Monday, January 29

Grace and Funk

Look up "grace" and the fist of many definitions listed is, "elegance or beauty of form, manner, motion, or action." Looking up "funk" will give you a bit more trouble. Scroll down and you'll find, "music having a funky quality." So what type of music has a funky quality? Um, funk I guess. That clears it up. Scroll down a little further and you'll find, "An earthy quality appreciated in music such as jazz or soul." and "A type of popular music combining elements of jazz, blues, and soul and characterized by syncopated rhythm and a heavy, repetitive bass line." That last one may be correct, but it sure takes the funk right out of funk.

I've been thinking about these two words in relation to the new Fujiya & Miyagi album, Transparent Things, the U.S. version of which was released last week. I am holding a spot on my 2007 year end list for this album; it'll be an amazing year for music if it somehow gets bumped off. Maybe you read about the album when the import version was being reviewed and hyped last year. Lots of krautrock comparisons have been thrown around, and not unfairly. Not having heard much Can, I can't speak to that connection, but I definitely hear the Neu!/Cluster/Harmonia influence. I've been listening to a lot of that music lately, so this is good timing. Transparent Things is graceful in the same way, say, the best techno is graceful: precise, restrained, elegant. There's a lot of open space in this music, and it occurs to me that funk needs open space. I'm defining funk not just as a funky beat or baseline (the album does have that, for certain), but more loosely as a sort of human, corporeal quality. I should be careful here; I'm not talking about rockist authenticity. Machine music can be funky, as Kraftwerk has proven. It's not about sounding organic, or hand-played. It's just about allowing the music to breath.

This idea of open space is something I've been thinking about a lot since first hearing the Junior Boys. Above anything else, open space defines their music. Other music I enjoy has this quality: OMD's Architecture & Morality, Brian Eno's Another Green World, The Blue Nile's Hats, David Sylvian's Secrets of the Beehive, and the recent Kelley Polar album. Is there a metaphor here? Maybe that space needs to be there so listeners have somewhere to insert themselves into the music, to crawl inside the sound and fill the gaps.

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