Thursday, March 10, 2011

A “loud-quiet-loud” aesthetic has become almost a cliche at this point, a way of describing dynamic interludes that are both obvious and over-dramatic. While I didn’t necessarily prescribe to this dismissal of the technique, it had always seemed so easy to me that I was surprised that its use was so praised among canonical musicians. I have recently been quickly falling in love with Big Black’s Song’s about Fucking, and it has definitely changed my mind.

Steve Albini, the lead guitarist of Big Black, has basically produced for every band known for this aesthetic, from Surfer Rosa to the controversial first mix of In Utero to PJ Harvey’s Rid of Me. We can effectively trace the sound all the way back to him. Big Black, however, is, in essence, a hardcore punk band: it is very hard to find a Big Black song that changes in volume or speed. What you can find, and what I think is more important than this oversimplification of musical effectiveness, is a highly attuned sense of dynamics and contrast. While this song may be loud all the way through, it contains an extreme mix of both sludge and clarity. While the Pixies might create intensity by paralleling a riff at different ends of the volume spectrum, Albini crams a number of crisp, yet flat lines into one space, making it hard to listen to more than a single instrument attentively. Out of the muck you might pull that bass that sounds like a lead pipe, the flat tire snares, or slightly out of tune guitar jangle. Whatever you pick will be intense.

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