Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Mainstreaming of Strange


John Voelcker pointed me to a couple essays last year declaring 2010 to be the year of eclecticism, because with everything tweeted and nothing forbidden, credit must be assigned to esoterica as the New Black. It sure seems as though the undue attention paid to three new music releases from the outer limits is an indicator that the public is willing to tolerate more envelope-pushing than the Official Arbiters of Taste might predict:

* AFGCT is a jam session of sorts between two misfit bands, A-Frames and Climax Golden Twins. They have released a couple vinyl-only noise fests on small artsy labels, but their latest LP-plus-7-inch was released by the almost-commercial indie favorite label Sub Pop, in an elaborate fold-over puzzle package of beautiful black and white silkscreened prints. Surprisingly, it seems to be everywhere at once. Ten or 20 years ago, this sort of music would have been relegated to the "clear the room" shelf.

* Tim Kinsella has hosted a revolving band of musicians under the band name Joan of Arc, whose albums are hit and miss, but always different and noteworthy. This year, he gathered 18 close friends and ex-JoA bandmates to release a compilation and art project called "Don't Mind Control." Some of it's melodic, some abrasive, all of it is innovative, calling to mind a No New York for the 21st century.

* Finally, Vibracathedral Orchestra gave us some of the most interesting drone-instrumental compositions of the 21st century. Once Neil Campbell and Bridget Hayden left for other projects, there was some concern that Mick Flower might not have enough of a center of gravity to keep VCO rolling. Wonder no more. The band has released three full-length albums at once at the end of January on the VHF label, and they're all getting heavy circulation.

So why is this happening when the advent of Internet culture is supposed to have a leveling effect that makes us all tune in to lite jazz and American Idol? Maybe because there's also truth in Chris Anderson's "long tail" observation in Wired magazine, and we are discovering that the fan base for eclectic improvisational works has a very long tail indeed, once the fans can find each other. In the early 1980s, I told a POSSLQ at the time that "I don't deliberately look for the weird and atonal. I instinctively grab what interests me. Sometimes it's million-seller, but often I just have to wait a decade or more for others to jump on board." Right now, that lag time is at its lowest point since I was a wee sprout. I am absolutely convinced that this is not because my tastes have grown more conservative in my old age, but because there are millions of culture vultures willing to explore outer boundary marches they have never explored before. Cheers!


Ruth said...

Great post title!

And yes, yes of course, yes.

In local parlance, we call it the Loring curve.

Loring Wirbel said...

Ruth, often I feel I'm just riding in the wake of a fast speedboat driven by folks who are venturing much further into the unknown than I do. I guess that's called the "water-skiing curve"!

Ruth said...

As long as you're skimming on the water, it's all good. And you leave a helluva rooster tail!

Loring Wirbel said...

Pitchfork actually reviews AFCGT - will wonders never cease: