Monday, January 5, 2009

TVD Weekly Wax | Adrian Borland/The Sound

...aaannd we're back! Happy 2009 everyone!

So, over the hyper-extended break taken here at TVD, there was plenty o' time spent at the neighborhood haunt, the Fox and Hounds. One evening sitting in front of the big window under the neon sign looking out over the patio, my pal John and I got involved in a conversation about graphic design. John's a web design/development instructor at the Corcoran and at Catholic U., and as an Art Director in my 9-5 guise, he had a few questions for me about what I look for in a junior designer's portfolio.

The timing was good for this conversation too as I had hired a very talented junior designer just about a year ago after reviewing literally hundreds of portfolio submissions, at first via an ad posted on craig's list then afterward in person during interviews.

The thing that struck me then that resonated in our conversation was that student and beginning designer's portfolios seem to just lack the basic fundamentals--super solid typography, type and image cohesion, individual flair, and a communications capability. Most seem to be extended classroom exercises at best and very basic stabs at 'just doing it'. Which I understand really...I was there starting from nothing and hoping for the best. Most troubling ultimately though was a basic lack of executing the fundamentals in a professional portfolio...which IS supposed to be your best stuff on display, right?

What seemed to dilute the talent pool we surmised was the computer. We've all got one and with the help of a little design software we're all 'designers' with or without formal instruction or innate talent. Some can get there, some can get close, and it's pretty easy to tell who's got it and who doesn't. The computer seems to say 'yes, you are' as opposed to 'you just haven't earned it yet, baby.'

No surprise then that he topic turned to music and the parallel that can be drawn with the aforementioned. The computer INDEED seems to say 'yes, you are' as opposed to 'you just haven't earned it yet, baby' YET all these young shavers have their on-line MUSIC portfolios on-display, via Myspace, Facebook, Twitter, or any other shortcut subsequently made worse by the plethora of bloggers (ding!) in search of content who, in the end, champion acts that barely merit the title of 'beginner.'

I've seen it over and over again the past year exacerbated by the thin talent base that became the fodder for 'Top Ten Lists' in vogue at the end of December. I hesitate to point fingers or name names cuz we're all sweet this a-way...but catch me at happy hour and you can bet your tits I'll have names and nausea to spare.

So in the coming year, JUST the good shit. Only the acts that somehow have got it (or HAD it) and none of the Gang of Four copyists in reverso skinny jeans and ironic hippy beards peddling half-formed or worse, ill-formed compositions on shiny young auto-tuned kids. Unless they KILL of course. (Our tent is big enough.)

This by the way places a heavy burden on our 'First Date' series which returns full-throttle in '09. Our 'Daily Wax' becomes the 'Weekly Wax' as we veer more toward the artists as opposed to singular releases. FINALLY I plan to get to the hundreds of LP's added to the TVD shelves over the course of '08 that will become our 'From The Vaults' series or something similarly named.

We've got vinyl LP giveaways already lined up and there will be plenty more than last year. We've got ticket giveaways already lined up and there will be plenty more than last year. We're ramping up our overall vinyl news coverage. AND we have our exclusive Record Store Day 2009 news and, we anticipate a major bit of blogging over the course of the year. Your continued indulgence is warmly appreciated.

...which brings me to the very first artist this year and the individual I listened to above all others last year: Adrian Borland and more specifically his band, The Sound.

I've rambled on a bit for one day, so go forward and download the following five from The Sound's live 2-LP set, "In The Hothouse." Close your eyes and imagine this band taking the stage at oh, The Black Cat or The R&R Hotel with this level of energy and passion and song-craft and ask yourselves why we're settling for...oh, ...wait.

I'll keep it sweet.

The Sound - Under You (Mp3)
The Sound - Hothouse (Mp3)
The Sound - Silent Air (Mp3)
The Sound - Monument (Mp3)
The Sound - The Fire (Mp3)

".....the stifling heat of The Marquee is multiplied a thousand fold by that generated by The Sound on stage " -Mat Smith, MELODY MAKER

"If I've seen a more intense gig this year , I'd appreciate being told." -Chris Roberts, SOUNDS


IntangibleArts said...

That erosion of design talent seems generational, to me: Many of us older farts are masters of one medium; print publishing design, or print advertising design or POS large-format design, etc... Seems like nowadays creative houses expect people to be "masters" of all forms (gee thanks, bloody internets) -- So the new pups aren't really "masters" of anything, but are doomed to be mediocre at many things.

I'll stick with print until they finally sack my greying ass, and would probably opt to shine shoes at Union Station rather than go to web design. Bah.

Oh yes; congrats on a successful year at TVD Towers. I was tempted to do a 2008 Top Ten list but really, it's all such hipster jackoffery...

Sal Go said...

Thanks, and long live Vinyl..

I would love to contribute in any way, shape or form.

Anonymous said...

Yes, yes, yes, Pro-tools and all those fancy Final-Cut Express-like progams and and Photo-shop Elements make wanna-be's out of amatuers and auters... We should only let the PROs print and record and edit- 'cause that's what they're best at. The rest of us should stick with what we're good at: working our day-jobs. What horse-crap. What your missing is that the common man is liberated to participate NOT just watch and listen. Jeez, we always have and always will have to discern crap from art- you're complaining cause there's too much bad art? The fact is we're all just inundated with more because of the internet. I trust that you and I both have the intuition and experience to hear a good song, know a good design and designer and know proper photography when we see it. Meanwhile, I can record my songs, edit my photos and design my blog at home without harming anyone. BTW, auto-tune is just a tool- do you know how many takes The Beatles took to nail a vocal? For Christ sakes Strawberry Fields Forever is 2 different takes and was sped up to make it sound "right". Just more manipulation. How "honest" is that?


JON said...

My complaint is not with the tools themselves, but the plethera of average to sub-par being trumpeted as FANTASTIC, AMAZING, etc.

My problem is more about the BLOGS and the 'taste makers' than it is with the artists at any stage of their development.

And I'll remind you that The Beatles could actually SING as opposed to correcting those who simply cannot.

JON said...

Food for thought via Bob Lefsetz:

I'm trying to decide why music is so irrelevant.

In "Outliers", Malcolm Gladwell talks about timing being a key element of success. It wasn't enough to be a Jewish lawyer in Manhattan, Joseph Flom was successful because his practice coincided with the phenomenon of hostile takeovers.

I'll give you a personal example. My father owned a liquor store, but fashioned himself a commercial realtor, an owner and developer of properties. Only one problem, it's hard to be a real estate mogul when you've got no money. That's why he opened a liquor store, to support his mother whose husband had died and left all his money to his first family in Pittsburgh. But suddenly, in the mid-sixties, my father got a call from his friend Maurice Magilnick, an attorney in Bridgeport. Maury told my father that no one knew more about local real estate than he did, and the government was about to do a ton of redevelopment in Southern Connecticut and if my dad became a licensed appraiser, Maury would hire him on his eminent domain cases. My dad went to a summer program at the University of Connecticut. A winter program at the University of Chicago. And finally got his license. And then ended up costing the State of Connecticut so much money that I overheard one attorney general say
they'd have been better off paying my dad a million dollars to go away.

Actually, it's the lawyer who makes all the money in an eminent domain case. One third of the increase beyond the state's offer. My father made attorneys so much money that even the white shoe firms, the anti-semitic firms, hired him. They wanted in on the cash. Under law, my father could only charge a flat fee, but he ended up doing quite well, making the income of a doctor or lawyer himself.

But it wasn't only my dad who benefited from timing. I realize I did too. I was issuing a printed newsletter by subscription every two weeks. Made possible by the desktop publishing revolution, there was still tons of non-writing effort involved, and printing and mailing costs were high. And reaching potential subscribers was difficult. But then came the Internet, and I could reach people all over the world for free.

My father was brilliant. He spent 10,000 hours checking out Southern Connecticut real estate. But he only became successful because he lived through the sixties, when redevelopment burgeoned. If he had been born thirty years earlier, he would have worked in his liquor store until he died. Not quite penniless, but close.

Maybe rock and roll owes its genesis to the baby boomers. A generation that questioned authority, that saw no reason to do it the way their parents had done. People say that the Beatles exploded because the country needed some optimism after the assassination of President Kennedy. Hogwash, I was there. The Beatles were not only talented, they were fresh. Cheeky in a way the Four Seasons and Beach Boys were not. They were not regular entertainment. And although you could eventually see John, Paul, George and Ringo on "Ed Sullivan", you could hear them hour after hour on your transistor radio.

Yes, I believe that's the key to the music explosion of the sixties, cheap, Japanese transistor radios. Every kid wanted one, and eventually got one, just like kids today pray for and get wiis. First you listened to the baseball game, falling asleep with the radio on your dresser, or under your pillow. But they didn't play sports 24/7, eventually you graduated to music. Especially after the Beatles hit.

You did your homework with the transistor on. You rode your bike with your transistor dangling from the handlebars. It was your music. This was not your parents' era, where the family had to sit in front of a piece of furniture and agree on programming. This was yours.

And then the FCC said the same signal could not be broadcast on both the AM and FM bands. Thus we saw the burgeoning of acts from Hendrix to Cream to the Doors. FM allowed you to expand. There were few commercials, no one wanted to buy time. Not at first!

Furthermore, you had to listen to the radio to hear the music. No one could afford to own everything. Music was scarce. Radio stations became ever more powerful. Not only breaking bands, but telling you about concerts. Everybody knew if an act was in town, they heard it on the radio! You couldn't even get a ticket, everybody wanted to go. You had to line up hours before tickets went on sale, just to get in the building.

Eventually corporate rock killed the golden goose. Disco reigned. And then after complete decimation, MTV reared its head and another golden era appeared. With a ton of money for purveyors. Not only was television the best exposure medium extant, you had to buy the album on an overpriced CD.

Then came the boy bands. Kids of the baby boomers got the mania. Furthermore, the Backstreet Boys were good. You may have hated them, clinging to your classic rock, but they had a lot of what the Beatles contained, great voices, very good songs, the only problem being that the material was meaningless, the whole effort was a concoction. Eventually, as a result of this, the phenomenon died.

Oh, Justin Timberlake continued to record. As did Britney Spears. But instead of recording a smash like "I Want It That Way" or "...Baby One More Time", Justin and Britney went rhythmic. They followed the mainstream. The excitement was gone.

And now as a result of the Internet, we've got a zillion acts. All searching for one thing, fame. Well, money too. They all want to make it. They're not escaping poverty and drudgery like the British Invasion acts, rather they're on a lark, before they go to law school, before they go to work on Wall Street. They don't NEED to make it, they're just taking a flier.

And radio was turned into a cash cow, with so many commercials and such bland programming that it was no longer the heartbeat of a nation. The labels tried to hold on to the paradigm of scarcity, by killing Napster, but as a result fans just went on to other, more interesting media. Like video games. Or social networking sites. People were looking for that hit, of daring excitement. Which certainly wasn't in music. And still isn't.

You work in this business, you're passionate about music. But music is far down the line in the public's consciousness. Sports, television, movies, they trump music. Cable saved TV. Maybe Napster could have saved music, then again, cable is a finite universe, with a limited number of channels.

As for the concert business... It's like Broadway. Overpriced spectaculars. As for developing acts, bars don't feature live music the way they once did. There's very little upward mobility. Just classic acts and train-wrecks. Music's power built concert promotion. Now it's the reverse, Live Nation is just trying to make its numbers look good for Wall Street, the institution has trumped the musicians. Just like the head of the label became more important than the act.

Can we ever return to the sixties and early seventies again? Doubtful. But we've got to realize fighting the future is futile. It's the little changes that make the huge difference. Songs at a buck apiece help neither labels nor the scene. In order to grow new acts, their music must be easily acquired, cheaply.

But what are these acts going to say? Give me an endorsement deal? Who am I going to whore myself out to? We loved John Lennon because he was beholden to no one. The acts today are in cahoots with the corporations we despise. Bruce Springsteen does the Super Bowl for the exposure. As if we were all in it together. In the sixties we weren't one big happy family. It was us and them. And we had the music.

Sure, it's always been about the money. But the money wasn't everything. Now it is. And the public knows it.

So right now there's a music business, but it's a sideshow. It's not vital like "Slumdog Millionaire", the deals are more exciting than the tunes. To ask a country to be excited about the musical effort of Axl Rose this far down the line is like trying to fill a stadium by reuniting Joe Montana and Jerry Rice to play against the Giants in the Super Bowl. And isn't it interesting that the Giants feature the wrong Manning. Not the one the press loves, but the working man. Our heroes used to be ignored by the mainstream. Now the first thing the label wants is to sell out to the man.

I can't predict the future. But one thing's for sure, the usual suspects doing it the usual way is never going to bring music back to prominence. I fault Doug Morris and Jimmy Iovine as well as the acts. As for AC/DC's sales... Most of the public could care less. If they want to hear that sound, they'll go back to the thirty year old "Back In Black".

Where is the new "Back In Black"? Something left field, that you thought you didn't like, that blows you away? Music is no longer the only way out of your hometown. It's not the only way to get rich, not the only way to see the world. Sure, music's been around forever, but it blew up because it was the sound of a generation, that not only loved its honesty and experimentation, but had very few entertainment choices.

In order for music to triumph again it must be BETTER than the alternatives. It must demand attention the same way Alice Cooper did. It must test limits, be beholden to no one. And then, just maybe, a technological or societal revolution will transpire and bring it back to prominence.

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JON said...

Fleetwood Mac was an English-based blues band whose manager put a faux version of the act on the road. That's what I remember from "Rolling Stone". It was kind of like a fake Savoy Brown, or another band that gigged incessantly but had never broken through... Who cared?

I'd seen their albums in the bins. How many labels had they been on? Sure, I knew "Oh Well", even "Albatross", but many bands had one or two great tracks. Like Blodwyn Pig. Hell, Blodwyn Pig's tracks were even better! A great English blues band was not solely about the blues, they broke through!

But Fleetwood Mac never did.

Then suddenly, Fleetwood Mac was the biggest band in the world.

Watch this video. It's going to make you feel incredibly good. It's going to give you hope. Gladwell gets a few of the facts fucked up, but they've got nothing to do with his point. Which is that Fleetwood Mac experimented for a decade before they got their sound right. And the companies involved with the act, most especially Mo Ostin's Warner Brothers, were cool with this. They believed, they supported the band and then they finally broke through.

Gladwell posits that the previous 16 records before "Rumours" were not very good. That didn't feel right, but it used to be after every hit record you went out and bought the catalog, and although I love the title track, thinking back on it, "Heroes Are Hard To Find" is not exceptional. And I can listen to "Station Man" off "Kiln House" incessantly, but the rest of the album leaves me cold, it's unnecessary. But put me in a dark room and play "Gold Dust Woman" and I get goosebumps.

Gladwell says there are two kinds of creators. The conceptual and the experimental. A conceptual artist is like Picasso. He gets a vision and executes it, sometimes just that fast. But an experimental artist has to weave his way, to find his greatness. Listening to Gladwell I thought of the Talking Heads. Nothing on the first album made me believe they could come up with anything remotely like their cover of "Take Me To The River". Hearing the track in my mind now, I must say I've never heard that exact sound on any other record. You know, where they're pulling on the guitar strings and each note sounds like the plop of a gumdrop in a giant underground pool. Or maybe it was a synth. Who knows. But it was this sound and the groove and David Byrne's vocal that made the track so infectious, so perfect, such a reworking of a classic that it still sounds fresh every time you listen to it.

Gladwell states that in the modern era, most creators are experimental. They've got to go down blind alleys to get to the crunchy goodness. But today a label will can you after the first single, never mind a whole album. Labels believe that only kids buy records and go to gigs and that youngsters don't want to see old fucks perform, so they latch on to young 'uns with desire, but very little else. And you wonder why the public no longer cares. Because the public can't relate! The music just isn't good enough! Or it satiates someone truly into the scene, but a casual listener is left cold. A great track crosses boundaries, it doesn't matter if you're a fan of the genre. I can't say I love hip-hop, but "Can I Get A..." is one of my absolute favorite downloads. The groove, when the chicks come in and answer, putting Jay down, asking him how he's gonna get around on his bus pass... Kind of like the Beatles. They sounded like nothing that came before, but we were instantly

Watching this video gives me hope. Because like Leonard Cohen sings, everybody knows. That the music business is decrepit, run by fat cats who just want to hold on to their money, purveying evanescent shit that slides right off your back.

You want to make it today?

Be able to sing. Put in a melody. Have a catchy chorus. A bridge would be nice. It's not about revolution so much as evolution. What I've just described is the music of the greatest group of all time, the Beatles. There's nothing wrong with being able to sing on key and being able to play your instrument. And once you've got the basics down, you can truly experiment.

The Beatles didn't create those classics overnight. I've got tons of demos and false starts from the band. They honed their chops and experimented. They had to get it right. And when they did, we responded.

Just like you'll respond to Gladwell's speech here.

You see we're sick of celebutards who've got nothing to say. Somehow, over the course of many speeches, Gladwell has refined his presentation to the point we're hooked. We like wrestling with new ideas. We like being stimulated. It makes us feel alive. The same way listening to those Fleetwood Mac tracks did thirty years ago.

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