“Although it seems beyond belief, there does not exist a single piece of music, not composed within the last forty years, that is regarded by the learned as worth hearing.” These are the words of Johannes Tinctoris and as far as I know, the first account of someone expressing the sentiment that music is dead. And that was in 1477. Of course, music persists, despite it again being pronounced dead in a rather epic, albeit tiresome, fashion by Don McLean many years later. And even with the moment of silence Jay-Z gave autotune, you wouldn’t have that much trouble finding that technique today.
All of this is to say that anybody who has shoveled dirt on capital-m Music in the past has found themselves burying in vain. Art as an auditory form isn’t going anywhere. Unless, perhaps, you’re Matthew Squires. The Austin-based songwriter and his interchanging band, The Learning Disorders, recently gave us the album Where The Music Goes To Die, yet another attempt at an obituary for the beloved medium.
Goes to Die isn’t necessarily an idle threat either. The first track, “Prelude (A Piano Is Murdered)” is quite actually the sounds of a piano meeting its maker, a bizarre move certainly, but one letting us know that Squires isn’t messing around. That earnest nature is pervasive on the album. Over heavily folk, country, and blues-influenced tracks, Squires bleats and yawps with a soul-bearing quality. This gravity mixed with springy guitar work evokes the sound of Bright Eyes, but with a less aggressive and more burdened tone. “I hope your heart is a planet/dancing in the ballet of gravitational trust/I hope you never understand this/mesmerizing and painful universe” he sings on “Trophy Song,” well-wishing occupying the same breath as cosmic sorrow.
The weaknesses of Goes to Die are perhaps stated best by Squires himself on “A Work In Progress.” “I’ve been working on this new song that has been worked on one million times before,” he admits. Musically, there are times when Squires seems to have exhausted the pipeline of new ideas, such as the arpeggiation on “All We’ve Got” or repeated I-IV exchange of the title track. But maybe the way music dies isn’t through a revolutionary new weapon. Perhaps it takes the slow, methodical attack of repetition.
With the way Squires wears his heart on his sleeve in these songs, it’s no wonder he might be wishing for the death of music. At this point it would be charitable. But his ability to twist his confessional lyrics through intriguing folk-blues numbers leaves the listener rooting for music to survive. With all apologies to Johannes Tinctoris, I believe this is worth hearing.