clap clap blog: we have moved
Friday, October 31, 2003
Honestly, if you ignore some of the chord changes in the solo (to say nothing of the solo itself) and tweak the production a wee bit, the Guns 'n' Roses song "Garden of Eden" (off Illusion I) could be a Hives song. Seriously. Give it a listen. It's fuckin' garage rock.
And this is to say nothing of the weird Godrich-esque electro noises that come in at random! Awesome!
It's a good song, and damn, I'd love to cover it, but someone should. I can totally see it being really loose and screamy and good. Plus, it's kind of a Simpsons reference, in advance.
posted by Mike B. at 11:59 AM 0 comments Links to this post
A Velvet Rope thread posts a Slate article about REM and how their fans all seem to think they suck, but at different times, and for different reasons, few of which have to do with the music.
R.E.M.'s fans have been saying "R.E.M. sucks" since 1984. Reckoning, the band's second album (not counting the Chronic Town EP), sucked because it wasn't Murmur. The next album, Fables of the Reconstruction (or was it Reconstruction of the Fables?), sucked because it was too soft. Life's Rich Pageant was louder but sucked because it was intelligible. The Top 10 Document sucked because it was too popular. Green, the first album R.E.M. put out that wasn't on the IRS label, sucked because it was too Warner Bros. Out of Time sucked because it was too pop. Automatic for the People—well, nobody thought Automatic sucked. But all the albums since Automatic: They suck.
The responses to said article then go on to, amusingly, give a case study of said phenomenon.
- "The personal feeling that sustained itself up to 'Document' just got lost during & after 'Green'."
- "These days, one gets the feeling that REM is existing just to exist."
- "A pal loaned me a bootleg of them on an Athens' radio station - it might have been right after Chronic Town. And I closed my eyes and remembered a period of time when frat boys would kick your ass for playing that shit loud. Those were the days. When R.E.M. came through town, even though they were dumping tickets, I didn't feel the urge to see Stipe forget half the lyrics. I saw them when it mattered. This night is for the tourists."
- "Add to that the fact that they haven't had a great album since AUTOMATIC FOR THE PEOPLE."
- "Both bands started well, but eventually became co-opted as "fake alternative" for the mainstream. Both bands allowed it to happen. Both bands welcomed it. Stipe and Bono are so similar, bloated, vain, self important, long winded dullards. They work their causes and beliefs in an effort to maintain postition in the limelight, all the while pretending to shun it. Really, it's gross. Both bands musical output has been nothing short of derivative. REM has been writing the same goddamn song for about twelve years now. There's only ONE pride of Atlanta, and that's the B-52s, my friends."
- "rem were great, but not since automatic. it's just weak filler from that point on. and just to echo what alot of others have said here...these guys are totally faking it for the cash at this point."
It is kind of sad that people won't let themselves enjoy New Adventures or Up or Reveal, all of which are great; New Adventures is better then every album except Automatic and Murmur in my book.
posted by Mike B. at 9:25 AM 0 comments Links to this post
Thursday, October 30, 2003
How NOT to post a guitarist-wanted ad. Via the nyhappenings list:
By 4 Piece looking for a lead guitarist to take over our singer's guitar duties so he can focus on singing. We play at places like Arlene's, CB's, Elbow, ACME etc. We're starting a record company and releasing an album w/in the next 3 months. Short jaunts around U.S. & Europe are planned. We have a lot of fun, but we're serious about what we do. You'll have plenty of opportunity to wail away and write your own stuff but sometimes we'll want you to play in the pocket. We r a prepackaged deal so we'll want you to learn our repertoir but you can definitley put your signature on it, add too it and be gigging pronto. We're classy, loud, good sounding & looking and we're going to make money w/or w/out u. All originals. Influences include: Alpha Blondy, Stones, Stooges, Tricky, VU, Discharge, Bowie, John Lee Hooker, P-Funk, N.E.R.D., Marley, Sabbath, Daft Punk etc. We'll also try to make you sing back-up vox even if you think you can't but if u really can't...then....we'll let you slide. Email your postal address to recieve a sample. Or just come to a rehearsal and check out our vibe. We rehearse Sunday evenings in the Lower East Side. Serious inquiries only. NO MERCENARIES!!!
Oh, OK. So it's a garage rock trip-hop psych glam blues funk R&B reggae metal house sound? Nice! You definitely won't be attracting any mercenaries that way, kids, given your strong vision and sound. It's not like, say, you're throwing out such a mismash of favorite records that the only people you'll attract will be the ones drawn to the more specific recording-and-touring bits. Not at all. Thank god!
posted by Mike B. at 6:23 PM 0 comments Links to this post
I have no idea why a) I like this so much, or why b) someone sent it to me (who I don't know, as far as I can tell) but here it is:
Choose Your Own Adventure NYC
Of particular amusement to musicbloggers will be this page. This one is good, too.
Whoever did the pictures for these pages is a goddamn genius. The weird collages of Karen O with the make-a-wish foundation kid are just creepy and great. "No Justin, No Peace!!!"
Not many entries today and none to come tonight unless I hit a block, but some music tomorrow, mayhaps. Happy Devil's Night.
posted by Mike B. at 6:09 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Wednesday, October 29, 2003
I started fucking around with Beyonce's "Yes" this morning, as I said I would, and it's promising--I've got the beginnings of 2.5 tracks so far (bluesy, organ-driven, maybe funk). But when I chopped everything up and resequenced it, apparently the damn song is at 56 bpm. Jeez! I can never get below 90. That's a sloooooow jam.
posted by Mike B. at 12:12 PM 0 comments Links to this post
The other day I was sitting around practice and I did something that I do on an embarrassingly regular basis: bump into my amp. Now, this is problematic because it has a spring reverb tank in it, and when you bump the amp it makes this really loud reverb clanging noise that's presumably the spring whacking up against the casing. And while usually that causes me to cover my ears, this once I thought, hmm, could I use that in a song somehow?
Then this morning I was listening to the Rapture's (natch) "Sister Savior," and...well, they used that noise. Sigh. But give it a listen, because it's pretty interesting how it's done. It comes near the end of the track, pretty much in the outro, and it adds a cool other layer to the whole mess that's going on. (Faith, on this listen I'd begun to tire a bit of their outros; I could barely sit through the conclusion of "Jealous Lovers," and how weird is that?) But it's also an interesting comment, partially (in my mind) because of a weird little production bit at the beginning of "I Need Your Love": every, like, sixth beat the reverb gets turned on for the keyboard part, and then quickly turned off, so it rings through. What the hell? Why do that? What's up with the reverb, kids?
Well, one reason might lie in the different feels of the dance-pop songs on Echoes. To focus on three, "Olio" sounds like I should be dancing in a nightclub to it, "I Need Your Love" sounds like I should be driving to it, and "Sister Savior" sounds like I should be strutting to it. But they all have basically the same beat and pretty similar arrangements. Why these differences? How are they achieved? Partially, I guess, it's tempo; "Savior" has more of a gait to it, being a bit slower, and a groove. But it's also the little production touches. The way the sax is mixed on "Love," for instance, along with the detuned synth patch arpeggios, lend it a kind of head-bobbing as opposed to butt-shaking quality.
But the thing that really stands out to me is the reverb on the hi-hat on "Olio" (which I do still love deeply). Now, one of the things I've learned is that you have to be sort of careful using reverb because the tracks are going to get played in a club where there's a natural reverb, and when you combine that with the existing echo, it can overwhelm the whole track. So maybe when this gets played it's too much, I dunno. But here it's perfect, and it actually nicely mimics the reverb you'd hear in a club on a dance song--and I guess, too, it's reminiscent of big dumb rave songs that I LOVE. But what's particularly nice about this use is the targeted nature of the reverb: it's just on that hat, and the hat's panned pretty precisely. And so it comes back to those weird bursts of reverb (clicking a bus channel in and out, I assume) on "I Need Your Love." And it comes back to the very different but still akin sound of a beaten guitar amp reverb tank on "Sister Savior." It's scattered through there, and it's nicely used.
Incidentally, can anyone think of other songs that use that noise? I'm pretty curious now. It comes in at the end of "Sister" and sounds like, well, a big spring. Anybody?
 For the record, no, clap clap blog has not suddenly morphed into hi hat afficianado.
posted by Mike B. at 12:10 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Good Strokes review by Keith Harris, who also penned the Salon article I done replied to. As there is nothing in there about Missy Elliot or the Rapture, I have nothing bad to say. Actually, I have something good to say: that "Willy Deville fronting Tuff Darts" riff is awesome.
posted by Mike B. at 11:45 AM 0 comments Links to this post
Tuesday, October 28, 2003
Well, I've certainly always thought of Sting as "Mr Serious who helps the Indians". Haven't you?
Also true: "The sun shines out of his arse." Yeah!
posted by Mike B. at 6:29 PM 0 comments Links to this post
John Meyer's popularity is a response to the chart domination of Missy Elliot's acrobatic sexuality?
Like those of his former tour mate Norah Jones, with whom he shares a knack for the genteel nuzzle, Mayer's brisk sales have been at least partly a fearful response to hip-hop hegemony. Yet virtual white flight isn't the whole story. From Missy Elliott's threat, "I'll put my thing down, flip it, and reverse it" to Chingy's inviting a woman to whip her genitalia at him "like a shortstop," there's a pretty narrow definition of sexuality on the charts these days. Pop sex has become a strenuous combination of pole dancing, Pilates and pro wrestling -- plenty fun, but not really practical when you've both got to work in the morning.
Right now, I won't get into the easy acceptance of "hip-hop hegemony" as logical, or the weird way embarrassingly stereotypical white-boy Meyer is contrasted with two black artists, although I would suggest that it's probably a youth-vs-age thing rather than a race thing; it's not like you can't buy Luther albums anymore. The main issue here is that this is a total misrepresentation of Missy's sexuality from where I'm sitting.
There's certainly a lot of, um, unrealistic images of sexuality coming from hip-hop artists, and some of them are hilarious and some of them are sexy and some of them are dumb and some of them are offensive. But I defy you to find me anything in "Work It" that's unrealistic. First off, the line quoted above is a deliberate misreading; sure, "put my thing down, flip it, and reverse it" is a double entendre, but the whole point of a double entendre is that you couldn't necessarily perform the sexual act being literally described. The argument is especially weak given that following that line, Missy does the literal thing stated: having put it down, she flips it and reverses it. Where's the acrobatics? They're just verbal, son.
And indeed, the rest of the song celebrates the brand of sexuality that many of us find so appealing in Missy: a totally non-idealized, very up-front and real-world depiction of what it's actually like to get it on. For instance: "Not on the bed, lay me on your sofa / Phone before you come, I need to shave my chocha / You do or you don't or you will or won't ya / Go downtown and eat it like a vulture." Where's the acrobatics in that? What's great about it--and a bunch of other lines in the song that I'm going to restrain myself from quoting--is that they acknowledge all the things that the idealized bling-bling sheen of either loverman (thug or otherwise) or hyper-sexualized music ignores: plucking hairs, getting drunk, fucking on the sofa, messy oral sex ("eat it like a vulture"? eww!), etc., etc. If you're afraid of this, you're not put off by dominatrixes; you're put off by the simple mechanics of fucking. And that's no good.
In other words, Missy is exactly what Meyer is being made out to be--just without all the bullshit. There's no S&M or A2Ms, but there's no shy come-ons and misty fireplace shots, either. Missy's sexuality is extraordinary and banal, just like sex; I'm gonna do this thing and then yeah, get up in the morning and go to work. Meyer's is romantic music while Missy's is sexual. And I won't deny that there's a certain value to romantic music, even if Luther Vandross makes me want to sleep more than fuck. But let's not pretend that Missy is warping the poor sexual minds of this great nation. If anything, she's being honest about it while Meyer is still playing his game and trying to get laid. Which is OK, too.
That said, I don't know why there's all this defensiveness surrounding Meyer fandom--"Body is a Wonderland" is a great song, no two ways about it. But there's always been John Meyers--fifty years ago he was called Johnny Mercer, and there are some great Johnny Mercer songs out there too. But it would take a Missy-esque polymorphous perversity to acknowledge the value of all of it without necessarily opposing it to something. Use the Meyer if it works for you. Me, I'm gonna put on Prince.
posted by Mike B. at 6:07 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Hey, Ry Cooder's behind me.
And he's tellin' stories!
posted by Mike B. at 3:50 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Dale Peck interview at Gawker. In which he asks the musical question:
"how can i begin to make people look at my own books in the context i've created. not as another novel or memoir from the queen bitch of the literary universe, but rather as a book by someone who tries incredibly hard not to let his own ambitions and vanity (which are, admititedly, huge) infect my writing. how can i keep my books about their subjects, rather than about my place in the zeitgeist or the canon."
Well, gee, Dale, maybe you could start by not masturbating in public for five years. Metaphorically speaking, of course. If you don't want to be seen as "the queen bitch of the literary universe," maybe you shouldn't have built your reputation by acting like one, huh? I'm just saying.
If you wanted to create a critical framework that explains your aesthetic, that's fine. Lots and lots of lots of artists do that. But you didn't do that. You just made entertainment. You just spent a lot of time insulting other writers. That's not creating a context. That's defining your dislikes. He says that this was the process of figuring out what he didn't want his writing to be. Problem is, that ultimately doesn't help you all that much in figuring out what it should be, because there are a million thing it can't be and only one or two it can. So maybe you should get started on that, eh Dale?
posted by Mike B. at 2:03 PM 0 comments Links to this post
One of the tricks you can pull as a producer is to throw a slowed-down (i.e. pitched lower) hi-hat sample into the beat. This has become a staple of both trip-hop and the kind of vaguely trip-hop production you hear on a lot of midtempo MOR radio songs these days (think the backing for "Everyone Wears Sunscreen" or whatever the fuck that song was called), and it works well because it takes what's normally a tinny beat-keeper that tends to stand out in the mix into something darker, somewhere between a snare and a ride. It goes really well with slower, more atmospheric stuff, but it also makes the whole beat seem a little beefier in the midrange.
But I was kind of surprised to hear it on the Beyonce album, on the song "Yes," and I was especially surprised to hear it actually work well, given the way it's been abused of late. I really love the beat that starts off this song. It's slow and loping and sexy as hell, not really hip-hop but not really anything else either--just kind of industrial at 15 RPM. The vinyl crackle at the beginning can be a trip-hop signifier (that crackle's all over Portishead, of course) or dub signifier, but the first thing I thought of, semi-embarrassingly, is the remix of Tori Amos' "Hey Jupiter," partially because the accompanying video was slowed down too, given the slowed-down hat a particular resonance. But it's there in a lot of laptop stuff too, in granulated pitch-shifted samples (think the end of Donna Summer's "What You Truly Need" or some of Kid606's outros), as well as being in those mainstream trip-hop productions I talked about before.
Then there's the guitar loop. It's a backwards guitar, but it doesn't sound psych in the least; indeed, the weird part is how a lot of the tones it's running over there lead so clearly into the slow-jam. But what's especially odd about it is that it sounds like, well, an intro--an ambient or experimental intro or segue that would then resolve into something. But that's the beat! And that's, basically, the whole song. Beyonce just takes it and fucking runs with it, dropping all these different melodies and bits over it. I hear maybe some bass (?) and maybe an additional guitar added, but really, it's pretty sparse. I guess it's a slow jam, but at the same time it's very much not. Both the trip-hop and the industrial feels remain, while the vocals seem like they could have come from a rave-up, with the backing slowed down to half speed.
So what this song really reminds me of is Radiohead's "We Suck Young Blood," and of course the reason for that is the handclaps. Both have that same loose, slow, loping feel, with the beats falling somewhat imprecisely, like a drunken backing band falling under the weight of their instruments. And there's the handclaps, present in both, if a bit more prominent in the Radiohead, holding the whole thing together. The guitar loop wouldn't be so out of place on HTTT. And the vocals are similarly odd and high. Radiohead goes on to rock out and Beyonce drops in a shitload of backing vocals, but they both come back to that oddly similar beat.
And yes, I really do love that beat. Because every time I restart the song (and I've just done so about 5 times) I can hear a totally different part possibly kicking in instead of the vocals. I can hear a driving bassline. I can hear an organ part. I can hear a horn section. And all of these could be in totally different chord structures or riff models. In fact, I think it would be really interesting to make a riddim album off this beat. Maybe I'll try it sometime. But if not, maybe someone else will. Any takers?
posted by Mike B. at 12:10 PM 0 comments Links to this post
"It can't be anti-intellectualism. I went to college!"
posted by Mike B. at 10:40 AM 0 comments Links to this post
The Guardian lists the 40 Best US Bands. Let me give you a feel for how this is going to go:
14. Red Hot Chili Peppers
13. Missy Elliott
DFA -> RHCP -> Missy? I'm getting whiplash here, guys...
posted by Mike B. at 8:51 AM 0 comments Links to this post
posted by Mike B. at 8:47 AM 0 comments Links to this post
Monday, October 27, 2003
Nice little NYLPM entry on the same AWK show I went to. I almost did go into the tourbus, but I knew how long I'd be there...
posted by Mike B. at 5:26 PM 0 comments Links to this post
In a weird confluence of three of my interests, a conservative political commentator over at NRO calls "Welcome Interstate Managers" the album of the year. And executes an annoying AUR move while doing so. Hmm. I don't know how to feel about that.
posted by Mike B. at 5:20 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Really, really nice bit of personal criticism by Lauren Viera, who used to be my editor in college: My Favorite Band: Jawbreaker. Give it a read.
posted by Mike B. at 1:31 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Well, it's sort of a retraction.
Okay, can someone please remind me why The Strokes were such a polarizing force about two years ago? Listening to Is This It? last week had me scratching my head over how it managed to become the Roe vs. Wade of the rock crit world in 2001, with everyone forced to choose sides: "saviors of rock!" or "everything that's wrong with music today!" At the time, I found myself in the latter category, ironically earning myself a spot on this very staff with a lengthy diatribe against the band's hype machine, socioeconomic background, and rampant influence-pilfering. You know, basically everything but the music.
"Having finally listened to"? You can't mean that, right Rob? To be fair, I've never had much of a problem with Mr. Mitchum, and his ouevre is reasonably impressive (rescued PF from their SY-hate with the Murray Street review, and good looks at the All Girl Summer Fun Band and Junior Senior). And yeah, it's rare to see a critic do this, although they should do it more often. But let's just hope PF learns some lessons from this. We'll see, I guess.
posted by Mike B. at 12:28 PM 0 comments Links to this post
From a correspondent:
A fascinating bit of history I read in Music Tech Magazine...
This all makes me wonder new things about Brazil-the-movie (as opposed to Brazil-the-country and Brazil-the-song). It's never been clear exactly why the hell Gilliam called the movie Brazil; aside from the persistent use of the song, I don't think the word even appears anywhere in the script. This thread suggests some possibilities, but I'm not entirely convinced that it's supposed to be a look at the red-tape nightmare of the actual Brazil, since a) there's no indidication that it's Brazil whatsoever, and b) the same conditions apply equally well to the UK, and arguably to parts of America. This view is technically the standard, and the concept of "Brazil"-as-escapism lines up well with the dream sequences and/or the end of the movie.
However, doesn't the above quote suggest something more interesting? If "Brazil" was the first song released made with multi-track recording, doesn't that line up pretty well with the movie, too? It sounds like a bass, but you can't reproduce it in real life, i.e. you can't slow down the pitch of a guitar below that E without some form of mechanical assistance. So maybe it's about, too, the way the purity/naturalism of music becomes manipulated by artificial means, about the way culture (and then on to tastes and desire, etc.) can be recombinant in odd ways. But, too, it's a jury-rigged system, bursting at the seams; ways have been found to disguise this, but the synced single-tracks are still there below the surface.
And Brasillia is an artificial city, and, and...
posted by Mike B. at 11:08 AM 0 comments Links to this post
It's not Virtual Valerie, but it's pretty good.
posted by Mike B. at 10:44 AM 0 comments Links to this post
Saturday, October 25, 2003
Something else I realized at the concert--and I don't remember exactly in what context this revelation came--was that when you look at someone with a lot of tatoos, you can point to each one and go, $100, $100, $200...seriously, they look hardcore or whatever, but it's not much different from a, like, tricked-out truck. "Yeah, I got these great wheelrims from working 20 hours at the Shop-n-Save..." v. "I got this awesome dragon tatoo from working 20 hours at McD's." Ain't no different, and ain't no badassness.
posted by Mike B. at 2:34 AM 0 comments Links to this post
I only caught two songs of the Andrew WK show tonight, but just with those, it was the most rock 'n' roll show I've been to this year. He launches into "Party Hard" and immediately there's this stream of kids--and I mean kids, like actual teenagers, and how weird is it to see them at a show?--just starts piling onto the stage, hordes and hordes of 'em. And there's already four axemen and a keyboard on the stage, pretty close to the edge, to say nothing of the drummer, so it's getting pretty crowded up there. But no one seems to mind! Security's trying to drag them off but Andrew just grabs as many as he can and hugs 'em and dances with them. He loses his mic, he doesn't care, one kid sings the chorus, it's cool. He gets this one 14-year-old boy in a denim jacket and a homemade "AWK" t-shirt up on his shoulders and they're twirling around and it's wonderful. "I Get Wet" is the finale and during the midst of that a girl makes her way onto the stage and gives someone what looks like panties and Andrew hugs her away from security and gets her up on his shoulders and puts her down and she's dancing and it's great. It was total chaos and anyone and everyone could sing, and it was loud and fun and dancey. Great shit, man. What people miss about Andrew is that yes, he's not serious about stadium rock, but the problem with stadium rock is that people take it seriously. He's just realized how fun it is for many people to engage in and does it with all the joy that requires. Awesome.
Joan Jet was pretty cool, too. She's oldish but a total badass, in that Madonna way, except cool. The great thing about her music is that it's definitely punk rock (guitarist looked about 17 and had a mohawk and an agnostic front t-shirt; bassist looked like Joey Ramone except, um, he had an eyepatch) but it's also definitely 80's--you can do "the 80's dance" to it. Which is kind of fun. She did this one absolutely horrendous song she wrote with, natch, Kathleen Hanna. It was bad enough while it was going on--lyrics about how you take a picture is that your camera or is it a gun bang bang and make your own identity, UGH--but it just looked worse when they followed it with a cover of the Mary Tyler Moore theme song, which was trite, I guess, but totally awesome. And then later they covered "Crimson And Clover," which was odd but good.
Warsaw still sucks--there was this tiny little door to let people outside to smoke and the bouncer yelled at all of us and got spit on me. Ah well. And, of course, the sound was horrible. The crowd was pretty good, though--older punkers who actually danced!
posted by Mike B. at 2:32 AM 0 comments Links to this post
Friday, October 24, 2003
Goin' home, but don't forget to ask Miss Clap.
posted by Mike B. at 7:30 PM 0 comments Links to this post
The more I listen to John Mellencamp's greatest hits, the more certain conclusions are inescapable.
Conclusions like: "Pink Houses" is, simply, one of the best rock songs of all time.
First off, there's the music. There's the hook, which, goddamn, is just mind-blowing. It's a simple little pattern, but it's great because there's no reason for that to be new. No reason. It's so simple and so good. And there's the restraint: the way everything holds off for the first verse/chorus but still sounds really driving, really exciting. The arrangement is great. The instrumentation is great: that slide guitar, that electric, that percussion. The singing is great. It just sounds great, timeless: there's country in there, and rock, but blues too, and soul--I hear not a little Van Morrison in John's singing (see "know know know" in this one) and songs. It sounds classic rock, but it mostly just sounds classic. Oh yeah, and the fucking handclaps. Holy shit. Holy shit.
Then there's the lyrics. All three verses of this song are wonderful little images, starting specific in the first (black man's house), going more archetypical in the second (rock 'n' roll yoot) and then going totally general/theoretical at the end ("the simple man"). And what they do well is what John Mellencamp does so well: act in two opposing ways. The chorus has "America" in it and the song's kind of cheery, so it seems pro-America, but I don't want to seem superficial about this. There really is a valid patriotic interpretation to the song. There's the gauzy nostalgia of the first verse, the simple rock-is-greatism of the second, and the championing of the common man in the third. It's very populist.
But: it's also very, very sad. The third verse speaks of common people thusly: "What do they know know know / Go to work in some high rise / And vacation down at the Gulf of Mexico." The common man "pays for the thrills, the bills and the pills that kill." You can take that "bills" thing and say it's anti-capitalist, and it kinda is, but it's more in that traditional country vein of portraying the lives of most people as being crushed, not ennobled, by suffering; as something that happens, and that is OK, but something that shouldn't. Sure, it's opposed to the views of some of your more elitist liberal types, but it's also diametrically opposed to big-business Republicanism.
Verse two, a fucking mind-blowing little compact bomb of meaning, starts with rock 'n' roll, but sees it as a good thing only because the speaker's political aspirations have been crushed. He recognizes music as a compromise, as a second-best thing, as something that is good but far from the best. And I really like that. Rock 'n' roll is not salvation: it's just a comfort.
The third verse has a cute quality to it, the comforting teasing of a happily married couple, but at the same time, this house they proudly own has "an interstate runnin' through [its] front yard" but "he think that he's got it so good." And that house, the "little pink house" of the chorus, is all cute and Americana, but it's crushing, too, in its own way. The house is little, and it's just like all the rest. Ain't that America: a bunch of mass-produced shit that all looks the same and isn't very good. But I'm sure you know that I'd hate any song that had this as its only meaning. However, Mellencamp puts it alongside a strong acknowledgement of how wonderful little houses and rock 'n' roll and cheesy vacations can be, how they do provide comfort in a harsh world. And I like that. A lot. Would that some of our more "intellectual" lyricists could pull off tricks like that effectively.
But the best thing about this song is that it has two spectacular choruses.
Of course, they are smushed together, and that could fool people. But realize that you could easily refer to this song as "Ain't That America" just as much as "Little Pink Houses." And Mellencamp could have simply stopped after "home of the free..." Ending on that unresolved chord would have added a nice admission of uncertainty to the wink-wink jingoism being employed. But he goes on to a lyric that also ends on an unresolved chord and so the great little hold happens twice. Thus: home of the free to do what? Little pink houses, for you and me. That freedom is clearly being expressed with a bitter edge to it.
But ultimately, it's not even about the meaning, about the words, about all of that. It's about the fact that the first part is a great melody and rhythm and arrangement, and then he adds more. You can't help but sing along, can't help but have both parts stuck in your head for days and days. Goddamn fucking right. That's a fucking song for you.
 You get kind of a Toby Keith vibe from him, but the man hates Republicans; he's a Democrat in that old-school way.
 I would argue that the critique made explicit in the Pulp song of that name is implicitly contained between the lines of "Pink Houses," but I could be wrong.
UPDATE: Right, since he semi-famously covered a Van Morrison song with that bassist lady whose name I don't care to copy and paste from allmusic right now, that's not the most cutting of insights. Bad rock critic.
posted by Mike B. at 7:20 PM 0 comments Links to this post
The problem with absolutist negative reviewing like that practiced by Dale Peck is that, like with Mark Ames or Pitchfork, half the time I can prove them to be objectively wrong, or at least get to the point where the authors/supporters are simply offering weak excuses or nonsensical justifications. I've never done so with Peck mostly because he seems to care far more than I do--if he starts in on Lethem or A.M. Holmes or something I'll step to, but I could give a shit about Rick Moody. But hey, maybe we'll get lucky at some point.
The problem, broadly, is that the absolutists are pro-sincerity and anti-irony. Unfortunately, statements like "Rick Moody is the worst writer of his generation" aren't actually true; the retarded guy working at McDonald's is the worst writer of his generation. And so they are being--duhn duhn DAH!--ironic and insincere. Especially if, as Peck and others readily admit, they are simply using overstatement to get our attention, and how is that better that Klosterman's far more honest self-aware wholehearted embracing of things he doesn't entirely believe? It ain't. Of course, they would defend these outbursts as necessary to break through the wall of incompetence and laziness and apathy that afflicts culture, that a little lying is necessary to reach THE TRUTH. (We agree with you, gents--and it is always gents, isn't it?--but that's called irony, you'll recall.) Problem is a) this assumes that they have the truth, and, well, wake me when that's the case; and b) it's all predicated on the image of the critic as alone in their genius and persecuted by bad taste. Ha. Mister, there are lots of very vocal people out there who don't like many things and enjoy being creatively mean; this particular stance hardly makes you unique. It's needlessly AUR. (And bullshit pseudo-Bangsianism to boot.) For instance:
In the afterword to ''Hatchet Jobs,'' Peck reports that his hands are ''literally shaking'' as he types his indictment of modernism ''like a fugitive'' in the middle of the night. ''Sometimes even I am overwhelmed by the enormity of what I'm saying.''
"Enormity"? Christ almighty. Look, Galileo's discoveries can be characterized that way. Martin Luther's theses. Ghandi's civil disobedience. Indicting modernism? Yeah. Not so much. It's been done a few times before, if I recall correctly--like, for instance, by those post-modernists who you don't like vewy much.
Similarly, it presumes that this is an effective technique, which seems doubtful to me. Why would that kind of thing actually change people's attitudes? Isn't it just, as suggested in the article, a technique to get more money for the publication and more notice for the critic? Seems likely.
Then again, I don't know if I can add anything to this:
Peck himself wasn't so fashionable -- or maybe he was by downtown standards. He wore baggy knee-length pants and a short-sleeved checked shirt. He had arrived by bicycle and was sweating profusely; his spiky hair stood up on his head. He had just come from his therapist, he told me after we found a table shielded by a white umbrella and ordered drinks. Had they talked about our interview? I asked. ''We talked about it, and I started crying out of the blue,'' Peck said. Did he have any idea why? ''I've been thinking of ending therapy because I haven't been engaging. While I was at the gym, before therapy, I was thinking that there was an incredible similarity between my feelings about therapy and this interview and the reviews I write. The StairMaster was a metaphor; I was running in place.''
The argument can be made that there's actually a core of good, positive criticism in a lot of these pieces. But of that not unreasonable claim I have to ask: then why the disproportionate negativity? To get attention? Well, you know, that's not the only way to get attention. There's always the theory that if you point out something about a piece of art that no one else has, or that you make a connection or a theory about it that is relatively new or interesting, that will get you a lot of attention, too. And from that view, it's hard not to see negative absolutist criticism as anything other than self-interested laziness, the work of writers with a talent for insults but not insight, looking to elevate themselves as essentially entertainers while angrily decrying the value of entertainment in art. Come down here and play in the sandbox with the rest of us, kids. It's way more fun.
posted by Mike B. at 6:43 PM 0 comments Links to this post
One of the nice things about blogs is that they allow you to follow your muse wherevs. This blog started off mainly political, and now it is mainly music.
But hey, why not throw something else into the mix? The music won't, won't, won't stop, but I thought it might be fun to try a little experiment. Viz: an advice column.
Starting on Monday (hopefully), Miss Clap will be answering your questions in a segment we like to call Ask Miss Clap. Ask her anything--she will have words of wisdom for you. It will appear here for now, although if it gets reasonably popular/frequent we'll give it its own blog.
So send in your questions! All will probably be answered! And not by me, but by the semi-mythical Miss Clap (and by "semi-mythical" I mean previously mentioned), who--let's be clear about this--is not me. Use pseudonyms, don't, hey, follow yer own muse. Just write in those questions.
The address to use is askmissclap at hotmail dot com. Use it early and often.
We both look forward to helping you out, and/or to seeing how this all goes...
Some suggested questions:
- Should I buy the Erase Erratta / Sonic Youth 7"?
- Does the new Britney single suck or rule?
- [anything you'd ask Dr. Phil]
- Why can't I meet women / men?
- What the hell is oozing from my genitals?
posted by Mike B. at 3:30 PM 0 comments Links to this post
For my UK readers: I just got accosted by a Big Issue guy in Union Square. In New York City. I told him to bug off, of course, because no one who's anyone buys Big Issues, of course (I've done my time in your socialist hellhole), but it was kind of weird, especially because he was, in fact, a Brit. Except I don't recall them saying things like "I'd be ever so grateful" accross the pond, presumably because this would get them punched.
I think he was trying to charm New Yorkers with his Englishness, and I think it was working.
posted by Mike B. at 3:20 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Thursday, October 23, 2003
Looks like I'm doing a little review of the Mandy album, so I am indeed gonna get the album, ya freaks.
...but I do get to get it for free. Whee!
posted by Mike B. at 6:20 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Pretty nice little riff from our friend Heather...
And I look in the mirror all the ti-yime...
Her and Klosterman should do something.
posted by Mike B. at 4:46 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Courtney is in a custody battle with Wendy, Kurt's mom, after Child Protection Services took away Frances after C-Lo's drug arrest.
Christ, Courtney. This is just getting stupid, OK? Let's be nice to Frances Bean...
...oh, and let's not seriously attempt to introduce Kurt's journals as evidence of Wendy's poor parenting skills. Sheesh.
posted by Mike B. at 3:08 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Sweet fucking Jesus Christ my almighty dickhole love my ass shit rape fuck lard bottom fumble porkrind.
Uh, I mean, "wow." I'm never going to refer to myself as "longwinded" or "obsessive" again.
The Firesign Theater?
posted by Mike B. at 1:19 PM 0 comments Links to this post
I think if you're worried by misogynist overtones in AC/DC you probably need something better to do with your time. That or start listening to some fucking hip-hop. Goddamn, dude.
posted by Mike B. at 1:14 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Presumably this is the first Martin Amis reference in a piece about Timbaland. But I could be wrong.
You're a goddamn tease, Sasha.
posted by Mike B. at 11:27 AM 0 comments Links to this post
Now, if you didn't know anything about the principals involved, would this description make you think they were talking about a major-label rap album or an undie one?
The other shift is in subject matter, where Bavitz avoids a singular album topic (Labor Days) or a far too scattered listening experience (Float). Aes tackles a variety of concepts, including the emergence of young killers ("Babies with Guns"), fondness for his home state ("N.Y. Electric", "No Jumper Cables"), and disillusionment with the media ("Bazooka Tooth", "Easy"), all the while offering his usual mix of hard-edged rhyme schemes ("Park your bets, sharks or jets/ It's bark marked targets where the barnacles nest") and clever idioms ("They burrow deep under the carnivore's flesh, without a trace/ Carnival games, like try to shoot the star out of his space").
My vote would be for major-label, and not in that good, Jay-Z/Ludacris/Eminem way--more in that third Nas album way. Street violence? The fickle media? Sheesh, Ian [not Adam, ahem, sorry about that], we do still remember you're a big ol' Jew from Northport. (And, if these samples are anything to be believed, not the best lyricist in the world, either, but I kinda hate the Def Jux flow.) Dwelling on these subjects makes you sound a lot more like Phil Collins than 50 Cent. (c.f. "Land of Confusion," "Another Day in Paradise.") And "the revolution"? Please. Y'all know what I'm gonna say about that one.
The themes we're talking about here can be explored in very interesting ways (see Jay's oeuvre) but not when you have the size stick up your ass that Aesop apparently does.
posted by Mike B. at 10:42 AM 0 comments Links to this post
Wednesday, October 22, 2003
Here's my theory about Elliot Smith: Courtney Love murdered him with her bare hands. No particular reason, it's just what that unfeeling harlot does. Or so I'm led to understand.
posted by Mike B. at 6:06 PM 0 comments Links to this post
I'm currently on hold with a music supervisor for The Bold & The Beautiful (don't ask) and in the middle of the various hold tunes--it's, um, been a while--came the theme music for the CBS Evening News With Dan Rather. And I said, i.e. actually chanted out loud, "Rocked by rape! Rocked by rape!" -- as this is how that particular song starts.
Regrettably, it was not, and I was not. So it goes.
Oh hey, ECC is playing the WFMU record faire in November. Maybe I'll go.
posted by Mike B. at 5:21 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Maybe I'm being shallow, but I kinda like what Angelina Jolie had to say:
At premiere of "Beyond Borders," Angelina Jolie says she now has "a purpose as a human being. I think I really didn't have one before. I was an artist and I, you know, I'd wake up with little things I'd complain about. I had no idea, really, how unbalanced the world was and how fortunate I was, and how rare my life is in comparison to the amount of people that really know suffering and really know pain, and I'll never be self-destructive again."
Hey, I agree. Given how fortunate most of us (i.e. people who could conceivably read this blog, say) are, it seems stupid to try and fuck yourself over.
posted by Mike B. at 1:58 PM 0 comments Links to this post
"I'd like the Jeff Buckley package, please."
posted by Mike B. at 10:55 AM 0 comments Links to this post
Tuesday, October 21, 2003
Where'd-the-Boondocks-go update from the Post:
posted by Mike B. at 5:13 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Pitchfork gives my man Sufjan Stevens some much-deserved love. I really do need to post about that album sometime, it's brilliant.
posted by Mike B. at 5:11 PM 0 comments Links to this post
...and then you're sitting in your cubicle and you've got the Rapture album playing in the cubicle opposite and two other people in "the pit" have music playing too, louder than yours, and you forget it's on until you suddenly catch a snatch of "House of Jealous Lovers," except you can only hear the vocals, and you realize goddamn, that is some astoundingly amelodic, off-key yelping right there, and damn fine.
There was more I was gonna post today, but ah well, it's gone. Subsumed by work, as happens sometimes.
I did pick up the Basement Jaxx and British Sea Power albums at lunch (regretfully put down Mandy Moore) so we'll see about that, now won't we?
posted by Mike B. at 4:55 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Oh, incidentally, the AMG reviewer likes the Carla album almost as much as I do.
Meanwhile, their entry on the original exhibits one of the universe's more curious phenomenons: a middling review with a five-star rating. Whuzza? Here's the conclusion: "It's undoubtedly distinctive — and it sounds more distinctive with each passing year — but it's strictly an intellectual triumph and, after a pair of albums that were musically and intellectually sound, it's a bit of a letdown, no matter how successful it was." How is that 5 star-worthy?
posted by Mike B. at 11:40 AM 0 comments Links to this post
For the record, the All Girl Summer Fun Band's 2 is not just good when you're drunk. It's good all the time. I gave it a spin this morning on the train and yup, it still sounds fucking awesome. Great disc.
posted by Mike B. at 10:42 AM 0 comments Links to this post
I guess there's not much point in talking about the new Lethem novel yet, since it's just out in hardback, so maybe I'll save the longer critical posts for when the paperback come out. Or maybe not. But here's what I can tell you right now: if you like music and you like books, you have to read this novel. Trust me on it.
Anyway, here's the review I finished up this weekend, presented as a teaser for much more stuff later.
The Fortress of Solitude, Jonathan Lethem (Doubleday)
In the midst of the fictional liner notes that serve as an intermission to Jonathan Lethem's new novel The Fortress of Solitude, we learn that Barrett Rude's vocal group—Barrett being the father of Mingus, Mingus being the best friend of Dylan, Dylan being the only white kid in his Brooklyn neighborhood and the subject of the book—we learn, as I say, that his vocal group, which had a few hits in the early 70's, changed its name from the Distinctions to the Subtle Distinctions. That's a good joke, since the change itself is a subtle distinction, but it's also a perfect description of the game this book is playing.
Starting in the Gowanus neighborhood of Brooklyn, the book tracks the awkward friendship between white boy Dylan and black kid Mingus through Dylan's time in the local public middle school (his absentee hippie mother Rachel not wanting to be gentrificationist) and into the magnet high school as a punk and then private college in Vermont and California as a gen-u-ine New Yawker who uses his play-acted "street cred" to score status and/or drugs. On the way we pass by such subjects as tagging, magic rings, and the politics of interracial dating, but by and by you realize that it's mostly about the little things, the little differences: who like hip-hop, and who like soul; who use crack, and who use cocaine; who are real graffiti artists, and who are just "toys." And in the midst of all these micro-intervals, the seemingly insurmountable differences between blacks and whites that is the apparent center of a book practically screaming “THIS IS ABOUT RACE” become subtle, too, because that's what novels are supposed to be: subtle, ambiguous.
It's about the differences between this book and Lethem's last, the National Book Award-winning Motherless Brooklyn. That one, about an orphaned detective with Tourette's Syndrome, was widely embraced; Fortress, on the other hand, appears much harder to love. Still, they each have a first section set in a child's-eye view of Brooklyn that turns out to be merely a setup for a much more difficult, but much more rewarding, finale. And, contrary to widespread opinion, Fortress is hardly sprawling, its length aside; it focuses precisely on its main character and three supporters, and spends at least as much time in Brooklyn as Motherless did, even while it encompasses a larger time frame.
And ultimately, it's the little differences that make Fortress so rewarding and so good. Not that this was necessarily assured: as a longtime Lethem fan, it was impossible to miss the transition from inventive slipstream sci-fi (Gun, With Occasional Music and Amnesia Moon) to a sort of carnivalesque pomo-realism with Motherless Brooklyn, and be worried upon hearing that the next book was going to be semi-autobiographical. This turns out to be unfounded: Lethem's style, always shifty, here subsumes all worries, eschewing an authorial voice even when in the first person and continuing to tell the kind of stories he always has. True, Dylan isn't very likable, but the lack of a fanciful conceit (some superheroics aside) to hang the plot on turns out to be an advantage: by placing race, something very real, ostensibly at the center, the history in the first half doesn't resolve in the second in some genre pastiche like Motherless' detective fiction, but in one of the best pieces of music criticism I've ever read, about music that doesn't actually exist.
Music criticism? Sure, when you break it down, the novel's three-fourth history, recalled in the course of a trip a 30-something Dylan takes from California to Brooklyn and back again; you know, a novel. But from the last few chapters of the first section through the liner notes and the beginning of the back half, it's a gleeful, breathtakingly creative blast of criticism (while remaining a great novel), making a whole series of great points about cultural capital, music geekery, punk, hip-hop, and on and on and on.
This isn't an easy book to fall in love with. But there's a lot there to dig into, and I think it's something that can be profitably mined for many years. Give it a try.
posted by Mike B. at 9:18 AM 0 comments Links to this post
Monday, October 20, 2003
posted by Mike B. at 6:00 PM 0 comments Links to this post
I'm not going to post the text because I don't want it to be my "definitive" statement on the matter (plus I'm going to recycle some of the material, probably) but if you're interested, here is my review of the new Carla Bozulich album, in convenient Word format. The full statement will probably be coming tomorrow.
Short version: album of the year. I'm serious.
posted by Mike B. at 4:57 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Incidentally, Jon, if you really think the Rapture "revolves around Luke Jenner's discordant rhythm-guitar slashes and his yelping, androgynous lead vocals," you're not listening closely enough. Everything circles the rhythm section, particularly the bass, to my ears. Luke's role is to come crashing in at opportune times; Matt, on the other hand, is probably the one the music revolves around. (And, as everyone besides Pitchfork--oddly--seems to be forgetting, Matt does a fair amount of singing, too.) Just because Luke gives off the most rock-star vibe in a band full of people who don't seem to have any inclination to be rock stars (or Vedderesque anti-rock stars, either) doesn't mean that you can ignore the others.
posted by Mike B. at 3:23 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Brief pointer: for those of you following the discussion on the Zenarchery post, I've posted a response which might be of interest. Wouldn't normally note, but that post is getting a bit buried by now.
posted by Mike B. at 12:31 PM 0 comments Links to this post
While I'm repping Phantroll, let me point you (nudge nudge) to a place where you just might be able to download a Comets on Fire track. Let me know what you think--the nyhappenings crew is all over them, but they have way more love for psychedelia / "rock" than m'self.
Oh, and incidentally, some of us musicians would be fine with people not knowing titles, as they're mainly things that we make up so the other band members will know what's next on the setlist. If we could get away with listing "5/4 song" and "Newy" on a tracklist, we would. (Then again, this is coming from a member of a band that has songs actually called "Shoegazer" and "2 Chordee.") Sometimes I want you to chuckle at my witty James Baldwin reference, but by and large you come up to me and say you like "that Shoshawna song" or "that one where you talk a lot" or "duhn duhn duhn NAH-NEE-NAR!" and I'll be pretty happy.
posted by Mike B. at 11:59 AM 0 comments Links to this post
Thanks to Matt for posting Grand Funk Railroad's "Some Kind Of Wonderful," because it made me realize that for the first two minutes and fifteen seconds of this song (which is only 3:22 in total) it is nothing but bass, drums and voice. That's the kind of minimalism you'd expect from, I dunno, PJ Harvey or Shellac, but, guys, this is Grand Funk Railroad. Moreover, this is "Some Kind Of Wonderful." And OK, those harmonies aren't very minimalist, but lemme just break out the old Prince "Kiss" comparison, which, flippin' the script, is nothing but drum machine, guitar, voice, and a quick little synth line. It's really kind of amazing that they get away with it. I really appreciate that kind of daring and skill.
Don't get me wrong--I still don't really like the song, although I don't care if you do like it--nothing wrong with that. But I can't help but be impressed at this level of daring, fuck-you minimalism in a pop song that still occupies such a large part, relatively speaking, of our cultural landscape. Makes you wonder why people thought the White Stripes couldn't have a hit. And yes, it's that big: you can hear "Some Kind Of Wonderful" in supermarkets, department stores, offices, fast food restaurants, weddings, cars, bars, late night talk shows, etc., etc., etc. This is one of those songs like "Yesterday" in that it's everywhere, but it's also one of those songs like most of Journey's hits, or John Mellencamp's, in that it's everywhere but you never notice it. Kind of like Queen before Wayne's World.
Oh, and yes, I am going to take up that Journey gauntlet at some point this week. (You with me, Phantroll?)
posted by Mike B. at 11:48 AM 0 comments Links to this post
I kind of disagree.
Yes on the Jaxx stuff, obviously, but dunno about the Rapture. First off: Luke does not sing all the songs. Secondly: exactly which Cure songs does "Olio" sound like? Admittedly I'm not the biggest Cure-head, but I was under the impression that they usually had some guitars, whereas there ain't a single one in Olio. It's straight dance-pop, which is why it's good. Moreover, how does Jenner sound like R. Smith? Smith always sounded a bit constrained to me, whereas Luke is all over the place; kind of a whiskey v. amphetamines thing.
Fair enough on the Primal Scream thing, but as for the Rapture's lack of current bigness and/or dissenting critical opinions ("the album has been engendering backlash for the near year it's been floating around on promos and P2Ps"), there are a few other things going on here. First is the fact that the Rapture are trying to do disco and dance, two genres which many American rock fans have an inbred, unreasoning hatred towards, no matter the merits of the actual music at issue--see the Zenarchery guy, for instance. So that's not helping them. As for that P2P backlash--c'mon, Michaelangelo, you don't actually think that backlash is all, or even mostly, in reaction to the music, do you? It's a hype-allergy, and fair enough, but the best antidotes to prerelease hype backlash are good reviews, and seeing as how the damn album isn't even out in America yet, there haven't been a whole lot of constructive criticism to contradict the hipster squeamishness about Things People Like.
I'm not saying the Rapture are guaranteed success. Hell, I work for a record company--I know not to say that. But I do think that it's unfair and extremely premature to dub them failures when their damn album hasn't come out yet. I've had Echoes for a while, and I still really, really like it. It's a great fucking album, and I think--or hope--that other people will think so, too. You know, once the damn thing comes out.
posted by Mike B. at 11:31 AM 0 comments Links to this post
I was just listening to Blink 102.7 while waiting for the computer to boot up and they played the exact same ad for Skin twice in a goddamn row. The exact same ad. Twice. In a row. Christ.
posted by Mike B. at 11:03 AM 0 comments Links to this post
From the Texas Republican party platform...
Monetary System – The Party calls for the United States monetary system to be returned to the gold standard. Since the Federal Reserve System is a private corporation, has no reserves, and is not subject to taxation or audit, we call on Congress to abolish this institution and reassume its authority, enumerated by Article I, Section 8 of the United States Constitution, for the coinage of money.
Do they seriously support the gold standard? Guys, that went out with William Jennings Bryan. This plank seems more like the remnant of a high school history class project, not an actual substantive policy statement in 2003. It's pretty much a moot point anyway, given the way that gold is valued these days.
In less serious commentary, there are some great names on that platform committee. "T. Skip Leake," "Roy V Casanova," "Johnny E. Lovejoy," "P.J. Lemons." Mmm. Good short-story names.
Incidentally, W.J. Bryan is pretty cool.
posted by Mike B. at 10:43 AM 0 comments Links to this post
Saturday, October 18, 2003
Nice bit of music criticism from Zippy the Pinhead.
posted by Mike B. at 4:11 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Back in college, I used to get drunk and listen to the first Frank Black & the Catholics album, and at the moment it was coming through my stereo it sounded like the best thing in the goddamned world. Same thing with Small Change. Point being, some music just sounds way better (to me) when you're drunk.
Tonight I went out with Lori-the-drummer and ended up at a bar in the West Village populated mostly by femme dykes and pretty gay boys, and in this way it was an odd version of heaven: just a really cute moving painting I could sit back and drink and watch and there was no pressure. The femme dykes did a bar dance, and swung around, and everyone danced to Madonna and JT like they were at a wedding. It was great. And then we went to a lesbian bar on 2nd Avenue called (accurately) "The Hole," and that was great too--dancing and drinking and Cher exercise videos.
And as I left the bar and walked to the subway, I listened to the All Girl Summer Fun Band's 2. And fuck, it sounded great.
I've liked the AGSFB for a while; I've even started a post about them a few times, mainly focusing on how they get pop music in a way that no one else on K does. But fuck all that. Their perfection and love is a present sidelight to my alcohol-fueled joy and the sounds coming through my headphones. The guitars on "Dear Mr. and Mrs. Troublemanker" just sound amazing. "Down South, 10 Hours, 1-5" has the best "sha-la-la-la-la-la" beat-dropping break I've ever heard. "Ticking Time Bomb" goes "A-wah-a-ow-a" like it's the Gettysburg address. "Jason Lee" is so good it makes me sing out loud, some looney vocalizing apropos of nothing down second avenue, "Jason Lee, doing kickflips in my dreams,' and when they sing "We both like obscure music / and we're both 33," it's just what pop music can and should be sometimes. And the hook for "Video Game Heart"--so, so good.
This may all wear off tomorrow, but so does the love of a late-night hookup, too, and that's still OK. There's no shame in having a one-night stand with the music.
posted by Mike B. at 4:30 AM 0 comments Links to this post
Friday, October 17, 2003
Somewhat random point:
I think the reason we have arguments like this is because, ultimately, no one's ever come up with a satisfactory answer for the fundamental question of what, exactly, the purpose or use of art is. Sure, the process of art is sometimes conceived of as having theraputic value, but that's just the process, regardless of the outcome. And sure, sometimes pieces of art are sold for large sums of money. But art partisans likely reject both of these valuations, as they conflict with our communal standards; art-as-therapy requires us to judge all art equally, or to judge it based on its effect on the artist's pysche, and art-as-product makes the value of a piece determined by the market rather than a more abstract critical taste. I think, at our heart, we can all agree with both of these; while I do think megapop is good, partially because of its mass appeal, I'm unwilling to say that Luke Haines' art is invalid because it's not widely known. Art-as-therapy doesn't explain why a painting is in a museum and, say, a hand puppet or a diary isn't; art-as-product doesn't explain a book that costs $5.99 in paperback, like Moby Dick, is, as an experience rather than an object, supposed to be more valuable than a $20 blender. What is the use of art?
It's a question I've given a lot of thought to--like, two years or so, and maybe that'll all come out sometime, but I need to read more Wittgenstein. Suffice to say it's related to politics and speech and a lot of the kind of things I talk about here when I get in my theoryhead cups. Just an abstract teaser for something that may never appear, but the question is worth asking.
Today is Lethem-day, so not much from me until the review is complete.
posted by Mike B. at 11:28 AM 0 comments Links to this post
Thursday, October 16, 2003
To my Gothamite readers: it appears (by dint of my own poisonal investigation) that N.E.R.D. will be playing in Union Square today at 6:30. Be there or be a, um, nerd. Bonus points for yelling something about Sasha Frere-Jones.
posted by Mike B. at 2:25 PM 0 comments Links to this post
There are many things you can say about Tori Amos, guys, but I don't think having pretentious album titles is one of them. What, like, um, Little Earthquakes? Scarlett's Walk? How are these pretentious? (Wittgenstein's Walk? Strange Little Patriarchal Control Structures?)
posted by Mike B. at 1:16 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Kind of interesting bit of AUR criticism in that Marcus column:
Musicians, critics, government officials talk about how the collapse of the Soviet system was unthinkable without the Beatles--without their embodiment of a secret or inaccessible culture people desperately wanted to join. You hear the memory of imprisonment: "We lived on a separate planet and they could never come here," says the leader of the Soviet-era band Aquarium. But if the story makes you think of Lou Reed inducting Dion into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, describing how the Belmonts sent him "the sound of another life," soon enough the film will give you Mikhail Gorbachev, looking diminished and blank, and you can't gainsay his dutiful testimony that the Beatles told "the young people of the Soviet Union there was another life"--what else could they have heard? ... "Maybe I'm Amazed," and then "Back in the U.S.S.R." The instant leap in the crowd tells you this is what they came for, what they wouldn't leave without. You see a cool-looking guy in the audience, looking right at the camera, with a deep, knowing smile. The song was supposed to be a joke, as in Who'd want to go back to the U.S.S.R.?, and today the U.S.S.R. doesn't even exist. But the people in Red Square do, and the song does, and now the people present to hear it played change the unspoken negative of the song into an affirmation of their own existence. Yes, it was a script, and everyone was playing a part, but you'd have to be a truly great cynic not to smile over this tale.
Hmm. Well, I don't know if Greil meant it this way, but it's interesting that he's saying that the audience wants to get back to the USSR, not Russia. Because that's a whole different thing, isn't it: nationalism v. nostalgia for totalitarianism. Things were easier under the soviets, the members of that "secret culture" had more power. Or so it looks today. But of course, it's not true. Cultural capital as political capital: that's the game. And what's up with that whole "secret culture" riff, anyway? What exactly is the culture? Capitalism? The west? Democracy? People listened to the Beatles and wanted to overthrow Communism so they could hear it? Are they simply representative of freedom, or is it something else? Is freedom here conceived as hipness? Is it one of the great benefit of repression that you can sensibly make this comparison, whereas after the onus of dictatorship is lifted you see freedom as it truly is: the opportunity for unorganized repression. Which is not to say freedom is worse than dictatorship, but you also have to recognize that there needs to be something there to guarantee it, something organized, and I'm not sure that the three-quarter lie that is rock's attitude problem does that. Art can create spaces of freedom, but rarely tells you what to do with them. Maybe nostalgia for the USSR or East Germany--a nostalgia which, by most accounts, is distressingly widespread among the yoots of the Eastern Bloc--is a yearning for a time when the possibility of that space was still extent, rather than mostly debased. Maybe bohos' desire to deflate their own power into an imagined police state is a kind of fetish game where the pleasure derives from breaking out of it, where art has easy power. But, of course, it's mainly a distaste for moral ambiguities, same as the Bushies have. But those lame ambiguities are very much still with us.
Which is great. If they weren't, we'd be living in friggin' Middle Earth, and that's no good.
posted by Mike B. at 12:07 PM 0 comments Links to this post
I was reading this little backpage thing in the October Blender about Steve Earle. ("Who Does Steve Earle Think He Is?") Here's one Q/A exchange:
How punk are you?
Now, this is interesting, because the critical narrative of this tour is that it was a horrendous mistake, a string of cowboy joints in the American South where the Pistols wouldn't just be ignored, but actively hated. Especially odd when there were many places in the country where they'd be welcome. And this all contributing to their eventual breakup.
However: what if it actually spurred the entire alt-country genre? What if, like the old canard about the first VU album, the individuals on this tour who actually connected with punk connected with it in this fundamental way that inspired them to create this new thing from a fairly old thing? What if the line between Sid's bleeding face and Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (or, depending on your sensibility, My Morning Jacket) is way straighter than any of us suspected? Certainly Steve Earle occupies a key node on that line, even if today's alters wouldn't necessarily recognize it.
Or: is this just Steve trying to tap into that myth, trying to hitch his own particularly iconic story (country rebel turned junkie turned ex-junkie political activist) to the Pistols'?
Alert Griel Marcus!
posted by Mike B. at 11:42 AM 0 comments Links to this post
Has anyone thought that this guy is actually Steve Albini??? Cause I sure did.
posted by Mike B. at 11:19 AM 0 comments Links to this post
The RS review of the new Strokes album is vaguely interesting. It doesn't make me want to buy it, though. (Reggae?) But I probably will anyway.
It brings up a semi-interesting point: is it true that "Critics hate to admit they were wrong more than A&R guys"? (Er, which you can shorten to "critics hate to admit they're wrong.") This said, of course, in reference to the positive looks Room on Fire is getting--the implication being that critics don't actually like it, they're just covering their asses. Which is ludicrous. Critics love to tear down a sophomore album, especially the NME, who were notorious Strokesophiles.
But this one isn't getting torn down, while also not (apparently) being very spectacular; I certainly haven't heard any actual fans raving about it like David Fricke does. So what's the explanation? Maybe it's that what critics actually want from a second album is more of the same, pretty much; a "realization" of the sound on the first one, tempered only (of course) by acknowledgments of criticism made by critics. But maybe I'm being overly cynical.
Third albums, though...that's a whole different story. What the hell do critics want for that? A whole reinvention? It would be interesting to find bands that retained critical cred for their first three or four albums and see what kind of arc, either musically or promotionally, they took. Hmm.
posted by Mike B. at 10:52 AM 0 comments Links to this post
Probot is here.
w/streaming audio! The one I've got on right now, "Ice Cold Man," sounds like a weird mix between the Melvins and Sabbath.
...ah, but now "Centuries of Sin" sounds more grindcore.
posted by Mike B. at 9:04 AM 0 comments Links to this post
Wednesday, October 15, 2003
Man, William Bowers can really do it sometimes.
Viz: "At his best, Oberst is a conscientious and uninhibited examiner of manic yesterdays and corporate tomorrows; at his worst, he seems to be oversqueezing his teats to spray his audience with his precious soul-milk."
The whole thing's good; I've never seen anyone use a compilation to go off on quite so many tangents before. There's not even an attempt to tie it all in. Nice.
posted by Mike B. at 5:41 PM 0 comments Links to this post
This is pretty interesting.
Has anyone heard any of the To My Surprise songs? Any good? (Semi-embarassingly, I'm intrigued by the Harvey Danger comparison.) At any rate, it's a great idea--hard-rock dude picking out overlooked talent for side project because he can, gasp, write good songs. No idea if it's true or not, but...
posted by Mike B. at 4:55 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Kind of interesting that the consensus is that there's been no noticable sales uptick as a result of the UMG price drop. And no matter what you think about the accounting practices of the music business, trust me on the fact that it's not doing very well right now, and if there aren't sales to make up the shortfall, some people are going to be losing their jobs, and not necessarily the people who made the decision to cut MSRP across the board.
The especially odd thing about this is that, after the initial publicity blitz (which UMG probably didn't have to pay for--the stories seemed mainly self-generating), there's been no marketing push to publicize the new lower prices. Whether this is because they don't want to spend the money or because they want to retain their "boutique" status, I'm not sure, but it's awful stupid.
It's also making me think, once again, that this is maybe just a big publicity stunt. "You guys complained that CD prices were too high, but see? We drop 'em and nothing happens! It's piracy that's killing the music!" I guess we'll see...
posted by Mike B. at 11:28 AM 0 comments Links to this post
You know, sometimes--sometimes--it's really nice to get to work and turn on the radio and have Avril's "Complicated" playing.
That song has an interesting perceptual arc in my mind. When I first heard it, it sounded a little too Shania-ish, but when I heard it a few more times and gave it a better listen, I really loved the production, even if I still didn't entirely agree with some of the songwriting choices (the overly Goo Goo Dolls-y chords that come after the choruses, the speak-sing at the beginning of the verses, etc.).
But now, having heard some of the stuff the Matrix is capable of ("Rock Me" in particular), it sounds kind of weak again. The good little touches are still there, but it's missing that great guitar sound; the really hypercrisp ProTools crunch that was there on the Liz album is sublimated to a more faux-analog (if still megacompressed) sound on the Avril single.
Oh, and did they produce a bunch of the new Mandy Moore songs? She gets a shout-out in Spin this month, by the by.
posted by Mike B. at 11:05 AM 0 comments Links to this post
Tuesday, October 14, 2003
On the one hand, "The Washington Post has decided not to publish this week's Boondocks strip."
On the other hand, this week's Boondocks appears to be about finding Condoleeza Rice a boyfriend. What's up? That seems way less controversial than a lot of previous Boondocks storylines.
UPDATE: Still pretty tame this week, and still no idea why the Post pulled it. Maybe in Friday's strip Huey sticks an American flag in Condoleeza's vagina and lights it on fire? Uh, probably not, I suppose.
UPDATE 2: Aha.
It was pulled because Condi may, in fact, have a boyfriend. Whuzza?
posted by Mike B. at 9:33 AM 0 comments Links to this post
Monday, October 13, 2003
Christian Marclay is pretty cool.
posted by Mike B. at 6:27 PM 0 comments Links to this post
I'm not sure that I need to say anything else about the below-mentioned response aside from the fact that it unironically quotes Chuck Palahniuk's extremely ironic Fight Club--"You are not your fucking khakis."--a quote which itself rings true to the highly problematic Adbusters aesthetic. But hey, why stop there? Why not point out this section:
And I also refuse to accept the notion that someone rocking out to "Mr. Roboto" in their car with a big shit-eating grin on their face is an actual experiencing of art. It's the equivalent of laughing at retarded people falling down. It rises out of a certain innate cruelty within the human condition -- pretending that stupid things are really clever because it's funny.
..and wonder if he really means to imply that a) Styx are actually retarded, not just untalented musicians; b) hearing "Mr. Roboto" is embarrassing; c) playing "Mr. Roboto" is physically painful, like falling down; d) dancing=cruelty; e) Styx can see you every time you dance; and f) are mad at you for doing so. (Especially interesting to me because it mirrors a discussion on wallace-l of late--start there and keep going, "SecondFate" being the main instigator--which claimed, somewhat more convincingly, that making jokes about real people's deaths is cruel. That was stupid, but, amazingly, less stupid than the idea of dancing=cruelty.)
Of course, Doughty is smarter than most of the people writing pop music. So am I, for that matter. So is my garbage man.
...which makes me wonder if this guy knows anything at all. The implication--that most people are smarter than the people writing pop music--is just dumb. Athletes, OK; true or not, I could understand the claim that most people are smarter than athletes. Their profession mainly involves their bodies. But writing music is solely a mental activity. You can't be too stupid if you're doing that, and for sure "most of the people writing pop music" are pretty smart. It doesn't take a whole lot of either research or logic to figure this one out. But, then again, we do tend to think that the people who have different tastes from us have to be stupider than us, don't we?
Oh, and there's this...
What this attitude has led to, in my opinion, is a musical climate in which nobody bothers to be serious, except the people who aren't very good at it, like Britney Spears. All the indie kids are so caught up in perfecting the art of the ironic pop song because most of them seem really afraid to put it out there, to actually go "Yeah, I wrote this song, and yeah, I fucking mean it." The ones that do -- the Dashboard Confessionals school of lacrymosa-pop -- are just stupid and awful.
What country are you living in, dude? Have you not seen the hordes of earnest Godspeed imitators? The legions of serious laptop diddlers? The mountains of spazzy noise-coreans? Some of indie rock, maybe the most visible part, like "irony" (although you appear to mean less "irony" and more "retro"), but as far as I can see at least as many, if not more, are wanky experimental kids. And even a lot of the retro people are pretty damn serious about it. The Strokes rarely crack a smile. Interpol made a career out of being po-faced. They all mean it, man. They just mean it in different ways. You just seem to be pining for a emo band you can play for your friends without being embarrassed.
And, finally, there's this, which I'm quoting in full.
Cheap irony is why most music is such shit right now. Even the good stuff is remarkably self-similar -- your Sigur Róses and your Ladytrons and your Lali Punas and your Postal Services. There are some good roads being taken in ambient-pop and electroclash, but the good stuff tends to go unnoticed by the vast herds of clone children with their ironic t-shirts and their hideous haircuts. They may own (), but they're not listening to it on a regular basis...because they can't process what it's supposed to do for them. It's like being color blind.
Sweet Jesus, man, you're subjecting us to this because people talked during a goddamn Sigur Ros concert? Because they interrupted your fucking crying? Could you please spare us, or at the very least realize, like the rest of us, that your music fandom is vaguely ridiculous at times, and when you're feeling sorry for and angry at the people that aren't crying at a Scandinavian slowcore show, that's the kind of thing I'm talking about. (Oh, and you've got an anti-irony rant going and throw in Ladytron? Huh?)
Do I even need to say that this is more AUR bullshit? Well, let's just come right out with it: you are not a cultural rebel, dude. There are many, many, many others like you, who like the same music you do, who like to think they're being intellectual whilst consuming pop music. The ignorant masses are neither repressing you nor "the music." "The music" is fine. Everyone is still free to make whatever they want, and by and large, most people do. Just because the Strokes are on MTV doesn't mean you can't put on One Mile North (who I love, incidentally) and leave the rest of us alone. Because you know what? We can all think, despite your claims to the contrary. And just because someone likes Weezer doesn't mean they don't like Jim O'Rourke in just as sincere a way. Just because they don't have the same musical tastes as you doesn't mean they're stupid. And just because you can't find emotion in disco doesn't mean there's none there.
posted by Mike B. at 3:58 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Really wonderful Tom Ewing post about irony being an element of complexity. It's in response to a response (about which more later) to a Freaky Trigger article called "Irony And Its Malcontents." It's a great little piece, focusing in part on Johnny Cash. But it's also interesting because it has a companion piece in one particular section from The Fortress of Solitude, one seeming so oddly much like a direct response that I have to post it here.
The context for this excerpt is that the main character, Dylan (here referred to largely in the second person), grew up the only white kid in a Brooklyn neighborhood. With his (black) friend Mingus, he did things that the 2k3 Vice crowd would probably trade their own mothers for: tagging up with the original graffiti artists, attending DJ battles in public schoolyards, finding breaks in records and listening to Mingus freestyle, etc. But he's now going to the Stuyvesant magnet school, and, never much of a 'head anyway, has fallen into the punk thing here in the 1979 NYC scene. However, he has also invented a flying superhero named Aeroman with Mingus. Here goes.
(all errors mine)
Three white high schoolers cavort along West Fourth Street, returning from J&R's Music World to an apartment on Hudson where a certain divorced mom's not home, where they've got keys and the regular afternoon run of the place. All three are armored against late-fall weather in black motorcycle jackets, the Brando-Elvis-Ramones variety, leather skins studded with chrome stars and skulls, buckles dangling loose and fronts unzipped against the chill. The three grab-ass, swing incompetently from lampposts, talk in private tongues, nerd-punk argot.
To me so far, this seems to be the key passage in the novel. And it does that novelistic thing of containing ambivalence in a way few other genres are able to. There's the expected half-guilt of white flight, gentrification, appropriation, unhipness, yes, but there's also the joy of it. The guilt is somewhere way back in Dylan's mind, and while it's no doubt clouded by the ability of us as 2003 readers to know just how lame the three punks are being, Dylan is still experiencing a lot of joy at this moment, and a joy most of us wouldn't usually think to contrast with something else. And I don't think we should. Should we feel guilty about liking (even pining for) the CBGB's / Max's Kansas City scene when there was a brand new artform being invented across the river? Not necessarily. Dylan, for instance, never seemed very happy in Brooklyn.
But the great thing about this section is that, in and of itself, it's an amazing piece of criticism. It reminds me of a Bangsian Golden Era review in a way, combining fictional situation, personal connection, intertextuality, historicism, and ambivalence into a glorious whole. It's an example of what criticism can be, another way of portraying the personal experience of music, but also another way of passing judgment, another way of thinking about music. It's really good.
Anyway, I think I'll come back to this when I'm all finished up, but for now, there it is.
posted by Mike B. at 3:27 PM 0 comments Links to this post