One of the most fatal mistakes made in the music community is that far too many people take music much too seriously. What I’m getting at is that often music is approached in a manner more befitting a science project, or some complex math riddle that is in need of unwinding. As with most problems in this environment, the critics are to blame. Your average music lover/record hunter/mp3 gorger is usually searching for a cheap thrill, or at the very best an immediate escape. For them the enjoyment of music hardly hinges on detailed clinical dissections, cultural reference points, or historical context, much less an endless stream of hot air from writers who consider themselves to be “in the know.” For the most part these are the people we ought to be listening to, talking to, and kissing up to. They are the real holders of the holy grail of what matters in music – the truths behind the veil – the bottomless source of inspiration that transforms sound into that whale that so many of us chase, all the while secretly hoping the thrill of the journey never finds us actually catching up.
To my mind, there is a right way and a wrong way to experience music. On the one hand you have the more systematic approach adopted by the bulk of modern professional arbiters of taste; that is, to take it apart (this usually entails killing it), classify it, organize it, in order to find out what makes it tick. On the other, you have the detective’s take on gathering information: to observe, witness, experience (this is the only manner in which the term ‘experiencing’ makes sense anyhow), and eventually report. The latter enjoys the elegance of the bird nestled in its natural habitat, while the former enjoys the neatness of the bird pinned to a cold medical platter.
The issue with most technical criticism proper is that the process itself seems to have this perverse ability to alter the make-up of the music it comes up against it. You see when you take a subjective work of art and throw it headlong into the whirling gears of “objective” critical opinion, what you get out is often a wholly different entity than the one you began with. I’m not sure how critics gained the poisonous ability to become unwelcome collaborators with the artists they dissect, but it’s a scary thing. Much in the way the innards of a disassembled frog are impotent with respect to representing the magnificent organism they once belonged to, the dry, itemized, and ordered parts of a sectioned piece of music are entirely inept at telling you anything about the true nature of the music itself. Anybody who has ever enjoyed a song can tell you that the whole of the thing is scarcely synonymous with the segments that make up this whole; rather music is the summation of its parts—a seamless marriage of ideas, execution, attitude, and good old-fashioned musicianship. This is at the heart of why critics get it wrong.
That is why what I am about to do essentially adds up to a sandy, dense nothingness; but for what it’s worth, here are my observations on Adderall Canyonly and Oxykitten’s The Cutting Room.
Here is how the artists themselves outline their new record, “The Cutting Room is a collection of incidental music from scenes that never made the cut, more specifically, “underscores” – soft, unobtrusive background music that accompanies the action in a performance.”
I didn’t find it to be that exactly.
This is “incidental music”, that is to say ambient music (or to use Erik Satie’s designation ‘Furniture Music’), only in the loosest sense of the word. In fact, the inconsistent, jarring nature of the incongruent suites make it difficult for it to function as such; on the other hand, I did find it blissfully easy to ignore. Maybe that’s because it doesn’t exist at all; for all I know I could write twenty pages on The Cutting Room and never put any thoughts down that were really about the album at all. Sure, the words would concern an album very much like the one I’m discussing, but certainly not this exact one, it’s too vapid. I’m not sure what this means, but I am almost certain that there is music here, just no content, nothing to wrap your head around.
This isn’t ‘Furniture Music’ a la Satie, (though it is ‘furniture music’ a la the sci-fi channel’s entry-level break room), it’s far too obtrusive, and angular to ever be that. The visual reference point for ambient music has always been, to my mind, Impressionism. In this realm, the cloudy spill of colors and the numb outline of forms depict a wonderfully impossible world of beauty, one that depends upon what it is not every bit as much as what it is. This gorgeous and arresting sort of purposelessness and emotional purity is far removed from the world The Cutting Room intentionally, or unintentionally, creates. This place is not uniform, and holds no mysteries, no secrets that lead us anywhere that we aren’t already fully familiar with; here you can see every seam, and notice all those ugly places where unmatched jigsaw pieces meet—there’s too little jig and too much saw. If you can imagine a landscape erected out of a patchwork of ill fitting, mismatched Legos –a Frankenstein horizon– then you will have some bearing as to the depth of the ambience laid out in The Cutting Room. There’s no real magic—you can spot the magician’s strings, and the palmistry has all the nuance of a Farrelly Brothers’ film.
The Cutting Room comes out of all the obvious places: the dated moments of Vangelis, the emptier slices of Grosskopf, the hipper portions of your parent’s lounge record collection. In fact, after only hearing half of what The Cutting Room has to offer, it wouldn’t surprise me if even the strictest of nostalgic completists could have his checklist satisfied several times over.
The Cutting Room is everything one might expect, and fear, from a post-Neon Indian reality. It’s not ineffably vague enough to be Loveless, yet too vague to dance to, it’s too rhythmically challenged to be descendent of Kraftwerk, and it’s not sly nor smart enough to be Music for Airports. The Cutting Room takes the lighter, and largely weaker, moments in the history of electronic music and combines them with none of the moving, nor striking qualities that define the soul of this music, and then slaps you in the face with it. It’s synth heavy, mood laden, temporary, yet already stale; it is the emptiest music to ever deserve revisit. The Cutting Room preys on the heartwarming comfort granted by that variety of music that asks nearly nothing of the listener, and demands even less.
The Cutting room is a lifeless collection of tracks, an album of cuts only in so far as they have been married to one another via some media format or another. Any further connections are imaginary. These ties are forced, ill-timed, couplings that scream carelessness and whisper laxity.
The Cutting Room has a period quality. This quality is an absurd novelty, or maybe it’s many novelties all sharing old ideas with one another, all at times different from the ones in which any of them would have been considered novel. The Cutting Room sounds like it could have been released in 1982, it wouldn’t have been anything particularly special then but it would have fit in neatly with the musical trends of what analogue technology made possible at the time. In an ironic twist, The Cutting Room sounds like it could have been released in 2012, it isn’t anything particularly special now but it fits in neatly with the musical trends of what analogue nostalgia has deemed hip at the moment. The real issue is that there is no point in time that The Cutting Room will ever sound new, of the now. This is because in every sense it has no now; there is no time that exists or has ever existed in which this music would sound like the genuine article. This temporary plane is a figment of the group’s imagination, a fleeting thought that will soon disappear to that place where all spent ideas go, if it isn’t there already. I mean let’s be honest, when a band physically releases their music exclusively on cassette, what they’re really telling you is that they don’t want it to be 2012. At the end of the day, Adderall Canyonly and Oxykitten are uniquely adept at recreating music but not skilled at creating music
In many ways, The Cutting Room was always going to be made. A long stretch of events, trends, blogs, and pastiche set the inevitable birth of this album into motion long before Adderall Canyonly and Oxykitten ever got an itch of the idea in their communal head. They were just in the right place, both spatially and temporally, for this music to pass through them, and in virtue of these series of coincidences their names happened to end up on the liner notes. These things happen.
For all the reasons I’ve said, The Cutting Room is not an authentic, nor even an original piece of music. But for all the reasons that I, as a critic, can’t put into words – those born of a place somewhere between experience and feel-goodery – The Cutting Room is worth every penny of the six dollars it takes to snag your own personal copy.