The Prole Patrol: pretty good live reportage from an LA Weekly writer, even if she is a wee bit too much into "the RAWK!" for my tastes. It's always cute when LA people hate on NYC. Now, folks, I know you're known for hair metal and we're known for pre-punk, punk, post-punk, avant-garde, and a bunch of other things, but that's no reason to get all jealous... (I kid!)
Best thing I've seen in a while: a conference room full of 10-year-olds dancing to "Who Let the Dogs Out." That's a good example of a song that's incredibly annoying right up until the point where you see small children giddily dancing to it, at which point it just seems, you know, kind of adorable. posted by Mike B. at 11:12 AM
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Wednesday, March 31, 2004
Another take on Courtney's NYC rampage. (Via Thomas.) It's pretty eh--Goldstein says "phallus" too much, and has a dim (or self-serving) grasp of the function of transgression as cultural capital; he seems to miss that C-Lo's gesture was less one of power and more one of demystification.
Hillary points out, via a mailing list, that Nitpick has the excellent Avenue Q (the musical) song "Everyone's a Little Bit Racist" available in the "Download" section (scroll down). You should go get it, either for the pointed social critique or the Jew jokes. Hahaha, Jews.
(No, seriously, there's one point where they just say "He's Jewish!" and laugh, and, um, it really is pretty funny, for no particular reason.) posted by Mike B. at 5:30 PM
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ROCK AND ROLL BON MOTS, #003
This morning I was making videos in my head to songs I heard, mostly literal ones--for the Modern Lovers' "Government Center" I envisioned a bunch of clerical workers getting up on their desks in a large, open "pit" area of an office building and dancing in a early-60's style, and possibly forming a line that would snake out the door into the broad stone plaza and break off into a choreographed overhead shot, and also possibly at some point seeing the grumpy boss and either lofting him above heads on hands or putting sunglasses and leis on his head so he would smile and begin dancing; for Elvis Costello's "I Want You," a song I felt never really hit a musical pitch to match the intense emotion(s?) being expressed, I crafted a theatrical scenario that would finally force the whole arc of the song to make sense, with the speaker crouched in a corner for the sarcastic, bitingly sentimental opening, then having his girlfriend walk in the door with the guitar kertwang at 0:53, watching her take off her coat and put her purse down from 0:54-1:23, then rising and approaching her, muttering the words under his breath, then following her around the apartment as she ignores him until 2:54, then tapping her on the back at 2:55 and calmly addressing his argument to her, then she turns away for the brief solo and he becomes enraged, then after that he grabs her by the shoulders and says it directly to her face, grunting it at her, a shot of her as she mouths a reply but we still only hear the vocals, he pushes her back through the apartment as she twists out of his grasp, he grabs her wrist, yells at her, tries to pull her close, but she punches him in the chest and pushes him onto the floor at 4:50, he sits there from 4:51-5:15 without seeing her, she emerges with a suitcase and a coat, and we watch him watch as he whispers the words softly, under his breath, watching her pack and fix her clothes, she closes the door at 6:10, and then a tight close-up of his face hovering in darkness from 6:11-6:44, almost crying; for the Fiery Furnaces' "Tropical Ice-Land," less a video in my head than simply looking out the window of the crosstown bus and being convinced that this is what the song is about, a bright busy place enveloped by cold, shivering and dull and brittle, but still busy, still occupied, still languidly soaring, somehow. posted by Mike B. at 1:44 PM
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My professor at Wharton just published a research paper, quantifying the effects of digital downloads on the sales of CDs - on the topic of the industry debate as to whether illegal downloads are destroying CD sales or whether there is a promotional side benefit from it.
He asked the question: “Would the people who are downloading music buy the music had they not downloaded it?”
In the study, he performed a lot of statistical modeling to determine the relationships and correlations between sales and downloads, using data from tracking peer to peer downloads and weekly CD sales figures.
Some of the results seem quite surprising, while others are expected. According to the study:
1) The top albums (over 600,000 copies, top 25%) were helped by the downloading, those with lower than 36,000 copies had a negative effect.
2) Most people download individual songs, not entire albums. About 90% of the songs on most popular albums are downloaded less than 11 times, and there is a high download concentration toward hits.
3) Music industry marketing still greatly influences people’s habits, both from a sales and downloading aspect.
Some interesting stuff there, especially #1, which would seem to contradict what a lot of us had hoped about downloading, i.e. that it would give little albums a boost. And, of course, #2 will worry Tom Ellard. But someone smarter than me will have to check the methods and the data. posted by Mike B. at 1:05 PM
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Monday, March 29, 2004
Absolutely killer post over at The Rambler extended the serialist notion of "Klangfarbenmelodie" to modern pop production, calling it "Klangfarben-beats." (Zing!)
The result of Klanfarbenmelodie composition is a kaleidoscopic, fractured sound world, where conventional continuities no longer exist. Structure, musical differentiation, is heard sequential, almost note by note, rather than horizontally between longer, interacting layers. The more familiar format of a melody, played on a single instrument, naturally, and an accompaniment has been abandoned; now every instrument is an equal partner in constructing a single, ever-changing continuity. If you just try listening to one instrument at a time in a piece of late Webern or early Stockhausen, the music won't make very much sense. For it to do so, you have to take an aural step backwards, take the whole in at once.
A similar effect can be heard in Timbatunes-esque stuff of the moment. Sonically everything is working towards the beat, the groove. Bass, drums, chords, melody - these distinctions no longer apply. Take 'Hey Ya', an example everybody knows, even if it's not actually a Timbaland/Neptunes job. There are a handful of elements (guitar, bass, snare) that work as one layer, certainly - but try pulling those apart. They're just components of a larger whole. Over this, you could say there's the vocal stuff (including interjections etc.), but this again is so tied into the beat that it's hard to really disassociate it (see the 'Shake it' section). We're not working with melody and accompaniment, or rap and beat, or even different voices in counterpoint. Just as Webern's Klangfarbenmelodie style conflated individual instruments into one super-instrument, so the components in the mix of 'Hey Ya' conflate into one super-beat. It's a homogenised unit. The 'Klangfarben' bit comes with the fact the it is the passing of the beat between instruments and parts that creates the texture, the overall effect of the track. So, as Klangfarbenmelodie is a melody with a shape and effect determined through shifting instrumental colours, so too Klangfarben-beat: the beat (which can be a straightforward 4/4 stomp) achieves greater definition and differentiation in the way sound is used to articulate it, to give it light, shade, variety, depth.
Yes yes yes yes yes. Great stuff, especially in pointing out the way a simple beat can be quite complex when you try and analyze it. Go read the whole thing. posted by Mike B. at 6:34 PM
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Genre confluence addendum: so yes, it's not that I don't like sad music, because I do, very much so. But the "add-sadness" formula a lot of people seem to be applying to their music these days I do not like so much.
And despite my restraint, enraged-posting-wise, I am getting pretty damn sick of indie rock, which seems to be one of two major locii (along with emo) of the sadness-as-authenticity thing. (And yes, I recognize that getting sick of indie rock is a big part of being indie, although this clearly crosses genre borders--witness Simon R's recent I'm-sick-of-dance-music post--so I think it's legitimate, plus this feels like a real breaking point right about now, especially if I have to hear too many more goddamn unsigned bands.) It's this, plus the weird aesthetic morality about recording and playing live and anti-catchiness and community and all that shit that make me want to sign to Columbia and call up Tom Lord-Alge and Bob Rock and Trevor Horn and the Matrix and Linda Perry and make a rap-rock-teen-pop album containing nothing but songs about various consumer brands.
I've seen an unusual number (for me) of unsigned/local-type bands lately, whether because I was playing with them or seeing them open for some better band or actually going out and seeing a whole show of unsigned bands without personally knowing any of their members (!), and at a certain point it really struck me how similar, despite their superficial genre signifiers, they all were, and in a way I didn't expect. (Regrettably, this point was then passed and I saw yet more bands of this type, which made me want to run to the nearest terminal and make a post here beginning "I AM SO SICK OF INDIE ROCK," but wisely--or not--this did not occur. I had a milkshake instead.) As I say, they would seem to range in styles: one was sort of loud Coldplay-ish britrock with keys and yelling, one was Joy Division-fixated post-punk, one was Elvis Costello-y power-trio nerd-rock, one was hardcore-influenced indie stuff with a Sleater-Kinney / Pretty Girls Make Graves vibe, etc., etc. The weird thing is the way they were interpreting these various styles. It was like all of them were taking from their influences, but they were listening through headphones with little filters over the ears labeled "sad."
For the sake of convenience, let's call this the emo influence. You can call it whatever you like--borecore, mope-rock, etc.--but there's no denying that a discomfortingly large portion of the music being made today by "the kids" has a very gray undertone, a sort of assumed stance of despair. And not even desperate despair, which is interesting--just kind of, you know, despair. It's the musical mode as much as it is the lyrical. Sure, we're sort of unspecificly yelling about Things Being Bad, but we're also throwing together a lot of muddled chords, indistinct melodies, bleeding basslines, sloppy drums. It hits a certain drone of loudness but doesn't really progress much, and never hits the spots I'm looking for.
Now, I could spend 4000 words critiquing this reflex, and maybe I will at some point, but it also seems reasonably obvious--either it annoys you or it doesn't, and my ranting about it probably isn't going to change anyone's mind much. But what is interesting about it is the phenomenon suggested by the title: the way it's sort of leveling out all these disparate genres into this sort of sad glop, this common sound that ultimately unites seemingly unrelated projects.
The weird thing about it is that it wouldn't seem like an obvious thing to do in the slightest. Look at all the styles I check out above: none of them except for hardcore are even 50% sadness. For every mopey dadrock band to misinterpret Radiohead, you have a wholly joyous song like Idlewild's "Roseability." For every asshole who hasn't gotten over his depressed teenage years and ignores all the dance in Joy Division, you have the innumerable post-punk bands that traded in joy, or at least anger--Blondie, the Talking Heads, the Raincoats, Kid Creole, etc. For every band that can only hear the depression and romantic complaint in Elvis Costello and the smiths, there's a whole pile of songs attesting to their rapture and irreverence. There's no particular requirement of genreic fidelity to love these styles and sing sad songs. (Indeed, one of my great disappointments at dance-punk is its undifferentiated mood of blah, which the Rapture at their best wholly overcome.)
It seems particularly weird when you consider the bands who are supposedly at the root of all the emo-ness in the air right now: Rites of Spring and Weezer. But RoS, like most of the "old-school emo" brethren, were an ecstatic experience, full of unrestrained, passionate emotion; this didn't mean they were good, but it's far more reminiscent of that desperate despair I was talking about earlier. And sure, Weezer has some sad-ish stuff, but so much of it is soooooo happy, and even the sad songs are clear, crisp, and wonderful. "El Scorcho" is seemingly the apotheosis of the modern-emo inspiration, but it's a giddy, screamy mix of confession and grinning guitar, with far more in common with RoS than Dashboard Confessional.
I think partially the key comes in recognizing that a lot of the emo urge right now represents a repressed pop urge in the yoot, an ideologically correct alternative that's really just mopey variations on what's come before in pop, and partially in adding a few more musical requirements to the canon. For one thing, there's the simple fact that hardcore, originally the enemy of emo, gradually enveloped its former nemesis in the hardcore aesthetic of contained aggression. Emo kids today get derided as pussies by already pretty pussified indie kids, but Chris Carrabba isn't any more a threat to masculinity than the Cure or the Smiths, unlike emocore, which wasn't a gesture of tragic romanticism like modern emo, but clutchingly embraced awkwardness and loudness simultaneously, and that loss of self would be way valuable to a lot of today's music audience and makers.
Also, no matter how they want to portray it, no emo kid got their entire musical education from Dischord. There were other things going on in music, too. One has already been tagged as an influence of rap-metal stuff, but I think that given the confluence here between modern interpretations of genres, we need to add it to the inspiration of the indieground: grunge. Grunge was, in its generic form, a celebration of heroiny moping, and that legitimization of self-indulgent self-pity (along with, again, a healthy dose of misinterpretation--if all you can hear in Nirvana is the self-pity, you're missing a lot of pop) is certainly a key influence of the attitude you hear underlying a lot of the music being put out there right now "by the people." (Ahem.)
But and of course, I think along with Weezer and RoS, you have to add as a key specific-band influence to today's sound Radiohead. Their most obvious influence has been on the Brits, who do soaring melodrama well anyway, but I think either Radiohead's attitude or the attitude that leads to Radiohead moving a hell of a lot of units is what's leading so much of this. Radiohead do a lot, and so you can pick and choose, but as much as I see them as fundamentally happy and hopeful, let's be honest, they sure don't come off that way. They take these semi-ambiguous (sometimes melodic and pretty, sometimes dour, sometimes discordant) backings and put a very much grim top-level on it, usually in the form of the vocals. But again, this is largely a misinterpretation: they can get away with it because this is being conveyed with Thom Yorke's voice, which can throw out a whole lot of beauty and hope and transcendence with even the most gray melody and lyrics. Very few people have his voice, but a lot of people are still trying to reproduce the Radiohead effect with a different set of tools and coming out with sort of a bad pastiche of the way they make self-conscious dimwits feel.
But more so than any specific band or genre, I think the root cause of all this is a particular aesthetic assumption and a particular practicality. The assumption is that sadness is more noble than happiness, and more real than anger; something sad is just, to many people's minds, more valid, more artistic, more worthy of attention. I think this is true for a good 75% of the audience for music, and is truly unfortunate for the forward progress of the artform--I understand that it's sort of cyclical and that the attitude is in part a reaction to the smiling, plastic attitude that permeated the music of the late 90s (a time period from which, unsurprisingly, dour bands like the American Music Club and Red House Painters are now being critically extracted), but I still don't like it, and I still think it's gone on too far. I think people could really do interesting things with these influences, and I think people have, but by and large it's just not happening.
The practical reality, of course, is that sad is easier to do than happy. We're still slackers at heart.
 To the degree that they seemed to be trying to LOOK like JD, which was icky.
 If not accuracy.
 Not the Radiohead sound, please note. posted by Mike B. at 5:28 PM
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ROCK AND ROLL BON MOTS, #002
You know, I suspect that the Hold Steady songs I like are the mirror image of the ones the Pitchfork lady likes, and conceptutally the idea of an indie band that devotes most of its lyrical energy to making fun of people who listen to indie bands is so ludicrous it hardly needs a response, although it's hard to ignore lines like "Thus: The Hold Steady are the anti-trucker hat, the anti-laptop, the anti-West-Virginia-t-shirt. And they rock without repent." especially when said indie band seems to have no particular urge to move beyond indie music and into actual pop, but regardless, I like the Hold Steady. I especially like "Knuckles" (unlike Ms. P), but man, it sure does sound like Mark E. Smith ranting over a Britpop band, or rather x.random.dude overdubbing vocals onto an existing track but without actually listening to the track; there's almost no relation between the vocals and the music--see the incongruous-but-wholly-effective a capella break around 2:40 before the KILLER final section kicks in. If nothing else, "Knuckles" demonstrates that when you have a great musical backing the vocals don't have to matter, but it also demonstrates that some people are more eager to read a style than listen to the actual words; listen to the wonderfully ambiguous vocal turn between grotesque fantasy and hard-and-fast banality and sincerity in the aforementioned final section concerning a murder threat turned upon its head and wonder how people could paint this stuff as unapologetic. Apologies are funny, and this is funny. posted by Mike B. at 4:11 PM
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Morrissey, the Lips, Sonic Youth, Modest Mouse, the Polyphonic Spree...and, uh, String Cheese Incident. (Gulp.) Well, anyway, I'm excited to see who the littler ones they fill it out with are, seeing as how they actually seem to be moving away from the metal theme of the most recent edition (which featured, in descending order, Queens of the Stone Age, the Donnas, A Perfect Circle, Incubus, and Audioslave). Hopefully it won't be Le Tigre, though, because hearing Kathleen Hanna makes me do odd, not very helpful things. But it's a medical condition, no value judgment implied, of course.