FEATURE: Over/Under-Complex(Complicated): Is Simple Always Best?





ALL PHOTOS (unless credited otherwise): Unsplash

Is Simple Always Best?


I have been listening to a lot of new acts…



come out and talk about their creative process. IDLES’ Joe Talbot was speaking about his songwriting and penning new music - following the band’s lauded debut, Brutalism. That album went down a huge storm with critics and was one of the best-reviewed records of 2017. The guys have enjoyed big gig demands and barely had the chance to take breathe since then! Talbot was speaking to BBC Radio 6 Music about the transition from the album’s release to touring – explaining he has already written the songs for the Bristol band’s sophomore effort. Last year, I investigated the way songs/album are drip-fed to the public. There has been a certain sense of theatre, business and tease for decades: it has got a lot more intense as competition increases and music is launched via streaming services. It happens with new, unsigned artists a lot. They will tease a trailer for a song and then the artwork; a couple of weeks later you get the audio on SoundCloud/Spotify before the video a bit down the line – it is even more painful and slow! I guess it builds hype and demand, but I wonder this: what is wrong with keeping things simple?! That concern and query extend into the music itself. Talbot explained how he had written a set of IDLES songs (for the second record) and scrapped them - feeling they were too complex and not like them at all...


PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

I look at new bands like IDLES and admire their honest approach and direct music. They do succumb (a little) to the staged marketing strategy but they are a lot more ‘conventional’ than a lot of artists. They are keen to get music out there and get it toured. It is not a coincidence the guys resonate and register with critics and fans. The sounds one hears on Brutalism is an unadorned, tinsel-free brand of Punk/Alternative that reminds one of the 1970s regency. There is that swagger from the front and those observational, often witty, lyrics. The band are tight but experimental in their music. The compositions are uniformly excellent and it all sounds incredibly natural – Talbot explained how they often try and nail a song within a few takes. There are other artists taking this thrills-free approach to recording. This dynamic is not reserved to Alternative/Punk bands. Away from the commercial and over-produced Pop artists; there are some incredible examples around. There is talk 2018’s Pop will be a more mature, deep and independent-minded affair – artists less concerned with tropes and following trends. This personal and original take on Pop does not mean slaving over songs and squeezing every ounce of life out of them. A lot of the great hopes for this year – like Sigrid and Billie Eilish – project impactful and memorable music without layers of instrument and synths. Whilst their music flows and has that uncomplicated quality: the promotional angle they take falls back into the needlessly extravagant and planned.


I guess it depends what you look for in music...Some people like music that is crafted and you can hear the work. The same goes for the modern promotional machine: they like the music slowly fed and out in stages. What I tend to find are those artists who produce elaborate and multi-layered songs tend not to stick that long in the mind. It can be a fascinating experience hearing the song – such is the complexity of the thing; I struggle to take it all in and it can be quite a daunting experience. I am noticing more and more artists expend more time on composition, vocals and production. In a competitive and busy age; artists cannot really afford to slip up and, as such, are producing these rich and busy songs. Different people like different things in their but I am becoming more drawn to the songs/artists that have an air of simplicity and ease to them. The same goes for promotional, really. Those musicians who plan a song/album’s release on that week-by-week basis means the consumer has to wait too long and it can be frustrating. Maybe that is harking back to the past and wanting a time that has already elapsed. You can say some of last year’s best albums boasted big productions and a lot of planning – Thundercat’s Drunk and Lorde’s Melodrama – but there is a big demand for music more direct and straightforward.


People want great Punk, Rock and Alternative; they lure after Pop music that has an urgency and gets straight into the mind. Is it getting harder to create the sort of effecting and physical Punk tracks at a time when music is getting more experimental, ornate and ambitious?! Can we ever return to a time when the Pop banger was a simple, three/four-minute gem that had a big chorus, nuance all over the place and hooks everywhere – without having to throw in loads of instruments and make things too over-complicated? I agree there needs to be an examination of how artists are promoting their work and whether we need so many stages – does that take away some of the quality and momentum of a work? Whilst I feel genres like Pop (mainstream) and Punk need to deliver sharp, uncluttered and physical sounds: a few great albums this year have shown how splicing sounds and pushing the envelope results in something fantastic. Many people are tipping Field Music’s Open Here (including me!) to be among this year’s best albums – when the polls come out near the end of the year. The same can be said of Hookworms’ Microshift. The album is gathering huge reviews and shows the band expanding their sound and teasing in new influences. It is a bold and busy album that throws in different colours, ideas and contrasts.


IMAGE CREDIT: Getty Images

Whether you prefer your music sharp and easy to appreciate like IDLES’ Brutalism - or more adventurous like Microshift – you have to make sure it is original and new and provides the listener something inspiring. I, personally, am leaning more towards those stripped-back albums: they are easier to bond with and are remaining in my mind longer. Aside from wonderful exceptions like Open Here and Microshft; the best music, mainstream and underground, is arriving from artists who keep things simpler and direct. I can appreciate those who want to build their sound and try something daring – it can be quite a risk making it pay off and ensuring it appeals to a broad audience. The one thing I do know is how needlessly fiddly and over-scripted releases are. In terms of simple-complex; this argument is a lot easier to settle: keep things basic and easy. If you ladle out a song over the course of weeks and drag an album’s release out forever, it gets really grating and does something to the music itself. I have a lot of respect for the cross-pollinators and complex songwriters but, this year, I want something free from adornment that gets right under the skin and has that bare-boned brilliance. Bands like The Orielles are providing breezy, stunning Indie/Pop that boasts tremendous colour and vibrancy. It is a debate that divides people but I am looking for music that gets its intentions across with as few side dishes and calories as possible. That might sound like a tough challenge - but there are artists out there showing they are more than...


UP to the task.