Thursday, September 29, 2011

Noir and music : A guest post by Sean May

Today I turn the blog over to Sean May, a writer currently living in Indianapolis, Indiana. His work has been featured in Crimefactory, Diagonal Proof and 5923 Quarterly. His debut novel, The Case, is available for the Kindle. His collection of short stories, Crimewave is coming to the Kindle and the Nook this October.

Singing a darker tune

The impact of noir on our culture is far-reaching, encompassing seventy or so years of dark alleyways, femme fatales, shifty criminals and crooked cops, but typically when people talk about noir, their focus goes to two specific mediums: film and literature. And why shouldn't it? Noir was born in the pages of pulps and explored even further on the sliver screen. But noir goes deeper than those two medium, and its influence can be seen in just about every form of entertainment, but it has had a significant impact on music. With that in mind, here's a quick list of 3 artists that have a decidedly noir tone to all or some of their work, in no particular order.

The National
Hailing from Brooklyn by way of Cincinnati, The National evoke a sense of James M. Cain style domestic dread, full of people who have given up on their dreams to settle into a world of tense, drunken parties and illicit rendevous. Their 2007 album Boxer is a gin-soaked masterpiece, with each song portraying an often dismal relationship. Lead singer Matt Berringer's rumbling croon leads you down into the deep, dark recesses of your soul, and you may not like what you find once you get down there. Their follow-up, High Violet, is a bit more upbeat, but still retains Boxer's sense of dread with songs like Conversation 16 and Anyone's Ghost.

Neko Case
If your first experience with Neko Case is with her power-pop supergroup The New Pornographers, you haven't even seen the half of her talent. While Case's New Pornographers' work is bright and shiny, Case's solo work is gloomy and forlorn, taking a decidedly rural bent, but with a definite noir core. Case's voice glides like a hawk above the fray of the treachery that she depicts in her songs. Tracks like Deep Red Bells, Twist The Knife, and Margaret vs. Pauline are tiny dramas set against a bleak noir background. Case avoids being a one-note femme fatale in the sense that her lyrics often reflect an enjoyment of the dire situations she participates in, or even creates.

Kanye West
Now, this will probably be a controversial choice to say the least, but stay with me for a minute. Kanye's inclusion on this list is due almost entirely to his 2010 masterpiece My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Across the album's tracks, West portrays the hardships and darkness that lies behind even the most apparently glamorous lifestyle. Tracks like Power and Devil in a Red Dress show that the pressures of excess can be deadly, while Monster casts West and his cohorts as vengeful miscreants who will spill as much blood as they need to get to the top. If you're looking for more noir in Kanye's work, it'll be tough to find, but My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is a prime example of how the darker side of fame can weigh heavy on the shoulders of those at the top.

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