In Bone There Is A Marketplace
Went and saw Curt Kirkwood at King's Barcade last week and spent much of the evening with my jaw on the floor - partly because the opening act was so shockingly good (it was two guys with a sitar and a tanpura, and they played for about forty minutes) and partly because it's not every day you get to see a guitarist as original and expressive and just plain excellent as Curt Kirkwood.
After the show, I picked up his new album, Snow. I have been listening to it about once a day ever since. It's almost numbingly good; there isn't a weak song on it. But it's also quite unambitious, and I don't even know how to begin talking about this quality which seems simultaneously so attractive and so dangerous.
What kind of idiot, after all, can fail to be moved by simple brilliance? Yet the evidence is everywhere: all of us are that kind of idiot. Satirists have complained that the public clamors only for novelty since at least the time of Nero, but the presence of Snow makes the complaint seem fresh again. Is acclaim really so juvenile that it can spring only from a feeling of newness, of discovery? Must an album as uniformly flawless as Snow pass nearly unnoticed just because its only commodity is its own sure-footed wit? Is novelty really so vital that we cannot be moved without it? Make no mistake: very little on Snow will surprise anybody who's familiar with Mirage or Up on the Sun. There are fewer guitar solos, and the overall groove is more down-tempo, but the other signposts are all in place: similes that practically enforce a moment of contemplation ("It seems the sweetest things are hidden in the fire/Just like snow settles on barbed wire"); choruses that rise unexpectedly from verses like dancers leaping from a closed postion into full pirouette; one unobtrusively clever chord progression after another, song after song.
And yet, and yet. Is it not natural to want to be surprised? And yet again: isn't the pursuit of surprise a childish pleasure, to be left behind once one has found one's own hierarchy of pleasures? But again: who among music fiends doesn't yearn first and foremost for new sounds, new approaches, new voices? From the midst of these questions Snow quietly and unassumingly argues its own case, cracking open melody after melody that few contemporary songsmiths could hope to approach. Snow will vanish without trace; of that there can be little doubt; few songwriters working are capable of crafting such subtle, intricate, airy songs, and of that there can be no doubt whatsoever. What, then? Is there no ground on which our thirst for novelty and our desire for excellence can amiably meet?
We will be exploring this question further in the months to come.
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