Pretty Guys Make Good Ideas
In one episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, an alien teenager is temporarily placed under the custody of Captain Jean-Luc Picard. The joke is that this senior emblem of Anglo imperialism in the 24th century, known for his cool demeanor and Shakespearean disposition, is shaken by a brooding, black-clad extraterrestrial goth. One telling scene involves Number One entering the adolescent’s quarters, only to be dismayed by the sounds that assault his ears. See, the young man was caught in the midst of “cranking” his “shit”, a shattering and disjointed joint like Marilyn Manson being run through a meat-grinder. Ever the classy gentleman, Jean-Luc voices his disapproval by extending the Victorian equivalent of, “Turn that shit down!”
While the exchange is humorous in the classic sense of cross-generational misunderstanding, it is also a colorful example of what music could sound like in the future. The brief snippet captures the timeless idea that there will always be a parent who perceives their child’s music to be noise; conversely, we can always count on a kid to push our definition of noise. However, the case here is also comic because Star Trek‘s idea of future pop is so un-hip, so not Star Traks, so… bad. The music is not informed by character or lineage, but by spite and disconnect; it is a caricature.
Certainly, other depictions of the coming aural landscape have proven more enjoyable than ST:TNG‘s, but few have been plausible. Sure, Vangelis and Moroder shot their synths for the stars and the Terminator score is, like, the new new dusty groove, but retro top shelf status doesn’t make them the in sound from back to the future. The trouble with these predictions is a singular dependence on technology; new gear for a new year. Rather, music has always thrived when in constant dialogue with its past and present means. And, that special ingredient that can make the best music so special: an artist’s soul. So, it is a welcome surprise when someone actually flips some true new school shit for the year 3000.
Personally, I’m happy as fuck to be living and breathing music right now. The progressive minds and movements of today are synthesizing the past with such variety there is seemingly something for everyone. M.I.A. or S-O-V? Dre or J. Dilla? Beat Konducta or Beatfanatic? Lil’ Jon or Lindstrom? Death From Above or DJ Assault? Screw or Tego? Taha or Nortec? Take your pick, the sounds of now are bursting to move forward.
So, it really isn’t a bad thing to assess A Gun Called Tension ‘s self-titled record as just ok. The one-off project of Sean Reveron (Free Association, Beta Band) and Dann Gallucci (Modest Mouse, Murder City Devils) dips in the familiar well of beats and bass dips, distortion and delays, grit and guitars. Like your new BFF’s Myspace music choices, AGCT ticks off now styles: avante-garde space rap, cut’n paste beats, post-punk dub aesthetics, organic ethics and dirty (fill in the blank). The duo is no different than the countless before, sifting through debris for the elusive “new” or “different.” The resulting amalgam is more thoughtful than the pop thud of Rage Against the Machine or Linkin Park, but not as clever as any of the aforementioned. AGCT is talented in technique, varied in its interests and attractive in its hooks, but rarely gels as a cohesive and engaging body. Nice personality, but…
AGCT spits J.V. first date game: more potential than promise. “Thelonious” layers murky creeping bass, crescendos of momentary melody and scattered baritone thoughts atop sputters of a burping beat; like a chat about birthplaces and living spaces, but no number. Similarly, “Gold Fronts” thunders in to the beat of exaggerated tabletop pounds and a wall of guitars, but never really gets up the nerve to seal the deal. Friends are certainly encouraging, like Roots Manuva pitching down the throbbing bass of “7th of May” and don dada Supercat chattin’ it up on “Foundation”, but AGCT is off with the draw like Andy Stitzer: “Doin’ this for the human race / Gettin’ slapped in the face / Won’t change my flavor / To fit your taste.” Clap your hands and say, “... Kelly Clarkson?”
In this manner, AGCT hits its marks without innovating. While cognizant of the times, the album is unable to move beyond its influences. It is, at most, a literal list of today’s pop reference points, an average reflection of the times.
So, really, if this is so run-of-the-mill why can’t Star Trek get a better soundtrack?