Fitting labels

No doubt you’ve heard journalists ask a musician about their musical style, and the musician responds that they ignore or hate stylistic labels.

In order to help listeners find items of interest, it is necessary to tag music with a stylistic label. On Free Music Archive, there are tags for Experimental Pop and Chamber Pop, which is how I describe Unthunk. However, the tags are not perfect.

Chamber Pop implies pop music with orchestral type instruments: Just adding strings to the standard pop combo is almost sufficient to earn the label. The tag also hints at a cleaner aesthetic, both in terms of musical structure and tone. I expect Chamber Pop to avoid rambling jams and undue distortion. However, the song structures tend to align with the standard verse/chorus arrangements favoured by popular music. Consider Vampire Weekend as a fine example of this style.

Unthunk has so far remained close to the standard pop combo instrumentation. Instead, we consider our material to be Chamber Pop because we have compositional methods similar to those used for chamber music. Most of the serious pieces begin as written scores, and you can find examples with forms ranging from medieval dances to through-composition, with an emphasis on counterpoint.

The label Baroque Pop could work. However, there is an period implication of the ‘sixties – think Beatles’ Sgt. Peppers. Likewise, Progressive Rock also dates to the ‘sixties and ‘seventies. And while music bearing this label does feature more complex composition, there is also an association with pomp and bombast exhibited by the leading Progressive Rock acts in the ‘seventies, that we would not associate with Unthunk.

If we were to invent a label, I’d use Progressive Pop, but we’re not in a position to define a new style. The Plumes are an inspiration. They call themselves “a hybrid pop/classical group”. When they adopt a standard stylistic label, maybe we can use it as well.

So we’re left with the imperfect Chamber Pop label, and we use the Experimental Pop label despite the reservation that we’re not really that experimental. Electronic effects are featured by many other Experimental Pop ensembles, and we use them sparingly.