September 18, 2003

Crypt of Mediocrity

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Post-rock. Shoegazing. Slowcore. There, I said it. Your jeers don’t affect me. Genres with the promise and fate of a Sacagawea dollar. Ten years from now, if people listen to these at all, it will be as token reminders o f the days when people were making music that simply wasn’t needed, bearing down your pockets, breaking vending machines, pleasurable but with no functional value. Now, I’m a dandified aesthete, not a pragmatist, and yet I still don’t see exactly what this music, whether of the Chicagoan or the Icelandic school, has done except rip off the first ten seconds of “Gimme Shelter” for about twelve years now.

Bluntly, this music does not just limpidly linger, but stagnates. If I have to write “shimmering” or “undulating” or “concentrated bliss and artful precision” ever again, I’ll bury my head in a pile of Pussy Galore CDs and bloodied vomit. And that’s precisely the reason I could recommend Manual’s last two albums, Until Tomorrow and Ascend, and even his folk-glitch (is that right?) project, Limp. More clearly than any other “electronic haze/sunshine/ice riverboat/frosted Corona” on Morr, Jonas Munk displayed an evolution, from infantile melodiousness and less formal composition to textural sophistication and lush orchestration. It was an alternate route that didn’t dispense with the gloss and sheen, but ensured it was not at the expense of the naivete and sincerity that is to this genre what reverb was to surf-rock. On Isares, an EP that falls somewhere between B-sides and gateway, Munk has finally caught up to the rest of the world and made some tunes unutterably similar to everything else out there. Frankly, I’m outraged. The boy held such potential. (All right, it’s just an EP, but still, an EP today is a double LP tomorrow.) “A Familiar Place” is a stately, ornamented, almost militant tune, buttressed by a reverential choir that would most likely accompany some “neo-surreal” movie where they put Steve Buscemi in a tiara and hoisted him in a carriage. “Stealing Through” starts with Tori Amos guitar and then swiftly dissolves into the Titanic soundtrack. I hated this song. It’s soulless, gratuitous music, made to sell condominiums and insurance. “Wake” perpetuates the maudlinness, albeit more forcefully, with an opening chorus of seagulls and echoing, glassed ornaments. Although this builds into strings and xylophones, the epic doesn’t come until the eight-minute “Horizon.” The problem with the rest of the album is it’s inclined a little too perplexingly in the direction of new age as it vacillates on the very thin line between saccharinity and spirituality. Nevertheless, if you like his old stuff, this will be a welcome dose of more-of-the-same, although I find it increasingly difficult to conceive of someone who owns more than two albums of this type of music. Still, it’s your prerogative