Saturday, July 03, 2010
Work song: Keelhaul, household chores and the unthinking
"...with rock & roll, the more you think, the more you stink."—David Briggs, quoted in Shakey
I'm currently ensconced in the marvelous Neil Young biography cited above. In one of my favorite passages, Briggs, Young's longtime producer, rants about the pitfalls of modern recording practices ("People realized they could do their part... later. Play their part and fix it later"). Maybe there's cliché at the heart of this sentiment ("Turn off the brain" and whatnot), but is it not so true that rock comes from another place than the mind?
I have all this on the brain today—see? the brain again—at the outset of what promises to be a great holiday weekend. Watched Woody Allen's Alice this morning with my new fiancée (great movie), and then we launched into one of our epic cleaning fits. I always self-assign to doing-the-dishes duty and I actually love it. The reason is that it affords me the perfect opportunity to Rock Out to whatever music I choose for an extended, uninterrupted period.
Re: "the more you think, the more you stink," something I've noticed is that certain music can rule more the less you specifically concentrate on it—like, say, if you're doing the dishes or running on the treadmill while you're listening. Case in point: Keelhaul, a band whom I've often written about before (like here and here) and whom I've become re-obsessed with over the last few days after learning that they're playing Santos Party House in NYC on August 5 (with Unsane, can't wait). Today I blasted their latest album, 2009's Keelhaul's Triumphant Return to Obscurity, as I soaped and scrubbed all the bowls, forks, knives, cutting boards, whatever. And though it was such a mundane domestic task, there was something beautiful about my ACTIVITY paralleling that of the music.
You listen to Keelhaul, in other words, and you want to work. Because what this band does best is work. They are riffsmiths, endlessly churning through labyrinthine math-metallic constructions—a practice that somehow transcends a conventional task like songwriting. Some Keelhaul songs are a minute long; some are seven minutes long. Some have vocals; some don't. Some are unrelentingly brutal; some are downright chill. But what unites all of their music is a sense of drivenness, of single-minded, less-you-think-less-you-stink MOTION.
Enslaving yourself to a riff. Is there any point to it? Well, the point is that it gets you out of your head. I've often found this at STATS rehearsals, as we cycle through repetition after repetition after repetition of a riff. It's not something you'd ever perform (unless you're Cheer-Accident doing "Filet of Nod"!), but you do it for the release, the pleasure of activity and motion and forwardness and non-static-icity and sculpting something out of sound.
That is so often the pleasure of making and listening to music for me—just being on a moving train, or somesuch. Exorcising the demons via vigorous movement. And if you're not playing music, DOING SOMETHING while listening is often the next best thing. So I wish you all activity—unthinking and nonstinking—as well as a great ROCK soundtrack this Independence Day weekend, and in that spirit, here are Keelhaul themselves, destroying the silence and the inactivity with pure WORK music in their hometown of Cleveland just a few weeks ago: