Friday, September 25, 2009

adventures in BLAWG

the other week i put the word "kids" at the front of a post title. a comment was left, our first since july. and who left this comment? some fucking robot selling kids music, or some wierd virus thing. don't click through. it's just a robot.

in other news, my most recent post was slamming a news article written by one tom breihan. i found him transparently stupid.

well today he's reviewing a terrible album from a terrible new band called "Girls". first of all, even though he seems to respect the frontman, the fact that his mother was a prostitute is actually placed in the fourth sentence of the review, proving once and for all that press packets are humane. of course, like it's a wonderful life or jerry macgwire (spelled correctly in honor of Mark), there's a happy ending. "Then a local millionaire took Owens under his wing, and Owens moved to San Francisco." and now he has an adopted millionaire father and he's in a hip band. the end. some stories really are tragic, no?

now, if christopher owen, of Girls, did indeed have a very hard childhood, then i imagine it wasn't fun for him. but a little greusome is reading a writer idolize tragedy and poverty in this way, when only three days ago he was waxing nostalgic about his own hazy, dreamy youth in the suburbs. "You don't need to know Owens' story to intuit that there's something going on here. When I saw the band play SXSW, knowing nothing about them beyond their compulsively listenable 'Hellhole Ratrace' single, I wrote that the band's music sounds 'like the work of one deeply weird and possibly sad person.'" so being weird and sad, having a mother forced into prostitution... GOOD! that's COOL to us!

but there's something else going on here. watch: "It's the sort of story that can overwhelm a band so completely that you never really hear their music; you only hear the story. So it's a tribute to Album that you don't need to know one word of that first paragraph to hear it as what it is: a dizzily powerful piece of work." see? we love your tragic upbringing, but we don't want to think about it, and certainly don't want to hear YOU singing about it. write about your break-ups instead, that way your presonal tragedy can be reduced to a preamble, so college graduates who only think gutter punks are cool because they've never had to smell them will go out and buy your album.

tragedy's generally cool, but kind of too sincere for our age. we'd rather a tragic figure sing about really banal shit. that way we can identify with you AND feel superior at the same time.

the big problem is, as always, this band sucks. their music sucks. i mean, you've got to be fucking kidding me. to my ears, it isn't even remotely interesting. they're dull, forgettable, dime-a-dozen pop songs. familiar progressions soaked in reverb, and a white singer whose (totally authentic) self-loathing has taken a curiously audacious and public turn. i've seen this movie before and it sucks.

but what do i know? as with Real Estate a few days ago, Girls is "getting a ton of blog love." more and more, i've come to fully expect such bands to be terrible, allowing for the possibility of a shocking exception or two. and i think i know the reason why these bands always suck: because music blog culture is the full marriage of the music industry and junior-high school popularity politics (i.e. an emotionally stunted mob makes snap decisions about how good a person is, and that person may become royalty, until he does something that confuses or dissapoints the mob, at which point he has to change schools or live out his education as a parriah.)

and bands like this age about as well as the popular kid has.

finally, the phrase "compulsively listenable" should probably have it's eyes plucked out by grape scissors. meaning-wise, it's precisely as dumb as bud light's "drinkability" campaign.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Surreal Estate

i noticed a curious headline while running my eyes over pitchfork's "news" section: "Real Estate Announce Debut Album".

i thought: huh... that's odd. usually when a debut album is announced (as opposed to simply being released), it's coming from some long-awaited supergroup, which of course goes on to suck.

recently, though, bands that haven't produced a full work, are having their debut albums pimped. all you need is just less than six songs to stay popular with just more than 500 writers for a little more than a month, and your in. black kids was a perfect example of this, and if you click through to that real estate story, you can see it all happening again.

"Hazy Jersey-based indie poppers Real Estate have been setting our RSS feeds on fire all summer with tracks like 'Fake Blues' and 'Black Lake'-- blurry, innocent evocations of high school beach trips and first tokes."

now i haven't bothered to listen to the music. my internet's kinda shitty these days, and anyway it's been a while since i've gotten excited by something that sets "RSS feeds on fire". to be sure, though, the language is pretty fucking revealing. this writer, one Tom Breihan, misses high school.

those were the days, no? playing hookie, "blurry, innocent" trips to the beach, that "first toke"... all this shit's rushing back to me, it's like PROUST!

but seriously, people who really like music that makes them remember high school should be banned from the internet. nevertheless, with song titles like "suburban dog", "let'srock the beach", and "suburban beverage", you can't blame a 20-something for getting sucked in. after all, many 20-somethings are FROM the suburbs, and can totally relate. (it, like, sucks there because of your parents, but it can be totally fun sometimes cuz you can drive to the beach and there's parties!)

but who am i to judge? the blogs are abuzz about this band. and we all know how important blogs are. (cue crickets)

Friday, September 4, 2009


as i recently warned, pitchfork has put up their top 500 songs of the last ten years (which comes out to roughly one song for every week). and yes, the "list" (such as it is) is pretty silly, with basement jaxx and robyn getting quite a bit of attention, with a top 20 cracked by such mainstream non-artists as rhianna and justin timberlake, and more animal collective on hand than freshman orientation.

but that's not really important. to put together an accurate list of 500 songs is about as easy as putting together an accurate list of the top 500 restaurants on the east coast. it's part fool's errand, but its true purpose mostly is to give a handful of arrogant people a platform to wax educated about media and culture and stuff.

each and every song gets a paragraph. the examples of purely god-awful writing are too numerous to be chronicled. from some guy's belief that Joanna Newsom meant to invoke "whores" when she said "horse", to ridiculous overuse of the gerund, to the fact that anyone who wrote a song about new york was really singing about 9/11; the writing is just hackery. i mean, how many times can you publish the phrase "it goes without saying" before it starts looking like a red flag?

but even that's not really important, at least not to me right now. what i wanted to write about (i got distracted; don't like it? continue not reading.) was the way in which almost all of these writers discuss "what happened in music". the passive voice is used a lot. some bands "were never heard from again". some songs "are indellibly associated" with certain years. aside from being poor writing, this betrays a deep lack of appreciation for the critic's role in the whole process. it's YOU that chooses to notice something or not, to like it or hate it, not some invisible modernizing, culturizing force. a band that pleases one person consistently shouldn't automatically be recast as a band who "has longevity". an artist hasn't "dropped off the face of the earth" just because you haven't written up his last three albums. it's the pools from which the list was drawn that are pre-selected. they have already manufactured taste, now it only must be prioritized, and explained as the result of a mystical, natural process. UGH.

one more thing: marc richardson says, "If the songs on this list were chosen solely by how they captured the zeitgeist in independent music, 'Losing My Edge' would be an easy #1." and i'm afraid i agree with him. a comfortable, computer-owning music appreciator throws together a garage band beat, each new layer being introduced at perfectly predictable intervals, with all the depth of a casio demo-beat; meanwhile the computer-owner talks about cool things he likes, and he's being ironic, but he really kind of isn't, but really he is, but honestly he's lost his edge because he's not cool anymore, but he's actually the sole arbiter of what's cool.... etc.

i don't blame the song for sucking heartily, nor do i blame those who disagree and think it doesn't suck. i blame the critic, the person who says it "captures the zeitgeist in independent music" thus defining the boundaries of said zeitgeist without actually making a creative contribution. i'm not sure about you, but in my zeitgeist, we're not sitting around, pawing at our bald spots, wondering how being middle class and having impeccable taste simply hasn't made us more attractive.

one one more thing: white people have just gotten through "revolutionizing" dance music in the same way that columbus "revolutionized" the americas. when columbus arrived, a whole mess of people were already there, yet still there's a lot of talk about his "discovery".