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The Age of Clank: Why Genres are Important

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tUnE-yArDs

Great, so we’ve established what clank is, and from that he can lead me to tUnE-YaRdS, Abe Vigoda, dd/mm/yyyy, Marnie Stern and Nice Nice. I might have been hesitant to seek out those bands before, but having given it a name that tells me I’ll probably already like it before I’ve even heard a note, suddenly we’re in business.

There’s an irony at work here. Though Last.fm guides listeners from song to song via genre tags, Pandora prides itself on dispensing with genres altogether and mathematically deconstructing each song into its individual sonic components. That works in one sense, in that just because you like one heavy metal song doesn’t automatically mean you’ll like another heavy metal song – but isn’t terming something “heavy metal” in the first place the process of breaking down the song into its component parts and then classifying it so that other people can play the game of if-you-like-that-you-might-like-this?

Then there’s a contrasting issue in that two people enjoying the same song might enjoy different things about that song, hence grouping bands together in a genre that might not have more than the most superficial parts in common. For example, someone who saw Korn and Slipknot in my record collection might assume that I like Coal Chamber, without realising that it was the vocals rather than the arrangement that I was hooking into. A guess that I’d like Faith No More would be correct, but then might lead to confusion when I don’t like some other FNM-ish band who happen not to have Mike Patton in them. So I get why genre doesn’t always work.

There’s also the limitations of the initial definition. It doesn’t matter how gifted a writer Chris Razor is, his descriptions of music cannot match the experience of actually hearing the music. The difference between a good or bad critic is the difference between dad-dancing and ballet: you’re still dancing about architecture (much as we enjoy doing so). Therefore, if clank is “ramping up the colour saturation of keys, guitars and percussion until your eyes are screaming”, have I understood that correctly? Going through Chris’s list of suggested bands, I was measuring them against those criteria and rejecting song after song that I didn’t think was “clanky” enough. I thought these fitted the bill. Was I right?

(continues overleaf)

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