The Hang of Music: Return to Wherever
Posted by hatfulofnapalm
If you were to look up Schedule Slip in the dictionary, you may see a picture of me. Alternatively, if you’ve seen Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, you might find the definition of Schedule Slip – which I fucking am!
Seriously, the definition is right up there, and god do I suck at sticking to these. Ah well, I hope it’s worth it for you guys because, that’s right, today is Friday, which means yesterday was Thursday, which means it’s review o’clock, baby!
This wee, we have TV on the Radio, and music on the internet in the form of their second album – “Return to Cookie Mountain”.
I need to start this by saying this album is WEEEIRD.
No, really. I know I claim every album I put on here is odd, or not genre representative in some way. And that’s because comparisons and genres are all imagined. Created. Fictional.
Whereas this just sounds odd. All of the songs are odd, but especially track one, “I Was A Lover”. It is determinedly, deliberately and intentionally all over place, from the piano bridge to the sitar outro.
If I had to use a single word to describe this album, it would probably be “ambient”. Now it’s not actually an ambient album, and TV on the Radio are not an ambient music band. But in my experience, Return to Cookie Mountain does not play. Rather, it drifts. Drifts into your ears, and pretty painlessly, too.
That’s not a good thing. Nine Inch Nails hurts as it enters (enters my ears, you sickos), but I know when I’ve heard some NIN, and I can tell you that I have some definite emotions about it. Like “it hurts”, “I like it” and “what the hell is Trent Reznor talking about now?”. But I am having real trouble feeling anything about these guys at all.
I suppose it could be me. It could be my fault. Maybe there’s something wrong with me. If that’s the case, then feel free to go on listening to them, along with drinking budweiser, hating Marmite and doing other things I disagree with.
But were I to assume that to be the case, then this wouldn’t be much of a review, would it? So I’ll look instead at why this album is not doing what it could to entice me. I’ll save the self-analysis and soul-searching for a more solitary time; preferably when there’s a bottle of whiskey in my hand and a fire to stare into forlornly.
So I’ll start where I usually start; the lyrics. Now I know what I like in lyrics – I like wordy and pithy lyrics. Words that have a purpose, and make it clearly. But where that’s not possible, I suppose I’m prepared to suck it up with just some nonsense words that sound good. But no, they went for the middle-ground; words which sound deep, but ultimately are so subjective you can take any meaning from them.* Take these, from the above “A Method”:
“There’s a purple pain strangling yesterday
There’s a purple stain spattered on interstates
It’s an awkward stage grasping at anything
Cause it’s lost the page.”
Lost the page indeed; can you make head or tail of that? Cause I can’t.
So that’s lyrics gone. How about music? Well, I am reminded of Todd’s Maxim: “I have almost no use, whatsoever, for mellow music”. Thanks Todd, for helping me articulate that. Mellowness is dull, and mellowness is one of the reasons why this album is dull. While the tone of the songs themselves is sad, the pace, the delivery are all mellow in speed and lacking in urgency. Again, we’re back to the drifting nature of the songs; on repeat listens, I have found tracks that I’ve rated, and yet I can’t think for the life of me why I rated them like that, even on multiple relistens.
That’s not to say even the music is slow – “Playhouses” is a fine example of this. Listen to it, and ask yourself how something which is in places quite fast and intricate, can have so little drive. The drumming is keeping up at an impressive and interesting pace, but I’m but it’s like watching the wheels on a tricycle – the spokes go by deceptively fast, while the toddler passes you so slowly that you wave to wonder what he’s looking at.
For all that, I have to admit not minding “Wolf Like Me”. It has more of a real feel to it than the others. I kind of think that they had more of an idea where they were going with it. Crucially, though, you can also hear the instrumentation on it, rather than a background buzz. Maybe another maxim right there – “Thou shalt not use so much barely audible fuzz and reverb.”
Allow me to say, then that I am not much of a fan of this album. I feel like I’ve made the effort, but haven’t got much in return. And none of this to say that they are unskilled. I’m sure that they are. But the actual songs themselves hold no interest for me, with the possible exception of “Wolf Like Me”. But only possibly. Maybe on a good day.
* One day, I’m going to find a word for this phenomena. Any suggestions?