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Thursday, March 01, 2012

FRANKIE ROSE, GRIMES AND THE BAROQUE SUBLIMITY OF CHAMBER POP


 I've been listening to two records in my care recently- the new Grimes record Visions and Frankie Rose's immaculate and top-selling Interstellar.

 Both records share a baroque sensibility and achieve an impact of sublimity that require comment.

 First, on the baroque sensibility.  Baroque is a neglected period of pre-modern taste, coinciding with the post-Renaissance era in places ranging from Italy, to Spain, to Eastern Europe, to the new world.   In it's initial iteration, Baroque was a description of architectural design, but like other words from architectural criticism (Gothic and Post-Modern to name two), the idea of Baroque style has long transcended the civic and religious Architecture of the 16th and 17th century.

 In recent times Baroque used as a description is often a negative, possessing the same negative connotation that you get when you call an institution "Byzantine."  Like the Byzantine usage in the context of bureaucracy, the modern meaning of "Baroque" i.e. "usually pejorative, describing [art] that has excessive ornamentation or complexity of line."

  That's a shame because I am quite a fan of the Baroque.  Really, who doesn't like excessive ornamentation or complexity in works of art?   I mean like all different types of music, but calling something Baroque is not an insult for me, quite the opposite.

  A key characteristic of Baroque in its original manifestation- the Architecture of the 16th and 17th century- Baroque was a truly international style, with examples all over the world.  This is a characteristic that it shares with the Modern style- not limited to specific places.

  To listen to Grimes Visions and Frankie Rose Interstellar is to hear the Baroque style manifested in popular music.   The Baroque sensibility is inherited separately by each Artist from different sources.  In the case of Visions, the proximate inspiration appears to be the Aphex Twin/WARP records canon from the last decade- including Autechre and Boards of Canada as important stylistic reference points.

  In the case of Frankie Rose, the source seems to be shared with the more chamber pop oriented sensibilities of Vivian Girls- of whom Rose was a founding member, as well as the advances on the close harmonies and layered vocals made on the Vivian Girls sound by Dum Dum Girls.

  Regardless of the various influences, the end result is similar in that both records are Baroque pop classics with their own charm, and more importantly, ENDURING REPLAY-ABILITY.   The number one problem I experience with music I buy is that I never want to listen to the record again after hearing it for the first time, and both Visions and Interstellar escape this designation: largely because of the Baroque- interesting- complex- ornamented- nature of the pop music contained.

  Both records are also sublime in the original "beautiful/terrifying" mode that was initially described in the late 17th century.  Today, sublime just means "super fantastic" but back then, to call something sublime was to comment both on it's beauty and fearfulness.  The classic example of the 17th and 18th century meaning of sublime is that expressed by a romantic poet contemplating the Swiss Alps, when he has to cross the Swiss Alps and he's afraid he will die in the crossing.

  Both albums create this sublime effect by pairing the Baroque song craft with a lyrical persona that is slightly cold, distant and removed.   Both Artists use vocal modification to create different layers of lyrics and effects, using their voice like another instrument.  The distance created by the vocal modification works to the benefit of both Artists.

  My sense is that contemporary indie Artists to often try to create intimacy with their Audience instead of inspiring fascination. All the social media work creates that intimacy but works against the inspiration of fascination among potential audience members.






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