Aside from a musician’s technical-theoretical knowledge, the notes he chooses to play also reveal information about his motives and general mental character. Music of a populist nature opts for more instantaneously gratifying note choices; meaning any micro-movement, be it a lick, a phrase, or a riff, will settle into a resolution or something resembling thereof as soon as possible. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the artist has lesser goals in mind; often, an easy resolution is the only means amenable to conveying a message, usually relayed through a vocal medium, and that is a perfectly honorable ideal of itself, too. But even in that is a subtle takeaway: the message assumes responsibility and ownership over the music; in other words, the artist, albeit unconsciously perhaps, believes his music to not be potent enough to be the sole and overwhelming narrator in the arrangement. It has to be fattened on a diet of overt suggestion to make itself known to the audience.
Complex music, however, on inspection almost always reveals a deliberate putting off of convenient note resolution. Think about it in the musical abstract; would it be easier to create a progressive narrative by neatly wrapping up each individual section and beginning anew at every such point of closure? Or would it make more sense to leave that resolution pending, perhaps by circling back to the general vicinity of the root note, hinting at something a little divergent, a little differently fleshed out in the near future? The first would lead to severances in the musical fabric, making the song a collection of discrete moments; metal, of course, is replete with incidences of such ruptures which if anything end up adding to the memorability and spontaneity of the song. While that is well and good, it shouldn’t be forgotten that that memorability in this case is owed to the melodic prowess of the individual riff played during that rupture, and not to the narrative “wholeness” of the song. The first moments of an out-of-nowhere fresh idea still jar the sensibility; it is only subsequent conditioning that realigns us with the song, until it is time to come out of the breach, and back into the main body of the arrangement, which is when the disconnect makes itself felt all over again.
But the bootstrapping style of songwriting – where “riffends” are not really so much ends as augurs – is necessarily predicated upon a wider field of vision, one that stretches beyond a gratuitous immersion in the moment. In the artist it reveals a perpetual search, a seeker’s odyssey of sorts; his goals aren’t delineated at the outset; instead they evolve with him over the course of the arrangement, not in a haphazard, impromptu manner, but as contingent on a living, breathing chain of cause and effect. By extrapolation, this style of songwriting also imitates life; technology continuously strains to provide us answers to experiences we’ve never had; Google Assistant detects the song and artist playing in the background, but is this any substitute for actually having gone through the paces yourself? Definitive answers to the questions of life may not exist but the only true coin remains living life itself.
Do you know that internet algorithm that computes your spirit animal? Silly, I know, how a world so out of touch with the earth gladly embraces the concept of totem animal from a people that prided themselves on being guardians of that earth. But be that as it may, I tend to believe there is a very real thing such as a spirit band, a band whose basic sound has become such a part of your living, feeling soul that you become incapable of harboring ill sentiment against its newer music. Maybe you understand on some unsaid level that the band is operating at a lower percentage than it used to, maybe you are even honest enough to admit to the world that, yes, your favorite band is only a pale shadow of its old self; but the thing is, given enough time, even this less-than-optimal new material begins growing on you, arouses that need to be reaffirmed in your faith. And all this not as any consciously thought out process but as a helplessness despite yourself, innocent and without guile. It’s a little like being in love; you can’t help who you fall for; flaws that were once hidden under the giddiness of new glamour may come to the fore; we duly acknowledge them and then proceed to relegate them to the background; in time, we may even come to treat them as indispensable parts of the larger personality with whom we are so taken.
A spirit band is not quite a guilty pleasure. A guilty pleasure would insinuate a degree of alienation and abashedness; it arises when all our conditioned reason suggests that we’re indulging in a cheap simulacrum of what we’ve previously enjoyed in far better form; yet like an itch on the back begging to be scratched, we reach around and give in to the moment at the risk of incurring strained intercostals.
A spirit band, however, is nothing so base as that. For a particular sound to become so positively intertwined with your emotional identity necessarily means that its creators, at some point in the past, practiced their craft with utmost integrity. Time may have chipped away at the instant arrestability of their newer output, but this post wouldn’t exist if trace elements and more of that past prowess didn’t still remain. Such a spirit band’s music carries the hoary venerability of old age; and as we cherish our elders, as we humor them their increasingly frequent inadequacies and foibles for the erstwhile wisdom they’ve bestowed on us, so we think of a spirit band with affection and good cheer. Not with knives out for thinning blood, but with a keen understanding of where we come from and to whom we owe a debt of gratitude for being who we are.