Sunday, February 20, 2011

Moonface - Dreamland EP: Marimba and Shit-Drums

It's always nice to see someone succeeding at making pop music the old-fashioned way; by creating an object based on and informed by a familiarity with a larger musical context that would be inaccessible to the untrained ear. In a sense, a pop song should be as contemporary as it is outdated, allowing the previous work of the underground to shine through without the hostility of avant-gardism. This is certainly a simplification of previously extreme ideas, but the collage-like nature of pop music allows for many strands to be woven together into a final product that is ironically much more personal than the cold, refined methods of art music.
But those boundaries have clearly fallen, given the ease of using the term 'art pop' to describe a vast amount of music. Technological advances have certainly helped; writing arrangement parts and screwing around with the sequencer on a drum machine is arguably easier these days than getting a band together ever was. Lady Gaga and Kanye have certainly brought artistry into their work, redefining it as a multimedia performance complete with music videos referencing European art house cinema, elaborate costumes and shows, and an artificial persona that seems to be entirely detached from reality— They are clearly pop stars.
Yet there exist musicians for whom this dream presents no allure, those who fittingly evolved out of the 90s indie scene. Spencer Krug has been a part of many of the heavy-hitters in this circle, most notably Wolf Parade, and here he presents his ideas solo as Moonface. Most notable is the presence of marimba throughout the EP's one twenty-minute track, which shows an indebtedness to Steve Reich that is supported by Krug's penchant for layering instrument on instrument to create heavily rhythmic, driving episodes. The piece is essentially a suite connected by marimba, and motifs enter and reappear in a highly sophisticated fashion. Krug's lyrics are characteristically cryptic, and although I won't attempt to analyze their possible poetic meaning, their effect within the overall structure is notably fitting. "I am making hissing sounds with my mouth," Krug declares right before the end of the piece, giving a sense of the deeper otherness that remains to be heard under his well-crafted harmonies.
Marimba and Shit-Drums would never be played on Top 40 radio, yet it is clearly a great accomplishment of pop in which fans of techno will find minimalism treated in a remarkably different way, and fans of pop will hear how far the medium can be changed.