Proof of Love

I highly recommend Paul Simon’s new (as of last year) album. It’s an acclaimed hit! It’s thoughtful, lovely music, which is what Paul Simon does best. It reminds us that mastery of gentle rumination should not be overlooked. It may not be the engine that drives popular music, but it’s no small talent. Soothing music isn’t just for coffee shops, y’all. And honestly, if it’s that easy to ignore it’s not soothing, it’s just boring. Soothing means to actively make you feel better, and I think Paul Simon does that. He does that not by being boring or trite, but by being thought provoking (and yes, sometimes still a little angsty.)

Promises

I think I featured this song a couple of years ago, when I first discovered Ryn Weaver. She hasn’t done anything since that time; she is apparently without a record label, despite the moderate success of her first album. Still, I advise everyone to continue patiently keeping an eye on her, because she is amazing. Besides her strength as a writer and performer, she is a very rare thing – a versatile vocalist who doesn’t rely on currently popular tics and mannerisms. We all know that every musical movement/generation has its own specific style, which usually stems from a whole lot of people trying to copy one original trailblazer, on to the point of cliche. Examples; 70’s hard rock singers yowling like Robert Plant, the entire 90’s mumbling like Kurt Cobain, post-Madonna pop stars who can’t actually sing but don’t mind taking their clothes off. Today, the trend seems to be singing at the top of your lungs, presumably the better to reach the back of the stadium. Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Sia, Beyonce, plus a host of less popular names; everyone is belting it out like a Broadway diva. It’s effective but not given to nuance. It’s today’s vocal cliche. Ryn Weaver is a singer who could sing like that, because she has the lungs for it, but she doesn’t. Her vocal performances are all over the map, evoking dozens of  influences, sometimes all in the course of one song. It shows fantastic confidence for an artist fresh out of the nest, so to speak, and I truly hope she’s given the platform to develop and succeed.

Promises

Can we rescue this from soft rock radio cliche oblivion? Or have you heard this in too, too many supermarkets? Also, can we reevaluate Eric Clapton’s legacy? Nobody really thinks he’s God anymore, thankfully. That kind of hyperbole is bound to inspire backlash, and now ‘Clapton is overrated’ is the new ‘Clapton is God.’ I’d say that Clapton falls somewhere in the middle, a bit closer to the former in my opinion. I’ve always considered him a minor artist, but I know that the world thinks he’s a  major one. Though it does seem that having one great blues song and a lot of soft rock hits doesn’t carry as much weight as it used to. But maybe we can enjoy that soft rock for what it is, without spitting on it for over-familiarity.

The Promised Land

Bruce Springsteen is very relevant right now. He’s a major American artist who never tires of reminding us that the American Dream really kind of blows. The dream has been looking particularly hollow lately, and a lot of us are feeling let down and at loose ends. We feel depressed and weak, we feel like we’re driving in circles, living pointless lives with no promise of betterment. Sometimes we secretly hope that a tornado will just come and blow us all away. Yeah, the promised land sucks. But we continue to stubbornly believe in it, because most of us ain’t got nothing better to believe in.

The Promise

Who remembers this song? You may have slow danced to it at your prom, if you were still in high school in the late 80’s, or you may have seen the dance floor grind to a halt when someone requested it at 80’s Nite. Either way, it’s kind of the nadir of 80’s one hit wonders. When In Rome were barely a band back when they were a band, and now the most interesting thing about them is that all three former members are embroiled in lawsuits and counter- lawsuits over who has legal ownership of their name. Because if you had a hit record for a few weeks in 1987, you need every recourse to continue making money from it decades later. In short, it’s a terrible song from a terrible band and you’d never imagine that it could be anything but a terrible footnote in the history of terrible music. Enter Sturgill Simpson. Who is this man with a golden voice who takes a nugget of pure dreck and finds the heartfelt ballad inside? Simpson named his breakout album Metamodern Sounds in Country Music, and that itself is a good introduction to the artist. The idea is that the country music is neither dead nor hostage to flag-waving imbeciles; in the hands of a master, it’s alive and as relevant as anything else out there and it can support whatever ideas you want it to, be it the joy of psychedelic drugs or the joy of mining good songs out of bad production.

 

The Projectionist

ThouShaltNot is not more, but for a little while in the early 2000’s they were keeping 80’s-style goth music alive. I don’t even remember why and how I discovered them, because the keeping goth music alive scene is not really my scene. (The interwebs, obviously, though.) I’m glad I did, and I’ve been listening to them pretty regularly for years. It’s nice to discover something that is in the same vein as the classics everyone and their dog loves but hasn’t been hammered to death by every two-bit DJ in every poorly-lit sleazy nightclub you’ve ever been to.

Progress

Russell and Ron Mael really, really enjoyed the 1980’s. When mindlessly chipper pop songs composed of nothing but pre-programmed electronic boops became the norm, it was  like a goldmine for the brothers’ satire. It also freed them up from pretending that Sparks were ever anything but a duo. Ron was the sardonic mastermind behind the keyboard and Russ was his manic foil. They got so good at doing impressions of the crappy pop stars all around them that at one point Paul McCartney did an impression of them. (See Coming Up video.) The garish design, the bad fashion, the cocaine-fueled optimism, all of the tropes of 80’s pop are so ripe with comic potential. You can hear all of the hot trends of circa 1984 on Sparks’ classic album Pulling Rabbits Out of A Hat. It’s basically a walk through everything neon-colored and stupid on the Top 40, and it’s one of the best albums of the decade.