Sunday, February 8, 2009
Perhaps my favourite genre of music of all is not pop, or electronic something-or-other. No, it's probably the music of the alt rock scene from the late-1980s to mid-1990s. Although the synth-pop of the '80s sure does run neck-and-neck, I must say. I recently spoke of the virtues of the time period in relation to seminal era movie Empire Records and I stand by it. A lot of the music wasn't even "technically" "good" - the singers were, a lot of the time, not very good - but that's part of it's charm. But what they perhaps lacked in technical finesse, they gained in personality, sense of identity and true style. The video clips were mostly cheap twisted affairs, but the sound was deep and the sort of rock music that doesn't seem to exist anymore (why, exactly?), full of killer riffs, distortion like gangbusters and rock beats that could blow your eardrums out.
This was the period where I was defining my musical outlook and so while I was keenly aware of what was hip and now and "top 40" I was also keeping an observant eye on the stuff that was not. I would set a four-hour VHS cassette tape to long play and record eight heavenly hours of Rage during the night and watch it during the day (remember, Australia had no "cable" and definitely didn't have MTV). Not only did it allow me to keep abreast of the chart action with it's Saturday-morning countdown of 50-1, but it also featured the stuff I wouldn't read about in Smash Hits magazine.
One band that I had never taken much notice of at the time, but in recent times have grown to appreciate as perhaps the finest of all is Curve. A two-piece from England (of course) made up of Toni Halliday and Dean Garcia, they had a couple of albums with some moderately successful songs on them, but down here they took a backseat to the American scene (bands like Soundgarden and Sonic Youth being stellar examples of the type of music I'm talking about or, here in Australia at least, bands like The Go-Betweens and Nick Cave). Of course, it does help that I think female singers go really well with this kind of rock music and, as it so happens, women were much more accepted by this "crowd" as lead singers. Unlike today where the closest you get is... The Donnas?
Curve's first album Doppelgänger - after a few truly great EPs - is truly a classic and followups Cuckoo and Come Clean are top notch too, although the latter is getting a bit out of the realm since it came out in 1998 after a temporary breakup. It is the song "Horror Head", however, that will engrave them in my mind forever as one of the greats. It is truly one of the best songs I have ever had the privilege to listen to. The video clip (below) is a fine example of the period. Lots of projection-on-bodies, lots of moving cameras, lots of crazy colour filters, lots of weird dancing and lots of odd make-up choices. On the latter issue, I find this period of music was like a blissful merging of grunge, emo and glam post punk. And this is partly why I hate the "emo" music of today. It's not "emo", it's just whingeing rich people. There's no feeling (ahem, no "emo"tion) - just whingeing. And they even do a crappy job at that, too! But even in that case, the "emo" artists of this period where legitimate outcasts and if you walked around town looking like Toni Halliday you would be called a freak. These days it's just normal. What's the native call of the rebellious outcast in 2009 I wonder? And - for that matter - what music are rebellious outcasts listening to these days? It's certainly nothing "indie" (like me, they probably recoil at that sort of faux-"we're not mainstream" crap) and it definitely isn't anything that can be described as "emo". What's playing in the dingy bars for college students who feel disenfranchised from the world at large?
Fittingly the version of the video I am embedding was taken off of an episode of Rage (YouTube has a lot to thank Rage for, actually - I've seen that logo on many a music video). Sort of a full circle type thing. So, yes, check out "Horror Head" in the large window - the moment between 0.40-1.20 is pretty much why music was invented. And below that I've included "Faît Accompli" and "Clipped" because, well, they're fuckin' fantastic.