Good enough for the background
I’d like to preface the following by saying that I came to Patrick Park’s music through two very trusted sources. Before I go too far into explaining why I find Park’s work just fine as background music, I’d like to make clear that this is not a complaint by any stretch. I could write a separate and parallel post about the deliberate artistry I recognize in his work. But I’m not so much interested in criticism these days. So instead of giving the disc an objective review with star-ratings, etc., I’ll give you a couple clips from YouTube so you can make up your own mind about it, then go into a statement about the thoughts and ideas listening to this album brought to my mind. I offer this sizable disclaimer on the off chance Park winds up reading this and thinks I’ve decided his latest disc, Come What Will is somehow subpar. While I’ll admit more below that it’s not a life-changing album, I like it enough to probably listen to it again. So thanks to the folks who have so long insisted I check him out. Maybe you should too.
And now I’ll tell you what his music brought to mind:
Maybe it’s a biproduct of being a songwriter myself, but I’ve spent much of my music-listening life looking for songs and artists who create something I feel the need to drop everything and listen to. I want lyrics, particularly, which turn so quickly, I’m surprised to stillness.
Or so I have, for the most part.
Lately, though – maybe it’s age, maybe something else – I’ve been happy to turn something on which is just good enough for the background.
Take Patrick Park, for example. That would be the gentle-voiced artist whose song I embedded via YouTube video above. There’s something about his music that wanders and goes nowhere. The melodies are pretty but non-melodic. Sometimes they dip surprisingly low, sometimes reach unexpectedly high. There’s nothing inherent in them to dictate when he raises the tone of his voice. The lyrics are too stream-of-consciousness to be intrinsically musical. There are so many of them, I forget what he’s singing about if I listen too closely. But I get there are “chains and shackles” in this particular tune, so I’m assuming it’s not a happy sentiment. Further, I like the whistling. It’s odd and dark, and somewhat directionless. Somehow it all makes sense together.
But I have a hard time honing in on it and having a “Me and Patrick Park” experience. This is something I struggle with most of the time with music. As a critic, it’s easy to brush it all off, because there’s probably something somewhere in my stacks of review copies which would actually make me stop what I’m doing and listen closely; which might actually change my mind, or at the very least my mood. (I’ll just say right now it’s that Crooked Still disc.)
I think also, as a critic, it’s been too easy for me to poo-poo artists like Park, whose work is derivative enough to feel familiar, but not enough to put my finger on the source of the derivation. It’s thoughtful and creative – it’s clear that the music is important to the artist, that there’s a certain aim or aesthetic, a sincerity, that time and energy went into the recording, etc.
I put his latest album Come What Will on as I swept the house this morning – this cloudy, unseasonably cool, dreary Seattle morning – and it was lovely. It didn’t blow my mind, but it fit. And I can’t help but think there’s something to be said for the type of song which fits just fine in the background, which sets a mood, or plays to it. Put aside for a moment the notion that art should stir us, should create large, knee-shaking waves. That’s the presumption of the artist, perhaps. A presumption I struggle against when I try to understand other people’s work. Sometimes, emotions or morals-of-the-story don’t need a spotlight. Sometimes just going over and standing next to them is enough. Park’s music does just that.
After all, we can’t all be staring at the spotlight rays all the time, right? Sometimes, there’s shit to do, and there may as well be music in the background.