Genre Means Nothing
Genres mean absolutely nothing, no matter what anyone exclaims, writes, or says. Every decade there seems to be new music that challenges and pushes against what can be considered the norm in contemporary music, which narrows perspective down to mere genres. Why? Because it’s easy, it helps to illustrate tastes and styles of players, but the truth is that music is a constantly evolving art form that does not need to be broken down into types. Instruments already do that. Music itself should be celebrated for its multifacetedness as a whole, never into smaller, seemingly digestible parts.
Chris Thile, lead mandolinist and vocalist of Punch Brothers, has adopted a new term that seems to elucidate this concept better than paragraphs and paragraphs could. Genre-hopping.
Take Choir of Young Believers as an example, a group that not only exudes genre-hopping, but also aspects of culturally diverse music and languages. Some songs are titled in other languages, some fragmented scale interpretations are adopted from a variety of other music styles.
Singer and the only constant band member of COYB, Jannis Noya Makrigiannis, submits an album that does not sound like the same group of songs from track to track, which is partially what gives the record its charm. Some songs are more straight forward, others are barely threaded together and often sounds like different tracks from part to part. Take “Graeske” for an example, the song is built upon somewhat of an odd, ominous structure with certain effects that sound metallic like large tins rattled by something inside. Makrigiannis’s voice soars through the cacophony of sounds in seemingly foreign ways, like eastern vocal slides and trills. The track is unsettling at first, but after two or three listens it grows and becomes another thing entirely.
This is true for the majority of the tracks on Grasque. Each song attempts to take you on some sort of journey, be it an enchanted one or the few of nightmarish quality, the goal is to get you from “A” to “B.” One of COYB’s most illustrative songs, “Jeg Ser Dig,” even includes the sounds of seagulls on a beach like each bird is fighting over flying bread, screaming for more. Or perhaps the introductory track, “Olimpiyskiy,” which sounds exactly like a concert introduction for a live stadium performance.
The album sounds out of place with contemporaneous artists, like it’s emerged from some obscure collection of avant-garde 80s vinyls lost without anyone knowing of it before now. Except, of course, Makrigiannis’s voice is most assuredly contemporary pop, especially with his signature subtle coos, high tenor and whispery falsetto.
There are certainly admirable moments on the album, such as the saxophone solo during “Secret Lover.” The song itself sounds like it was recorded twice as fast and then halved, which appears evident based on the slow, creeping aesthetic throughout the song. The production quality of the album is top notch wrought with sounds that run the gamut of what can be considered “electronic,” but it’s never too off-putting. For instance, the bass rumbling through the entirety of “Vaserne” is not one to rattle your heart in its cage or upset your ear drums.
Though genre-hopping is a positive musical term, the constant permeating issue is that the guidelines are so narrow. It’s a double-edged sword. On the one hand, terms like these encourage artists to be themselves and express in any way they see fit, but how that may look is never clear and that’s the problem with Grasque. For sake of an image, it feels like when an artist paints with too many colors and they blend together in a befuddling way that leaves the viewer uncertain of the message or how they should even approach. The songs are seemingly vestiges from other projects that have apparently coalesced into an album.
This is the issue throughout Grasque. The album is a positive, albeit somewhat confusing step in a forward moving direction for the band and as a synecdoche of “genre-hopping.” The album stands for what’s at stake when musicians let themselves loose, skipping between genres and experimenting with what music is capable of being.