums, and the cheap box I found lasted me a long time.

It wasn't until 2011 that I went back and bought Gomez' first album Bring It On, which brought them critical acclaim but which to me (as I've previously mentioned in this blog) lacks some of the controlled skill of the following albums.  And now, finally, I am back at album number 5.  The band itself has progressed to album number 7 in the meantime.

How We Operate is clearly mellower than what went before it.  Reactions to this appear to have varied enormously.  Those that want a band to stay young and brash and vibrant forevermore seem to have moaned that Gomez had started to 'lose it' by now.  I suffer no such desire. I'm not even sure I suffered that kind of desire back when I was a teenager.  Perhaps this is what a classical music education does to you. You realise that music doesn't have to be young and hip and fresh to be good.

I think that How We Operate is good. Frankly it's a bit too early to tell. The whole point with Gomez is that it takes a long time to peel back the layers, and I don't think I'm nearly familiar enough with the album yet to work out how it will stand up to the other albums in the long term.  But I suspect I will enjoy finding out.

So why am I writing this enormous long post about an album I'm not prepared to comment on much?

Because I only listened to 4 pop albums this month. That's why...

...and also, because I've lived with the idea of this album, sitting quietly in the back of my head, for almost 7 years. That's quite a while to be mentally in future possession of an album before finally acquiring and listening to it.  Actually hearing it is a significant marker in my musical journey.


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