Sometimes it feels like there is no difference between a `good’ record and a `bad’ record; not to mention what is so carelessly anointed, an `amazing’ record. This thought is as depressing as it is liberating. One has to be in a protracted state of malaise to feel this way—at least one who is normally discriminate to a fault—and one must imagine a particular comfort in the floating godlike specter of indifference, of total intellectual and critical destitution. Really, I suppose, it is that one grows tired of argument, however sedate and detached it may seem, grows tired, at bottom, of language. The thought has occurred to him, as Susan Sontag states it, that words invite “a hyperactivity of consciousness that is not only dysfunctional, in terms of human capacities of feeling and acting, but actively deadens the mind and blunts the senses.” And his stance, no less than wrong, is right. From a certain, entirely human perspective an antipathy exists between the act of living and the discursive narrative indulged by an individual human consciousness. How vile it is that some of us have to, and I mean have to, separate what is in good taste from what is in bad taste…and how life affirming.
And so it must be—the floating godlike specter of indifference must remain a luminous doorway at the end of a campily fashioned hallway which we will never walk through. It is not merely forbidden fruit, but a form of life which we are not capable of inhabiting. We discern. We are discerning. It is our mark on the world: our burden and our liberation. The fact is that those of us who make a point of being discerning about pop music ply our trade, if we have anything resembling `integrity,’ without a viable set of aesthetic guidelines.
The question is, what makes one song great and another absolutely forgettable? That is the mystery that continually draws me back into this tempestuous relationship with pop music, my paramour—and the only answer that can be provided is the song itself, the album itself. Any well-crafted casuistry falls short. It can be edifying in some way and it can make you want to listen to something, but there is no guarantee you will like a piece of music until you have spent some time with it.
Case in point: Calla’s new record Collisions.
This is an album that could easily be dismissed after a few casual listens. This is also an album that can become something of a compulsion, an album that could be the subject of gluttonous paeans, that can induce glassy eyed stares fixed upon bare bleached walls. On first listen it impressed me as one more moody, dare I say, dark rock `n’ roll album, vocals glossed with attitude, guitar tones metallic and percussive. A few more listens, write a review and then forget about its existence—so I thought then, glibly negating as is ever the temptation.
But instead, with each listen I was drawn more intensely to this record, to the dour textures of songs like “Initiate” and “This Better Go As Planned,” to the rhythmic guitars, minimal and exacting one moment, fuzz drenched melodic overdubs the next. It takes some time to appreciate the nuanced approach that was taken in recording Collisions, an album that inhabits the ambiguous territory of records whose appeal is at once subtle and unrelenting. This is complementary to the fact that it is a supreme example of the elusiveness incarnate in defining the divide between good and bad albums. That it is at first glance unremarkable, that it conceals beneath its surface an entrenched vitality, accounts for a large part of its appeal.
Yes, Collisions is in the end a bewitching album full of songs that slowly disseminate, like “So Far, So What” and “Pulverized.” Maybe I am over thinking this all (I know I am), and the only distinction Collisions illuminates is that which Wilde elevated above the one between good and bad—that between what is charming and what is tedious.
The National – Alligator
Spoon – Girls Can Tell
Idaho – Three Sheets to the Wind