clap clap blog: we have moved
Saturday, September 27, 2003
More on Outkast upon my return, but briefly: I noticed on Thursday that the only drums in "Hey Ya!" are kick and snare. That's it. No cymbals for the entire song. Which is really fucking cool.
posted by Mike B. at 8:58 PM 0 comments
Thursday, September 25, 2003
Check this out (via Gawker, who bitch about it) and prepare to spend the next hour or so occupied and annoyed. It's the NYPress' "Best of" Media & Politics section, and it's, um, interesting.
I have a few questions about it.
#1: Do you guys really think this reflects well on you?
Best Media Whore
Let me get this straight: you publish a premeditated, unmerited, untrue attack on someone, under a pseudonym, as a favor to a "dimbulb" gossip columnist, and you think this is supposed to show how the NYP is better than all those "cowards" out there? (As for "cowards," see #3.) Are you just trying to tell us something about Mark Ames?
Besides which: b-list? What the hell do you think you guys are, the New Yorker?
#2: Do you really think it's a good idea to publish kind of lengthy bits about how you jerk off to Teen People?
Best Kiddie Porn Magazine
Is this supposed to be shocking or something? You sound like Dear Abby, just with jackoff jokes, which were shocking in strip clubs in the 50's. Except not. Clearly you don't mean this as a sincere comment, since there's way better kiddie porn out there (cocks and everything), so is it supposed to be media critique? A larf? What? If critique, what are you saying? That the media exploits young women? That'd probably be more convincing if you didn't sound like, well, like you hate women. I'm just sayin'.
#3: What's up with this "we" shit? Why in the world would you do all this bitching about dishonesty in the media in the midst of spewing forth a bunch of gossipy unsigned items? Which one of you jerks off to Teen People? Which one of you applied to the stroke mag? And what the fuck is up with the weird kiss-off to people you fired? Strikes me as yet another symptom of the big dogs getting caught up in pretending they're the continual underdogs, since in their world that's the highest thing you can aspire to, but what do I know?
The assumption is that most of this was written by editor Jeff Koyen, Mr. Intense-Irrational-Hatred himself, also the presumed author of the 50 Most Loathsome New Yorkers list, which had the laughable gumption to try and pretend like "New York Press readers" overwhelming thought the fucking editor of Maxim was the most loathsome New Yorker. Really? More loathsome than everyone else on the list--Henry Kissinger, Woody Allen, Harvey Weinstein, David Rabin...and, honestly, do you expect us to buy that anything approaching a majority of city citizens thought cocaine is loathsome? To me, it seems a wee bit more likely that it was y'all libertarian grumpy-pusses.
Like I said about the Klosterman review, there's no denying that this shit is interesting, but so is Man v. Beast, and despite the Press' apparent desire to be, I dunno, the Vice of Manhattan (I'm not even gonna get into their loathsome slobber over Vice), they're skewing way closer to the former than the latter. No one cares about your bullshit gripes, but we will happily gawk at someone shitting in their hand on the sidewalk, staring at it briefly, and then eating it.
But I guess I'm just one o'them bloggers...
posted by Mike B. at 7:44 PM 0 comments
Wednesday, September 24, 2003
Here is a review I wrote of Japanther, which I may or may not add to later.
Japanther - Leather Wings
Here is the formula for a Japanther song: one found-sound sample; one incessant, up-front fuzz-bass playing sixteenth-note riffs; one muddy 2-bar drum part, possibly canned; and vocals mixed low, sung/shouted through a telephone (not one of those digital telephone filters--actual analogue handsets!). With little low-end and less treble, their wash of midrange recalls Belle & Sebastian's "Electric Renaissance" without the songwriting, and absent songwriting--not a bad thing, necessarily--we've got the sound. While Brooklyn's Japanther seem to have absorbed the lessons of scene progenitors Deerhoof better than their contemporaries, they're at right angles both to Deerhoof's rapturous production gleam (preferring a DI-heavy demo sound, even live, where they play to a backing) and their "I'm-happy-and-angry!" start/stop arrangements (preferring a steady, occasionally annoying, pound). They're actually pretty damn enjoyable on an album level--credit their coherent sound--but on a song-by-song basis they could stand to learn a bit more from the 'Hoof and let their oft-sublime bass riffs complement actual vocal melodies and bigger drums. If this formula, plus the occasional keyboard, sounds like something you might like, "sample" some tracks and see Japanther live, where they're most comfortable. Hopefully one of their subsequent discs will deliver on this one's potential.
posted by Mike B. at 2:47 PM 0 comments
In regards the first item about Beck, I can only say:
a) Uh, didn't you guys hear about the "Feel Good Time" thing, you know, a few months ago, when the damn song came out? Because I sure did.
b) Didn't Dave Eggers write a whole long thing refuting your Flaming Lips bitchiness about two years ago? You know, before you wrote it? Well, anyway, you can find it here, and let me quote the relevant section, as it takes on odd resonances here, a few years later:
I bought R.E.M.'s first EP, Chronic Town, when it came out and thought I had found God. I loved Murmur, Reckoning, but then watched, with greater and greater dismay, as this obscure little band's audience grew, grew beyond obsessed people like myself, grew to encompass casual fans, people who had heard a song on the radio and picked up Green and listened for the hits. Old people liked them, and stupid people, and my moron neighbor who had sex with truck drivers. I wanted these phony R.E.M.-lovers dead.
 Anyone want to guess who this is?
 ...although, as wallace-l'ers know, "that one reviewer" may, in fact, be Eggers.
 Not anymore! Kind of an interesting genealogy to trace there, if you're so inclined.
posted by Mike B. at 2:46 PM 0 comments
Tuesday, September 23, 2003
Christ almighty, Chris, did Peter Buck rape your sister or something?
posted by Mike B. at 12:49 PM 0 comments
Monday, September 22, 2003
Klosterman update: via an, um, anonymous source, my attention is directed to an old New York Observer story about Mark Ames, the author of the original review.
Mr. Ames grew up outside San Jose, Calif. He was a weird, smart kid who started smoking pot at age 8 and got into fights. He spent five years at the University of California at Berkeley. After college, he tried writing screenplays. He grew more miserable. "I didn’t even think of women anymore because they could just smell failure on me," he said. Then in 1991, he vacationed in Leningrad right after the failed coup against Mikhail Gorbachev.
Uh, yeah. That's...hmm. Interesting.
It is nice to know a few more things about Ames. Like, for instance, that he grew up in San Jose and went to Berkeley which, at the risk of being glib, goes a long way toward explaining why he can't possibly conceive of people actually liking Billy Joel and Guns 'n' Roses and The Real World. It's also nice to know that he went to Russia because he was a loser, since only someone from that area would respond to an inability to write a successful screenplay by the age of 30 by thinking that a) this constitutes "failure," b) success is all anyone everywhere in America cares about (yes, Mark: there is nowhere in this entire country where you can meet someone who doesn't care that none of your scripts have gotten past pre-production--certainly not, say, North Dakota, or, sweet baby Jesus, fucking Williamsburg) and c) it's way better to live in a decaying foreign country and have sex with girls who wouldn't touch him if they had more money. I've known a few Russo-philes like Mark in my time, and, well, they aren't the best of people. I won't respond to the rest of it because presumably it's supposed to be Jim Goad-ish provocation, but since when are assholes like Ames and not weirdoes like Klosterman "gonzo journalists"?
Anyway, for those of you not yet convinced to pick up the Klosterman book (although I know there's the hardback v. paperback consideration), here you can find an excerpt from the Cusak essay.
posted by Mike B. at 5:46 PM 0 comments
I was listening to the Jaxx's "Plug Me In" on the train this morning and was reminded of a post I read about it somewhere that said, basically, nice tune, but oh, the delicious irony of a pop star like JC going on about "ever lived without the photographs and money." Now, am I the only one who couldn't give a rat's ass--and who thinks that maybe the song wouldn't be any better with really smart (or, uh, not-so-"ironic") lyrics? The tune and the arrangement is just so damn good that it's hard to see how getting Leonard Cohen in there would have improved things at all. (Though don't get me wrong: I would love to see a Cohen / Jaxx collab.)
One of the main knocks at rock-crit is that it's way too concerned with lyrics, and indeed, I don't think that most critics would deny that they primarily focus on lyrics in their reviews. But for me as a critic (and by "critic" I mean "guy who posts to a blog"), one of the reasons I like pop music is because the lyrics don't matter and I can really focus on the music, which I think often is, as should be clear by now, really quite good. Pop is nice because we've all agreed that the lyrics just don't matter, that they're all dumb, but that it's kind of OK. Do I get excited about Beyonce because, wahoo, it's one more song about relationships? Naw. It's the sounds, and maybe the Jay-Z stuff. There are certainly good lyrics in pop songs, but I think a lot of these are good because of context, not strict content, and this, of course, plays into both the temporality and inclusiveness angles of pop's appeal.
Me and my dad have disagreed with this at times--he's very much in agreement with the 60's narrative of lyrics-not-mattering-until-Dylan/Beatles. This was something I agreed with it, once upon a time (said time also being a time when I thought synths were lame), because it seems like a smart thing to say, but then I went back and listened to some of that pop stuff that the Beatles supposedly obliterated, and it was quite good; indeed, it even came back in a highly relevant way with punk. I dunno--if you want good writing, you can always go to Infinite Jest or Harper's or Space Ghost Coast to Coast. With so many outlets out there for good writing, I think it's OK for one or two to emphasize other art forms, even in their meldings.
I certainly do think there are some songs, even some pop songs, with just abjectly horrible lyrics, and these bug me. But that's not really the argument being made about "Plug It In" here; we're not even arguing that they're unintelligent lyrics, although you'd have a hard time getting me to say that they were up to Faulkner or anything. They're just, you know, ironic, but not intended to be; they are, I guess, dishonest. This is just more the-singer-is-the-song, pop stars can never conceive of not being pop stars nonsense, and no need for me to bore everyone to tears by ranting again. But the omissions are telling: writing lyrics, after all, is sort of what JC does, and there's no denying that there's a consummate professionalism to them. They're well-formed and well suited to the music, unlike, say, Limp Bizket. And I think that matters. If someone has the talent to sing a melody really well and do that star thing, I don't need them to be Chaucer, too, in order to enjoy them or to think they're pretty great. Maybe this has something to do with me being a lyrics-scribe myself and knowing how often lyrics come from me verbalizing whatever springs to mind at the time, or maybe it has something to do with me knowing where the popsters are coming from with their particular themes and being pretty bored with it already, but yeah, I'm happy to see them scuttled off to one side, at least in this arena.
On the other hand, I do kinda wish that indie folks with good lyrics writing skills would venture into the pop arena, but I guess that's more wishing for genre-mixing within a genre than wishing for the wholesale change of another genre. At any rate, I'm more concerned with it in broad terms, and I do think it's slightly silly to be concerned with it in any given song.
posted by Mike B. at 2:13 PM 0 comments
Incidentally, after going to said music panel, we went to Lazer Park and played Dance Dance Revolution, which is--and I know I'm a bit late to the game on this one, but still--awesome. You don't know joycore until you've spun around on lighted panels in your socks while a Japanese technopop cover of "We Are The Champions" blares at you. Especially if there is also a kids' birthday party going on and said small children keep dashing at mad speeds around your legs.
posted by Mike B. at 1:30 PM 0 comments
So I went to that panel thing and it was pretty boring. I got first-person confirmation that Lyor Cohen (Def Jam / Island / UMG) and Jason Flom (Lava / Atlantic) are slimy tools. Lyor kept saying things like "we're less of a music company and more of a lifestyle company" and "we like to think of ourselves as taste-makers;" both he and Jason forgot they were at a New Yorker panel and not a FMQB conference, but that's probably OK. It was kind of funny to see how both sort of considered themselves mavericks running spunky little labels instead of, you know, members of some of the biggest media conglomerates on Earth. Especially Lyor. I mean, c'mon, you're Lyor Cohen, dude!
Although there was much discussion about MP3s and their effect on the blah blah blah, no one seemed willing to discuss the recent dunderheaded RIAA lawsuits, even though two members of the panel were RIAA folks and two very much weren't, including Danny; there was way less fighting than I was hoping for. Ah well.
The questions were also pretty lame, including one about emo (sheesh) and one from "this weasely little guy," as a friend put it, about whether labels were advancing music as an artform or something. They ended right before I was going to ask my question, which was going to try and present the VR view by asking about the C-Lo / Dixie Chicks contract lawsuits and about majors starting to do licensing instead of recording agreements where the artists would put up their own money to make albums and then retain copyright, and then maybe try and move to more broad stuff about labels downgrading into simple promotion companies instead of upgrading to "lifestyle companies" as Lyor talked about. Ah well. Probably would've been too nerdy anyway.
But there was one illuminating moment, which came to us courtesy of Mr. Robb Nansel (who "looks like he spent way too much time on his hair this morning," as the same friend put it) of Saddle Creek, home of Bright Eyes, notable not only because of what he said, but because of the fact that he didn't say a whole lot else without being prompted. I don't remember quite what the context was, but here's a rough approximation of what he said:
We try to sell records in such a way that fans and musicians can be as comfortable as possible. We don't shove it down everybody's throats.
Now, on a certain level I can understand what he's saying. Hell, I'm in two bands, and I've mentioned them here, what, twice? (I'm not even going to link to them half-ironically / half-sincerely in this post.) I understand quite well from personal experience how off-putting intense self-promotion can be, how for people of our particular musical disposition it can either make us totally uninterested in the music or make us far less able to enjoy it, for whatever reason. So I'm sympathetic to that particular viewpoint.
But at the same time: c'mon man! Fucking comfortable? Since when was music basically about comfort? Isn't it supposed to be about outsized emotions, about being a teenager or being a rock star or being this mythic country/blues/folk legend, about heightening everything about about making everything louder, about dancing and crowd-surfing and seduction and fucking? Comfort? Fuck comfort! Don't get me wrong: I like comfortable music, and we all know how I feel about unrealistic overstatements about music being "dangerous" or "disturbing" or whatever. But if we're going to admit that music can sometimes be outsized and, if not shocking, at least a little bit disorienting--and I don't see how a fan of Bright Eyes could think otherwise--then what goddamn reason could there possibly be to make the promotion "comfortable"?
Maybe a distinction needs to be made. Like I say, it's pretty annoying and off-putting to see self-promotion: to have some guy in a band come up to you or call you or keep e-mailing you about how great he is and how you should check him out, etc. And I even occasionally get grossed by certain publicity stunts. But you have to recognize that there's a big difference between that guy bugging you about his crappy band (although that's even kind of endearing if he's a friend) and advertising, articles, and reviews, which aside from being much easier to ignore, are also not initiated by the artist. And that matters, because it helps us to answer the question: why is it so off-putting? Sure, I'm well familiar with the annoying allergy indie kids seem to have to some pretty damn fun aspects of culture, but that doesn't explain all of it. I think you can nail it to the idea that when an artist is doing promotion, they're not working on their music. And while it's true that most artist, for better or worse, do spend a lot of time not working on their music, we don't want to think this is the case. In other words, the reason we don't like hype is because it should be all about the music, man.
Look, I'll admit that there are definitely certain standards you want to keep to when it comes to promotion. Overexposure is a worry, and I'm not so sure I'd be personally happy to go right to Pepsi Smash! even if I don't mind it when other artists do. But is comfort really the standard? I don't think so. Saddle Creek certainly doesn't think so: six months ago, you'd be hard-pressed to think of a more overexposed label than Saddle Creek or a more overhyped artist than Bright Eyes. I mean, Robb himself was at a goddamn New Yorker panel with Lyor Cohen. Maybe they're backing off now in reaction to that (viz. the new Bright Eyes release, a multi-disc vinyl set), but the fact remains that after a certain point, the people who are going to be uncomfortable with you having a review in Newsweek are not the kind of people you want to concern yourself with if you want anyone who really cares about music to hear your stuff. These kind of people are the ones who are still way too concerned with authenticity--whether of the traditional kind or their own particular brand thereof--and who, tragically, are not willing to play the game of pop culture. Which is really too bad, because man, it's fun! But there's definitely a certain amount of disbelief-suspending you have to do in order to fully engage with it. For instance, you have to sort of overlook Britney's lyrics and enjoy, rather than be vaguely weirded out by, the fact that she came to prominence wearing schoolgirl skirts, because, let's be honest here, it is actually pretty damn funny and cool, and concerns of exploitation and tastelessness (and inauthenticity, I guess--"you so did not go to Catholic school!") vanish because, well, because it's not very fun. And who cares? As I've said before, as long as we're yowling pseudo-poetry over electronic noise, no matter what the content or the intent, it's all gonna be inauthentic.
And what's this about ramming it down people's throats? Hey, isn't that fun sometimes--to have something just be everywhere, to have it be the soundtrack to your life whether you're doing it or not? To have everyone know about it and talk about it? Maybe you don't think so, but I sure think so, and for a lot of people, let's be honest, nothing makes them more comfortable than to have something be overexposed. And, sweet Christ, man, haven't you ever heard something so good that you want to shove it down everyone's throats, that you just want to say "This is the greatest thing ever and listen to it now or I will punch you in the arm until you do"? And sure, maybe it's not the best thing in the entire world, but doesn't it make you feel that way at the time? (At the time: the temporality of pop music. V. important.) Don't you want to share it with other people? I hope so! I don't want everything shoved down my throat, of course, but sometimes, oh sometimes, it is very nice.
posted by Mike B. at 1:19 PM 0 comments