Notes on the "pop" end of the spectrum (Part I)

by Aaron K. Johnson 2013-10-06 @ 19:07:20

As many of you who know my own music know, I tend towards the neo-classical influence in my own music, and although I tend not to write straight-ahead rock or jazz pieces, I've done some work in both of those genres in my life, and my own musical taste is heavily influenced by them, especially progressive rock. I feel like a musical omnivore, and I really feel like that's the best thing to be: heavily trained and knowledgeable about all kinds of music, centered on the great classics of the Western Tradition spanning several centuries, with a firm grasp of that repertoire, but able to fully appreciate, if not wholly absorb, quality work wherever I hear it in more "popular" genres of today: rock, fusion, jazz, progressive rock (which is unfortunately out of fashion since it is, in my opinion, the high point in rock music history form which we have been descending steeply), progressive dance music (IDM), etc., etc.

I'm heartened by some trends in the microtonal community, particularly by a group of artists who are doing some really interesting high quality work in their respective genres, combining raw talent in creativity and production with a sense of what sounds "fresh and relevant" (and I hate those terms--AKJ) for today's audiences.

As a recent example, a very good candidate of the kind of artist I'm talking about is Brendan Byrnes. Byrnes happened to win 2nd place in the last UnTwelve annual competition with his co-composed (with Alex Wand) evocative and flat-out beautiful guitar duo called The Plain of Jars Recently, but prior to this, Byrnes has created a splash with his very high quality (in composition and sonic production values) album Micropangaea, on Spectropol records, which is founded by fellow composer Bruce Hamilton and is a 'net label which can make any microtonalist excited and proud.

I would say this is music with a definite progressive edge without losing mass appeal, but simultaneously managing to pack a powerful exotic tuning-edged punch, giving unaware listeners a very spicy, enjoyable experience. It manages to combine surface appeal with a surreal, hallucinatory quality that I would imagine most folks would have to find compelling, or at the very least, have to concede the sharp talent and skill involved in producing such work. All the while, Byrnes is really laying it all down on some very nice grooves that I think would make any dance party hit the floor with joy. It's a wonder to behold, and I think the album is a must listen. Check it out, if you haven't already....addendum: to hear a sonic peek at what Byrnes is up to lately, check out this track.

In the next installment, I plan to continue the discussion with the work of three fine artists in the progressive or "intelligent dance" department: Jacky Ligon, Sevish, and Tony Dubshot.

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