Thursday, February 16, 2006

Record Collection Rock: There Is No "New" Or "Now"

The acclaimed British music critic Simon Reynolds (who also came up with the term post-rock") has coined the term "record collection rock":

"And then came the deluge of retro culture and 'record collection rock' that holds sway to this day, and which propagated the cancers of irony, referentiality, a knowingness that unavoidably belittles everything."

[-from "Independents Day: Post-Punk 1979-81"]


"'Record collection rock' in my usage has a much more specific application than just 'the group has precedents' or 'they work within a tradition' or 'sounds familiar'. R-C-R is music where the listener's knowledge of prior rock music is integral to the full aesthetic appreciation of the record ('full' because the creator put the allusions there for you to spot with a smile). Prime exponents include Jesus & Mary Chain, Spacemen 3, Primal Scream, and -- to a lesser degree but still part of the sensibility I think -- Stereolab; there's many many more. Oasis are the paradigm case: you get Beatles deja vu flashbacks from the melodies, the title 'Wonderwall' is sampled from a George Harrison album [...] Is it even 'retro'? Not in the sense of intentionally flashing us back to a specific era or lost golden age (e.g. The Cult circa 'Love Removal Machine,' any number of nouveau garage punk bands you care to list, et al), or being taggable to a single illustrious ancestor band."

[-from Blissout, Simon Reynolds's blog, 13 February 2006]

I think not so long ago this sort of approach was called... gulp... "postmodern", but I guess these days even this once-more-popular-than-Jesus word has become helplessly dated and unfashionable.

I can well think some off-hand examples of "record collection rock", such as The High Llamas, who base their musical expression on what Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys did during the "Good Vibrations"/Pet Sounds/Smile era. Japanese wah wah-loving and heavy-jamming neo-psychedelia bands such as Acid Mothers Temple seem to be founded in the late 60s and early 70s rock, such as Jimi Hendrix, Frank Zappa, Black Sabbath, Krautrock... Now fashionable "forest folk" people seem intent to go back to these same hirsute "glory days" of acoustic guitars, improvisation (yawn), campfires, being "down-to-earth", barefooted and bare-arsed in the nature, tree-hugging, the "good old ways" of our ancestors living in the woods, etc. Ever since he started in the late 70s, the "Modfather" Paul Weller has built the whole of his career on going back to the styles of the past. Lenny Kravitz thinks he's a combination of Jimi Hendrix, Smokey Robinson, Sly Stone and John Lennon. It's obviously more fun to create around oneself a sort of stylistic retro virtual reality fantasy of the world of legend and myth than to live in "now", in one's own environment and reality.

Modern rock in general is built on revivals (and revivals of revivals) and retro nostalgia styles of every imaginable sort. These days the ever-trendsetting British music media, especially magazines like NME, which rule the fashion-hungry fans of independent rock and pop world-wide, seem to be on an ongoing quest about finding another "Best New Band of 1979"; that is, for another "hot" act of good-looking young turks with their moppy hair hanging over their eyes, skinny ties and plural "s"-suffix in their names, who play spiky guitars in the late-70s/early 80s new wave/punk-funk styles.

History has already shown these NME-favoured bands are lucky if they can record three albums before they finally succumb slowly but guaranteedly into the oblivion created by the gargantuan consumption of champagne, cocaine, groupies, music industry bloodsuckers and their bullshit and six-month tours extending to Butthole, Arizona. Then it's time for drug rehab clinics, divorce lawyers, potbellies, bald patches and that dreaded "has-been" status. I doubt today's indie-pop generation even remembers such relatively recent yesteryear NME heroes as Menswear (always my favourite example about how swiftly glory will pass in the world of indie) or Shed Seven.

Then, there is nothing really peculiar about "record collection rock", since isn't this how our culture in general has always worked: by references, associations and tributes to earlier works, and recycling the old. I wonder if anything really "new" can be created in music; only at its best innovative variations of what once was. One can always hope to come up with "new" artist and genres, seemingly more hip, sexy and fresh (or harder, faster and more shocking) than anything created ever before but there must always be a precedent for everything in history. I have to admit I'm a fan of Stereolab.