Pop music has its definitions strewn everywhere about the landscape of music today. Gwen Stefani to Kanye West to 50 Cent to Carrie Underwood, Plain White T’s, Dashboard Confessional, Rihanna: all of these may be considered on some level Pop music. Purists come in at this point recognizing where demarcations between Gwen and Rihanna should be seen, showing presenting the rift between Kanye West and 50 Cent, separating Plain White T’s from Dashboard and Carrie Underwood from everyone else entirely. Attempts at more precise definitions occur, labeling some obviously as R&B, some Rap, others Hip-Hop, then Rock, Soft Rock, Emo, Country. Regardless, none of these people would be considered “experimental” or “World music,” and obviously not “classical,” so what kind of music is it in relation to the things it isn’t? It’s pop.
When someone from the “experimental” category, more specifically noise rock, decides that he’s going to make a pop record, the ambiguity arises. What kind of pop?
Here is the situation of BJ Warshaw, member of Parts & Labor, and his new “pop” project Shooting Spires. What is specifically pop about it though is hard to determine.
In terms of production, it is not pop at all. It is low-fi recording that revels in the ambiguity of what exactly is making the noise that I, the listener, am hearing. The noise sounds flubbed from a far down cave, far far down, where it’s hardly individual instruments that make the noise, but instead all of the sounds of drums and strings gargle together in the cave’s echo chamber and come out in a particularly rhythmic belch.
The rhythm does seem to be what stays central in most of Shooting Spires’ songs. The rhythms ring throughout entire songs, making no changes for different verses, no specialization of chorus, instead shooting through each song in one steady streamline. Many of these rhythms are pieced together with speed and sparse decoration, nothing fairly fancy, just some percussion, quick guitar. That much of it seems pop, the simple orchestration made with nothing more than the humble intention of “doing the trick,” but no chorus, no bridge section? These are trademarks of many pop songs, some pop being unrecognizable without that repeating chorus and the glorious step above it taken in the bridge.
Glory in any form seems to be shunned from Shooting Spires as well. The music hasn’t any aspirations, doesn’t writhe to reach some great height. The rhythm going through the song keeps it all very grounded, and with hardly any melodic changes to build from, the music rests, simply rests. This is reflected in the production values as well, no sharpness attempted to obtain, nothing precise that Shooting Spires wants listeners to hear, just the noise coming out of the speakers will do. The music makes no dazzling attempts to move its listeners, at least no attempts that rival the strides made in pop music. This lack of glory might be seen as the place where Shooting Spires is most like pop. As mentioned, Shooting Spires doesn’t aspire to some height not yet reached. Mostly, its fine to rest upon the rhythmic grounds it sets for itself at the beginning of the song, and rather than be desperate to get to someplace with the music, to build the bridge to reach the apex of catharsis, it would rather take it easy. This is an aspect of pop music that is usually derided, that it makes no great leaps and bounds to get to something new, some great new place in music. Pop music isn’t revolutionary, it is simply status quo. Really though, why is revolution good? Why must we writhe to reach the heights?