Un-music music
July 24, 2014 5:01 PM   Subscribe

I love the minimalism of Young Marble Giants and The xx - and in online reviews the term "negative space" describes just what I like about them. So, what else should I listen to?
posted by Paragon to Media & Arts (31 answers total) 46 users marked this as a favorite
Joy Division.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 5:17 PM on July 24, 2014

Maybe James Blake?
posted by wats at 5:25 PM on July 24, 2014

Best answer: Spoon would probably work pretty well. IMHO, Girls Can Tell and Gimme Fiction are really good all the way through; Kill the Moonlight has a few really good songs but otherwise is meh; I haven't listened to Transference or Gagagagaga enough to recommend; haven't heard anything pre-Girls or the new one.

If you like that and can handle slightly more aggressive stuff, you may want to look into Pink Flag by Wire and Entertainment! by Gang of Four.
posted by LionIndex at 5:29 PM on July 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Whitest Boy Alive for upbeat, Cranes for goth.
posted by Jason and Laszlo at 5:30 PM on July 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

I just thought about it and I realized I have no idea what "negative space" means in terms of music or these specific bands and I'm pretty sure that music reviewer doesn't either.

Can you say more about what you want to hear and what these bands have in common? Otherwise you're going to get an impossibly wide range of answers.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 5:33 PM on July 24, 2014

I think they just mean minimal orchestration pop music. Maybe Rhye? Maybe Disclosure?
posted by Lutoslawski at 5:35 PM on July 24, 2014

Well, yeah, if you're looking for actual negative space music (very common in, say, Japanese music to think about the space between the notes, as opposed to Western music, which is the opposite aesthetic), you'd want Cage and Feldman.
posted by Lutoslawski at 5:44 PM on July 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Maybe jj? I find that some of their music works the same that the xx works for me.
posted by MeghanC at 5:48 PM on July 24, 2014

Response by poster: It's difficult to articulate the concept, but I think of it as the aural equivalent of white space - the idea that the absence of sound (especially where sound is expected) enhances the effect of the sounds that do appear. Some mentions:
In a year when everyone was trying to make a big noise-- but isn't that every year?-- YMG switched tactics, forcing their audience to lean in to hear them. It's not simply that they were quiet, although substituting a drum machine that sounded like it had a thick quilt on top of it for a human drummer was a radical move at the time. They weren't even all that quiet-- they were just in love with negative space, and their lyrics were so much about things unsaid that the space was formally appropriate. [source]
That musical austerity is the most striking aspect of the xx's sound. Each song is founded on the spare, kinetic interplay between programmed drumbeats and Oliver Sims's lightly thumbed basslines. From there, Romy Croft and Baria Quershi fill out the songs with minimal guitar work, using simple riffs as much for texture as for rhythm or melody. Negative space is a major part of the xx's aesthetic, so that every melodic phrase resonates, as though the band has somehow found a way to suspend their nuanced melodies in the aural equivalent of zero gravity. One gets the impression that every handclap and twinkling xylophone note was meticulously placed, where the same interjections would have sounded obligatory or cluttered on a fuller record. [source]
"Minimally-orchestrated pop" is a pretty good description, along with keywords like "stark" and "austere." Gang of Four's Damaged Goods is another good example (thanks LionIndex); I'm more interested in pop / punk / post-punk / new wave than Cage et al.
posted by Paragon at 5:50 PM on July 24, 2014

Best answer: Majical Cloudz
posted by saul wright at 6:02 PM on July 24, 2014

This is probably not what you mean, but it was the first thing that came to mind..

Among many other types of music, I'm a fan of the genre called dub music, which originally grew out of reggae music in the late 60s and early 70s. DJs and producers would take a popular A-side track and do a remixed "version" of the track with vocals mostly stripped and often with the rhythm section of drum and bass substantially manipulated. On top of that they would layer on sound effects, echo and delay, and dropouts, transforming the original reggae track into a recognizably related but distinctly different recording.

One of the classic albums of the dub canon is "King Tubby Meets Rockers Uptown" -- an album of version cuts by King Tubby (the nom-de-plume of Osbourne Ruddock, who was widely acknowledged as one of the paramount masters of the genre) from source material recorded by Augustus Pablo and Rockers United.

The album is engaging enough on the surface to be listenable from the first spin, but after many listens I've come to believe that there's another layer of music there (and by intention) expressed in the notes you don't hear -- because they've been dropped out or time shifted or pitch bent, confounding your expectations of how the music is going to go.

That's what I thought of when you mentioned "negative space".. It's probably not what you had in mind, but if my description intrigues you at all, "King Tubby Meets Rockers Uptown" is a great place to start.
posted by Nerd of the North at 6:04 PM on July 24, 2014

The closest audio homolog I came up with to YMG was:
Which somehow leads me to the following:
The Microphones.
Throbbing Gristle
posted by Cold Lurkey at 6:06 PM on July 24, 2014

Best answer: Very different musical style, but with the same sense of "negative space": Neil Young's After The Gold Rush.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 6:47 PM on July 24, 2014

Best answer: I'm not 100% sure I know what you're after, but I really like the xx, and I think I sort of get what you're going for with the negative space thing, so here are a couple ideas.

Broods: Bridges, Coattails, Taking You There

Sky Ferreira: Everything is Embarassing, Night Time is My Time, Lost in My Bedroom

Zola Jesus: Skin, Vessel, Night
posted by litera scripta manet at 6:49 PM on July 24, 2014

This may be even more far afield, but here are two other possibilities:

The Weeknd: Wicked Games, The Knowing, Next

Imogen Heap: Hide and Seek, Hallelujah (This last one is obviously a cover, but because of the lack of instrumentation, I feel like you do get a sense of "negative space.")
posted by litera scripta manet at 7:03 PM on July 24, 2014

GusGus is a more or less electropop band that has recently put out some albums on Kompakt, a label famous for minimal techno, where things can get very sparse. One example from their album 24/7 is Hateful which is pretty big on the "negative space" you seek.
posted by zsazsa at 7:31 PM on July 24, 2014

Best answer: Marine Girls
Scout Niblett
The Vaselines

Not pop, but you might want to check out Jean Ritchie, very beautiful minimal folk. Also Sibylle Baier.

Seconding Suicide and Faust!
posted by ethel at 7:35 PM on July 24, 2014

Best answer: Hmm. YMG contemporaries like The Raincoats might work. And nobody ever seems to remember Material.

alt-J seems like a good fit if you're looking for a current band: Hunger of the Pine -- Breezeblocks -- Fitzpleasure

The lovely Icelandic band Tilbury might be a little more on the sweeter side, but it's still spare and cool: try Tenderloin and Drama
posted by maudlin at 7:41 PM on July 24, 2014

Best answer: Specific Spoon songs: Was it You?

This Book is a Movie

All the Pretty Girls Go to the City

Back to the Life

American Analog Set:

It's All About Us

Punk as Fuck

The Hatist
posted by LionIndex at 7:49 PM on July 24, 2014

Best answer: Oh, sheesh: Au Pairs! Polyrock!
posted by maudlin at 7:52 PM on July 24, 2014

Brian Eno's Ambiant Music or even later stuff like On Some Faraway Beach.
posted by carmicha at 8:17 PM on July 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think you're after long chord progressions, in general. Make out music. Portishead?

m83 and Mogwai are my favorites. Most post-rock, really but these the most: Sigur Ros, Explosions in the Sky, Pacific UV, Tristeza.
posted by sweltering at 8:59 PM on July 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Tristeza:
Cuchillos de Hielo
Golden Hill
posted by LionIndex at 9:14 PM on July 24, 2014

Best answer: I second the Portishead suggestion. All Mine and Roads were what I was thinking about reading your question. Heck, Humming too if only for the awesome fan video that goes along with it.

Some of these others might not exactly fit. I tried to match stuff to the XX that has the same minimal instrumentation, heavy on percussion and bass, and intense vocals.

Broken Social Scene tap into this with Sweetest Kill.

Gayngs was a side project of... a lot of people, but among them Justin Vernon of Bon Iver. I think that Gaudy Side of Town fits what you're looking for, but the rest of the album has a similar feel.

Maybe Helpline Operator by The The. I couldn't find a non-live version, for some reason.

Feist and The Constantines covering Islands in the Stream also reminds me of the XX in terms of the male / female dynamic, and percussion heavy but minimalist backing.

On the Water by The Walkmen, as well.

All we ever wanted, originally by Bauhaus and covered by MGMT also has that austere feeling to it. Xiu Xiu's cover is perhaps the most bare-bones, but is also subject to Jaime Stewart's usual melodrama.

Temazcal, by Monsters of Folk has this feel to it. I'm not that familiar with the rest of the album.

The Chromatic's Running Up That Hill cover is my favorite version of the song, and may fit (although it gets more filled out as the song builds).

I Don't Care by Twin Shadow has that same sort of brooding vocal intensity with minimal backing.

And a few more... Beauty by The Shivers. Made by Greg Weeks. Chet Faker covering No Diggity. California Sunrise by Dirty Gold. I'm God by Clams Casino.
posted by codacorolla at 10:15 PM on July 24, 2014

Check out Warpaint - they are very similar to the xx , with a little more edge.
posted by Fig at 12:47 AM on July 25, 2014

Eno ambient, post-rock noted above with the addition of This Will Destroy You, Blonde Redhead (Misery in particular), Mebbe the third Velvet Underground album, Televison maybe, maybe early Cure (through Pornography). Maybe Suicide.
posted by persona au gratin at 1:14 AM on July 25, 2014

Jose Gonzalez. Elliott Smith.
posted by persona au gratin at 1:44 AM on July 25, 2014

Best answer: Its very hard to get warmth from the kind of starkness The xx and YMG explore- but they do get warmth. A little more action and you get a groove going, or the atmosphere fills in. Artists who are just as stark usually come across as less intimate, like Portishead, or

Prinzhorn Dance School
Jozef van Wissem

These artists don't stay as minimalist as YMG and xx, but they have their moments of cold warmth
Cate Le Bon
Grass Widow
posted by bendybendy at 5:44 AM on July 25, 2014

The For Carnation
posted by Kafkaesque at 10:28 AM on July 25, 2014


London in February
posted by LionIndex at 10:16 PM on July 25, 2014

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