Friday, February 27, 2009

Radar Blip

As a disclaimer, I am in no way connected to the band and have no real insight into what Ian writes about. This is pure fanboy (yeah a boy still lives in this wrinkled old carcass) musing.

Well here goes. I've had a few weeks to ingest, digest, regress and progress.

I've a had a real up and down relationship with Tiny Pictures to date. Some of the message board comments and the meager internet reviews, I think, are founded in some valid points. There is some surprising unevenness to aspects of this recording that bug me. To me it's a mixture of raw artistic integrity, meets ready current market, meets high expectations. That's a lot of pre-conception going in.

The demos were pure, unadulterated, unfettered, unadorned genius. I really liked the more raw production on some numbers. One day Ian will release those demos in a cleaner form (If I say it, it will happen). Perhaps I'm leaning on two years of familiarity. I LIKED the uneven echoey drumming. I LIKED the sweet old style backing vocals. I LOVED the warmth. We trade that in on the "known" tracks for the crisp polished sheen of the new CD. Shiny, spikey modern production has it's pluses and minuses. Instruments seem to "pop" in where on the demos they swelled from background to front. The edges of the envelope are sharp. The vocal harmonies sounded "40's - 50's old school" where now they sound current. The demos were more live/cohesive and now they punch. Neal made a great point on the message board when he described the recording as "close mic'd". Everything is right up to the mic. This is as clear a nod to a modern audience as I've seen. I know most radio listeners could no more get into the demos style of music than say, bluegrass, but to me they represent where Ian's inspiration lives and this is where I know he shines. It's just not commercially viable now.

So lets' get it on.

There are four types of songs on this CD as far as I can tell. A good formula I think. Each suffers/benefits from market driven decisions. There's the Radio Ragers, Galloping Ravers, Ian's Country Heart and Retro Classic Rockers. They all have a current rock radio shine on them to make a more cohesive package. It is a business that inherently demands compromise.

I'm gonna try to look at this from the seed/inspiration/intent to the final product. From a design standpoint, does it accomplish it's intent?

Nick's involvement; Daniel Adair's involvement; the entire solo-in-the-studio move seems to be a corporate move to sell. DUH; business IS business.

Underneath the Radar - Radio Rager
The reviews call the "electronic" opening odd for Thornley. To anyone who's heard the "Oaf" it's nothing new. It's just that guitar delay that we're all so familiar with in a clipped form. When I heard Under at the Gage Park show I was not really a fan of this song. It seemed disjointed and quirky. That being said, the opening track (does that even matter anymore to the ituned generation?) has grown on me.

I always read some psychological nonsense into what people say. I'm a REAL JOY to live with; just ask my wife. So Under sounds to me like a guy angry with someone NOT in the spotlight with a lot to say in the shadows. Record co exec? Manager? Bandmate? Chirpy wife? In the latest interviews Ian says he struggles with trying to write a non-personal lyric that he can "sell". That's why I always sense a personal angle to his lyrics.

We'd never make it anyway
We never were that real
with everything we've done
you think that there'd be something
left for you and I

Is this a band that's struggling for commercial success with no answers why? An awfully fatalistic viewpoint. Maybe it's revealing of his move to solo. He's the blip on the radar. The one to keep an eye on. He's always in the driver seat creatively (funny he has no license). He's the one who takes the hits. He's the insecure megalomaniac driving the decisions and fretting the consequences (more on that later).

Musically the song is pretty dry. To my jaded ears it's just standard dynamics that populate the radio today. Processed chorus, predictable explosions, tight down tuned riffage, overwrought throaty vocals. A perfect radio package with just enough quirk to get noticed. "Hey it's that song with the haunting kids choir." I hear some synth sounds that sound like some of Eleven. That maudlin Euro-synth that echoes more Edith Piaf than anything of today. The influences/peices seem to fit more and more.

I bristle at the obvious decisions made to market at first. But given repeated listens like you would in high rotation on the radio you can see why it works. You cannot get it out of your head. I listened to Make Believe 1000 times and skipped Under before it was released. But while writing this I listened like 10 times with no fatigue. It's a pretty damn good song.

Sometimes I get the impression that Ian's released songs are like cryptic messages smuggled out of the prison of his target market cell. Notes undecipherable by the corporate guards. Disguised by Finger Eleven/Three DaysGrace/Saliva multi-voiced choruses and fat grindy riffs, with just enough twists and frills to satisfy some of the deeper proggers willing to wade through.

By the immediate reaction of some it doesn't pass the test. IMHO Ian suffers from too many cooks massaging the hooks... but upon further inspection... maybe they are right.... something cool is happening.

Sometimes I just need to take a holiday from being overly critical of what I think Ian should do and just enjoy his music. I feel more better (as my grandson would say).

Some VERY exhilarating joyful noise on this CD. This is gonna be fun. See you in a few days.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Audio Autoplay has changed the settings on their embed. I do not know how to turn off the auto-play function on the files linked. I am looking into it. Before you navigate the blog please go through and turn them all off. I am sorry for the inconvenience.

The Big picture on "Tiny Pictures"

There has been a shit storm of dashed expectations expressed on the Thornleyfans message board. I've really enjoyed the passion that has been on display, both positive and negative. It is evidence of an artist that affects people.

Longtime Ian fans kinda know how Ian's music works. Ian is like the elephant in the old proverb:
"Six blind men were asked to determine what an elephant looked like by feeling different parts of the elephant's body.
The blind man who feels a leg says the elephant is like a pillar; the one who feels the tail says the elephant is like a rope; the one who feels the trunk says the elephant is like a tree branch; the one who feels the ear says the elephant is like a hand fan; the one who feels the belly says the elephant is like a wall; and the one who feels the tusk says the elephant is like a solid pipe."

Depending on when you have gotten a taste of Ian, the expectant listener has an opinion of who he is as an artist. When a new CD arrives you have expectations. There's a lot going on AND a lot to digest. On first listen, the flavor of the track may be all you can get. We try to categorize it. "Feel" it. You might dismiss it, as "Ok, this is a standard rocker, or this is a country song... " but that would be to sell your own listening experience short.

I did this with the latest Black Crowes - War Paint and Chris Cornell's - Euphoria Morning. Quick dismissal, only to return later to find some great stuff. It'll just pop up in an iPod rotation and bing! a new fave, a new discovery.

Even as a staunch Ian fan (some say obsessive) I had high expectations going into this CD. MY view of Ian, of course is the PROPER ONE. Why can't the record company just GET him like I do and just let him produce the ART that I hear inside Ian. I'm sure it's EXACTLY what IAN would want to do. We all fancy ourselves movers and shakers in the music world. We would be wrong.

When some expressed dissappointment I thought it would reflect some of my own initial trepidation. However, the complaints/reviews were from all sides of the elephant. Ian is not "hard enough". Ian is too formulaic. The recording is too hot. The songs are too mellow. The lyrics are dumb. Each camp seemed to have had their personal ox gored.

It all goes back to how each of us experiences Thornley. Like I wrote before. Ian, being many things to many people, is not a premeditated contortion. He is so incredibly talented that he CAN be quite extraordinary in many milieu.

Come Again fans found him to be a breath of fresh air in the nu-metal. HARD Ian was where it was at. Bright, over-the-top, in-your-face, extremely compressed recording was where modern rock radio was in 2004. In many ways it's where it's at today. The casual listeners love it as witnessed by the popular radio that dominates the spectrum. It's where the money is.

Nickleback has become the whipping boy "brand" of the entire scene for anyone not liking this format. Isn't it weird that the big dog that opens the door for Ian is the one that taints his "art". To me Nickleback is the Bon Jovi (I HATE BonJovi -yet I respect their musicianship and craft) of this generation in that they are the formula that all seek to follow. Within this framework there was a sub-genre "flavor of the moment" such as those produced by Gavin Brown. I know this music like I know Rap which is to say, not at all. It just all sounds the same to me. It probably has nuance and value, I just don't hear it beyond the initial adrenaline hit. Like a candy bar, the first bite tastes real good but I couldn't make a meal of it.

I was perplexed by anyone can/could think of Big Wreck and Thornley's first Come Again as a logical progression. Come Again was, to me, as about as hard a right turn as possible. The two are sonically diametrically opposed. I completely balked at most of Come Again initially. I'm an old guy so I am like an alien looking in. I thought, "Where are all the "roots" leanings, all the Zep references, the clever 70's rips, the virtuouso guitar runs?" Only Beautiful and Lies fulfilled this for me initially. Ian was soooo much more.

But, upon stepping back and giving it some time there were clever twists throughout, lyrically, and musically that thrilled me. I never really liked "So Far So Good", yet it became pop gold for many of you. I get the need for a young artist to carve out his niche, but I longed for a return to a more organic Thornley. Big Wreck was ORGANIC. Big, warm tones, choruses, VERY obscure personal yet clever lyrics etc., the Zep structures throughout. ABSOLUTELY FANTASTIC musicianship and GREAT songwriting. Probably too rich for most people. It took years to be digested and STILL satisfies.

Come Again, on the surface, just seemed too dumbed down for me. And yes the Uncle Chad hand (I needed to blame someone, correctly or not) seemed all over it. But, it worked. On some level, MANY new young fans came aboard. It's these fans that seem the most disappointed by Tiny Pictures. In a market full of screaming, multi-tracked and processed vocals, nu-metal guitar how can Ian stand out? By "ROCKING HARDER"? The dial only goes to 10.

The 5 years between Come Again and Tiny Pictures has been interesting. Living vicariously through all of my Canadian friends who post vids of local shows (A Thornley headline Canadian club show vs a 40 minute set as an opener for NB is no comparison) and ingesting every drop of info I can on the guy, has been an up and down journey. Ian still seemed to be short of a breakthrough.

Then when I heard the tasty work he was doing with Casey Marshall (Fairfield), I was hearing Ian as rootsy session player minus the spotlight. When the demos came out on Ian's myspace page I was ecstatic! All I Need, MBTE, Fall Down, Good Son, Brit Pop, Fred and all the rest. They were creative gems just looking to be polished up. I figured that they would have no commercial hope of ever being realized so I accepted them as they were. THIS was the amazingly unique, eclectic Ian Thornley I am privileged to follow.

The demos done with the help of Jeff Dalzeil had a warm natural quality to them. Perhaps too organic, too odd, but very Ian. I have LOVED this collection of demos for the better part of two years now. In continual rotation you memorize every tiny detail. With that as a starting point there's bound to be expectations unmet and some exceeded.

His time with Nick Rasculinecz was, by Ian's account, a match made in heaven and Tiny pictures is the evidence. A very clean, crisp recording, fully realizing Ian's vision. I hope over the next few weeks to be able to review each song ad nauseam, like I used to do on the message board (now it's on a blog -- oooo) going in depth with composition, lyric, recording and performance. I think each song has stellar qualities even if not every one moves me to tears.

I also want to commend Thornley fans who write on the message board. They are NOT your average music fan. Both musically knowledgeable, articulate, savvy listeners who demand the BEST from Ian. I learn a lot from reading the criticism, both positive and negative.

I am REALLY enjoying Tiny Pictures, hope for worldwide release and GREAT SUCCESS! After 90 plus unique songs Ian seems to have many more facets to be revealed.