Inland Territory REVIEWS

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Digital
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Postby Digital » Thu May 07, 2009 2:25 pm

It took me two days to catch up with this thread, but now I find I'm going to have to bite my tongue. Music is a very personal thing, and what I like you may hate and vice-versa. I don't agree with many of the comments in this thread, both those for certain artists and those against others, but I don't think it's worth a flame war. My musical palate is extremely diverse, and I don't always ask for mentally challenging material. I either like it or not, and if there happens to be a great message there, so be it. It's probably why I don't tend to agree with some of the cognoscenti. I'd say most of the time, honestly.


The LAist review is, in my opinion, a great one, because it showcases a reviewer who has done their homework and asks insightful questions. I think he/she was rewarded with some really great material that is truly unique.

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Postby murlough23 » Thu May 07, 2009 8:13 pm

Digital wrote:It took me two days to catch up with this thread, but now I find I'm going to have to bite my tongue. Music is a very personal thing, and what I like you may hate and vice-versa. I don't agree with many of the comments in this thread, both those for certain artists and those against others, but I don't think it's worth a flame war. My musical palate is extremely diverse, and I don't always ask for mentally challenging material. I either like it or not, and if there happens to be a great message there, so be it. It's probably why I don't tend to agree with some of the cognoscenti. I'd say most of the time, honestly.


This could perhaps be an oblique reference to my remark that Sarah MacLachlan is boring. In the event that it is, I'll attempt to diffuse your frustration by pointing out that it's more of a personal preference for complexity over simplicity. Not everyone shares this preference. I don't think that makes them less intelligent or whatever. I only really brought it up to illustrate a fundamental difference between Sarah's music and Vienna's music that critics miss when they compare the two voices and the fact that both women play the piano. Regardless of which approach you prefer, I think anyone who's paying attention can acknowledge that Vienna's music is not a cut-rate knock-off of Sarah's. So it annoys me when critics compare the two, because the fact that Sarah is much more widely known usually makes that comparison unfair to Vienna. It's like Sarah is the be-all-end-all of soothing piano-based female vocal pop and anyone else who dares to show any superficial similarity is just a wannabe.

And in the interest of fairness, I do genuinely love a few of Sarah's songs, most notably "Angel", "Sweet Surrender", and "Fear".

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Postby tanthalas » Thu May 07, 2009 8:31 pm

On the one hand, comparing Sarah to Vienna may turn some potential listeners off from Vienna if they don't like Sarah's music. On the other hand, Sarah has a rather large following who may be more than likely interested in listening to what Vienna has to say... so it's really hard to say whether the comparisons do more help than harm.

I like most of the songs from Surfacing.

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Postby murlough23 » Thu May 07, 2009 8:37 pm

tanthalas wrote:On the one hand, comparing Sarah to Vienna may turn some potential listeners off from Vienna if they don't like Sarah's music. On the other hand, Sarah has a rather large following who may be more than likely interested in listening to what Vienna has to say... so it's really hard to say whether the comparisons do more help than harm.


I've never been a big fan of "If you like Artist A, you'll LOVE Artist B!"-type comparisons. They almost always lead to unmet expectations on the part of the listener. Two artists can have superficially similar sounds but very different approaches to songwriting, performance, production, etc. So if you like Sarah and you're led to believe that Vienna does all the same good stuff the way Sarah does it, you're bound to be puzzled.

I think comparisons are useful for critics because it helps them to give their readers an idea of what the music actually sounds like. (Writing about music is hard without being able to use those touchstones.) But I've learned over the years that these comparisons are limited, and that's it's useful to note how two artists are similar. It's an issue of managing expectations. If I say that somebody reminds me of Radiohead, I'd better be prepared to explain that statement so that some huge Radiohead fan doesn't listen to it on my advice and then gripe, "This sucks, it's not nearly as good as Radiohead". Maybe some of the guitar work or programming or paranoid lyricism reminded me of Radiohead. But then there are other influences or differences that I probably should have noted.

It can be a great service to an artist when you compare them to someone who is great and/or highly popular. But it can also be a great disservice, because what you intend as praise can come across sounding like you're saying they're a ripoff. Critics need to be more careful with this sort of thing.

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Postby Digital » Thu May 07, 2009 9:07 pm

murlough23 wrote:This could perhaps be an oblique reference to my remark that Sarah MacLachlan is boring.


You're not wrong, but you're also not completely right, either. Pick most of the artists that have been mentioned here, and I probably disagree with one or more of the comments. I have never had musical tastes that ascribe to the mainstream opinions, and I don't expect I ever will. Some of the artists many people hold up as the best, I could care less about. Some that they think are drivel, I adore. It all hinges on a very intangible thing that I don't even try to analyze.

murlough23 wrote:In the event that it is, I'll attempt to diffuse your frustration by pointing out that it's more of a personal preference for complexity over simplicity.


I appreciate complexity, but also enjoy simplicity. I wish it were that simple for me to discriminate that way. Some of my favorite songs are still the ones I learned in grade school. Others like Vienna's provide a lush, varied soundscape. Maybe the difference is for me, complexity is not a prerequisite.


murlough23 wrote:So it annoys me when critics compare the two, because the fact that Sarah is much more widely known usually makes that comparison unfair to Vienna. It's like Sarah is the be-all-end-all of soothing piano-based female vocal pop and anyone else who dares to show any superficial similarity is just a wannabe.


I agree, and I think my comments to that effect are somewhere else in this thread. It's part of what makes it so hard for me define my musical interests. Sarah doesn't sound like Vienna. Vienna doesn't fit any category I can come up with. Tori has more in common with Native American Tribal rhythms than either Vienna or Sarah. (And no, I would never use that to describe Tori, but it gets the point across.)

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Postby murlough23 » Thu May 07, 2009 9:27 pm

Digital wrote:You're not wrong, but you're also not completely right, either. Pick most of the artists that have been mentioned here, and I probably disagree with one or more of the comments.


Nothing wrong with that. Otherwise we'd all be fans of exactly the same list of artists, and that would be boring.

Digital wrote:I have never had musical tastes that ascribe to the mainstream opinions, and I don't expect I ever will. Some of the artists many people hold up as the best, I could care less about. Some that they think are drivel, I adore. It all hinges on a very intangible thing that I don't even try to analyze.


The funny thing about "mainstream opinion" is that there seems to be a different "ubiquitous they" everywhere I turn. There's the general record-buying public (who I tend to suspect cares more about image than content), and then there are music critics (which are a diverse, disagreeable, and altogether unpredictable bunch who can sometimes be rather stubborn when it comes to giving a massively popular artist or musical style a fair shake). I think both can be useful as a litmus, not for how "good" a certain artist is (because I'm honestly not sure if such a thing can be empirically defined), but for whether you're likely to enjoy an album that you might go to the trouble of purchasing. But you have to take a lot of what they all say with a shaker full of salt.

I can't speak for the general public or for most critics, but I know that for myself, when I say something is good or bad or boring or genius or whatever, I figure it's naturally implied that this is just one man's opinion. It would be tedious to make that disclaimer every time! But I don't have the power to make sweeping, God-like definitions of what makes "good music" and what does not. I can only tell you what I enjoy and what I find intriguing, and what I don't, and why. The "why" part is the most important part. If I leave that part out and just concentrate on gushing or bashing, I'm not going to be a terribly helpful critic.

And we can't really go with general consensus on this sort of thing either - otherwise Britney Spears and her ilk would be regarded as the cream of the crop. *shudder*

Digital wrote:I appreciate complexity, but also enjoy simplicity. I wish it were that simple for me to discriminate that way. Some of my favorite songs are still the ones I learned in grade school. Others like Vienna's provide a lush, varied soundscape. Maybe the difference is for me, complexity is not a prerequisite.


I think the "simplicity" thing is just one of my personal issues. Sometimes I'm really envious when somebody describes a song as "beautiful" and all I'm hearing is plodding major-key piano chords in 4/4 time. It's like my perception of what is "beautiful" got knocked on its ass, because I'm attracted to odd time signatures and unusual instrumentation and minor chords and all that stuff that normal, well-adjusted people seem to turn up their noses at. Maybe I've just listened to too much music, so I gravitate towards that which I can't predict (to a certain extent, anyway - let too much white noise or total lack of rhythm or structure overpower the music, and I start to get impatient with it).

I mean, just look at my short list of "least favorite" Vienna songs. The Atheist Christmas Carol. Soon Love Soon. Homecoming. Shine. Kansas. There's a lot to like about each of these, but because they're much more slow and straightforward, not particularly rhythmic (and in all cases but "Kansas", major key), they don't grab me the way something like "Harbor" or "Radio" or "Pontchartrain" might. Yet other Vienna fans, people whose opinions I respect, rave about these songs. I can't figure out why I'm this way.

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Postby dbeattie » Thu May 07, 2009 10:48 pm

murlough23 wrote:I mean, just look at my short list of "least favorite" Vienna songs. The Atheist Christmas Carol. Soon Love Soon. Homecoming. Shine. Kansas. There's a lot to like about each of these, but because they're much more slow and straightforward, not particularly rhythmic (and in all cases but "Kansas", major key), they don't grab me the way something like "Harbor" or "Radio" or "Pontchartrain" might. Yet other Vienna fans, people whose opinions I respect, rave about these songs. I can't figure out why I'm this way.

Actually Kansas is in a major key too: D-major. :) So it fits your pattern. (It just might fool you initially 'cause each musical figure starts with a minor chord: B-minor except for the bridges which start with E-minor. But each line of the verses and choruses ends in a D-major chord). Soon Love Soon and Shine are also in D-major. Hmm...

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Postby murlough23 » Thu May 07, 2009 10:53 pm

dbeattie wrote:Actually Kansas is in a major key too: D-major. :) So it fits your pattern.


Ah. I'm only a wannabe music geek, so I didn't pick that up. In any event, it's moody enough to be an "honorary minor key" song. Which is probably why I like it a little more than the other "least favorites" on my list, but it's still my least favorite on Inland Territory. (I didn't even list my least favorite on Dreaming Through the Noise, which just so happens to be "Recessional", and which is still a very good song, and the favorite of a lot of folks here when you ask them about DTTN. There are just too damn many awesome songs on that album.)

I think the thing I didn't dig about "Kansas" was the electric piano, actually. I might have liked it better with old-school acoustic piano. (That didn't bug me on "The Last Snowfall", though, but there are other uniquely delicious elements that attract me to that one.) When I really think about it, I love the melody to "Kansas". I'd just do something more with the instrumentation if it were up to me. Especially because it's so early in the album, it's kind of a dead spot in between much stronger songs. (But then I can't think of how I'd reorder IT in a way that would flow logically. It's just a diverse set of songs, there's probably no "right way" to do it.)

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Postby tanthalas » Thu May 07, 2009 11:27 pm

Heh, I'm also of the opinion that Kansas sounds much better with a piano than a keyboard, but my recent un-scientific poll of 3 other people shows that I am in a very small minority. :D

If you're interested, feel free to check out some of the original live performances of Kansas:
http://people.csail.mit.edu/calvinon/inland/

These are I think the few recordings of Kansas where she plays the piano. On tour these days she usually uses the Nord for that song.

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Postby Reileen » Fri May 08, 2009 12:10 am

...I like Kansas with both the keyboard and the piano. :D It was one of the songs on IT that took longer to grow on me than the others, though (and The Last Snowfall falls under this, too). And I personally feel like Kansas is a good transition point between the songs at that point in the album precisely because it's so slow and downtbeat. But, again, Your Mileage May Vary. :D
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Postby murlough23 » Fri May 08, 2009 12:11 am

Reileen wrote:But, again, Your Mileage May Vary. :D


Apparently, I'm driving a Hummer.

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Postby murlough23 » Fri May 08, 2009 1:13 am

Ok, so I listened to the live stuff. (Thanks for that!) I can't say that hearing "Kansas" with regular piano changes it significantly for me. But it's really a moot point. When my "least favorite" track on an album is still a pretty darn good song, there's little to be gained by complaining about it.

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Postby Digital » Fri May 08, 2009 4:19 am

murlough23 wrote:Sometimes I'm really envious when somebody describes a song as "beautiful" and all I'm hearing is plodding major-key piano chords in 4/4 time. It's like my perception of what is "beautiful" got knocked on its ass, because I'm attracted to odd time signatures and unusual instrumentation and minor chords and all that stuff that normal, well-adjusted people seem to turn up their noses at. Maybe I've just listened to too much music, so I gravitate towards that which I can't predict (to a certain extent, anyway - let too much white noise or total lack of rhythm or structure overpower the music, and I start to get impatient with it).


I have very little musical training, so you guys can talk all about major versus minor keys, and it only means a little to me. I can see what you mean by hearing things as "plodding." The difference for me has to do with emotion and timing. Outside of the tempo, there's a cadence or a timing that has to be there, or it's not going to be right for me. I can listen to two musicians play the same piece, and I'll pick the one that gets it right versus the technical virtuoso. I see the same thing in dance and some athletics. I'm not sure if it's innate or taught, but I'm inclined to believe you either have it or you don't, and training can only attempt to compensate. I guess since I'm here, Vienna must have it.

So maybe that's what others are sensing when they talk about the beauty in something that you don't agree with. Or maybe they don't know what they're talking about :)

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Postby murlough23 » Fri May 08, 2009 8:16 am

Digital wrote:I have very little musical training, so you guys can talk all about major versus minor keys, and it only means a little to me.


I don't think formal knowledge of music should be a prerequisite to liking any of this stuff - it might give you a little more insight into the talent that went into constructing it, but really, if the music can't communicate something on an emotional level, I don't care how technically proficient it is. Before I knew what the heck a chord was, I knew when a certain type of melody would make my spine tingle. I knew when a beat was irregular and I had fun trying to follow it. I didn't learn how to play an instrument or really study any music theory until several years out of college, and those things have only augmented what my gut was already telling me in my musically ignorant days.

Digital wrote:I can listen to two musicians play the same piece, and I'll pick the one that gets it right versus the technical virtuoso. I see the same thing in dance and some athletics. I'm not sure if it's innate or taught, but I'm inclined to believe you either have it or you don't, and training can only attempt to compensate. I guess since I'm here, Vienna must have it.


Exactly. There's a certain subtlety and finesse that I'm not sure can be taught in an academic setting. That's the emotional component that uses the various tools in the musical toolbox to communicate something. That's when an artist knows intuitively what the rules are and when it's OK to break them. There are plenty who can play proficiently, but it has no feeling. It's just like how a computer can chug numbers faster and more efficiently than a human could ever hope to, but it will never know anything more than a series of algorithms that are fed to it. I want to know there's a human behind all of the music geek stuff... otherwise I';m only marginally impressed by it.

Though I'd prefer all technical proficiency and no emotion to all emotion and no technical proficiency. Because any idiot can bang out power chords on a guitar and sing some stuff about how a girl did him wrong. But given the full spectrum of options, I'll take both, please.
Last edited by murlough23 on Fri May 08, 2009 7:46 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Postby tanthalas » Fri May 08, 2009 9:04 am

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance all over again...


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