Art As It Happens, Or Not.

January 4, 2012 at 11:13 am (Uncategorized)

Should the purpose or intent of an album/song be something you consider when weighing quality and worthwhile-ness of the experience?

I pose this question as I look over the flaming wreckage of the best records I heard in 2011. A “band” called National Skyline, which originally consisted of a couple of Jeffs:  Jeff Dimpsey of  sometimes-talked-about-here 1990’s Illinois group Hum and Jeff Garber of Castor.  National Skyline has been just Garber for a while now.  In 2009, under the Skyline name, Garber released a terrific “comeback” album called Bliss & Death.  I didn’t hear that record until late 2010, but it sure made me interested in hearing more from this project.

And so back in February, National Skyline put out two EP’s. I loved them. Then in May we got another full album, called Bursts (Amazon lists it at just self-titled) of new material as National Skyline. I liked that too, but in smaller doses. Individual songs sounded great, but it was nothing I could listen to for extended periods.   It was a classic case of “I like two songs”, but in this case the odd thing was that it could be any two songs, depending on which two songs were the first two I heard.

Then in August he/they released another full album’s length of material called Broadcasting.  All new. All sort of sounding the same tones and themes of his previous work in 2011. Then in December…another new album (Primitive Parade), all new, same deal. All of that stuff sounds….really good on first and even second or third listens.  At first I was thinking that if you cobbled together an album of 12 of the best National Skyline songs of the many released in 2011, you might really have something.

But there’s a catch.

Seems that the 2009 return to grand form Bliss & Death attracted the notice of some tastemakers with deep pockets, namely MTV.   Garber signed on with a music publishing company/label/promotional entity called Hype Music. Hype is an MTV affiliated thing that basically act as a conduit between non-musical commercial entities  who need music, and artists who create said music. In this case, MTV and some associated Viacom networks needed music for TV series, specifically for a show called Teen Mom which I have never seen. And so guess what all that prolificness was for? The uniformity of tone, palette, and style on all three National Skyline full-length releases this past year was because those “albums” were actually songs that were written for Hype that appeared in that show and others of similar inane (I’m assuming) ilk (Jersey Shore was another show to feature National Skyline, so inanity confirmed).

Let me be fairly clear here: I am the world’s least-opposed music snob/geek/asshole-senile hipster when it comes to music artists making money off their craft. I’ve seen musicians who I love and adore struggle to make ends meet with “real” jobs, and have seen promising music careers derailed because frankly the money sucks and it is damn near impossible to get paid for creating it, much less carve out a living doing it. So. If National Skyline–who is just Jeff Garber now–is making some decent money by writing songs for teen angst reality shows, good on him/them. I am wholly and 100% in favor of that. What I am less in favor of is the releasing, for commercial sale, this same music under the name of a band that spent a good number of years toiling in the underground building a pretty nice vault of indie goodwill capital.  I must look at the pleasing nature of that music as me being somewhat deceived. I must consider that the striking similarity of tone, lyrics, and overall sound that these songs possess are stitched together through copying and pasting in Pro-Tools or Garage Band as if they were random prose generators.

To be more stark about it, in National Skyline’s previous creative peak from 1999 through 2001, they released something like 21 songs.  In the 2011 calendar year under the name “National Skyline”, Garber has released 44 songs.  After playing around with trying to make my own album of the best dozen of those 44 I’ve concluded that I could throw darts at a board to pick any 12 and they’d sound no different from 12 other songs chosen by some other random method.

That’s a problem. Perhaps I should let this go and say “I  like the songs on these records, even if they are created to plug into TV shows to create easy mood and emotional audience manipulation”.  Perhaps I may end up hearing enough difference to get there.

Then again, perhaps I won’t.  I’m not sure I’m all that interested in listening much more.

1 Comment

  1. ben said,

    you’re SO right. garber is great, but this hype bullshit is doing my head in. go and listen to castor, both of their albums were incredible. :]

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