There’s a certain cult that springs up around first albums. I’ve often heard people say first albums are the truest example of a band’s musical ambitions, freed from any contract-stipulated deadlines and unhindered by any kind of overt commercial taint. It’s an especially common perception (in my experience) in punk and grind circles where bands are driven as much by youthful bravado as they are by musical acumen.
However, I have noticed that if you plunk any number of grindily minded people in a room (n= >1) and set them talking about their favorite albums, within five minutes a familiar debate will ensue: punk vs. precision. Or put in other terms, growers vs. showers. It's the dividing line between people's preferences and expectations, whether they respond to raw energy and can overlook instrument proficiency or whether they get an intellectual jolt from something more complex and pinpoint.
Showers are the kinds of bands that pretty much lay out all they have to offer within an album or two. They may continue to crank out awesome records, but you don’t go into them expecting to have your musical outlook overturned. Has Agathocles, despite squatting in the studio for lack of an apartment , shown any kind of musical growth for all their million albums? Hell, they’re the poster children for the punk side of grind because depending on membership and relative sobriety, it sometimes sounds as though the band is in a desperate fight to avoid total collapse before the end of the song.
Flipside are the growers, the bands, generally more technically gifted, who take a few albums to hit their groove and generally flourish later in life. Brutal Truth were weird and adventurous right out of the box, but they pushed themselves even further straight through what I consider to be their best album, Sounds of the Animal Kingdom. While Brutal Truth may have recycled a few of their prior excursions on Evolution Through Revolution, after a decade hiatus, the band is still not taking the easy route.
Obviously, it's a not a bright line division between growers and showers. Where do Nasum fit? The band obviously grew throughout their career but without necessarily deviating or expanding their trademark sound. Rather, it was a subtle refinement of their strengths. Every nuance of albums like Helvete and Human 2.0 were clearly plotted out. Ditto Norwegian solo maniac Papirmollen. Based on his Parlamentarisk Sodomi material, I would have pegged the guy as a shower because he crusted up old Terrorizer and took it out for a few more laps around the block. But then comes PSUDOKU, which suggests the sky (literally) is the limit for his space grind talents.
Taking these overbroad categories, I'm more curious what they say about our experiences and expectations as a listeners. Music is not a passive experience. What we bring to it is just as important as what bands put on stage or set to tape. I cringe when I hear bands say they don't like to discuss their lyrics because they let the listener draw their own interpretation.I think that's a cheap cop out. However, I will concede there's a certain truth to it. Our experiences and emotional states can drastically influence how we perceive music. My mood is going to be a huge determinant in deciding between Asterisk*'s cerebral philosophy grind or Looking for an Answer's old style beatings. Do I want to relax with Wormrot's 21st Century take on Repulsion or am I prepared to expend a little more energy and wrap my mind around Antigama's fifth dimensional shenanigans.
Am I completely off base here? Do you prefer punk or precision? Are you a grower or a shower? Or, like me, just a grind slut?