Thursday, 3 December 2009

Gravity Wave Gambol CD release at Téranga, November 6, 2009

The Gravity Wave always put on a quirky and high-energy show, mainly thanks to the group's core duo, Finlay Braithwaite and Ken Farrell. Their songs are always original, and in performance they revel in the strangeness of the music they're playing. Ken is an engaging singer who unself-consciously throws in a rap or toast as necessary, and Finlay embodies his bass lines in his movement, occasionally interjecting with a hoot or a quip.

They always surprise in some way or another. Like: I think every time I've seen The Gravity Wave play, they've consisted of different members (besides Ken and Finlay). I saw just the two of them rock the Boat a couple of years ago. Then I saw their previous CD release at the Great Hall, and there were seven or eight of them. At Téranga there were four of them, including a DJ scratching along and a drummer. I'm not too fond of the record-scratching-as-instrument thing, but with the already eclectic mix of sounds these guys create, it worked.

The band played mostly new songs, like "Yo-Yo" and "Great One", along with a couple of fan favourites; and everyone had a good time—I could tell because of the jumping, dancing, and yelling—and I don't think it was because Ken was giving away Gravity Wave-branded shopping bags.

Sometimes I'm impressed that people enjoy The Gravity Wave's music. It isn't always easy to digest as pop music; although I consider that far from a bad thing. I'd like to say that it takes a sophisticated ear to get it, but I think the boys in the band have just achieved a balance of pop and avant-garde elements, as well as a healthy measure of dance beats, irony, and nostalgic cultural references. It's a balance that generally works, but stays far away from more mainstream artists whom you might describe similarly. At the same time, I won't deny that their fans seem to fall within a certain age group that can't help but appreciate that sort of thing.

I would say it's clear that their goal—whether explicit or otherwise—is to deconstruct pop. However, I think it's also clear that they're not creating a simple (or complex) pastiche of musics, but rather a new pop music that doesn't recognize the boundaries of the old. I'm going to run with that a bit.

So much of current music—especially the stuff based around sampling and mash-ups, but really anything that displays its influences with excess pride—weakly rehashes the old, what's come before. It's not always bad, and certainly I don't want to denigrate the institution of influence. There is nothing wrong with sampling and mashing up songs in order to create something new. The problem is that the result is rarely actually new. It's usually boring and overly simple. The fact that people like this music confounds me and the music itself sometimes angers me!

The worst offenders in my mind are those producers who just take the music form an older song, add new lyrics, maybe a revised melody, and some additional effects, and call the thing a new song. The best are those who use older songs and samples as though they were themselves instruments or notes, and craft songs like songwriters. I'm sure you can think of some from each group off the top of your head.

My point is that most of the pastiche music of today that might appear innovative on the surface is far from it, and certainly has not escaped the traditional boundaries of pop. But some has looked over the fence and imagined what's on the other side. Maybe some pop musicians and producers have even gone over. I think Ken and Finlay of The Gravity Wave have at least had a glimpse of what lies beyond.

I'm going to make up a coincidence now: I've been reading "Goodbye 20th Century", a biography of Sonic Youth, and seeing The Gravity Wave perform, I immediately thought of the culture of experimentation that informed Sonic Youth's early work, along with the desire to create something that was really new, but which a general audience still might like. Sonic Youth did not start as a pop band, and they never became one, although they did manage to find a few hooks along the way. What Sonic Youth did—whether they wanted to or not—was expand the boundaries of popular music so that they eventually found themselves within the realm of pop. (I'm prepared to agree to disagree on that.)

At the moment, pop music is so bloated and distended (in more ways than one) that it's basically amorphous now, and shows no signs of contracting to a state where anyone could come up with an acceptable definition. I don't think it could be any other way. Some will disagree, but I say the sole criterion of Pop Music is popularity, and if some strange and esoteric band or artist become popular, it's only fair to pull aside the velvet rope and let that artist in. Of course, what happens once you get in to the club might leave you wanting. For one, an artist can hardly be both popular and esoteric.

Anyway, The Gravity Wave aren't there yet. They still seem to me more like an experiment than a long-term ambition. For instance, I prefer to watch a band play instruments rather than listen to prerecorded backing tracks. I'm sure there are many others who don't consider that a hurdle on the path to stardom.

Regardless, it's a pleasure to watch The Gravity Wave, and I look forward to seeing them transform from experimental indie darlings into serious pop stars.

Oh, and by the way, you can grab Gambol on CD from Fuzzy Logic Records (look under "Shop") or as a digital download from

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones you have a lot more creativity and originality now keep it up!

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