Shouldn't there be some signs of sun damage by now?
August 20, 2008 6:49 AM   Subscribe

It's been 25 years since the Violent Femmes released their self titled debut, and the thing still sounds as if it was written last week. What explains its timeless quality?

Any musicologists in the house? There has to be an answer beyond it simply lacking the gated reverb and FM synthesizers that dominated the era.
posted by bunnytricks to Media & Arts (21 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I don't know, it sounds extremely dated to me.
posted by matteo at 6:59 AM on August 20, 2008 [3 favorites]

Me too. There's no shortage of men getting close to retirement that would say that of any early 70s band. It all sounds dated to me.
posted by damn dirty ape at 7:02 AM on August 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: matteo: I think you're the only person I've ever heard say that. Can you point out aspects that sound dated to you?
posted by bunnytricks at 7:05 AM on August 20, 2008

Yeah, when I hear it on the local student radio station I remember being 14 and listening to it with friends in the high school parking lot. Pretty much "oldies" music at this point, not timeless — it's part of the sound of the era to me, occupying a space somewhere in between Black Flag and the Circle Jerks on the one hand, and "waver" music on the other. They had the same stripped down sound (though more up-tempo) of bands like the Cowboy Junkies — is that what you are meaning by timeless?
posted by Forktine at 7:07 AM on August 20, 2008

It's been 25 years since the Violent Femmes released their self titled debut, and the thing still sounds as if it was written last week

This is a very subjective view point and has more to do with the music you tend to listen to than it does in to the trends of modern pop music. Are their still bands living off the post-punk era? Yes. Are there indie/alternative bands that still create music that tries to be bare bones and yet interesting at the same time? Yes. Are there many bands who see this album as some type of foundation to their existience? Yes. Does this album have anything to do with Ashlee Simpson, Katy Perry, Britney Spears, the Copyrights, Ozomatli, or any other band that exhibits traits from the last 25 years? No.

It sounds like it could have been written last week because you still want it to have been written last week. Like Jello once said, this is a great time to be alive because if there is a type of music you're into, someone out there is creating it. The music that you're into is still being made but that doesn't mean it isn't dated or still fresh and new.
posted by Stynxno at 7:15 AM on August 20, 2008

Response by poster: By timeless I'm meaning that if I heard it for the first time today I'd be unable to place it in a decade or genre and default to assuming it was from the past year or two. It's surprising to me how people are saying it sounds dated when my experience says that "timeless" is the adjective most often attached to the record.
posted by bunnytricks at 7:16 AM on August 20, 2008

Perhaps the rough quality of the vocals gives it a 'demo tape' feeling? I get that feeling when hearing Eve of Destruction, a song written in 1965.
posted by damn dirty ape at 7:21 AM on August 20, 2008

I see both sides. To me, it soundsdated in the sense that I listened to it a bout 3 times a day for a period of time, so it is indelibly lumpedinto that time. However, it doesn't sound dated at all, to me, because the actual sonic quaility of the record is missing the the sonic tells of 1982. It's snotty like some new wave, snottier even, but theres no technical sheen or drum programming to it. There's no big overcompressed guitar. There's no keyboards whatsoever.
posted by dirtdirt at 7:26 AM on August 20, 2008

I can see that. Maybe it's because there's been a lot of newer bands that have similar styles. To me, stuff like Hot Hot Heat, Cake, New Pornographers, Built to Spill, Shout out Louds, and even Modest Mouse and Magnetic Fields have some of the elements that Femmes had. I'm thinking of melodramatic and often nonsensical lyrics, chorus outbursts, pop sound that's slightly whack, and occasional horns.
posted by iamkimiam at 7:31 AM on August 20, 2008

The trouble is that what you're really looking for here is people to agree with you on a question of taste. Basically, there's this album you love and you want people on AskMe to say "Yeah, it's great, isn't it!" so you can have a little lovefest for the record... And that rarely happens here.

The adjective "timeless" is often used, less-frequently understood by those who use it. It means, specifically, that the music in question doesn't evoke a specific time in one's memory, which is a shame, because that's one of the things music generally does for most people, all the time. Any album that brings back memories of the time you bought it, or when you first heard it, or anything similar, is not timeless.

Violent Femmes (the record) definitely doesn't sound like it was recorded a couple of years ago. The production techniques, recording quality, the mic'ing of the guitars, the compression used - all sounds anyone with a reasonably trained eared will hear and date pretty accurately. A few modern bands have attempted to co-opt these older techniques to try and recapture the sound, but digital recording and mastering techniques which just didn't exist in the 1980s means even they fail every time.

Oh, and the Violent Femmes was released in 1982, so it's 26 years - your thesis kind of starts off on shaky ground...
posted by benzo8 at 7:36 AM on August 20, 2008 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: dirtdirt: I think that's what I'm looking for. There's something about the mixing and engineering of the album that I perceive as timeless. I suppose a better question would be what recording techniques and (de)emphasized frequencies are responsible for its unique sound.
posted by bunnytricks at 7:37 AM on August 20, 2008

Response by poster: benzo8: Actually, I listened to it for the first time in years this morning, am not a particular fan of the Femmes, and simply wanted to know why it doesn't sound dated to me or anyone I've ever talked about it with. You seem to know every technical aspect of its production. Care to share?
posted by bunnytricks at 7:43 AM on August 20, 2008

I don't claim to know "every technical aspect of its production", only those I can hear with my own ears. I could go through things with you, but I don't think that's going to help, because I don't think that's the issue here.

The very first response to this thread was someone saying " sounds extremely dated...". Others agree. I agree.

Yet you still say that "anyone [you've] ever talked about it with" has agreed with you that it is timeless and amazing. This, along with the high level of self-moderation you've already subjected this thread to, tells me that you don't want to hear why it doesn't sounds like it's a fresh record to some people - you only want to hear from people who agree with you.

To my ears, which are reasonably well trained in this field, The Violent Femmes is obviously a record from the mid-80s. While other records from the mid-80s sounded different to it, and certain records from today attempt to sound like it, it is not the unique little snowflake you hold it up to be.

But I don't think you want to hear that. In short, I think this AskMe is broken.
posted by benzo8 at 7:51 AM on August 20, 2008

Perhaps it's because you're high as a kite? You should stop to check this out:
In 2007, Gano surprised many long-time fans by selling advertising rights for the classic "Blister in the Sun" to Wendy's Hamburgers.

(I had no idea about the Wendy's thing...)

And.. you keep reiterating "No one else thinks they're dated either!" You keep saying this, but as evidenced by other comments, ummm... I don't think this means what you think it means...

I happen to think that their sound isn't particularly timeless, albiet perhaps because of the frequency of which I listened to them years ago, but besides a minimalist approach (1 guitar, 1 bass, drums, and demo quality recordings) which has been repopularized, I don't see hear anything that would make their music timeless or modern...
posted by Debaser626 at 7:56 AM on August 20, 2008

Best answer: Why does it sound timeless (or not)?

I've heard Blister in the Sun and Gone Daddy Gone on Alt stations, not knowing who the band was, and I'm sure there are many flavors of those songs from different covers. It sounds aged to me for the following reasons:

-The guitar work is "twangy"
-The style of the backup vocals don't sound at all modern
-The production quality seems to be lacking compared to that of today

As others have noted, if you are looking for other music that sounds like this, and listen to new artists that sound like this, it will be timeless.
posted by mhuckaba at 7:58 AM on August 20, 2008

Response by poster: benzo8: And my very first comment in this thread was asking for aspects of the recording that sound dated to those who hear it as such. Any self moderating I've done has been solely to keep this out of the realm of chatfilter and not to silence anyone who disagrees with my perception.

You sound like you have a best answer in you but it seems you're too busy attacking me to stop hurting askme and spit it out.
posted by bunnytricks at 8:04 AM on August 20, 2008

Best answer: OK, let me offer three things about "Blister On The Sun":

1. Headroom
The song never breaks -3dB. Apart from the drum roll at the end, it never breaks -5dB. It has very little buss compression over the whole track. It was not made to "be loud", a trait producers which started in the 90s and now plagues almost every record in the entire world. It's not squashed up against the 0dB line with a microscopic dynamic range. This is a sound I strongly associate with the analogue recording era.

2. Analogue
And about that... It's obvious that Pro-Tools has been nowhere near this track. There are no digital artifacts, either in the individual tracks, or in the summing. I know there aren't any, because I know the age of the track, but I can hear that there aren't any too. Most bands these days record digitally, and even those that don't (White Stripes, for instance) use more compression than this to make a louder record (see 1.)

3. Lack of "Tightness"
This was an era just coming out of punk. Bands like The Femmes still followed the rule of "no rules" and a raw recording was a good recording. But those vocal harmonies? Ouch - out, and by a long way (timing-wise - sometimes pitch-wise too!) The high-hat wanders all over the place, the bass player stumbles over licks and Gordon probably was "high as a kite" during the recording. Modern "punk" recordings are tighter sonically, and tighter musically.

Now, it's obvious you can find modern records about which all three points are valid, and similarly, you can find old records which exhibit none of them - there are always exceptions. But you asked why doesn't Violent Femmes sounds "timeless" to me - those are three things which scream, to my ear, the 80s. If I had never heard the record before today, and I was asked to place it, a cursory first listen would be anywhere between the late 60s and the early 90s. Closer listening though would hear certain, tell-tale recording sounds (or lack of them) and I'd be pretty comfortable with "end of 70s, start of 80s" after hearing the headroom and the fact that no digital has touched it (until its transfer to my CD).
posted by benzo8 at 8:29 AM on August 20, 2008 [2 favorites]

still sounds as if it was written last week.

that's a matter of personal opinion.

What explains its timeless quality?

in short: the stripped-down instrumentation and production. acoustic guitar, acoustic bass, and snare-drum-on-a-keg doesn't have any specific ties to an era of record production - it's basically gimmick free. which is not to say the music isn't its OWN gimmick.

i will say that, to me, it fits into a core group of College Rock- joining Big Dipper, Great Plains, the Embarassment, Camper Van Beethoven, etc., and because i have those 'reference points', it does sound dated to me.
posted by tremspeed at 8:41 AM on August 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

Well, maybe the lyrics are sort of timeless. Big hands I know you're the one.

Am I right guys?
posted by Wayman Tisdale at 4:50 PM on August 20, 2008

Agree with most of the posters, they do sound dated and just too minimalistic to me. Their lyrics are decent and I see your point there, but that music is ehhh......
posted by TeachTheDead at 5:31 PM on August 20, 2008

It also sounds less "dated" because bands are sincerely making music that sounds similar today; the "dated" sounds of a lot of albums come when the sound is abandoned or seen as a failure.

However, I once got challenged by Chuck Eddy over describing something as dated, and have yet been able to think of a reason why "dated" should be a criticism.
posted by klangklangston at 9:56 PM on August 20, 2008

« Older Is the amount of matter in the universe infinite?   |   Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes (Powerpoint) Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.