Rewind Reviews #6 - Get Un-Ironized! - By Volume

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Rewind Reviews #6 – Get Un-Ironized!

I was walking to my seminar this morning thinking about my first time wandering the campus and the halls of my faculty’s building: the sense of excitement, of newness, of discovery. As I draw a close to my year in graduate studies, time has ebbed away at these feelings; the cement walls have antiquated, each […]

Author: on July 5, 2013
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I was walking to my seminar this morning thinking about my first time wandering the campus and the halls of my faculty’s building: the sense of excitement, of newness, of discovery. As I draw a close to my year in graduate studies, time has ebbed away at these feelings; the cement walls have antiquated, each flower the same as every other one. The walk to campus winds along the same stretches of roads, with point A and B almost always remaining the same. It’s the type of thing that happens to all of us at some point, for varying reasons, but we tend to stop taking in our surroundings — they become boring, monotonous. So this morning, as I try to do as often as possible, I realigned myself to those original feelings, trying to recollect in order to perceive anew. It’s a good mental exercise to try, and I recommend it to anyone as it helps train the capacity to recognize when the wool is being pulled over your eyes, that is, it helps prevent a stagnate mind.

And this got me thinking: perhaps we should perform this same exercise on music that has been so greatly filtered by culture that its initial thrill, the thing that was originally regarded as so appealing by a large number of listeners, seems lost in a haze of irony. What if we un-ironize our listening habits? I am not suggesting that we do away with the process of ironization en masse, that would be silly and impossible — the movement of trends, of aesthetics, of entire epochs is built around the process of continuously ironizing the old in order to make new. But this does not mean we can’t lift some of the haze, if only briefly, to see if we can mine anything new from songs that are, y’know, lame and old and stuff. Sufjan Stevens’s wonderful Seven Swans wouldn’t exist if he unironically looked at the beauty in the stories of the Bible, nor would In the Aeroplane Over the Sea exist if it weren’t for Jeff Mangum’s unironic love for The Diary of Anne Frank. So for this edition of Rewind Reviews I want to look at three songs that are difficult to remove from their cultural saturation, that are difficult to listen to without the irony of knowing the song in its cultural package. Of course, as the songs are so saturated, I am sure I will add absolutely nothing new to their reception, but the point of this is not so much to look for something new, but rather it is to relook at something already said many times before and see if there is still some resonance.

Pink Floyd“Time”


Compared to other artists of the era, time has served Pink Floyd relatively well. But while Dark Side of the Moon remains a well-respected album in a number of circles, it’s hard to ignore the spectre of Dark Side of the Rainbow, or the general mythos surrounding Pink Floyd’s brand of 70s rock indulgence. Drug-use and narcissistic guitar wanderings are always upon the lips of those ready to dismiss the album with its iconic prism sleeve painted on the shirts of thousands of people who probably have never even heard the album before. And that’s the difficult thing to escape with Dark Side of the Moon, the sort of cultural context surrounding it that sometimes buries the album under the pretense and myth of the album. That is really unfortunate because, above all else, Pink Floyd were masters of tone and space, something so important to a lot of our contemporary music.

“Time” is a perfect example of this exploration of space and tone: those guitar solos, man. They hit pretty hard but they’re not about face melting magnum opuses set against a white church with cheesy crane shots galore (ahem, who could that be). No, they’re about tone and timbre, as Gilmour always seemed way more invested in finding the right ring and reverb than forcing the listener to cry in envy at his virtuosic chops, tears flooding from the rafters, from God himself! And, of course, this is exactly the kind of mythos that Pink Floyd, and indeed many more of their contemporaries, evokes, a sense of a time when the music was too big, too airy, to narcissistic. But when you strip all that away and just listen to “Time”, it’s amazing to notice how earnest and well-crafted the song actually is — each crescendo and subsequent guitar solo is so well placed, so well executed. Plus it has one of the greatest intros in all of rock. Even if you’re listening while stuck in Professor Marvel’s wagon.

Led Zeppelin“Stairway to Heaven”

There doesn’t need to be too much in the way of introduction as to why this song requires a bit of work to distance the listener from any pre-suppositions. Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” has been called the greatest rock song of all time for so long and by so many pundits and acne-riddled teens alike that it has bypassed formality and entered into the dreaded realm of cliché. It was even played as a slow dance song at my prom, for goodness sakes (it’s an awful slow dance song, obviously). But to get to the realm of cliché requires some doing and it leads one to suspect that there’s something there to latch on to. I mean, I have always enjoyed the song and do consider it great, but what was there to make it the legend it has become? I imagined myself being one of the first pair of ears to hear the song come through on a car radio; I imagined hearing the delicate acoustic guitar figures that open the song, the hazy, lyrical mysticisms (perhaps signifying nothing and everything about the time), and following the song as it builds so flawlessly toward Jimmy Page’s guitar solo of a crescendo. Of course, that’s the thing about the song and about many of its ilk: when something reaches the realm of cliché that means it has been dissected infinitely to the point of absolute tedium. Questions about where Jimmy Page got his guitar licks, or about the songs hierarchical ranking on the great podium of rock n’ roll, forget the fact that at the heart of it, “Stairway to Heaven” actually does kick some ass, even if it’s that guy’s go-to second request if “Free Bird” won’t be played at the local bar.

ELO“Hold on Tight”

Electric Light Orchestra was always kind of ironic anyway, especially with the 1978 tour de pomp where they travelled four continents with a massive laser light show and sometimes a hamburger shaped space ship, where they spliced one bombastic thing with another: Brahms segueing into the pure, simple pop bliss of “Hold on Tight.” But time has a way of doing certain damage to a band that perhaps erodes the qualities that made them so big in the first place. ELO are hardly the poster boys of artistic integrity (hello, lip syncing), but the problem is it never seems like they wanted to be; or, what the hell is artistic integrity anyway? So now when car commercials feature “Hold on Tight,” it’s with a knowing wink and nudge that says “we know, the 70s right?” What seems to be lost in listening to ELO ironically — such as when hearing their songs of purported bombast placed into a minimizing 30 second snippet in an ad—is that they wrote some of the best pop-rock of the 70s that didn’t come from The Cars. “Hold on Tight” has a smooth rhythm and polished sheen that rivals anything in the Top 40 today. The hook in the chorus is a superb earworm that will get stuck in your head for days. The production, the sonic textures of the song, while pure late 70s in so many ways, are also everything good that could be taken from that era. “Pop” music (whatever that means) seems particularly susceptible to either ironization or nostalgia as time goes on, but the best that pop music has to offer continues to effect beyond the glimmer and façade of a certain era’s aesthetic. While ELO are given membership (perhaps rightfully so) to the era of excess, so currently out of fashion, listening to “Hold on Tight” with the only intention of listening, to the melodies, to the production, certainly has its rewards.

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