Versing and the Post-Punk

One of my favorite albums is File Under Easy Listening by Sugar. In case you don’t remember, Sugar was a Bob Mould (of Husker Du fame) project. At one point in time this CD could be found in every corner bargain bin for next-to-nothing, which I never understood as it is one fabulous listening experience. The razor-sharp yet dense guitar work is nothing short of spectacular. It’s not a sound that pops up often.

If I had to describe the standout feature of F.U.E.L., it would be “texture”. Sharply-honed guitar saturates each song’s palette, but in such a way that the sound is still pleasant. The songs themselves tend towards being catchy, but within the framework of extreme sound spectrum saturation.

Which leads me to my topic…

Versing is a unique Seattle band that in some ways reminds me of Sugar. On their 2019 album 10000, the group drenches my ears ears ears with buzzsaw guitar wrapped in a downy blanket of catchiness. But there are other aspects of the band that make it difficult to describe their sound in any simple way.

Post-punk, which requires a thousand page manifesto to describe, is often angular, rhythmically complex, and to some extent devoid of personal warmth. The term does not describe a specific sound but a huge spectrum of potential sounds. One of my favorite post-punk albums is Vs. by Mission of Burma. Versing uses many of the same tricks as M.O.B.: odd accents that obscure the beat, dense textures alternating with sparse ones (sometimes quite rapidly), unusual melodies that can be an assault on the ears and, at other times, be monotone.

But this is still not a complete picture of Versing. Some tricks from Joy Division/early New Order can also be found in their playbook. Pop harmonies creep in from time to time, as if XTC invaded a Residents’ ditty. Some songs never progress out of their opening salvos. And, perhaps most unusually, song structures seldom go where expected: a guitar solo which differs from the rest of the song turns out to be the end; a song seems too short to end but end it does; another song simply fades into the sunset.

But this still does not describe all the complexities that make up Versing. Take all of the characteristics listed above and shuffle between them. First be poppy and sparse, then dense and angular, add irregular drum accents, now poppy and sparse, guitar solo, we’re done. Truly, I hear this album as a primer in post-punk songwriting. Each gem-of-a-song displays a different set of exciting features.

You can stream this exciting local album through Hoopla! And if you don’t know how to do that, you can find out on our website. Take advantage of our online resources and enjoy some fab music. Guaranteed to be fat-free and tasty.

Post-Punk for Ninnies

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Labels are funny things.

I’m not a big fan of rigid music classification. Most music slides between genres and most genres are not composed of one simple set of characteristics.

Post-punk is an umbrella that covers an insane variety of styles. The word implies that the music emerged after punk, but in reality it developed alongside of (and sometimes before!) punk rock. It’s similar to punk in seeking to break away from what mainstream rock had become by the mid-1970s, but its methods differ.

Like punk, there is a DIY attitude that anyone can play in a post-punk band. Conversely, there is also a highly artistic aesthetic steeped in experimental music which attracted highly accomplished musicians. Insane variety. Some of the characteristics that one tends to find in post-punk are: seemingly endless repetition of bass lines or short melodies, monotone singing, a funky feel in one of the instruments, sudden shifts to entirely unexpected places, sloppiness, angular lines. The music is not easily approachable, in fact it’s very in-your-face and can take some patience to absorb. Most of all, post-punk is not any one thing.

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One can see the variety of post-punk styles in our library’s holdings. Talking Heads are fairly mainstream in much of their music, but their early albums were quite different from late 70s rock. Not so very weird, but not heavy like punk, not inane like Wings (sorry Wings fans!). Often strange vocals, some unexpected turns, and just the right touch of quirkiness. Joy Division, on the other hand, incorporated synthesizers along with doom and gloom. Their signature song, Love Will Tear Us Apart, blends lovely music, melancholic singing, and lyrics focused on an inevitable sad outcome of love. Pere Ubu is simply weird, a non-stop assault on sanity. David Thomas, the lead singer, obviously studied vocal techniques with a tea kettle in a helium factory, and the songs challenge reality as we know it. Well worth a spin.

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Of course, many other post-punk groups can be found at EPL.

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The Seattle music scene included many talented post-punk bands, including The U-Men and The Beakers. The U-Men formed in 1981 and stayed active throughout the 80s. Carrying on the legacy of early local rock they brought a soupçon of punk, rockabilly and general weirdness to the foundation laid by The Sonics and other 60s garage bands. Their music is difficult to describe, a bit of The Cramps enmeshed in art punk or embryonic grunge filtered through an improbability blender. Best just to listen.

The Beakers formed in 1980 and existed for only 12 months, but their music exerted influence on local, national and international bands alike. As a local performer I’m always excited to open for a big-name band, and these guys opened for the likes of Gang of Four, Delta 5, XTC and Captain Beefheart! Wikipedia describes their music using adjectives such as perpendicular, yelpy, funk-influenced and dissonant. These four words form a good starting point for understanding post-punk. After the band split up, former members were also crucial in creating a system for distributing the music of independent northwest artists. Tremendous impact for a short-lived group!

So saddle up and give some post-punk a chance. It might take a few listens, a reassessment of expectations, but the music is unique and often moving. Take the immortal words or Talking Heads with you as you move into this challenging musical world:

It’s not cool to have so many problems
But don’t expect me to explain your indecisions
Go talk to your analyst, isn’t that what they’re paid for?

 

Listen Up! December Wrap-up and New Music Arrivals

Petite Noir Cover

December is here and I’m catching my breath. It’s been a long busy year at the library, and I’ve had a blast working with our music collection. It’s been amazing to see how the unique character of our community influences the music that passes through our doors. Our users help determine what makes it to our shelves via donations, purchase requests, or simply checking certain items out more than others so we know what they like.

Some casual observations: Rock, Country, Latin, and Christian music do a booming business. Hip-hop and Electronic acts are steadily gaining in popularity; there are rarely any purchase requests (hint hint), but the stuff that’s been added goes out quickly and those shelves can look completely ransacked at times. People around here love reggae and Hawaiian music (I think all the rain makes people long for warm sandy beaches). Everett also can’t seem to get enough holiday music – the carts have been out since just past Halloween because people kept asking about them.

One issue that I’ve noticed is that some genres are becoming more difficult to purchase due to changes in technology. Within the Indie, Electronic, and Hip-hop communities, many artists are choosing to go digital-only, or to scrap the use of CDs for throwback media, such as vinyl records and cassette tapes (I’m waiting on the 8-track and wax cylinder revivals). This came into play while working on developing the Local Music collection, because many bands only had digital releases of their albums. The digital-only trend is also a big hurdle for libraries when it comes to adding music from international artists making music in developing countries. Digital releases are far cheaper to produce, market, and distribute, so they’re a natural fit for musicians who are working with a tight budget. There are online services available that allow libraries to loan digital music. They wouldn’t do much to remedy this issue, however, since they mainly provide pre-selected packages of albums from major labels. Hopefully this is something that will change in the near future, because there’s a lot of great music out there that we’d love to share with our users.

I’m looking forward to seeing what 2016 brings to Everett. We’re a vibrant city with a lot of creative people and a thriving musical scene. You can help be a part of that growth: if you hear of a great new act, local or otherwise, drop our reference librarians a line and we’ll see what we can do. Now on to those December picks (I’ll keep it short!).

Empress Of CoverEmpress Of – Me (Terrible Records) – A lively combination of dance, pop, and rock, very reminiscent of Bjork’s early material. Lorely Rodriguez’s voice somehow manages to be strong and ethereal almost in the same breath. Her lyrics are deeply personal and rich in storytelling, flitting through scenes of a failed romance while making you want to dance away her angst.

Petite Noir – La Vie Est Belle (Domino Recording Company) – Bright, beautiful, and insanely catchy. Yannick Ilunga calls his sound Noirwave, and you can definitely see his New Wave influences winding through, track by track. In the end, the album really defies description. New wave, hip hop, electronic, or rock, plus subtle hints of Ilunga’s Congolese and Angolan musical roots – each element fuses together into a satisfyingly-complex new sound.

Car Seat Headrest coverCar Seat Headrest – Teens of Style (Matador Records) – After releasing an impressive 15 albums on the indie music selling site Bandcamp, former solo-artist Will Toledo and his band have come out with their first album on the legendary Matador Records. Did I mention that he managed all this before turning 23? Bright, airy, and guitar-driven, I expect to hear more wonderful things from this band in their 2016 release, Teens of Denial.

Future Shock – Secret Weapon EP (Future Shock) – Continuing on the new wave tip, this mysteriously-masked Seattle Duo calls their sound Afro New Wave. With production by RayGun and lyrics by The Doctor, this EP comes across sounding like David Bowie, Marilyn Manson, and Duran Duran got together and laid down some tracks. From start to finish the Secret Weapon EP is a solid album that leaves you looking for more.

Protomartyr CoverProtomartyr – Agent Intellect (Hardly Art) Dark, brooding, driving post-punk. This album sounds like a grey winter day – perfect for your winter angst.

Roots Manuva – Bleeds (Big Dada) U.K. hip-hop pioneer returns with his first release in nearly four years. Stripped-down, tight production showcases the kind of political lyricism I’ve come to expect from Roots Manuva.

Basement Jaxx – Junto Remixed (Pias America) A full roster of clubby, dancefloor-ready tracks. The vibe of this release is about 50/50 house and techno, but there’s a little flirtation with footwork in there. Overall it’s a really versatile collection of remixes.

Place your holds now, and see you in the new year!