Are People Strange?
ALL PHOTOS: Unsplash
How the Industry Benefits From Artists Who Are a Bit ‘Out There’
IF you are the kind of person who licks windows…
and eats dog food for its taste; you’d probably be a bit short-changed looking out at the music landscape - hoping to find something that strikes the ear and makes sense. What bugs me is, among all the progression and evolution in music, there are few artists working on the fringes; those who push the envelope and provide some proper-odd music. I am not saying they need to be as peculiar as, say Captain Beefheart, or some wigged-out Psychedelic band. What I mean is, when you are faced with a blank page and the prospect of an album – what is the harm in doing something a little unusual and adding some strange spice to the pot?! I feel there is too much ordinary music and predictable steps being made right now. The reason I have written this piece is because of two current artists/albums – from Let’s Eat Grandma and Jack White – show what can happen when you tease a bit of acid into the cuisine. White’s latest album, Boarding House Reach, has been receiving some good reviews. There are some that have been a little lukewarm regarding his latest effort. One of the biggest concerns – regarding his latest album – is the lack of real punch and epic riffs…the kind we are used to hearing from the former White Stripes lead. What has made an impact is how he has strayed far from the ordinary and produced an album with weird tics, movements and sounds.
Like some weird loner holed up in a woodland shack; Jack White took his four-track and box-set of Keeping Up Appearances and started the wood carvings of Boarding House Reach. Among the howling wolves and blowing wind was a stream of consciousness that led to some brilliant recordings. Why Walk Like a Dog? has spacey organs and electronics; its muted vocals and shadowy tones show the U.S. musician has lost none of his mystique and eccentricity. Abulia and Akrasia features a rousing speech set against cascading piano notes and aching strings; Hypermisophoniac and Get in the Mind Shaft definitely depart from your normal Rock/Alternative album. There are some softer, more conventional offerings on the record – the fact the album is taking a while to capture all critics is the way White has gone a bit bananas. I have listened to him in interviews lately and the man is his usual warm, funny and fascinating self. Going against the more restrained – for him, anyway – offerings; he has released an album that takes you by the knackers and trips the mind. The album is not an out-and-out weirdo: it has some odd edges and subverts any expectations we had. I wonder whether, in a time like this, we need to be a bit more open-minded and supportive of those artists who go beyond the obvious and take music in new directions.
There are other modern artists, like King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard who produce music that definitely does not look at sell-by dates and your ‘best before’ labels. They drink from the toilet and juggle beer cans in the park. Whilst those images might provoke a lunatic or derelict; modern inventors and provocative artists show where music can head. Maybe Jack White’s third solo outing has some loose flaps and unfocused numbers. It is when he opens the taps and lets his imagination fly that we get the biggest and boldest sensations. Even though critics have been ambivalent towards his new effort; those who have praised it highly signal out his weirdness and experimentation as a major bonus! Another act doing something different is Let’s Eat Grandma. They have very little common with the American icon. Instead; here are two British friends, Rosa Walton and Jenny Hollingworth. Their 2016 album, I, Gemini, impressed critics and launched the teenage songwriter to the world. Let’s Eat Grandma’s newest track, Falling Into Me, shows what we can expect from their forthcoming album, I’m All Ears (out on 29th June). The song, for them, is more controlled and safe: the previous single, Hot Pink, is a right-out-there barker that, happily, recalls their debut album. The duo match fizzing, violent and eerie tracks with something more accessible and digestible.
One can argue an artist like Kate Bush or Björk – when they arrived in the 1970s and 1990s, respectively – were the equivalents of Let’s Eat Grandma and King Gizzard’. Jack White, although he has been releasing music since the 1990s has increased his cosmic horizons and is exploring sound and texture in new ways. Let’s Eat Grandma are not an art project or something you might expect to see on a John Lennon and Yoko Ono album – weird effects, tape sounds and random howling. Let’s Eat Grandma are a wonderful act who might face a challenge: getting widespread acceptance and appreciation. They have a lot of fans already: getting further out there and resonating with wider markets might take a bit more time. I feel one of the reasons there are not more artists out there like the aforementioned is because music is still, in 2018, too tame and limited. There are innovative and brash artists but, even at their most outrageous and daring; I still find myself wandering off half-way through things. The reason the innovators and legendary ‘kooks’ like Kate Bush created such a stir is that they were not the same as everyone else. I am not suggesting artists need to lose their minds and provide an acid trip to the listeners. The reason I am so captivated by those who do not colour between the lines is (because it) is the antithesis of the bland and formulaic mainstream act. I have a lot of time for popular music but it is nice to get out of the routine and discover something a little unusual.
One-off songs like Frontier Psychiatrist (The Avalanches) have dropped in the world and stunned people. We did not know what to make of that song and yet, years after its release (it was part of the 2000 album, Since I Left You); it is a song people gravitate towards and love. I wonder whether we need to stop being so restrictive with music and push boundaries more. There are more artists – than I have mentioned – who splice genres and take gambles; subsume predictions and take the brain somewhere else. Whether an artist rewinds a tape and splices in a spoken word piece; they distort the voice or create a multi-part suite – I long to hear something that thumbs its nose at the three-minute, suitable-for-radio jam. You do not have to alienate people to be seen as alien. By that; I mean you can create wonder and curiosity by slightly tweaking the ordinary. Jack White’s current album is relatable and resonates with those who have followed its career. What it does do is add a little bit of oddity to his palette and is definitely not, in any sense, boring. A complete overhaul and redefinition of modern music is not the answer to the problem. Having everyone doing the same thing – a little strangeness to the agenda – would create a similar issue. Freakier, unusual artists might, on paper, seem like a hard prospect to love.
I would object to huge waves of out-there artists coming into music and washing over what is already here. What I DO want is more of the artists working in the underground – that have those peculiar embers and inventive songs – get more focus and embrace. Maybe it is a case of the odd kid in school being isolated in the playground. I don’t think modern music is that clique-obsessed and ignorant: there are plenty of mainstream and popular acts capable of enticing with a sense of the strange. What I have noticed is a scene where there are too many same-sounding and restricted ambitions. It is nice having artists who do not care about fitting in with the rules and following the pack. Maybe there are some sound-pushing, wild artists ready to add a dose of the zonked into a more palatable and acceptable concoction. Most of those artists, from what I hear, are reserved to specialist radio shows or are working in the underground. Perhaps artists like King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard and Let’s Eat Grandma are temporary flashes and rare specimens. I think there is something oddly captivating and attractive about an artist who takes those sort of gambles. I am not in the minority: many people are connecting with songs/musicians who approach things from odd angles. To answer the question posed at the top of this feature, ‘Are People Strange?’; I would say, on the evidence around us, the answer is…
NOT as strange as they should be!