There is a certain tough yet sentimental style that seems to be emerging among younger semi-popular singers. My daughters listen to a lot of singers who do a wistful acoustic music, full of the loss of childhood, and yet trying for bravery in an almost-hopelessly complex adult world. . . .
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My guess is that this minority cultural mood – not wanting to be taken in by the slick commercialized culture in which we are awash, but not wanting to succumb to a hopeless cynicism either; not wanting to give up on the retrospectively imagined fairytale innocence of childhood but not wanting more than the surface appearance of naiveté – is to young people in their late teens and early twenties what punk was to that age group in the late 70s, or grunge in the early 90s. Not for everybody, not disco, but the lead indicator of the emotional style of a generation’s cultural leaders.
The principal musical examples cited are Coldplay [*sigh* Remember when they were really pretty good? Two albums ago? Before their success? *sigh*] and Damien Rice. There are many others out there.
The gem hidden within the post is the link to the marvelous sad and enchanting video for "Fortress" by the San Diego-based band Pinback. As suggested by the figure of military mien to the left, it resembles the Bayeux tapestry as reimagined by some combination of Tim Burton, Terry Gilliam and the Brothers Quay; I particularly like the little old man with his Balinese shadow-puppet head, casting his seeds from his boat to the shore to explode into bloom. For those who like the song itself (as I do), it is available for free and legal download as an MP3 through the kind auspices of betterPropaganda.
Another good example of the sort of music the Strausslings may be listening to is the Swedish singer Jose Gonzalez. (While born in Sweden, he is of Argentine extraction, which explains his not-particularly-Swedish- sounding moniker.) His sound is shown off to good advantage in this European advert for Sony's Bravia LCD television set, which hypnotically combines innumerable brightly colored bouncy-balls with several of the most steeply inclined hillside streets of San Francisco. The link is drawn from deep within this post from late November at Said the Gramophone. [Note: the regular and extended high-resolution versions of that Sony ad are in the new video-on-your-iPod H.264 format and require the most current version of Quicktime to play.]
Said the Gramophone is also the source at which, for the time being at least, you can hear a quietly astonishing recording of Norway's Nils Økland, soloing on Hardanger fiddle, performing -- channeling, really -- George Harrison's "While My Guitar Gently Weeps". The Beatles were, in our terms, long ago. This song is not quite 40 years old, but in Økland's hands it sounds as if it might as well be 400. There is nothing of Olde Musicke pastiche here -- Økland is responding to this music Right Now -- and yet it emerges sounding as if it were a field recording from, say, Hampton Court in the age of the first Elizabeth. It's winter, it's cold at Hampton, and a slow pavane echoes down the halls, off the flags, into the night, and is gone over the drifting snow. Until now.*
Continuing our drift away from the sort of music Gideon Strauss was talking about, I must mention just one more, also with timelessness nipping about its ankles: Music (for Robots) posts a [presumably authorized] MP3 file of David Thomas Broughton's "Unmarked Grave," an honorable addition to the "I'm dead overseas at the hands of our enemies and singing to you from beyond as the strangers rifle my pockets and the scavengers pick my bones" tradition of British balladry. The details of the battle matter not at all -- it could be the Marne, it could be Culloden, it could be most anywhere at any time. Echo and loss, that's all one needs to know. The M(fR) post is of the complete song, which runs north of eight minutes; a slightly shorter, excerpted version (five minutes plus) is also available [and definitely authorized] at betterPropaganda.
*UPDATE [0902 PST 12/23/05]: A comment has called my attention to the fact that Sean and the other Gramophonistas continue to be plagued by technical problems rendering their earlier-posted files unavailable, including the Nils Økland performance I touted so enthusiastically in this post. Fear not, good readers: for the time being at least, you can access it here in the Forest.