Friday, August 10, 2007

An Ugly Triumverate

Last night before leaving work I stumbled upon yet another Pitchforkmedia review. It was about Robert Wyatt. Guess who wrote it?

Fucking Samir Khan. Somehow his editors allowed him to write EVERY single review of Robert Wyatt's re-released discography. How does this happen? At what level does this oversight occur? How could you let one guy who obviously does not enjoy Wyatt's output continue to hack away at the veritable obvious tree?

My blood is boiling. Let's see if I'm jumping to conclusions.

Robert Wyatt
Ruth Is Stranger Than Richard
[Thirsty Ear]
Rating: 6.0

Released one year after after his second solo record Rock Bottom, Ruth is Stranger than Richard showed former Soft Machine drummer Robert Wyatt further dabbling in twisted prog pop. But whereas Rock Bottom seemed more wanky than wonderful, venturing into music theory inside jokes, Ruth is Stranger than Richard finds him focusing his prodigal musical talent upon something somewhat more listenable.

Here we go again. He's already thrown out the word "wanky," so I can safely assume that he wrote all of these Wyatt reviews one after the other. What a twisted bastard.

The dorky vibe is still very much in full effect, but this time it's mostly more charming than grating. "Black Notes and One White Note" takes a colorful synth drone and builds in electronic sound loops and noisy horns not unlike some of the tracks on the last Gastr Del Sol record.

"Dorky vibe." You just turned off about half your readers from the music with those two words. I'd be more pissed, but he's actually reviewing some of the music, and he uses a hip experimental music reference to prop up his claims. Using such a reference is useful, as it gives the readers a good idea of what they're in store for. However, a review should not just continue to do so. A comparative crutch very quickly becomes annoying.

"Solar Flares" is a shuffling jazzy instrumental that Stereolab would go on to perfect some 25 years later.

This is where the comparisons go bad. Stereolab plays a certain type of music, but there is plenty of variation on their theme. In fact, says they combine elements of bossa nova, lounge-pop, Krautrock, Alt-rock...the list goes on. Maybe he mistook these genres for "shuffling jazzy." Also, do you know why Stereolab perfected something that Robert Wyatt first undertook? Because he did it 25 years ago. Not sure why this point bothers me so much, but I see this line of thinking all the time. He may not have meant it, but he quietly ascribes a level of inferiority to Wyatt's vision. Also, two contemporary band comparisons are enough. How about you go into a little more descriptive detail in terms of the music.

"Team Spirit" begins with a bopping introduction that could have been from outake from a Miles Davis acid trip before launching into a psychedelic riff fest, replete with feedbacky drones courtesy of Brian Eno.

A Miles Davis acid trip? You mean In a Silent Way, Bitches Brew, or On the Corner? Or maybe Live/Evil? Do a little research. Oh yeah, you admitted to doing no research in your last review. Why would you start now?

But things get problematic when Wyatt decides to lend his vocals to the music. It's terribly hard to take the man seriously when his ass- wincingly high falsetto kicks in with lines "What do cubs and brownies do at night after a boring day?/ Sine their boots and practice tying notes."

Oh, you mean you don't like Wyatt's five-octave vocal range? Also, have you listened to Soft Machine or Matching Mole? They're both former Wyatt projects whose lyrics were often irreverent and silly. Oh yeah, you don't do any research, so you would think that this is a special problem specific to this Wyatt album alone. This is turning into a painful exercise of futility.

Even more troublesome is that fact that when Wyatt sings, he also has a habit of letting the music go similarly wonky. And tracks like "Muddy Mouse (C)" barely hold up musically, completely submerging themselves in multiple key changes.

Fun. Samir got bored with "wanky" so he used its close cousin "wonky." Creative. Fun. I think my brain is bleeding.

Also, notice when the reviewer encounters musical complexities like (gasp!) multiple key changes. A relatively simple concept, Samir believes that the music is lacking because it is "submerged" in the key changes. As if the concept of key changes is so submersive that he can't truly explain what's going on.

You want to know how long multiple key changes have been going on in music? Let's see...polyphony (a musical texture that involves more than one note) is said to have occurred some time around 900 AD. I'm going to be kind and put the tag of the 12th Century as the first period of heavy key changes and modulation in music.

So, multiple key changes have been around for approximately 900 years. And Samir doesn't know how to write about them without revealing his apparent confusion. He's a fucking musical Luddite.

This is not to deny Wyatt's unquestionable abilities as a musician and as a conceptual thinker. This is just to say that Ruth will not be every booty- shaker's cup of Earl Gray. We'll keep looking.

I'm afraid to postulate just how many times a record reviewer will do this: Become afraid of their convictions and turn tail, thus rendering their opinion moot. They have the nuts to do no research and barely review any of the music, but when it comes to the conclusion they turn yellow. This is infuriating. This is how this review looks in a condensed form:

I hate this album, it's full of wankery.
Forget what I just wrote, Robert Wyatt is talented, so, whatevs.


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