Long time no blog! DK here, full of cheery cheeriness because Louder Than Dirt just finished a new CD. This one’s an EP, I guess: about 19 minutes of music against the, what, 45 minutes that comprised Madness and Morals. It’s called Twirling Like a Hurricane. We decided to spend three or four months to put out 6 or 9 songs instead of over a year for 16. Since we know that every song is great, we like the idea of presenting fewer songs at a time so that each gets the attention that it deserves. I predict that in four or five months we’ll put out another short CD. I say CD: we’re not going to press this one in plastic, and we’re going with a pay-what-you-want-to-pay scheme for distribution at louderthandirt.bandcamp.com. I’m very proud of this EP, and I’m incontinently proud of the group that made it. Maybe after I go into some detail about the various songs I will attempt some generalities about how this record surpasses in quality even its excellent predecessors, but first I do want to talk about the songs, starting with the opener, No Easy Way.I wrote No Easy Way many years ago, long before I met the other members of Louder Than Dirt. It was one of the first songs I ever wrote, in fact, and the inspiration of a young man is sobering as one ages. On the other hand, I’m impressed with how little I understood the song when I wrote it and how its meaning has unfolded to me over the years. One factor that accounts for the excellence of the song is that even as a young man, I wanted my songs to be open to interpretation and to speak differently to different people. (When I praise a song I happen to have written or a solo I happened to have played, I am praising not myself, but the work, and I know good writing or playing when I hear them. False modesty is for punks. Someday, not today, I may disclose my deficiencies, which are many though known to but few.) When I wrote the song, I thought I was merely expressing my fear of death, and I thought I was great and courageous for divulging my cowardice. As I listen to the song now, however, I understand that the speaker (not to be confused with the poet) expresses anxiety about both dying and living. That is, there’s no easy way to go: it’s not that easy to die, and it’s surely not that easy to live.
As a young man I feared death. I certainly feared the cessation of existence–”When I’m gone I won’t be round no more”–but that statement is one of acceptance, even of challenge, not of fear. It seems to me now that the unresolved problem, the inner conflict, that provoked the song had to do with the way one dies. Hence the address to the corpse of Dillinger: “stop your silly grinning.” It’s more than simply that one should face death courageously; one should face death seriously. One should not die frivolously, facetiously, as the Dillinger character does. Death is not easy and should not be facile.
Neither way is an easy way to go, neither death nor life. The second stanza is about what life is like, “where the dead all drop like lead while all the living weep and wail.” Death should not be as easy as you make it look, John Dillinger. But life! That’s where there really ain’t no easy way to go. It’s not hard to accept, at least intellectually, the fact of one’s own death. What makes living hard is the constant reminders from those we love, those we hate, those we don’t even know. They’re all dying. And so we put on a brave face. We’re all winners: “you think you are the master of the game.” But worldly accomplishment is vanity: “now you’ve shrunk right down into your name.”
The recording reminds me a bit of glam rock in the David Bowie mold. And having dropped that name I have to pile up disclaimers. I know that one or two members of LtD are not fans of the author of Ziggy Stardust, and I doubt that that worthy made it on to my own list of a hundred heroes. If I may indulge a historical digression, as I love to do, glam rock was an image, not a musical style. However, the two obvious influences on Ziggy-era Bowie were Bob Dylan and Lou Reed, and to my ear, the recording of No Easy Way exhibits both of those influences. The Reed influence appears in the three-chord turnaround and in the simple chorus, which, undistinguished from the verse, simply repeats a single phrase: “No no there ain’t no easy way to go.” The namedropping, of Dillinger, is a Dylanesque strategy as is the imagery generally, of death row and Plato’s cave. Admittedly, the versification and such gimmicks as the internal rhyme (“dead all drop like lead”) probably owe more to the Bard of Asbury Park (who shall remain nameless) than to the Sage of Hibbing, Minnesota.
So the sound overall is sort of 70’s folk rock. The electric piano has some sort of tremolo effect that reminds one of the early days of multi-track recording and electronic keyboards. So I think I’ll take another stab at defending against the charge that Louder Than Dirt is a retro act. Twirling Like a Hurricane touches upon a broad range of styles, as do all of our records, as does our repertoire generally. And here I will depart momentarily from cheery cheeriness and note that the LtD credo of Truth to Imagination is not universal in this world. And so, not every audience member is highly imaginative. And unimaginative people like to put music in a box. First they, the unimaginative, put music in the box of consumer products, and then they divide music into the smaller boxes of the various styles, rock, R&B, country, what have you, and even smaller hyphenated boxes: county-rock, say, or one that I just mentioned, folk-rock. I can assure you that we in the Dirt are not thinking about boxes when we write, work up, or perform a song. We’re just thinking about the song. No doubt Nightingale sounds sort of like the 90’s, and No Easy Way sounds sort of like the 70’s, and Stupid Song sounds sort of like the 60’s. Well, we sample a broad variety of styles, and styles originated and flourished in the past. That doesn’t mean that we wish nostalgically for a return to the past or that we think nothing good has come out recently. Speaking personally, I want to be true to my imagination, and my imagination has been developing for a long time.
The song is based on a very simple turnaround of D, A, and E minor chords. The chorus is distinguished from the verse only by the concluding refrain, “When I’m gone I won’t be round no more,” and the poor differentiation of verse and chorus has long seemed to me a defect. I’m changing my mind about that now. Verses and choruses are a problem for songwriters, and one is always wary of falling into a verse-chorus-bridge rut. But Lou Reed’s Take a Walk on the Wild Side, for example, is a great song that does not distinguish verse and chorus other than by the repetition of the refrain. The bridge, an instrumental interlude, is simplicity itself. I love drone, which the bridge in No Easy Way accomplishes by moving from the key of D to its relative minor, B minor. And I love the groove of the bridge, a light-footed funk that avoids the cliches of funk. The interplay of clavinet and rhythm guitar is subtle and textural. And I would point to the guitar solo in No Easy Way as a good example of the style I’m going for as a guitar player: relaxed but energetic, melodic, intelligible, and above all expressive. That is, I try to play with feeling and I try to play in a way that makes musical sense.
I rather think that there are only two qualities that distinguish good from less-than-good art, and they may be only one quality: invention and variety. I would like to say this only once, but I understand that my dear readers might not remember from post to post. So here’s what I have to say: there are more impressive, flashier virtuosos in the world than the members of Louder Than Dirt, but when you listen to No Easy Way and consider the challenge posed by that song’s simplicity of form, you realize that no players are more inventive and none come up with greater, more interesting and significant variations. So what I say for No Easy Way goes for every song on Twirling Like a Hurricane and pretty much every song Louder Than Dirt has recorded or played live. Listen in No Easy Way to the creative vigor of Julian’s bass runs (he’s a virtuoso), to the stately grace of Adam’s electric piano part (he’s a virtuoso), the gravity and the sheer propriety of Joseph’s cymbal strokes (he’s a power drummer, but not what you would call flash), my lead guitar (with wah) that backs up the lead vocal at the end like a bassoon in a classical symphony (not flashy at all).
No easy Way is a great opener for an album. A solid mid-tempo, not mind-blowing or over the top by any means, but it has a lot of feeling, a lot of depth, and a lot of truth.