Monday, 1 February 2010

I like simple

To have simplicity in music, whilst still retaining interest, I think is the ultimate goal.  Music can of course be complicated and still be good, but the one does not necessarily follow the other.

I was thinking about this when listening to some of King Crimson's first album whilst round at Al's place.  That album had a certain spark and energy of "the new" about it, and I could see why people liked it back in the day.  Music hadn't really been done before like that.

However, I've also heard some quite revolting prog-rock bombast which aims to impress with it's alleged cleverness, but succeeds in only creating a stinking mire.

It's sometimes interesting to see what you can take out of a song, and still hold the listener's attention, rather than what you can add in.


  1. Some thoughts, given in the order that I thought of them:

    Y' know Nelson, we should go for some drinks one day and have a good old chat :)

    and, for the record, I agree with you. Although we may draw the complex/simple lines in different places, I reckon we share a distate for Dream Theatre (revolting american prog-rock band), and probably most other prog-rock bands. Prog-rock as a genre has been blighted by musicans with more technique than sense.

    Although, you have to admit, there is a place for complex, intense music. As otherwise the "simple music" would lose some of its effectiveness. And a lot of it is cultural. I'm a big fan of polyrhythms and so on, and I (probably along with most the western world) would put them in the "complex" category. But to a lot of african musicans, they're the very building blocks of music, and they'd (probably) view the Western theory of harmony as pretty complex.

    I'd say that Lindsay's songs are pretty complex, at least compared to a lot of other songwriters.

    So maybe you're giving complexity a raw deal. True, playing lots of notes is usually a bad thing, but I'd argue that playing lots of fast notes isn't complex, it's just being a twat and showing off :p (Except in some circumstance where the musican is trying to communicate something through the intensity of his/her playing... some of Coltrane's solos would be a good example. They transcend complexity and become as spritiual as any Bach mass.

    I guess what I like is "hidden complexity." Everything sounds nice and listenable, but if you dig a little deeper there are loads of nice, interesting ideas bubbling under the surface.

  2. Interesting thoughts, as always. As a Crimson fan I'm glad you don't lump them with the excesses of the genre they gave birth to. The 1980 Crimson is unrecognisably different, and much of the best of their work, particularly the Discipline album would probably fit the bill you describe. Four of the best musicians in the world, capable of absolutely anything, reining themselves in VERY tightly. Oo-er missus!

    The other one that comes to mind, strangely, is Paul Simon post-Graceland. He'll probably never get back to Mrs Robinson-style pop, but he specialises now in very quirky, quite humourous verses strung asymmetrically over rhythm tracks that reward a lot of listens. Simplicity is good, purposeful complexity is good, making a virtue of simplicity is even better but much harder to do (step forward Emily Scott!).

  3. Thanks you for your responses, some interesting thoughts in return :)

    Riadsala, I agree that Lindsay's music isn't particularly simple, which is why I feel like I can be fairly basic on percussion. Best to hear someone play some complex guitar well, than a jobbing djembe bozo clattering about all over it inexpertly. In terms of music that appears simple, but reveals hidden complexity, you could do a lot worse than Tim Buckley, especially the live "Dream Letter" album which has your fave, Danny Thompson on bass. Superb.

    Mr L, it seems I may have to borrow yet MORE music off you at some point. "Graceland" is indeed a fine album, I don't think I've heard much apart from "The Obvious Child" from after that point. Emily Scott has a way with simplicity that would be boring in anyone else's hands, but for her, it's made brilliant.

    Still, if it's simplicity you're after, you can't beat a good blast of The Stooge's "Loose" off the "Fun House" album.

    "I feel fine to be dancin', baby
    I feel fine, I'm a shakin' leaf
    I feel fine to be dancin', baby
    Cause it's love, yeah I do believe"

  4. Interesting you should mention "Loose." In my youth when I was out the house once, my dad told me he dipped into my record collection just to see what on earth his son was listening to. Imagine his surprise when, totally at random, he pulled out "Fun House" and was immediately assaulted by thrashing guitars, a squawking sax and a hollering Iggy!

    I fear I may have ruined his attempt to connect with modern music.

  5. Ha ha! A fair old sonic assault.

  6. Is complex the new simple or is simple the new complex? A gear change would be complex for me.