Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Originality vs. Catharsis

In this corner - originality

I saw Sufjan Stevens last night at Sokol auditorium. I won't bother describing the crowd because even the cliches that describe these hipsters have become cliched. Messed up hair, horn-rimmed glasses and tight-fitting t-shirts that reveal their undernourished selves. These are supposed to be the people who where shunned in high school, but strangely enough, at the show - most of the audience did not make eye contact with anyone other than the people they were with or the bartender.

Sufjan Stevens and his band took the stage. If you don't know about Sufjan Stevens, he made possibly the most critically-acclaimed album of the year with Illinoise. The album is beautiful, original and heartfelt. It also has the feeling of indie smugness. You can't judge an album by its cover, but in this case you can - the cover of Illinoise has the following: crudely drawn historical figures, butterflies, a superhero (Superman, but DC has issued a 'cease and desist' order - so the cover with Superman on it is somewhat of a collectors item) and the general layout is reminiscent of a catalog ad you would see in a magazine in the late '50s or early '60s. A typical song title is "Riffs and Variations on a Single Note for Jelly Roll, Earl Hines, Louis Armstrong, Baby Dodds and the King of Swing to Name a Few" (try yelling that out at a show).

The show was good - I stayed until 10:45 and left. The members of the band are known to dress up and act out cheerleader-type skits during their set. It looked like a high school production (which was the point). With lyrics about lost love and John Wayne Gacy, you want to let the album in, but between the cheerleading and the dress up skits, you are kept at bay. Other artists have done this (released theatrical albums with intensely personal lyrics) - the Flaming Lips The Soft Bulletin comes to mind. Still, it's hard to get absorbed in such an intimate moment when you know in moment or two, a dancing bunny may appear onstage.

In this corner ... catharsis
After the show, I popped in the only album I've been listening to for the past month - Twin Cinema by the New Pornographers. It's nowhere near as original as Illinoise, but it's loud, insanely catchy and in some parts, intensely moody. Yes, Sufjan Stevens and Conor Oberst are great songwriters, but after working 11-hour days at a job you don't like, or if you're old enough to experience one of the following: not making ends meet financially, losing a job, family angst (adult-oriented - not your typical teenage angst) - sometimes you want something more immediate. That could be Lucinda Williams's ache, Tool's anger or a loud shout-out of a chorus like "salvation holdout central" from the New Pornographers. With the exception of Tool, these moments may not have the ambitions of an artist like Sufjan Stevens, and when it comes to 'end of the year' albums, I think that it's important to reward originality. But equally as important is to reward bands who are able to provide that valve of release for the listener.

Hopefully, some bands can combine both elements with their albums. Still, as I looked on at the crowd last night, I could only shake my head in caution ... Sleater Kinney are going to eat these folks alive in a few weeks...

Current listening selections...
Sufjan Stevens - Illinoise
Sleater Kinney - The Woods
De La Soul - De La Soul is Dead


At 9:11 AM, Blogger Ogge said...

BTW take a look at this how to stop smoking without pills oriented site.


Post a Comment

<< Home