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junk culture
January 19, 2011 5:22 AM   Subscribe

"Pop music is old. Whether you consider it started with jazz, swing or rock and roll in the 50s, it's old. There is nowhere new go to. Seriously! There are new bands who have their own voice and style but in terms of the type of music they're making....it's just recombinations of other historical styles. There is nowhere new to go. There just isn't, I'm sorry to say, and it's not because I'm old." Orchestral Manoeuvres In the Dark's Andy McCluskey on pop music, not getting any respect, and reforming the band. They've got a new album out; the title track (and forthcoming single) "History of Modern" is a jaunty ode to the inevitable death of everyone & everything.

Their current single, "Sister Marie Says", is about a 1994 prophecy that Halley's Comet will crash into Jupiter and begin a new age.

While OMD are no strangers to schmaltzy pop songs about heartbreak, they've released quite a few decidedly odd singles regarding such topics as a telephone box, the bombing of Hiroshima, Genetic Engineering, Joan of Arc, and atheism.
posted by the bricabrac man (43 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
No, it's because he's old.
posted by Drexen at 5:33 AM on January 19, 2011 [5 favorites]


That's no excuse for subjecting the world to Atomic Kitten.
posted by robself at 5:34 AM on January 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


Kids + Lawn
posted by blue_beetle at 5:37 AM on January 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yeah, when I heard OMD in the late 70's, I thought "There it is! The end of pop!"
But here we are, thirty years later.
posted by SPUTNIK at 5:40 AM on January 19, 2011


Gawd, that title track is dreadful... real handbag music. Who the hell chose those choral samples and syrupy strings? I remember OMD from the first time round... there was something deeply sinister and mysterious about them to a 15 yr old. They seem to have traded all of that in for a ticket to the eurodisco (and not the good one where Moroder is hosting).
posted by unSane at 5:41 AM on January 19, 2011


Well, any music that has been overthought to death as much as it seems OMD has overthought their new album has to be great, right?
posted by padraigin at 5:42 AM on January 19, 2011


Novelty is overrated.
posted by Jode at 5:45 AM on January 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


Agree with Drexen. It's cuz he's old. And I know what I'm talking about cuz I'm old
posted by spicynuts at 5:55 AM on January 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


I've been listening to Yeasayer's Odd Blood recently. It's pretty good.
posted by snwod at 6:01 AM on January 19, 2011


Lots of Tchaikovsky is pop music.
posted by Burhanistan at 6:06 AM on January 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Rubbish. I prefer "Pop Will Eat Itself"
posted by iotic at 6:13 AM on January 19, 2011


I recently listened to a pretty long course in music appreciation, so obviously I'm now an expert.

</sarcasm>

One thing I learned from the course is that pop music tends to be primarily about rhythm over melody, intent, etc. It's very formulaic, even when it varies. It basically descends from folks like Debussy and Schoenberg, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and others who discarded melodic and harmonic structures in service to an overall mood. Musicians added major rhythm by adding a drum kit to the mix, and BOOM jazz was born, and hence rock, r&b, etc.

So, having said that, I feel there's a lot to be gained by reviving some of the ideas found in music from folks like Vivaldi, Mozart, Haydn, involving melody, harmony, etc. There was a quote from, I think, Debussy, where he insists that the musicianship of folks like Mozart, that was handed down over the generations from folks like Pythagoras (who figured out the math behind the octive), was dated. I think pop music could be well served.

Then again, I don't listen to a lot of pop music, so perhaps it's not as talentless and formulaic as I assume.
posted by taumeson at 6:27 AM on January 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


So what if it is a recombination of something? It's still new. Reminds me of that Pachelbel rant thing that annoys me but people seem to like. "Oh this is song is the same chords as that song. They are exactly the same. Why even bother making the new song?". Um, NO, its NOT the same song at ALL.
posted by solmyjuice at 6:30 AM on January 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


also, everything that's going to be invented has already been invented and we should just give up.
posted by xbonesgt at 6:31 AM on January 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Lyrics are just recombining the words in the dictionary. Music is just recombining the same 12 notes.
posted by Ironmouth at 6:41 AM on January 19, 2011


Perhaps OMD haven't got as much recognition as we deserved for our output in the 80's.

Hark, the plaintive cry of all has-been's, everywhere.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 6:49 AM on January 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


Pop isn't a genre. It's an approach to structure. For certain types of storytelling, it's rather ideal. The sonnet is a pretty old form too, but I suspect there might be life in it yet.

Micachu and the Shapes are working within a pop songwriting structure, but I'd say they've been pretty successful at going someplace new.
posted by Astro Zombie at 6:50 AM on January 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


That's some high-flown cogitatin' from someone best known for his vocal performance on the Pretty in Pink soundtrack.
posted by Joe Beese at 6:51 AM on January 19, 2011 [3 favorites]


There is nowhere new to go.

there's a whole world of xenharmonics and microtonality that's barely been looked at, much less explored

Music is just recombining the same 12 notes.

not when you put 17 or 19 notes in an octave - or forget about octaves and create a new division of x notes in an octave and a half

i think in 50 years that's what popular music will be - and when you're 70, you will have the pleasure of cranking at younger generations and saying, "that's not music - it's not even in TUNE - now get off my nanolawn!"
posted by pyramid termite at 6:53 AM on January 19, 2011 [3 favorites]


when you're 70, you will have the pleasure of cranking at younger generations and saying, "that's not music - it's not even in TUNE - now get off my nanolawn

I heard some Slayer last night and starting banging my head - though that is a cautious "ow, my neck" sort of affair these days. And I wondered if I would still be listening to them in my nursing home, my dentures sliding around in my mouth as I tell the orderly, "You kids don't know what real metal is."
posted by Joe Beese at 7:00 AM on January 19, 2011


Around the turn of the last century, physicists were absolutely certain that all the hard work had been done, and that they were just wrapping up the details. A few years later, Einstein started publishing.
posted by steambadger at 7:06 AM on January 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


They seem to have traded all of that in for a ticket to the eurodisco (and not the good one where Moroder is hosting).

They did this 25 years ago, around the time of "(Forever) Live and Die." The haters should take a listen to their earlier stuff -- Dazzle Ships, just an example -- rather than snarking about "If You Leave" and their other disposable 80s tunes. I speak as a former hater.

As far as McCluskey's claim that there's nowhere new to go, I often think that too, because it's an easy thing to feel, and then I remember some of the recent music I've listened to that sounds completely of its own genus and I have to say "Nonsense." Anyway, reading his full post is worth it. He does have some good points to make about the shifts in musical taste over the years, and he also inserts a healthy dose of self-mockery as well, which is something that's all too rare among today's musical wunderkinder.
posted by blucevalo at 7:14 AM on January 19, 2011


pyramid you are correct - but indeed, there is nowhere 'new' to go, much, using the same combinations and structures that have been used previously with the '12 notes'. A lot of Indian musics do use melodic lines that utilize microtones, and have for a long time, but harmonically they are generally ultra simple.

Imho, to me, 'pop' music is not supposed to be about what's popular - to me it's about what's catchy and having a melodic hook, that you can hum along to and remember after only a listen or two... although that's obviously not the case with a ton of things that have become popular. I am really itching to see who the first folks to come along and get really well known for using a different scale system in the U.S. will be. Now would not be a bad time?
posted by bitterkitten at 7:24 AM on January 19, 2011


Nothing is truly original. This is true of all art, but it's a feature, not a bug.
posted by jnrussell at 8:07 AM on January 19, 2011


They did this 25 years ago, around the time of "(Forever) Live and Die." The haters should take a listen to their earlier stuff -- Dazzle Ships, just an example -- rather than snarking about "If You Leave" and their other disposable 80s tunes. I speak as a former hater.

Agreed. Junk Culture and everything before it really deserves a listen, especially for fans of Kraftwerk.
posted by TrialByMedia at 8:11 AM on January 19, 2011


The primary colors are so tired. More mauve.
posted by nickjadlowe at 8:13 AM on January 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


I thought pop music was dead-ish, until Kutiman constructed music out of random Youtube samples.

Whoever beats that for sheer skill and cultural statement will be the next thing.
posted by anthill at 8:22 AM on January 19, 2011


The haters should take a listen to their earlier stuff -- Dazzle Ships, just an example

Dazzle Ships is indeed awesome. Blew my little teenage mind. Though my favorite track is still "Time Zones" which is just short wave radio recordings of time announcements ("at the tone, the time will be...") in multiple languages, synced up.
posted by dnash at 8:29 AM on January 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Agree that microtonal stuff has not been done much, but genuine question - wouldn't people like Glenn Branca, John Zorn and Sonic Youth (and countless other lesser known acts, I'm sure) show that there's been exploration of it within pop music as far back as the early 80s?
posted by naju at 8:31 AM on January 19, 2011


Pop music is old. Whether you consider it started with jazz, swing or rock and roll in the 50s, it's old.

What a myopic moron, pop music is far older than jazz. What does he think stuff like Beowulf are, chamber music? And there is just as far to go in the future as 80s synth-shit is from highland flings, Irish drinking songs, and sea shanties.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 9:39 AM on January 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


At the start of the eighties, OMD were in nonstop circulation on all my carefully mixed cassettes, primarily because they sang songs that sounded like it felt to be me, there and then, a protoqueer fresh out of special education in '81 and stuck in a strange experimental pilot school with orange carpet and beanbag chairs everywhere. They sang songs that sounded like it sounded inside my head when I was by myself, plaintive, yearning songs they made with machines that made me feel like someone else in the whole entire universe might understand why I was always caught in the half-light between being lonesome and being overwhelmed with how amazing the world could be.

I could hardly understand a word they were saying, but you'd get lines and snippets out of it, and, as finer musical minds than mine have theorized, with pop music, it doesn't matter what the songs say—it only matters what you think they say.

It was a time when we were either going to be living in the world of the future soon, or be vaporized by Ronald Reagan's fucking rocketships full of fiery death, and their sound was clinical, cold, and distant, and warm, ethereal, and magical all at once. This was the real power of the synthesizer, once it stopped being primarily a novelty instrument, played for blippy bleeps and blops as a seasoning to the repetitive funk of session players on the clock, and the sound was a world in itself.

I read a line from another idol, Holger Czukay, back in the day, in which he said that "learning to play an instrument was learning to lie," and the freshness of OMD's early music embodied some of that, where they were working with hand-me-downs, old monstrosities, and workarounds, building their music with the tools they had at hand. When they found a little success, or at least enough to buy themselves a Fairlight, which let them streamline and clarify and refine their sound until they didn't really sound like anything, anymore.

It's okay for old pioneers to settle into comfort. Eno's not done anything properly groundbreaking in twenty years, and Czukay's become a sort of beloved, but embarrassing, German uncle, miming maladroitly on stage, and we're just lucky that the Beatles broke up before they turned into something we'd regret, or catalogue in phases in our brains, the way you do. Being constantly raw and new and fresh isn't always better than something a little familiar and cloying, played out with the wisdom of time gone by. Mature, sedate pop can be a lovely thing.

The hoary complaint that there's nothing new left in the world is just bullshit, though.

OMD can't do new pop, not because they're not clever enough, but rather because they're not new to music. The newness appears in that energy of discovery, for the maker and the listener both, and it's not about a new sound, or a new idea, or even a new fusion of things—it's how you feel in the process of consumption or production. I'd had a long, gloomy period of feeling like music was just all sort of used up for me, having been making it myself for decades and drowning in the excess that mp3 collecting encourages, and I started going in these new weird directions. Bossa nova music, for one. There's really nothing new in bossa nova, but it just feels fresh and joyous for me, because I know so little about it. Eventually, it'll all stop being wild and fresh and will settle into that comfy familiar place, and that's okay, too. There's always Astor Piazzola, or Russian funk, or gay Rai, or something else.

There will always be new ears for old music, making new joy out of discovery. Alienated teenyboppers will find Porgy & Bess and flip out about the raw unfamiliarity of it, and quirky loners will pick up some odd, largely ignored instrument and forge their own voice. The jaded will roll their eyes, lamenting their own loss of that rush of expanding feeling that comes with discovery by saying that nothing is ever new or original, and still people will make amazing times when they could just surrender to the expected and ordinary.

I had Dan Deacon and Jimmy Joe Roche come and play on the roof of my clock tower last year, and, as the electronic notes went rolling out over the streets of Baltimore, I felt that old man roiling up in me, rising up with his rake in hand.

Is this music terrible? It's just like something I was doing years ago!

I feel out of place with these kids now, halfway wanting to join in and play along and halfway feeling like the smug cynic we all get to be when it seems like the world's nowhere near as cool as it was when we were young. I stand on the spiral stairs that lead up into the Tippi Hedren room of the tower, just watching, and it doesn't matter if it seems completely new to me. I'm not immersed in that timeline, and it's not for me, but it's still new and raw and powerful. Where they're strong, though, is in how they don't think too much about what they're doing, and don't think in terms of how history will remember them, and that's where the very best of pop is—hanging in the void just outside of the overthought, underwrought universe where we too often settle in for the long sleep of the willfully damned.

It isn't new, and it is. I jump in at the last minute, taking up Dan's invitation to join in, plug my little handheld music machine into an amp, and make some noise.

Fashion dies very young, so we must forgive it everything - Jean Cocteau
posted by sonascope at 10:33 AM on January 19, 2011 [10 favorites]


I heard some Slayer last night and starting banging my head - though that is a cautious "ow, my neck" sort of affair these days. And I wondered if I would still be listening to them in my nursing home, my dentures sliding around in my mouth as I tell the orderly, "You kids don't know what real metal is."

There's still a shit-ton of great underground death/black/thrash/heavy metal out there... it's just not popular the way Slayer once was. I suspect the same goes for most genres, including pop.

And yeah, I fully intend to be a heavy metal grandma. Why the hell not?
posted by vorfeed at 10:44 AM on January 19, 2011


80s synth-shit is from highland flings, Irish drinking songs, and sea shanties.

Which is to say, not that far.

Personally, I think it's good to have this idea on the table. It's not quite true that there's nothing new under the sun, and novelty can mean a lot from a personal perspective and even in certain culture-wide moments. But there's little true novelty in art, when it does happen it's only rarely more than marginal, and it usually makes less of a contribution than good general execution. Its pursuit is overrated, though less so than its use as currency.
posted by weston at 11:15 AM on January 19, 2011


Anyone who thinks that there is nowhere new to go is seriously underestimating human creativity. Or maybe a better way to put it is that they are conflating their own lack of creativity with that of the human race.

And I also have to say that it is pretty unlikely that microtonality will break into the mainstream in our lifetimes. I could see a continuing shift in the tonal system which allows for more 'in-between' notes. Although auto-tune seems to be pushing in the other direction, maybe it is creating a situation where there will be a backlash away from perfect tempered tuning.
posted by ianhattwick at 11:15 AM on January 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


On the microtonality front, there has unfortunately been a big step backwards in instruments that can actually be retuned. Around '90 or thereabouts, all sorts of manufacturers were building instruments with open tuning tables, but that heyday seems to have been forgotten and most current keyboards or software instruments either don't provide that capability or only offer a few preset tunings. There's always Csound and such for the more academic among us, but easy access to tunings for less formally trained musicians seems to have failed in the marketplace.

Too bad, too. Beauty in the Beast is one of the real high points of music in the 1980s.
posted by sonascope at 12:25 PM on January 19, 2011


And it is very characteristic both of my then state, and of the general tone of my mind at this period of my life, that I was seriously tormented by the thought of the exhaustibility of musical combinations. The octave consists only of five tones and two semi-tones, which can be put together in only a limited number of ways, of which but a small proportion are beautiful: most of these, it seemed to me, must have been already discovered, and there could not be room for a long succession of Mozarts and Webers, to strike out, as these had done, entirely new and surpassingly rich veins of musical beauty. This source of anxiety may, perhaps, be thought to resemble that of the philosophers of Laputa, who feared lest the sun should be burnt out.

-from the autobiography of John Stuart Mill, 1873
posted by Wemmick at 1:00 PM on January 19, 2011


There's always somewhere new to go.
posted by hellbient at 1:27 PM on January 19, 2011


> There's always somewhere new to go.

I've been hearing this for a very long time on Metafilter, and yet nothing really new has emerged - we get all sorts of hybrids or retro-rediscoveries like chiptunes.

I don't think there's anything wrong with music being a mature field - let's call a spade a spade here, that's what's really happened.

I'm somewhat older, I think, than your average Mefi-ite, and I distinctly remember the first time I heard a synthesizer, the first time I heard a sampler, and that sort of thing. Sgt. Pepper's was for me and I'll bet a million other people the first time I heard Indian classical music, and I still remember the visceral shock the first time I heard a gamelan and understood where Cage had gotten his ideas.

There aren't any reservoirs of ethnical traditions that haven't been exposed to the world. We literally live in a time where a talented teenager could earn enough money with a paper route to buy enough equipment to be able to synthesize any conceivable sound.

Now, there's nothing wrong with a field being mature! And it doesn't mean that there aren't somewhat new things to be done, or that doing music isn't worthwhile - it simply means that there aren't large areas of undiscovered territory remaining.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 5:48 PM on January 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


The fourth paragraph got edited out :-( which said something like:

"While there will always be diverting music, and while each individual will get the thrill of discovering each new aspect of music for the first time, as a culture we will never again see the explosion of new sounds we experienced from between about 1900 and 1975."
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 5:51 PM on January 19, 2011


I'd have to disagree about whether there are large areas of undiscovered territory left, at least regarding synthesis. The notion that synthesizers are able to create any conceivable sound is an old one, but isn't really true, partly because of market forces. 99% of instruments in use out there are stuck in the tired old Minimoog mode, with simple oscillators feeding lowpass filters, then running through envelope-controlled VCAs or their digital equivalents. People cried out for control, but they're happy just to twist the cutoff frequency knob and settle for the familiar zzwhishoosh of a filter sweep. If they feel sophisticated, they'll fool around with granular synthesis and jittery sample manipulation.

Thing is, there's matrix modulation out there. It's a shadow of its former self, with the rise of the retrodinosynth, but it's out there. For a couple hundred bucks, you can buy a Morpheus or an unloved Audity 2000 with a stack of virtual patchcords and filter modes beyond the dreams of the earliest synthesists. For a couple hundred more, you can get a Nord Micro Modular, which is a virtual roomful of modular synth in a little red box. For nothing, you can get PD or Csound. There's a universe of possibility in any of those instruments, but if you sit and watch any of hundreds of youtube videos demonstrating them in action, they're very rarely doing anything more than Minimoog music, after all this time.

I shake my head at that, but it's a cause for optimism, too. The old sounds are as worn and comfortable as the tones from an acoustic guitar, but when the will or the market arrives, the weary promise of "any sound you can imagine" is finally, actually out there. Kids just need to get bored with their retro, their revivals, their chiptunes and the bweep-bwhomp of virtual analog copies of copies of copies and start patching virtual cables together, asking "what would happen if I..." in the way that Jimi Hendrix would do the same with his guitar, unaware or indifferent to the common knowledge that that's just not how to play that.

The old new was the unheard-of, the novel, and the absurd. The new new is likely to be the same thing, but played out in texture, and in tuning, and in control, and in the departure from the comfort of the same old sounds that work because they're the safe bet. We've had a decade of living in a culture of fear and paranoia, where comfort food becomes the norm, but the tools are out there, and soon the will is going to be out there, too, after the millionth chiptune show or the billionth trance anthem or the next Bieber or Gaga or Jay-Z.

Sitting on my lap here, being used as a glorified typewriter, I have more recording technology and more musical instruments than the Beatles ever had at the height of their wealth, popularity, and creative acumen. I'm not the guy who's going to make that amazing leap. I'm 42, limited in the dimensions of my electronic virtuosity, and happy sometimes to allude to some of the sounds that brought me here while being nowhere near sophisticated enough to properly embrace the others. I'm happy enough to have a dark, quiet room and a few people to share a moment as I make my little pools of sound.

The potential exists, though, and I know it's untapped, and waiting for someone to come along and realize that there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to attaching modules to other modules. There just needs to be that will, and I think it's boiling up from the horizon, just beyond the sunny nothingness of the same old things. The familiar has been a comfort to a lot of people, and especially to a lot of bean counters, but their day is just about done. There are still revolutions to be had.

The best way to complain is to make things. - James Murphy
posted by sonascope at 4:13 AM on January 20, 2011


I have to say, I agree with him, and it's not just because I'm old either.

If you think we're wrong I defy you to prove it. Link me to any recent pop music that does not fit his description. I have listened to pop music all my life and it honestly seems to have finally eaten itself. I haven't heard anything even slightly new or thrilling in pop this millennium.
posted by Decani at 6:08 AM on January 20, 2011


Oh, and yeah, OMD were very interesting in their earliest years.
posted by Decani at 6:10 AM on January 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


as a culture we will never again see the explosion of new sounds we experienced from between about 1900 and 1975

And so fucking what? I can't go to a record store and scour old records for something made between 1900 and 1975 that I've never heard before and yet will kick my ass? There are warehouses full of fantastic old vinyl turning to dust while we have to sit and whine that no body can ever make a new album that is as awesome as some of those in the warehouse? Just go out and find what floats your boat!
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 5:48 AM on January 21, 2011


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