13 August, 2008

Darker and Darker (My Love)

Since probably the early nineties popular alternative music has been extremely cyclical. There are definitely creative souls and bands who challenge the status quo - some, even, who have had a modicum of success - but not since the late grunge movement has there really been a new and defining alternative sound for the times. Most bands fall on a spectrum of derivation, and can be elegantly pinpointed as denizens of the recycled sounds of a different era. The Strokes, the Kaiser Chiefs, the Killers all looked to late 1970s glam rock and 1980s post-punk for inspiration. Wolfmother came tumbling fully-formed from the ear of Jimmy Page. Vampire Weekend (with one of the more creative musical recycling projects) seems to be trying to hybridize the sounds of Paul Simon, the Beatles, and Buddy Holly. You know that Amy Winehouse character? She's one talented lady, but her sound is very much a product of her forbears. Now we have two bands who have latched onto the sounds of two particular bands: Jefferson Airplane and the Doors.

Darker My Love is a band from L.A. who channel the heavy psychedelics of the Doors. On "Blue Day" off their new album 2 they buzz and hover with their guitars, while the syncopated drumming pounds the whole concoction into your head. "Northern Soul" off the same album has a wailing guitar intro that sometimes sounds like a distorted bird call (the Flying V is at it again). Consistency and length are two attributes of the songs on 2 that closely tie them to the sounds of the Doors. These attributes are coupled with a dark almost creepy sound that gives way to animated solos. Unfortunately, Darker My Love is not in possession of a front man like Jimmy Morrison. Morrison could channel the energy of the listener into a dark and distorted song, with a charisma that ran through his voice like an electric current. He acted as the translator for a sound that was almost too strange for people to enjoy. Darker My Love has very safe vocalists in their guitar players Tim Preston and Rob Barbato, and their music suffers from that safety. If the band wants to channel the Doors (which they most certainly are doing) then they should also mic the organ/clavinet ramblings of Will Canzoneri in a way that makes them a more prominent part of their music. Ray Manzarek made organ solos extremely cool, why shouldn't Canzoneri do the same?. Unless they're looking to be particularly original, Darker My Love should capitalize on the achievements of their musical forefathers.

Shock Cinema likes their literary references, and they've taken the "White Rabbit" concept to a whole different level. Hell and Highwater begins with reference to a "Leviathan" and ends with the song "Dead Sea". "Leviathan" calls to mind the creature in Melville, with dark and heavy guitar grumbling and mechanical precision; it's a deadly song. "Dead Sea" on the other hand heavily buys into guitar symphonics and mythical language that references the Devil and other familiar characters. They both have aspects of Jefferson Airplane's "White Rabbit" (and other songs like "Embryonic Journey" and "Plastic Fantastic Lover" off of Surrealistic Pillow). There's definitely some hero-worship going on here, because Shock Cinema ***vocalist Autry Fulbright*** (See Edit below) channels Grace Slick throughout Hell and Highwater. Often Destiny Montague's voice isn't as sharp or clear as Slick's, but she has found a nice balance between hard and soft sounds that gives her an added fierceness.

What can you really say about bands that so closely resemble a sound that has had its time in the spotlight? I find myself wanting to compare their music to fanfiction. You know your favorite artist is done creating, but you still want to read or listen to more of their work. What do you do? You can create your own versions of the same song, or you can come up with a sound that's new and fresh. There's nothing bad about Darker My Love or Shock Cinema, they just aren't the same as the real thing and they aren't distancing themselves enough to be genre-defining. These bands are playing to the past; but they can't live up to history, they need to create it.

***This is the kind of mistake that happens when you're writing while tired. Not acceptable, but a little understandable. If you look at the comment below, you will see that Fulbright is actually not the vocalist, but a multi-instrumentalist. Destiny Montague is the vocalist for Shock Cinema. Miyuki Furtado completes the musical trio (who according to Myspace, pull in other artists from time to time). Shock Cinema happens to have an intriguing biography The Legend of Shock Cinema on their website.


Autry said...

While you took great lengths to analyze Shock Cinema's concepts and influences according to your own tastes and opinions, you failed to take the time to correctly identify the vocalist. Destiny Montague is the lead singer of the band. Autry Fulbright is a multi-instrumentalist. When you have such a strong critical view and give wrong information, it puts the validity of your critique in jeopardy.Better luck next time.

Music Snob said...

I am so sorry that I mixed up your names. There's really no excuse for that kind of mistake, and thank you so much for pointing out the mix-up.

If you look at the post, you will see that I edited the review.

Again, I do apologize. I didn't mean the review to be "strongly critical", but just an honest personal assessment of the sounds that I heard.

I hope you (and all of my readers) will read my disclaimer:


Seresecros said...

Pff! Doesn't invalidate your opinion one bit! It doesn't matter at all who does the singing, when you write a music review. You give your verdict on what the music sounds like, then you plug the gaps by naming the people who play each part of the record. Getting one person mixed up for another is a deal, but not a big deal at all. Happens all the time with writing - that's why Q, NME etc. have a correction corner.

This critique is un-in jeopardy.

Musika Lucretia said...

These bands are boring. I think Music Snob is right, get more creative next time and stop imitating the past! Else just write jingles for Cadillac commercials or some shit...