Thursday, September 17, 2009

Music: Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang

There are two routes to genre innovation. First, you can cargo cult it. Take the thing you dig and try to recreate it with the elements you have on hand. Second, you can take the object of your obsession back to first principles and see if, through a bit of aesthetic husbandry, you can grow something similar from the same seeds.

Both of these routes necessarily lead to some sort of innovation. Cultural context is one of Heraclitus's rivers and, even if the intention was for some complete copy, the result is always some mutant offspring. Neither guarantees quality. Like the products of actual cargo cults, standing on the shoulders of giants too often justifies stunted development. The results can be shallow and redundant. On the other hand, attempting to go back to first principles requires a certain amount of hubris that you 1) can not only puzzle out the necessary elements, but also 2) have the necessary talent to transform those elements in something vital and new. Tons of Brit bands were exposed to the same influences as the Beatles. And, yet, only one of them became the Fab Four. There's also a danger that you fall into this obsessive "prior art" trap. Searching for the magic origin story of an artistic accomplishment can turn into a snobbish prejudice towards source material. It is a valid observation that Anthony Newley influenced David Bowie; the conclusion that Anthony Newley must, therefore, be better than David Bowie does not follow. Down that path lies a sort of sterile, dogmatic traditionalism.

Though neither of these routes is really any more guaranteed of success, it seems to me that cargo cults are more common. A cargo cult take less investment. It better fits the faddish way in which we consume music. And it is a young artist's answer to the problem of developing roots in a biz that gives you just a few short years to find your identity. (What more efficient way for a singer/songwriter to project an entire backstory. political outlook, and fan expectation framework than slipping small bursts of DiFranco hiccough laughter in between the songs in her set?)

Consequently, though they are not necessarily better bands, I think relative scarcity gives artists who try to assemble works derived from first principles gives them an added element of curiosity. One wants to see them if only because they aren't something you see everyday.

Groups peddling a fusion of psychobilly Americana and goth glam are a dime a dozen. What makes Miss Derringer, a shifting quintet build around the core duo of foxy vox Liz McGrath and guitarist Morgan Slade, is their precise, tight sound (these guys ain't another sloppy Cramps rip). I also feel they've got a genuine affection for the roots of the music they play. MD doesn't just dig psychobilly and and its rocka- ancestors, their sound has a grim, lean country and blue undercurrent.

The Betty-Boop-by-way-of-Suicide-Girls (with a hint, just a hint, of Cyndi Lauper) charm of the charismatic McGrath doesn't hurt none either.

Here's them doing "Click, Click, Bang, Bang" live. It's off Winter Hill, their new long player.

1 comment:

harrit said...


This is the first time I’ve read about this. I keep learning new things everyday!