clap clap blog: we have moved

Monday, June 27, 2005
I'm sure this is just because I'm a young whippersnapper, but I can't remember anyone discussing "Television" as a band name. But maybe this is good. Twenty-five years ago, it would have seemed, especially in the context of post-punk, a kind of sneering social commentary on the emptiness at the heart of American blah de bloody blah. But that wouldn't have lined up at all with the band's actual sound, which isn't harsh or off-putting or confrontational. Sure, it's not poppy, but it's warm and welcoming, especially in contrast with the harshness of post-punk--Marquee Moon is one of the foundational moments for the whole "cathedral of sound" thing. The most you could do with that is something about television-as-narcotic, but there's too much love for the sound for that to be seen as in any way intentional.

Viewed from a contemporary standpoint, though, Television's music is an almost perfect mirror of the emotional arc of most highbrow television dramas. Complex but mindful of the need for repetition, conventional in form but not in execution, interested in texture and tone as much as actual content, and willing to stretch out, in the abstract they sound a lot like most critically-praised HBO shows. Taking a mob drama and making it into a tangled psychological investigation is not unlike taking a guitar band and making six-string quartets. There's subtlety where you'd expect bluster. And just as the modern TV drama has taken soap-opera conventions and cloaked them in a gauze of respectability so that a self-described "discerning" audience could allow themselves to enjoy it, so did Television rescue major-key melodies from the pit of familiarity and recontextualize them so that the pleasure could shine through. Listen to a Television song--starting slow and simple, rolling along, building to a climax, and falling off--you've got a model for episodic TV.

Of course, this is just dramas; if someone could start a band that sounded like Gilmore Girls, I'd be their biggest fan. Maybe this is why I like the Fiery Furnaces so much, although the comparison is left as an exercise to the reader.