When writing about music the goal is to inspire some feeling of Frankenstein viscerality in the reader. Especially regarding a band you’ve probably never heard of. I assemble descriptive words and band names and familiar song titles in such a way that my reader(s) hopefully have some sense of the sound without having actually heard it.
“Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.”
That quote has been sometimes attributed to Steve Martin, sometimes Martin Mull, sometimes Frank Zappa, Elvis Costello… and so on and so forth… but nobody really seems to know from whence it came. No matter. There’s as much fallacy as truth embedded within that famous line. On one hand you’re not attempting to recreate the music itself, but a potential reaction to the music, thereby writing about music by using familiar emotional attachment and response to similar bands and objects. I process the music as I hear it using my own sensibilities. I then translate what I hear into concretizations and regurgitate those concretizations so that the reader might then process the words and related bands and recreate the music in their own mind. In other words, writing about music is a whole heap of bullshit. But I love it. Because as a writer, I can say just about anything. Failure at writing about music is only the inability to elicit any kind of visceral response.
That said, as I write these rumbles I tend to make up and bastardize words. If it sounds like something, you’ll still understand, perhaps more so than if I stuck to that ever-so-limiting Dictionary. I’m trying to describe something that does not actually exist and therefore using words that don’t exactly exist seems rather apropos. Wouldn’t you say?
I thought about this as I wrote about The Jezabels in my recent “30Hz Recommended” feature. I resisted using a word. But that word has stuck with me. It has inspired me to write this bit. And continue to update the 30Hz Glossary of Music Writing Nonsense Words. Not only will I include my own but any others that I find in my reading and internet travel. If you have suggestions (and I like them!), please tweet them to me (@30hertzrumble) with the hashtag #30hzglossary or leave them in the comments. You’ll get credit and everything.
n. Abstractions made real and palpable, but not so palpable that you can actually touch them. So not palpable at all. Like playing a theremin.
Melodrama Rock (mel-o-DRA-ma rawk)
n. Alt-rock subgenre. A sound relying primarily on earnest, sweeping sonic swells and plateaus. Songs tend to trend longer and start more slowly. These bands likely play their instruments very seriously, with little outward emotion because what they are playing is serious goddamn music. See: the Joy Formidable
n. An individual song that is so terrible as to have the power to suck the life out of an entire album. Pertains especially to vinyl records where there is no such thing as skip track or fast forward. A pinch is an inexplicable inclusion on an otherwise standout or legendary album. See: “The Girl is Mine” on Michael Jackson’s Thriller.
Protomelodrama Rock (pro-toe-mel-o-DRA-ma rawk)
n. Alt-rock sub-subgenre. Melodrama rock with an added texture: the use of distinct and palpable nostalgia, most probably that for the 80’s. God help us if 90’s nostalgia bands ever hit it big. See: the Jezabels
n. Alt-rock subgenre. An overused descriptor that has been saturated to the point of meaninglessness. A style of music characterized by the “WALL OF SOUND” which is generally comprised of prolonged and loud guitar and reverb that render lyrics incomprehensible. Applied to bands as varied as the School of Seven Bells, the Twilight Sad and Spacemen 3. Originally applied to UK bands in the 1990s and inspired by a band’s demeanor on stage: the guitarists spend much of their time staring at effects pedals, apparently deeply lost in thought and overly concerned about their shoes.
Synesthesia Nostalgia (sin-es-THEEZYA no-STAL-juh)
n. The synthesis of music and image and/or action. For example, a scene from a movie that is inextricably linked to a particular song. The song immediately recalls the movie and vice versa, thereby inspiring a wellspring of longing for a more utopian past, i.e. the 1980’s. See 30Hz Top 11 Synesthesia Nostalgia Moments of the 1980s.
Trifle Theory (try-FULL THEER-ee)
n. A seemingly incompatible combination of influences that result in a sound that is not unwelcome to the ears. Refers to a Friends episode where Rachel makes a Trifle dessert out of fruit and meat and Joey, predictably, loves the heck out of it. Used in reference to bands that wear three or more influences on their sleeve, especially when one really doesn’t seem to belong. See: Fanfarlo.
n. A state of feeling emotions that might be deemed visceral. Swelling emotions and shit.