Saturday, June 05, 2010

One idea, three ways: Voivod, Kettle Chips and the unified rock aesthetic

Blown away tonight by Killing Technology, a 1987 album by Quebec prog-thrash overlords Voivod that I picked up this afternoon on LP. As I marvel at the completeness of the vision presented here--everything plays into the sci-fi gestalt, right down to the lyric sheet, which features drummer-artist Away's brilliant ancient-to-the-future calligraphy--I think about a quote that's been springing to mind constantly of late. The source is an interview with the admirably single-minded black-metal duo Bone Awl, itself known for a striking audiovisual unity:

What I first found attractive in Bone Awl and in your label Klaxon Records, were your excellent artworks, which succeed in remaining really black-metalish while moving away from commonplaces... Did you study arts?

All together now! You write one idea in three ways. Once in music, once in words, and once in images.

To me, this is an incredibly profound distillation of what rock aesthetics should be. It's been germinating in my mind for months know, and I see and hear examples of it constantly. Utterly perfect case in point: the work of Glenn Danzig. Think of the imagery, the Misfits, Danzig and Samhain logos; now think of the goth-bluesy sounds; now think of the graphic, lurid, sumptuously dark words. ONE IDEA/THREE WAYS.

Voivod is exactly like that: Piggy's cyborg riffage; Snake's technoparanoid, Philip K. Dick-ian words; Away's gritty-fantastical graphic mania (compiled here in book form). ONE IDEA/THREE WAYS. Can't wait to dig deeper into this particular catalog.

Most of my favorite rock fits this bill: Craw (the art inside the first two records enthralls me to this day--the perfect analog for the band's smart-went-crazy flailings), ALL (can you imagine ALL's hyperactive prog-punk without its cartoon mascot, Allroy?), Morbid Angel (those riffs... that LOGO!), Rush (the arcane nobility of the tunes=the Star Man reaching ever higher), Black Flag (Ginn/Pettibon), even something like the Band (that music is inseparable from those classic old-timey photos)--I could go on and on.

I've been thinking a lot about this re: my own band, STATS. I guess what it really comes down to is brand-building, no? And not in a crass way, but you want to use all the media at your disposal to drive home the company message, as it were. That's one reason I decided a few years back to rope in my close friend Remi Thornton as our official cover artist:

I want a unified look, as though each new release were a new flavor of Kettle Chips--a spin on a familiar template. And I also realized that, as much as I love a lot of instrumental rock, words are important to me. (Don Caballero's publishing imprint said it all: "Not the Only Music You Listen to Music.") Accordingly, vocals and lyrics are making a comeback in the music of STATS. Stay tuned as we attempt to craft ONE IDEA/THREE WAYS.

Kind readers, what are other great examples of ONE IDEA/THREE WAYS in music? Bring 'em on in the comments.

P.S. Just watched Under Great White Northern Lights, a fine recent White Stripes documentary. ONE IDEA/THREE WAYS is all over what Jack and Meg do. (Jack speaks constantly in the film of aesthetic "constriction.")


michael said...

Nice post. The simplicity of three is important; the same idea 14 ways wouldn't work as well. Though any ad exec would probably just tell you this is Branding 101, thinking through examples made me realize most bands miss at least one of the three.

My examples: Parliament/Funkadelic (arriving aliens have better parties). Stereolab (too-cool utopian futurism). Roxy Music (louche, wealthy decadence). Shellac (contrarian DIYism), Kraftwerk (calm, mechanical rationality), Sonic Youth (scattershot emotional collage using whatever's at hand), Duke Ellington (elegance uber alles, and thinking more of the look of the man and his band rather than album covers).

Alex said...

first band that came to mind was Converge, at least the complete aesthetic of Jane Doe.

Max Suechting said...

The two that spring to mind for me are Refused (eclectic and poetic resistance to capitalism) and John Coltrane (reserved-yet-transcendent). There's probably stronger argument to be made for Refused, but I think all the iconic Coltrane album covers (particularly the Impulse! releases) paired with the liner notes (and, on A Love Supreme, Trane's poem) fit the bill as well. Come to think of it, lots of the AACM/60s-70s black avant-garde folks (Braxton springs to mind, as do Wadada Leo Smith, the Art Ensemble, and arguably Sun Ra) might fit the bill as well, depending on how you define the "words" part of the triangle.

Could you squeeze John Cage in as well? Considering he "authored" visual art, music, and books without distinguishing one from another (and all three from "philosophy" or "theory") he seems relevant, if definitely a departure from the rest of the list.

DK said...

CLUTCH. Evey album goes one idea, three ways.

evan said...

Despite diminishing artistic returns, The Mars Volta and Radiohead.

Interesting sidenote on the White Stripes. In "Ladies and Gentleman... the Fabulous Stains", a brit punk singer tries to educate a young Diane Lane about the limitations of her band's riot girr-esque concept by saying "right now, all you've got are your white stripes" (a reference to their new wave haircuts).

Was this layer of pop cultural artifice an intentional addition to the White Stripes' 3-way concept? Who knows, but it's a neat detail (and a cool movie).

Anonymous said...

Jimi Hendrix.
Little Richard.
etc., in that foundational line - (Howlin' Wolf) - on back to Delta players like Charley Patton, for whom image had to be live and crisp enough to stand apart even at close range, from like 2 feet away.
The trend, reading backwards, roots the field of "images" in personal image, a proposal of one's self; by the time we hit Hendrix, though (and this is why he's a key example), the ensemble could be (i.e., was) tagged "Wagnerian" - Wagner being like "one idea, three ways" at its most programmatic.

Flash forward to DEVO...

Jake said...

Interesting post - sorry to be getting to it so late. Leaving aside album art, Steve Lacy has a pretty unified aesthetic. To me it all feels weirdly object-like: the titles ("Bone," "Stalks," "The Crust"); the short, angular themes; the compressed sound of the soprano. Even the guy's last name seems to reinforce the aesthetic.

Anonymous said...

Yes! We were talking about this a few weeks ago...the example was Helmet's "Betty" album - in that case, one of the three ways (the album art) is a complete - and utterly successful - fake-out: Ugly & terse riffs, ugly & terse lyrics...gorgeous & colorful album sleeve?? Delightful!

First example leaping to my mind of a band nailing it solid all three ways? FAR BEYOND DRIVEN.