You know, this week I was all set to write about the ignorance inherent within music. How we musical types stick our fingers in our ears and scream ‘LA LA LAAA’ into the night to justify our bland pub-rock. How we ignore the developments in musical history and refuse to acknowledge our traditional role in society in the endless quest to ‘make it’. How we’ve created an atmosphere where a mid-tier rapper can claim with full authority that the earth is flat. The lazy finger to point aimed squarely at Punk, a movement which seems to raise anti-intellectualism as the sole honest art and provides sneering attacks against musical thought. That said, I think this reading of Punk is completely wrong. It’s not inherently nihilist or destructive if you believe it fully. I see it far more as a progressive movement that promotes breaking structures down in order to rebuild them in our own image. The next generation will likely do the same and we should let them. Punk is not tartan and mohicans; it’s not Camden; it’s better than that. No, the ignorance within music is deeper and stems from a cocktail of desire and laziness. Desire for fame, success and to be our idols; laziness from not wanting to put the effort in to get there. So we seek the easy way out; we conform, we settle, we stop learning about the art and the craft and everything suffers as our brains shut off. Like I said, I WAS going to write this and it was going to be beautiful; a little ball of spite and rage burning a hole in some forgotten corner of the internet. I then heard Nevermen.
My compass of influence has many poles with David Bowie having the strongest pull (hence the repeated mentions of him recently), but on the other side (with an equal and opposite reaction) stands Mike Patton. I have such utter respect for everything he puts out that I was a little upset with myself that I had no idea he was working with Tunde Adebimpe (from the excellent TV On The Radio) and Doseone (the experimental rapper/composer). More fool me for ignoring the mainstream press. Actually, the mainstream press has so little to say beyond listing release dates that I suppose it’s worth ignoring for that sweet joy of the surprise release. Especially for one so rich and giving as Nevermen. I could talk for ages about the elements each artist brings to the project and wax lyrical about the egalitarian nature of the resulting music. But were I to do that then I would be no different from the media I abhor; the feeling and connection you feel listening to music of this calibre is wasted on the written word. It needs to be experienced and that can only happen by pressing play. What I do want to talk about is how this music sounds so utterly fresh and intriguing because it was born out of intense collaboration. Patton loves collaboration. So does Adebimpe. Quite right, too.
Collaborations take you out of your comfort zone. Collaborations force you to confront ideas and difficulties you wouldn’t normally experience. It’s almost impossible to remain artistically ignorant when you have to run your melodies by someone else first. Problems get solved in different ways, paths unknown get trodden. It’s, frankly, the best of experiences. It’s also where the most interesting music is happening as traditional concepts of genre are broken down and rebuilt in the truest Punk fashion. All you need for a successful collaboration is respect for your partner, something utterly apparent with Nevermen. Then again we are talking about three artists who are well aware of musical history and how it all fits together. They clearly exist on the same page if, perhaps, at different perspectives. What this builds in Nevermen is the finest control of texture and an audio variety that keeps you intrigued long after it’s finished. Right now I’m listening to the ostensibly radio friendly ‘Mr Mistake’, a rolling ball of major key dance funk with deftly poetic lyrics. Yet throughout; the mix builds and fades, the arrangement alters, little sounds appear once, never to be seen again. It is so utterly satisfying because it is so familiar yet so different. Magnify this across the album and you have something truly masterful.
I moan a lot about the quality of music because I am invested and maintain a perverse intellectuality. I can’t help it, I studied composition up to masters level and you learn certain ways of thinking that are not easily shaken. I also admit that reaction to my opinions (and academic opinions in general) often contributes to the same anti-intellectual malaise I’m whining about. But, and this is an important But, by coming at music from this angle, the satisfaction I have received from Nevermen is insane. It ticks all the high and low art boxes. It ticks everything. It makes me want to up my workload and get my own personal collaborations (which are going to be mega) up and running. This is the power of a little knowledge. Now forgive me while I pop/lock around my room; until next time.