Posts Tagged ‘pop will eat itself’

TUNABUNNY – Genius Fatigue

June 4, 2013

When we were 12, my friends and I formed a band. Our “skills” were best described as rudimentary, matching our shoddy equipment and a feeble understanding of what we were doing. In school, we sold cassettes of ourselves (it was the mid-’90s) trying to articulate the raw sounds that buzzed frantically around our heads; perched awkwardly over a one-channel recording device but oblivious to its restrictions; gleefully obeying the gnawing need to disregard our artistic limits and just create for creation’s sake.

We told our peers we were the greatest band in the world, perhaps even convincing ourselves that three Beatles-obsessed fuckwits using two pencils as drumsticks might be capable of bursting past the surface; melting through the slime; becoming a phenomena for the ages.

Naturally, we were shit. But it’s the most artistically “free” I’ve ever felt in my life – the only time I can honestly say that notions of “how things are supposed to work” (yawn!) or “other people’s standards” (fucksake) or “professionalism” (spit!) were irrelevances. When self-belief and necessity and an inability not to create drove everything more than aspiration or consideration for how other people might perceive it. It was liberating, it was wonderful, it was the impetuosity of youth illustrated in such glorious colours that it’s dazzling to look back. So yeah, I peaked with shitty tapes of poorly-recorded, woefully-played half-songs, and fuck, man, I miss that feeling.

I’ve not thought about this stuff for years (the joy, the excitement, the unrecreatable  sense of wonder), but Tunabunny bring it all flooding back.Genius Fatigue is the third album from the Athens, Georgia four-piece, following the nihilistic avant-sulk of their self-titled debut and its post-punk-inflected follow-up, 2011’s Minima Moralia. Together those two records formed a diptych positing the destruction and ultimate salvation of music; an artform which has chewed itself and spat itself out so many times that any deviation from the tried and tested feels like a minor victory. Rest assured: this band are far from ordinary, and this continues the frankly mind-boggling acceleration of their capabilities. A sped-up image of a flower; growing and bursting and blooming into being. It’s beautiful.

Take that frantic opener, ‘Duchess For Nothing’. Building from panting, staggered urgency to high speed roars of assertion, vocalists Brigette Adair Herron and Mary Jane Hassell kick and punch their way through the song’s two raggedy minutes as though the fate of the world depends on them. “She ain’t a parody of woman – she’s a screaming queen”, they declare, pounding transphobia to dust with voices not wildly dissimilar to those of the Deal sisters (never a bad thing). Lo-fi, raw and bruised, it ain’t the stuff top ten hits are made of. But it is the sort of thing wide-eyed kids fall for with unabashed, undying devotion. We’re so used to the forced passions and staged over-emoting of 21st century pop that it almost feels shocking to hear people actually singing from their hearts – that’s exactly what this record does.

Elsewhere their muse takes hold of dizzy psych (‘Serpents And Lights’), fractured, ethereal balladry (‘Airplanes In Echelon’) and dusty, damaged drone-pop (‘Wrong Kind Of Attention’). Topics leap from Hollywood nepotism to political insurrection, while echoes of Throwing Muses, Sonic Youth and The Fall fly around with heroic abandon, occasionally crashing into each other and tumbling into concussed piles underneath the whole wonderful mess. Tunabunny’s glory shines through in the way their incandescence is more audible than their battered, scratchy instruments – songs are captured upon creation, valuing the rawness of the art and the celebration of its completion far higher than less interesting matters like musical proficiency. The scope of their imagination wins out, and tremendously, triumphantly so.

The “genius fatigue” of the title refers to the band’s disillusion with the same old artistic figures being held up as sources of inspiration; of the same old source material being devoured and excreted and devoured and excreted, again and again, in increasingly tedious ways. Maybe it’s time we cast off the old guard and developed new ways of appreciating art. Let’s give up on championing the fixed legends of received wisdom and abandon notions of aspiration or imitation over genuine heartfelt artistry (after all, where have they got us? Fucking Mumford & Sons and Ed Sheeran, that’s where – a patriarchy of mediocrity and smooth-edged tedium). Why don’t we try celebrating ideas that challenge? Or cheer at the accumulation of potential, instead of glib approximations of overly comfortable sentiment? We need a revolution. Maybe, just maybe, Tunabunny are the band to lead the way. (8/10)

(Originally published by The Line Of Best Fit, 29/03/2013)

BLANK REALM – Go Easy

June 4, 2013

“Will you clean up my mess again?”

Ok, so we know Richard Hell was talking nihilism. His fabled Blank Generation stood in staunch opposition to the failed idealism of the hippy dream; bathed in defeat and ruin; recognising that if it’s all for naught, you may as well do what the f*ck you want.

He was saying “get me out of here” before he was even born, although he’s still kicking around, so what would he think of 2013’s broken-down, end-of-days mindset? We’re beyond mere generational talk here: pop culture has eaten and regurgitated itself so many times that all that’s left to do is re-arrange the excremental remains in as many different patterns as we can. See what sticks – hey, guess what? Shit does. There are no new ideas, we’re constantly told. No new sounds. No new grooves. The new is fucking gone, and so often it feels like vitality and focus have gone with it – we inhabit an amorphous, flaccid blob of culture, with no defining qualities except blurred flashes of what went before. Welcome to the blank realm.

“Guess I’ve been acting kinda strange”

One of the central tenets of postmodernism was that there were no new ideas – which means that pop music in particular has been trapped in a postmodernist nightmare since the revivalist culture of the ’90s kicked in. It’s been (pseudo-)intellectualised and cemented into such an institutionalist clusterfuck that there’s no longer debate to be had – when received wisdom dominates, it swiftly wears thin, so the logical option is to tear away at it. Of course, when everything’s torn and splintered into miniscule subgenres, there’s no longer a dominant culture. Everything is murky and unclear.

Now, I’m not saying that this is what Brisbane quartet Blank Realm had in mind when they made this record (in all likelihood, they were driven by the same primal urge that drives most kids to whack guitars at volume – the insistent desire to make noise). There’s nothing high-concept or era-defining about this collection of spacey noisepop. What I am saying is that they’re a pretty accurate reflection of the age in which we live; the basic thrills of, like, whatever, hidden behind clouds of woozy fug. Narcotic yawns hidden behind guitars that sound like sloppy shit one minute, and an imploding cosmos the next. Dismissive loucheness, shrugging off the complexity of life in favour of knowing, wilfully-dumb slogans. The need to thrill with everything, powered by a recognition that it means nothing. Plus a flat refusal to give a solitary fuck.

Rhetorical question: how many fucks do you have to give for pop music to mean anything anyway?

“Gotta go to school today/Gotta learn that stupid shit/Soon as I can get a car to drive/Then I’m gonna be done with it”

Go Easy is Blank Realm’s first album, and it’s really good. Drenched in the reconstructionist rock’n’roll of Royal Trux, it veers from gaping spacerock chasms – all cheap weed and broken effects pedals – to perky, post-punk pop. They lack the studio mechanics of Herema’n’Hagerty, but the desire to rock out scuzzily is all present and correct, with equal emphasis placed on committing to the energy and surrendering to the drone. Hear the way ‘Cleaning Up My Mess’ stomps mightily through its snotty chorus before nodding out to a lazily blissful riff. “Girl, will you clean up my mess again?” Literal mess? The mess of sound? The mess they’ve made of life? That’s not answered, but it plays out as an admission of male ineffectuality as much as a terse refusal to resolve a situation. The title track is even more wracked and triumphantly lost: guitars stutter and start; uncertain and sounding thoroughly sick of it all. Meanwhile there’s tracks like ‘Acting Strange’ which pick our ears apart with disco damage and a barrage of disorienting effects, rebounding chaotically and majestically between speakers until you feel like you’re falling off the fucking pavement.

See, that’s the thrill of pop in this day and age. It doesn’t have to mean anything. It rarely does. But sometimes something comes along that seems to revel in nonchalant noisemaking; gives in to the din and just is. Effortlessly, thrillingly, brilliantly, Go Easy does that in spades. Blank Realm? I’ll take it. (8/10)

(Originally published by The Line Of Best Fit, 28/02/2013)