clap clap blog: we have moved
Thursday, March 31, 2005
So I have made the aforementioned mix for the nine-year-old. There were definitely some things I wanted to put on that didn't make it, due to the fact that I put it together somewhat at the last minute--we're taking her out to dinner tonight to give her big sis some alone time--but I think it's pretty sturdy. Some surprise last minute additions, etc. Particularly sad I couldn't get "Gigantic" or Blondie or the Violent Femmes on there.
1) Kelly Clarkson - Since U Been Gone
2) Hole - Malibu
3) Veruca Salt - Seether
4) Sonic Youth - My Friend Goo
5) Smashing Pumpkins - Today
6) Kimya Dawson - Loose Lips
7) Liz Phair - Love/Hate
8) TMBG - Birdhouse In Your Soul
9) X - Soul Kitchen
10) New Pornographers - Letter From an Occupant
11) Mandy Moore - One Way Or Another
12) X-Ray Spex - I Am a Poseur
13) The Blow - Hey Boy
14) Rilo Kiley - Portions For Foxes
15) Soul Coughing - True Dreams of Wichita
16) Breeders - Drivin' on 9
posted by Mike B. at 5:44 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Wednesday, March 30, 2005
I'm unclear what's more off-putting: simply seeing the term "pope's nose" in a headline, or the fact that said term is also a synonym for "turkey butt."
posted by Mike B. at 11:59 AM 0 comments Links to this post
I'm sort of unclear on how many people actually clickthrough to my Flagpole reviews, but this is like a blogpost that ended up as a Flagpole exclusive, and thus, you should definitely check it out. It's called "What I Didn't Do at SXSW" and is sort of the non-prank fulfillment of this, i.e. the fantasy version of what I missed at the Austin music conference. I think you'll enjoy it.
(You can also read all the other SXSW coverage at Flagpole this week.)
posted by Mike B. at 11:17 AM 0 comments Links to this post
Monday, March 28, 2005
Incidentally, The Ring 2 is just not worth your time unless you're in the mood for a mediocre horror movie. Unlike the first one, they don't really do anything with the videotape concept, and what you're left with is a pretty traditional American horror film, except the bad guy (er, girl) is out of a j-horror film. And it's not even a particularly good traditional American horror film. Oh well.
You want some fun, rent the original Japanese version of The Grudge, Ju-on, instead. Brr.
posted by Mike B. at 12:15 PM 0 comments Links to this post
One of my current musical crushes, Bellafea, is playing at Lit tonight, somewhere between 10 and 11. I'm rehersing until 10, and Lit is about 5 minutes away from my practice space, so it would seem silly not to just hop over and see the kids do what the kids do, but then again, it is Monday night, and despite not doing anything in particular this weekend, I'm pretty wiped. Of course, if someone else wanted to come along, that might make it more palatable. Anyway, consider yourself informed.
posted by Mike B. at 11:20 AM 0 comments Links to this post
Friday, March 25, 2005
The song selection is unfortunately ballads-heavy, but you could do worse things with your time than watch some of the live videos for B. Valentine at AOL Music. (Thanks Chris!)
posted by Mike B. at 3:40 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Thursday, March 24, 2005
I don't know why, but this entry (found via the Next Blog function) somehow seems to sum up the entire blogging experience in 2 short sentences.
posted by Mike B. at 6:40 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Oh my gods, peoples, there are so many things I've got to say to you I'm like breathless. But here, lemme throw you one little tidbit, about the Pitchfork review of Ted's Kelly cover:
Some might say Leo's surrendering his ethics here by covering Kelly Clarkson; I'd say he's putting himself ahead of the pack.
That sound you hear is me banging my head against the cubicle wall, over and over and over again. Christ almighty.
Now, my response to this over at Hillary's involved the phrase "naked cultural capitalism." This is sort of interesting, at least to me, and I wanted to explain it a bit.
I think that at this point in history, all cultural production (which is to say, creativity intended for an audience) is involved in the game of cultural capitalism; even the old "we don't care about cred" line is, of course, just another stock option in the great cultural capitalism game. If there's a simple explanation for why we're attracted to "outsider artists," it's this; Henry Darger, no matter what you want to say about him, had at most a miniscule stake in the battle for reputation. It wasn't even that he didn't care, because not-caring is at least an acknowledgment of the existence of that marketplace and a conscious shying away from it.
The simple reality of the situation is that the creative impulse reconciles perfectly with the battle for reputation, status, perceived worth, k-rating, whatever the fuck you want to call it, because the more of that you have (and the kind, of course), the more people will be interested in what you're producing, which will not only give you the satisfaction of having an audience, but the economic ability and outside impetus to engage in more cultural production.
To put that in less abstract terms, while it might seem silly to be concerned with the reputation of a label or the hipness of a DJ, the fact is that if you're on the wrong label or the wrong kind of people listen to your music, it decreases your cultural capital and means that people's impression will be that you're something to actively not listen to, whereas being on a label with a good rep can get people to listen who might otherwise know nothing about you. The cycle of cultural capitalism is interest because at first there are all these little intangibles that will get you noticed and then broken, and then for a while the main factor is the size of your audience, and then once you reach a certain point all these other factors come into play.
So what I'm saying is that it's totally OK for you to play this game as a creative person; although you might dislike the term "cultural capitalism," that's basically the game you're playing, even if you're a socialist collective. You're trying to accrue a certain amount of cultural capital so you can do the things you want to do, and while that level you're trying to reach may be different for everyone, it's always greater than zero. This is what we do, in ways large and small, and it can actually be immensely rewarding and interesting--certainly watching certain popstars do it (Madonna, Britney, etc.) has been a great game for all of us, and there are certain other popstars, Eminem probably first and foremost, whose best art is precisely about this game; "Without Me" is like the best real-time salespitch you'll ever hear.
But critics like to do this thing where they take artistic gestures where maximizing cultural capital is probably an ancilliary concern and making it central, which is fine as a line of inquiry, but the assumption is that this was also the intention of the creator, which as we know, is a no-no.
I'm willing to give Ted the benefit of the doubt and assume that he really did this because he loves the song and thought his cover sounded good and wanted to expose more people to the original. And this is coming from someone who hates the damn thing! So to assess it as a horserace move, to try and pin down the skillful planning behind it, seems disingenuous. Not everything that touches pop has to be calculated, and in the final analysis, even the calculated nature of pop itself stems from a series of heartfelt, illogical gestures on the part of the artists and producers involved. At some point, whoever wrote "Since U Been Gone" just sat down with a guitar and whanged out that thing and thought, "Hot damn, that's good." To lose that particular moment in all our attempts to dissect indie-rock cred maneuverings--that moment when a secret turns into something beautiful, if you'll forgive me--is to lose sight, I think, of why we write about music. Cultural capital works in much more subtle and interesting ways than this.
posted by Mike B. at 11:07 AM 0 comments Links to this post
Holy shit, people. Hillary was totally right. Brooke Valentine's Chain Letter is so best I'm having a hard time coming up with words for it. There's "Taste of Dis," which is total disco, and "Playa," which is MJ to the max, and then there's the riot grrl (!) coda to "Ghetto Superstarz" which I can't even get into right now.
Basically, it's a crunk new pop album, and if that doesn't sell you on it, well...
Right now I just want to focus on one track, though. It's not necessarily the best track on the album, but it is very good. It's "Blah-Blah-Blah (Feat. Dirt McGirt)."
The thing readers of this blog should know about this song (besides the ODB guest shot) is something that I almost knew when the first synth hits come. I thought it sounded familiar. But then the beat came in, and in terms of beat and progression, it's exactly "Sweet Dreams My LA Ex," with the similarity being strongest in that little click that finishes up the beat, to say nothing of the fact that not a whole lot of pop songs have that particular swing to them.
So lemme put that together: it's "Sweet Dreams My LA Ex" except with the male being addressed (they're both about roughly the same subject) already on the track, and it's ODB. Now, his verse isn't his best ever, but it gets better as it goes on, giving us that particular combination of rage and helplessness and humor that's so appealing. And then the go into the chorus and he goes up into way-above-his-range mode to try and double Brooke on the "la la la la la la la"s, and it's this wonderful little moment of trying to be in sync with someone you feel you're losing but not making it. As she continues doing the chorus, ODB shouts in the background, "C'mon honey, just talk to me!" and as the song ends he's crooning a little bit more, out of tune and wobbly, but she's stopped, she's gone.
But I'm getting off track here: the point is, this is Rachel Stevens except with ODB. So thus, we have a song that was written for Britney about her ex, Justin Timberlake, but rejected, and picked up by a semi-famous member of a mediocre girl-pop group going solo. Except now it's being sung by a black American R&B diva with ODB. Which means that she's Britney and Rachel Stevens, and ODB is Justin Timberlake, which means that ODB sang "Cry Me a River" and did all those McDonald's ads, to say nothing of the incident with Ms. Jackson's titty, which, let's all be honest here, would have been even more interesting with Russell involved.
This is one of the things I want from pop: to make a kind of semi-real celebrity Marvel universe where there are all these stories behind the stories and histories and interlocking storylines, intrigue upon intrigue, and we all know what's going on, but then things shift, and fall into one another, and form new storylines, and characters are minor or major and fall or rise or get replaced.
But also, Brooke is like Rachel Stevens and Britney Spears in one, except she also calls in the guy to say his piece and utterly trashes him, and she (apparently) had a large hand in the musical portion as well. This is a major, major album, peoples, well worth your time and attention (plus, it's in new release this week, so cheap). It's certainly a whole bunch of things I love about pop wrapped up in one.
 Which I now notice others have pointed out. It is fairly obvious if you've spent as much time listening to the Rachel Stevens song as most of us presumably have. That thread has some other good descriptions of the album, and is well worth checking out.
posted by Mike B. at 10:13 AM 0 comments Links to this post
Tuesday, March 22, 2005
I did buy a new release today, though, in addition to the aforementioned perusing. And it was, of course, Arular.
As you may or may not know, I was intentionally holding out on hearing the complete album until release day. I don't quite know why, but I think it had something to do with trying to experience it as someone who wasn't a rock critic would. As much as I could, anyway--obviously it's not like I've been on a MIA-fast the last few months. But I wanted to try and experience it in something like real time.
It was sort of weird listening to it at first, because I hearing it in ideological terms--paying more attention to the ideas and stances than the stuff going on. And while it is sort of interesting in those terms (you could chart the album as a series of rising and falling and splitting ideological throughlines), it wasn't what I'd been waiting to hear.
Luckily, the more I listen to it, the more that effect goes away. And while it's not quite as good as I'd like it to be--what is?--and it doesn't sound as good on headphones or computer speakers as it does booming out through a PA, it's still pretty fantastic. "Amazon" is menacing and sexy, "Hombre" is bratty and boppy, and "10$" should really be released as a single--that's some ass-clapping magesty right there.
Now I just sit and wait for a sunglass-wearing gang consisting of MIA, Diplo, Justine, Steve, and Richard X to come and rescue me from my job. Soon, soon.
posted by Mike B. at 4:54 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Perused the new releases today (more shortly), and wondered if I should buy either the new Keren Ann album or the new Prefuse 73 album. Thoughts? Acknowledgments?
In other news, I wouldn't have to ask these things if Soulseek was working properly. Grr.
posted by Mike B. at 4:09 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Monday, March 21, 2005
As you can perhaps tell from the atrocious prose below, the ol' brain isn't really up to speed today, so this'll probably be the last thing I put up until tomorrow. Which is tragique, because I do have Many Important Things To Say, but they will just have to wait.
In the meantime, you could always read someone else's blog.
posted by Mike B. at 1:48 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Oh my god! I'm an institution!
I guess this is a normal thing, having something attributed to the site it appeared on rather than the person who wrote it, but it still kinda weirds me out; the consequence of doing this blog for so long, I suppose. And lord knows I've done it.
Anyway, for the record, I totally forgot to put a rating on that review, so that's more interpolated from the prose, but accurately. "A" sounds right. I'd give everything an A if I could.
posted by Mike B. at 1:41 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Friday, March 18, 2005
Dear Congress: every year, thousands of undergraduates pen bad ripoffs of Kafka's short stories. Please do not add to this pile by acting out your own.
Suggested questions for hearing:
"So, what's it like not being allowed to die?"
"Drool once for yes and twice for no."
"You're aware you're going to hell, right?"
Next week, look for Congress to all band together and save a kitten stuck in a tree. (The kitten is also about to use steroids.)
posted by Mike B. at 10:48 AM 0 comments Links to this post
Thursday, March 17, 2005
I've been getting the Heavy CDs for a while, but the February one is really fantastic and worth your while. It contains a bunch of MP3 hitz in full-quality form ("Kick Out the Chairs," "Pull Up the People," "Hideyaface") as well as some other good stuff--Lemon Jelly, Stereo Total, etc.
I'm usually not the biggest fan due to the high percentage of yawny backpacker hip-hop they choose to include, but this one's sliding in the right direction. Grime is the new undie!
UPDATE: Realized that the "Kick Out the Chairs" is a different mix than the one I have, too (probably grabbed off MFR?), so it's worth it just for that, really.
Also, I realized why I don't really like that Ghostface/El-P/Prefuse track: the El-P verses are just incredibly boring.
Also also, are people forming their judgments on MIA based only on "Galang" and "Pull up the People" or what?
posted by Mike B. at 12:04 PM 0 comments Links to this post
In happier news, Stylus has inexplicably run my piece that's an ostensible review of the Bunky album and a Soca mix I picked up at the discount store at Franklin and Eastern Parkway. It culminates with me comparing two songs entitled "Gotta Pee" and "Pinky and the Brain." Rebel rock!
Oh, and in case I didn't make this clear enough in the piece, I really have no idea what I'm talking about when it comes to Soca. I just really like listening to it. So apologies if I've totally misinterpreted it.
Also, let me extend a blanket thanks to everyone who's had nice things to say about the MIA post. You're all totally awesome.
posted by Mike B. at 10:49 AM 0 comments Links to this post
Hi! I'm not in Texas, because American Airlines fucked up my plane ticket and booked me for Tuesday rather than Wednesday. They then refused to either refund my money or put me on a different flight or even give me my return ticket, and during our lengthy phone conversation I was repeatedly told that I needed to have some personal responsibility. I could make up for this lack of responsibility by paying them $1000 for a new ticket. I had neither the ability nor the desire to do this, so here I am, back at work.
I briefly toyed with the idea of doing a prank SXSW blog in which all of my rock critic fantasies came true (I met Kelly Clarkson and we cut an EP together of PJ Harvey covers before doing an unannounced late-night gig, etc.) but I don't really have the restraint or dedication necessary to make a good prank work, so never mind.
Bottom line: do not fly on American Airlines. Ever ever ever.
posted by Mike B. at 10:28 AM 0 comments Links to this post
Monday, March 14, 2005
I know I asked this back in December and I know I got some responses, but would anyone be able to offer server space for the Blueberry Boat Chronicles MP3s? Due to someone or other linking to the MP3s directly, I've recently gone over my limit and have begun to incur charges. This would probably only be a from time-to-time thing, whenever things spike, or at this point until the traffic (7 gigs Fri-Mon) dies down. I'd prefer not to use archive.org because the MP3s aren't, you know, legal, and I'd prefer not to use yousendit because it's temporary. If I'm wrong about either of those things, lemme know, or drop me a line if you've got any server-switch ideas.
posted by Mike B. at 6:37 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Just listened to the live version of LCD Soundsystem's "Daft Punk Is Playing At My House" that Fluxblog posted a while back, and damn--the vocals on that are just orders of magnitude better than on the album version. Much more energetic and rowdy, he's actually screaming here rather than speak-singing, which is certainly what I'd prefer. Well, maybe by the next album he'll have either abandoned that whole keep-the-first-vocal-take philosophy or developed enouh confidence as a singer not to sound kind of hesitant all the time.
posted by Mike B. at 4:34 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Dunno if I've mentioned this before, but I'll be at SXSW this week, hangin' out with the Flagpole crew. If you're going, drop me a line before Tuesday evening and I'll give you my cell number if you want to get together at some point. Or just let me know things that are going on that I might like. E-mail link is at the top of the page.
I may or may not have e-mail access while in Texas, but since I don't have a laptop, I'm reliant on the fates for that. (Can I just wander onto campus and use a public terminal?) Anyway, it's best to assume I've out of e-mail contact after 7 pm on Tuesday unless I start posting here after that point.
I'll try and blog it, but see above re: computer/net access. If I can, look for updates. If I can't, um, check back on Monday.
posted by Mike B. at 11:42 AM 0 comments Links to this post
If you haven't seen it already, take a look at this Metafilter thread on MIA.
Some people there seem to think she's electroclash, which is pretty funny, but it does bring up the question of how Interscope's going to market her: R&B? Hip-hop? Prestige artist? ("She's unclassifiable! The critics love her! Weird kids like you should buy her!") Given the piss-poor track record of marketing things as electroclash, I can't see that as a viable route, but never underestimate the marketing plans of record labels (trust me on this one).
Also sorta interesting to hear from people who are listening to her without the context of grime or dancehall, seems like.
That said, it takes a turn into the terrorism debate reeeeal quickly.
posted by Mike B. at 11:07 AM 0 comments Links to this post
Friday, March 11, 2005
Well, time for a hiatus. Just kidding.
posted by Mike B. at 3:05 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Thursday, March 10, 2005
How do you make a great Basement Jaxx song even better? Make a video where it's all acted out fairly literally (attraction, come-ons, flirting, etc.), except by cute old people! And then have the cute old people do group dancing to it! And then: funky knitting! And then old people booty grabbing!
I think the best part is where she's getting asked questions by the two old ladies on either side of her while dancing.
posted by Mike B. at 5:47 PM 0 comments Links to this post
One more little tidbit, though. And it is this.
Die, Ted Leo, die. May long-nailed Jersey trash vixens slowly claw the flesh from your bones. May you be thrown onto the Garden State Parkway clothed in a spike-lined jacket, where the spikes are pointed inward. May all your affairs come to barest dust.
An acoustic cover? AN ACOUSTIC COVER? And then the YYY switch? Dear. Sweet. Jesus.
posted by Mike B. at 1:24 PM 0 comments Links to this post
3 things learned from the ol' referral log:
1) I am the only hit when you search Yahoo for "Gavin Bryers' compositional style and technique" for some reason.
2) This blog is saying something about my MIA post, but as it's in some Scandanavian language, I have no idea what it's saying. If anyone's got any ideas, lemme know.
3) I keep getting hit from people searching for "Clap Your Hands Say Yeah" i.e. the band of the same name. It's like every day. So I have to wonder: are people searching for it because they're interested in the music or is it just regular autogoogling? And why do I keep getting hits from it when I'm on the third page of results? Weird.
I've been giving you a lot of attention, my little bloggicans, and the other parts of my life are getting jealous and/or screamy, so I will have to neglect you today. But, um, if you want to talk about Gilmore Girls or something in the comments, feel free.
posted by Mike B. at 11:32 AM 0 comments Links to this post
Wednesday, March 09, 2005
My bathroom reading lately has been Shakespeare's Complete Works. Whilst perusing it this morning I came upon sonnet 8, which a) I had forgotten was one of my favs, and b) is perhaps the earliest recorded instance of smacking down hataz.
Music to hear, why hear'st thou music sadly?And then, of course, I realized how much it resembled Billy Joel's "Only the Good Die Young":
Come out Virginia, don't let me me waitNow, as my pops explained this to me, it's a taunt--only the good die young, and you're not dead yet, so what does that make you? Which is sort of what I want to say to people sometimes: we're all down here in the mud and the muck, so roll around in it with the rest of us. Don't be shy. Also: look, they're all singing for you, and if you don't like it, that just amuses the music. You by yourself ain't no fun. Joy delights in joy.
 No, seriously. I'm sorry.
 Confidential to Miss Clap: Shakespeare's COMPLETE Works.
 Definition there being very biased obvs.
 Just to say this going forward: I am being totally sincere about all of this, which may be more worrisome than the alternative, but still.
posted by Mike B. at 12:22 PM 0 comments Links to this post
My dad sent me an article from the 2/7/05 New Yorker called "Gross Points," written by Louis Menand. It's a review of three books about the movies, and isn't particularly interesting on that score, mainly rehashing things other people have said before about how blockbusters are bad etc.--I love ya, Louis, but this was starting to get old in 1997.
However, there are two interesting quotes that apply to genres that aren't movies. Number one:
The contemporary Hollywood movie is what Harold Rosenberg once called an "anxious object." Rosenberg was referring to art after Pop, to a time when, suddenly, a painting of a soup can, or a pile of stones, or a wall of Polaroids was worth a lot of money. But were these works of art, or were they commodities? The distinction had become blurry.Now, I'm going to be straight with you: I have never heard of Harold Rosenberg before, much less read The Anxious Object. But I'm going to go with Menand's interpretation here, and hopefully Janine won't come in and tell me I'm full of shit.
And Menand's interpretation is interesting because it says this anxiety, particular to "contemporary" movies (although later in the article he reverses himself on this point and admits that movies have always been commercial), is a bad thing, which is roughly what Rosenberg (from my hasty Googling) seemed to think about modern art--there was a different anxiety before, which was good, but once it got translated to commercial anxiety, it had a negative effect on the art. Menand regards it as natural and inevitable for art that has entered the world of commerce to have this anxiety, and so thinks the only solution, were it possible given the current realities etc., would be for it to back away, to avoid being a commodity as much as it would be able.
I, obviously, think the opposite. The anxiety of being commodified is not a natural thing, but an anxiety foisted on art by its critics and contemporaries, and the best solution to the problem (we agree, at least, that it's a problem) is to work through this anxiety and come out the other side, to produce art that does not see its commerciality as fundamentally a concern, nor is it viewed as such.
This is precisely why I (and, I think, other people, all of whom seem to be members of my generation, for whatever reason) fight so vigorously about criticisms of commodification or "selling out" or mass appeal. It does produce an anxiety, one that I simply don't think would be such a concern were those arguments not so widespread, and that anxiety is fundamentally detrimental to the quality of the art. It produces a focus on this concern that tends to preclude discussion of other subjects and to restrain movement, often out of fear of the reaction of your peers. This is not good. We all need people to tell us when we're sucking, but we don't really need people telling us we suck for what we're doing, you know?
There is no doubt that the degree to which a piece of art fights against outside commercial forces in the course of its creation is a useful indicator of its vitality. (Although, as Menand notes, outside commercial forces can sometimes have a better idea of what's good for a movie than the participants do.) But in no way is the black-or-white characteristic of commercial or non-commercial a determinant of something's artistic worth. Its artistic worth is what it is; ultimately, the way in which it is transmitted can be a guide, but never an actual basis for judgment. I think we've gone a long way in ceasing to see these divisions, and we wish other people would, too.
What I realized is that it's actually this "anxiety" I was talking about two weeks back, calling it "self-deprecating genres." The reason there's this defensive posture all stems, fundamentally, from the fact that the genres in question are wholly commodified: TV, comic books, pop music, teen magazines, and, as Abby put it, "commercial fiction." The defensive argument basically comes down to, "I know this form isn't very artistic, but what I'm making is art." It isn't really an argument that should have to be made, but it is, over and over again. It is the guilt of the bohemian in a capitalist system, hahaha, the cultural version of "liberal guilt" which transmogrifies itself into grumpy self-righteousness, i.e. "the clap clap blog default stance." But it kinda sucks. I think we'd all be better off without it.
Quote number two:
[P]people no longer respond to movies the way they once responded to The Big Sleep. This is not simply an argument from nostalgia; it has an empirical corollary. In 1946, weekly movie attendance was a hundred million. That was out of a population of a hundred and forty-one million, who had nineteen thousand movie screens available to them. Today, there are thirty-six thousand screens in the United States and two hundred and ninety-five million people, and weekly attendance is twenty-five million.Gee, a medium experienced by over 2/3 of the population on a weekly basis. What would that describe today?
Could it be...TV?
I dunno, I just get this feeling sometimes, you know? I read something like this and think, huh, sure seems like in a few decades people might be looking back at this era and calling it something like a golden age while treating the medium as a whole with the kind of reverence people currently reserve for "the cinema." It just fits: crassly commercial setup somehow producing great art, an abundance of auteurs, fast-paced, etc., etc. I'm not sure quite what the quality difference is between The Big Sleep and any number of contemporary TV shows. And believe me, that's not a rip on The Big Sleep.
If our yardstick is caring, TV's winning by multiple football fields. It's something we watch and love and discuss and get angry about if they change. Of course, this could just be because it's "addictive"--but weren't movie theaters "dens of sin" in their time, too? Ultimately, the addiction thing is a cop-out, a way of countering the fact that you're criticizing this thing so many people love so much.
But hey, I could be wrong. A lot of very intelligent people are quite convinced that TV, and pop music, and lots of other commercial genres, are in and of themselves unworthy, and that anything that comes out of them that approaches "art" is "subversive," an anomaly, something produced in spite of the system it emerged from. It just seems to me that neither good stuff nor the bad stuff should be unexpected from any medium, because the medium doesn't have much to do with it.
And now I must go kill zombie McLuhan.
posted by Mike B. at 11:21 AM 0 comments Links to this post
New reviews in Flagpole this week, including an Adam Green review by Hillary, and two somewhat embarassing hip-hop reviews by me. I can only say this: I'm sorry. Although I do kinda like the Yung Wun review. And they're both better than the Sage Francis review. (No offense Chad, but seriously: 'not a single grunt, "yeah" or "what up?" taints the music'--c'mon now.)
posted by Mike B. at 11:18 AM 0 comments Links to this post
Tuesday, March 08, 2005
So hey. Let's talk about MIA's "MIA" (or "POP"), shall we? For the purposes of this entry, I'm going to deal with the version that appears as a bonus track on Arular.
First off, here are the lyrics:
You can watch TV and watch the media(thanks go to Joe for extensive help on these, as well as Matthew for his contributions and for originally posting the song; I'm still not entirely clear on some of these words, but I'll try and avoid putting too much importance on those, alright?)
Let's just knock down one little critical garden gnome straight out of the gate: there is nothing, zero, nada here about the Tamil Tigers or terrorism or Sri Lanka, unless of course you want to count the single word "Indians," which, you know, I don't. The closest she gets is "educated, but a refugee still," and I don't know how you can read that as anything but a reference to the particularly British political issue of refugee status.
That said, let's delve into the music. It has basically the same structure as "Galang," a hook proceeding to 2 verse/chorus pairs followed by a longish bridge that ends the song, except in this case it transitions back into the hook and ends with a minute-long instrumental section. The hook itself is formed by cut-up bits of MIA's voice (cue Prefuse comparisons), quite possibly played on a sampler to form a riff later doubled by the bass, consisting of one measure staying on the tonic followed by half a measure dropping a whole step to a diminished (?) seventh and another half-measure that goes minor third up, back down to dim 7, then up to minor second, which ends the riff and sends us down a half-step to the tonic, which means it's in some minor mode I'm not qualified to name.
For our purposes, it's mainly important to note the way the vocals follow that progression, which is basically four beats of middle, two beats of lower and two beats of higher before coming back to the middle, if that makes sense. It's also important to note on which side of that golden ratio'd divide individual lines fall, as in the verses they're all pretty carefully divided up into halves, and when there's carryover, it's from the high to the middle rather than middle to low, as at that point there's almost always a clean vocal break. That middle-lower-upper thing isn't merely a musical conceit but a lyrical one as well, with both working in tandem. The halves and the halve-nots.
One of the things that strikes me about MIA's stuff is the almost infinite mutability of her vocals, which wouldn't be notable if she were straight-up rapping, but there's at least a semblance of singing at most times there. But still, her vocals sound great over this backing, but sounded great over the PFT backing too, and I can easily hear then over any number of different beats. Whether this is a positive thing or not is up to you, but I think it's a testament to the strength of her vocals. The strongest parallel I see between her stuff and dancehall lies here, as a sort of inversion of the riddim concept: same vocals changed by different backing music, adaptable without changes to a whole different sound.
Another thing that strikes me about MIA is how much room her productions leave for her voice, and the degree to which the tracks hang on the voice. (Which must make for some interesting challenges in performance, but that's for another time.) This is not what I hear in baile funk, which fills in many more beats. Even when, as in the verses of "MIA," the backing is mainly just a bass drum, there are simply more beats in baile funk per measure. Partially this is due to the way MIA structures things; as mentioned, the riff here spreads itself over two bars, and so the little accent noises that traditionally come at the end of a pattern and carry over into the next repetition here have an extra four beats in the middle, which allows them to dissipate. But it's also due to the particular sounds she uses, which are much tighter. There's no reverb, there's a much shorter sustain and release time, and there are legitimate bare spaces at times.
If there's a particular antecedent for MIA's backing-tracks-as-backing-tracks, it's clearly Timbaland, who's similarly careful to leave spaces, and similarly varies things up at irregular intervals. But he operates on a bar-by-bar basis, and so his sounds are even tighter than MIA's, with less beats and even shorter trails on his samples. Timbaland's trick is often to have half the bar consist of very low sounds and half of very high sounds with little overlap; MIA's has overlap but more actual emptiness. Her beats are cheaper, and so they can't be fine-tuned the way his are, but she solves that dilemma by giving herself more room to work. Fundamentally, Timbaland's beats are more manic than MIA's. He sometimes has the hip-shake, but never that lovely, slinky, catlike sexual menace we see here, that seductive creep.
And so we are free to compare it to a whole raft of different musical genres with which it shares a kinship, beyond the perhaps too-obvious ones it's already been likened to. It's sort of folk music with beats instead of acoustic guitars, spare and plain, the music sitting as an anchor to focus on the words and the voice. It's synthesized James Brown funk, landing on the 8 and the 1 and letting the drummer work in the middle. It's Now! pop with a Jamaican accent. It's something that could have always been created and which could be created again, a music always being created: an individual sitting down with a music-maker and creating something that simply sounds good to her, that reflects what she wants to hear without necessarily being part of a particular genre or scene.
So what do we hear? We hear, first of all, that voice, with subbass swoops behind, followed by a beat settling in, a variant on the "Red Alert" riddim kinda, dotted-eighth-dotted-eighth on kick and an eighth on snare. The bass comes in over this, a trebly distortion or a saw wave-derived tone, largely following the kick. Buzzes fly over this. Halfway through the first verse, a sampled one-note guitar riff triggers from time to time, extended via a one-rep delay. When the chorus hits, the only thing that changes at first is the incursion of sixteenth-note synth-handclaps that are unconstant and lack any particular pattern, but which seem to hold things down nevertheless. Halfway through the chorus the subbass swoop comes back in, and when the chorus ends everything cuts out for a beat or two, leaving the vocals exposed there at the beginning of the second verse. There's a bit more going on here, the occasional hi-hat hit, but it's shorter than the first verse, and proceeds pretty quickly into the chorus, which is half of what it was before, and when that ends we're back into the minimal backing and vocal sample of the intro. When the vocals start for the bridge, the backing is just the bass and the kick for the first two reps, after which we get snare and hi-hats for another rep, then the sampled guitar, then a little bit with filtered vocals, then an instrumental break focusing heavily on the subbass swoop, and the whole thing ends with the chorus backing music over the intro vocal sample pattern, with an additional vocal sample working its way in: "London," which gets an exposed solo briefly just before the end.
What's most notable here is, I think, how well the song works despite there not being anything particularly distinctive about it in the abstract. Standard beat, standard structure. What makes this song great is all in the details: the way she varies the kick hits, the three (!) different kick noises she uses, the totally counterintuitive times she puts in that subbass swoop, that great little guitar riff that, along with the two or three different buzzes she also uses, the extremely sparse hat, and the less sparse snare and claps, constitute the entirety of the non-bass noises in the song, which, again, leaves a lot of room for her voice. The number of times you could listen to the chorus without being able to clap along with the actual claps. It's a constantly mutating song that still manages to hold down a consistent groove; it is "POP" as the former title had it. Consistently mutating songs aren't anything inventive at this point, but the particular execution here is mind-bending. (It's also that it's slower but not like CoFlo molasses-slow, just a bit slower than other distorto-mutato stuff.) But what's more mind-bending is what she does with this.
What she does is different than what we're used to hearing above this sort of beat: she sings like it's a regular R&B track, a trick which of course enhances the mashup-ready feel of it all. It's neither rapping nor the kind of random shouting that you'd hear were this an electroclash song (which it could be with 35 more bpm and a more constant kick and, obviously, a different singer) but a confident, strongly delivered melodic line that doesn't rely much on anything around it but creates its own logic that the rest of the song somehow follows: like the vocals, it doesn't do too much, but it works wonders with what it's got.
This is all to say (kinda) that the music, vocals, and lyrics are all basically doing the same thing: reflecting a personal sensibility rather than any particular collective set of expectations. It is a private self that does not seek to express itself by performing the impossible task of filtering all outside influences, but instead accepts the world, all of it, as part of its makeup and then attempts to produce what would please this makeup most. And this pleasure also includes the pleasure of pleasing other people with what it is doing. Get it?
What strikes me most about the lyrics is the way that political figures are addressed as social or cultural figures--more actors in pop culture, in other words. Bush and Blair appear, but as figures far less distinct than everyone else here, as background noise, undeniably part of the fabric of our daily lives, but not as primary players, just basically the same as the person who gives you your food or the girl on the cover of a magazine: unreal, separate, but still actually, y'know, real. If this was a video that I directed, it would be MIA walking around the streets of London, fixing her gaze on different people and getting an accelerated glimpse into their lives, which would be revealed as a move projected through their forehead and shot from the size so you could see the beam. A projection and a narrative. Which is, of course, how the whole thing starts: "You can watch TV and watch the media." This is a representation.
But ultimately MIA does not remain the watcher. The reason I have this vision for the song is because she refuses to remain separate from what she's describing. She rolls her sleeves up and plunges into the fray, positioning herself not as an observer but a part of this: not different, but exactly the same, on a certain level, as everything she's presenting to you, which in turns is an attempt to implicate the listener of the song in what's being described, to take all watchers and make them walkers. But this applies to everyone in the song, from Bush to unemployed Londoners to Iraqis. It's an attempt to find a leveled space where everyone can speak as equals, a perfect plan, perfectly plain: pop.
She has been building the case for this since before Arular. She's insisted from the beginning on situating herself within mass culture. On Piracy Funds Terrorism, she managed to narrow the difference between herself, the Diplomats, and baile funk to almost nothing. It is a quite intentional rejection of the provincialization of subculutral scenes. "I'm a west Londoner...but a refugee still." Both and therefore neither. "I don't have a side." If it's all pop, it's not all music, and so everything is like everything else: Kate Moss is a political figure and Bush is a fashion model. Both are salespeople.
But how can she not have a side? Aren't there intentional slogans in there? Sure. But that doesn't necessarily mean she's the one spouting them if everything else in the song is observation. You can evoke globalization without passing judgment on it because it's a part of our lives when we live in cities just as much as magazine ads or the search for employment. The very unoriginality of the slogans points to the fact that they're not in the authorial voice but are more description of the cultural landscape. It all exists outside here, outside all of us--and it all reverts, ultimately, to playground taunts. Adolescence is love is sex is politics is war is culture is adolescence. Nyah nyah nyah nyah! Remind you of any critics you've read lately? (Me?)
This does not only apply to globalization. It also applies to the big MIA bugaboo, terrorism. Terrorism is a part of her life, but not in the same way (note I'm not making a value judgment here, just a statement of difference) as when American politicians say terrorism is a part of our lives, or even when victims of terrorism say terrorism is a part of their lives. Both of these are true statements. But we can all agree that MIA had, as the evangelicals say, a personal relationship with terrorism, from her father to the fact that significant areas of the country she grew up in are controlled by terrorists, to the degree that they basically feature terrorist-run civil governments. In Sri Lanka--and not a few other places--terrorism is politics, and politics, as we've demonstrated above, is culture. And culture is pop. It's more landscape description.
But the subject here is not terror, is it commercial. And, again, it can contain a critique of commercialism without necessarily endorsing that critique, in exactly the same way it can contain Kate Moss but not endorse her. (Cor, I'd like to endorse her, if you know what I mean! Uh, sorry.) Being the kind of person MIA is--an artist, a musician--concerns about commercialism are part of her daily discussions. The criticisms sitting side-by-side with the endorsements are there to serve as contrast, an intentional balancing act. Is it worse to "sell out" or be unemployed? Who's the offender, Kate Moss or the bill payers or the drug dealers? These contradictions absolutely define the modern world, and that's what this song is concerned with.
Even when she seems to be sending a coherent message, something intrudes. The first half of the bridge, which seems to be trying to paint some sort of inclusive portrait of oppressed peoples, is sung to the tune of "Here Comes Santa Claus," which as any Jewish-American can tell you, is not a particularly inclusive thing for a large portion of the world's population. This is significant. It's very pessimistic about the chances for any kind of unity because of the basic cultural differences between us, while at the same time holding fast to that vision, to that possibility.
There's another very significant contradiction in the second verse, with the line: "Trendsetters make things better / Don't sell out to be product pushers." Now, the first half of that is very interesting, and is not a view often expressed outside of celebrity journalism. Generally, we are supposed to have naught but scorn for trendsetters, because they are vapid hipsters. But she's recognizing their positive effects, and she's not even including the word "can" to suggest that they could be doing better. But then this is followed by basically a negation of the first half, because how can you be a trendsetter without basically being a product pusher? That's what you do. (That's what we do, fellow critics!) We're supposed to dislike them because they sold out. But look where it falls, vocally: the first half in the middle, the second half, the supposed negation, oscillating between low and high. She knows the beginning is the sensible and probably correct view, but she can't stop herself from thinking the negation sometimes. We're not consistent in our worldviews, because we'd be miserable. To ask for cultural consistency is to basically insist on separitism.
"How can she not have a side?" you ask. "These are all sides!" Ah, well then. Let me tip my hand before we roll onto the conclusion: her side is herself. This is inevitably your side when you enter into mass culture. But this is not necessarily apolitical or even conservative: Rawls' theory of justice is basically predicated on everyone vigorously expressing their self-interest. Enlightenment liberalism is founded in part on individualism, and is distrustful of authority. As is this song.
At first blush, the song appears to be a kind of rallying cry for people to rise up. Except let's examine those cries. First we have the chorus, "You can be a follower but who's your leader?" And then we have, in the bridge, "That's your life but who the fuck's your President?" Both of these posit both a sort of vacuum of leadership but do not necessarily present seizing the reins as a valid solution to this. The first statement smacks of car ad slogans, but where those would say something along the lines of "Lead, don't follow," this just says, "Don't follow!" And if you don't have followers, well, what kind of movement do you have? If you don't have a leader, what then?
As for the second statement, it's one everyone sort of asks. While it's certainly an evocation of the undue influence American foreign policy has on the domestic politics of other countries, it's also the inversion of something Americans themselves say (inaccurately) when the candidate they didn't vote for is in office, as well as something people in parliamentary systems can say (accurately) in the same situation: "he's not my President/Prime Minister!" It's politics at a remove, something you can say when the head of government's proclamations don't have much effect on your daily lives. But just as politics is culture, so is some culture more immediate, more present in your life: you're a follower of certain trends or styles, but who exactly is leading them? Who's making those decisions? Everyone and no one, in a way. And the closer you are to a certain form of culture or politics, the less of a follower you are, and the more everyone becomes an equal participant.
So it's a portrait of the modern world and a call for an embrace of its charms tempered with a strong sense of self. It's asserting the will of the individual as a primary political and cultural motor. In other words, it's what I said above about the music: an individual sitting with the tools of creation and consuming (artistically, commercially, politically) what is most appealing to her. It's a clear-eyed portrait of complexity and contradiction and an assertion that it all fits, that it all belongs, that we can throw open the doors and let it all in, because it's already been admitted. Here it is, and you are a part of it, whether you want to be or not.
ADDENDUM: Carl's got a few nice things to say, which I thank him for. Just one note, though: I wasn't actually responding to Simon's thing. This piece was more or less what I've wanted to write for weeks now, and the fact that I hadn't gotten it out was one reason why I was going on about MIA so much. This was pretty much what I wanted to say right here. So yay.
posted by Mike B. at 3:25 AM 1 comments Links to this post
Monday, March 07, 2005
Incidentally, the below is an initial response to Paul Morley's Words and Music. I sat in a Turkish restaraunt in the lower east side on Friday evening and read this while I ate. I got more attention than I ever have before. Regrettably--or not--it was all from straight dudes asking me what I thought of the book. I'll have more later.
The below could also use an essay around it for explanatory/contextual purposes, etc. I may write it at some point, but if someone else wants to take a shot at it, feel free.
posted by Mike B. at 1:56 PM 0 comments Links to this post
ROCK 'N' ROLL BON MOTS #031
Pop, at its pinnacle, is so transparent and so unabashed in its artiface and constructedness and calculation--its inherent unrealness--that it allows these concerns to fall away; it builds them up to such a degree that they collapse under their own weight, and finally allow us a peek at the thing inside. No genre does this better than pop does.
posted by Mike B. at 1:51 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Thursday, March 03, 2005
From the frighteningly exhaustive Joy Division FAQ:
On the bootleg "Girls Don't Cry", recorded during a Cure concert on May 24 1980, Robert Smith introduces the song "Primary" by saying: "This song is dedicated...to the memory of Ian Curtis". Robert Smith said, at that time, that Ian's suicide prevented his own.Damnit, Robert, why couldn't you have been a little bit faster then?
posted by Mike B. at 5:15 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Glad as I always am to see Mommy & Daddy trashed, what the hell is "faux cowbell"? Is that like a synthesized cowbell, i.e. the cowbell sound on a drum machine or keyboard? "Faux" doesn't seem right for that, somehow. Are we just trying to emphasize the general faux-badness of the group by saying "faux" a lot? Is it a way of saying "fake" without being so obvious about it? I'm genuinely confused.
Also, am I part of "pop criticism's reigning PC police"? Awesome! I had no idea we were, like, reigning! I just thought we were having wanky little self-contained circular arguments in a small corner of the internet. Well all right then! It's a good thing the writer is oppressed, otherwise he would not feel so good about writing music reviews. Wshew!
posted by Mike B. at 3:04 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Shorter version of my MIA argument: if you reduce her music to a political statement, that statement is kinda stupid, at least insofar as most people seeking to analyze music as politics are only interested in policy-position messages or general grandstanding hoo-ha and miss the more complex and interesting political messages conveyed by the music as a whole etc. oh awesome Cher's "If I Could Turn Back Time" is on! What was I saying? Oh yeah.
So the problem is if you reduce MIA to a political statement, it's a stupid one, as would be the case for almost all good pop songs. But the music itself, to say nothing of the lyrics, are adamently not stupid. It's the equivalent of taking a meal, adding up how much each ingrediant cost, and assessing its worth that way, rather than by how it, y'know, tastes. And this isn't even getting into the icky idea that Arular exists to make the public aware of the situation in Sri Lanka. Save me from the horrors of pop-music-as-PSA, please. We owe it more than that.
As linked in a comment below, more on politics in art here.
posted by Mike B. at 1:19 PM 0 comments Links to this post
For some reason, I've been reading old New Yorkers lately. Right now I'm working through the 5/13/02 issue, and the first TOTT piece, by Louis Menand, is called "Silly Ideas" and is about Harris Mirkin, the professor who wrote a pro-pedophilia article that resulted in the Missouri legislature pulling funding from the state university he works for. It also, in addition to being one of the most concise, smart summations of the sensible position on academic-freedom debates I've read (and thus applicable pretty much every time such an issue arises--see especially the first paragraph in regards to the recent blowup about the "little Eichmanns" dude), contains a line that should be tatooed onto every critics' forearm, as far as I'm concerned:
Subversiveness is acceptable as a by-product of scholarly inquiry; but it is unworthy as a goal.For "scholarly inquiry," I think you can substitute "cultural production" without diminishing the accuracy of the statement.
posted by Mike B. at 10:53 AM 0 comments Links to this post
Wednesday, March 02, 2005
Last night's Gilmore Girls: discuss.
Did they end the breakup too soon? Will they break back up? Was the Emily thing resolved too neatly? Is the Emily thing resolved now, more or less, or am I just assuming wrongly?
Also: Lane! And more Rory hoochitude! From the preview, looks like next week she's gonna make ol' prepster jealous, which was totally unexpected from my end.
posted by Mike B. at 10:43 AM 0 comments Links to this post
Every review in Flagpole this week is by someone named "Michael" or "Chad Radford." Awesome! Well, three of the ones by "Michael" are by a Michael named me: Bellafea, T.I., and Fiery Furnaces. (Thanks, Chris, for not running all my hip-hop reviews in the same issue and making me look like a dingus.)
As stated sometime previously, I love Bellafea so very very very much. You should seriously buy this EP, because you will fall in love as well, or at least enjoy yourself while listening to it.
And the Fiery Furnaces' EP I liked a lot more than I thought I would, given that I'd heard most of the songs before--damn thing's got a flow!
In the T.I. review I bring up the concept of "background crunk" and then just let it sit there. So, um, pick it up and run with it if you can.
ADDENDUM: When, in the review of EP, I write:
"if you play some of them before British pop songs, they sound the same!"
The songs I'm referring to are "Single Again" and Rachel Stevens' "Negotiate With Love," whose intros are weirdly similar in all sorts of ways. Which I won't explore, of course, because lord knows I don't like to analyze the Fiery Furances too much.
posted by Mike B. at 10:06 AM 0 comments Links to this post
Two things I've learned from recent debates:
1) If you're arguing with a bunch of book lovers, don't tell them, while arguing a larger, arguably more reasonable point, that TV is a more important art form than literature. You will get called a "cocksucker."
2) If you're arguing with a bunch of rock critics, don't call them, while arguing a larger, arguably more reasonable point, essentially a bunch of narrow-minded wankers. You will get called a "cock."
This would all be different if I were trolling, but I'm not. I actually believe this crap! Well, therein lies my downfall. Also, being generally in a bad mood for some reason.
So those are my lessons learned from arguing on the internet. And we all know what that's like, don't we?
Share your message-board/mailing-list war stories, if you care to. If not, go eat some bacon. Bacon don't talk back. Bacon loves you.
posted by Mike B. at 10:00 AM 0 comments Links to this post
Tuesday, March 01, 2005
ILM thread in progress about Christgau's MIA articles, which are more or less responses to the Reynolds article.
Because I respect your desire not to read ILM, here's what I wrote by way of response:
The article takes a sort of interesting "third way" approach--focusing on the authenticity/legitimacy of her political position instead of her persona, and he does actually address the album itself, albeit in a not particularly interesting way.
Still, I'm not entirely happy we're STILL focusing on the goddamned political content of the album, nor am I entirely convinced that an engagement with Sri Lankan history is necessary to fully experience Arular. Maybe this is the over-educated politics major in me talking, but it's not that hard to grasp the outlines of the conflict, and that's all that's really necessary to know what's going on, since MIA's project is broader than that one situation. But a response to Reynolds' piece was highly necessary, so yay.
I'm also not entirely convinced of the accuracy of his interpretation, but we can leave that for later.
And, agreed that the quotes are very, very useful if we want to continue this discussion. Sins of the father etc.
posted by Mike B. at 5:32 PM 0 comments Links to this post
So I'm not quite sure how I think about this. If you're wondering exactly what I'm wondering about, well, it's the first line:
I’m going to hell anyway, so I may as well come out and say what you’d be thinking if you sat all the way through Tori Amos’ career from Y Kant Tori Read to The Beekeeper: the only way that we’re going to get a good album from her in this day and age is if someone has the decency to abduct and kill her daughter.Now, I've probably made some variation of this comment at some point in my life, maybe even more than once. And I recognize that it's meant in jest, and lord knows I'm OK with offensive humor. But it still rubs me the wrong way for some reason. Maybe part of it is what the author said in this ILM thread:
Q: Dom, what earthly reason do you have for starting your review like that?Uh, yeah dude, capitalism. I don't think that's quite the word you're looking for.
I think the issue here is not that what he said is offensive, but that it's wrong, as in inaccurate, and while I'm always OK with wrong, funny, offensive things used to make some sort of point, here the point isn't followed up on, and he's admitting that the whole thing is purely self-serving, which makes it way more icky.
The simple fact is, there are much better reasons for Tori's musical decline than a simple lack of tragedy in her life, as becomes abundantly clear from just the first few chapters of the book she just put out: the lady's insulated herself from criticism. Plus, the only good song directly influenced by a particular tragedy is "Me & A Gun"--"Spark" kinda sucks, and the two albums not directly following harrowing events are the best, Under the Pink and Boys For Pele. The problem isn't a lack of bad things happening, it's the support structure she's developed, which seems to be a wee bit too nuturing for there to be real artistic growth.
Now, you could have taken this statement--which is, indeed, an exaggerated version of what presumably more than a few Tori fans have thought in their darker moments--and, instead of simply letting it sit there as fact, pointed out the ways Tori herself invites these kind of critiques. She's built her career and public image around being a sort of arbiter and resevoir of grief. She even says in the book that she's like her preacher father, who she recalls as spending a lot of his time dealing with death, consoling loved ones, presiding over funerals, etc. She calls it "holding a space," and says, "it's one I have to find in performance, when people are bringing their grief to me in a similar way." Eww! But Tori, you're not a preacher, and it's not one-on-one. (And I've been to the motherfucking meet-and-greets. Still not one-on-one, I'm sorry.) You're a goddamned pop star.
So yes, what I'm saying is that these are expectations that Tori hasn't done anything to deflate, that she has, in fact, encouraged them by everything she's done. True, she's never talked about her miscarriages to the extent that she does in the book, but that's even worse--she just gave us a general overview, "this album was about my miscarriage," without filling in the more human details. While in the early albums there was a strength to it, an ownership to the grief, by the time Choirgirl came around it started to feel a little, well, exhibitionistic.
Now, I'm not going to put the blame for this solely on Tori. The fact is, we encourage our musicians, especially women, to be exhibitionistic about their grief, to sell it to us, to reflect our own ideas of escalated sadness. There are economic incentives to commodify your tragedy, and that Tori did it is not surprising, especially given how well she did it at first, how transcendently. But by continuing to do it, she just perpetuated this idea of suffering as artistic worth, and this is an idea that's caused all sorts of problems for all sorts of artists, successful and, worse, unsuccessful. It's one of the most repulsive things about art, to me, and it's one of the reasons I'm so anti-tragedy. (And, coincidentally, anti-Arcade Fire, but again, only one of the reasons.)
So by beginning the review in this way and by failing to follow up on it, Passantino commits essentially the same sin as Amos herself: he validates this idea of suffering-as-worth, sacrificing his good sense for purely self-interested reasons, and allows it to perpetuate rather than challenging it, putting its feet to the fire, and this, ultimately, is why I think the whole thing makes me feel icky. As one commenter said (and you have to filter out all the Tori-fan blather, you just can't help those people), it does feel a bit Pitchforky.
posted by Mike B. at 12:11 PM 0 comments Links to this post