Tuesday, June 19, 2012

1989-91


Gold Medal: Doolittle by The Pixies

Most Western music, particularly rock and roll, comes in series’ of four bars per phrase. The Pixies, however, like to use three or sometimes five. It’s not because they are ├╝ber sophisticated or anything—The Pixies just didn’t give a flying f*** about conventions. But unlike most punk rock, their music is intricate and layered, passion with direction and precision. While Black Francis wails bloody murder, Kim Deal weaves her counter melodies over Santiago’s dissonant guitar and Lovering's steady backbeat, creating a mosaic of connecting disconnections. And somehow the opaque lyrics give the music more meaning than direct complaints about “The Man” as in generic punk. When Francis sings, “If the Devil is six, than God is seven!” in “This Monkey’s Going to Heaven,” I have no idea what he’s talking about but I want to scream it to the rooftops!

Silver Medal: Rumour and Sigh by Richard Thompson

If I had to name the top ten most underrated careers in rock and roll, Mr. Thompson would be on there. A triple threat topnotch songwriter, singer and guitarist, this album was released twenty-four years after Thompson first made his splash with Fairport Convention. And though the fine wine metaphor is well over-used, nothing else comes to mind about the guy. The songs on Rumour and Sigh tell the weathered tales of an experienced man, but lack the preachiness that often accompanies music from the middle-ages—they’re just great songs, top to bottom. And believe it or not, twenty years after this album, Richard’s still touring and playing with all the fire of old.

Bronze Medal: Oranges & Lemons by XTC

The first time you listen to Oranges & Lemons is completely overwhelming, and possibly a bit unpleasant. The album is one hour of complex, extremely dense music with political messages, mostly sung by the occasionally abrasive Andy Summers. But a couple listens later (or years in my case), it becomes obvious that this is brilliant. Each of the fifteen songs is achingly clever, sometimes even downright powerful. The final track, “Chalkhills and Children” ranks right up there with some of Brian Wilson’s best work. Reminds me a of a more modern "'Til I Die." Pure pop music as art at its finest. 

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Hong Kong, A Year Later

A little over a year ago, I wrote a post on this blog about my big upcoming life change in moving to Hong Kong and what that meant for Page 43. Rereading that post, I haven’t exactly followed through with what I planned to do.

Last June, I wrote, “…you can expect me to start writing about what kind of role music plays in Hong Kong society.” The closest I’ve gotten to doing that is a brief post in my other blog about two concerts I attended back in October—one of which was an opera premiere, the other being a Hong Kong Philharmonic performance. But sadly, my grand hopes to chronicle my musical experiences have fallen to the wayside. Part of this is because I’m quite busy. But there are other reasons as well.

Hong Kong supposedly has a local music scene, but I haven’t really found it yet. While Seattle has dozens of venues showcasing exciting local talent on any day of the week with press advertising it, Hong Kong doesn’t operate like that. The downside of being an 'East meets West' metropolis is that, as the great Gregory Youtz warned me back at PLU, most of the performances you hear about here are imported and not a product of the Hong Kong or even Chinese people. Over the last year, I’ve attended a handful of concerts but at none of them did I see a truly local artist. The best concert I’ve seen here was Yo-Yo Ma and his Silk Road Orchestra, which is about as international as it gets. And the closest I got to seeing local talent was at the Clockenflap Music Festival, but a number of factors made it tough to really enjoy that event. Mostly being freezing and exhausted.

But I haven’t given up. The music journalist inside of me has not died. Another reason I haven’t written about my HK musical experiences is my own laziness. If I really pushed myself, I could start digging deeper through various magazines and websites for more concerts to attend, local artists or not. I could buck up and make it to a Cantonese Opera performance, which is historically HK’s most significant unique musical genre (I refuse to accept that Cantopop is unique or significant). Too bad Cantonese Opera sounds like wailing cats to me. And honestly, I should have written something here about the Silk Road concert back in March, considering it left me speechless with wonder, but I never got around to it.

One of my big mid-year resolutions is to increase the amount of music in my life. After almost a year here, my musical nourishment has consisted of a few songs written, a few concerts attended, and some serious ukulele chops thanks to having a uke to wail on during downtime at work. But put that all together and it’s not enough for someone who needs music like a boat needs water.

To my credit, I have continued to wear out the buttons of my iPod with focused listening of new music I’ve discovered from the Western world. I’ve also written some of my “Best of…” posts that I was planning to stop a year ago. But let’s hope that it’s less than a year before I next document a Hong Kong musical experience here on Page 43