Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Treat your ears

You may have gathered from previous posts that I'm a bit of a completist, especially when it comes to music. I don't accept that just because fashion's moved on, a musician or group is no longer any good. Conversely though, I do know that inspiration is a mysterious beast - a band which produces an era-defining album might well do nothing that's any good ever again (I'm looking at you, The Stone Roses). Being the right age, meeting the right people, having a perfect range of inspirations and getting enough encouragement all at the same time seems nigh on impossible.

In my teens and twenties, I read the music press avidly. Journalists and bands would talk about 'lost' music all the time: the people who produced an album - or sometimes even a whole lifetime of music - without recognition in their own time, before being idolised by subsequent generations. The bands I read about then were the Incredible String Band, the 13th Floor Elevators, Wire, the West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band, Slint (much more recently), Big Star, Gram Parsons, Lee Hazelwood, Orange Juice, the Velvet Underground, Palace (and all his other names), Galaxie 500… and so many more.

The question is, which are the artists who are unknown or forgotten in our period, but will be cited in hushed tones in twenty or thirty years' time?

I'm going to suggest one: Gorky's Zygotic Mynci. I mention them because I've just received singer Euros Childs' new album, Ends, in the post. Gorky's were a bilingual (Welsh and English) exuberant mix of rock, punk, indie, folk, Bee-Gees and fun. Since they split, most of the band have carried on making music: John Lawrence went off in an electronic direction as Infinity Chimps, Richard James has produced beautiful elegiac work, while Childs has explored pretty much every genre going. As Gorky's, they made lovely, varied music, but the pressure to be 'successful' and justify record label investment clearly weighed heavily on them. I'd love the world to have whistled GZM tracks all day, but they were always a niche interest.

I always wonder what happens to musicians after their moment passes. Do they blame the world, or themselves? Do they sense their powers waning, or curse the fickleness of a system which consumes art and moves on? In the case of Euros and his erstwhile colleagues, I hope it's the latter. Their art hasn't declined, but attention has: Euros even sends out his albums with handwritten personal notes: a lovely touch, but I'd rather he sold too many records to make this possible. Does this happen in other genres? What do unwanted scriptwriters do next? Painters? Composers? I guess they teach…

OK< your nominations? Who will be resurrected in generations to come but remain unappreciated now? I'm going to add Joan As Policewoman, Tindersticks, Felt, The Bitter Springs, I Am Kloot, Will Oldham, Bill Callahan, Laura Cantrell, the Delgados, the Go-Betweens, Mazzy Star, maybe Vic Chesnutt, Julian Cope, Throwing Muses, Stereolab, Low, Mercury Rev, The Phantom Band, Shack, Slowdive (and lots more…)

And who's going to be forgotten? It's tempting to point at Oasis, Belle and Sebastian (I'm talking 'indie' here, obviously), the Charlatans other than as a singles band, the Manics, Spiritualized, Suede…

08 Riverbank by National Elf


Benjamin Judge said...

I think the problem Gorky's had was not a fickle system pulling them down so much as an inability to graft the oddness that made their early records so interesting onto a more popular sound. After Barafundle the quality of their records drops sharply. They made three great records though (Tatay, Bwyd Time, Barafundle) and not many bands can say that.

As for the rest of your list; there is good stuff there but little, apart from Stereolab, that I would want to be seen as signposts for future generations. I'd much rather they listened to Moloko, Prince, Roxy Music, LCD Soundsystem, Hot Chip, Roots Manuva, Outkast, Frank Sinatra, Girls Aloud, Crap dance music in crap nightclubs, machines, traffic, the gossip of schoolgirls, television adverts, film soundtracks, birdsong, the shuffling of the mad and the blind, and the fear and joy in their own hearts. That is where I hope the music of the future is hiding. Not in Felt reissues.

Grumpy Bob said...

I think Suicide were pretty influential, while having fairly unimpressive commercial impact. I bought their first album after reading a review in a HiFi magazine that totally slagged it off - my recollection was that it concluded that anyone who claimed to like it was a 'poseur' (which dates that review somewhat).

How about the good Captain Beefheart?

My crystal ball is too foggy to predict who will be the unheralded influences.

Dan said...

I pretty much agree with Ben about Gorky's - over time they became a very competent yet less interesting band. I'd say the same is true of Super Furry Animals, unfortunately.

I'd like to think that future generations will discover how great Sidi Bou Said were, and wonder why in the mid-'90s music journalists were more interested in conducting yet more interviews with Shed Seven.

Sinéad said...

Warren Zevon

Lucy Griffiths said...

The Futureheads...well named.