(Updated with links.)
I'm launching a new feature here: Listening Skills. Just a silly name for a music review post.
A while back somebody from the record label Drag City asked me if I'd like a free copy of The Red Krayola's latest, a five-song LP called Five American Portraits. I immediately said yes. The Red Krayola is a very strange, psychedelic, experimental, avant-garde rock band. I own and very much enjoy the band's 1996 release, Hazel. It's an extremely weird disc, with lots of dissonant sounds, insane but clever lyrics, and other, similar nonsense, but many of the tracks are surprisingly catchy and fun to sing along with once you get used to them. I was hoping for something similar from Five American Portraits. Sadly, that's not what I got.
The album's track list is as follows:
- Wile E. Coyote
- George W. Bush
- Jimmy Carter
- John Wayne
- Ad Reinhardt
So, each song is a portrait of the person it's named after, right? Yes, exactly. In fact, literally. Each song is a description of that person's face, accompanied by music. Actually, less a description than a simple rundown of the facial features: left eyebrow, left cheek, right eyebrow, etc. It's... it's awful. It's really, really awful. The music isn't interesting. The painfully dull and repetitive lyrics are read/sung out in extremely annoying voices. It's almost impossible to listen to.
There's art in the world that I'm glad exists, because conceptually it's interesting, and by its existence it extends and expands what art is and what art can be. But just because I'm glad something exists doesn't necessarily mean I like experiencing it. In fact, art of this type can often be the opposite of entertaining. Five American Portraits is a very good example. It's a reasonably clever concept, but I much prefer listening to a description of it than listening to the thing itself.