It's Guest Blogger night and here's Greg Madden! Greg is a fascinating guy with a lot of creative energy and a pioneering spirit. He has been making musical bits and electronic pieces under the name Mister Stereotype (misterstereotype.com) since 2008, releasing 13 collections with more than 120 songs and 50 videos over the last five years. He is also the inventor of the new ball game Synthball. Who the hell invents a new ball game in 2013?! Greg Madden does and that's one of the many reasons I like him so much. Thanks Greg!
Artist: Sigur Rós
Album: Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust
In 2008 my daughters were still in high school and we were in the midst of a period of musical cross pollination in which I introduced them to (among others) Radiohead and Gorillaz and they introduced me to (among others) Sigur Rós and Final Fantasy. This was the year in which we started a two-year run of live shows that included Radiohead, TV on the Radio, The Decemberists, Animal Collective, Grizzly Bear, Final Fantasy, The Mountain Goats, The Flaming Lips, Arcade Fire, and Gorillaz. It was a good time, a time I look back on as a sort of golden age of music. The culture at large was arguably near both Peak Indie as well as Peak Hipster, and the backlash against both the genre (self serious, derivative, unlistenable, relentlessly mid-tempo) and its lovers (unbearably smug skinny-jean wearing post-ironic know-everythings) had not yet metastasized into the cancerous hatred of hipsters and complete lack of awareness of Indie that characterizes the situation today.
(Or maybe Indie has simply been assimilated into Pop along with every genre that preceded it, and it isn’t that people are unaware of Indie, it’s that Indie no longer exists as a genre to be aware of. I mean, hey, Arcade Fire is huge, right? Does that mean Indie is huge, or does that mean Indie no longer exists, or does that mean Arcade Fire is no longer Indie? These are the kinds of questions I would debate endlessly if I were 15. I am not.)
When you see your share of shows, you see your share of venues, and up until 2012 I would have told you the Mann Center Main Stage was my least favorite venue on the East Coast; it just seems to suck the life out of music. In its favor, however, I will say that it is much better than the new Mann Center Skyline Stage, which opened in 2012. The Skyline Stage has a wonderful view of downtown Philly, but it looks like it’s been strung together out of leftover stage parts, the sound mix is muddy, and the on-ground seating slopes downward away from the stage, for a sort of opposite-of-stadium-seating effect in which everyone in front of you is higher than you. It is a remarkably bad design.
The point of that little digression is that I didn't finally see Sigur Rós in concert until 2012, and I saw them at the Skyline Stage at the Mann. As much as I always thought I liked Sigur Rós, it was one of the few shows I have ever left early. If you aren’t familiar with Sigur Rós, they are an Icelandic band with a well-deserved reputation for writing 12-minute songs in which nothing happens over and over again. Their tracks often swing wildly back and forth between drone rock, melodic operatic synthesizers, and blistering guitar solos apparently disconnected from the underlying music. Whereas operatic Icelandic drone rock can be a joy to listen to in the peace of your own home or car when there are other things to do to keep you busy, it just isn't the same when you are sitting on a blanket on a downslope listening to a muddled sound mix and looking uphill at the band. Alas.
But none of that takes away from the beauty of "Gobbledigook." With its opening of distant drumming and voices interrupted by short sharp acoustic guitar chords and La La Las joined quickly by pounding drums, it immediately builds a pulse it never loses. Although I can’t understand a word they are saying (it’s Icelandic), "Gobbledigook" surely features the most effective use of incessant La La Las outside of holiday music. For a band prone to tedious 12-minute drone rock pieces, "Gobbledigook" comes in at a very manageable 3:12 and proves that, when they want to, Sigur Rós can create top-notch, happy, compelling, listenable, audience-friendly music.