Friday, 5 June 2009

Review #1

Here there is yet another monthly regular that I have conjured up. I am constatnly digesting various works of art, and I think that it'd be great if there was a little space on my blog devoted to my adventures in this terrain. I shall span across the whole spectrum of art - literature, music, cinema - to give a well-rounded review of art objects I adore. I shall review classics I have liked for some time as well as recently-discovered gems I will report on. This month I shall start with a record that opened up a whole range of possibilities in my life: Trout Mask Replica by Captain Beefheart.


Trout Mask Replica - Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band

Often misunderstood as cacophonous chaos or used by poncey intellectuals to parade their hipness, out of the many people that have heard this record few have have actually comprehended what it seeks to accomplish and what it successfully obtains.

This album is a deconstruction of rock music. Everthing that characterises the standard rock song - stability, coherence and predictable lyrics about love - is dismantled and destroyed here. If you're bored with your record collection, this is the album you need. But even if you've heard free jazz from the likes of Albert Ayler and are fascinated by the experimentations with noise by the likes of composers like Varese, this is still a challenge. Trout Mask Replica is a phenomenon for itself; nothing like it preceded it and nothing like it has followed it. When something as unique as this appears, you have to adapt to it and re-evaluate your perceptions of what music is.

What characterised James Joyce's Ulysses as a masterpiece was its sheer size and scope. You can revisit the book again and again, and you can discover hidden facets which went over your head the first time round. Trout Mask works at the very same level. There are many different elements which are cramped into a container, and these elements attempt to burst out but are restrained by a strange, warped logic. This logic is what drives the record forward, and it is what gives it its enduring appeals. Trout Mask is filled with details like these that will last you for a lifetime.

I think that a starting point to understand the album as a whole is the track 'Dali's Car'. The guitars play around each other; they both ignore each other yet complement themselves at the same time. Listen to this track, and attempt to apply this topsy-turvy structure of the other tracks, and you'll come to the eventual realisation of what is achieved. The guitars bounce off one another, the bass rumbles along and the drums turns itself inside out yet at the same time is centred around the three other instruments. Amidst all this you get Beefheart's voice which is utterly distinctive, a Howlin' Wolf groan that enhances the instrumentations he emotionally and passionately yells against. His words are abstractions that don't make any kind of sense but, when heard orally, are displayed as revelations that succinctly summarise and encompass the ambitious scope of the album.

Trout Mask is a milestone. We shouldn't apply it to history because it doesn't belong within the historical development of rock; it stands on its own as unique. Ignoring any influence (many people say that its structure is derived from free jazz and modern composition, but they're wrong), it erases memory and presents a new art-form which is timeless, inexorable and indisputable.


Doug said...

I"d be interested in hearing your thoughts on why the album is not influence structurally (or in other ways) by free jazz.

Definitely the best rock album ever.

Its all in the rhythm.

This is the only cd I will dance to.

Tobi said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tobi said...

Captain Beefheart is defiantly one of my favourite musicians. The lyrics are amazing. To me, a song needs to have thoughtful lyrics, or else i will hate it. No matter how catchy the tune is.

When it comes to Captain Beefheart, i tend to prefer Doc at the Radar Station over Trout Mask.

Captain Beefheart is what got me into noise rock, a genre inspired by Captain Beefheart and the punk scene. I've fallen in love with bands like AIDS Wolf and Harry Pussy. My friends think I'm crazy, and I'm listening to noise, but i can hear how the instruments work together to create a beautiful cacophony.

Simon King said...

Doug: Apart from the noisy saxophone solos Beefheart plays, the structure simply doesn't share any similarities with free jazz. Sure, there's lots of polyphony and lots of stuff going on at once, but it follows a strange sense of coherence that even the most structured free jazz doesn't follow.

Tobi: 'Doc At The Radar Station' is a wonderful album, but I don't see how it's comparable to 'Trout Mask'. It is far more relaxed and restrained than the hectic turmoil that runs free in 'Trout Mask'. Overall, it isn't a masterpiece (but comes pretty close to being one) whereas 'Trout' is.

Beefheart may have influenced the noise scene, but I don't see much similarities between his stuff and that. Beefheart's music is technically very complex and difficult to play whereas the majority (but not ALL) of noise music isn't. I do like noise-rock when it has more thought put into it, and when it is more interesting. The Locust, especially, are a band I like in this genre of music.

Tobi said...

The Locust is a great band. I am also fairly exclusive with noise rock. My favourite noise bands are AIDS Wolf and Harry Pussy. Arab on Radar are also good, though I listen to them mainly for their lyrics.