Saturday, May 31, 2014

A few words about "Held in Splendor", an album by Quilt.

You might expect a band bearing the name Quilt to be all soft, cozy and warm. This Quilt is not like that. This Quilt is raspy. It has sharp edges. This year, so far, has been relatively quiet (cf last year) in terms of major new records, and I have been enjoying Quilt's second album, "Held in Splendor", rather a lot, at least in the sense that I have been giving it considerably more airtime than I would have been able to do if it had been a busier time. In other words, I gave it the chance to bite me, and it did.

This gives rise to a question: what is the use of a record like this in 2014? The times that it harks back to were simpler times, certainly less saturated with readily available music, and the records that emerged from those times were instantly embraced and continue to be well regarded, perhaps even loved (perhaps even obsessively).

But these times are not those times, and a record like this, which is easy to listen to, easy to like, and which has oodles of memorable hooks and plenty of good old grunt, is as likely as not to get lost in the fog of the endless cycle of new releases. Which is what seems to have happened with "Held in Splendor": it has been made, with considerable care and love, by talented people who know the eras they evoke and who have taken pains to translate their favourite sounds of those eras into something the ears of today would be comfortable hearing, and yet it seems to be on very few people's radar, only a scant few months after its release, and may well end up appearing on few, if any, end-of-year lists. Its sales may or may not be enough to cover expenses. It is enough to break your heart.

Imagine if you made this record. How happy you would be. You gave it your best shot and came up with something you would be proud to hold up and say "I did this!" But the model is broken. Being good enough is no longer good enough. (Being anything other than a scantily clad pop tart may not be good enough any more. Oh the times we live in.) Of course, it's not always, or only, or ever, about money. Few of Quilt's obvious influences would have been able to dine out on the proceeds of their own record sales, but their records continue to live, breathe, and have influence even today. With so much music out there now, the chance of getting even that kind of traction has largely vanished.

But I sound like a broken record. It is what it is. You might as well tilt at windmills. People will continue to make music; their expectations of reward will be lower than before. Maybe that means people will make music for the right reasons: because they want to. For its own sake.

The record? It picks up the sounds of the late sixties (both the Byrds jangle and the 13th Floor Elevators oomph), and the sounds of the first generation to be influenced by those sounds (the so-called Paisley Underground of the mid-eighties, specifically the Dream Syndicate, Rain Parade, and the shaded overlapping area of that particular Venn diagram, Opal), and filters them through such of the sounds of today (and the recent yesterday) as Woods, Real Estate and, my perennial perceived precursor, Electrelane.

The neat trick they pull, perhaps with be above rant in mind, is to run many of the songs into each other, as if to snub their nose at the pick-and-mix attitude towards records of many of us these days; as if to say: here it is, take all of it if you like, or none of it, but don't just pick the eyes out of it. (The risk being that many people, faced with that choice, would opt for "none of it".)

Nevertheless, because this is where we are at, you can find individual songs on the internet. Here are a couple. I hope you like them. I think you would be hard pressed not to.