New World Ocean

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In the Court of the Crimson King: An Observation on Cultural Significance

“King Crimson’s first album, In the Court of the Crimson King, had an especially powerful impact of the nascent progressive rock movement, and just may be the most influential progressive rock album ever released.” Macan, E. (1997) Rocking the Classics: English Progressive Rock and the Counterculture, Oxford University Press, p. 23.

In the Court of the Crimson King: An Observation by King Crimson

This was the debut from the mysterious, post-everything band King Crimson.  The band was formed in 1968 by a group of musicians who were exposed to perhaps the most defining decade for popular music.  Music aside, this decade was one of conflict; War and Flower Power; economic progression and individual expression.  Despite the optimistic efforts in the rise of passive resistive culture, a large majority of the Western world remained anxious about the implications of the Cold War on the future of mankind.  Following this decade of culture-defining music and with the end of the world in sight, King Crimson would record their first full album, In the Court of the Crimson King – which has become one of the most widely referenced albums credited to the birth of progressive rock.  Within the concise and coherent nature of ITCOTKC (to which I will now refer) is incorporated vast complexity in songwriting, an extremely high level of musicianship and a complete stylistic progression from 60s rock’n’roll.  I will argue that these attributes, along with the album’s significance in the counter-culture and the Zeitgeist of the 1960s, are why it is considered to be the most influential progressive rock album ever released.

The group consisted of Ian McDonald, Peter Sinfield, Robert Fripp, Greg Lake, and Michael Giles.  With an array of musical and social backgrounds, King Crimson was never destined for conventional rock’n’roll.  While Britain has “a rock culture that prefers its heroes, if not genuinely working-class, at least superficially so”[1], King Crimson were to form a unique bridge between working-class rock and the middle class sensibilities.  The group’s drummer, Michael Giles, grew up in Bournemouth with a classically trained violinist and portrait painter for a Father, who encouraged his son to appreciate ‘high forms’ of music – Classical and Jazz – from a young age.  Giles admits that Bournemouth was not like the industrial cities of Birmingham and London with massive working-class populations, and musical inspiration had to come from elsewhere, “The only reason I’ve been able to come up with as to why we became musicians, was because there wasn’t anything to rebel or fight against.  So it was the frustration of nothing having enough challenge”.  Perhaps it was Peter Sinfield’s background that was most responsible for the band’s quite complex musical and lyrical direction, “In many ways I had the ideal upbringing for a songwriter.  My part-Irish mother… was a born non-conformist… I was left much of the time in the capable hands of our delightful German housekeeper Maria who was formerly a high wire walker.”[2]  It was Sinfield who coined the name ‘King Crimson’, which is an exemplification of Beelzebub, or Satan.  Guitarist, Robert Fripp, remarked in the sleeve of a King Crimson album that when translated into English, the original Arabic phrase B’il Sabab means “‘the man with an aim’ and is the recognisable quality of King Crimson”[3].  Similarly to Keith Reid’s role in Procol Harum, Sinfield was an integral aspect to the band, though was not a performing member.  His main function was as the group’s lyricist, but also contributed massively to their live performance by incorporating a light show.  This use of lighting was to become an essential aspect to the art of King Crimson, in the same manner as the lyrics, music and artwork.  Edward Macan has observed in his insightful analysis into Progressive Rock – Rocking the Classics (1997) – that the concept of a gesamtkunstwerk is integral to the art of a prog band.  The term gesamtkunstwerk was used famously used by the German composer Richard Wagner to describe a work of art unified by its expression through multiple forms.  And indeed King Crimson was a collaboration of unique and comprehensive artists, which created something much larger than the music, or as Macan suggests, “the way that bands went about forging a ‘group sound’ that drew on the idiosyncrasies of several individuals, yet was greater than the sum of the parts”.[4]

Before discussing the influence of King Crimson and In the Court of the Crimson King, I think it is necessary to discern ‘Progressive Rock’ in some form of context. The term struggles to unify many of the post-rock and psychedelic bands coming out of the late 60s and early 70s.  In the 21st Century it is easy to see this sub-genre as something quite specific, with massively popular bands, such as Pink Floyd, dominating the public perception of prog.  However in 1969, the world was did not have our retrospective understanding of what would become a defining movement in popular music and neither did the musicians involved.  In this way, King Crimson were not trying to create or epitomise progressive rock. Though ITCOTKC defines incredibly well the progressive rock of 1969, to see this album as an epitome of the genre itself is a complete paradox, “Even Robert Fripp has sought to revise King Crimson’s history by distancing the group from the very genre it helped create.”[5]  To be progressive is to look forward, evoke change, and inspire.  In this manner, the album should not be looked at in isolation, but rather one moment in a chain of ever-progressing musical events,

“[The music] naturally evolves rather than develops along predetermined lines.  The widely differing repertoire has a common theme in that it represents the changing moods of the same five people”.[6]

In 1969, the music of King Crimson was quite simply progressing in almost all traditional forms – from Classical, Jazz, Folk to Rock – and with enough cultural relevance to make an impact that would last.  King Crimson and the genre they helped define became a voice for counter-culture, one that broke not only stylistic boundaries, but also social ones.

In the same way that Jazz blossomed out of Blues music some 40 years previous, it seemed classically trained musicians were taking rock music in a new direction.  The musicianship in King Crimson was far superior to many of the pop bands of the 60s, with each member came an acute knowledge for playing Classical and Jazz music.  Bill Bruford, drummer for the band Yes and later for King Crimson too, commented on the band’s initial impact on him, “Nobody knew that rock musicians could play like that… This was scary, this was the best group in the world.”[7]  Not only their playing, but the song forms and complex arrangements showed clearly their virtuosity.  In Sid Smith’s In the Court of King Crimson, Trevor Lever recalls his first time seeing the band live, “At one point I thought an orchestra was playing but through my binoculars only saw four blokes on stage”.[8]  Their live shows, though relatively few, were the key to their initial success, namely the band’s performance at Hyde Park in July, supporting the massively popular Rolling Stones.  The eager and untainted crowd of more than 650,000 took extremely well to the daring sounds of the opening song, “21st Century Schizoid Man”.  With the release of the debut album imminent, the band’s live show would become a hot topic for music critics on both sides of the Atlantic.  Come October and the album’s release, critics responded with all manner of reviews.  Rolling Stone magazine was quick to scrutinise, “The title track in particular is a weak parody of the same number when delivered to a live audience”.  Although the response was predominately positive, the group’s popularity seemed problematic.  For a band to explode onto the music scene so rapidly, it is surely possible to dissipate just as quickly.  “Fashions are pleasant but can be dangerously short-lived… King Crimson have a problem”.[9]  However, the prominence of ITCOTKC is still very much evident today:

“As the world enters yet another period of crisis, this time with potential global financial meltdown compounded by the culture of political-correctness killing the personal liberties of the individual, together with the ever-present threat of terrorism and ongoing problems in the Middle East, King Crimson’s epic first album, In the Court of the Crimson King, is as relevant now as it was in 1969 when first released”.  Keeling, A. (2010) The Musical Guide to Court of The Crimson King, Preface.

Before delving further into the cultural relevance of its release, the true masterpiece of ITCOTKC can be found in the music itself.  The album consists of just five songs, each with a set of quite contrasting, yet intrinsically connected musical themes.  The opening track “21st Century Schizoid Man” offers an incredibly dynamic musical journey, outlining a bleak yet poetic outlook on the presence of future mankind.  The song begins with the sound of air blowing through the reed organ, until – without warning – the whole band break into the bellowing opening riff.  This has become one of the most definitive sequence of chords in rock music, with the chromatic movement F, F♯, G over a C minor bloc chord.  Though only a speculation, it seems very likely that this riff would have been a prominent influence for many rock and metal riffs to follow, such as Black Sabbath’s ‘Paranoid’ (1970), for its use of distortion if nothing else.  Some 36 years later, Ozzy Osbourne recorded a version of ‘21st…’ for a cover album, suggesting that the vocals were a big influence on him.  The opening verse carries Greg Lake’s overdriven vocals that ‘lend a rasping de-humanised aspect’.[10]  This use of effects on the vocals helps convey the dark lyric as though a warning from future man, “Neuro-surgeons scream for more at paranoia’s poison door, twenty first Century schizoid man”.  Giles’ syncopated drum fills that follow the title lyric reflect very well the song’s dark, schizoid character.

Perhaps the most difficult accomplishment in progressive rock is to convey a sense of sincerity and authenticity.  The very nature of writing complex music is quite contrived, as Sinfield remarks in the BBC Documentary Prog Rock Britannia: An Observation in Three Movements (2009), “If it sounded at all popular, it was out.  So it had to be complicated, it had to be more expansive chords; it had to have strange influences.”  However amidst the strange chords, time signatures and influences of ‘21st…’, the middle section, labelled as ‘Mirrors’, is built on the basic 12-bar blues.  Perhaps this is why the song could speak to so many listeners, with this musical familiarity, embellished by the new and exciting hints of Jazz Fusion and Heavy Metal.  At the peak of the song’s musical intensity, as if from nowhere, the opening riff blasts back in.  This method of sending a song on a vast and complicated tangent – before re-familiarising the listener with the opening riff – has been used ever since, particularly in Progressive Metal music.

As Andrew Keeling analyses in The Musical Guide to Court of The Crimson King, the second track “I Talk to the Wind” incorporates a stylistic element of folk, but with a harmonic form borrowed from jazz; “The fusion of these styles was to have a direct bearing on the Progressive genre that Fripp has said ‘King Crimson helped define.’”[11]  Much of the folk influence in King Crimson was in their approach to story telling, with use of clear stanzas, often accompanied by an acoustic guitar, as descriptive vehicles for the song.  Their approach to these verses included long minor passages with extended harmonic phrasing, often accompanied by the swirling sounds of the Mellotron.  But perhaps the most interesting characteristic of the song is in its use of woodwinds.  Ian McDonald, the multi-instrumentalist of the group, gives the track an incredibly melancholic undertone with his use of clarinet and flute, as well as his transient and quite ethereal harmony over Lake’s main vocal.  Entangled into the song’s lyrics is the band’s ever-present sense of isolation, “I’m on the outside, looking inside… I talk to the wind, my words are all carried away”.

The third track, “Epitaph”, speaks directly of a decaying civilisation with the corruption of power at its core, “The wall on which the prophets wrote is cracking at the seams… The fate of all mankind I see is in the hands of fools”.  Upon listening, it becomes abundantly clear through the sincerity and power of the song’s delivery that this was far more than a fictional story.  “There was this idealistic view of love and flower power and so on but there were cracks and that song somehow typifies that period in time with all its naïveté”.[12]  The instrumentation helps create this impending sense of peril, particularly the eerie yet beautiful swirl of the Mellotron under Lake’s vocal.  The following track, “Moonchild”, is perhaps the album’s most perplexing feat.  The song opens with a very loose and dreamy sequence, accompanied by metaphorical imagery reminiscent of the pastoral setting of “I Talked to the Wind”.  Though after a mere two minutes, the song transcends into a completely improvised – and at points almost inaudible – extended instrumental section

The final track on the album, “The Court of the Crimson King”, “brings us directly to the source of power”[13].  Although, as aforementioned, each song has a completely unique set of emotions and imagery attached to it, this final track seems to unify the concept by giving the story a more specific setting and context.  After hearing of a number of characters presented through the preceding songs – the Schizoid Man, the Straight Man, Moonchild – the listener is finally introduced to the Crimson King himself, after the ten minutes of tense minimal improvisation and near silence that ends ‘Moonchild’.  Lyrically, Sinfield creates a dark, medieval setting; “The cracked brass bells will ring; to summon back the fire witch to the court of the Crimson King”.   If the song has a chorus, it is simply around the word ‘King’, almost as a refrain in Folk music, at the end of each verse.  The long phrasing and multiple layers and harmonies of the vocals offer an incredibly epic and dramatic choral finale, as though it were being sung to the King himself.

In some ways Sinfield’s lyrical writing is a Gothic echo of many writers dealing with social and political injustice throughout the 60s.  Sinfield encapsulated the protest songs of such writers as Bob Dylan and John Lennon, though was not always so politically focused.  Perhaps the most direct ‘protest’ lyric in the album can be heard on “21st…” in reference to the war in Vietnam, “Innocents raped with napalm fire”.  On King Crimson’s live album Epitaph, Fripp ironically dedicated the song to the corrupt American Vice-President Spiro Agnew.  Sinfield’s use of imagery seems to find its roots in Romantic literature, “ ‘as for lyrical influences, they went perhaps, beyond Dylan and went back to Rimbaud and Verlaine and people like that…’ ” – Peter Sinfield – quoted in Paul Stump’s Music’s All That Matters.

An undermined fact about ITCOTKC is that this was their first album – at least with the aforementioned members involved.  To produce such a coherent and musically mature debut with clear lyrical direction and even ideology was a feat that no other band seemed capable of that time.  Although a number of ‘prog’ bands released records before and around the time of ITCOTKC, I believe that this was the first of such records to create a definitive sound that would give life to a new direction for progressive music.  In particular, British band Yes seemed to draw heavily from ITCOTKC to further shape their sound.  Andrew Keeling recalls an e-mail he received from Robert Fripp, “You probably are aware of King Crimson ‘69’s influence on Yes. They were not as developed as King Crimson in 1969: they were still growing, but King Crimson landed fully-grown.”[14]  This sense of completeness and maturity has been continually mentioned as a seed to the band’s success, “Most bands come along and then develop but Crimson just came one and exploded with this very adult, intelligent, cutting-edge music.  It was just this whole package that went wallop!”[15]  A more contemporary example of King Crimson’s influence is in the music of the Progressive Metal band, Mastodon.  In an interview with Rolling Stone magazine, Mastodon’s drummer, Brann Dailor, discusses briefly his teenage musical influences, “I had a connection with that kind of music, with Frank Zappa and Yes and King Crimson.”[16]  Though direct references are few and far between in interviews, the influence of King Crimson is practically undeniable when listening to Mastodon’s material.  In particular, the track “The Last Baron” from the group’s record Crack The Skye (2009) displays musical ideas and the overall progressive style that Crimson helped define.  Dailor’s drumming, where the rhythms of the guitars is synchronised with snare drum patterns sounds akin to the middle section of ‘21st…’ in which Giles is taking the same approach.  The structure of “The Last Baron” has the epic form of both ‘21st…’ and ‘The Court of the Crimson King’, in which the opening and closing sectioned are separated by an elaborate musical tangent.

When considering the influence of this album, one must also consider the influence it had on the band members themselves.  Since 1969, King Crimson’s line-up has undergone a number changes, with each original member going on to create a vast array of music.  Were it not for the creation and success of ITCOTKC, surely the band’s future endeavours – namely Greg Lake’s role in Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Fripp’s years of work with Brian Eno, and even the later King Crimson member Bill Bruford with his involvement in Yes and Genesis – would not have come to fruition.

Intrinsically connected to the vein of progressive rock is the concept album.  By no means was ITKOTCK the first concept album, but in many ways it was the first of its kind.  As with progressive rock, one could speculate endlessly over the origins of the concept album, with some musicologists looking as far back as Hank Williams.  However in context of the 1960s there seem to be three albums that stand out with commercial success and a conceptual theme at their core, The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Frank Zappa’s Freak Out and The Beach Boy’s Pet Sounds.  There is no doubt that King Crimson’s members would have been influenced by these records, though their approach to creating conceptual music seemed quite unique.  The main reasoning being that the concept was born from the band name itself, an ethos much bigger than the individual members or an individual album.  And in contrast to the aforementioned conceptual works, King Crimson’s did not have a sense of humour or sarcasm, but simply a deep sadness to it.

In the Court of the Crimson King: An Observation by King Crimson - Inlay

There is a subtle confidence to the album sleeve, with no mention of the band or album name on its cover.  The listener would have to open the LP in order to find the small print which carries the full title, “In The Court of the Crimson King: An Observation by King Crimson”.  The artwork has become recognised as a primary example of the marriage of art and music.  Obtrusively covering the outside of the LP is the face of the ‘schizoid man’, a bright red face characterised by a side-ways glance and a wide screaming mouth.  On the inside cover is found a more benign moon-shaped face, interpreted by some, including the band’s members, as the Crimson King himself.  Fripp comments on this character as an echo of the music, “If you cover the smiling face, the eyes reveal an incredible sadness. What can one add? It reflects the music.”[17]  Within this coherency re-emerges the idea of a gesamtkunstwerk.

King Crimson’s ethos, ‘the man with an aim’, was in itself a form of counter-culture; ITCOTCK manifested the strive for a forward-looking society in reaction to the social upturn of WWII and the Cold War, as well as the massive growth in the industrial England.  The record seemed to capture the Zeitgeist of the end of this decade, as Gordon Haskell recalls, “The timing of King Crimson was absolutely perfect because it was the antithesis of that optimism and beauty of the times and it was a dramatic prediction of where we are now”.[18]  The album’s relevance in popular culture, as the ‘swinging sixties’ came to an end, coupled with the complete musical innovation that would inspire indefinitely rock bands to follow, is why I would consider In the Court of the Crimson King to be one of the most influential progressive rock albums ever released.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Books:

Macan, E. (1997) Rocking the Classics: English Progressive Rock and the Counterculture, Oxford University Press

Cope, A. (2010) Black Sabbath and the Rise of Heavy Metal Music, Ashgate, Surrey

Holm-Hudson, K. (2002) Progressive Rock Reconsidered, Routledge, New York

Stump, P. (2010) The Music’s All That Matters, 2nd Edition, Harbour Books

Martin, B. (1997) Listening to the Future: The Time of Progressive Rock, 1968-1978, Open Court Publishing

Keeling, A. (2010) The Musical Guide to Court of The Crimson King, Smashwords Edition

Smith, S. (2001) In The Court of King Crimson, Helter Skelter Publishing, London

Hegarty, P. & Halliwell, M. (2011) Beyond and Before: Progressive Rock Since the 1960s, The Continuum International Publishing Company, London

Internet Resources:

http://www.progarchives.com/forum/forum_posts.asp?TID=43262

http://www.songsouponsea.com/Promenade/Metaphysical.html

http://www.elephant-talk.com/wiki/Interview_with_Robert_Fripp_in_Rock_and_Folk

http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/mastodon-unleash-the-beast-within-rolling-stones-2009-    feature-20110301#ixzz1wMOqMgfy

https://www.smashwords.com/books/download/16353/1/null/0/0/musical-guide-to-in-the-court-of-the-crimson-king-by-king-crimson.pdf

http://www.musicbanter.com/editors-pick/27780-court-king-crimson-king-crimson-education-review-thread-6.html


[1] Logan, N. & Woffinden, B. (1977) “Genesis” in The Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Rock, Harmony Books, New York, p. 91

[2] Extracted from the sleeve notes of Peter Sinfield’s album Still (1993)

[3] http://www.songsouponsea.com/Promenade/Metaphysical.html

[4] Macan, E (1997) Rocking the Classics: English Progressive Rock and the Counterculture, Oxford University Press

[5] Holm-Hudson, K. (2002) Progressive Rock Reconsidered, Routledge, New York, p.6

[6] Keeling, A. (2010) The Musical Guide to Court of The Crimson King, Smashwords Edition

[7] Prog Rock Britannia: An Observation in Three Movements, BBC (2009),

[8] Smith, S. (2001) In The Court of King Crimson, Helter Skelter Publishing, London, p. 52

[9] Quote by NME’s Nick Logan, extracted from Smith, S. (2001) In The Court of King Crimson, Helter Skelter Publishing, London, p. 71

[10]  Smith, S. (2001) In The Court of King Crimson, Helter Skelter Publishing, London, p. 59

[11] Keeling, A. (2010) The Musical Guide to Court of The Crimson King, Smashwords Edition

[12] Smith, S. (2001) In The Court of King Crimson, Helter Skelter Publishing, London, p. 63

[13] Hegarty, P. & Halliwell, M. (2011) Beyond and Before: Progressive Rock Since the 1960s, The Continuum International Publishing Company, London, p.72

[14] Keeling, A. (2010) The Musical Guide to Court of The Crimson King, Smashwords Edition

[15] Smith, S. (2001) In The Court of King Crimson, Helter Skelter Publishing, London, p. 52

[17] Extracted from an interview with Robert Fripp in Rock & Folk Magazine (1995), accessed on: http://www.elephant-talk.com/wiki/Interview_with_Robert_Fripp_in_Rock_and_Folk

[18] Smith, S. (2001) In The Court of King Crimson, Helter Skelter Publishing, London, p. 69

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The Warehouse Project: Chic feat. Nile Rodgers (01/11/13)

It was a refreshing experience; a social scene that has become largely dominated by DJs and chemical intoxicants, being revitalised – almost 40 years on – by one of the bands responsible for the birth of dance music.  The success of an event such as Manchester’s Warehouse Project would impossible were it not for modern dance music and DJ culture (which I don’t want to knock), but Chic’s performance last Friday night was a very poignant reminder that the atmosphere of true live music is difficult to beat.

There was no doubt that the event was oversold.  Room 1, host to the warehouse’s main stage, was – to put it lightly – uncomfortably busy from around 11pm, just before Hot Chip began their set – which was phenomenal, by the way.  To make matters worse, it seemed as though everyone was there to see Chic, who weren’t due on stage until 1.50am.  The final wait before their set was was an anxious one, as a slow, uneasy surge of people ebbed through an already-full room.  However, as the band walked on stage and  the teasingly-extended intro to “Everybody Dance” finally kicked into full groove, I was rewarded with a blaze of energy and comfort, as the tension amidst the crowd ceased.

Chic B&W

The following hour or so was a fantastic blur of some of the greatest dance songs of the 20th Century, consisting of Chic’s unmistakable classics, such as “Dance, Dance, Dance”, “I Want Your Love” and “Chic Cheer”.  But what made the show even less forgettable was the addition of further pop hits, all of which Nile Rodgers (and most of which Bernard Edwards) produced.  This included David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance”, Diana Ross’ “I’m Coming Out”/”Upside Down”, Duran Duran’s “Notorious”, Sister Sledge’s “We Are Family”/”He’s The Greatest Dancer”, et al.

The relevance of this music today is impossible to ignore, but to contextualise it further, the band performed two medleys involving covers that directly referenced Chic’s music.  The first was Modjo’s early-2000 release “Lady (Hear Me Tonight)”, which contains a sample of  “Soup For One”.  As a child of the 90s – which was true of a fair portion of the Manchester crowd –  this song was poignant to my youth; part of a revolution in House/Nu-Disco that came at the turn of the Century.  So, to experience the predecessor to the dance music of my generation showing appreciation to its derivative, made me feel part of the band’s music, as opposed to being an objective viewer succumbing to a false sense of nostalgia.

The set was neatly summed up by a short announcement from Rodgers expressing the three things that Chic stand for – “dancing, partying and having a good time” [cue the band’s most iconic song, “Good Times”].  As the final song commenced, hundreds of balloons were released from the ceiling, satisfying the crowds’ wait for that wonderfully predictable moment.  Though the whole event seemed anything but pre-meditated, and was instead one of the most spontaneous and ecstatic sensations I have ever gained from music.

Chic - Good Times

As a last show-stopping flourish, Nile Rodgers began rapping The Sugar Hill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight”, which famously samples the track’s monster bass line and rhythm guitar.  Rodgers’ presence was unavoidable and his energy was infectious,

“I don’t usually go this crazy at the end of the show but this was the last full #CHIC concert so I went off @WHP_Mcr“¹

Even as the show comes to an end, the music of Nile Rodgers continues, with Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky”/”Lose Yourself To Dance” blasting through the PA – perhaps the most fitting moment to hear the most over-played song of the summer.

Hats off to the most genuine display of dance music I have ever experienced – and yes, that’s from from a band, not a DJ.

¹ https://twitter.com/nilerodgers/status/396494447438856192/photo/1

All media © Michael Pearson 2013

Anna Calvi: One Breath

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In hindsight, it feels as though British music had been patiently waiting for a female figure to follow in the independent footsteps of the likes of Kate Bush, Annie Lennox and PJ Harvey; an artist not afraid to provoke unsung emotion and embrace musical unorthodoxy.  Whilst the modern music world is spoilt for choice in terms of female icons, few seem to reach the masses without becoming consumed by mainstream popular culture and celebrity status.

In late 2010, our persevering prayers and patient ears were rapturously greeted by sounds of Anna Calvi.  The English singer and guitarist extraordinaire was nominated for the BBC’s Sound of 2011 poll, and early that year released her Mercury-nominated, self-titled debut.  Calvi’s music falls somewhere between rock, contemporary classical, chanson, cabaret, flamenco, and a Spaghetti Western soundtrack.  Or, better put, one could say that these genres fall somewhere between her songs.

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Amica Magazine (Italy), Sept 13 issue. Photography by Amelia Troubridge

“For me, being creative is about going into the depths of your psyche where things are going to get a big strange and a bit ugly, and a bit just… weird.”[1]

Few artists seem to convey the sincere emotion and modest intelligence that Calvi’s music carries.  With a modern Impressionistic style – reminiscent of a range of her contemporary classical forebears – her music is laden with imagery and emotion.  Though I would suggest that Calvi expresses a subtlety and ambiguity that that surpasses mere Impressionism, and perhaps it would be more fitting to consider her a Symbolist.  The same has been said of Claude Debussy; a key influence on Anna.  As writer Cecil Gray commented on Debussy’s music, his purpose was ‘not to evoke a definite picture, but to suggest the mood or emotion which the particular image in question aroused in the artist’s mind’.[2]  Many critics have compared Calvi’s music to that of a Quentin Tarantino or David Lynch soundtrack, which seems to me merely a modern equivalent to Gray’s words on Impressionism; a modern response to visually provocative music.

Early on in her career, Calvi found herself in an extraordinary position of having legendary producer Brian Eno as a sort of unofficial mentor.  Eno spoke very highly of her art, which no doubt helped spread her name throughout the underground British music and art scene.  However, the pressure of critical acclaim is something that Anna has done well to ignore: “I just have to make something that I feel happy with, and then be able to stand behind [it] and say ‘this is what I wanted to make and it doesn’t really matter what anyone else thinks’”.[3]

Released October 7th on Domino, One Breath, has promised a fresh bank of songs, with perhaps an air of confidence that the debut lacked.  The production of her first record was modest yet consistent, giving her sound a sense of unity and space for her songs to breathe.  However, the new record covers a far wider range of arrangement and production techniques, allowing a mass of sounds and emotions – both desirable and adverse – to shine through.

“I did want to experiment with a broader spectrum of sounds because I wanted there to be a broader spectrum of emotion.”[4]

Perhaps the most bold array of emotions are expressed in “Cry”.  This song comprehends “trying to get a reaction from someone”[5]; the paradoxical sensation of wanting to make someone that you care about cry.

Sweet is the sound;

It’s the sound that I hold

When I see in your eyes

That it’s wrong.

But if you love me, won’t you cry.

Calvi manifests this feeling in a heavily screeching slide guitar part, with an atonal nature that depicts the duplicity of the situation.

“I definitely wanted to experiment with heavier sounds. I really wanted to use the guitar as a dramatic device, rather than just using it as an accompanying instrument.”[6]

One Breath is twofold in more ways than one, and seems to have achieved a sensitive stability between pop and art.  This becomes clear within the first song, “Suddenly”, with a quirky-pop chorus that is repetitive in nature and catchy in melody, carefully contrasted by an tense gothic resonance.

“You could go on an experimental journey with your music whilst people still liking it.  To get that balance is really tricky but I think that’s the answer to being creatively satisfied”[7]

The first single, “Eliza”, proved to be a slow-burner.  In comparison to the spacious arrangements characteristic of her debut, this song is driven by high energy and rhythmic monotony, though – as I later realised – to great effect.  This arrangement allows room for elusive yet powerful dynamic shifts and a blissful sense of release as the song ends.

The first track to offer a complete shift in direction is “Piece By Piece” – sounding like Kid-A-era Radiohead song – which moves abrasively from an experimental pizzicato doodle to a form of musical paradox, somewhere between musique concrète and dream pop.

With “Sing To Me”, Calvi seems to be picking up where she left off, with a broad and grandiose sound akin to the final track off her debut, “Love Won’t Be Leaving”.  This piece boasts a bold and dynamic arrangement, moving dreamily and seamlessly from a tentatively fragile first verse to an epical instrumental finale, embracing a sweeping orchestral arrangement.

The album’s title track, “One Breath”, is a telling sign of Calvi’s true intent with this record.  The lyric is clear in message, depicting the intake of one last breath before a life-altering moment.

“It’s that idea of going microscopically into the situation, and kind of drawing as much from it and as much detail as you possibly can.”[8]

I’ve got one, one breath to give.

I’ve got one, one second to live.

Before I say

What I’ve got to say.

Before I breathe,

It’s gonna change everything.

Nevertheless – and boding well with Gray’s analysis of Symbolism over Impressionism – the details remain ambiguous; the listener is engaged with the artist’s reaction, whilst able to relate personally to the situation.

The song builds with a dark yet subtle intensity.  The music slowly consumes Calvi’s tentative vocal, before a wonderfully dramatic shift into a late-Romantic-esque classical piece.  This transition feels unexpected, yet long-awaited; overwhelming, yet contented; much like “when you’re about to do something that you’re really scared of, or is gonna really change your life, for the better or for the worst.”[9]

“Love Of My Life” provokes a sentiment that does not exist in your average love song; a powerful and quite aggressive statement that ‘you must be the love of my life’, coupled with a heavily distorted guitar and vocal, and yet more squealing, dissonant solos.

“With that song I just wanted it to be loud and abrasive because of the content of the song”[10]

“Carry Me Over” contains the album’s most compelling and mature use of orchestration, a truly dream-like composition that does not deserve to be crudely deconstructed by myself.  In fact, the same goes for the whole record.  Despite my fascination for the fine details and wider context of this album, I will conclude with one simple recommendation:

Listen to the album and let it provoke whatever weird and wonderful emotions that we all sometimes forget to feel.

Image

[1] October 7th, 2013. BBC Radio 6 Music, “Anna Calvi Live In Session For Lauren Laverne”

[2] A Survey of Contemporary Music, (London: Oxford University Press, 2/1927), 98-9

[3] October 7th, 2013. BBC Radio 6 Music, “Anna Calvi Live In Session For Lauren Laverne”

[4] Gumble, D. September 23rd, 2013. Musical Instrument Professional, “INTERVIEW: Anna Calvi on the making of One Breath”.

[5] October 7th, 2013. BBC Radio 6 Music, “Anna Calvi Live In Session For Lauren Laverne”

[6] Gumble, D. September 23rd, 2013. Musical Instrument Professional, “INTERVIEW: Anna Calvi on the making of One Breath”.

[7] Bianciardi, M. September 24th, 2013. iCrates, “Straight to the core of an undefined place: a talk with Anna Calvi”.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Gumble, D. September 23rd, 2013. Musical Instrument Professional, “INTERVIEW: Anna Calvi on the making of One Breath”.

Mr. Bungle’s California: A postmodern remark on an idealised society

“To be sure, this is Western music, chockfull of backbeats, strings, and vocal harmonies. But like the original 49ers, the listener is headed into a desert land of draught and famine – The dark side of the California dream”[1]

 Image

In essence, I will propose that California is a comment on the cynical and vain nature of technological progress; the cyclical trends of culture industry; and a deluded American dream; with this view directly referencing and influenced by the band’s home state, and name of the album, California. 

In its compositions and production, this album is a clear remark on postmodernism.  In the light of Jonathan Krammer’s ‘characteristics of postmodern music’[2], the music: is in some way ironic; does not respect boundaries between sonorities and procedures of the past and of the present; includes references to music of many traditions and cultures; considers technology as deeply implicated in the production and essence of music; encompasses pluralism and eclecticism; and presents multiple meanings and multiple temporalities.  I will even go as far to say that Mr. Bungle have achieved these characteristics with a certain comic irony.  Though at its heart, the album presents a bleak outlook on the problems and suffering we face in such a technologically and monetary driven world.  Mr. Bungle expose the ugly truth beneath the aesthetic facade of California: a world of standardisation, disillusionment and depression.

In terms of production, California includes various traditional and contemporary techniques.  The whole album was recording onto analogue tape, utilising over fifty tracks on several multitrack recorders.[3]  This method of production can in itself be seen as a statement on postmodern society.  Recording an album quite so complex in arrangements onto tape (considering this was the turn of the 21st Century; a point at which digital software was booming and America was looking towards a cheaper and faster future) was by no means the obvious option.

“Across the spectrum of 1990s pop music there were digital machines constructing and deconstructing the sounds… Many musicians feared being replaced by synthesisers and samplers and predicted the end of creativity.  At the same the great majority of all commercial pop music was recorded by computer software.” [4]

Incorporated into the complex layers of multitracks are a large number of samples and – contrary to the method of sampling on many modern records – each is originally recorded by the musicians involved in the band.  This means of production could be seen as a reaction to the bricolage art forms of the postmodern era in which context is arbitrary and samples are quite literally cut and pasted with almost no thought or skill necessary.  “We must also recognize that post- modernist theory, poststructuralism and deconstruction have strongly challenged notions of organic unity and the composer’s expressive presence within his or her music.”[5]

Each of the many genres covered throughout the album is imitated with a high level of musicianship and authentic sense of composition, though I will argue that the desired effect is ironic, as opposed to nostalgic.  This use of irony is the fundamental theme of the album, applicable to even its title.  Unlike the modernist culture that once celebrated California, Mr. Bungle have observed The Golden State from a harsh postmodern perspective.

“The California Dream is a love affair with an idea, a marriage to a myth”[6]

The California Dream[7] is a term that describes the aspiration for prosperity, deriving from the success of the 1849 Gold Rush.  This wealth objective attracted generations of immigrants from overseas as well as migrants from across America, predominantly Oklahoma and Arkansas, whom were driven out of the Dust Bowl.  Many migrants did not find the redemption they sought, as Walter Stein noted, “the Okies found their California dream transformed into a nightmare”.[8]  Despite this dreadful shortcoming for millions of people, California has been continually idealised to this day.  Though the dream has since been manifested in the form of superficial vanities and material goods by mass media.

|People are exposed to many messages that encourage them to believe that a change of weight, scent, hair colour (or coverage), car, clothes, or many other aspects will produce marked improvements in their happiness. Some of these changes may work for some people (there is evidence that the benefits of some types of cosmetic surgery are long lasting), but there are probably many more cases in which the messages merely induce and exploit a focusing illusion.”[9]

With the opening song on the album, ‘Sweet Charity’, the listener is greeted by the sounds of seagulls and the sea, accompanied by a warm and comforting arrangement of Hawaiian pedal steel, exotic percussion and a melodic whistling.  This paints the listener an image akin to the album cover; a young couple frolicking by a palm tree in a silhouette of the setting Sun.  Though the dream is short lived, as the music changes into a minor key for the first verse presenting the first implication of irony.  The song moves subtly between varying appeasing styles, namely pop and lounge, so as to offer a sense of wellbeing even in its darker moments.

Vocalist and lyricist, Mike Patton, is modest with his choice of delivery in comparison with his often-diverse use of styles.  As opposed his usual avant-garde approach to melody and phrasing, Patton’s vocal is more akin to a pop top-line.  As with the lyric, the desired effect seems to be ironic; the listener is being crooned to, whilst simultaneously being mocked.

Save me
The heavens have opened

The storm is over
So let’s start the parade…
Raindrops
Will turn to laughter
Forever after

Patton seems to be drawing a comparison between the ‘sweet charity’ promised in death by God and in happiness by California.  Both God and American society have been idealised by modern man and media as perfected forms of redemption, with a “Technicolor heartbeat” and “sunset eyes”.  The lyrics suggest a focusing illusion on these ideals that are based on exploiting nostalgia:

Perfect photographs
Of Everest days
And postcard nights
Tearing through the paper walls of time

“It is precisely the electronic and mechanical reproduction of images of the past that plays such an important role in the structuring of the nostalgic imagination today, furnishing with the possibility of ‘compelling vitality’.”[10]

The second song on the album, ‘None Of Them Knew They Were Robots’, contains the album’s most involved lyrics.  Cultural references, in particular to science and religion, are abundant in practically every line.  On first hearing, it would be excusable for the listener to struggle to interpret a rational message or meaning, but rather a who’s who of historical figures and apocalyptic mythologies.  However at the heart of this song lays a surprisingly coherent narrative.

Automatons gather all the pieces
So the world may be increased
In simulation jubilation
For the deceased.

Lyricist, Trey Spruance, is writing of an apocalyptic scenario in which self-replicating nanorobots, “Mendel’s machines” (a reference to the ‘father of modern genetics’, Gregor Mendel), are feeding off the bodies of the deceased “burnt offerings”.  The narrator is aware of this oncoming apocalypse, “I feel the gray goo boiling my blood”.  This line is a direct reference to an idea proposed by California-born engineer K. Eric Drexler, in his 1986 book Engines of Creation: The Coming Era of Nanotechnology.

 “Memetic evolution will bring life-like machines based on nanocomputers and assemblers… Assembler-based replicators will therefore be able to do all that life can, and more… Among the cognoscenti of nanotechnology, this threat has become known as the ‘gray goo problem.'”[11]

In this imagined world, reality has been twice removed by simulation.  Not only have humans created automatons – imitation of life by mechanical means – but also they are capable of reproducing themselves.  This discussion of simulated life is an idea that lends itself heavily towards the cultural theories of Jean Baudrillard.

“It is no longer a question of imitation, nor duplication, nor even parody. It is a question of substituting the signs of the real for the real, that is to say of an operation of deterring every real process via its operational double, a programmatic, metastable, perfectly descriptive machine that offers all the signs of the real and short-circuits all its vicissitudes. Never again will the real have the chance to produce itself – such is the vital function of the model in a system of death, or rather of anticipated resurrection, that no longer even gives the event of death a chance.”[12]

The theme of simulated life, or simulacra, works literally and metaphorically to analogise with the hyperreality of California.  Even the use of instrumentation and genre suggest a sense of hyperreality.  The majority of the song takes the form of high tempo rockabilly coupled with Big Band arrangements and accompanied by sound effects better suited to an 80s American cop show.

Spruance goes on to reference a foretold event in Nordic mythology, Ragnarök – ‘the final destiny of the gods’[13] – signified “as the Fenris wolf slowly bites through his chain”.  According to mythology, this results in an apocalypse in which the world is submerged by water, before resurfacing anew.  This sense of an imminent end becomes a reoccurring theme throughout the album.

Continuing with theme of religion and mythology, the narrator considers himself worthy of religious sacrifice, “try to save the world by immolating myself”.  This delusion of being Christ is possibly the result of a world in which mankind have become Gods by rendering recombinant life.  Even in a world doomed by an apocalypse, mass media and technology are still offered as distractions from reality.

Wrinkles smoothed by nanoclaws…

Content-shifting shopping malls…

Phased array diffraction nets

From full-wall paint-on TV sets

Furthermore, the narrator accuses the media of “lindy hop[ping] around the truth” with headlines, such as “jump back wolf pack attack”, that serve as false oppositions to reality.  Spruance seems to be commenting on his distrust for American media.

The final stanza of the song draws a comparison between the simulation of life and the creation of Religion, ‘so the world may be increased in simulation jubilation for the builders of the body of the beast’.  Though Spruance assures that ‘the beast’ is not solely referring to religion,

“I hope people will at least see that the song doesn’t consider science or religion to be particularly opposed in this regard. Sure, with the Inquisition we all have historical precedent for the severity of ‘religious’ atrocities – but it might make you wonder which cloak the Beast will don to the next be-heading party.”[14]

Lyrically, Spruance is also confronting mankind’s vain attempts to explore and explain life in reductionist terms.  This criticism of reductionism – both scientific and religious – adheres to an idea intrinsic to postmodernism: the end of meta-narratives.

From history

The flood of counterfeits released.

The black cloud,

Reductionism and the beast

In context of “NOTKTWR”, reductionism applies to a number of scientific and religious concepts.  The most direct reference being Omega Point, which is a theory popularised by cosmologist Frank Tipler “that allows for connecting the idea of creation as well as the eschatological hope for the resurrection of the dead with the properties of point Omega as final future of the universe.”[15]  Spruance discusses the remark on this pseudoscience as dealing with “the timeless tendency to overly-literalistic reductionism – how we render the universe to ourselves prematurely, and round out the edges to make it consistent with our beliefs.”[16]

“The loss of a sense of history as a continuous, linear narrative, a clear sequence of events, is indicative of the argument that meta-narratives are in decline in the postmodern world… Postmodernism has been particularly critical of the metanarrative of… any theory which tries to read a pattern of progress into history”.[17]

Most poignantly, Spruance is challenging the two greatest metanarratives of them all; a Universe created by God; and a Universe created by The Big Bang.  “The reference to St. Augustine is not there to bash religion, but to help chart the linear history of where science and religion converge in their satanic pact (in the beginning was a Bang!).”[18]

The Big Bang is questioned further in the song “The Holy Filament”, in which the lyrics “reflect the musings of Trevor Dunn on the controversial theory put forth in the book The Big Bang Never Happened by plasma physicist Eric J. Lerner.”[19]

“At the time I was living in San Francisco where swing dancing was making a comeback, Silicon Valley was exploding, vintage clothes were expensive, and the notion that anything could be bought or sold – a soul, a tragedy, the end of the world – seemed viable.”[20]

“Retrovertigo”, written by bassist Trevor Dunn, is structurally the album’s most simple song.  In contrast to the experimental use of the genre, key and time signatures changes that flow through most of the album, this piece is a mid tempo 4/4 rock ballad in the key of C major.  The song is very melancholic in feel, highlighting the serious undertone to the album.  I have interpreted the lyrics to be, in part, an Adornian critique on the cynical and cyclical nature of the culture industry.

“It is alleged that because millions participate in [the culture industry], certain reproduction processes are necessary that inevitably require identical needs in innumerable places to be satisfied with identical goods… The result is the circle of manipulation and retroactive need in which the unity of the system grows ever stronger.”[21]

Before you advertise

All the fame is implied

With no fortune unseen.

Dunn is suggesting that the successes of cultural trends are recycled and pre-empted by mass media.

“Not only are the hit songs, stars, and soap operas cyclically recurrent and rigidly invariable types, but the specific content of the entertainment itself is derived from them and only appears to change. The details are interchangeable.”[22]

This lyric is remarking on a postmodern culture in which a recurrence of retro trends inhibits growth.  The song also suggests distress on the narrator’s behalf in coming to terms with a world in which the culture industry exploits retro-fashions for monetary purposes, distracting its consumers whilst much of the human race is living with a daily struggle for survival.

There’s a vintage thirst returning
But I’m sheltered by my channel-surfing
Every famine virtual
Retrovertigo

Cheap imitation
Is it fashion or disease?

Post-ironic
Remains a mouth to feed

 Dunn presents a metaphor that draws a comparison between disease and fads in a strikingly similar manner to Theodor Adorno: “fashions which appear like epidemics”[23].  And while the world is full of millions dying from starvation, vast amounts of money are spent on spoon-feeding a society with recycled nostalgia.  This juxtaposition of illusion and reality lends itself back to the disillusionment of the California Dream.

I would argue it reasonable to suggest that the narrator’s view is influenced by Dunn’s personal experience with such a culture.  I do not come to this conclusion based purely on the fact that Dunn wrote the lyrics, but from a series on statements he released on his website answering fans’ questions.

“I have no doubt that Bungle pioneered some ideas that were only acknowledged by other musicians who subsequently got rich and famous. One reason Bungle never got rich and famous has to do with marketing and promotion neither of which we had any help with or were willing to dish out wads of our own cash for.   Trying to figure out the fickle nature of the makings of success is a waste of time.”[24]

“You can check-out anytime you like, but you can never leave.”[25]

The fourth track on the album, ‘The Air-Conditioned Nightmare”, is a comment on alienation caused in part by urbanisation and social confinement.  This is expressed from the viewpoint of a manic-depressive narrator who I have interpreted to be subject to psychiatric rehabilitation.

Inside of me today
There is no one
Only asteroids and empty space

A waste

The narrator draws a parallel between different means of social control, suggesting confinement to a social structure such as rehab – and the use of prescription drugs – has the same ‘brain-rotting’ effect as the exposure to mass-produced popular culture.

Get me out of this air-conditioned nightmare

Rots your brain just like a catchy tune

Ironically, the majority of the music takes the form of a Beach Boys-style surf rock song, packed with major chords and catchy vocal harmonies.

The track shares the same title to a collection of written works by Henry Miller, and is almost certainly a direct reference.  Aside from the name, one can make connections between the two pieces based on the theme of alienation from American society.  Henry Miller was famously an expatriate, who left New York for Paris in 1930.

“The most difficult adjustment an expatriate has to make, on returning to his native land, is in this realm of conversation. The impression one has, at first, is that there is no conversation. We do not talk—we bludgeon one another with facts and theories gleaned from cursory readings of newspapers, magazines, and digests.”[26]

In more literal terms, the song seems to be expressing the anguish of the narrator in his search for redemption in suicide as a form of escapism.

Walking on air
Up from the wheelchair
I’ll find the suicide
That I deserve

“Now that the bandages are gone” – i.e. post-rehab – the narrator is envisioning the natural world:

Walking on sand
Forgotten where I am
But it’s so comfortable
Here in the sun…
I only see rainbows

However, this is the view ‘through my window’, suggesting he is still confined to the institution and that this natural world is a delusion.  Associating the Sun, sand and rainbows with delusion is another reference to the misguided California dream.  I would deduce further that Patton is criticising a world in which one is considered insane in becoming alienated by a society dominated by urbanisation.

Stylistically, the track “Golem II: The Bionic Vapour Boy”, epitomises postmodernity in music.  The song covers a range of styles and contains a large number of samples, as well as synthesised instrumentation and electronically manipulated vocals – to the extent of lyrics becoming incomprehensible.  “Golem II” is the postmodern re-telling of a Jewish folklore that depicts a nonhuman being created from imamate matter: “a Muppet Movie style treatment of the subject of Artificial Intelligence and the ‘old’ Golem’s counterpart in the modern world – a growing mythic reality coming ever closer to the surface.”[27]  In a similar fashion to “NOTKTWR”, the song is addressing the potential dangers of technology that simulates intelligence.  In this case, the technology is being used by the military and therefore Golem has been created for means of control.  The simple and repetitive tetrameter phrasing mimics the robotic nature of the song.

War-directing
Mind-inspecting
Man-correcting
Our instructions
His induction
Big production

The album’s penultimate song, “Vanity Fair”, addresses a society succumbed to the superficiality of cosmetic surgery.  The song’s title could be a reference to the 1846 novel by William Thackeray, a satire on 19th Century English middle and upper class society.  “The reality Vanity Fair reveals is the ugliness in a capitalist society. Thackeray said describing the reality must expose much unpleasant facts”.[28]  Patton reveals the ‘ugliness’ of plastic surgery in the first line:

You’re not human

You’re a miracle

A preacher with an animal’s face

‘Animal’s face’ is a reference to collagen, a group of proteins found in animal tissue that is widely used in Botox and plastic surgery.  However, the ugliness of the lyrically matter is juxtaposed by what is perhaps the most appeaseable musical matter there is: Doo-Wop.  This displays the album’s essence of irony over nostalgia.

Patton paradoxically compares the culture of plastic surgery to that of the Skoptsi – a sect in imperial Russia – whom were known for practising castration and mastectomy as part of their religious views on sexuality and sexual lust.

Bless the eunuch

And the Skoptsi

Will you hurt me now and make a million?

‘Goodbye Blue Monday!’[29]

The final song on the album, “Goodbye Sober Day”, is suggestive of an event of personal discovery on behalf of the narrator.  The experience seems to be a moment of enlightenment, perhaps the final phase of transcendence out of an idealised world.  In this case sobriety is used as a metaphor for innocence.

Mend my shipwrecked spirit
Lift the veil from my eyes

The song could simultaneously be interpreted as a moment of final judgement preceding the aforementioned apocalypse.  This would be a fitting end to an album obsessed with the wrongs of society.  Following the third chorus, the music is consumed by a chant, mimicking an Islamic call to prayer.  The lyrics suggest an end is imminent:

May your sun be blown out like a candle
May your sea burn like tar
May your sky be rolled up like a scroll
May your blue moon drip with blood

Spontaneously, yet seamlessly, the song moves into a highly rhythmic and energetic Balinese chant known as ‘kecak’ or ‘ketjak’.  This form of music has its roots in sanghyang, a “sacred dance ritual held in seeking safety from natural disasters or outbreaks of disease”[30].  Despite its apparent authenticity, modern kecak singers perform predominantly for Western tourists.  I would argue that Mr. Bungle’s use of this form of music is intentionally illustrating the irony of postmodernism, as Trey Spruance explains: “[Kecak] is a newly constructed operatic drama based on the Ramayana. It’s a pretty touristy affair. It was conceived by a German – how exotic! But amazingly enough, it’s incredible.”  The musical bed beneath this chant is a heavy metal riff, possibly the album’s most bold display of juxtaposed genres.

The song is resolved by a chaotic noise of distressed screams, explosive sounds effects and the ringing of a gong; marking the arrival of the foreseen apocalypse; a fitting way to end an album with “an end-of-the-world mentality that extends through the whole of American popular music”.[31]

California’s cultural significance is apparent in its use of social commentary that criticises a society that has been continually celebrated and idealised for centuries.  With influences from a wide range of musical styles and references to a scope of cultural, scientific and religious theories, this album epitomises a postmodern music that is laden with irony, which most poignantly expresses the paradox that is The California Dream.

“…Like Hollywood, the underbelly is glossed over with major chords, sparkling glockenspiels, exotic percussion, fuzz guitars, tears of joy, and plastic smiles.  And it’s all in Technicolor, breath-taking Cinemascope, and stereophonic sound! Music to be listened to under the warmth of the cancer-inducing sun. It’s danceable, it’s singable. Grab an umbrella and join the slaughter!” [32]


[1] Mr Bungle (1999) Media Information [California Press Release]

[2] Kramer, J. “The nature and origins of musical postmodernism”, In Lochhead. J & Auner, J. (2002) Postmodern Music/Postmodern Thought, Routledge

[3] “Mike Patton: A Singer With Energy”, Associated Press (CNN)

[4] Millard, A. (2005) America on Record: A History of Recorded Sound, Second Edition, Cambridge University Press, p.386

[5] Sim, S (2001) Postmodern and music (Scott, D.) In The Routledge Companion to Postmodernism, Routledge

[6] Jurmain, C. (1986) California: a place, a people, a dream, Chronicle Books Llc, p.141

[7] Starr, K. (1973) Americans and the California Dream 1850-1915, Oxford University Press

[8] Stein, W. (1974) California and the Dust Bowl Migration, Greenwood Press, p.26

[9] Does Living In California Make People Happy? A Focusing Illusion in Judgments of Life Satisfaction. American Psychological Society, Vol. 9, No. 5, September 1998.

[10] Hutcheon, L. (1998) Irony, Nostalgia, and the Postmodern, University of Toronto, English Language Main Collection.

[11] Drexler, E. (1986) Engines of Creation: The Coming Era of Nanotechnology, p.146

[12] Baudrillard, J. (1994) Simulacra and Simulation, University of Michigan Press, p.2

[13] Andren, A. (2006) Old Norse Religion in Long-Term Perspective, Nordic Academic Press, p.186

[15] Pannenberg, W. (1997) Modern Cosmology: God and the Resurrection of the Dead. Presented at Innsbruck Conference on Frank Tipler’s book The Physics of Immortality.

[17] Strinati, D. (2004) An Introduction to Theories of Popular Culture, 2nd Edition, Routledge, p. 215

[19] Ibid.

[21] Adorno, T. & Horkheimer, M. (1944) The Cultural Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Ibid.

[25] The Eagles, “Hotel California”. Hotel California, 1978, Asylum

[26] Miller, H. (1945) The Air-Conditioned Nightmare, New Directions, p.109

[28] (1995) The Works of William Makepeace Thackeray, p.93

[29] Vonnegut, K. (1973) Breakfast of Champions. Delacorte Press

[31] Janssen, D. (2009) Apocalypse Jukebox: The End of the World in American Popular Music, Counterpoint LLC [outside back cover]

[32] Mr Bungle (1999) Media Information [California Press Release]