Introducing the default career trajectory. You form a band, formulate your sound, rehearse. You build a small yet perfectly formed repertoire, refine your sound, sack three different drummers, gig.
And by the time you’ve gigged some more, built yourself a small yet perfectly formed group of followers, and maybe sacked another drummer or two, that’s the incubation stage complete. Next comes record company interest, gigs at the other end of the country – and once you’ve replaced the drummer for the final time, the momentum is such that everything small and perfectly formed is suddenly larger, sustainable, robust. Names appear on contracts, in hipster magazines written by kids with asymmetric blue hair, amid listless graffiti hurriedly spray-painted beneath the bridge by the canal.
Congratulations. You’re approaching the big time – well, maybe. The route through music is defined by bands discarded along the way; groups whose second album bombed, entire groups butchered then eaten by a hoard of vengeful, discarded drummers. Fame is notoriously fickle and fleeting (I remember chatting to a work colleague – one of those “what did you do before you arrived here?” morsels of small talk that us corporate drones feel compelled to take part in – only to be somewhat taken aback when he replied he was the guitarist in the band below the words).
But for those acts that escape the cull – bands that cling precariously to career for five, ten, twenty years; produce a canon of work measured in albums and tours and Later With Jools Holland appearances – then good judgement and better luck has seen you hit the swing of the default trajectory. If all goes to plan, the next generation will mention you alongside Bono. And maybe Charles Manson.
Okay, I’m being somewhat facetious. Career trajectory isn’t standardised. It doesn’t slot into neat, sterile packages, whilst the deconstruction and circumvention of traditional record industry models would have made this process obsolete even if it did once exist.
However, there is one specific component of this trajectory thesis that does hold a semblance of truth – the formulation and refinement of a band’s sound. Where the standard model is one of a gradual moulding of aesthetic. An organic, evolutionary process – the core elements of composition and execution changing and adapting over time as stimuli (both internal and external) falls like so much rain.
Here you can discern patterns. It’s how a band’s début single grows into their tenth album – you can trace the ancestry. The common features. The impact of line-up change, of vogue, of technology.
Rarely will you arrive upon a back catalogue defined by total reinvention – one where the roots of a contemporary sound are completely obscured. Even an outfit such as Primal Scream – a band who’ve morphed from fey indie-pop wallflowers to music festival royalty (via the discovery of Ecstasy, then a hefty period playing at being the Rolling Stones); the twists, turns and feints of their particular trajectory are easily discernible; understood within a context.
And then there’s the next exciting episode of Lazer Guided Melody, where I’ll be revisiting an album that isn’t easy to get a handle on in terms of overall band dynamic. The patterns are there for sure, but they’re somewhat mangled and counter-intuitive, positioned uneasily against the remainder of the back catalogue. Unsprung. Tilted.
This actually makes for a fascinating record (from a band I don’t particularly have the time for). Now all I have to do is hammer out some words whilst you listen to an unrelated Thousand Yard Stare track…
Thousand Yard Stare / Standoffish