Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Lamenting a Lack of the Eclectic; A Preface to a Record-Review.

I never would have thought, prior to leaving Arizona, that I would be spending a clear and cold New England winter evening sitting on a spot on the bank of Manchester’s Lake Massabesic familiar to me for mostly forgotten reasons from years past, lamenting the local lack of certain types of musical acts that I had taken a bit for granted for the time that I was in Phoenix.

To be rather blunt, some conversations with varied musician-acquaintances in New England since my return have not proven terribly optimistic. It seems that the musical situation in these parts has stagnated quite drastically; for all my digging around to see what’s new and what various players are up to, it seems that nearly every act falls into one of three categories, none of which I can seem to get particularly excited about.

There’s a peculiar sort of distinctly “American” (*cough* redneck) shout “metal” that doesn’t seem to exist to the same extent anywhere besides here. This sort of thing is mostly perpetrated, apparently, by musicians who were playing in bands heavily influenced by Korn and The Deftones back when that sort of thing was viable, and, in an act of collective panic when nu-metal proved outmoded, added a dose of influence from Slayer and Pantera for the sake of “credibility” so that they could claim (in a naive bout of angry irony) “Hey look, we play real metal now”… this is something that I could rant on for pages, but I‘ll spare you, with just the reminder that, if you look at its history and formative influences, Heavy Metal is a distinctly European phenomenon. I know, to legions of guys who are much larger than I am with Kerry King goatees and tribal tattoos these are fighting words. Oh well.

There seems to be a bizarre revival of mid-’90’s-Boston-style tough-guy hardcore and street-punk, played mostly by guys who were a bit too young to have been terribly involved in those scenes the first time around (I mean, I was pretty young when I was listening to the older guys lament about the good-old-days, and I could have baby-sat most of this new crop…), with some acts and performers who have apparently been hanging on through the last decade and are now seeing their popularity unexpectedly resurface (the number of recent “reunions” that I’ve heard about by bands that I saw at CafĂ© Savoi and The Elvis Room when I was fifteen boggles my mind).

…And then there’s the glut of bands playing a cookie-cutter form of “screamo” that passed its flavor-of-the-minute lifespan at least two years ago. You know the type… whine, scream, whine-whine, scream…octave-chords, octave-chords, breakdown, octave-chords, breakdown, breakdown… Slanty-hair, girl-pants, white-belts... you know the cliches, you get the drill.

(Of course, I’m leaving out the “I was on a music-based reality-TV show a year ago and now I play acoustic cover-songs to drunks and draw big crowds who think I’m a ‘celebrity’” phenomenon… This is by far the most disturbing to me of all, but it’s a different cultural animal entirely that needs a much wider scope to tackle adequately)

Add to this what seems to be a near-complete lack of consistent or reliable venues, lack-luster and clique-ish crowds, etc. (sound familiar, Phoenix? These seem to be national concerns right now) and I’ll admit that I’m in no particularly educated position from which to review the state of the “scene” around here, as I have yet to get wind of any shows or performances that sounded even remotely worth attending, or any new act worth giving a listen to and getting excited about. (If anyone in my readership feels able to help me out in this regard, I’m all ears… but I’d prefer to steer clear of anything that falls formulaically within the aforementioned categories, which, I know, makes your task considerably more difficult.)

In short, what the New England music scene north of Boston seems to be lacking right now is the emphasis on ecclecticism that I earnestly felt was in the air in the area when I left a few years ago. There was a time, in fact, shortly before I left Manchester, when I might have even complained that a potential problem with the state of New England music was that everyone was trying a bit too hard to be different, to the extent that most of what was going on was almost "artsy" to the extent of being unlistenably abstract. I am utterly confused as to how things have apparently headed in such a polar-opposite direction in such a relatively short period of time.

These thoughts lead my mind to early scribbles in a “blogs to write” list that I jotted down when I first started posting here.

When I initially thought to review it, “This is My Boomstick” by Phoenix’s “The Stiletto Formal” was a bit closer to being a “new” record than it is now. I kept putting it off, however, as new ideas found their way to my pen, and thus this page, faster.

At this point, it’s a bit late, but seems a pertinent undertaking, if based on my personal present local-music-woes, if for no other reason.

…to be continued.

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