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New Music

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Creative Commons (Attribution, Non-Commercial, Share-alike)
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Agenda Publications
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Frank Pahl has been writing and performing new music sincethe early '80s. Originally bom in Trenton, Mich. and attending Wayne State University, Pahl plays music that is a combination of experimental production sounds, catchy musical phrases and down-right weird lyrics. His latest recording, "In Cahoots," deserves a second listen. In this recording Pahl has called on a number of like-minded cohorts to assemble this mixed bag of hummable melodie tunes, disjointed squawks and groans, and esoteric sensibilities into a more or less accessible listening experience. About half vocal ensemble work and half instrumental, the material is all interesting but certainly of mixed quality. For instance, the opening tune, "Wisconsin," is a very pleasing instrumental. Incorporating the Eastem European sounds of the Greater Detroit ensemble Immigrant Suns, the mix of violin, accordion, ukulele and strum stick certainly makes for a catchy opening tune - it's just plain nice to listen to. But "Wisconsin" has nothing to do with the state. This Wisconsin farm boy never heard anything like this tune growing up among the cows. There are no polka or beer-drinking raves, just good music mixed with a strange musical sensibility. Similarly, the metody of "Emotional Thumbs," f eaturing the legendary musical expert mental st Eugene Chadboume, is very pleasant. But the lyrical twists would make this a very hard sell to current radio stations: "you better take love when it comes ... because in the end we're all cremated equal ... we are all equal in the end." "Warped #29" is a fresh mix of whistling keyboards and a strident violin, more Frank Zappa than anything else. "Lorene," perhaps the most accessible tune on the recording, is about a woman who lives in a trailer park who shoots her kids but bungles the job on herself. Decades later, her suicide note cleariy outlines "how to effi ciently kill the trailer park mice." This lyric is either a great use of irony or just plain out there. All this weirdness is not to suggest that this recording is weak. The production is first-rate; the lyrics for the most part are listenable and certainly beyond the moon-June-spoon orientation of most curren t pop music; and the music is a listening challenge (note Pahl's tape edits and Luc Houtkamp's tenor sax playing on "Blues With Luc," the prepared piano on "1001 Real Apes," and the dual ukuleles on "Ode to Ukes"). Indeed these tunes are different, but in no way is there a sense of put-on here. The mix of hard lyricism, cutting-edge music and instrumentation, and clean production qualities. Iets one know that Pahl is completely serious about his work. Not that one is convinced that Pahl is as weird as the characters in his songs - er, he's probably not - but one is convinced that Pahl is authentic. The tightness of the music in conjunction with the strangeness of the lyrics indícate a serious contrivance, an off-the-cuff conceit that genuinely reflects his musical and lyrical aesthetic. One classic found on this enjoyable recording is the Torn Waits-influenced These Lips." The music is a slow, almost lugubrious, facsimile of Frank Sinatra's "My Way" complete with pizzicato violins and cellos over a gravelyvoiced Pahl. The lyrics are outrageous. After declaring that his lips yearn for another, the protagonist asks if you'd "like to partake in [their] sweet juices? ... Heil there' s plenty of worse f ates . . . you could always wake up next to a taco bell employee in his pink mobile home with two flat tires ... (who) insists he wants a baby." The scenario folds into the story of a car breaking down, the bridesmaid forced to hitchhike with atobacco-stained, beer-burping, armpi t-scratching semi-truck d ri ver who, of course, becomes her worst nightmare. In the end sharing the sweet juices of the protagonists lips doesn't sound like a bad idea at all. It's a great hoot. Truly , there is something for everyone on this recording. Although one might not connect with the music or lyricai sentiment of every tune, the collection cleariy shows that Pahl is a talented, inventive idealistmusician. Give this recording a listen or two! GROUND RULES One advantage of working in a record store, being a dj, or writing record reviews is receiving a lot of music from recording companies, artists and agents who want you to listen to their wares. Not that the volume of material I receive is overwhelming - I do listen to everything I receive - what is astonishing is the range of quality in the recordings I receive. Although much of it is rather blandly in the middle, neither good nor bad, what recordings get a second listen depends on two issues: first, the musicly ricsprod uction values. They have to be within the realm of conventional professional dards, that is, the music has to be memorable; the lyrics sophisticated or catchy; and the production clean and balancee). Not to suggest that all these qualities need to be present at the same time or to the same degree. In any case if a recording doesn't sound like a professional work - the music stinks, the lyrics are blather, or the production sounds like it was done in a rain barrel, I won't bother mentioning the work to you. The second issue which wi II afford a recording a second listen is uniqueness, that is, within the conventional professional standards mentioned above, a recording must present some element that goes beyond the standards. For instance, histori cally when a new stylistic genre emerges- disco, rap, grunge, new country, even rock'n'roll - it is often because the music, lyrics, or production of the new recording superseded in some way the existing conventional standards. This new music, first, catches the attention of those who listen to a lot of music and trien those who are constantly listening for new inventive sounds. Rarely does new music emerge from the ímpetus of society (although the social conditions may afford the nity for new artista to find a venue to play and record). New styles come first from the artists. They then travel through a social system - be it the good-ole-boy network of the recording biz, word-of-mouth from one college dj to the next, or even the internet - finally reaching an audience who is either receptive to the statements the artists are making or not If the audience does encourage the artist to continue making the aesthetic statements - either through buying the product or showing up at the concerts - the nascent music can emerge into a full-blown musical genre. Of course every musical genre has one way or another gone through a varíation of this system. But obviously, there is no formula to make any musical statement an ultímate success or to change the way we buy and listen to music. All an artist can do is be true to their muse; all us listeners can do is keep listening and supporting new music. Mmmft}mmmmÊÊia


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