Showing posts with label porcupine tree. Show all posts
Showing posts with label porcupine tree. Show all posts

Monday, March 11, 2013

album review: 'the raven that refused to sing (and other stories)' by steven wilson

I wish hipsters were more sincere.

Now, in a previous review I wrote about hipster music and culture, how most of it is rife with condescension, shallowness, and capricious exclusivity, and how most of their art is praised for the superficial aesthetic rather than deeper meaning. But as hipster culture has been embraced by the mainstream, I will say there is one thing about it I can praise, and that is that there is nothing wrong with liking different things. It's gotten people to check out and try new things they've never seen or experienced before, and I think that's only a good thing, particularly for the artists who have been struggling in the underground and are now getting more attention than just Pitchfork.

That being said, with mainstream acceptance comes rampant cynicism and naked commercial exploitation, and since hipster culture is built on consumption, the effects have been all the more stark. More than once I've caught myself wondering if people are listening to weird material not because they actually like it or appreciate its value, but because it's the 'in thing' to do. They're still following a herd - just one that's a bit more scattered.

But while hipster culture has introduced a plethora of new acts to the spotlight, it's also done something I really despise, and that is to drench everything in 'irony'. This is something I've never liked about hipster culture, because it's disingenuous and more than a little disrespectful to the artists who care about their work. Furthermore, it adds an additional asterisk to questions of what people like - are they liking it because it's something they genuinely enjoy, or because they're being 'ironic' or just running with the crowd? As someone who is deeply sincere about his likes and dislikes, I find quite insulting when people claim to like something 'ironically' because it's not just condescending to their audience, it's condescending to the artist. It's the hipster saying that their artwork is only worth anything as a punchline, not related to any merit or message. And the more time I've spent on Pitchfork, reading their 'style over substance' album reviews, the more I have to wonder whether or not any of their appreciation for the music is sincere in the slightest. 

And thus it's absolutely no surprise Pitchfork has tended to completely ignore the genres of progressive rock and metal, even though one would think both music genres would be right up their ally. Musical complexity, expansive soundscapes, a strong literary and classical tradition, these are all things Pitchfork loves, yet new prog albums, even independent ones, are never reviewed. But it becomes fairly clear when one considers that prog, in nearly all of its forms, is incredibly, achingly sincere music. These are artists pouring a ton of work and depth into their craft and delivering that message completely straight. It's a mindset that allowed Jethro Tull to make Thick As A Brick, an album spoofing the ludicrous excesses of prog rock that later came to be celebrated as one of the greatest prog albums of all time. And I think one of the reasons that album is so well-liked today isn't just because prog is sincere, it also actively demands that its listener be sincere, and thus Jethro Tull's spoof ended up being less of a joke and more of a tribute to the genre - or at least that was how the fans considered it. Perhaps to the genre's detriment, the majority of prog takes itself way too seriously, and it expects the listeners to do the same.

But, you know, most of the time, prog's seriousness and complexity can work well. Yes, the worst of prog rock and prog metal earn the 'pretentious' label right out of the gate, and one of the reasons the genre is considered near-extinct in modern times is because that bloat and pretentiousness got too unwieldy to be tolerated, but the best prog rock is timeless, delving into deep issues with intellect and surprising insight. Thus it shouldn't come as any surprise that prog rock and prog metal are two of my favourite genres of music, even despite my acknowledgement of some of the inherent ridiculousness and pretentiousness. In fact, I'll be the first to admit that often the musical complexity and dynamics are what redeems some of this genre from really not being nearly as interesting as the artists seem to think it is.

And on that note, let's talk about Steven Wilson.