Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Instagram rock / Currents versus the concept of "current"

Tiny Mix Tapes's Will Neibergall on Tame Impala

"Instagram used to be strange. Before it became a “social platform,” it was billed as a single-purpose image editing tool, and even now it’s not difficult to remember how the filters (especially “Toaster” and “Kelvin”) were recognizable as poor approximations of what analog photography “looked like.” Instagram became ridiculous. Your parents and grandparents signed up, and the spontaneous aspect of the filters was all but completely forgotten as you saw them applied to so many pictures of meals and sunsets that the unchanging formula became transparent. It’s easy to see how Instagram might have once been useful for assigning affective sensitivity or a warmth of tone to an otherwise unspectacular unit of content, but now each post is a little bit of a parody. The filters have become vulgar to many, who stopped posting altogether or began posting without them. I don’t claim to understand why people want to replicate the aesthetic of instant analog photography well enough to offer criticism, and I’m definitely not elitist or naïve enough to ask that people buy cameras and film to get the “real thing.” Instagram is, to me, evidence of an obvious and banal truth: that if your understanding of the past is reductive or overly simple and you nonetheless attempt to put the past to work, productively organizing the past in the service of reframing the present, what you get is similarly reduced and simplified.
"Tame Impala is the Instagram of rock bands. I often wonder what the mos  tperfect iteration of Tame Impala would be to Kevin Parker or to fans of his music (would he just sound even more like John Lennon?). I know it’s unfair to take a piece of music to imagined logical conclusions — its logic is not necessarily mine, and there’s a reason that Parker released this record instead of literally anything else — but I’ve always felt a little intellectually insulted by Tame Impala albums because they confront me with a logic that really is that simple. As with Instagram, what appears to be the singular affective nuance ends up being a simple formula. Just add a particular guitar tone, lots of phaser and tremolo, and that Lennon affectation to any rock song and you’ve got it."

His final flourish: 

"Maybe music is just a commodity, and the vivid feelings of love and beauty and nostalgia and intensity and heartbreak we feel while listening to it are just capitalism playing surplus-value games with us. Even so, shouldn’t we be discussing an economy of affect in which even the commonest, basest commodity is worth more than the fleeting apathy of an Instagram double-tap? In which creating value requires more than the formulaic application of a filter, endlessly compressing the past into the same fixed signifiers?"
Another take on Tame Impala - with a great big quote from Retromania at the start of it - by Spencer Kornhaber at the Atlantic

"People have worried about nostalgia strangling pop culture for decades, but 2015 might go down as the year it revealed its dastardly plot. The remake and reboot craze that’s long afflicted the movie industry has spread to TV. The biggest book of the year was written about 60 years ago. In music, the mega-smash “Blurred Lines” was legally ruled to be little more than a Marvin Gaye cover, and the credits for the defining track of 2015, “Uptown Funk,” now include five members of the Gap Band for work they did in 1979.

To the extent that Currents is pastiche, it’s pastiche with a point of view, collapsing a few decades of psychedelic sounds into one lovely blur—time starts to sounds like a flat circle, and nostalgia starts to seem like a way of envisioning the future.

"When the album’s the most gobsmacking, which is often, is when the lyrical themes align perfectly with the musical ones. The first example: During an instrumental break in the opening track “Let It Happen,” the music gets stuck. Like, the song starts to skip; it sounds like the CD is scratched or your iTunes is frozen. But then some violins come in and the arrangement rebuilds itself, gorgeously, around the glitchy new groove. It’s a high concept gimmick that’s also moving—here’s reality moving like a stream, getting diverted by some obstacle, and making a new path."

In the past I have rather enjoyed Tame Impala's records, I must admit. Innerspeaker I first heard when my brother played it in his car;  after some mental struggle, I submitted to my enjoyment, wile still witholding my approval.  I remarked to my brother that "It's like they decided that "Paperback Writer' was the zenith of pop, it could not be surpassed, and they just decided to stay there, forever". 

Tame Impala didn't, though -  the next album Lonerism moved a little bit further forward in pop historical time, seemingly to when things got heavier in the late Sixties - well, at least, on this stompy blues-dirgey beauty which vaguely makes me think of I dunno, "Spirit In the Sky".

Only listened to Currents once on Spotify but it seemed unpleasantly denatured sounding to me.

The Tiny Mix Tapes riff about Instagram rock reminded me of something I learned at a party in LA last year. An old friend of my wife's was throwing it - she and her husband are in a psychedelic band that's been going for a couple of decades now.  Got chatting to the husband, who was hanging with some similarly inclined retro-rock types, people into power pop and psych-folk and so forth. Anyway at one point, somebody mentions how you can buy an app - pretty certain he used the word 'app', it might have been software, but 'app' is what sticks in my memory and it definitely added to the surprise effect of what he told me - that you can buy an app that will allow you to coat your home-recorded songs with the characteristic feel and vibe of the Abbey Road studio circa1965.  And moreover, there are separate apps for Abbey Road circa 1966, Abbey Road circa 1967, and so on. The palette of sounds that the studio technicians had provided for the Beatles at each stage of their developments -  the drum sounds and Leslie Rotary Speaker effects and phasing etc  --  can be applied to your music,  just like that.  Very much like an Instagram filter. That blew my mind, I must say. 

Always thought that retro in music was like enjoying the benefits of past breakthroughs without the aesthetic / conceptual effort or risk expended by the original innovators. But at least there seemed to be some work involved, in the craft of actually recreating those sounds. All the trouble that Todd Rundgren had to go to when he did his Beatles replicas on Faithful, for instance. But gradually that element - the artisanal graft, which must instill a workman's pride if nothing else, the pride felt by the reproduction antique maker or art forger  - that too has been whittled away. If these instant-1966 apps actually do exist, it's been whittled to zero.  



  2. Oh right - not apps, plug-ins:

    "Developed in association with Abbey Road Studios, Waves’ Abbey Road Collection features a lineup of exquisite plugins that meticulously model the fabled studios’ legendary microphones, consoles, tape machines and signature effects, as heard on countless historic recordings and pop masterpieces.

    The Abbey Road Collection includes the acclaimed REDD consoles, RS56 Passive EQ (‘the Curve Bender’) and J37 Tape, as well as the vintage King’s Microphones and the pioneering Reel ADT."

    $900 bucks for the set.

  3. "Plug-ins are for lamers!"

  4. Eli Bingham popped to say of the Abbey Road Collection:

    "This is by no means an "app" - it's a set of professional (and expensive!) plugins for ProTools. These are like building blocks that have to applied to mix sessions and painstakingly setup and configured, and tuned by trained ears to produce the desired results. Only a professional engineer is realistically going to get great results using plugins like this.Some of your point probably still stands, but this is not the Instagram of music."

  5. Well, if you leave only the presets on any mastering software you might end with some kind of instagram of sound... and that's very much what Softube did recently:

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