Experiments require resolution

In the latest episode of the podcast Thrash it Out (Vol 3, Track 2) there’s an interesting discussion in which Brian talks about loving that point at which a band discovers their sound, while Antony prefers the experimental phases that precede it.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot. For the bands I love, their trajectory is as fascinating as their individual works, if not more so. I believe context is king, all postmodernist deniers of narrative notwithstanding. It is only from the perspective of the whole (yes, yes, we can never know the whole—so our best guess at the whole…) that the individual elements makes sense.
Though their discussion of this was momentary, I realized I’ve been carrying it with me for over a week as I’ve been listening to Katatonia’s catalogue from the beginning on. I never gave much thought to the early albums, and thus saw Dead End Kings as their defining moment. While I still stand by the flawlessness of it, I now realize my ability to appreciate it was (ironically) crippled by my lack of context.
I captured some initial thoughts in a previous post, but the gist of it is this: It’s not until their fifth album, Last Fair Deal Gone Down (2001), that they finally hit upon what would make them great. Their next, Viva Emptiness (2003), would add the heavy, doom metal sound that would polish it off. And yet in and of itself it is fumbling—though now in a new direction. Last Fair Deal is the keystone that supports the arch. While I always liked it, I never realized until now how central and revolutionary it was to their sound.
So to return to my initial observation: I must ultimately side with Brian. The only way for Antony to prefer the experimental works of any given band is from the perspective of their overall sound. If all a band did was experiment—i.e., if every album (and on any given album every song) was formless, a kind of sonic stumbling—there would be no way to appreciate them as a band. There has to be a terminus from which we look back upon prior efforts. There has to be a high water mark from which we measure the lower elevations.
The question then isn’t: which is more interesting, that period when a band works towards its final sound or that in which it plays around? It is this: can we fully appreciate a band’s experimental sound apart from it’s mature one?
I would argue the answer is no. This does not mean Brian is right and Antony wrong. We like what we like. Rather, it is to say Antony’s position only makes sense from the perspective of his partner.

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